We created this project on behalf of the Bachelor’s Honours College coordinators at the University of Groningen, who asked us to come up with a method of assessing students’ personal development throughout the two and a half years of the programme. We were intrigued by the idea of getting to rebuild education at our own university, although we quickly realised that a more radical approach was needed to account for the past flaws of the programme. The learning line was unclear, some course titles misleading and the requested life skills component did not yet take centre stage. Hence, we spent the past few weeks creating a redesign of the programme, while preserving as many “old elements” as possible. We did not touch the Faculty specific and knowledge based “Deepening” part of the programme and instead focused on the interdisciplinary and practical “Broadening” part by restructuring courses, (re)imagining programme components and redistributing ECTS, as visualised by a new infographic. This allowed us to introduce a new system of tracking personal development, consisting of both guided self-assessment and peer-reflections.
It all started on a cloudy Saturday morning in February 2022, when our team assembled at the Van Swinderen Huys in Groningen for the first “Rebuilding Education” workshop. After some initial brainstorming about the nature of our project, we decided to take on the assignment given to us by Dr. Han van der Strate and Dr. Peter Groote, two representatives of the Bachelor’s Honours College of the University of Groningen. More specifically, this task consisted in coming up with a solution to address the current lack of assessment concerning the development of life skills within the programme. The ideation of such assessment, ideally through gamification, was to be limited to the talent development part of the Petrus-Camper-Track, the broadening section of the Bachelor’s Honours Programme.
This report is the result of almost three months of creativity, teamwork, group meetings and a shared passion for education policy-making. It not only includes an in-depth problem analysis and complete redesign of the former Petrus-Camper-Track, but also academic resources, stakeholder interviews and infographics to back up and visualise our thought process and ideas. Finally, the appendix contains a special treat: the mock-up of an updated version of the current Honours website.
In order to address the assignment effectively, our team decided to start by critically analysing the problem as opposed to thinking about solutions first. An accurate analysis of the set-up of the Petrus-Camper-Track revealed structural problems impeding a meaningful assessment of personal development. The team formulated a problem statement, touching on the fundamental issues.
“The Petrus-Camper-Track of the Bachelor’s Honours College at the University of Groningen consists of a three-tiered system of personal development focused, career developing, and horizon broadening modules. Currently, this programme lacks a way of measuring progress in personal development. Implementation of a measuring system for this is currently not feasible due to a lack of coherence and unnecessary overlap between the modules of dif erent tiers, which do not build on one another. As a result of this, the overarching vision of the track is unclear, and consistent supervision and guidance are missing. Hence, there is no perspective for prospective and current Bachelor’s Honours students regarding the overall learning outcomes of the dif erent trajectories. These issues need to be resolved before a measuring system for personal development can be implemented.”
The problem statement highlights a big issue: the absence of a singular learning line and the connected vision. The different modules feel like they are not pointing in the same direction. Moreover, the names are confusing and often spelled through acronyms (ex. Pick your own talent workshop = PYO-t). This leads to a lack of clarity, which is necessary for both students (limited awareness of the program’s goals) and administration (advertisement is difficult). Even the infographic describing the structure of the Petrus-Camper-Track does little to unbundle the confusion.
This lack of clarity was confirmed also by current and former Honours students.
“The composition of the programme is a lot to say the least. You have the workshops, the skills modules, the broadening modules, the evenings, the summer school…”
“I would have liked more clarity from the start. You don’t know what everything means, you constantly have to set preferences for courses…”
On top of this, the life skills, which should be the object of the requested method of assessment, are not mentioned anywhere. Putting criticism aside, we consider the programme to be a powerful concept, especially for the variety of courses offered. However, these problems limit the potential of the programme, which could give students even more with a defined vision and a single learning line.
Before advancing with proposals tackling the problems, we chose to speak with the Honours Coordinators. This was important to understand how far our redesign could go. Empowered by the absolute freedom granted by the coordinators, we interviewed relevant stakeholders to the project, including both former and current Bachelor’s Honours students, the Faculty of Arts’ coordinator for the Honours program, an educational coach, and an external Petrus-Camper-Track instructor. The questions touched on different issues: the definition of life skills and whether or not they can and should be assessed, potential killers and drivers of learning, and the potential of gamification.
