Wageningen; The teaching method
In one of my last articles I stated five reasons why I would choose Wageningen for doing my Master again. One of the reasons I gave, is the teaching method. As promised, I now go into detail regarding WUR’s education in this article. So, gear yourself up for a little journey to a classroom at Wageningen University with lectures, tutorials, practicals and interesting guests.
At the heart of every university education are lectures, so are they at WUR. Depending on the programme, the course and the period (you don’t remember, what periods are, look it up in my last article), there are one to three lectures per week and per course. Most of the lectures complement or even summarise the course literature or book. In most lectures, the professors prepared slides, often with some video or other visual material. Some of the teaching staff master the virtue of interactive lectures quite well along with modern devices such as the smartboard.
One of the biggest lecture halls on campus can be separated into four smaller ones and encompasses almost 500 students
In quantitative courses – at least in the ones I took so far – mostly the blackboard is used to explain the intuition and theory behind the math and to practice certain calculation methods. In the previous period, I took a quantitative course in which the professor created unbelievably well structured panels while explaining. The panels were really almost a fine piece of art and were beautiful in their own way – but you know: beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Colourful and well-structured panel in the course “Decision Science”
Another particularity at WUR are guest lectures either incorporated in a course or as an extra-curricular activity in the afternoon. In my current course, I have a weekly guest lecture given by a top manager or member of the management board of a leading (Dutch) company. For example, one of the scheduled lectures is given by Ron Augustus, Management Team member of Microsoft (the Netherlands). In the guest lectures, we immediately see how the theory that we are studying during the course is applied in real life. To be honest, this provides quite some motivation to actually study the very dry and boring theory.
If you want to see more real life cases, you can always attend guest lectures given in the lunch breaks or in the evenings or join a study association that often organises trips to companies as well as guest lectures. Personally, I think that these real life applications add a lot to my education: I do not lose sight of real life and get to know how things are working for real, I can imagine much better how theories are applied and why it is worth it studying them and, last but not least, I get first-hand impressions of companies which prepares me for my life after uni.
Being a business economics student, I cannot say much – or basically nothing – about practical lab work. I know that WUR has plenty of labs, greenhouses and fields for experiments, but that is all I know about natural science practicals.
My practicals are reduced to computer practicals. But still, I am very happy to have these. At most universities outside the Netherlands it is not self-evident to have as many computers as students in a single room. Moreover, all computers have all necessary software and work more or less as quick as you need them to be.
Usually, we get a task at the beginning of a computer practical which we have to solve within a given timeframe. Often, we work in groups or pairs. During the practicals, the theory is applied. This can take the form of working with specialised programmes, just solving exercises with Excel and giving answers to questions or working with statistics programmes such as SPSS. Even though there is no direct input given by teaching staff, there are a professor and a couple of student assistances present to answer specific questions of the students and to help out. For me, a lot of the theory becomes much clearer when I apply it myself. Although, I personally think that computer practicals are not much fun, I think they are very helpful. Also, having the opportunity to ask questions directly, make the practicals a very effective tool for grasping the course content.
Tutorials are kind of theoretical practicals. Sounds weird? It is not! Imagine a course like philosophy, where you cannot calculate anything, where you cannot make an experiment, where you cannot treat and analyse data – the only thing you can do in such a course is discussing and doing thought experiments. In tutorials, you do exactly these kinds of things. You discuss the literature with your group mates (in one tutorial group there are usually about 20 students). Often the professor provides questions or instructions what we have to discuss, but one tutorial never resembles another. In my current course. we have case debates in a tutorial: with a group we have to prepare a real life case which we discuss in a debate with another group that took the opposing standpoint. In a quantitative course, we just do calculations on the board.