Zafar has asked students to share their personal experiences, comments and concerns about EUR’s online teaching with her. “I’m trying to identify patterns in the things they say, which we can then use to improve our classes. I also think my study can serve as an outlet for students, some of whom may need a listening ear. I’ll be happy to be that ear.”

Do you want to share your personal experiences, comments or frustrations with Farshida Zafar? You can e-mail her or use the hashtag #LearningOnlineVSCorona on social media.

Active listening

Zafar only embarked on her study a week ago, but she has already interviewed five students and received reactions from a larger group of students. She has already detected certain patterns. “One of the things I’m hearing relatively often is that students are now having more difficulty with active listening. When you’re attending an in-class lecture, you can ask the student sitting next to you what the lecturer just said, or how he or she feels about what was just said. Now you’re just staring at a screen. This places considerable demands on your brain and makes it kind of hard to stay focused.”

Another thing that students are very concerned about is the lack of clarity regarding their upcoming exams. “They want to know really badly what’s going to happen. In addition, some students are concerned about online exams. Not everyone has the right equipment or a proper connection, and not everyone has the right level of peace and quiet at home, or even enough room to sit an exam. Sometimes there are too many distractions at home to be able to sit an exam or study.”

‘It sucks’

Zafar herself is a pioneer when it comes to new and electronic teaching methods, but even so, she says the current situation ‘sucks’. “Perhaps you can write that down slightly more diplomatically, but that’s basically what it boils down to. It sucks because of the quarantine due to the pandemic, but it also sucks for the classes themselves. Education is more than just completing assignments and acquiring and applying knowledge. It also means striving for personal growth and interacting with your fellow students and lecturers. Which also includes a trip to the on-campus supermarket or taking part in your society’s activities. Chatting with your fellow students, or with a lecturer you just met in a corridor. Students have lost all of that. Online teaching is a godsend in the current situation, but it’s not the end-all and be-all. Moreover, life will go on once this coronavirus crisis is over, and at the very least, this study will help us identify the best practices and worst mistakes.”

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And then there’s the issue of access to the right software and hardware – for instance, in order to make video calls. “With a free Zoom account, you must dial in again after forty minutes. Of course, there is other software, such as Microsoft Teams, Skype and a few other things, but not everyone knows that, and not everyone has the right hardware. But even if you do have all those things, they aren’t worth a dime if you don’t have a reliable Internet connection.”

Investments in online teaching

Zafar says that the university has recently spent a lot of money on its online teaching infrastructure, and sings the university’s praises for that. “Compared with other universities, EUR is in a very good place. We are now reaping the benefits of the investments we have made in the studio in the Polak Building, the Community for Learning and Innovation and the learning innovation teams at the various faculties. Thanks to those projects, faculties had already spent some time learning about online teaching, short educational videos, et cetera. All that is making a huge difference now.”

Despite the problems she is identifying, Zafar also wishes to compliment the EUR community, particularly the lecturers, the people working at the studio and the IT department. “All those people are working very hard indeed. Honestly, hats off to them.”

Erasmus TV

Kijk naar Farshida Zafar bij Erasmus Tv

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