Aswin van Oijen: "Thanks to innovative education, I have more time for interaction, discussion and reflection."
Aswin van Oijen has both feet firmly planted in education at Tilburg University. For years now, has been passionately involved in familiarizing students with the world of Strategic Management. Besides this, he is very active in the field of educational development and management at the Tilburg School of Economics and Management. In 2016, this got him a place in the finals of the ISO national “Teacher of the Year“ elections. All the more reason to find out what his views on education are and how he feels about the Tilburg Educational Profile. We presented him with a number of propositions and asked him about his teaching style.
Pressure on academic education
Proposition 1: Today there are many visible and invisible factors subtly dismantling higher education and stripping it of its most intrinsic values. Valuable quality education is facing challenges such as academic staff being forced to deliver economies of scale and pressurized to perform.
“It is a fact that in the past few decades a lot more pressure has come to bear on academic education. Student numbers are rising, while budgets remain the same. Besides that, the pressure to perform coupled with accreditation procedures have resulted in a trend demanding that everything be transparent, quantifiable and testable. While this yields considerable returns, it also erodes more subtle values such as character building. An abstract but often forgotten dimension like character can obviously not be measured in terms of numbers. In that sense, the new educational profile is something we really need and is a very welcome development.”
View on education
Proposition 2: Lecturers must play a vital role in the educational process. They can transfer values, explore views, and offer students specific help. But finding the right types of students is relevant as well.
“Before they start on a particular program or track we inform potential students as clearly as we can on where our focus lies. We aim to educate students to become sharp thinkers who can go the extra mile, with dedication and a sense of responsibility. Good leadership and strong teamwork are crucial, but these do not come about by themselves. It takes attention, care, and experience to train students to develop these. We do this by exchanging ideas and discussing things with them, by teaching them presentation skills, and by coaching them.”
What are your views on what constitutes good teaching, and how do you go about teaching yourself?
“First of all, I consider it an enormous privilege that I get to teach young people and work together with them. I like the idea that they can profit later on in their lives from things that I taught them. For teachers there are a number of things that are important. During classes you need to make students feel that you are there for them. This starts with proper preparation. In preparing for classes, you need to have a clear view of what constitute important knowledge and skills, but no less importantly, of the attitude you want to convey. That is what I find so appealing about the ‘Knowledge-Skills-Character’ triad. In developing a course, I use those very same elements.”
“Besides that I try to add a lot of innovative elements to my teaching, such as online classes and online study material. This allows me to concentrate on interaction, discussion, and reflection in the classes themselves. Also, you can start your classes at a higher level because certain basic knowledge is already there.”
Teaching in practice: Strategy Consulting
He mentions the Strategy Consulting course as an example. In this course, he gives his students a taste of how thing do not always proceed as smoothly in practice as you might hope or expect. This way he bridges the gap and establishes a firm connection between academic education and the work field, another element that the educational profile sets great store by.
“This course is really based on the philosophy of ‘co-creation’. Collaboration with people in the work field yields a lot of added value here. I invite guest speakers, for instance, practitioners from the business world. They present the students with real cases, and in turn also act as customers for them. Before students present their recommendations to the practitioners we first do trial runs, which we subsequently discuss and reflect on, still in the safe environment of the classroom.”
“Students also learn to adapt certain ideas or strategies or to throw them overboard if they turn out not to be feasible, even after they have invested a great deal of time in them. Sometimes they simply have to start from scratch if it turns out along the way that a particular strategy is not going to work. They often find that difficult, but it is fruitful nevertheless. That way they remain critical and adaptable.”
Aswin van Oijen is Associate Professor of Strategic Management at the Tilburg School of Economics and Management and Program Director of the Strategic Management Master’s and Extended Master’s programs.