Three mobile studio cameras point towards a giant green wall. At the push of a button, presenters can use this green screen to put themselves in any setting. From a tropical rainforest, to the EUR rooftop with views of the Rotterdam skyline. “Professional broadcasters might well be envious of this,” says Pieter van Baarle while conducting a tour of the TV studios at Woudestein. He is the head of the Media Support Centre at Erasmus University.
This article is part of a special issue of EM about the corona crisis. The paper version of the magazine can be found around campus Woudestein. Also, the magazine can be read entirely online.
‘The fact that we were able to adapt so quickly is thanks to the investments that were made in recent years, and also to the university’s vision on modernising education’
The studios were built two years ago to help modernise education, whereby video and online content play a key role. “Let me be clear: A physical presence on campus will always be important. This is where everyone feels connected to each other and to the university. However, a classic two-hour lecture in a room with hundreds of students is outdated. Education is constantly evolving in line with students’ lifestyles and is increasingly being combined with videos, live streams, games and apps, etc. If you don’t get on board as a university, you will lose out.”
EUR TV studios have been working overtime since the lockdown. The campus was shut down halfway through March and from that moment on all education had to be given online. Van Baarle and his team made sure that over 30,000 students and 300 teachers were helped and coached in this. “Teachers did this partly from home in front of their laptops, but lots of them also came to the campus to record webinars or videos in the studios. They also gave lectures via a livestream from an empty lecture hall, as those facilities were there long before corona. Meanwhile, we have 400 lecture halls that you can stream from.”
Within two months, almost 40,000 lectures were recorded. “This is a tremendous achievement,” says Van Baarle. “The fact that we were able to adapt so quickly is thanks to the investments that were made in recent years, and also to the university’s vision on modernising education.”
Nevertheless, a survey by EM revealed that not all students were satisfied with online education during the corona lockdown. Complaints were made about technical failures and difficulties in taking exams. “On this scale and within this time frame, not everything could have worked out well all at once,” Van Baarle responds. “But I’ve also heard from lots of students and lecturers that they were very satisfied. Some students even said they never wanted to go back to the way things were before.” The sudden, unavoidable changeover to comprehensive online education was good practice for the future, states Jeroen Jansz, professor and academic director of the Community for Learning & Innovation (CLI) at the EUR. “I am impressed with what was achieved. Teachers say that within a very short period of time they’ve learned a lot about putting material online.”
“Now the main challenge will be to make qualitative progress,” Jansz continues. He is responsible, among other things, for the development of hybrid education across the faculties. Teachers are being supported in this by so-called ‘learning and innovation consultants,’ he goes on to explain. “They help you translate your teaching material into online content. For example, via live streams, round-table discussions, short clips or videos. Or they show you how to make online courses interactive by adding a small quiz or assignment. So much is possible, and teachers can rely on our know-how and facilities for everything.”
‘Now the main challenge will be to make qualitative progress’
Two ‘do-it-yourself-booths’ have been installed in the studio. These are mini studios where teachers and students can independently and routinely record videos, even in front of a green screen. They read their texts off a teleprompter, just like they do in Hilversum. The studio’s designers and technicians can help with additional animation or graphics if needed. Van Baarle is well aware that ‘presenting is something that some teachers still need training in’. They offer help with that, too. “By fully scripting their story, it becomes much more succinct. This also improves the quality of their teaching, resulting in students being able to grasp the material much better.”
Jansz and Van Baarle are also proud of the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that the university produces. These can be found on Coursera, an international online study platform. “They are professionally created video courses that are available worldwide,” Van Baarle points out. “MOOCs are expensive and time-consuming to make. But if you want to be visible as a university and make an impression on future students, you need to generate high-quality MOOCs. Delft University of Technology is at the forefront, but we’ve also made about fifteen of them already.”
Van Baarle’s team will soon start shooting a MOOC on employment law. This involves recording a Netflix-like series with six actors playing students in a Rotterdam student house. “Think of a series like Friends, but with a storyline in which an employment law case is highlighted. It’s the first time we’ve done something like this. An amazing experiment!”
Important meeting place
In the coming years, Van Baarle and Jansz predict that the university will undergo a significant transition towards hybrid education. The relationship between face-to-face and online education will differ from department to department, Jansz notes: “Medical training requires more physical presence than, let’s say, economics, given the need for practical lessons.” Van Baarle envisages that the ratio could be fifty-fifty in future. “Still, campus will always be an important meeting place.”
Nonetheless, ultimately it should also be possible to follow a complete study from the other side of the world, without ever having to visit the university. Says Jansz: “For instance, for foreign students who cannot afford to live and study here. The same may apply to students with a physical disability who have difficulty getting to campus.”