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The Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies (IIS) wants to give everyone within the University of Amsterdam the opportunity to experiment with their education. That is why it offers educational professionals the opportunity to start up pilot project based around various themes. Last year, it concerned acquiring skills within project-based learning. One of the lecturers who set to work on this was lecturer Anco Lankreijer from the Amsterdam University College (AUC). We spoke to him about the essence of the course ‘Big Questions in Time’, how the IIS was involved in the development hereof and what challenges and opportunities the coronavirus crisis presents now that the course has actually begun.

“We want to offer more interdisciplinarity within the AUC. Within that framework, we are busy designing a revamped series of courses entitled ‘Big Questions’. Various interdisciplinary themes will be addressed in these courses, with the main aim being to make the interdisciplinary aspect concrete and tangible. The course ‘Big Questions in Time’, for which the IIS grant was made available, revolves around the theme of time. What is time actually? This is a simple, while at the same time very difficult and fascinating, question. There are many different ways of looking at and thinking about it based on various lines of approach and disciplines. We have lots of ideas about time and use them to tell stories and place events: flashbacks, future dreams and then there are also different timescales. An extremely interesting theme that also, as it turns out, contains a lot of philosophy.”

Workshops provided concrete points of reference

Together with the IIS, Lankreijer and colleagues set to work on developing the course. The expertise of the IIS helped give tangible substance to the desired interdisciplinary aspect. For example, they worked on interdisciplinary methodologies. How can you collaborate as effectively as possible coming from different disciplines ? Which skills do you need and how should you divide the tasks among yourselves? “We were given fantastic workshops with many practical examples. We drew a lot of inspiration from this. Various methodologies, such as the ‘Double Diamond’ and ‘Competence Mapping’, were successfully integrated into this course.”

Implementing creative forms of assessment

The development of the course lasted roughly ¾ of a year, with each session always elaborating on the knowledge gained and learning objectives set from a previous session. “Lots of nice ideas came out of it, very authentic. We ultimately opted for a number of alternative forms of assessment, the most important of which is to build an installation, thus portraying the concept of ‘time’ in a personal manner. Building installations is totally outside the comfort one of our students, which promotes creativity. An unusual form of assessment is, in my opinion, typical of interdisciplinarity. This was then followed by another workshop to develop the assessment criteria.

Going global precisely because of the coronavirus crisis

The coronavirus crisis broke out when the course had just started. An additional challenge, but we made a virtue of necessity. An excursion to visit Museum Zaanse Tijd in Zaandam had originally been planned. However, when it turned out that this could not go ahead, the idea occurred to us: if we are going online anyway, why limit ourselves to the Netherlands?  “Various museums throughout the whole world have a beautiful collection online. We decided, among other things, to add a museum from Tehran and London concerned with the theme of time. The assignments could be carried out remotely and the digital group forming also went well. They immediately got down to work in different breakout rooms. The enthusiasm of the students was great and inspiring.” 

The AUC as museum

The final presentation of the installations was also adjusted due to the coronavirus. Unfortunately, the original plan to exhibit the installations physically cannot go ahead. However, we are also working on creative solutions to this: “We are going to transform the AUC building ourselves into a virtual ‘Time Museum’ where the installations ‘hang on the wall’ digitally. Precisely now that we are not able to be together, we thought it was important to have our permanent home serve as the backdrop. We therefore keep that community feeling in our own way. We are pretending we can still enter the building. Making the actual installations was, however, more complicated remotely and we are very curious about the results. But with such an amazingly motivated group of students, nothing can go wrong.”

A few weeks after this interview, the course was successfully completed with the online exhibition: ‘It’s about Time’. With the aid of, among other things, self-made 3D figures, videos and games, students have showcased their creativity and knowledge gained in an innovative way. See a number of images below. Would you like to take a look yourself? That’s possible! Click on this link.

AUC as virtual museum
Minecraft game
Spirals of time