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Blogs and Research Highlights - March

This blog is written by LEARN! academics. The contributions present our take on current issues in education and social science, and reflect some of the highlights from our extensive programme of research.

Views are our own and aim to inform, debate and shape our thinking.

Blogs and Research Highlights March

  • Wat zet studenten aan tot kritisch denken bij een scheikundepracticum? - Marion van Brederode

    Scheikundepracticum en instructies
    Een scheikundepracticum is een complexe leeromgeving. Op de leerlingen wordt vaak in korte tijd een overweldigende hoeveelheid informatie afgevuurd: scheikundige theorieën, doel of nut van het onderzoek, omgaan met instrumenten en chemicaliën, en dan nog alle waarnemingen die de uitvoering van het experiment zelf opleveren (Agustian and Seery, 2017).

    Het vraagt dus enige stroomlijning om leerlingen dit allemaal te laten verwerken. Tegelijkertijd willen we ook dat ze bij praktische opdrachten kritisch denken en problemen zelf leren oplossen.

    Practicuminstructies hebben grote invloed op hoe leerlingen een onderzoeksopdracht benaderen en ervaren. Stapsgewijze instructies, ook wel kookboek of traditionele instructies genoemd, pakken hierbij veelal teleurstellend uit (Kirschner, 1992). Een herkenbare situatie is dat de leerlingen zich pas realiseren wat ze aan het doen waren tijdens het practicum op het moment dat ze het verslag dat ze in ''moesten” leveren aan het schrijven zijn.

    In het verleden is er veel discussie geweest over de effecten van de mate van sturing in de begeleiding bij onderzoekend- of ontdekkend leren. Uit een meta-analyse kwam naar voren dat meer sturing tijdens onderzoekend leren onder andere resulteert in een hoger niveau van de onderzoeksverslagen van leerlingen (Lazonder and Harmsen, 2016). Dat vind ik niet zo verwonderlijk, omdat met meer sturing tijdens de opdracht leerlingen beter worden geïnformeerd over datgene wat van hen wordt verwacht of waarop ze worden beoordeeld.

    Herkennen van kritisch denken.
    In ons onderzoek wilden we daarom naar de invloed van practicuminstructies op het kritisch denken van leerlingen tijdens de uitvoering van de practicumopdracht kijken en niet naar het niveau van de verslaglegging. We zijn hiervoor specifiek gaan letten op de reactie van leerlingen wanneer er dingen op ze afkomen die ze van tevoren niet hadden verwacht. Dan worden aspecten van kritisch denken ineens heel belangrijk, zoals de behoefte om geïnformeerd te zijn en het vermogen om tot voortschrijdend inzicht te komen. Concreet betekent dit dat we keken of leerlingen trends in hun waarnemingen kunnen herkennen, die belangrijk zijn voor hun conclusies, maar waar ze aanvankelijk niet aan gedacht hadden (en waarbij ook niemand ze gevraagd heeft om daaraan te denken). Het onderzoeksdoel was om erachter te komen of de voorbereidende fase van het practicum invloed zou hebben op het kritisch denken van de leerlingen tijdens de uitvoering van het experiment en de verwerking van de meetresultaten.

    Onderzoek aan voorbereiding.
    We hebben twee voorbereidende fasen voor een practicum vergeleken die we de gebaande weg (paved road)- en de kritisch denken (critical thinking) conditie zijn gaan noemen. In de gebaande weg conditie bereiden de leerlingen zich voor met vragen waarmee ze zich focussen op de onderzoeksvraag en het begrijpen van de meetmethode. In de kritisch denken conditie werken leerlingen aan dezelfde onderzoeksvraag, maar wordt ze eerst gevraagd zelf te komen met een experimenteerplan. Hierbij hebben ze dezelfde informatie beschikbaar als de studenten in de gebaande weg conditie. Het belangrijkste verschil tussen de condities zit dus in de manier waarop de studenten voorafgaand aan het practicum de aangeboden informatie verwerken. Beide condities kennen instructie-elementen die veel gebruikt worden bij scheikundepractica en in beide condities werken de leerlingen in tweetallen. Voor de opzet van de kritisch denken conditie en het definiëren van de niveaus voor kritisch denken hebben we ons verder laten inspireren door een grootschalige studie naar het kritisch denken van natuurkundestudenten bij practica (Holmes et al., 2015).

    Om het kritisch denken te kunnen indiceren was het handig om leerlingen te laten werken aan een experiment met een ‘verborgen val of verrassing’. Bij de verslaglegging van dit experiment bleek dat sommige leerlingen een ‘schijnbare discrepantie’ tussen waarnemingen en een theoretisch model in het geheel niet opmerkten, of dat hen dat niet zo gek veel kon schelen. Dit gaf dan een gebrek aan kritisch denken tijdens het practicum weer. Wanneer leerlingen de meetresultaten wel op waarde konden schatten en probeerden te begrijpen, bleek het ‘probleem’ relatief eenvoudig op te lossen. Dit gaf dan een hoger niveau van kritisch denken weer.

    Twee cohorten
    We hebben de studie twee jaar achter elkaar uitgevoerd in vier parallelle 6 vwo scheikunde clusters. Bij het eerste cohort werden we vooral overvallen door de lukrake opmerkingen die studenten in de gebaande weg conditie maakten over hun meetgegevens. Hierdoor werd meer dan helft van de leerlingen in de gebaande weg conditie ingedeeld in het laagste kritisch denken niveau. In de kritisch denken conditie van het eerste cohort kozen enkele tweetallen juist voor een heel andere experimentele benadering, waarbij ze wel zeer gemotiveerd waren om de betekenis van hun meetgegevens te doorgronden, maar de verborgen val niet duidelijk tegenkwamen.

