Nothing ‘basic’ about SBE’s teaching quality

Professionalism, staff development, and high-quality teaching: these are the buzzwords peppered throughout the strategic plan 2009–2013 of the Maastricht University School of Business and Economics (SBE). And mid-way through the plan’s timeframe, these buzzwords have proven justified. Just 18 months after the Basic Teaching Qualification (BKO) programme was implemented at SBE, 90 staff were awarded their certificates in a presentation at the Tongersestraat on Monday 5 July.

Quality mark

The BKO programme is a national initiative for the professionalisation of university tutors. Similar obligatory teaching qualifications exist in the UK and the Scandinavian countries, and the first such programme was implemented in the Netherlands by Utrecht University 12 years ago. “But until recently, the university setting in the Netherlands was still the only form of education that didn’t require a qualification like this”, says Jeannette Hommes, BKO coordinator at SBE. Such qualifications had already been set up for intermediate and higher vocational education (MBO and HBO), for example. In January 2008, however, all Dutch universities agreed to recognise one another’s BKO programmes. “And now you need a BKO certificate to apply for positions that involve teaching duties. So it provides a sort of quality mark that’s valid nationwide.”

The UM approach

At Maastricht University, a central BKO framework has been set up that gives the individual faculties a jump-off point to implement their own versions of the programme. SBE’s plan was approved by the SBE Board in October 2008. Its core objective: to support and encourage professional development among teaching staff. As such, it is highly recommended for all staff with teaching duties at SBE, and has been mandatory for many incoming staff since January 2009.

The success of the programme so far reflects SBE’s take on the importance of teaching quality. “There is clear and growing recognition that the quality of the education we deliver is crucial”, says Hommes, herself an educationalist who has been working at SBE for 17 years. “This insight is slowly but surely becoming an integral part of SBE’s culture. And the BKO programme is one of the means through which we can guarantee this. In fact, BKO is more a means than an end. The goal is not just that the education is of top quality, but also that the staff understand the importance of taking action to achieve this.”

The procedure

The programme revolves around six competences: subject matter expertise, course development, teaching delivery, assessment and testing, cooperation, and self-reflection. Participants are required to demonstrate that they have mastered a certain level in each of these aspects. To do so, however, different procedures apply to current and new staff.

New staff members – including those who started work at SBE after 1 January 2009 – are obliged to follow the full programme. They are allocated a coach (a senior colleague who provides guidance and support), and the training plan is customised in line with their  previous teaching experience. For example, those with no teaching experience whatsoever are required to complete a 185-programme within a maximum of two years. Components range from PBL training and a Managing Diversity workshop to – most importantly – the development of an e-portfolio. The latter brings together elements such as a personal strengths–weaknesses analysis and student evaluations, and is ultimately evaluated by the School’s Assessment Committee.

In contrast, staff who have called SBE home since before January 2009 begin by conducting a self-assessment based on the above competences. They then discuss this with their supervisor, and may decide either to pursue selected training options for further development, or to submit the self-assessment for direct evaluation by the Assessment Committee.

Solid foundation

All this serves to lay the foundations for solid teaching competence across the board at SBE. As the BKO is merely as ‘basic’ qualification, it is hardly surprising that so many SBE staff have received their certificates already; this fact simply serves as confirmation of the broad quality base that already exists within the School. Which begs the question: what’s next? Where to from here?

“First and foremost we aim to have all relevant employees complete the BKO”, says Hommes. “Once we’re confident this goal has been accomplished, we’ll start thinking about the next step. At the central UM level, discussions are already being held on how to keep moving onwards and upwards. There are bigger ambitions of course, depending on the particular profile that staff members need and what is interesting to individual employees – think of educational managers, policy advisers, finance staff, section heads, and so on. But with this sound basis now in place, we can really start looking to the future.”

More information

A website with information, articles, checklists etc. is currently under construction and will be online soon. In the meantime, for details on who is obliged to follow the BKO progamme and what courses, workshops, literature etc. are available, please contact:

Jeannette Hommes; BKO coordinator
Department of Educational Research and Development
School of Business and Economics
Maastricht University
Phone  +31 (0)43 3883771
Room:   B3.12, Tongersestraat 53


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