Loes Damhof is Holland’s Lecturer of the Year

Loes Damhof has been elected as Dutch Lecturer of the Year 2016. Becoming a teacher was never her childhood dream, but after her first experiences with teaching in China, Damhof was won over.

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Visibly still in the afterglow of her victory lecturer Loes Damhof (40) talks passionately about her work. The Hanze lecturer teaches several classes within the bachelor programmes Communication & Multimedia Design and International Communication. She is in the public eye since she was elected Lecturer of the Year, but even now her students get all the attention. In one of the hallways of the Institute for Communication, Media & IT one of them wants to speak to her quickly. The student will be missing one of Damhof’s classes because he wants to go to the graduation ceremony of his girlfriend. ‘That’s fine, as long as you buy her flowers’, Damhof answers.

There are so many other brilliant teachers out there

It is this commitment to and attention for her students that has played a big role in her nomination for the title of Lecturer of the Year (an competition set up by Dutch student organisation Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg). ‘It was already an enormous honour and a great surprise to be nominated by students.  And now I actually won, it feels really ambiguous. I am very happy about the fact that this award really centralizes teaching itself. That the attention doesn’t go to things like research and innovative projects, but actually focuses on the didactics and interaction with students. This award really celebrates teaching and that is a real honour for me because teaching is my true passion. In that sense the title is really great to have, but at the same time I realize I’m certainly not the best lecturer of the Netherlands. There are so many other brilliant teachers out there.’

Scary yet fun
Damhof talks about her profession in a loving way, but teaching never was her childhood dream. ‘After I graduated from university I worked at a publishing house for a while, but I really wanted to go abroad and one of the options was to teach English. So I earned a certificate to be able to do this and set off to China. The idea of living all by myself in the middle of rural China didn’t scare me at all, but the prospect of having to teach was nerve-racking.’ The first time Damhof stood in the classroom as a teacher several things went wrong, yet she was immediately hooked. ‘After my first class I was exhausted, but at the same time very energized. I was totally hyperactive, that’s how much fun and exciting the experience was. This feeling has never really gone away since’, the now experienced lecturer reminisces.

I also like the fact that a teacher leaves something behind

What Damhof likes most about teaching is the fact that she gets to work with young people in an intercultural setting. ‘I enjoy exploring and pushing the boundaries with students and figuring things out together by asking questions and finding answers. Apart from that I also like the fact that a teacher leaves something behind. You really contribute to someone’s life.’ The passionate teacher thus sometimes finds it hard to let her students go. ‘You get attached to students and develop a connection with a class, so you get the feeling that the birds are leaving the nest when they leave the classroom permanently.’

International experiences
The students are not the only ones who benefit from Damhof’s classes, she herself has also learned a lesson or two from her students. ‘What has always stood out for me is that there is so much more potential in students than lecturers think. My students have really taught me not to go by presumptions about what students already know and are able to do. When I leave this open, I am almost always pleasantly surprised.’ Due to her teaching experiences in China, Russia and the United States, Damhof is internationally oriented. She thinks the internationalisation of education is very important.

It is important for students to realise that almost any issue can be placed in a global perspective

‘We are all connected to one another in some way, simply because we all live on the same planet. This is why it is important for students to realise that almost any issue can be placed in a global perspective. I suspect this realization can be of great benefit to students. Being aware that the way you do things isn’t necessarily the normal way and that things can also be done and are being done in very different ways is very relevant. This realization can only be made real when students experience things first-hand. By going abroad for a while, but also by being part of international projects that are incorporated into the curriculum. In the second year of  the major Interactive Media & Technologies for example, our students work together online with students from Ghana to create a website.

Innovation in education
The cooperative project with students from Ghana, is a form of Globally Networked Learning, a way of teaching that has come to existence partly through the professorship Excellence. This teaching method is also used by Damhof within the Honours Course The Global Village. This is one of the examples of the innovative educational projects in which she is involved. ‘Within this project students have to work together in small intercultural groups, without actually seeing each other in person. Facilitating this collaboration and making sure that the intercultural groups actually feel part of a team really goes a couple of steps further than an open online course.’

It is very important to stay curious, always have the desire to keep learning

Innovation in education is important according to Damhof because the world is changing rapidly nowadays. She thinks educational institutes should anticipate future developments. ‘Students that now enter into Communication & Multimedia Design graduate in about four or five years, by that time the job market has probably changed quite a bit. How do we prepare our students for this? What are the skills they will need to be able to cope with this? Things like ethics, world citizenship, critical thinking, communication skills and media literacy are crucial in this respect’, Damhof explains. These type of subjects are a part of the educational trajectory 21-st century skills, a trajectory that Damhof created together with other lecturers at the Hanze. This educational trajectory is supposed to prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet. For students who see a future in teaching, Damhof has some advice. ‘It is very important to stay curious, always have the desire to keep learning. Be self-reflective and always stay open to learn from other people.’

 

Photo: Pepijn van den Broeke (c)