    Directe vergelijking
    Voor het tweede cohort hebben we voor beide condities het doel van het practicum scherper gecommuniceerd en was de uitvoering van het practicum beter gestroomlijnd door onze ervaringen van het jaar daarvoor. Dit resulteerde ook in een hoger gemeten kritisch denkniveau voor de gebaande weg conditie. Dit zou kunnen betekenen dat met meer sturing en begeleiding bij onderzoekend leren meer kan worden bereikt. In beide schooljaren liet de directe vergelijking van de leerlingen in de kritisch denken conditie met de gebaande weg conditie echter duidelijk zien dat leerlingen in de kritisch denken conditie doortastender en beter in staat waren om onverwachte trends in meetgegevens op te merken en niet weg te wuiven. Zo zagen ze dat zelf ook, want tijdens de evaluatie gaven leerlingen in de kritisch denken conditie vaker aan dat deze opdracht hen tot nadenken had aangezet.

    De aanscherping en verbetering van het practicum in de gebaande weg conditie van het ene op het andere jaar is waarschijnlijk exemplarisch voor wat docenten doen, zodra het opvalt dat studenten niet serieus of goed omgaan met hun meetgegevens. Het is duidelijk dat je op deze manier in de verslaglegging meer kunt terugkrijgen van wat je zelf vooraf belangrijk vindt. Op het onafhankelijk en kritisch denken van leerlingen kan dit soort sturing echter een remmende werking hebben. In onze studie liet de directe vergelijking van groepen in de gebaande weg conditie met de kritisch denken conditie beide jaren namelijk duidelijk zien dat leerlingen na het maken van voorbereidende vragen minder geneigd waren onafhankelijk en kritisch te denken dan leerlingen die een eigen experimenteerplan hadden gemaakt.

    Kritisch denken is niet eenvoudig te evalueren in een onderzoek: je kunt het pas meten op het moment dat het ook echt op kritisch denken aankomt. Het effect dat leerlingen eerder geneigd zijn om onafhankelijk en kritisch te denken wanneer ze meer autonomie ervaren is er waarschijnlijk wel altijd. Dat hebben we ook zo beleefd bij andere practica in andere klassen. Als we het kritisch denken bij leerlingen willen stimuleren kunnen we hier in de toekomst rekening mee houden, ook als er geen verborgen verrassing in de opdracht zit.

    Het artikel is gepubliceerd in Chemistry Education Reseach and Practice en is hier te lezen.
    Examining the effect of lab instructions on students' critical thinking during a chemical inquiry practical.

    Marion E. van Brederode, Sebastiaan A. Zoon and Martijn Meeter

  • What drives students to think critically during a chemistry lab? - Marion van Brederode

    Laboratory learning and instructions

    A laboratory is a complex learning environment in which students often have to deal with an overwhelming amount of written and verbal instructions about the functioning of instrumentation, safety, underlying theory, and input from the experiment itself (Agustian and Seery, 2017).

    So it takes some streamlining to have students handle all this. At the same time, we also want them to think critically and to solve problems themselves.

    Laboratory instructions affect how students approach their laboratory assignments. It has been noted often that step-by-step instructions, sometimes called cook-book or traditional instructions, that guide students through an experiment have limited learning effects (Kirschner, 1992). These kind of instructions can often lead to situations in which students only start to think about the meaning of the laboratory activity when they are writing their assignment reports.

    Recently it emerged from a meta-analysis of studies on guided inquiry instructions that, among other things, more specific guidance during inquiry assignment results in higher quality students’reports than inquiry learning that is guided by moren open instructions (Lazonder and Harmsen, 2016). I think this is rather unsurprising as with more specific guidance the students are better informed on what is expected from them or what they are assessed on.

    Therefore, in our study, we wanted to look at how instructions affect students’ critical thinking while they are conducting a practical assignment and not at the quality of the final reporting.

    Recognize critical thinking by surprise

    To recognize critical thinking in the students, we wanted the them to encounter something during the experiment they had not expected beforehand, but where it would be relatively easy for those who thought critically about the meaning of their data to notice this ‘hidden trap’ and propose a correct way of analysing the data. However, students who are not concerned about the meaning of their experimental data either fail to notice the apparent discrepancy between their experimental data and the models they had learned about or are not bothered by it. This can be interpreted as an indication of a lack of critical thinking during the inquiry assignment.

    Investigation of preparation

    The research goal of our study was to find out whether the preparatory phase of the practical assignment would influence the students' critical thinking. We made a direct comparison of two different, but equally comprehensive, designs of pre-laboratory activities that we implemented in parallel in four chemistry classes of senior-year secondary school students. These we named paved road- and critical thinking pre-laboratory activities. Both forms of activities are based on elements that are often recognizable in educational practice to prepare students for laboratory work. For the design of the critical thinking condition and defining the levels for critical thinking, we were further inspired by a large-scale study into the critical thinking among physics students during lab work (Holmes et al., 2015).

    With the paved road pre-laboratory activity, students were making pre-laboratory questions that guide them through the design of the assignment. These questions focused the students on the research question and how the presented experimental method is well suited to answer the research question. With the critical thinking pre-laboratory activity, students investigate the same pre-specified research question but they were making their own design for the experiment according to given criteria for a good experimental set-up and provided information (hints). The amount information available for making the experimental plan in the critical thinking condition was identical to the provided information for answering the laboraboratory questions in the paved road condition. So the main difference between the two conditions comes down to the way in which the students process the information offered prior to the practical.

