“I had zero experience in online teaching. For a while I thought I might not have to do any, but it soon became obvious that we’d still be in this situation after the summer, so there was no escape.”

“It did give me some time to think about how I wanted to teach my lectures after the start of the new academic year. One of the things that I decided was that, in order to keep my students’ energy level nice and high, it would probably be a good idea for me to stand while recording my videos. I read up on how to hold people’s attention. Normally, a two-hour lecture is made up of two 45-minute sessions, but you can’t do that with videos. You have to keep your videos much shorter. Ideally, your videos would be six minutes long, but it’s really hard to convey your information in videos that short. My videos are often ten minutes long, and sometimes as long as twenty minutes. I do try to keep things digestible for my students.”

‘Live online lectures felt a bit stifling’

Michaël bewerkt
Michaël Berghman, ESHCC lecturer, in his studio slash guest room.

“I’m using a blue curtain as a background in what is actually our guest bedroom, and that’s where I now teach my lectures while standing in front of a webcam on a tripod. I haven’t taught too many online classes, actually. I have taught a few in-person seminars for those students who really wanted to come to campus. Initially, we wanted to allow students to remotely attend on-campus seminars, but I was afraid we’d run into technical issues and have a lack of interaction between the students at home and the students in the classroom, so we decided from the start to separate our online and in-person seminars, thus allowing both to have their own dynamic. We polled all our colleagues on who wanted to do what. Those who didn’t feel comfortable teaching on campus didn’t have to do so.”

Recording videos takes a lot of time

“I’m lucky in that I’ve been teaching these subjects for several years now and know how my courses are structured. But recording the videos takes an awful lot of time. And what I’ve done online so far has been kind of stifling, because, among other things, it’s hard to interact. I think that’s one of the main hazards in our present situation. Those students who tend not to be very active in a classroom will be actively involved in a seminar anyway due to their physical presence, but when you’re teaching online, you may lose them. You have to tell people to stay focused much more explicitly, and that can be hard. And I don’t think that’s right for the kind of seminars we teach. They are about group conversations and dialogue, and some of that spontaneity is inevitably lost when you teach online. And the same thing is true for connecting with your colleagues. All our meetings are scheduled and planned in advance now. We can’t just knock on someone’s door and have a spontaneous chat anymore.”

“Lecturers play a different role now. We have to check more explicitly whether [the students] all understand what we’ve just been saying. Obviously, we can work with the various apps on offer, and with online tools such as quizzes, but those don’t work for more advanced students. They’re too shallow. What matters is having a debate, not a quick comparison of ideas.”

“I’ve definitely been busier in the last few months than before. Thankfully, I don’t mind working late at night. During the first lockdown – I live in Belgium, so things were even stricter there – I worked from 7pm to 4 or 5am. My girlfriend looked after our kids in the morning, and I looked after them in the afternoon. Now that the kids are back in school, I naturally work ‘regular’ hours again. But a flexible attitude continues to be a necessity.”

“I will be able to keep this up for a while – among other reasons, because I’m choosing to believe that things will return to normal at some point, even though it may not be until the end of this academic year. I’m hanging onto the belief that everything will be OK again, and that at some point, I’ll be teaching regular in-person classes again. I miss the satisfaction you sometimes feel after teaching a lecture to a large room full of students. That is, and will always be, one of the main reasons why I love my profession.”