Food for thought: ORD 2017

ORD 2017

Last week we attended the ORD in Antwerp. Looking for knowledge on higher education, honors and talent development. Although honors itself was not very high on the conference agenda we like to share six interesting findings as food for thought for honors people.


  1. Social inequality

Honors is often accused for being elitist. A talk by Lex Herwijer addressed this issue in the context of University Colleges. Conclusion of the talk: University Colleges accommodate quite some international students, female students and students whose parents have VWO diploma’s. Interestingly, they accommodate the very rich and the very poor, while the middle class seems to be less represented. Why is this the case? And although we honors people don’t like to pose the question, could this also be true for honors? Our estimated guess says yes, as inequality in education is partly explained by selection processes as well as by self-selection on both financial and psychological grounds. Something to explore further we would say.

  1. Non-cognitive selection tools and cognitive effect measures.

Coming back to selection. In honors we tend to select on both cognitive and non-cognitive measures. Quite often we look at grades, CV and letters of motivation. But of course non-cognitive tests (e.g., personality, learning styles etc.) are also used. Although these test come about as being objective, research by Susanne Niessen from RuG showed that this is not the case. Apparently, students fake them in selection procedures. They what? Yes, they FAKE them. Well, of course we could argue that the ones who fake the test are the socially equipped smartasses that we like to see in honors. But, morality is also high on our honors agenda. And with the risk of rejecting our most sincere and honest students, we might want to review our selection methods in this regard.

  1. Assessing the effects of honors

With honors being in place for quite a while now, questions about the effects of honors are often posed. One way to asses this effect is the use of administrative data on student performance. Quite often the idea is to look for difference between honors and regular students. Research by Kim van Broekhoven from ROA pinpoints the weaknesses of such an effect measure and proposes an alternative technique. She compares the ones that just got into honors with the ones who did not. And guess what, when the difference between honors and regular students become smaller, so does the of effect of honors on their GPA. Of course Honors is not, or maybe not at all, about grades. We therefore should look for other effect measures that align with program goals; luckily Kim and her colleagues are currently looking into that.

  1. Observation: how do you know what you see?

A number of researchers talked about the difficulties regarding interpretation of observation data. For instance, Lieke Jager from Radboud University Nijmegen and Saskia Stollman from Leiden University both looked into the ways in which teachers differentiate within the class room. They both used video-guided interviewing and observing. Often, what the researchers thought they saw happening in the classroom, was not how the teachers interpreted it. This raises the question about the best way to make implicit processes and perceptions explicit. Also in honors research, this is a very important issue. We also have ideas on what honors teachers think and value, but it is crucial to find ways in which to study that in a way that deepens our understanding on what actually is happening in teacher-student interactions.

5. Teacher identities and blended learning

When it comes the use of blended learning techniques, two types of  identities are involved: the identity of a teacher and the identity of transforming parts of education in a blended format. Herma Jonker found four positions teachers can take in a blended context. Interestingly, these positions collide with different types of teachers identities.

  • Facilitating and stimulating learning processes (actively accept blended learning)
  • Take care of knowledge transfer (passively accept blended learning)
  • Personal coaching of students (actively avoid blended learning)
  • Communication (passively avoid blended learning)

Could it be that analogue to this, teachers identities differ also for teaching in honors as opposed to regular programs? Something to think about.

6. The importance of social networks.

The keynote by Alan Daly addressed the importance of social networks for education. Although his entertaining talk mainly introduced the concept, one slide stood with us. Schools in which teachers are more interconnected with each other tend to perform better than schools in which teachers have a smaller network. This made us think about the transfer of honors to regular education. Could it be that transfer takes place much more when honors teachers share a strong network within the school? Food for thought as well potential question for a nice research project.

Door: Elanor Kamans, Senior Researcher at research center for talent development and society; Nelleke de Jong, PhD candidate and Tineke Kingma, Research Fellow

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