    Two cohorts

    We conducted the study two years in a row with Dutch senior year high school students. In the first cohort, we were mainly surprised by the haphazard comments made by students in paved road condition about their measurement data. As a result, more than half of the students in the paved road condition were classified in the lowest critical thinking level. In the critical thinking condition of the first cohort, a few pairs opted for a completely different experimental approach, in which they were highly determined to understand the meaning of their measurement data, but did not clearly encounter the hidden trap.

    To avoid a similar situation the next year, the cohort 2 students in the paved road conditions were focused more on the research goal and in the critical thinking condition they were given more direction for the set-up of the experimental plan, relative to the students in cohort 1.

    Direct comparions

    As a result we observed that more students in the paved road condition interpreted their measurement data with more depth. This may be interpreted as that the level of research reached in inquiry learning is largely a function of the direction given in the guidance. However, the direct comparison of the paved road and critical thinking conditions on the contrary, showed that for both cohorts students in the critical thinking condition expressed more independent critical thinking when evaluating their measurement data. They more often noticed the unexpected observation and were more often trying to understand and clarify it, instead of waving it away.

    Critical thinking is not easy to evaluate in a study: you can only measure it when it really comes down to critical thinking. The effect that laboratory instructions have on the critical thinking of students is probably always there (and we have experienced that with other laboratory assignments in other classes as well). When students experience automony they are more determined to solve problems or unravel surprises. It is therefore a good idea to take this into account in the future when designing instructions, even if there is no hidden surprise in the assignment.

    The article is accepted for publication in Chemistry Education Reseach and Practice and can be read here. (https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2020/rp/d0rp00020e)

    Examining the effect of lab instructions on students' critical thinking during a chemical inquiry practical.
    Marion E. van Brederode, Sebastiaan A. Zoon and Martijn Meeter

  • Interview with PhD students

    Here we interview Linda Messemaker-Veerman (1st year Ph.D. student) and Jana Runze (3rd year Ph.D. student) about their PhD studies at the VU: the past, present, and future of their PhD journies. They also tell us about the PhD engagement initiatives they have started organizing at the POW. 

    Linda Messemaker-Veerman

    PhD-student Academic Collaborative Centre Social Relations & Attachment, Faculty of Behavioral and Movement Sciences, Clinical Child & Family Studies

    COULD YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR ACADEMIC BACKGROUND?

    I completed both my bachelor and master of ‘Educational Sciences (Pedagogische Wetenschappen)’ at the VU.. After that, I worked in residential care for people with disabilities. First, I worked as a support worker for people with an intellectual disability. Later, I worked as a psychological assistant, involved in psychodiagnostics. My next job was at an organization for people with epilepsy (SEIN).. I worked there as a behavioral scientist with people with and without intellectual disability, children, and the elderly. I enjoyed that job.


    During this job, I got in contact with the organization's research team, which was doing a lot of medical research into epilepsy. We wanted to do research in the residential care department as well. We were busy starting up with the project and started data collection. While doing this, I noticed that I missed doing research. 


    I always used to get notifications about academic vacancies. Just like that, I received a notification for the Ph.D. position I currently hold, and I left my old job at SEIN to pursue it. It was a big step for me. During my previous job, I was used to going to many meetings, talking to a lot of people, seeing a lot of people. I had a lot of responsibilities relating to the care Now, I have different responsibilities and I am learning different skills again. I am a student again, and this is new to me. I do a lot of my work at my desk alone - this is a significant change. 

•          

     

    CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR CURRENT PH.D. POSITION?

    We are doing a project about the siblings of children with disabilities under the supervision of prof. dr. Paula Sterkenburg. Notably, we are now developing a Serious Game - a game that children can learn from - for children from six to nine years old that have a brother or sister with visual impairment, an intellectual disability, or both. We are almost done with the development of the game. We are now amid the medical ethics committee evaluation and hope to be able to start investigating the effectiveness of the Serious Game in April. 


     

    WHY SIBLINGS OF CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES?

    Generally, attention is paid to the child with disabilities both from the parents and care facilities around the family. So sometimes, the sibling without the disabilities is forgotten. Thus, we are designing a game that is meant for the siblings to let them feel that they are important too and that they are not the only one. 
Another important reason to target this group of children is that the siblings of children with disabilities sometimes develop emotional and psychological problems later in life and have trouble prioritizing their own needs. We hope that if we intervene early in their development, and help them with recognizing and coping with different emotions, thoughts and difficult situations we can improve their quality of life and psychosocial well-being and perhaps prevent these problems. But of course we do not yet know if this game actually works. What's more, siblings of children with disabilities become caregivers of their brother or sister in the future. So, that is another reason why it is vital to pay attention at an early age.

     

    CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE GAME?

    The game has fun little monster creatures, called Broodles, who are the game's main characters. The Broodles are experiencing all kinds of things that siblings encounter when they have a brother or sister with a disability. For example, when a sibling with a disability does not understand what their brother or sister is saying; when they do not understand the meaning of a game; when they show challenging behavior or can not talk; or they have to go to the hospital. We think it is crucial to let these children understand that the feelings and thoughts they might experience when facing these issues are notable, and it is good to talk about them. 



     

    WHAT DO YOU SEE AS A LONG-TERM GOAL OF YOUR RESEARCH? 

