Engagement with society

Leiden University aims to educate academic professionals who are at the same time engaged citizens and actively contribute to finding solutions for the challenges faced by contemporary society. To that end, the University deliberately adopts an open orientation: education that is open to societal, technological and international developments and challenges; and over time, has a positive impact on society in return.

  • What are the university's objectives with this theme?
  • What are the key aspects?
  • What are important questions?
  • How do we know we’re making progress?
  • Further reading
  • Example: student project groups

  • Students are socially engaged with society (by participating in or organising co- or extracurricular activities)
  • Graduates are engaged and responsible members of society
  • Teachers make relevant connections to societal issues
  • Programmes facilitate students’ societal participation

In order for engagement with society to be an enrichment to the learning taking place at the University, it is crucial to establish connections, in line with the open orientation to LU aspires. In the literature, these connections are described in term of their direction, distinguishing between inbound and outbound connections (Walker & Nocon, 2007):

  • Inbound connections refer to introducing external elements (e.g., issues, perspectives, objects and actors) into the class, course or programme. For instance, discussing recent issues or having guest speakers illustrate theory-in-practice. Inbound engagement can provide a wider and/or more authentic understanding, contributing to students’ discipline-specific expertise. For instance, by having a mother and a disabled child explain actually in the class, their experience of received and desired care .
  • Outbound connections refer to scaffolding the introduction of knowledge, artifacts, people, and their practices outward across university boundaries. For instance, students and/or teachers be(com)ing engaged in community projects. Such engagements typically contribute to students’ transferable skills or generic competences and employability. Realizing a contribution to students’ topic-specific expertise appears to require some degree of “educationalizing”, that is: modeling the non-formal or informal practice to resemble, match or extend formal education, for instance by including assignments.

Since efforts at engagement with society are time and resource consuming, often seen as “extra”, and typically depend on the initiative and support of specific individuals, it is crucial to consider whether and how the initiatives can be(come) durably built into courses and programmes.

Step 1. Reformulate the (university’s) objectives into questions concerning

  1. the current situation (today); and
  2. the desired situation in 2025

Step 2. Make the answers to the questions measurable

Step 3. Use the answers as input for further (re-)design

For example:

1) How are students engaged with society?

  1. today
  2. in 2025

Examples of measurable answers: by addressing societal issues in (x) courses; by participating in (x) extra-curricular projects; (%) students who volunteers

2) To what extent are graduates engaged and responsible members of society?

  1. today
  2. in 2025

Examples of measurable answers: (%) graduates with position in public sector

3) How do teachers make relevant connections to societal issues?

  1. today
  2. in 2025

Examples of measurable answers: in (x) lectures/group work/assignments; by having (x) guest lectures

4) How do programs facilitate students’ societal participation?

  1. today
  2. in 2025

Examples of measurable answers: by having (x) EC reserved for engaging with society; by (x) organising own societal projects.

Bronkhorst, L. H., & Akkerman, S. F. (2016) At the boundary of school: Continuity and discontinuity in learning across contexts. Educational Research Review, 19, 18-35.

A review of the literature on creating connections between what students learn in and outside formal education across all levels of education.

Walker, D., & Nocon, H. (2007) Boundary-crossing competence: Theoretical considerations and educational design. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 14(3), 178-195.

Proposes that the ability to create connections between education and other practices (conceptualised as boundary-crossing competence) is a desirable goal for students.

Module: Student project groups (SPGs), part of the minor: Responsible Innovation, offered as MOOC in collaboration with the Erasmus University and the Delft University

What is the module about?

Responsible Innovation refers to analysis, reflection and public debate concerning the ethical principles and moral acceptability of new and emerging technologies. In this module, SPGs, mixed groups of 4-6 students coming from the three universities, apply what  they have learned to a real-life case of innovation. SPGs are tutored by academic coaches and often collaborate with a company or societal organisation.

What are the objectives?

Students learn to:

  • Present their results to fellow students and coaches and, if feasible, also the target stakeholders;
  • Reflect on teamwork and team decision-making processes;
  • Apply practical and analytical knowledge to real-life cases.