She loves it when her own kids tell her stories like this: ‘Those blunt and unpolished stories about how deans, department heads, mentors and lecturers interact with the pupils. Everyone should hear those stories’. The Student Voice is extremely important to Carien Verhoeff. She has been associate professor of the eponymous research programme since October 2020. An interview about her exceptional position, about student participation at The Hague University of Applied Sciences and about her own teenagers.
Since October 2020, The Hague University of Applied Sciences has two associate professors. In this exceptional position, Carien Verhoeff leads the Student Voice line of research within The Global Citizenship Research Group, which in turn is part of the Centre of Expertise for Global & Inclusive Learning. Even before October 2020, she conducted research into the benefits education could reap if pupils and students take greater ownership of their own learning process.
‘At the university of applied sciences, we say that students must qualify. That they should socialise. However, it is far more important that they emancipate themselves.’ As associate professor, she is responsible for this line of research and she gives it substantive direction. But then in her unique way. ‘I want to contribute to lecturers and students at THUAS being a bit more relaxed when we interact with one another’.
In a democracy, everyone can participate and contribute their own opinions and talents. Also at The Hague University of Applied Sciences. Carien: ‘If you invite each other to work on the social issues we face, it requires trust. If you then achieve great things together that only increases that trust. That’s also the case with the socialisation and emancipation of young people. Within our Centre of Expertise and within the programme line I lead, we develop new insights and novel approaches to this, whereby I, as an associate professor operating from a Centre of Expertise, can feed education’.
Those new insights include the composition of curricula, among others. ‘When our students do an internship in the professional field, they discover how turbulent social challenges are. So turbulent that you cannot set them out in curricula that apply for five years. We are in constant dialogue with one another. We develop with and through each other. That demands different education. I am proud that our research is in tune with current developments and that we can learn and develop things in co-creation with the professional field. That we can do things together, right through the levels of hierarchy. That’s how I like to work’.
Right through the levels of hierarchy? Carien: ‘Yes, hierarchy has no place at a knowledge institution. The people at the top should fully support those in education and research. And vice versa. And it goes without saying, from different perspectives. That is why it is so important to utilise our diverse backgrounds and perspectives within education and research’.
That is why it is so important to utilise our diverse backgrounds and perspectives within education and research
Increased participation by pupils and students: does she consider that an enticing prospect or are we close already? ‘We can almost touch it. Yet, I still see a persistent struggle between the regulated thinking of rubrics and examination matrices on the one hand and the emphasis on professional development based on participation on the other. That first is alluring because it is very safe and familiar. But it does mean we are moving further away from that which we want to achieve with professional education. We should let students experience from year 1 that they are competent, that they can provide autonomous input in the professional field and society.’
As an example, Carien compares two situations. ‘Take a Primary School Teacher Training student who is starting their graduation project. In the old situation, the rubric states that they work on their thesis in the fourth year. The lecturer therefore tells the student the requirements the thesis must meet. That demotivates! That is no way to graduate.
As a degree programme, you can also offer students the option to graduate as a group with a professional product or design issue. They then form a professional learning community consisting of a few school deans, lecturers, students and pupils. Together, they develop a professional product that provides a solution to a social challenge.
Such a group of students can, for example, say: with that professional learning community, we have developed and organised two conferences on a current educational theme. We learnt a lot from that. In the graduation process, we have demonstrated all the competencies required to be considered qualified to start. In that way, graduation gains a completely different dynamic for students. Also, the lecturer-researcher supervising those students is involved differently and more substantially’.
Her own studying teenagers must benefit from a mother who appreciates the Student Voice to such a degree. Carien: ‘Whether they benefit? Haha, I will ask them! No, I would say I benefit more from them, from their pure, unpolished stories about how deans and lecturers interact with pupils. Everyone should hear those stories.’
She acknowledges that things don’t always play out democratically at home. ‘We sometimes say to the children: that’s how it is, and you just have to live with it. But I have since learnt that it is better to let your children discover the limits of their own decisions’.
Whether my children benefit from my programme line? No, I would say I benefit more from them.
‘Children have the right to be heard. When raising children, you must embody democracy. You should let your children discover that many different opinions exist. That you may not agree with them, but you can be curious about them. That is why we purposefully confront our children with all types of environments, walks of life and cultures. At our table, you can say anything, but if you do, you should know you will be questioned about it. That is part of democracy’.
Proceeding on the basis of democratic standards at the university of applied sciences and at home doesn’t mean that as a school or parents you let go of quality requirements. Carien: ‘No, you place them elsewhere, in the public value: being able to interact with one another and adding value to professional practice. In the Student Voice programme line, we work together with students to research how we can structure the university of applied sciences so that everyone can develop through each other. I don’t know where we will end up. There is no spot on the horizon. I do know that together we are working on a challenging issue’.