I dare to ask questions online more quickly than in a crowded lecture hall

Since the lockdown in March 2020, the lives of students have changed dramatically. Three of them tell how they experienced the transition to online education at the time. In their view, the biggest challenge? Literally keeping yourself in the loop.

Student achter laptop

Jelmer Schinkel, Human Resource Management student at ROC TOP Amsterdam, finds online lessons quite a switch. "With physical education you can fall back on contact with your teacher and classmates. Now a lot of responsibility lies with yourself." For Femke Zomerman, Master's student in Food Technology at WUR, the transition was less significant. "Colleges were always recorded, so you could watch them live. Group assignments are really different, now they are done via Skype. Normally you can always discuss things with your own group. Now you have to agree who does what and you work separately." Sam Mulder, a student of Creative Business at the Hogeschool vanAmsterdam, was suddenly without a graduation internship in March due to the lockdown. In the meantime, he has started a new study, entirely online. "I still have to find my way in and motivate myself to get to work. It doesn't help if you sit at home all week and make boring reports. And normally students get cameras from school, now we had to film ourselves at 1.5 metres with our mobile phones."

Femke Zomerman en Jelmer Schinkel
'During lectures you can ask questions via chat and the lecturer will answer them immediately. I'm also more willing to ask questions online than in a crowded lecture hall.'
Femke Zomerman

Improvising a lot

Femke recognises this. "At first I was very motivated and eager to find out how everything works. Now that's all gone, because you have to do everything on your own. For a while we had a mini library in the house so we could study together." Jelmer also misses the grip of going to college. "You only get out of bed when you have a lecture and you prepare breakfast in between. Otherwise, you get out of bed at 8 a.m. and you've been awake for two hours before the lecture." For Sam, it's a lot of improvising. "You have to prepare everything online and you only meet one day at 1.5 metres. That is not very practical. However, the teams are organised by region, so it is easier to get together physically," he says. "Research and lectures are often conducted via Teams and Zoom, which is something teachers have to get used to. Sometimes, the internet cuts out or they complain that they get little feedback."

Sam Mulder

Large demand for expertise

The fact that teaching was not possible on location due to the corona crisis led to a great demand for expertise and facilities regarding online education. SURF is therefore offering educational institutions extra support. This includes the Online Education FAQ and various webinars held in collaboration with partners in the education sector. SURF.nl also provides an overview of the large range of tools for online education and the challenges involved in combining online education with face-to-face teaching. Finally, SURF organised the Open and Online Education Incentive Scheme for the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The site provides information on projects by participating institutions.

Less contact

Online experiences with communication between students and lecturers vary. Jelmer: "If you are working on an assignment and you have a question, you cannot ask it during class. You can ask it by e-mail, but then it takes another day before you can continue. Social contacts with teachers and classmates are also very difficult now. Femke is more positive. "During lectures you can ask questions via chat and the lecturer will answer them immediately. I also dare to ask questions online more quickly than in a crowded lecture hall." Sam misses the personal contact. "The other day, the three of us were in the lecture hall for the first time in months. It was so nice to see that they encountered the same problems during their studies as I did."

‘Taking an exam online is fine. At least, as long as your laptop doesn't shut down, the Internet keeps working and your housemates don't come in.’
Sam Mulder

Getting used to

Doing exams and assignments online takes some getting used to. Sam: "On Mondays, I go to the 'client' or the teacher to create a website and house style. Once a day, he comes to ask how things are going. First, they had a programme to watch us 24/7. We found that too intense. Now it's only done by random sampling. Femke had to download a programme for her exams and practice with it once beforehand. "When answering the questions, the camera and microphone were switched on and you were recorded. That works fine as long as your laptop doesn't break down, the internet keeps working and your housemates don't come in," she laughs. Jelmer was able to do most of the tests physically at 1.5 metres. "I also skipped some online tests to catch up physically. Now that corona is longer, it remains to be seen if that will work."

Combining benefits

In the near future, all three expect a combination of online and physical education. "It would be nice if you could combine the advantages of both," says Femke. Now you can see your own head on the screen for two hours during exams, and that makes me very nervous. Jelmer indicates that the information flow could be better. "Now you get a lot through e-mail and the rest during Team sessions. If everything is sent through one channel, you know for sure that you have everything." According to Femke, the biggest challenge is to literally keep students on task. "With all that freedom and personal responsibility, compulsory meetings and assignments offer structure. Then you have to."

I dare to ask questions online faster than in a crowded lecture hall' is a SURF Magazine article.

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Text:: Wilma Schreiber
Photo: Maartje Kuperus
Translation: Deepl