Social Work using study advance funds for flexible part-time education

This way, I continue to enjoy studying

The Social Work degree programme at The Hague University of Applied Sciences offers a flexible part-time variant, in which the education is even better aligned to the living and working situation of students. The study advance funds have made the development of this variant possible. Lecturer Kirsten Steenks and student Carin Groenendijk explain why students can gain from this.

In the quality agreements, The Hague University of Applied Sciences determined that they would spend the study advance funds on activities to promote the feasibility of the education. Carin Groenendijk has built up a career over 20 years in supporting people with an intellectual disability. In that time, she has done several part-time degree programmes. ‘I believe the flexible variant like the one THUAS has developed definitely promotes the feasibility of the education.’

Kirsten Steenks considers that the most important thing. ‘I am pleased we have been given the financial space to work with the 2B Learning agency, experts in blended and flexible education. It was extremely rewarding to brainstorm with Marja Bakker and Johan de Bruin during the development process. You need those outside eyes to properly develop a degree programme variant.’

Breaking away from an old idea

The flexible variant has been developed for part-time and dual students. The part-time students study alongside their regular job, just like Carin. The dual students have a learning-working contract. As students and employees, they work at least 16 hours a week at their place of employment, and they go to school one day a week on average. Kirsten: ‘When we started developing the flexible variant, we had to break away from the idea that students simply come to school and follow the programme there from year 1 to year 4. In the flexible part-time variant, students can use everything they have at their disposal – all their accumulated knowledge and experience applicable to the learning outcomes – to make the exam assignments. As a degree programme, you provide a supportive learning environment above all.’

Importance of the learning environment

Carin believes there is still a crucial point for development in that regard: ‘The Blackboard digital learning environment is not user friendly and it is not structured for flexible part-time education. Blackboard is difficult to access for students or lecturers. As a consequence, you have to search a lot and click on multiple buttons and on top of that, we get our results sent to us through all kinds of different channels.’ Kirsten agrees with that. ‘Students should be able to get to work and find the assignments easily with the help of the learning environment on Blackboard. That should apply to the student who wants to come to school one day a week. But also to the student who only wants online contact with the university of applied sciences. And for the student who wants to work independently. An easily accessible learning environment is really essential with a such a varied target group. The Hague University of Applied Sciences is switching to a different learning environment next year.’

Facilitating thought processes

Together with Marja and Johan from 2B Learning, Kirsten and her colleagues are going to think about the question of who their students are. ‘They are of course part-time and dual students. But there are also many differences in each of the two groups. There are people who like to learn alone. People who like to learn together. People who like to learn online. People who like to learn in practice or together with an expert. We must cover all those factors in each module. That sounds logical. But it is extremely difficult when you are used to developing standard traditional education. What do students need to successfully complete a module? What thought processes do they need to go through to make an assignment? By thinking more in terms of steps and facilitating those, we have been able to design our part-time and dual education in a different, more flexible way.’

Innovative

How is it more flexible? Kirsten: ‘As a lecturer, your input is more than just the role of an expert in your own specialism. You are also the expert in teaching learning. You are in a coaching role. You facilitate students by providing, for example, films, recorded PowerPoints and assignments they can work with. And you maintain your expert role in your own specialism, because students enjoy hearing about the underlying theory. All those roles are integrated in flexible part-time education. We have moved away from subjects. Students receive an assignment and look at what knowledge and skills they need to be able to complete that assignment. As a lecturer, you support them in that from those various roles. The educational innovation lies in integrating the roles, moving away from traditional education and from subjects. All to support the students’ learning.’

Aligned to professional practice

Social Work has done great things with the study advance funds. Kirsten herself is mainly closely involved with the development of the main phase module ‘The art of giving guidance’. That module is close to her heart as it contains all you need as a practicing social worker in the contact with clients. That alignment to professional practice is also a great challenge. Kirsten: ‘In the art of giving guidance, you are faced with numerous situations. The challenge is to cover as many of those situations as possible in the best possible way in the degree programme. And to align our education to professional practice as far as we can. We want to further refine that alignment, in coordination with the professional field. Our students will also have input in that.’

Enjoying studying

Carin is enthusiastic about that alignment. ‘I can directly apply the things I teach and the assignments I do in my work. An example: I am supporting a client who wants a baby. Then I am not allowed to say whether it’s a good or bad idea. With my knowledge from the ‘The art of giving guidance’ module, I made a balance model with that client about the load capacity-load burden. When discussing that, I use the conversational techniques I have practiced. That enables me to help her.’

Carin is pleasantly surprised by the involvement of her lecturers. ‘They are just really friendly. That’s important to me. Just as important as the weekly lesson and the contact with fellow students. I invest a lot in that. Helping each other doing things and brainstorming together, plus the good contact with lecturers. All in all this ensures that I continue to enjoy studying.’