Excellence in education: Teaching Award

Teaching is what makes a university real for students: it is how they interact with professors. And once a year, as part of the graduation, KLU presents the teaching award to its best educator. We met this year’s award winner, Professor Niels Van Quaquebeke (photo middle), for an interview

Niels, you won the teaching award at the KLU this year. Congratulations! What does this honor mean to you, personally and in your role as Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior?

I absolutely love it! It is a great honor and a signal that the students appreciate all the effort I put into my classes. And I am just a human. So, I too like to be appreciated and recognized as much as anyone else, even if it is the third KLU teaching award for me. Truth be told, my last teaching awards were in 2012 and 2014. And then I went through a dry spell because the overall teaching quality at KLU is really outstanding and the teaching award competition is thus really tough. Also, I had completely redesigned some of my courses since then. So, I feared that I had lost my teaching mojo or that my new didactics may not be as great as I thought they would be. So in a way getting this award is also a great relief.

For those who are not familiar with this award, what does the teaching award stand for? And who is the jury?

It is a teaching excellence award across all our study programs. To determine the recipient, all course evaluations of the five best lecturers in a year at the KLU are forwarded in an anonymized way to a student committee. It is then this student committee that discusses the cases and based on the overall picture determines a recipient. It is only afterwards that it is revealed who that lecturer actually is.

What are the skills that are evaluated?

Our course evaluations are based on a plethora of dimensions, for instance, the helpfulness of the teaching material, the appropriateness of the lecturing speed, but also the energy and inspiration the lecturer brings to the room, and whether the lecturer is perceived as actually caring about student learning.

What is your personal approach to teaching? Is there anything that is unique about your teaching style?

When designing a course, I think back to my own student days and try to improve on anything that I hated about my university courses and to retain everything I loved. I then try to create a new logical course structure even if it means breaking with established teaching patterns. On top, I reflect what I can possibly deliver in class that cannot simply be learned from the textbook or by following an online course. After all, I think students come to the KLU for a unique learning experience that goes significantly beyond their previous educational experiences. 

What do you like most about teaching?

Helping young people grow. And in so doing, helping them to one day take better care of the people that will be entrusted to their leadership. I want to help our students to find their voice and not simply assume that they are cogs in a big machine who have to replicate the existing system in order to fit in. They are to think of themselves as leaders for companies and society, and not just as managers or administrators.

From your point of view, how has the teaching style at universities changed, especially with regard to your own studies?

I think universities and lecturers really have to legitimize their raison d’être these days. Today, there is so much that can be learned from books or online, that it is only sensible to ask why someone should go to a university to study. At KLU we thus push the learning needle significantly beyond. The learning experiences in my courses, for instance, are something you will not and cannot learn by just reading books or watching online videos.

Back to your teaching: Is there room for improvement? Even though you are the awardee for teaching?

Yes, most definitely. My colleagues at KLU, for instance, are currently experimenting with great blended concepts, in particular, in classes where the presented material may be too difficult to follow just in one classroom session. The explainer videos, that can be recapped at home, are a great way to learn in one’s own speed. Likewise, some KLU colleagues are offering preparation videos to ensure that at the beginning of their class their students are roughly on the same level of knowledge. This is invaluable especially for diverse learning contexts such as at the KLU with students from all over the world with very different study backgrounds.

More information:

Dr. Niels Van Quaquebeke/Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior