Broad Future NOW minor taps into a new educational need

5 July 2016

Real-life assignments, work experience and professional development: the Future Now minor pioneers a new kind of education for The UvA. Where does this demand come from and how does it fit into the rest of the university’s curricula?

Out of the academic comfort zone

Future Now is an assignment-driven minor in which students from different faculties work on real-life cases. This first UvA-wide minor has been successfully developed within a year. It is aimed at students from all faculties, although some of the faculties are still working hard on creating room for this in the curriculum. As well as critically reflecting on our complex society in transition, students also contribute to solving the problems presented. The programme was developed in response to a renewed demand for engagement with social issues, and more room for personal and professional development within academia.

Combining academic knowledge with professional development

Second-year PPLE student Michael Collyer explains his motivation for participating in the Future NOW minor: ‘People who do a university degree often have to choose later if they want to gain practical work experience or further increase their academic knowledge. I want to do both at the same time. I don’t see it as a problem to work intensively and hard now so that I will be ready later to seize every opportunity within both the academic and business worlds.’

Ethical attitude

The idea behind the Future NOW minor is that students are made aware of what it means to enter society and solve complex problems. You must possess enough awareness about yourself as a person, as well as your field of study, in order to know what you can contribute to society. According to Dr Federica Russo from the Institute for Logic, Language and Computation, ‘You are confronted later with specific choices and decisions, through which clients can challenge the ethics within your research. In order to be able to take a firm position, you need extremely good personal basic skills.’

Academic level

The practical, assignment-driven focus does beg the question whether the academic level of the minor is guaranteed. Jacintha Scheerder, curriculum developer at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies (IIS) sees no dangers here: ‘The minor is supervised by assistant professors from different faculties with an interdisciplinary interest. They ensure that the interpretation of the issue is challenging enough. In addition, there will be a sharp focus on whether that which you present to the client makes an impactful contribution to solving the overarching (social) problem.’

Guidelines have been set in place to ensure that students are learning the necessary skills to excel academically and practically. Scheerder notes: ‘Three educational guidelines will be assessed: professional skills (networking, negotiating), knowledge exchange in order to be able to approach the issue effectively and the ‘YOU skills’ (reflection, development of creativity) or personal development that the student undergoes. In addition to ‘peer reviewing’, assessment and supervision from supervisors, the client will also, of course, give us feedback on the final result.’

Interactive development

Dr Russo participated in the curriculum development committee of the Future NOW minor and views this broad minor as a valuable experiment to see if the Bachelor’s students are mature enough to ultimately create useful output for the client. The minor is somewhat similar in structure to the Tesla science minor, aimed at Master’s students. 

The development of an interdisciplinary minor was, in any case, a welcome experience for her: ‘If you develop your own course then you know precisely which literature is important and what you can expect from your students. But this was completely different here. We had to consider different types of students with a diverse background in terms of knowledge. Fortunately, we were guided by people who already had a lot of experience in the development of interdisciplinary education.’

According to Scheerder, the most difficult aspect of organising this type of education is the rigidity of existing systems, which makes it difficult to experiment with both the form and content of new education. ‘This minor deviates from the standard minor. For example, we need a place where students can enter and leave 40 hours per week. Nevertheless, the energy that the curriculum developers from different faculties have invested to change this situation shows that there are ample opportunities to provide a place for these types of experiments.’

Published by  Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies