'I’m not afraid of making mistakes in front of a full classroom!’
Criminology lecturer Maarten Kunst is one of the five nominees for the LSr Education Prize, the prize for the best lecturer of the year. His secret? ‘Never trust the same trick twice.’
The winner will be announced by the Leiden Student Council during the Dies Natalis celebration (8 February). Until then, every week one of the candidates will be placed in the spotlight. Maarten Kunst (34) is a lecturer in Criminology and he teaches courses such as ‘Perpetrators and Victims’ and ‘Forensic Victimology’. He interlaces his lectures with intriguing contemporary examples, which is one of the reasons why he was nominated by the Corpus Delicti Study Association.
Kunst explains some of his working methods: 'I show my students a news item, for example, about the shooting incident in Alphen aan den Rijn and ask them whether they remember the security images showing Van de Vlist firing the gun. Some students will answer that they do remember, although such images were in fact never shown. This makes them think about how reliable memories are.' He uses the case of Robert M. to illustrate a lecture about victims' right to speak, and the machinations of Anders Breivik are discussed in lectures about accountability. 'Psychology of Law is a subject that is ideal for linking to current events. The lectures fit well with the students' own perceptions, which encourages them to study the subject material in greater depth.'
What is the secret of a good lecturer, according to Kunst? ‘A good lecturer never stops looking at himself and his work critically. At the end of a series of lectures I always ask the students to air their frustrations and then I do something with the results. You shouldn’t assume that the same trick will keep working. Being liked is one thing, but the goal is to actually pass on knowledge and for students to learn good skills. In order to pass on knowledge I am constantly seeking interaction and I try to address students as much as possible by name. That’s not always easy with large groups.´ Up to a certain point teaching is a skill that you can learn, in his opinion. ´In addition to criticism from the students, you can also learn a lot from colleagues giving you feedback. It’s also important to connect with the students’ experience. It’s important to realize that they are going through a very exciting phase in their life, in which they are busy discovering the world, and staying up all night drinking at the Student Association sometimes also seems essential.´
But this profession also clearly requires aptitude and personality. ´I come from a real teachers’ family, and we all like to lecture. In addition, as a lecturer, you simply have to be daring. You have to dare to try something out; I am not afraid of making mistakes in front of a full classroom.’ What would he still like to improve? ‘I tend to give students complete freedom in writing their thesis. Some students have trouble with this. Maybe I should be stricter with this group.’
The other four nominees for the LSr Education Prize are Martin Baasten (Hebrew), Victor Gijsbers (Philosophy), Hendrik Jan Hoogeboom (Computer Science) and Tony Foster (English Language & Culture). The jury, all members of the Leiden Student Council, selected five lecturers from the nearly thirty nominations of the student associations. The most important criteria are integrating research and current events, and inspiring the students. Coming up next: what is Victor Gijsbers’ secret?
(3 January 2013)