As the COVID crisis unfurled, EUR’s education programmes migrated online almost overnight. Tens of thousands of lectures were suddenly offered in digital format. Although I can imagine that lecturers and students can’t wait to see each other face to face again, it’s still worthwhile to reflect for a moment on the significant advantages of online education, as highlighted by the current situation.
Nowadays, anyone can watch the programme or film of their choice any time of the day. So in the future, why couldn’t you re-watch a lecture you attended when you feel like it? There’s no reason why lectures scheduled at 9 in the morning couldn’t be watched again a few hours later. And lectures held at 7 p.m. could also be viewed the next day, so students don’t have to skip their training session, dinner with fellow association members or some other evening activity. This would make it even easier for studying and student life to go ‘hand in hand’: the one doesn’t necessarily have to rule out the other. In other words: study when it suits you best – surely Erasmus University should be able to arrange something like that?
This flexibility also has advantages as far as the learning process is concerned. My faculty, Erasmus School of Law, already distributed a lot of online lectures before the pandemic, but these were only offered to part-time students. Full-time students regularly tried to access these recordings via their part-time colleagues – to catch up on a lecture they had missed, or simply revisit it. If everyone has access to online lectures, students can decide for themselves which learning resource best suits their situation. You can choose to go a lecture at 9 in the morning and re-watch it as a recording over lunch. Or spend this time reading the course literature. Or maybe all three. This will make university education a lot more flexible for students – and more in keeping with the times besides.
Recorded lectures aren’t just a convenient arrangement for students. Lecturers will also benefit from this facility in the longer term. With a lot of subjects, it isn’t really necessary to develop a completely new lecture every year. And this brings us to one of the main advantages of lecture recordings: they can be re-used. Take various introductions to maths or statistics. In some cases, these subjects have been focussing on more or less the same matter for years on end. There’s no reason why these lectures couldn’t simply be recorded and offered online for an extended period. And students can still come together in seminars to ask the lecturer whatever they’re not entirely clear on. This also ensures that students and lecturers keep seeing each other face to face. The university will have to devote a lot of man-hours to this transition, particularly in the first year. But this investment will definitely pay off in the years that follow. It will free up a huge amount of time for lecturers. These ‘extra’ hours can be spent on improving other subjects, scientific research, educational innovation projects – or simply used to alleviate the existing pressure of work.
The best lecture recordings could even be used for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Erasmus University can use this education format, which can also be accessed by people beyond the university, to increase its exposure among potential students and showcase the quality of the education provided by our institution. Generally speaking, these MOOCs are highly rated by students. And finally, online lectures make it easier for students from other faculties to acquaint themselves with different programmes – possibly contributing to their decision to start on a second degree programme at this university.
So should our entire offer of education programmes be moved online? No, certainly not. Apart from the fact that many lecturers feel more at ease instructing students face to face rather than via a camera, a share of the students also prefer physically attending their lectures. And let’s not underestimate the social aspect: the importance of personal interaction within a group of students, and between students and lecturers.
More than anything, online education forms a perfect complement to the programme offered before the COVID crisis – particularly for students who learn more from a lecture by attending it at home or who are unable to physically travel to campus for whatever reason. The university’s educational offer will become more flexible as a result – a definite plus when you consider the limited space available in our lecture halls due to COVID-19. What’s more, it allows students to ‘dip’ in and out of their programme over an extended period, while continuing to enjoy access to the necessary lectures. As a student, you’ll not only be free to make plans for the day, but for the entire academic year.
Philip van Moll (23) is enrolled in the Financial Economics master programme and is starting on a second master’s in Indirect Taxation. In the coming academic year, Van Moll will also be serving on the University Council and the Faculty Council of Erasmus School of Law.