Societal Challenge: Combining knowledge and skills in a social project
In March 2022, the first edition of the Societal Challenge took place at the Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences. As part of this challenge, students work together in multidisciplinary teams for one day on social challenges, formulated by the participating social organizations in the context of the overarching theme of "Digital Humanities". We talked to Anne van der Velden (TSHD), career advisor and organizer of the Societal Challenge, and Aukje Leufkens and Nikos Basbas, who both work at EDUiLAB, on applying this innovative teaching method.
In the Societal Challenge, student teams work on their challenge, supervised by professionals from the field as well as from academia. This happens according to the principles of challenge-based learning. At the end of the day, the student teams pitch their results to a jury panel and have a chance to earn an Edubadge.
The TSHD Societal Challenge gives students the opportunity to gain relevant practical experience and makes them aware of the value of the knowledge and skills of their academic education. This will improve graduate employability and smooth our students’ transition into the workforce. We train them to be critical professionals with a social impact.
– Anne van der Velden
Based on his expertise as an instructional designer at EDUiLAB, Nikos explains challenge-based learning: “It is basically students solving a more or less real-life problem or issue.
It is an interesting form of education because it mimics the real world. The problems we encounter in our work or everyday lives are hardly every neatly organized within one discipline. Challenge-based learning allows us to bring students face to face with interdisciplinary problems.
It stimulates lateral thinking, collaboration, and soft skills. Moreover, it may have a positive effect on students’ motivation to learn because the Challenge makes it clear to them why they need to learn certain things.”
Anne explains that the objective of the TSHD Societal Challenge is to offer students the opportunity to gain relevant practical experience in the professional practice and to become aware of the value of the knowledge and skills they were taught as part of their academic education. It goes beyond knowledge transfer: it is aimed at teaching them to learn, i.e., using and applying the knowledge and skills they have acquired to solve practical problems in their professional context and in society. They address these issues in multidisciplinary teams to exchange ideas and work together, identifying approaches to complex problems from various perspectives.
"I am a Philosophy student, but we also have communication students on the team, so it’s great fun to see everybody bringing their particular expertise to bear on the problem."
- Diane Lammers (Student)
“We think it is important to innovate our education. The challenge-based learning method is mostly used at universities of technology, but we see opportunities to also apply it at our School of Humanities and Digital Sciences,” Anne states.
Aukje explains why EDUiLAB helps stimulate educational innovation. “By investing in innovation, we can continue to make it fit in with TEP, our Tilburg Educational Profile, meet the needs of our students, and use new techniques to ensure better learning outcomes.
We stimulate educational innovation, among other things, by making expertise and funds available for innovation projects. In this way, we try to encourage lecturers to try something new in their classes.
The TSHD Societal Challenge is one of the successful innovation projects that materialized with support from EDUiLAB. “With this pilot project, we have been able to realize an interesting intervention so students can practice a number of important skills,” Anne says. “In particular in the initial phase of designing the intervention (identifying learning objectives and deliverables, drafting the day’s program, etc.), EDUiLAB’s input was very useful. In addition, EDUiLAB was able to bring me into contact with other colleagues doing similar projects within Tilburg University to spar with and learn from.”
Edubadge as digital proof of skills acquired
Students who have successfully completed the Societal Challenge receive an Edubadge. EDUiLAB supports a number of pilots within Tilburg University using Edubadges. “Edubadges are a digital form of recognition for students. With an Edubadge, students can show what skills they have developed during the Societal Challenge. The metadata of the Edubadge describe the nature of the Societal Challenge and what students had to accomplish to earn the Edubadge. Edubadges show potential employers what skills a student has developed” Aukje explains.
There are very positive feelings about this first edition: “This way of learning has added value in so many areas that there are benefits on all sides, so to speak. That does not only make it an effective learning method, but also a very efficient one,” Anne observes. “We want to train our students to become critical professionals with social impact. In addition, it offers us opportunities to intensify our collaboration with social partners. Which is also interesting for our students, because they get the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills to practical professional cases. All in all, we can look back on a successful Societal Challenge, which we will certainly be following up on with new editions.” Anne adds:
“Our evaluations show that students greatly appreciate this form of learning.”