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Digital guest lectures for high school students: 'Focus on what's really important'

Developing a digital guest lecture for high school students. Jan Sleutels was immediately enthusiastic when he got asked to do this. The end result? Together with his colleague Maarten Lamers, he created the guest lecture 'Thinking about Artificial Intelligence'.

‘There are three reasons why I immediately said yes,' Jan Sleutels, Senior University Lecturer of Philosophy of Mind and Media Philosophy, explains. ‘I find the topic of AI very interesting. Secondly, I like to use new digital options to approach students as well as high school students. And thirdly, I think it's great to work with Maarten.’


With a large whiteboard, a lot of post-it notes and help from ICLON, Sleutels and Lamers started developing their lecture. ‘After the first afternoon, we knew that the guest lecture had to be about trust, machine learning and the impact of AI on society.’ Above all, Sleutels and Lamers found it important to emphasise that, no matter how invisible, nowadays AI is part of everyone's life.

After the brainstorming sessions, it was time to write the script. ‘Of course, the script was far too long for the ten minutes we had,' says Sleutels. ‘The supervisors gave us a lot of room, but were also quite strict. In the end, we got pretty close to ten minutes.’

More low-key than usual

‘Normally, we also teach university students about these topics, but in that case you easily have 13 two-hour meetings available.’ In addition, students are expected to be well prepared for lectures and to add their own input. ‘Now you have to present something without being able to assume that the participants have any prior knowledge.’

The guest lecture invites students to discuss AI with each other on the basis of a couple of concrete questions about recognisable examples. ‘Everyone knows what Google is and what cookies are, to name a few,’ Sleutels says. ‘And nowadays everyone knows that computers can recognise faces. These are all low-key examples.' In university lectures, these examples would not only be explored in greater depth, but would also be of a more technical nature. ‘Think, for example, of surveillance capitalism, privacy legislation or filter bubbles. We did not delve into these topics during the guest lecture.’

Excellent opportunity

Sleutels recommends all of his colleagues to develop a digital guest lecture. 'It is an excellent opportunity to explain to a wider audience what’s important about your research and education,' he explains. ‘It is enriching to think about that sometime. If it’s only within the university that you teach about a certain topic, it is actually self-evident that everyone involved - you, your students and your colleagues - thinks it is an extremely important topic. But how do you explain that to the general public? A guest lecture forces you to really think about that.’

This project was made possible thanks to the collaboration with the Leiden University Centre for Innovation, a university think tank that explores and creates enterprising projects at the juncture of education, technology and society. Do you have a question or do you want to know more? Get in touch with the Centre for Innovation!!

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