All the interviewees agreed on the intangibility of life skills and their interdisciplinary nature. Regarding their assessment, everyone agreed on the importance of awareness for the students’ personal development as well as the inapplicability of classical assessment methods. Instead, ideas concerning personal- and group reflection were raised.
“I think you can’t assess personal development. If anything, because it’s so subjective, you yourself should be the person to assess it. However, it’s also very difficult, so discussing your own development in a group would probably be helpful.“
“I don’t think life skills should be assessed in the same way other skills are assessed through exams.”
On the topic of what drives and what kills learning, a dichotomy emerged. Intrinsic motivation was seen as the primary driver, while an excessive workload and the fear of being judged were considered the main opponents to learning.
The potential of gamification in assessment encountered some support in the people we interviewed. However, the educational coach provided an interesting angle of criticism:
“An assessment does not necessarily need to be fun, it needs to be alive. It has to be creative or co-creative and then it becomes motivational. And you can also assess it in such a way, it doesn’t necessarily have to be an essay.”
To create a successful redesign of the Petrus-Camper-Track, we had three main tasks to fulfil:
To begin with, we came up with a definition of the term “life skills”, inspired by the Hogeschool Leiden’s fivefold categorisation (Slotboom & Gravesteijn, 2020):
In a second step, we then created a matrix for existing Honours modules, more specifically the current “Pick your own talent” workshops, all in the spirit of maintaining and later recycling as many original elements of the track as possible. The schema highlights how these modules can each be attributed to one or more of the five aforementioned life skills pillars (see Table 1).
Table 1: Categorization of Courses
s mentioned previously, we realised that the elements of the current Petrus-Camper-Track do not constitute a clear learning line that allows students to not only face new challenges and pick up life skills but also to continuously work on these skills throughout the programme while reflecting on their development consistently with the help of coaches and peers. This prompted us to restructure the entire track from the ground up, rename some of its various components and introduce brand-new instances of self-reflection. Overall, this strategy proved to be extremely successful, as we ended up with a learning line that, in contrast to the previous version, does not require any explanation (see Table 2).
That being said, the following paragraph briefly enlarges upon each individual component of the new track in order to explain our intentions and thought process.
Firstly, the most significant modification is the “Personal Development line”, which serves as the
programme’s foundation. It consists of a so-called personal development plan, a tried and tested element of the Master Honours Leadership programme, in which each student describes their goals and intended “growth path” throughout the years. Students are encouraged to return to this plan at least every semester and modify it according to their progress and potentially evolving interests. These moments of reflection are complemented by frequent coaching sessions with peers and professional supervisors, as awareness of progress is instrumental for continued personal growth. Additionally, every student reviews their original goals as formulated within the personal development plan at the conclusion of the Life Skills Track.
We equally made some changes to the other components of the programme in order to create the aforementioned learning line, e.g, by merging related elements together. As a new initial activity, a personal development playground has been developed; it assists students in understanding the foundations of the programme and in starting their growth process in a pleasant manner. Since we feel that this terminology is more intelligible and to establish continuity, the term Broadening Modules has been changed to Applied Skills Modules. Now, students get introduced to life skills first and can then practise these skills on multiple occasions during the Applied Skills Modules, the Summer/Winter School, the Atelier and the Festival. Notably, all “confusing” elements have been removed from the curriculum: There are no longer skills modules, PYO-t workshops, Petrus-Camper festival and misleading broadening modules within the Broadening Track.
The Honours Coordinators requested the implementation of an assessment of personal development through life skills. This gives rise to multiple questions: First of all, what is the role of life skills in personal development? Secondly, can and should personal development be assessed? And if so, how? Only after answering those questions does it become relevant whether we can come up with and implement an assessment protocol for personal development in the Petrus-Camper-Track of the Bachelor’s Honours College.
The role of life skills in personal development has been defined as follows by Prajapati et al. (2016): “life skills education bridges the gap between basic functioning and capabilities.” This effectively means that life skills are the skills needed to deal with and flourish under the stress imposed on people by life, and that it is important to help people develop these skills. These findings have been corroborated by Slotboom & Gravesteijn (2020), who reviewed twenty-three different studies on life skills. Personal development through life skills resulted in improved study-results and increased well-being among students.