    We are first going research the effectiveness of the serious game with an RCT. We hope to find that this game can improve the quality of life and well-being of the siblings and make them feel more supported and less impacted by their situation. In the long term, we hope that the game can be broadly offered to all siblings of children with disabilities. In addition, we hope that this tool can be available to care professionals visiting families of children with intellectual disabilities who have siblings.
I think we could really make a change by offering a game to children that may feel forgotten. 



     

    DO YOU HAVE ANY OTHER PROJECTS PLANNED FOR THE REST OF YOUR PH.D.?

    We have not set it in stone yet. I only started in May of last year, and we have been focused on this quite large RCT study. However, we have thought a little about what else we can do. For example, we are now investigating if we can do some data analysis with the NTR data (Dutch Twin Registry). They might have longitudinal data where one twin has an intellectual disability, and the other does not.
 

    I have talked to professionals from several care organizations, and I have learned that many professionals do not realize that they forget about the sibling that does not have an impairment. That is also what I noticed when I was working at the residential care that I did not do much with the siblings and realized that I was forgetting them.

    I would maybe like to do a practical review of what is happening in the country, what we are doing for the siblings and general perceptions about this. So it would be something like combining qualitative interviews with different people in care facilities about what they are doing, looking at what is being done and what could be improved. 


    We are also planning to collect data in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium. We have been in contact with a researcher in Belgium who did her Ph.D. on siblings of people with disability. 


     

    YOU ARE ALSO THE REPRESENTATIVE FOR THE POW PH.D. STUDENTS. WHAT ARE YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES IN THIS ROLE?

    My co-promoter, Agnes Willemen contacted me to ask whether I wanted to do this. She had been talking with Prof. Meeter and Jana about Ph.D. students wishing to be more connected to each other, missing the social interactions with colleagues. Apparently, a few years ago, there used to be meetings for Ph.D. students in our faculty where the students would lunch together and talk. The idea arose to reintroduce those meetings, and together with Jana, I was asked to plan them.


    I was also asked to be the representative of this group of Ph. D. students because there might be more things that the Ph.D. students want to know or do, and in that sense, it is always good to have a representative that could speak to the board on behalf of the entire group. But, as I said, we are just beginning to establish this network and are thinking about what it can look like. 


    So far, Jana and I have planned the lunches. Thus, there are now the LEARN lunches and our Ph.D. lunches that are just social gatherings. Next to that, we also implemented a slack group to facilitate communication. Finally, we have made a Surfdrive folder where we plan to exchange documents that could be important for writing an article or courses interesting for Ph.D. students.  


    We will see how it goes from here! 
  

    Jana Runze

    PhD Candidate, Faculty of Behavioural and Movement SciencesClinical Child and Family Studies

    COULD YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR ACADEMIC BACKGROUND?

    I did my bachelor's in psychology at the University of Twente in the Netherlands. Afterward, I did my research master's at Nijmegen Radboud university at the behavioral science institute. There, I also did an internship at the developmental psychology lab. Within the master program, I wrote a thesis while simultaneously doing my internship at the research department. I contributed to a longitudinal study on child development at the psychobiology lab. I did my thesis on parent-child attachment and in how far it was associated with childrens stress as measured by their length of telomeres. I looked into whether the regulation behavior of the child was a mediator or a moderator in this relationship.

    THAT BRINGS US TO YOUR CURRENT POSITION AT THE VU. COULD YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE DOING AS PART OF YOUR PH.D. PROJECT?

    My Ph.D. project is embedded within a big project which is the Leiden consortium on individual development. It is a longitudinal study with families with twins. There is one cohort of twins who were aged 3-4 when they started and one cohort with twins aged 6-7 when they started. Over six years, we followed both cohorts with yearly measurements, either home visits or lab visits. We collected a lot of different data: fMRI data, hair samples, saliva samples, behavioral measures, observational measures. My PhD study focused on parenting and parenting intervention's effect on child development, particularly psychobiological development, hair cortisol, or pubertal development. I also look at children's differential susceptibility: how some children are more affected by the environment than others.

    YOU MENTIONED A PARENTING INTERVENTION. WHAT EXACTLY DOES THAT MEAN? 

    We conducted a video-feedback parenting intervention to improve positive parenting and sensitive listening. After two pre-measures, we conducted an intervention in the form of a randomized control trial. We did that for about half of the families. The intervention included five sessions where we gave feedback based on video footage of parents interacting with the children. We tried to focus on positive moments between the parent and the child.

     

    HOW FAR ARE YOU WITHIN YOUR PH.D. PROJECT?

    I am in my third year, and I have another one and a half years left of my contract. I am on time, I would say. I finished the data collection and managed to do all my training. I have published two papers already and working on another two or three. I hope to finish my dissertation on time. 
I am now focused on analyzing the data and writing up the results. Some of the data from my projects are not processed yet.

     

    WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE MOST STRIKING FINDINGS OF YOUR PH.D. PROJECT?

    One paper I published was on the effect of the VIPP intervention. The intervention has been very successful in many different samples: clinical, nonclinical, adoption, autism, and many others. But it had never been tested in twin families or older children (above the age of three). So, I tested whether the intervention would successfully improve sensitive parenting in parents of older children and parents of twins. I found that the interventions were not successful in improving observed sensitive parenting, but it was successful in improving parents' attitudes about sensitivity towards children. So, the hope is that older children and twins might need more time to go from attitudes to real behavior. But there still is an upward trend in the samples. 

     

    WHAT HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE BEEN LIKE AS A PH.D. STUDENT AT THE VU?

