Looking back at the successful pilot of the Ace Yourself App in the Pre Academic Programme of summer 2023

6 min readDec 14, 2023


Written by the Ace Yourself App Project Lead, Pablo Ortiz

In the summer of 2023, the Pre Academic Programme of Erasmus University Rotterdam benefitted from one of the innovations of ErasmusX. In a successful pilot, the Ace Yourself App project led by Pablo Ortiz de Zaldumbide (Innovation Manager at ErasmusX) collaborated with Rowan Huijgen (Transfer Coordinator at Erasmus University Rotterdam).

About the Pre Academic Programme

Picture this: you are a student who has just started studying economics, business or law at the Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). You are struggling with your career decisions while you’re expected to work independently, manage your schedule, help your fellow students, think critically, and collaborate effectively. All of this, while also experiencing a lot of other changes in life. As you can imagine, this can be quite overwhelming!

During the Pre Academic Programme (PAP), students from different cultures, disciplines, nationalities and backgrounds follow a personal leadership program together. The goal of the program is to prevent study delays and reduce early dropouts while helping students improve their academic performance while pursuing higher education. Through insightful individual and group assignments, prospective university students prepare for their new study by practicing important, science-backed soft skills.

Students attending the programme access Canvas (Erasmus University’s Learning Management System, or LMS) to navigate through different modules with introductory videos, literature and interactive lectures developed specifically for the program. All students meet in teams led by a Team Captain, a senior student who has been trained to facilitate the sessions. Together, they discuss the content of each Canvas module. New students are thus welcomed in a group, helping them overcome the challenges of this important educational transition. The programme concludes with two on-campus days, to get connected. Check the following video to know more about the Pre-Academic Progamme.

Pre Academic Program: Summer School for New Students

The ACE Yourself project

In the summer of 2023, the ErasmusX team and Rowan Huijgen had an innovative addition to the PAP for the 700 incoming new EUR students. A prototype of the Ace Yourself app was developed and deployed in the programme to support the content and skill training activities of students.

But what is the story behind the Ace Yourself project? In a nutshell, this project was launched with the aim for students in the Netherlands to develop and master science-backed ‘21st century skills’ that help facilitate their transition from high school to higher education. This is made possible through the Ace Yourself app. The app allows students to access the Ace Yourself material on their smartphone, laptop, tablet, or desk computer autonomously, at home or at school.

The project specifically focuses on supporting students during the late stages of secondary education, the first two years of higher education, and the transition between these two stages. As students increase their self-confidence, get a sense of personal improvement, and develop a strong sense of agency during their studies, they are better prepared to face challenges in their academic and professional careers. Eventually, the development of these soft skills systematically reduces student dropout rates.

Additionally, the Ace Yourself app provides supporting material for educators and educational institutions, promoting skill development for their students in a clear and simple way. Educators using the app get an overview of skills, which can easily be connected to specific activities, workshops, modules, courses, or programs. They get an opportunity to bring skill development to the forefront of their curricula for students to follow and shape their personal and professional profiles. Moreover, the relevance of the ‘21st century skills’ content of the app is supported by scientific research and the benefits provided to students and educators extend beyond education.

Piloting the Ace Yourself app during the Pre Academic Programme

The students used the Ace Yourself app for the following skills:

  1. Value Development (from the social skills category): This skill was developed through the “Your values and norms” module of the app.
  2. Optimism (from the personal skills category): This skill was developed through the “Create on optimistic mindset”, “Develop your self-identity”, and “Adopt a proactive attitude” modules of the app

Additionally, the students tested the content of 2 skills from the study skills category which are “Plan and predict” and “Monitor the learning process”. This was only tested through the content itself and not the application, as this section was not fully developed at the time.

What did students think of the app?

The 700 students rated the use of the app modules with an average of 8.1 out of a 10 point scale! Students thought that using the app was very enjoyable. It gave them the right tools to develop important skills in a way that promotes lifelong learning, while increasing self-awareness. It also contains a good balance of theoretical explanation, application and reflection.

The personal feedback, the assessment, and the questionnaire about the program show that students particularly appreciated the use of the app. Many students indicated how nice it was to be given tools to understand, practice and apply skills.

“I liked the app modules; it helped me engage with the literature and check if I truly understand what is being taught.”

“I found the app useful because instead of just reading about theories, you engage with the topic. Therefore, you learn more about yourself and the modules are more effective.”

“It helped me learn more about myself.”

What did you do to successfully deploy the app?

As the Programme team stated, “it was amazing that context-rich assignments from our program were easy to supplement with the app exercises. By a ‘context-rich assignment’, we mean an assignment that is important for a specific subject, course or skills training. The assignments connect to the learning objectives of a course. When we link the app to these, it is easier for students to understand the meaning and purpose of what they are learning. Furthermore, we made sure that students could work on Canvas as they were used to before. We always included the direct link to the content in the app. This worked very well.”

Where did you start?

Rowan, the Pre Academic program coordinator mentioned how she integrated the ACE Yourself app into the Pre Academic Programme curriculum:

“As program coordinator, I started from the learning objectives. I chose the skills that are central to the Pre Academic Programme curriculum. Based on that, I wrote specific learning objectives for the program linked to the skills. For this, I used the rubrics from the VO-HO network (Samen werken aan betere aansluiting).

I then grabbed the app and went through the content step by step for the skills I wanted to use. Then it was a matter of coming up with meaningful assignments for students to practice the skill in the app. I then prepared these in Canvas (our LMS). Tip: have your colleague go through the content from A-Z as if they were a student. The preparation took me about 30 minutes per skill.

After each module, students were given a small questionnaire, where we included questions about the app. That quickly gave us specific insights about how students perceived using the app.”

What tip would you give teachers?

After experiencing the enhanced Pre Academic Programme with the app, Rowan also shared her main insights and tips for other educators. “If I could give them one tip, I would say: start with learning objectives! After all, you want students to achieve the learning goal. Then grab the roadmap to get themes and skills that you can use from the app to achieve the learning goals. When you work from learning objectives and then create meaningful assignments that fit your own teaching practice, it becomes clear to students why it is important for them to master these skills.

“I would recommend the implementation of the Ace Yourself app into both secondary and higher education curricula. It teaches students that skills are applicable in a lot of life contexts and situations. The app allows students to practice skills in a low-barrier, accessible way. At next year’s Pre Academic Programme, we would definitely like to use the app again”, Rowan continued.

After the success of the Pre Academic Programme, more ACE Yourself App pilots will be launched in the beginning of 2024, to facilitate the transition between secondary and higher education for even more students and teachers! With the University of Maastricht, Tilburg University, and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam as our partners, the app will be experienced by students across different cities in the Netherlands!

Are you interested in becoming part of the Ace Yourself App community? Get in touch with Rowan and explore how your students can benefit from an enhanced soft skill learning experience!

If you’re curious to learn more about the app and the project, feel free to check the folllowing videos:

  1. Ace pitch in one minute (Dutch)
  2. Ace Partners, Maastricht University (English)
  3. Ace Partners, Tilburg University (English)




We are a team of passionate people forming the driving force behind educational experimental innovation for the Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR).