Redefining the Classroom: Revealing the Impact of the HefHouse (part 1)

ErasmusX
4 min readFeb 6, 2024
Written by Linda Zuijderwijk

As part of the university’s bigger goal of enabling impact-driven education, ErasmusX and its ‘Redefining the Classroom’ project facilitates the co-creation of knowledge with partners from different disciplines, cultural backgrounds and with partners from Rotterdam’s society.

To truly step out of the boundaries of the university campus and connect to societal needs, we settled down at the HefHouse, near the iconic Hef Bridge. At the HefHouse, we aim for learning in a ‘real-world’ setting where interdisciplinarity, multi-level learning and reciprocal relationships with community members are sustained.

‘Redefining the Classroom’ refers to the classroom that takes on a new shape outside the university campus, into the city. It is a place that should allow for new experiences, new insights, and different ways of acquiring knowledge and skills. It is a place where ideas can be tested — right in the heart of society, in line with one of the main strategic goals of Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR). Thus, the initiative can be understood within the broader societal call for universities to make (or at least contribute to) a positive societal impact. This requires knowledge of and experience with impact-driven education, as well as preparation of students to work with so-called ‘wicked problems’ while engaging with society. This is exactly the purpose of the HefHouse.

HefHouse in the greater context of impact-driven education

This initiative aligns with a growing movement and philosophy that emphasizes the benefits of education and student engagement with the local community. One of the assumptions is that students’ learning processes improve when scientific content, student activities, and the local community are interconnected (Dybala ‘Learning through Engagement: What is service-learning?’, 3–4–2023, visited April 2023). Among others, ‘real life experience’ is placed at the center of education and learning processes, including reflection processes onto it (based on Kolb (1984) in Boston University: Centre for Teaching and Learning, date unknown, visited October 2023). The recognition and description of this type of learning can be traced back as early as the 1970s, when ‘The City as Classroom’ was published, which opposed the ‘school system’ of learning in favor of acquiring ‘knowledge outside school’ (McLuhan, Hutchon and McLuhan 1977).

The proposition of HefHouse is that university students in the 21st century need to acquire skills that help them make a positive impact in society. Amongst others, HefHouse assumes that these skills center around co-creation in a reciprocal and equal relationship with others, reflection onto the learning and practical journey, the ability to situate oneself in society and learn from (societal) experience, and the ability to direct one’s learning journey, in the form of student agency. Also, HefHouse aims to facilitate inter- and transdisciplinary ‘doings’, as for example is the case in the ‘multi-level learning’ with students from EUR, HBO (higher professional education) and in the future potentially MBO (secondary vocational education). In the HefHouse, we view these skills as ‘learning or change mechanisms’ towards a positive societal impact. To make this happen, we collaborate with various (local) social partners, such as the municipality of Rotterdam, Foundation L.E.S. (founded by young people in the HefHouse), Stichting Stem zonder Gezicht and Hogeschool Rotterdam (EMI op Zuid).

In short, by facilitating students to practice and apply these skills, we expect that they are enabled to contribute to positive societal impact in Feijenoord. This is the development of a form of impact-driven education, focused on reducing educational and social inequalities. For example, HefHouse intends to positively impact talent development among residents.

Monitoring and evaluating the impact of the HefHouse

But how does the project ‘Redefining the Classroom’ make an impact in the urban community, with which learning and change mechanisms, and under what circumstances? To understand and improve the extent to and how HefHouse is living up to its proposition, a research project was designed to monitor and evaluate it. Firstly, the research project aims to provide a continuous reflection on the activities and practices in the HefHouse. This reflection will serve as a basis for adjusting and improving. Secondly, we seek to monitor the innovation and capture its impact using a valid methodology. The priority is to describe the innovation and its (learning) mechanisms.

Therefore, we have interviewed students, social partners, teachers, and other professionals who use the HefHouse. We conducted (participant) observations and a document study while also working on a network analysis. The data collection is now finished.

What are the initial findings?

For example, we found that students are practicing and engaging with the skills of co-creation, reflection, (societal) experiential learning and agency in the HefHouse. Students experience these skills in an inter- and transdisciplinary manner, as they often work with students from Hogeschool Rotterdam or students from other universities and (mainly young) residents. Furthermore, we found that HefHouse not only aims to develop an experience for students but is itself also developing along the above-mentioned principles: the organization aims to build and nurture equal and reciprocal relationships with residents, local or municipal organisations, and other educational institutions. In doing so, it also applies the principles to which students are subjected: co-creation, reflection etc. Lastly, we find that regarding positive societal impact, the focus is on developing talents on the one hand, and other social impacts, on the other hand, are more open ended and ‘demand driven’ (i.e. the inventory of ‘demands’ and ‘social problems’ to which students can contribute is part of the courses and educational activities itself, not pre-defined).

In the next part of this research blog series about the impact of the HefHouse, we will explore the change and learning mechanisms more in depth. Next, we will reveal more about the impact that this initiative has on the urban community that it became part of. Stay tuned!

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ErasmusX

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