Our Didactic Vision

Students discussing work with lecturer

The teaching and learning environment in the PPE programme at VU Amsterdam equips students with the knowledge and skills that prepares them to help tackle complex societal issues, such as climate change, globalization, issues related to privacy and ICT, and inequality. The programme aims at excellence both in terms of how learning experiences are presented to students and what these experiences deliver.

PPE includes three `how’ components:

  1. teaching takes place through a variety of personally engaged environments,
  2. by pedagogically skilled, internationally oriented and interdisciplinary staff,
  3. who will motivate and inspire talented students in a connected classroom setting.

The programme also includes two `what’ components:

  1. theory-based and application-driven content that
  2. facilitates the development of professionals, who will then be well equipped with 21st century skills to lead in politics, industry, and academia.

Core features of our didactic vision are:

Variety of class forms

The teaching in PPE courses is generally divided equally between lectures and seminars. In the last year, the students also follow a tutorial (four students per tutor). The lectures’ primary focus is on the transmission of knowledge but, whenever possible, students will also be activated during the lectures, for instance by letting them participate in pop quizzes or vote on statements relating to the lecture material. The seminars’ primary focus is on obtaining a deeper understanding of the material in small groups (at most 20 students) in a mostly problem-oriented approach. Three types of seminars are distinguished:

  1. Active learning groups
  2. Workshops
  3. Math labs

Personally engaged

VU Amsterdam seeks to promote an active community of learners in which every member counts. In order to provide personalized teaching that allows students to reach to their full potential within and beyond the university, our PPE programme employs a small-scale, intensive educational environment. With a high staff-to-student, small-scale seminars, and a large number of contact hours, our teaching environment ensures that each student’s educational needs are met. Whenever possible, lectures are recorded and made available on Blackboard in addition to lecture slides and additional enriching material (such as optional readings).

In the admission process, the PPE programme identifies talented and motivated students who are ambitious and will flourish within the programme. Students should have a strong prior interest in the PPE disciplines and should possess the potential to make valuable seminar contributions, as well as willingness to participate in extracurricular activities. Students who are a good match for the programme enter into an agreement specifying the standards and expectations for both students and staff throughout the programme.

Interdisciplinary and international staff

Internationally renowned researchers who work at the cutting edge of their areas conduct the teaching. Many of our lecturers are trained in more than one discipline and do multidisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary research. These lecturers demonstrate good research practices and train the students in how to process new information and develop research skills. Courses combine essential theory with practical problems and projects that students can work on outside of – and then bring back into – the classroom setting. The seminar instructors are able to connect seminar discussion with their current research, allowing for an exciting and synergistic learning environment that further promotes the programme’s pedagogical and didactic aims. Students are also assigned a tutor who helps students select a personalized programme of study and guides and encourages them throughout their three years in the programme. Tutors work with students to identify and address any problems or issues early on.

Connected classroom

The teaching environment in the John Stuart Mill is intensive and demands much from both students and staff. Students are required not only to process a great deal of new information, but also to synthesize the new information from each PPE discipline to reach an interdisciplinary understanding. Students are encouraged to connect PPE theory to practical, real-world problems, and to understand the political and social mechanisms within which solutions to these problems can be developed and enacted. To facilitate these moves between disciplines and between theory and practice, the PPE programme employs a didactic, active learning model that actively engages students using a wide range of pedagogical tools and didactic methods, including case studies, group discussion and projects, and community immersion.

These teaching methods are enhanced by ICT. Web-based systems are utilized to give students easy access to course material and additional research resources. Students are encouraged to use online collaborative tools to discuss group projects and to encourage and critique each other in their work. This technology also enables a wide range of new teaching tools, such as the use of online surveys, games, and multimedia to intensify the core course instruction.

Application driven

The three ‘how’ components work in tandem with the two `what’ components: the content that is delivered to students. The above-mentioned connected classroom is essential for the delivery of application-driven content. PPE courses go beyond the traditional classroom to encourage working not only from theory to practice, but also in the other direction – to use practical problems as inspiration for the development of new theories and tools that offer better solutions to current or future societal issues. Throughout their education this PPE programme encourages students to connect problems to solutions and to find the tools to achieve these solutions at the intersections of the PPE disciplines.

The PPE in Practice courses, and internship / study abroad components are essential parts of the programme which support the applied aspect. These courses and experiences give students the opportunity to interact with practitioners in business, politics, media and academia to identify problems and solutions. In addition they allow students to develop a network of connections that will be advantageous for their future careers.

Professional futures

The classroom-based instruction and real-world projects are not the only important sources of educational content. While the PPE staff works closely with students to help them develop the skills they need to be successful, the programme also encourages student-led initiatives that allow students to develop leadership skills and to participate in extracurricular activities. In part, students themselves are encouraged to propose their own extracurricular ventures but the programme also includes initiatives that help facilitate extracurricular activities.