And the ‘Innovation in Teaching Award’ goes to…

2 April 2020

Last week of March the Innovation in Teaching Award of the Council for Hospitality Management Education (CHME based in the UK) went to Breda University of Applied Sciences. The title of the innovation was called: The Bachelor's Thesis (BT) learning community.

What were the key aims of the innovation and why was it introduced?

The main goal of this educational innovation was, and still is, twofold. First, the aim is to create a community of learners, specifically for the students who are working on their bachelor's thesis, often in combination with a management traineeship. Approximately 200 hotel management students start a traineeship every year within diverse departmental and corporate level contexts in dispersed geographical locations. This has led to the image of 'the lonely graduate', who felt like being the only one to carry the heavy task of working (often even full-time) as well as designing and conducting a relevant research project. Secondly, the expectations towards the quality of applied research conducted by bachelor's students have risen in the past years, especially after the Bologna Joint Quality Initiative in 2004. Hotel graduates are expected to enter the labour market as  reflective practitioners, meaning 'knowledgeable professionals who question the status quo and use their intellectual capital wisely" (Brinkman-Staneva, 2015). This expectation has led to intensified hospitality curricula with courses on Research Methods and Techniques, and, towards requiring to work on applied research projects, seen as the vehicle to develop as such reflective practitioners. Additionally, service professionals are required to develop a lot more than functional knowledge and deductive reasoning skills. Hotel alumni are also expected to be self-reflective team players, which requires having developed emotional, social and cognitive intelligence (Boyatzis, 2008). In short, the second aim is to facilitate the students in their personal journeys to design and conduct a high-quality applied research project, while being a member of a community.  

What is the innovation?

The Bachelor's Thesis learning community is facilitated by the identically named course. Its design is guided by nine main learning goals, and, following principles of flipping-the-classroom and blended learning course design. There are weekly scheduled contact moments during seminars, which can be followed on site (at the university campus) or online (at the university digital campus) together with a group of approximately 22 students. Students have access to a variety of learning materials any time, any place, any device (a major part being knowledge clips) and have a minimum of nine assignments to work on. For each assignment they need a buddy, a peer, who is expected to provide constructive feedback on a weekly basis and who is a match in terms of topic, context and/or research method. In addition to peer feedback, more formative feedback is structurally embedded in the course design. 

The pedagogical foundation of this innovation can be described as a constructivist and network-based approach, one focusing on the active behaviour of the learner, on 'what the student does' (Leoni, 2014), as opposed to a more traditional approach to education focusing on 'what the teacher does'. There is attention for how competencies are developed, not only for how their mastery is demonstrated. Multiple iterations, for instance on a 'simple' matter such as defining your research aim or question, are common practice.  All of this happens within a community which fosters  network creation, flexibility as to when and what to study, and  looking for as well as giving support when the journey gets tough.  

Why was the innovation a success?

The success of the Bachelor's Thesis learning community can be described based on diverse sources of data. We have seen a growth in the number of students who voluntarily enrol on the course since its start during academic year 2016 – 2017. Last academic year there were 177 students (combined with Facility Management students) who attended the course. This number represents approximately 50 % of all students working on a thesis.  During 2017 – 2018, for example, 87% of the students were satisfied with the course (N = 87, response rate of 83% ), the majority felt they were intellectually stimulated, their analytical skills being sharpened, stimulated to read further, developed skills to plan their own work, and felt part of a group of students and staff committed to learning. The course, as a contributor to develop problem-solving skills, still has improvements to make. Information technology was highly rated as a help in learning.  During the first academic year that we ran the course, we compared the thesis marks of students who took the course with those who did not. We saw that, on average, the students who did attend the course scored higher than the students who did not attend (7.3 (SD = .912) versus 6.8 (SD = .982)). This difference was found to be statistically significant (p<.03).

Additionally, we have captured students' experiences of the course and the thesis itself, by asking them to compare these to an animal. This animal metaphor has helped us to go beyond the traditional course evaluation and capture the story behind the research report. At this point we are considering to write a white paper based on more than 100 animal comparisons. An example which illustrates the power of such an approach is comparing the course with a butterfly "In the beginning, you are still a small caterpillar without any experience about research. Later, with help and guidance from the BT Course, you develop yourself into someone who is able and capable enough to carry out research independently." Anonymous 

Moreover, this innovation has been chosen by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science as one of the 15 showcases, to be used as a source of inspiration during a national campaign to innovate educational formats with IT. We have received many positive comments from external examiners, often with rich experience in the hospitality industry, about the applicability and utility of the research conducted by the students. Last, the team of three lecturers currently organising and teaching the course, serve as an inspiration to the whole community of learners. They continuously work on improving the course design with the ultimate goal of facilitating tomorrow's reflective practitioners. 

References

  • Boyatzis, R. E. (2008). Competencies in the 21st century. Journal of Management Development, 27(1), 5–12.
  • Brinkman-Staneva, M. (2015). The complexities of assessments in professional hospitality education. Quality
  • Assurance in Education. https://doi.org/10.1108/QAE-04-2015-0016
  • Leoni, R. (2014). Graduate employability and the development of competencies. The incomplete reform of the
  • 'Bologna Process'. International Journal of Manpower, 35(4), 448–469.