The next question is whether personal development can and should be assessed. As was mentioned before, all the experts agreed that life skills are important and should definitely be taught in higher education. Besides this, they stated that awareness of your own development process is integral to the process itself. They also stressed the importance of including others, who can help you find your blind spots and support you throughout the journey, in this process.
A form of assessment that adheres to these ideas and is currently being used by one the educational experts is the portfolio. An alternative that we are using currently in the Master’s Honours College is the Personal Development Plan (PDP). Mittendorf et al. (2008) compared the two and found that both of them are effective in achieving this goal. The main difference between them is that the portfolio is more retrospective, whereas the PDP is more proactive. However, Beausaert et al. (2013) and Patel et al. (2013) both found that such methods require careful construction, regular revisiting and discussion, and skillful supervision in order to be effective. Especially when applying self-assessment over a longer period of time, regular revisiting can improve the results, according to Lew & Schmidt (2011) and Rodriguez et al. (2018).
According to these findings, we created an assessment protocol comprising self-, peer-, and coach-assessment in regular intervals throughout the Bachelor’s Honours Programme.
Implementing this protocol into the current programme structure proved infeasible due to the lack of clarity, which was confirmed by both current- and previous students, as well as experts in the field. This issue needed to be addressed because this clarity is key in creating a solid structure that is necessary for all parts of the personal development process (Slotboom & Gravesteijn, 2020), especially early on in the process (Mann et al., 2007).
Hence, we restructured the current Bachelor’s Honours Programme into one comprehensible learning-line that consists of clearly described consecutive modules with incrementing development.
The Coordinators of the Bachelor’s Honours Programme of the University of Groningen asked us to come up with an assessment method for the personal development part of the Petrus-Camper-Track.
The analysis of the Petrus-Camper-Track revealed structural problems that, if not properly addressed, would have made the realisation of the assignment impossible. The identified problems are: an unnecessary overlap between the modules of different tiers, a lack of coherence and vision throughout the programme, a lack of definition when it comes to life skills. All of this adds up to a lack of clarity, and, most importantly, of a single learning line. Hence, we decided to build a new programme: the Life Skills Track.
The new programme has a clear vision, which we decided to build around the concept of personal development. We associated personal development with the development of life skills.
The assessment method for personal development of the new programme is based on the idea of personal reflection. It starts with a Personal Development Plan, is characterised by regular supervision, and culminates in a final self reflection at the end of the programme.
Concretely, we provide the Honours Coordinators with:
Beausaert, S., Segers, M., Fouarge, D., & Gijselaers, W. (2013). Effect of using a personal development plan on learning and development. Journal of Workplace Learning, 25(3), 145–158. https://doi.org/10.1108/13665621311306538
Lew, M. D. N., & Schmidt, H. G. (2011). Self-reflection and academic performance: is there a relationship? Advances in Health Sciences Education, 16(4), 529–545.
Mann, K., Gordon, J., & MacLeod, A. (2007). Reflection and reflective practice in health professions education: a systematic review. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 14(4), 595–621. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10459-007-9090-2
Mittendorff, K., Jochems, W., Meijers, F., & den Brok, P. (2008). Differences and similarities in the use of the portfolio and personal development plan for career guidance in various vocational schools in The Netherlands. Journal of Vocational Education & Training, 60(1), 75–91.
Patel, S., Kitchen, G., & Barrie, J. (2013). Personal development plans – Practical pitfalls. Trends in Anaesthesia and Critical Care, 3(4), 220–223. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tacc.2013.04.003
Prajapati, R., Sharma, B., & Sharma, D. (2016). Significance of life skills education. Contemporary Issues in Education Research (CIER), 10(1), 1–6. https://doi.org/10.19030/cier.v10i1.9875
Rodriguez, F., Kataoka, S., Janet Rivas, M., Kadandale, P., Nili, A., & Warschauer, M. (2018). Do spacing and self-testing predict learning outcomes? Active Learning in Higher Education, 22(1), 77–91. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469787418774185
Slotboom, S., & Gravesteijn, C. (2020). Levensvaardigheden voor studenten: een overzicht van studies. Tijdschrift Voor Hoger Onderwijs, 38(2), 41–64.