In-depth study with a handful of fellow students

Studente met boek op schoot neemt deel aan een online werkgroep

On average a tutorial consists of approximately 25 students. However, students from the Bachelor Cultural Anthropology felt that if you really want to gain an in-depth understanding of a certain subject, the group has to be considerably smaller. With time and resources from the EMP, the programme could respond to this wish. The result is a course with in-depth close reading sessions with a maximum of six students and assignments that allowed students to connect conceptual frameworks  to their personal stories.

‘The students came to us with a list of subjects that they would like to study. We eventually chose the theme Morality in anthropology,’ lecturer Tessa Diphoorn recounts, who, together with colleague Nikkie Wiegink, set up the new optional course. 

The students’ request did not come as a surprise for Tessa and Nikkie. Tessa: ‘The programme Cultural Anthropology has many courses with diverse themes, and during tutorials there is sometimes not enough time to deal with the subject matter in a detailed manner. In a smaller group, there is more time for this’.

Close reading sessions

Tessa and Nikkie used (online) close reading sessions as a work format. Per week, students read two texts and wrote a reflection report about them. Students were also responsible for leading the discussions: each week a different pair of students took the lead in collecting all of the reports and prepared the session.

Questions that were discussed were for example: Which authors have the best expertise on this theme and how do you know this? On what claims do they base their arguments? What do we think of the composition and structure of the article? And how does this work compare to the literature discussed in the previous weeks? 

Assignments with a personal touch

One of the assignments for students was to connect a personal experience to the theory on morality and to visualise their story in a video clip. Nikkie: ‘Students produced the most creative things. For instance, one of the students dove into her own family history and interviewed her brothers. It became an emotional story that was also very well theoretically informed.’ 

It was a real privilege to tackle tough debates together as academics for once

Student Cultural Anthropology


The optional course was popular among students, even though there were strict entry requirements for the course. Eventually 22 students participated in four groups. From the course evaluation, it is evident that students greatly appreciated the small scale of this educational format: 

  • I have thought about things that I had never thought about before. Great to have tutorials in such a small format.
  • It was a real privilege to tackle tough debates together as academics for once, I would like everyone to be able to experience it.
  • It shows a very different view on anthropology and anthropological research that is not taught in other courses in the faculty.

Practical and educational help

Lindy Wijsman (Educational Consultancy & Professional Development) was involved as an educational consultant with the setup and evaluation of this course. In the preliminary process she helped translate the learning goals into the course level and suitable assignments. Tessa: ‘Lindy also offered very practical help. For instance, how many hours should you count for certain parts, and what can you ask of a student? I had never considered this in so much detail and as such it was very pleasant to have someone guide us in the process.’

The lecturers also got help from student Jari Tönjes, who was participating in the honours programme. Nikkie: ‘One of his assignments was the so-called creative challenge, for which Jari compiled a literature list with books and articles that we could use during our reading sessions.’

Personal insights

Even though it is not certain when the small-scale course will be offered again, both lecturers have gained new insights that they will incorporate into their teaching more broadly. For instance, they think that close reading sessions can also work in slightly larger groups. And telling a personal story in a creative way, linked to the theory, can also be used in other courses.

A lecture doesn’t need to take up three full hours

Finally, Tessa tells us that she has realised that a lecture doesn’t necessarily need to take up three full hours. ‘A plenary explanation is very useful, but students are also capable of understanding the subject matter without long lectures. I now strive for lectures of maximum one to one and a half hours.’

About the EMP

The Educational Resources Pool (Educatieve Middelen Pool, EMP) offers faculties the option of requesting educational advice and support for the improvement and innovation of their education. The EMP can be used for support with a single course, a study component, method, or instrument as well as a complete curriculum, educational organisation, or quality assurance. 

This article is part of a series of articles about EMP-projects of the UU.