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Marjo de Graauw: innovation in education should transcend individual departments

Marjo de Graauw has a unique role: she is responsible for innovation in education in the Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences programme. She left Leiden Teachers’ Academy (LTA) in September, having been a fellow for five years. Which project did she carry out there? This is the first in a series of interviews with outgoing LTA fellows.

‘Five years’ ago, lecturers were innovating in their teaching, but they were all doing their own thing. That has since changed.’ Marjo de Graauw is convinced that the LTA has played an important role in promoting innovation in education throughout the University.

Marjo de Graauw LTA
De Graauw with Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences students

A bridge too far

Innovation in education is in De Graauw’s blood. She doesn’t want to limit her work to the Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences programme, but wants her innovations to be implemented through the entire Faculty, or better still the entire University.

The first project that she came up with as an LTA fellow soon proved to be too broad: she wanted to build a digital platform where lecturers would be able to seek out, inspire and help one another. This was a bridge too far, so she set to work on two other projects instead.

Peer feedback

In the first project, students gave digital peer feedback on one another’s written material, such as papers and essays. Students generally receive a final verdict from the lecturer and that’s it, but in this project, the lecturer came up with questions for them to answer about their peers’ work, such as whether the background information corresponded with the research question and whether this question was relevant to the reader. They were also asked to provide feedback on the academic language used. They gave feedback on the work of some but not all of the other students, and were trained to avoid writing just any old comments. The final verdict was still up to the lecturer, also using the same feedback system.

Marjo de Graauw LTA
Working on another project: flipping the classroom


The programme that De Graauw uses is Turnitin, which was originally developed to check for plagiarism. However, there are many other options in the system, such the ability to determine, after the feedback has been given and the final mark awarded, how a certain student population has scored on different sections (title, introduction or conclusion, for instance). The lecturer can then offer extra training to help the students improve their academic writing.

Much to De Graauw’s satisfaction, PhD candidate Bart Huisman has spent the last few years helping her research how students view this form of feedback: what is known as student perception. De Graauw is now researching whether peer feedback improves the quality of student papers and essays.

Academic training

The second project is about improving students’ academic training, which in De Graauw’s opinion is broader than learning academic skills alone. ‘These skills are not necessarily academic,’ she says. ‘What is academic is thinking in competences and reflecting on these, for instance in relation to the requirements of the job market.’ This project corresponds with the Academic Training course on the Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences programme. De Graauw has developed an e-learning platform together with Janine Geerling that uses various skills modules to support students’ academic training. ‘These are linked to the students’ ongoing training and/or final product, for instance a presentation,’ says De Graauw. ‘All sorts of information can be found on the platform, such as: how do you plan and give a presentation?’ This is supported by voluntary workshops, for which as many as 60 to 90 students register nowadays. These workshops don’t earn students any credits, which only emphasises what a success they are. De Graauw is now developing the e-learning skills platform at a faculty level, together with a team of experts. It may also be implemented elsewhere in the University.

Marjo de Graauw LTA
Closing the LTA Education Festival with co-chair Chris De Kruif in 2018.


The 25,000 euros that De Graauw received as an LTA fellow was by no means enough to fund the projects, so she applied for – and received – other grants. One frustration was that there are very few grants for innovation in education projects that also involve comprehensive research into their effectiveness. De Graauw: ‘The focus is generally either on innovation in education or on research, but with innovation in education it is important to measure the effects. I was really lucky that a PhD candidate was able to conduct research into the peer feedback project.’

Lunch lectures

De Graauw was co-chair of the LTA last year, together with Chris De Kruif (Law), and her approach was largely practical. ‘The LTA is a fantastic community,’ she says. ‘We particularly wanted to advance knowledge and involve more lecturers. Education doesn’t come first for everyone: for many researchers, that’s their research, isn’t it? You want to reach these people too, so we will continue to innovate and consider how we can inspire as many lecturers as possible and involve them in innovation in teaching.’

Marjo de Graauw LTA
Also in 2018: receiving her Senior Teaching Qualification

From lecturer to assistant professor

De Graauw has received some acknowledgement for her achievements: she was nominated for the SURF Teaching Award and also received the Turnitin Global Innovation Award. She now has a permanent post as an assistant professor and was also awarded the Senior Teaching Qualification. And she has been chosen as an internship reviewer for students on the MSc in Educational Sciences, who are involved in the development of the e-learning skills platform. ‘Yes, was my reaction on hearing the news. It felt like recognition for me as a teaching professional.’

The Leiden Teachers’ Academy was set up five years ago to promote innovation in teaching. The fellows are made a member for five years and receive 25,000 euros to carry out their own innovation in teaching project and make the results available for other lecturers to use

The LTA began in 2013 with ten fellows and has since grown to around 25. This number should now remain constant because fellows who have completed their five years make room for new arrivals. That was the case for the first time this year. New fellows are nominated by the faculties, and the winner of the Leiden University Teaching Prize automatically becomes a fellow. This year that is lecturer in Old English, Thijs Porck.

In a series of articles, we are looking at the innovation in education projects developed by outgoing LTA fellows.

Text: Corine Hendriks
Banner photo: De Graauw in the ‘Flipping the Classroom’ project
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