Yaay, a new Maastricht University (UM) Bachelor course in Global Studies (find out about the program here) that I was involved in the development of, got accredited !! Let me tell you about the journey right from conception to accreditation.
Interview. On June 5th, I received an invitation for a meeting to exchange ideas concerning the interfaculty and interdisciplinary Bachelor Global Studies (BA GS) with the course co-ordinators This was an intake interview to be part of the development team. At the meeting on June 27th, we discussed about the plan for the program, their ideas for adding data science components in the program, my ideas of new forms of teaching (aka “21st century technology”) and my availability and interest in being part of the development team.
Then, on July 7th, I received an email informing me that I had been selected, along with 25 other developers from across the University:
We have had to piece together an incredible puzzle to find people with the right expertise, have a balanced representation of faculties, gender and a diversity in regions of origin. All of this is important for fostering the inclusive and diverse program that we hope to shape. I am happy to say that we have found a diverse team in all respects and would like you to be part of it.
Team. Each semester consisted of three people, each from: (i) content i.e. theme of the semester (e.g. Environment & Economy, Migration & Citizenships), (ii) skills (e.g. scientific writing, presentation) and (iii) methods backgrounds. The methods team itself consisted of people from both quantitative (Data Science, statistics) and qualitative (epistemology) backgrounds. The methods team was involved in all the semesters.
Pressure Cooker Sessions. Then the development of the course started ! Between September 2018 and March 2019, there were 3 pressure cooker sessions scheduled, where we all came together for 1 & 1/2 days to dedicate in developing this course together. These “pressure cookers” (nice name to emphasize the intensive, collaborative nature of the sessions) were extremely well organized and well structured so as to be maximally productive! In these sessions, we had several brainstorm sessions where we discussed ideas on what the students should be taught in that semester from the three aspects. While it was collaborative process, sometimes it was difficult to agree with each other especially because we came from different disciplines. In fact, even within the Methods team, we were from different backgrounds but using the same terminology. For example, the qualitative person used the term ontology in a different context than me, as a quantitative person would use. Thus, there was a learning process even for us. The main disagreement was about the order in which the methodological concept should be taught and also which type and in what proportion they should be taught considering these are fresh new Bachelor students that we will be teaching. However, over several discussions – even apart from the Pressure Cooker sessions – only as a Methods team itself, we resolved these issues.
Course Books. Over the course of the next months, we developed the course books for Semester 1 and 2. We started with the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) for each semester. I experienced that spelling out the ILOs clearly in the beginning helps the design the teaching and learning activities to be much easier, clearer and straightforward. In particular, identifying and indicating the course, programme and institutional level ILOs helps decide which kind of teaching method, prioritize content details and the depth of understanding required. Then creating the assessment methods and linking the ILOs to the specific assessments helps align the teaching plan even further. We strived towards creating truly inter-disciplinary lectures and assignments. From the methods perspective, our aim was to teach them how to collect, store, access, cure, analyze and visualize data since they would deal with data throughout the semesters. Moreover, we added in lectures on how to ensure that their data is Findable Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable (FAIR). Further, we included teaching them how to use Jupyter notebooks to perform data analyses. We worked on the descriptions, assessments, reading materials for each lecture, tutorial and assessment. This was a tedious process as it was not only in parallel to our other responsibilities but also we had to align with the entire team from each semester. But, we made it – we delivered the finalized Semester 1 and 2 course books by end of May.
Mock site visit. On 24th May 2019, we had a mock site visit where the panel consisting of 5 people from UM grilled us in two sessions about the program. We were asked questions about the rationale behind the program, the inter-disciplinary nature, mentor training program, questions about admission and recruitment, methods and tools we plan to teach and budget. The feedback we got from the panelists later was that we all need to pitch in and not only the course co-ordinators and that we should be prepared for some standard questions such as the inter-disciplinary nature of the program.
Pre-launch briefing. On 28th May, we had a pre-launch briefing, where the course co-cordinators informed us about the panelists, reminding us about the core characteristics of the program, the inter-disciplinary nature, how each semester has been structured which links the content, methods and skills, and discussed feedback from the mock site visit.
NVAO site visit. On 5th June was the D-day – the visit from the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO). We were divided into smaller groups for each session. I was part of one of the sessions with 8 others (consisting of the content teams of 3 semesters and the 2 course co-ordinators). The NVAO panel asked specific questions about the semester such as how will we incorporate interdisciplinarity in the reading material, how are stakeholders going to be involved, about the skills been taught and how they are going to be assessed. Some of the question they asked me about the methods were (i) how would we deal with students from different backgrounds, (ii) in a big group of let’s say 200 students, there might be some students who are more “data friendly” than others, how are you going to account for that? and (iii) about the assessment: what if some students are better than others, how are you going to assess them? are you going to grade them more? We tackled these challenging questions as a team.
The verdict. Few hours later the NVAO team addressed all of us and gave an elaborate assessment of their initial impressions of the program. Overall, they were positive about the program and commended us on our efforts. In fact one of the panelists specifically mentioned that she was quite impressed with the methods and skills tracks and said those were “enviable”. They also raised relevant questions, things we should think about, certain risks they identified and told us to continue developing the course in the Pressure Cooker sessions for the remaining semesters. And then a month later, we received the fantastic news that our program was accredited !
Dear Dream Team, Yes, we are now officially a Dream Team! For those who weren't at the site visit yesterday: we received good news from the NVAO accreditation committee! We couldn't have done this without you!!! This is an innovative project, a bit of a dream...
Then, the course co-ordinators sent us this card and book (see featured picture) as a thank you :)! The course will launch end of next year and we still have some development to do but this has been a great learning experience for me and I’m looking forward to the course!