    The University of Leiden coordinated my project. So, in my first year, I predominantly worked at Leiden University and almost never came to the VU or interacted with people here. But, then Corona started, and I found it quite challenging to connect with the department and LEARN because I was not aware of the structure within the department. I didn't feel that I was guided or welcomed when I arrived.


    A positive thing about doing my Ph.D. at the VU has been the myriad opportunities within the department, such as the possibility of applying for travel grants to go abroad and workshops that you can take. 


     

    YOU REPRESENT THE PH.D. STUDENTS FROM THE POW. WHAT ARE YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES? WHAT DO YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE?

    To clarify, I am also a member of the Ph.D. education committee from the faculty, and there I assess travel grant applications or junior talent applications. In addition, I try to get an overview of what the PhDs need in the department.

    
I realized that within the POW, there wasn't much initiative to have social activities, one group within the department. I thought that was a pity. I also heard from other Ph.D. representatives that they had that it other faculty departments. That was one of the reasons why I opted to try to get this thing started.


    As I am at the end of my Ph.D., I am not the primary Ph.D. representative. Linda is the one who has that role. 


    The thing that I want to achieve with these lunches is there is a connection, cohesion and bonding between PhD students. Within this group of people, we have a lot of different expertises. People can find each other and help each other, and hopefully, feel less lonely. 


     

    OTHER THAN THE LUNCHES, IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE PLANNED?

    We started not only the lunches but also a Friendship Book, where you have a short profile of yourself with your photo, origin, hobbies, research interests, job. We include all the Ph.D. students in this book. It makes it easier to understand who is who, what expertise they have, and with whom one can partner up.


    I am also a board member for the forum of young scientists (an organization within the VU for PhDs and postdocs, not specifically linked to the department). I think it would be helpful for Ph.D. students to know that there are workshops that are being organized. Any Ph.D. or postdoc associated with the VU, VUmc, or AMC can sign up for the free workshops.
  

  • Interview with Dr. Rashmi Kusurkar

    Dr. Rashmi Kusurkar, the leader of the LEARN! research program 'Motivation and Lifelong Learning' describes the evolution of her research department and her future goals. 

    COULD YOU TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND?

    By background, I am a medical doctor. I studied medicine in India. I specialized in physiology. I taught for a few years in India and moved here because my husband was offered a job in Amsterdam. In India, I also completed a fellowship in education because I was teaching full-time. At that time, I had many questions about the teaching-learning process. That's how I got into a fellowship program in education and conducted small research projects.
 

    I had many questions and answers. It was not possible to do a Ph.D. in India at that time. However, I used to do a lot of faculty training. So, I was involved in faculty development courses, but I wanted to do research.


    When I was teaching, I had questions about why students who come into medical education with the same motivation perform differently. Why do some people do well, and some people who seem to know a lot do not do well. And why does motivation differ between people? These were questions I did not have answers to. So, when we moved to the Netherlands, I looked into a Ph.D. opportunity in education. I found one in UMC Utrecht and chose motivation as my topic. The title of my thesis was "motivation in medical students," which looked into what motivates students for medicine and how it influences their academic performance and learning. 

    
When I was doing my Ph.D., I also started looking at the level of motivation and quantity of motivation. Within one year, I had two articles published, which should have made me very happy as a Ph.D. student. But I was not very happy because it did not help me answer the questions that I had during my practice. I was dissatisfied with the track I had taken. So, I went back to the literature and looked into motivation theories. I stumbled across self-determination theory. Self-determination theory mainly looks at the type or kind of motivation: why do we do what we do? It focuses more on the qualitative aspect of motivation and not its quantity. When I looked at the theory, I was able to identify and understand everything that was happening around me from the point of view of the theory. So, I decided to use self-determination theory as the primary framework for my thesis. 

    
As I already said, I mainly wanted to look at the relationship between motivation, learning, and performance during my teaching days. So, I had two studies on motivation and learning performance. I included UMC Utrecht and VUmc students in my thesis. I wanted to have application-oriented papers which teachers/educators could use immediately in their teaching-learning sessions. So, within my thesis, I also looked at using insights from my research for practice.


     

    HOW DID YOUR CURRENT RESEARCH DEPARTMENT COME ABOUT?

    During my Ph.D., I had two supervisors, one of them was Gerda Croiset, who moved to VUmc in the first year of my Ph.D., that's why I could also include students from VUmc in my thesis. As I was finishing my Ph.D., she said they did not have a group working on research in education at VUmc, and offered me to come along and start a group there. So, that's how I started working at VUmc. 


    Setting up a group yourself is fun and challenging, and I liked it. I started with two Ph.D. students: one Ph.D. student came from the National Federation of Universities, NFU (they wanted more research on selection). The other student was part-time from our institute who got FTEs from her daily job; she was in nursing education. So I started with the two of them, and over the years, I have grown the program. 


     

    WHAT ARE THE CENTRAL THEMES OF YOUR RESEARCH?

    The theme of my program is developing students for life. It is about stimulating students to be intrinsically motivated so that they are constantly learning from the practice and are ready to invest, dedicated to learning, and continuing professional development. That is what we call developing students for life. It is the main umbrella theme which covers all the research we conduct. I have three research lines within this theme. The first and the most prominent line has everything to do with motivation as a variable, the outcomes it influences in education, and the variables that affect motivation: motivation, learning, academic performance, professional behavior, professional identity. I also look at the background characteristics that influence motivation. So, everything that has to do with motivation comes in that line.


