Changes in First year curriculum: evaluating the programme
International Studies is a young and innovative programme, which means special attention needs to be given to the question whether its structure and content allows its students to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge.
After the first students graduated in 2015 the Programme Board therefore actively evaluated the programme. This was done side by side with an outside committee which reviewed the programme as part of the national accreditation system. This review committee advised the programme to work on improving the research skills of the students, structuring the programme more clearly around the various learning streams, and improving connections to the labour market. As a result of these two processes various changes were made to the programme, including moving courses to different semesters, to allow for a more logical sequence of courses, restyling the content of others and introducing two new courses.
Changes in the curriculum
The academic year 2019/20 will be the first year in which this restructured programme has a full run. We have implemented changes incrementally, starting with a new first year in 2017/18 which, among others, made Culture by Area and Politics first year courses and revamped the old Configuring the World course into an introductory course on political economy. In 2018/19 we had our first round of changes in the second year, the most important being the introduction of a new Thematic seminar: Research Methods, providing students with an earlier opportunity to develop their own interests in the programme.
Now it is time for the first run of the restructured third year! This will bring us two major changes: a new course Language in Practice and an increased number of credits awarded to Practising International Studies (PRINS). In addition to that, there will be a new choice between Cultural Interaction and Communicating across Cultures in the first semester of the second year.
Communicating across Cultures and Cultural Interaction
The original course Cultural Interaction, as it has been taught for the past 4 years, combined a cultural studies and a sociolinguistics perspective. However, students often did not see the link between the two parts and the lecturers indicated they would like to go more in-depth in their own specialization. For this reason, we have split the course into two separate courses between which students have to choose. Knowing which one to prefer should not be a problem as you are all familiar with both approaches through the core courses Sociolinguistics and Cultural Studies, as well as the Culture by Area courses. To emphasize that the latter course does indeed includes both perspectives, it has been renamed Culture and Language by Area.
Language in Practice
A new element in the programme is the course Language in Practice. The purpose of this new course is to anchor the language in the third year (students indicated that they regretted the absence of attention to their newly acquired language skills in the third year) and integrate the language acquisition learning stream with the research skills learning stream. The course will do so by providing students with the tools to incorporate sources in the foreign language they learnt in their research, in particular in their BA thesis. The course will be centred around the GRASP principle: Get, Read, Analyse, Summarize and Paraphrase. None of these concepts will be completely new, but they will require extra attention when it comes to source material which is not in English.
Practising International Studies
PRINS is a unique course, combining the expertise International Studies students acquire throughout the programme with preparation for the labour market. Hence, it is the course in which students show what the added value is of a multidisciplinary programme and what their area specialization can contribute in answering real life challenges of international organizations. The organizations that have participated emphasize time and again the importance of cultural sensitivity, a soft skill which is highly valued and which they feel our students have in abundance. Given the importance of the course, the perceived high workload and the extra emphasis which the programme wants to put on labour market preparation, we decided to increase the number of credits for this course from 5 to 10.
To allow for the increase in credits for PRINS and, more importantly, to improve the preparation for the thesis the third year Elective was moved to the first semester of the second year and rebranded as Thematic seminar: Research Methods. This results in a more logical, incremental learning stream in research skills starting off with Academic Reading & Writing, through Thematic Seminar: Research Methods (5ec) and the second year second semester Thematic Seminar (10ec), towards the PRINS final report and the thesis (15ec), supported by Language in Practice (5ec). These changes to the final semester are also intended to remedy the problems of conflicting demands and deadlines from the Elective, PRINS and the Thesis Seminar.
We are confident that the changes we made are an important step in addressing the concerns of the review committee and that the accreditation committee, which will visit us in June, will be satisfied with the progress we made. Still, we are always looking for ways to keep improving and innovating and would like to encourage students to contribute to that. There are various ways of doing so: you can become a member of the Education Committee, you can become a member of the Programme Board, you can work on extracurricular activities with BASIS, you can participate in projects such as “Students as Partners” (StaP), in which a couple of our students are now working on even further improving our labour market preparation programme. All in all, we welcome your ideas, feel free to think along with us and help make International Studies even better!