Annoesjka Cabo - "Annoesjka sets the tone with her career in education"
This story is part of "Gedreven door onderwijs - Tien portretten van bevlogen docenten in het hoger onderwijs" by the Comenius Network. Read the full booklet - inlcuding the other nine portraits - on the Comenius website.
Annoesjka Cabo works at Delft University of Technology as Director of Education in the faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science, and as Academic Director of the Teaching Academy. She also still finds time for teaching and doing a bit of research. Everything she does is devoted to sending enthusiastic, independentthinking people out into the world.
‘After I finished my doctorate in mathematics at TU Delft in 1994, I first devoted myself to my other great love – music. For eighteen years I played the violin in different orchestras, taught violin and conducted. Once in a while I thought, I would like to teach math again because there are so few teachers, especially good teachers. Just before our three daughters left home, TU Delft sent out a job ad for a lecturer that fit my profile. Teaching at a university sounded even more enjoyable to me than teaching at a secondary school, so I decided to apply.’
Mathematics for non‐math specialists
‘Mathematics is important for all future engineers, so two years after I started at TU Delft, I went to work on the PRogramme of Innovation in Mathematics Education (PRIME), an innovation project for teaching mathematics in engineering programmes. Along with lecturers and students, we introduced blended learning, developed active learning activities and modified teaching material to fit these modes of instruction. It’s interesting to teach math to nonmath specialists because many students would never have chosen to take such a course. They enrol in the TU in order to learn how to construct bridges and then all of a sudden they have to learn all these abstract concepts. I enjoy the challenge of showing them why it is useful for their topic of study, too. Since I became Director of Education I’m less directly involved in the project, but I still do some teaching in order to keep connected to the practical side. I also do some of the research into the effectiveness of PRIME. For example, we investigate whether students understand the material better if we use augmented reality, which lets them experience things in three dimensions.’
(With amusement.) It’s not in my character to just do whatever I’m told. I’m always thinking about how things can be done better. This led to me being given more and more responsibilities, which helped me develop my vision on education. As a lecturer, as Director of Education and as Director of our Teaching Academy, I’m always trying to push our teaching up to a higher level. The Teaching Academy is a community for everyone at our university who is involved with teaching. We’re closely connected with the Teaching and Learning Services, which provides teaching support. We organise events that put the spotlight on teaching and learning, such as lunchtime lectures, a journal club, education conversations and a big Education Day event. We also award Education Fellowships to academic staff who are really engaged in teaching. They can submit a proposal for a twoyear innovation project. We are currently trying to create the next step: an innovation in Delft engineering education initiative (we’re not allowed to call it an institute). The main concept is to conduct research on educational themes that are relevant to our study programmes. For example, reflection is very common in medical programmes, but has not yet taken off in engineering. Subjects like sustainability and assessment are also important for our students. A member of faculty can select such a theme and will receive research assistance from a doctoral candidate and postdoc with a background in educational psychology. This allows him or her to compile a dossier and continue to grow. I’m one of the first at TU Delft who furthered my career through teaching and education, and there are others who want to do that too. They have something similar in Utrecht that has also been another source of inspiration. We’re waiting for final approval of the Executive Board, but it would be really cool if it got the goahead.’
Always in motion
‘How do I manage everything? To start with, I’m good at listening. I try to find out what’s going on, why people want something or don’t want something. There’s a kernel of truth in almost everything. Others also tell me that I’m good at bringing people together. It’s not effective if ten people each in isolation discover something, so in the Teaching Academy I try to get people to team up on their initiatives so that the eight faculties are not working in silos, but can learn from each other. This kind of culture of exchange needs some further development at our institution. Another thing is that I don’t give up easily. I believe in what I’m doing, but without becoming inflexible. I have a lot of enthusiasm, I don’t tire quickly or become negative, which means I can put a lot of energy into the things I do. Maybe other people find me tiring sometimes, because I always have new ideas, I’m always in motion. Another development is that I have just been appointed as a full professor. That’s a real honour and also gives me a chance to reach the highest level of teaching, as a Teaching Academy. (With an infectious laugh.) But how I’m going to combine it with my other tasks is still a mystery to me.’
Change doesn’t always run into obstacles; you can create something that people will want to stand behind.
‘If I could have things my way, students who come to study at TU Delft in the future would be given the task of setting up their own learning pathway, while receiving good guidance on how to do this. In that pathway they would work intensively with other students on large integrated projects, while also having plenty of time for play and for philosophising. This all contributes to academic thinking. In parallel, there could be a continuous assessment of basic skills in such things as math. Hurdling from exam to exam, as we do it now, wouldn’t exist any more. Obviously there would have to be less time pressure in such a learning pathway. (Sighs deeply.) Well. As a university we should become more aware of the fact that every generation of students has grown up in a slightly different world and may also have different needs. Our lecturers would convey their love for their subject, stimulate enthusiasm in their students and also be valued for those things. Not only in words, but in time and professional opportunities, too. Teaching would no longer be seen as a burden. And the university would be a safe place for everyone, students and teachers, without injustice, unfairness or abuse of power. How much of this dream could become reality within ten years? Ten years isn’t that long, because all the structures would have to be changed. Maybe five percent. If you move things five or ten percent in one direction, the movement becomes visible and can create a snowball effect. I’m quite optimistic about what you can achieve and about the people who want to join that effort. Change doesn’t always run into obstacles; you can create something that people will want to stand behind. That’s why it’s important to keep dreaming.’