Redefining the Classroom: Revealing the Impact of the HefHouse (Part 2)

5 min readMar 28, 2024


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.

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 which, and how the HefHouse is living up to its proposition, a research project was designed to monitor and evaluate it.

In 2023, data had been collected, and have now the qualitative analysis was started to learn about the learning and change mechanisms happening at the HefHouse. These mechanisms apply to HefHouse students, teachers and eventually also the larger neighbourhood of Feijenoord. In this blog, we’re sharing three findings in the form of ‘stimulating statements’ that we expect will make you reflect on your own learning and teaching experiences with and in society.

To help students learn with and in society, teachers’ roles are changing: they increasingly have to be able to coach. And they also coach their ‘clients’.

If learning takes place outside of university, then the conventional roles of ‘learning’ and ‘teaching’ are also changing. This interviewee explains the change:

“Well, […] the teacher becomes a coach instead of an expert, let’s put it like that. [This is] a theme and a discussion within the EUR. If you want to do more challenge-based learning or, you know, that has certain implications for the institute. […] It is not just the traditional way, that everyone already knows. So, that’s where we’ll see changes perhaps.”

Apart from what is generally expected about role change for teachers, we also find that ‘who is coached’ by the teacher also requires some thought. In some cases, it is not just the students who receive coaching. For instance, one of the teachers has coached a ‘client’ of his. A ‘client’ is the one submitting the question or theme in the course. One of the organizers of such a course in HefHouse states that:

“[this client] has [a teacher] as a coach next to it. […]. The learning process [for the students] is how to do that, how to engage and interact with your client”. This client asked the organization of HefHouse for help: “If [the client] is asking me to help. Yeah. Because she’s a client. She’s not a teacher”.

Therefore, we conclude cautiously that social partners require coaching in their role facilitating students in the contacts with neighbors or helping them find starting points for their learning or research project.

Time is of the essence in reflecting and negotiating differences in practices and languages in inter- and transdisciplinary learning.

Working in a trans- and interdisciplinary setting comes with its challenges. Sufficient time for reflection and negotiation should be reserved for the parties involved, to ensure an enriching and smooth process. A student reflecting on his experience in HefHouse:

“[…] it’s often overlooked that working across disciplines also has its downsides. Which can be quite frustrating during a project, because you’re constantly working with different people who don’t have the same background and knowledge as you, you know? It can lead to a lot of back-and-forth. Normally, when you work in a team and everyone has the same expertise, you can make progress more quickly and work towards a shared goal, you know what I mean? Now, you’re still working towards a shared goal, but everyone has a different opinion on how to achieve that goal, so it becomes really bureaucratic in that sense because everyone has an opinion. And I guess in the end it’s okay, but it has also led to frustration during the process”.

Time allocated to negotiate these differences is of the essence for making an inter- and/or transdisciplinary collaboration a success. This is corroborated by this teacher, who also describes the time investment necessary as a ‘struggle’:

“I think as as a professional I also struggle with this because it’s not going fast. I mean, it’s going really slow actually. ’Cause you need to invest so much time and effort to find a way of working together in an efficient way; in a way that you actually use everyone’s input”.

Hence, we find that misunderstandings in the process and content play a role in the learning processes. Students ask for time and support, whereas this investment might be a struggle for teachers.

We strive for an equal relationship between students and residents. But is that even possible?

Learning in and with society is not necessarily a guarantee that the student and the resident are on equal footing. For example, we find students are aware of their ethical responsibilities in their relations with residents. There are examples of students asking residents for ‘permission’ or their ‘consent’ before videotaping an interview about their personal situation (and some residents do say ‘no’ to the student request).

However, we need to think about the question of how this student-resident relation can take shape and not just be about ‘grabbing data’, even though the resident consents. A local partner who has worked with a student group, recapitulates strongly:

“What we mostly do now is ask ‘can I interview you?’. We just take all the information and suffering from people who live in poverty and maybe don’t even have food for tomorrow. And then we say, “thank you, goodbye”. We get paid and they just dropped all their shits, and we just take it as data. It’s so inhuman.”

She advocates for a ‘serve first’- approach, in which the students ‘serve first’, perhaps ‘gain trust’ and ask their questions later. Thus: if and how should the ‘group assignment’ for students be transformed into a ‘serve first, gain trust’- relationship during the time available?

We’d love to hear how you think about these statements and questions: what is your experience?

Do you want to exchange opinions and thoughts on these questions? Join us for the HefHouse Networking Lunch at the Community for Learning and Innovation. Sign up here.




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