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After one year of the Healthy Living study programme, programme coordinator Kelly Neessen looks back

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  4. Interview: After one year of the Healthy Living study programme, programme coordinator Kelly Neessen looks back

The HAS University of Applied Sciences Healthy Living study programme in Venlo is celebrating its first anniversary. The programme once again started this academic year with a full class of 35 students. We join programme coordinator Kelly Neessen to reflect on an eventful year dominated by the introduction of a new educational principle: programmatic learning.

Tell us about the study programme Healthy Living

“Healthy Living focusses on developing innovative concepts to improve peoples’ health by preventing illnesses rather than curing them,” explains Kelly Neessen. “The focus is on a combination of lifestyle and the living environment. Lifestyle factors include nutrition, exercise, sleep habits and stress reduction. Living environment relates to the actual physical side, such as climate, nature and the built environment. In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on healthy living in society and the corona crisis has made the subject even more relevant.”

Programmatic learning is a key part of the curriculum. What does this mean?

“The student’s individual development is central to programmatic learning. Like other study programmes, we provide an educational programme, but our approach to assessment is different. Students are free to deviate from the programme, as long as they can demonstrate how they have developed in relation to the learning outcomes. ECTS Credits are not awarded for separate subjects and tests, but on the basis of a six-monthly Portfolio Assessment. Fellow students, lecturers and clients in the professional field give students feedback on the assignments they carry out. They then reflect on this themselves so they can demonstrate the knowledge and skills they have gained.”

Kelly Neessen

What is the advantage of this new programmatic assessment approach?

“During the four years of their study programme, students build a complete portfolio and enjoy a great deal of freedom to shape their own self-development. As this is very different from the more traditional way of assessment in secondary school, many students find this difficult to adjust to, so we give this transition plenty of attention when they start, including a two-week 'detox'.”

What is its impact on lecturers?

“Programmatic learning is a new teaching principle. We also have to change as lecturers’ work is shifting from content to coaching. We still provide theoretical lessons and skills training, but the approach to providing feedback is new, so we are doing a lot of peer-to-peer coaching. The students also do this; they meet regularly without a lecturer, supporting each other. Due to the corona virus measures we are placing more emphasis on personal contact, preferably in person, but online if that is not possible. Experiences so far have been positive, for both students and lecturers.”

For the project KERNgezond students were invited to come up with ways to inspire secondary school pupils to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Lecturer Carmen Houben coached them.

What role does the professional field play in programmatic learning?

“Students work on projects with professionals in the field from day one. Feedback from these professionals is an important part of their portfolio that gives them a great deal of practical insight. They are expected to be responsible and show initiative; competencies which the professional field highly values in graduates. It allows us to safeguard strong connections between education and the professional field and ensure our students will be highly competent professionals when they graduate.”

 Examples of projects

These are a few of the projects that students of the Healthy Living study programme participated in last year:

  • Voedselapotheek Wijkaanpak (Food as Medicine, District Approach). This initiative aims to collaborate to create a social, healthy food landscape and strives to increase the health skill levels of local residents by designing a healthy food environment. Students have helped to map out the needs of the residents in the area and to develop an activity that responds to these needs.
  • KERNgezond health projects led by former professional footballer Maurice Graef. Students were invited to come up with ways to inspire secondary school pupils to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
  • VieCuri Hospital, Venlo Health is important for VieCuri Hospital, not just for patients but also for staff and visitors. VieCuri wondered how they could stimulate healthier choices in the staff restaurant and visitors' restaurant. Students considered options for the food assortment.
  • Attender Groen green spaces maintenance Students collaborated to suggest ideas about how the green spaces company Attender Groen could expand its green services for organisations such as care homes and cooperative housing associations. They produced a concept reacting to topics such as social participation, adapting to climate change, biodiversity and communication.