‘A meaningful online experience’

| Rense Kuipers

A new project called the ‘Autumn Challenge’ aims to give UT students an international, interactive and meaningful online experience over the course of 12 weeks. Initiator Elena Tsigki explains what the project is all about.

In a nutshell, why this Autumn Challenge?

‘Given the pandemic, I saw this as an opportunity to engage students by doing something different. Both students and teachers needed to compromise by switching to digital education, which is a lot harder than it looks if you want to do it properly. So it’s no wonder not everyone was that happy with how it turned out. Hence this concept for a flexible, extracurricular online programme, which is centred around challenge based learning. It’s not only within the UT, we also collaborate with our ECIU University and the network partner universities and some UT strategic partners like the university of Münster.’

How is the program set up?

‘Starting on the 1st of October, students will work together in small, international teams on real-life challenges over the course of twelve weeks. The theme is ‘Resilient communities and healthy living’. In a way, it’s quite similar to the Honours programme in terms of it being an extracurricular activity outside the regular programme: students are in the driver’s seat and have the freedom to plan their schedule and when they meet – virtually of course.

Aside these Virtual Teams, which is the group work on the assigned challenge per team, students will be following various lectures over the so-called Thematic Weekends to get a global sense on the topic of resilient and smart communities; they will also follow workshops during the so-called Skills Labs by means of getting access to tools that will help them discuss the challenge in their team. Lastly, we also offer some cultural activities to allow the students to bond and learn about each other’s cultures to add to the international identity of the programme.’

Who is it for?

‘Since it’s extracurricular, it’s not for students who have a nine to five mentality. It’s a pilot, so we’re aiming at about forty participants in total, since we want to start on a small scale and keep things manageable. We’re specifically aiming at second and third year BSc students and first year MSc students. A lot of the BSc students were aiming to go on exchange, but that will be difficult because of the crisis. We hope the Autumn Challenge can resemble a somewhat good international experience. The MSc students, who will be in the process of exploring career opportunities, have the chance to get in touch with companies who are participating in the project. Applications are open now. It’s important to note that we’re not looking at grades in admission, but purely at someone’s motivation. We want them to really be engaged in this experience.’

What do you hope to achieve?

‘I want to offer a more meaningful online experience. For the past few months, you could see the situation taking its toll on people. Especially the problem with interaction is quite big; students are so secluded behind their screens. The same problem applies to teachers. I think challenge based learning will offer better chances at interaction than regular lectures that were moved to an online environment. So with this project, we can create room to experiment, which will hopefully make things better for both students and teachers.’

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