Nicolai Manie Nicolai Manie

University College Maastricht develops master orientation tool

Written by  Margot Krijnen Wednesday, 15 February 2012 08:26

Two years ago, Professor Wim Gijselaers, PhD (SBE), investigated the possibilities of boosting innovation at UM. His suggestion was: enable faculties to propose a project based on their own particular need or question. Nicolai Manie, Academic Advising coordinator at University College Maastricht (UCM), presented the idea of a master orientation tool. And it turned out a success.

Proposals

“It was quite simple: we offered all faculties the financial space to write a project proposal based on a particular question”, explains Ellen Bastiaens, Leading and Learning programme manager. “We received many proposals, and UCM came up with a master orientation tool.” All proposals were reviewed by a three-person UM committee. The master orientation tool was immediately accepted, and Manie was given the green light to start the project. “In our first visit to him, he had visualised the tool for us, and it turned out exactly like that. Not only did he actually develop the tool, but he also did it before the deadline and almost entirely within budget. How often does that happen?”

 

Spin-off

Bastiaens is pleased with the programme spin-off: “These programmes often lead to the usual suspects within faculties, but the nature of this particular ‘free’ programme put new people in the picture, people who feel strongly about education and their faculty. Most of them couldn’t wait to work on their ideas, were enthusiastic, had ideas and the flair to realise them. Nicolai is definitely one of these new spirits.” Manie’s tool uses data mining to support UCM students in their choice of master’s programme after graduation. But there are many more possibilities, says Bastiaens: “We’re now considering using the tool university wide. Nicolai has been working on a new project proposal and we’ve asked him to create a prototype that we can present to the other faculties.” Another bonus has been the cooperation between faculties for this project. Manie created the idea behind the tool, but the data-mining algorithm was developed by a master’s student from the Department of Knowledge Engineering (DKE). “This tool is a fantastic example of innovative progress at UM”, says Bastiaens.

Matrix

Indeed, Manie is enthusiastic about his product. He explains: “As a student, you log in with an access code. The tool’s most important function is its curriculum-planning matrix. Students at UCM choose from 130 courses with the regular guidance of their academic advisers. In the tool matrix, they can now enter all the courses that they’ve completed. It then shows them what they can do with the courses they’ve already done, and which courses they still have to take to complete the UCM curriculum. They can even create a file with this information and send it to their academic adviser prior to a talk. The tool also compares their matrix with the matrices of 350 UCM alumni, and determines which alumni their matrix is most similar to. The master’s programmes that those alumni chose are then presented to the student with a link to the website, information about admission requirements, costs, etc. You can see it as a sort of Amazon.com: ‘people who bought this book were also interested in ...’ In almost all recommendations, alumni who followed the suggested master’s programme provide first-hand reviews. The tool, however, will not replace academic advisers, but rather support them in their work. Oscar van den Wijngaard and Vera Bossel, my colleagues at UCM who also conduct educational research, have developed workshops to embed the tool in the curriculum.”

Alumni

In the coming years there will be more and more UCM alumni whose data can be entered, thus making the tool increasingly important. Manie: “The more alumni, the more specific the recommendations. Our current students are growing up with the tool, so to speak, so perhaps they will be even more motivated to help new students by providing their information for use in the tool.” Manie and the DKE master’s student who developed the data-mining algorithm, Alexandru Surpatean, have now made a proposal for the UM-wide use of the tool. “We don’t know yet if we can go ahead and build it. But we see endless possibilities for all faculties. At SBE, for example, you could use it for career planning and internships; in European Studies, you could link students to lobbying agencies in Brussels for internships; and at the FHML it could help students find internships in hospitals. You know, educational data mining is still in its infancy, so this tool gives us an edge on many other national and international institutions.”

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