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This year, the SEFI Francesco Maffioli Award of Excellence in Teaching of Engineering Education was presented to Prof. Dr. Tinne De Laet and her Student Support Services team at KU Leuven Faculty of Engineering Science. Their exemplary commitment to providing comprehensive support for first-year Bachelor’s students has been appreciated for helping ease the transition from secondary education to university, promoting student well-being, and ensuring academic success.

In the lives of many students, the transition from secondary school to university represents a significant milestone marked by shifts in teaching methodologies, increased academic intensity, and the challenge of adapting to new social environments. Recognizing the potential stress and difficulties these first-year Bachelor’s students face, the Faculty of Engineering Science at KU Leuven took proactive steps long ago to establish a Tutorial Service tailored to their needs. Professor Tinne De Laet has been at the helm of this initiative, overseeing a team of seven expert tutors who fulfill various vital roles.

This Tutorial Service continually strives to optimize its offerings and remains adaptable to emerging trends in student counseling. Actively engaging in educational innovation projects at institutional and international levels, including initiatives under the Erasmus+ program, the team ensures they stay at the forefront of best practices in student support.

The Tutorial Service operates on three fundamental levels, each designed to provide comprehensive assistance throughout the academic year:

  1. Individual Guidance: To cater to the specific needs of students, a team of tutors is assigned for each technical course in the first year of the Bachelor’s programs. These tutors collaborate with the teaching staff, offering guidance on course organization, educational formats, coordination between courses, and, most crucially, personalized coaching for individual students and small groups. This coaching approach not only addresses subject-related queries but also enhances students’ study skills, including study methodology and planning, as well as their academic and social integration. Appointments with tutors can be easily scheduled through an online system, ensuring accessibility for students.
  2. Online Discussion Forum: The Tutorial Service utilizes a Virtual Learning Environment, such as KU Leuven’s Toledo platform, to host an electronic discussion forum. This platform features separate threads for different courses, allowing students to ask subject-related questions, even anonymously. Student tutors and teaching assistants regularly monitor the forum, promptly responding to students’ queries. The questions and answers are shared publicly, benefiting all students. Additionally, a dedicated section contains support videos on challenging topics and resources for those seeking a deeper understanding.
  3. StudySpace+: The Tutorial Service organizes StudySpace+ sessions, which provide students with designated classrooms where tutors are available throughout the session to address questions. These tutors serve as invaluable resources, enhancing the study experience. During the pandemic, this initiative transitioned to an online format, where students could engage in break-out groups for collaborative studying while seeking guidance from tutors. An innovative online queueing system streamlined the process, ensuring that students received timely assistance.

These three levels of support are designed to employ state-of-the-art approaches, many of which are shared and recognized at national and international educational conferences. The Tutorial Service has gained considerable renown among students, effectively facilitating the transition from secondary school to university. Its accessibility and low threshold ensure that students receive intensive support, significantly contributing to their success during the initial bachelor’s phase.

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