Most faculties are prioritising first-year students in allocating their limited lecture room facilities to groups. “Our priority is to allow first-year students and our new pre-Master’s and Master’s students to properly get to know the lecturers and each other, but we know our second- and third-year students are feeling the distance, as well. We’re trying to find ways to get them involved, too,” says Jason Pridmore, the vice-dean of teaching of the Erasmus School of History, Culture & Communication (ESHCC).
For its part, the Erasmus School of Economics (ESE) is also choosing to focus first and foremost on its first-year students. ESE’s Skills for First-Year Students course is a good example of a mix of online and offline teaching. “The online modules consist of instructional videos, assignments and quizzes,” says Iris Versluis, a teaching policy officer at ESE. “Here on campus the students will play a board game we developed ourselves so as to properly get to know each other, and after that they will start developing essential academic skills, with plenty of time allocated to discussion and presentation skills. The students will get together regularly, both on campus and online.”
The Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), too, is organising mentoring sessions for its first-year students, both online and offline. “The mentors will be in Rotterdam, anyway. In addition, we’ve made an arrangement with the STAR study society and the Faculty Council that they, too, will organise offline activities, on top of the teaching, particularly for first-year students,” says Eric Waarts, RSM’s dean of teaching.
Internationals can join in, too
Students who would rather not come to campus will be served, as well. Apart from two faculties (Erasmus MC and the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences), all faculties will make all their lectures and seminars available online until the end of the first semester, which means that international students who are unable to come to the Netherlands will be able to take courses, as well.
The great majority of on-campus seminars and events will be optional. In many cases, students will have to reserve their spots beforehand. For instance, ESHCC (a relatively small faculty) expects one third to half of its students to be able to come to campus to attend lectures. In such cases, lecturers will enable students to reserve spots. RSM polled all of its first-year students, asking them whether they wanted to be able to attend Mathematics classes on campus, with 275 first-year students indicating that they did. The other freshers will be able to take the course online.
Another way to keep students focused is to create smaller groups. With online teaching, the limiting factor is not the number of available lecture rooms, but rather the number of available lecturers. RSM and a few other faculties believe they will be able to create smaller groups of first-year students by appointing second-year students as supervisors. The Erasmus School of Law, RSM and ESE are all offering a buddy system. ESE seeks to keep its groups as small as possible, particularly for Master’s students, thus allowing students enough opportunity to talk to lecturers during seminars.
Keeping one and a half metres’ distance is not an option in the dissection classes, as everyone must be able to see exactly what is happening
Unlike the other faculties, Erasmus MC and ESSB will not be offering all their seminars online. Several practicals and seminars taught by the Faculty of Medicine are not suited for online teaching and will therefore continue to be taught in person, as long as the situation continues to allow this. For instance, two courses that genuinely cannot be taught online are physical examinations and dissection. “Yes, that is definitely our greatest challenge,” says Andrea Woltman, who coordinates the Bachelor’s degree programme. “Keeping one and a half metres’ distance is not an option in the dissection classes, as everyone must be able to see exactly what is happening. So we’ll be wearing face masks here, and group size will be reduced even further.”
The various Bachelor’s degree programmes taught by ESSB will feature face-to-face mentoring sessions, and there will be evening sessions featuring guest speakers. The faculty’s spokesperson made a point of emphasising that attendance of classroom activities will not be mandatory for either students or staff.
If, at some point down the track, universities are given the green light to teach more classes on campus again, all faculties hope to upscale their classroom activities as soon as possible. However, they will first complete whatever block or course is being taught at that moment. “This would make it easier for us to teach certain classes on campus, particularly in our Master’s programmes. Our courses are divided into five-week blocks, and we will need time to make the switch, anyway. Overhauling the whole system at once will not be an option,” says an ESSB spokesperson.
The Erasmus School of Law also works with five-week blocks and claims to be able to switch to a new system after each five-week period.
ESE will not be implementing any changes that quickly. The faculty says that the semester will end the same way it has begun, no matter what happens. However: “If the restrictions are relaxed to the point where we can have more people inside lecture theatres again, we will obviously allow more students to attend our on-campus lectures.”
One major change from the end of the previous academic year is the fact that the largest room inside the Van der Goot Building has been reopened. Many faculties intend to use that room to administer their exams. Erasmus MC is one such faculty, says Woltman. “Exams will be administered on campus, which is to say at the Van der Goot Building, but they will still be online exams. If a student comes down with mild symptoms, he or she will be able to sit the exam from home, through online proctoring.” The message here is that students who are experiencing symptoms need to stay at home and get tested. “And if we are suddenly no longer allowed to administer exams on campus, we’ll be able to switch to exams taken from home at once,” says Woltman.
ESL is planning to administer the exams its Bachelor’s students have to take on campus. This faculty, too, will offer online proctoring for students who are sitting exams from abroad or students who are experiencing mild symptoms. The same thing is true for ESSB, but only for exams taken by fewer than 500 students. Large-scale exams (e.g. Psychology) will be taken from home and will involve online proctoring.
ESE will stick to online exams taken from home with online proctoring for the time being. The faculty does not intend to start ‘carefully experimenting’ with on-campus exams until November or December at the earliest. And even then students who are unable to come to campus will be able to sit their exams from home.
ESHCC will not administer any on-campus exams until January, either. “We will organise proctored online exams or alternative assessment methods in the first two blocks of this academic year.” The faculty will only make an exception for students who are unable to sit exams from home or who are receiving additional support.
RSM will continue to administer nearly all of its exams online, some with proctoring, others without. Only a small number of exams will be administered on campus. This is interesting, because the faculty experienced several cases of severe cheating in online exams before the summer holidays.