    Along the way, I wanted to research ethnic minority students, their motivation, and why their performance is lower than the ethnic majority students. 

    We tried to look at it through the lens of motivation, and it became a powerful thesis. Ulviye Isik, my Ph.D. student, graduated on that topic.

     During Ulviye’s research, many things came to light. We started getting interested in the topic of diversity and access. So, diversity and access became my second line of research. We also got external funding, and it became more and more important. Now, we have a solid second line that comes from many external finance/research grants. Within this line, there are different subtopics. We look at diversity not only as a different ethnic background but also in terms of gender, socioeconomic status, lower education background of the parents, and so on. For us, diversity is more diverse than ethnic origin. All the projects we have under diversity and access fall into this line. We have a huge project going on right now. PhD student, Lianne Mulder,  works on how we can select students to get a student population that is representative of the society or the patient population. We are looking at developing widening access criteria for admission into Health Professions Education (HPE). Suppose you have a student from a non-traditional background: not of Dutch origin with highly educated parents, parents already in the medical network, and high socioeconomic status. How can you ensure that non-traditional students also get the opportunity to study medicine? We looked at the hurdles they face for entering health professions education and what we can do to ensure they are represented in our medical student population. That is our biggest project on diversity right now. 
I lead this research line along with Anouk Wouters, an assistant professor in my team, who has completed her Ph.D. with me. Anouk got a Comenius grant for the Buddies Breaking Barriers project. From her thesis, which was on selection and motivation, we have found that high school students without a traditional background sometimes think that because of the selection procedure, they will never get through the selection procedure. There is thus selection happening at their own level, called self-selection, preventing them from even applying. So, to investigate this further (and that's how we got the NRO grant on widening access, the work that Lianne Mulder is doing), Anouk decided to set up a Buddy program for students in their first, second, third years. She coupled them with high school students from nontraditional backgrounds. She offered training sessions for them, as well as informal meetings. They got support on preparations required for selection and the types of selection programs we have - creating the network that the nontraditional students miss. Comenius funded the first year of the buddy program. Now, we are implementing it with our own budget, as an extracurricular activity. In my diversity line, we intensely focus on immediate societal implications. Since 2012, when I started the group, we have significantly grown: from two Ph.D. students to six Ph.D. students who have already graduated from the group and, currently, to 12-13 students registered with me, in different phases of their Ph.D. trajectory. 


     I have arranged my group in a pyramidal shape. Earlier, it was just the Ph.D. students and me. Now, I have assistant professors who take care of some of the daily supervision, and I have freed up my time to get more funding, network and focus on applications of the research and knowledge dissemination to the society.

     

    FOCUS ON HEALTH PROFESSIONS. WHY IS THAT?

    We were always a health professions education research group, but we have made it put more emphasis on it over the years. We had one person from pharmacy who graduated from our group. I have someone from midwifery, and I have someone from nursing. 


    The focus is on health professions because I come from health professions education and a medical center, VUmc, employs me.


    The field has changed over time. Initially, the field was focused on medical education. However, over the years, there has been a proper shift of the field to health professional education, an entire field of its own, with its independent journals. The health professional educators form a different group within higher education. The reason why medical education became health professional education is that you are learning competencies and skills. Additionally, students work inter-professionally, so it is beneficial to learn from one another. Therefore, we should not restrict ourselves to medical education but also include other professions in health in all we do so that we can learn from each other. 


     

    DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MEDICAL EDUCATION AND OTHER TYPES OF HIGHER EDUCATION?

    In health professions education, you get very motivated people, and a lot is expected from a student in terms of being a self-directed learner. You not only train yourself for building knowledge but also to become a professional. This is what makes health profession education different within higher education. 
The movement that you see in the field is that earlier, we were all talking about training to become a doctor, but now a core part of the training has become building professional identity. So professional identity building and professionalism are very strong components of health professions education, and it is becoming even stronger. 


    IN WHAT WAYS IS YOUR RESEARCH APPLICABLE IN PRACTICE?

    Even when I did my thesis, I wanted immediate practical applicability. So I wrote papers on practical applications currently used in tutor training. 


    Funding agencies like the NWO require that there has to be a substantial societal impact from research, the giving-back-to-the-society component. I think it is essential to do that. So, over the years, I have started investing time in creating materials or raising awareness or doing things that are oriented not only toward researchers and academics but also the society. One example would be the workshops for stimulating student motivation that I converted into E-learning videos and put them on Youtube so that it is not just teachers who can use the knowledge, but also the parents. I did not restrict myself to giving the workshops to specific people, but I made it as open as possible so that anyone could access it and learn from it. 


    As I said before, I had an application-oriented paper titled "twelve tips for stimulating students' intrinsic motivation in the classroom." That was a scientific paper. Unfortunately, not everyone can access a scientific paper and read it. So, two years ago, I converted that paper into an infographic. I made a poster out of it and put that on our website. I also shared it with people as study material.  

    The concern with applicability was always prominent in our research, but we used to publish application papers within our academic and scientific journals. Now, we have moved toward also letting people from non-academic circles benefit from our work. We try to orient ourselves. The Buddies breaking barriers is an entirely implementational project. It has a high giving-back-to-the-society component. 


     

    WHAT HAVE BEEN THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF YOUR RESEARCH TEAM SO FAR AND WHERE DO YOU SEE YOUR RESEARCH GOING IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS?

    People define achievement differently: the number of papers you publish and funds you can secure. To me, it is more important that, as a team we stand for something. For example, everyone knows that we are the group that works on Self-determination theory in Europe. Being that entity, I think, is an achievement. As a group, we are known for our motivation and self-determination theory in health professions education. That is an achievement to me.


