Student perceptions of Living Lab research internships in the COVID-19 pandemic – a Dutch case study

Annelieke Michelle van Engelenhoven, Josefine L. Geiger*, A. Berfu Ünal, Rowan Niels Spinder, Indira S.E. van der Zande

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Purpose: To effectively generate solutions to today's complex challenges, cooperation between governments, industry, civil society and academia is essential. To adequately prepare students for collaboration across academic and non-academic disciplines and stakeholders, Living Labs (LLs), unique research internships have emerged in the educational systems, which are focused on generating insights for society while embedding student learning in both practice and academia. To legitimise the LLs as a method of education in the academic curriculum, it is necessary to evaluate the experience of and potential benefits for students with regard to the development of their academic, professional and personal skills. Hence, this paper aims to investigate the outcomes of participating in LLs from the student's perspective via a case study at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. A secondary aim is to evaluate the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on the learning experience of the students. Design/methodology/approach: The authors employed self-reported pre-and post-questionnaires into students' confidence levels with regard to their academic, professional and personal skills. A total of 35 questionnaires were conducted during the period February 2020–July 2021. The authors subsequently applied evaluation research, using a benchmarking approach, to analyse the data. Findings: This study firstly indicates that students are most confident in their personal skills, both before and after conducting the LL, and that they further developed these due to being pushed outside of their growth zone by the various challenges posed during the LL, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Secondly, while students seem to have become more aware of their professional skills in the LL, this was the aspect on which no improvement was reported after conducting the LL, potentially due to an increased awareness of one's own room for improving professional skills outside of academia. Thirdly, students' reported academic skills improved the most during the LL, which highlights the importance of embedding academic learning both in theory and practice. Lastly, the impact of COVID-19 changed the setting of the LL which led to challenges but also opportunities with respect to research design, time investment and communication. Practical implications: As LLs seem to contribute to transversal and academic skill development of students, we can legitimise their increasingly common place in higher education curricula. LLs are not only beneficial for stakeholders and society as they generate new insights into societal questions, they are also of added value to students who actively collaborate with the external organisations and researchers. The LLs can thus be seen as a method of education which contributes to students' preparation for future careers, which is one of the main tasks of higher education institutions. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the LLs were conducted online, which resulted in disadvantages and advantages. Future LLs can be anticipated on more hybrid or even further online collaborations, which also opens the possibility of collaboration with international organisations located at different parts of the world. In this case, extra attention will need to be devoted to aligning expectations among the different stakeholders and specifically focussing on ways to ensure good communication. Originality/value: This case-study is one of the first studies that specifically looks at the newly emerging concept of LL research internships and the perception of the student while conducting LLs with societal partners. Previous literature on the topic is scarce and, if existing, has mainly focused on the benefit of the partner organisation or society. Instead, we purposefully reflect on how the collaboration contributes towards students' professional development and employability. By doing so, this paper is one of the first to shed light on the benefits accrued to students’ development by participating in an LL. In addition, as the case study, unexpectedly, took place at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were also able to evaluate the influence of COVID-19 on the LLs and draw insightful lessons learned for future collaborations with local and international partners in an online setting.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-80
Number of pages16
JournalEducation and Training
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • COVID-19
  • Living Lab
  • Research internship
  • Student experience
  • Transdisciplinarity

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