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Status update: how are the Smarter Academic Year pilots progressing?

9 April 2024
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam has been actively engaged in the pilots of the Smarter Academic Year since last year. These pilots aim to organise the academic year more efficiently, with the primary endpoint of reducing the workload for teachers, researchers, and students - without compromising the quality of education. For instance, considering a shorter academic year: “This allows teachers more time for research and educational improvement, while at the same time easing peak moments for students.” What is being explored within these pilots, and can the researchers reveal any developments?

The Smarter Academic Year consists of a total of 41 pilots (running from 2023 to 2026), spread across Dutch universities and a University of Applied Sciences. Currently, three pilots are running within VU Amsterdam, all in the beginning stages.

Pilot 1: innovation in assessment methods
Researchers are exploring innovative assessment methods such as Programmatic Assessment: an approach where the learning process is assessed continuously and integrally. The aim of the pilot is to innovate traditional forms of assessment. How can we more actively involve students in their learning process? And: how do we shift the focus towards a formative evaluation? The pilot also investigates how guidance and evaluation can be organized more effectively outside the university, such as through internships or work assignments.

Another important aspect of this pilot is the potential reduction in workload for teachers and stress for students. In the pilot, the researchers implement the principles of the formative dialogue in education, for example, by focusing on guiding self-regulatory skills and increasing formative moments instead of summative partial exams. This pilot is designed to give students more opportunities to learn from their mistakes, without it negatively impacting the final assessment of a course.

Are you a teacher interested in implementing elements of the formative dialogue in your course? Sign up for a workshop with further guidance!

Pilot 2: restructuring the curriculum of the Faculty of Social Sciences
This pilot focuses on sustainably restructuring the curriculum within the Faculty of Social Sciences (FSW), with attention to the thesis period and other essential curriculum components. The goal is to explore a more balanced distribution of the workload throughout the academic year, to alleviate pressure on both students and teachers.

Pilot 3: integral pilot
This pilot aims to investigate ways to generally improve the academic year. New content is constantly being added to the programs, but this often neglects to maintain the workload for students and teachers by also proportionately cutting parts of the curriculum. Among other things, this pilot looks at providing space for students to learn what matters to them. They are guided to make personal choices to develop as individuals. Because at VU Amsterdam you don’t just become something, you become someone. This can result in even more study enjoyment and more streamlined programmes. “In this pilot, we first look for factors that make it difficult for people to declutter. Once those factors are identified, we will work on decluttering the curricula.” says Herbert Ploegman, pilot researcher.

In another part of this pilot, the academic calendars of various universities worldwide are compared to that of VU Amsterdam, and bottlenecks and opportunities are identified. “With these outcomes, a well-considered reorganisation of the academic year at VU Amsterdam can be explored, where the high workload of teachers and students is reduced.” says Ploegman.

Ensuring the quality of education
While all pilots focus on reducing workload, educational quality, student well-being, and scheduling are not overlooked. Concerns about the potential impact on education quality, as expressed by student organizations, are taken seriously within the pilots. “Student councils are encouraged to provide input so that the changes are also in their interest. It is crucial that these changes to the academic year do not lead to a higher pressure within a shortened timeframe. Creative and thoughtful solutions are needed to ensure the quality of education,” says Piet Bouman, SOZ Education Policy.

Questions about the Smarter Academic Year pilots? Contact