    This year is significant for me because we have gained much recognition as a group now and I get invited to forums where I can contribute. Amsterdam UMC has me appointed on the Steering  Committee of diversity and inclusion. That is a very big appointment, not in the sense that I get paid for it, but it is a  position in which I can create impact. I sit in the committee and give feedback from the perspective of being a person with an ethnic minority background. I am investing more in impacting what happens in society so that I can bring in this point of view and fight for this cause. 


    Why do we not see ethnic minority people in academia or the healthcare work force? 30% of our students are from ethnic minority backgrounds, but it is majorly white if you look at our work force. So, why does this happen? This is a societal problem, and I can do something about it through this group. 

    
It was hard for me to fulfill all the expectations the institution had from me when I was on a career track. This is because I come from a different cultural background, I have a different way of looking at things and handling myself, but I was expected to fit into the image of a Dutch academic. The main change required was about being visible as a person/academic. In my culture we believe that if you do good work, visibility follows organically. But, in the Dutch culture, an academic is expected to actively create visibility. Although I believe that my own way of conducting myself as an academic was effective, I made changes that helped me in actively building visibility.  I found my own way of doing this while still remain authentic, which is important to me. I always thought once I am in the academic crowd, I can fight for change, not from outside the group. 

    
The group that I am working with right now on Diversity and Inclusion consists of people who want to have an employ-friendly policy on diversity and also have the influence to enact the suggested changes. Because Amsterdam UMC is the biggest hospital in the NL after the merger of VUmc and AMC, bringing about change at this level can trickle down to other hospitals. In this I can combine my research and experience to bring about change. 


    In the coming five years, I want to impact diversity and inclusion issues and not only in my institute but also at the Amsterdam UMC level and other UMCs. For example, with the widening access criteria study, what we are doing is we are developing a widening access policy for all health professions education to guide selection procedures. 


    Another project that I am doing right now focuses on the effects of assessment on motivation. I want to bring about a point of view of designing innovative assessment systems that can stimulate students' intrinsic stimulation instead of stimulating extrinsic motivation, making them learn only for the exams. 
  

  • The ARETE Project: Stimulating Students’ Social Behavioral and Emotional Learning via Augmented Reality Solutions – Jeroen Pronk, Sui Lin Goei, & Wilma Jongejan

    Introduction

    Within the ARETE consortium (see: www.areteproject.eu), we believe that education for youth around the world can be improved by incorporating new technologies into existing curricula. More specifically, Augmented Reality (AR) can be beneficial to enhance students’ educational experience and learning. AR is an innovative technology that enables users to augment the physical reality with additional layers of digital sensory information (e.g., animations) through a mobile device. In one of our projects, we focus on improving primary school students’ social emotional learning by embedding AR into behavioral lessons as part of the Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports (PBIS) framework (see: www.pbis.org). In this blog we highlight some of the research & development steps taken towards embedding AR into PBIS.

    Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports (PBIS)

    PBIS is a schoolwide approach focused on improving students’ self-regulation and behavioral management skills. PBIS schools define a small set of school values that promote a safe and healthy school environment. Schools choose the values that they deem most important (e.g., respect, responsibility, and safety). These school values inform the development of behavioral expectations for students (and school staff!) to adhere to in all school settings. Lessons are then designed to help students learn the expected behavior at school in a positive way following guidelines that are backed-up by both theory and practice. By teaching students about expected behavior in a structured way, behavioral problems are decreased, and a positive social learning climate is facilitated.

    Augmenting PBIS with Augmented Reality (AR)

    We believe that AR solutions can augment education in the PBIS framework by allowing students to both learn expected behavior through digital modeling and to practice desired behavior in a digital environment. Learning and practicing expected behavior through AR, is timely, aligns with students’ experiential world, and stimulates learning in a playful and gamified manner. As an example of modeling of desired behavior through AR, imagine a student standing in front of a water tap in a school restroom. The student scans a marker (e.g., a QR-code) on or near to the water tap with their mobile device. The water tap is enriched on this device with additional layers of visual information modeling the correct hygienic and behavioral rules for the behavioral expectation “I wash my hands with soap”. Students can repeatedly view the modeled behavior—from different viewpoints—on their mobile device in the real-life environment. As an example of practicing with desired behavior through AR, imagine a digital multi-user experience for the behavioral expectation “I greet others”, in which students can digitally greet each other’s digital characters (avatars) in a real-time environment. Practicing desired behavior in a digital environment allows students to firstly learn (especially more sensitive) desired behaviors in a safe environment before applying them in real-life.

    Research & Development of the ARETE PBIS-AR Application and Curriculum

    As PBIS schools determine their own school values and develop their own behavioral expectations and lessons, there are no pre-existing universal behavioral expectation matrices we could use for developing and designing our PBIS-AR application and accompanying curriculum. In an intense research and development process—suffering from delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic—we developed a universal behavioral expectation matrix, serving as the base for our PBIS-AR application and package of AR-compatible behavioral lessons.

    We originally planned to execute focus groups with teachers to gain insight into the most important content in terms of school values and behavioral expectations. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us into a contingency plan. We first collected behavioral expectation matrices of a large set of schools in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia. After deduplication and reduction, we only maintained those behavioral expectations that were present in multiple matrices in multiple countries. We were still left with a gargantuan matrix. To further reduce and validate the obtained data, the PBIS in Europe (PBIS-E) questionnaire study was executed in the first half of 2021 in a sample of primary school teachers and students (aged 9-12 years) in the Netherlands, Italy, Lithuania, and Portugal.

