Portret van Marie-Sophie Simon
Portret van Marie-Sophie Simon

Students in control of their own development: ‘It gives meaning to what I do’

The recently defined educational vision highlights 'the student as a developing academic’ as one of its nine core aspects. Marie-Sophie Simon (Master’s student Data Science and Science in Society) is currently co-creating a course together with Bernard van Gastel (Assistant professor Software Science). She explains how she got to work on the course, how she takes control of her learning process and how lecturers can give proper guidance so that students can make their own choices.

Science in the context of society 

“My whole journey, so to speak, started in the second year of my studies,” Marie-Sophie says. “In that year Australia’s forests were in flames, the coronavirus pandemic just started, George Floyd had just been murdered, so the Black Lives Matter movement was on the rise again, and misinformation was all over the internet.” In the meantime, Marie-Sophie was learning what for her felt like ‘super theoretical computing science’.  She started wondering: what am I doing?  Why do I learn about all the scientific knowledge that already exists - often presented as facts – without connecting it to the problems it may have caused or can possibly help to solve? “There are real problems that we need to solve right now!” 

Marie-Sophie realised that she was missing the connection to society in her education. She took matters into her own hands by getting a sustainability testimony, writing a thesis about misinformation, and doing the Science in Society Master’s specialisation. “This felt like I’m not just learning science for the sake of science, but that I also learn why it’s good and what it means to learn about science. Academia has a certain responsibility to society. We should make use of the opportunities we get to have a positive impact on the world, talk to society and let society talk to us. We are not almighty people who know everything, just because we’re scientists. Instead, I think science and society are really interconnected.” 

Working together to create meaningful education 

“Taking control of my own learning process makes studying much more meaningful”, Marie-Sophie stated enthusiastically. Right now, she is co-creating a course about sustainability in computing science together with Bernard van Gastel. Marie-Sophie laughs: “He says that I kind of invited myself.” “At the time I was doing the sustainability testimony, relatively little came from Computing Science.” When she heard that Bernard got to set up a department for sustainability at the computing science department, she approached him to have a chat about her experiences. “Bernard realised that it was very helpful to have a student there who has an overview of the curriculum and who knows what it’s like to follow a course.” What was meant as just one conversation ended up in co-creating an entire course.  

Marie-Sophie would recommend thinking about involving a student perspective when designing a new course. “Students and lecturers can complement each other well but you have to be truly open to it. If both are open-minded, it will be a fruitful cooperation.”  

The importance of having a choice 

Being actively involved in the creation of a course is quite a large step, but there are also less time-consuming and more accessible ways in which students can steer their development. Marie-Sophie stresses how important it was for her to make conscious choices. For example, when choosing free electives or a minor. “Do you choose what everyone else is choosing or do you think about what you want to gain from it? Is there something you need for your future or maybe something you’ve always wanted to try? Thinking about these questions gives value to what you do. I don’t see taking control over your learning process as a duty but as something driven by curiosity.” 

In order to choose, students need a choice. As a lecturer, you can offer these choices. A good example is letting students decide on the topic for the last lecture of a course. “This is a really nice way for students to decide on what they want and need!” 

Share your enthusiasm as a lecturer 

Marie-Sophie argues that sharing different perspectives and connections to society can help students to discover their possibilities. “Sometimes I feel like lecturers are a bit scared that if we relate the learning content too much to society, it gets less academic. But I don’t think this has to be the case. For example, you can address possible empirical research questions for a certain topic. This increases how scientific it is and at the same time, you’re relating to society and making it more meaningful and relevant to students. Show us what’s out there and what triggers your enthusiasm as a lecturer! This can be very inspiring for students who are in the process of finding out in which direction they want to develop themselves.” 

Contact information

Do you have a question, idea or comment? You can reach out to Marie-Sophie by email (%20marie-sophie.simon [at] ru.nl (marie-sophie[dot]simon[at]ru[dot]nl)).