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'Very honoured': Els de Busser and Ayo Adedokun thrilled with nominations

Two of the three nominees for the Leiden Education Prize, or best teacher of 2020-2021, work at FGGA: Els de Busser (ISGA) and Ayo Adedokun (LUC). Both lecturers are very honoured with their nomination. The winner will be announced on Monday 6 September during the opening of the academic year.

Ayo Adedokun

What was your reaction when you heard about the nomination?

Els: 'I was quiet for a moment. For the students, the past months of online education have been tough. Some students have completed a full Master's programme without ever being able to meet their fellow students face to face. Often, online education was one of the few forms of social contact students had. That they took the time and effort to appreciate my teaching in those circumstances is very beautiful and I am very grateful for that.'  

Ayo: 'I am very honoured. It is really great to see that students appreciate and recognise the positive attitude and dedication that I try to put into my teaching every day.'  

Ayo, the jury praises your attention to the wellbeing of students. Why do you think this is so important and how have you applied this in your teaching? 

Ayo: 'Although e-learning tools such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype for Business and Kaltura allow teachers to teach seamlessly, there are still challenges of online learning. Think of distractions, screen fatigue, less social interaction, anxiety and depression. To address some of these challenges, I devised strategies to improve student engagement. I strongly believe that human connection is more important than ever in these difficult times. Creating a personal connection means taking time to interact with each student, getting to know them and knowing their hobbies and interests. For example, I created a 'well-being and mental health corner' in the classroom. Here I used the first 10 minutes of each lesson to have a chat and ask students about their well-being. Also, instead of using the traditional teacher-centred teaching method, I introduced the 'tutorial system', a student-centred approach to collaborative learning. Here I had my students give a presentation to their peers, followed by a debate. In addition to the tutorial system, I also created debate and group discussions in breakout rooms on Microsoft Teams. 

Walking and music    
Finally, and perhaps one of the most important reasons for my positive engagement with my students during the pandemic, were creative activities outside. For example, every Friday I organised forest walks in the Haagse Bos with my students, adhering to the Covid-19 rules. The forest walks reduced stress and helped me and the students to connect personally. We had informal conversations about their academic and personal challenges and I gave some advice and tips on life.  Finally, I also introduced some entertainment into my class. I played Jazz music during the breaks to calm the students down.'     

Els de Busser

Els, the jury says that you are infectiously enthusiastic and create a safe atmosphere for everyone. How do you do that in corona time? 

Els: 'If you are enthusiastic about your profession, you will unconsciously pass that on to your students. And I am still happy and motivated by learning, being curious and finding out what the various components and perspectives of a problem are. The courses I teach - particularly Digital Justice - deal with issues that lie at the intersection of security, technology and justice. Not only is this a burning issue, it also raises several difficult questions that do not necessarily have ready answers. I believe that good education exists by stimulating the curiosity of students. And you do that by naming these kinds of questions, showing their relevance, pulling apart the parts of the question and then looking for a (better) solution together with the students. This creative and critical thinking is more difficult in an online environment because you cannot see each other, but by throwing many discussion questions into the group and giving students the floor frequently, an interaction is created that can lead to new insights. 
In my opinion, offering a safe atmosphere in the online class is something that develops automatically when you, as a teacher, also dare to take a vulnerable stance. Making clear to the students that you don't always have the answers but that you are prepared - together with them - to look for them. Furthermore, it is very important not to shy away from difficult and sensitive themes, but to search for the right - or better - approach with an open mind and curiosity.

If you win the prize on Monday, what would that mean to you?

Els: 'In the first place, it would of course mean a great appreciation from the students for my efforts in education. A kind of green light to continue on this path and that can only make you happy as a teacher. Moreover, the prize (the winner gets 25,000 euros, ed.) would offer the opportunity to further develop innovation in education. I do have ideas about coaching students for international policy hackathons or debate exercises. These are activities that fit in particularly well with our faculty's disciplines and where students can learn skills that are valuable for their future careers.  

Ayo: 'Being nominated for this award is already a great achievement for me. Whether I receive this award or not, I will continue to teach with enthusiasm and passion. But if I win the award, I will use the allocated fund to design innovative teaching and learning projects.' 

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