    The PBIS-E study resulted in a final shortlist of 15 behavioral expectations. Starting from this shortlist of behavioral expectations, Dutch primary school teachers were recruited for a lesson design study in the second half of 2021. In a structured lesson design process, small teams of teachers worked together with PBIS-experts to plan, develop, and evaluate nine behavioral lessons around the top-rated behavioral expectations. All lessons were designed to enable tailoring to the educational needs of students within a particular classroom setting, while following a universal lesson plan. The developed lessons were then bundled into a behavioral lesson package including an instruction manual (see Table 1 for an overview).

    In the coming months, the behavioral lesson package—without the inclusion of AR solutions—will be pilot-evaluated in a small set of grades 4-6 PBIS primary school classrooms in the Netherlands and Italy. The main aims are to gain insight in how the developed lessons are received by students and teachers, as well as in how effective the lessons are in improving students’ executive functioning, social and emotional skills, and social climate relationships. Concomitantly, the AR solutions to be embedded within the PBIS-AR application are being developed by teams of AR content specialists and visual design experts. After these final steps in the research and design process are taken by the end of this school year, we will be ready to evaluate the effectiveness of embedding AR into education within the PBIS framework in a randomized control trial study in the school year of 2022-2023.

    Exciting times are thus ahead of us in the coming months and years! Keep your eyes peeled for the developments within the ARETE project by subscribing to the ARETE twitter account (https://twitter.com/ARETEH2020)!

  • A perspective on equal opportunities in higher education - Anouk Wouters

    “If you work hard enough, you can achieve anything you want”. Who hasn’t heard this motivational phrase throughout their educational or professional career? But is this true? And is this equally true for everyone? In this blog I will discuss the importance and meaning of the ‘you’, ‘work hard enough’, ‘achieve’ and ‘anything you want’. These are important to take into consideration when striving for equal opportunities in higher education.

    Surely, most will agree that students should be able to live up to their potential and achieve what they want in life. And many will believe that talent will be recognized, fostered and rewarded in education, and beyond. However, this meritocratic stance often fails to include the perspective of equity; the opportunities one has had and the barriers one has had to overcome throughout life to get to where they are. These opportunities and barriers arise from a society and system that may be more attuned to some than others. So let’s dissect the quote I started this blog with, and see what this means in light of equity in higher education.

    ‘You’

    The focus on ‘you’ places a responsibility on the individual student, and implies a fair amount of control on one’s circumstances. This ‘you’ however, has a certain background, and is surrounded by a system of family, friends, teachers, and so on. These are aspects a person has limited control over as most is related to the circumstances they are born into. It has become evident that background matters. Consequently, the capital one has at their disposal influences their chances to perform well. A student raised in an environment with people familiar with the (Dutch) higher education context, including its unwritten norms and values (i.e. hidden curriculum), will have a smoother transition into higher education than students with limited access to such knowledge. We can offer these students guidance on how to navigate towards and through higher education.

    ‘Work hard enough’ and ‘Achieve’

    It is important to realise there is no unified definition of success in higher education, and the understanding of success and which achievements are valued is highly dependent on the societal context. E.g., medical education highly values ‘assertiveness’ in students, which comes more natural to the majority student group without a migration background than their peers from ethnic minority backgrounds. Fitting into student or department teams requires more effort from students not belonging to the majority group, and not familiar with the environment, including its dominant values and expectations. Moreover, seemingly clear and objective measures of achievement, such as grades, represent a variety of student journeys, abilities, commitment and effort. Consider two students. Student A comes from a wealthy and university-educated family, attended private schools, and received private tutoring after school. Student B comes from a poor family, attended public schools, had to work and help around the house after school, and will be the first in family to go to university. Both students apply to a selective study program with a grade point average of 7,0 on a 1-10 scale. Who is the successful student? Selective study programs considering previous academic achievement could take into account the context in which grades have been obtained.

    ‘Anything you want’

    Growing up in an environment that does not value and stimulate educational ambitions can nip any aspirations for higher education in the bud, despite high academic ability. Moreover, it may be easier for students enjoying more favourable (educational) conditions, who experienced no or limited setbacks (e.g. such as experiences of discrimination ethnic minority students may have), to develop the confidence they will be successful in higher education. Relatable role models are a powerful tool to show students from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds what they can achieve, stimulate relatedness and increase feelings of belongingness.

    Conclusion

    For inclusive higher education we have to recognize student differences in opportunities they have (had). It also requires us to be introspective of our own educational system, and be willing to remove barriers that contribute to inequity.  

    Further readings:

    Bourdieu P. The forms of capital.(1986). In: Szeman I, Kaposy T, editors. Cultural theory: An anthology. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd; 2011. pp. 81–93.

    Greenhalgh T, Seyan K, Boynton P. “Not a university type”: focus group study of social class, ethnic, and sex differences in school pupils’ perceptions about medical school. BMJ. 2004;328(7455):1541.

    Isik, U., Wouters, A., Verdonk, P., Croiset, G., & Kusurkar, R. A. (2021). “As an ethnic minority, you just have to work twice as hard.” Experiences and motivation of ethnic minority students in medical education. Perspectives on medical education10(5), 272-278.

    Wouters, A. (2020). Getting to know our non-traditional and rejected medical school applicants. Perspectives on Medical Education9(3), 132-134.

    Dr. Anouk Wouters a.wouters@amsterdamumc.nl