A survey of nearly five hundred students conducted by Erasmus Magazine showed that a majority of EUR students feel that the classes taught in recent months have been better than those taught before the summer break. Students told us that there was less need for improvisation and that they appreciated the odd in-person class and had noticed that lecturers had found ways to promote interaction during online classes.
“I feel that lecturers have a better idea of what they want”, a 23-year-old student attending RSM said. A third-year student attending ESHCC summarised many students’ opinions as follows: “Before the summer, the situation was new for all of us, and we needed time to get used to it. This year I’ve found that lecturers have found more ways to stop their students’ attention from flagging.”
Taken off guard by the virus
Many students are thankful that they have been able to take some classes on campus in the current academic year. “We now have in-person lectures two to four hours per week. It’s a huge help”, a student attending Erasmus MC wrote.
An ESHCC student who rated her classes a 10 out of 10 had the following to say: “The ESHCC staff are making a conscientious effort to blend online with offline, so I have the opportunity to meet some peers for an on-campus lecture once a week.While the student experience is not fully the same, the recorded lectures allow us to watch them again, which is super useful especially when writing final term papers. Maybe it’s actually a blessing in disguise, since I have the feeling I’m working a lot harder now that we’re more or less cooped up in our homes.”
One ESHPM student said that the low marks awarded prior to the summer break were partly due to students’ expectations. “At the time, the coronavirus caught us off guard. After the summer break, we knew what to expect. People had time to think about online teaching properly, and you can clearly tell they did just that, because the quality of the classes has improved. For instance, they are more interactive than they were before the summer break.”
Lack of interaction continues to be problematic
Nevertheless, many respondents indicated that the relative lack of interaction continues to be a concern. “Problem-based learning on Zoom doesn’t work as originally intended,” a second-year student attending ESSB thinks. “As far as I’m concerned, there’s a huge quality difference”, said a philosophy student who has attended several tutorials on campus in the last few months. “When you’re having a real tutorial, you’re much more likely to have an interesting discussion. When we’re on Zoom, everyone is a little more reluctant to talk, and every once in a while our internet connections will cause some issues. But it’s precisely those discussions that make your degree fun, and you learn so much from them.”
A medical student said that the lack of practical training is problematic: “All our on-the-job training has been cancelled. It feels like we’re only learning things to pass our exams, not to become good doctors. All those things that made our courses fun last year, such as work placements and doctor-for-a-day experiences, have been cancelled.” A fellow student added: “I feel like I may not be all that well prepared once I have my first consultations during my foundation programme.”
However, even those students who do not love their online classes can tell that their lecturers are giving it their all. “I find it harder to stay focused. Classes can be very boring and slow-going. But I really appreciate the lecturers’ hard work, and I can tell they’re doing their best to try and keep things interactive”, an Erasmus MC student said.
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So on average, students rated the pandemic-time teaching they have received this academic year a 6.2. At the end of last academic year, EM asked about seven hundred students the same question. At the time, the average mark awarded was a 5.2. Students attending the Erasmus School of Economics and the Erasmus School of Law rate their classes the lowest: a 5.9. A notable finding was the fact that international students were less critical of their pandemic-time classes than their Dutch fellow students: 6.7 versus 6.1.
ESE and ESL students rate their classes lower than ESHCC and ESHPM students
Students are also more positive about their exams than they were six months ago, rating their examination experiences an average 5.9 out of 10. At the end of last academic year, the average mark was a 5.0. What is notable is the difference in rating between students who have not sat any online exams, but rather have had their performance assessed by means of essays or exams administered on campus, and students who have sat online exams: 6.5 versus 5.8. Here, too, ESE and ESL students are less generous than students attending other faculties. The economics students rated their exams an average 5.3, while the law students rated theirs an average 4.7.
Remote examination marked ‘unsatisfactory’ by ESE and ESL students
When it comes to remote examinations, opinions are divided. A share of the students finds sitting an exam from home more stressful than in a hall. “You have all this extra anxiety about Wi-Fi possibly disconnecting or housemates who forget you’re doing an exam”, said one Econometrics student, for example. But some students are actually pleased with the option of taking their tests at home: “I’m no longer distracted by fellow students, and I’m not ‘infected’ by the stress they may be experiencing. I’m able to concentrate better in my own, familiar surroundings.”
A few respondents actually miss the unique atmosphere of sitting an exam together. “Being restricted to sitting exams online doesn’t do justice to the atmosphere that’s usually in the air – or that feeling you get when you leave the hall and head straight over to De Smitse”, an RSM student admitted. Incidentally, apart from this quibble, he’s very satisfied with his open-book examinations.
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‘Proctor is hell’
It turns out a lot can go wrong when you sit an exam from home – usually through no fault of the student. Around half of the students have experienced technical issues during remote exams this academic year. And these problems occur across the board, in each year of the programme and within virtually every faculty (the only students who didn’t report technical issues in our poll are those enrolled at ESPhil and ISS).
Online proctoring is proving a particular bugbear, and a major vexation for students. “Using Proctor is hell. I’ve had problems with the application three out of three times”, said one ESL student. “One time it caused so much trouble that the open questions section of the exam wouldn’t be included in the overall mark – due to a mistake at the proctoring end.”
“You’re rolling along in a system that harms and belittles you by definition”, said an ESSB student who was wrongly accused of fraud (‘it was resolved fortunately, but it’s still an outrage’). Another student, from EUC, told that she had to wait months to get her exam result due to errors in the proctoring software.
An ESL student refers to issues with Remindo, a digital examination application. “Due to a technical issue, it took a full hour before I could open the exam. Ultimately, I was still up taking a test at 11:30 in the evening.”
Students also regularly receive the wrong details for accessing their exam. One master student at ESE recalled: “We were all sent the wrong link. I couldn’t open the link, but I thought it was due to my computer. I was so rattled that I was actually in tears by the time I started on the exam.”
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Remarkably, for a share of the students, Covid has had a positive effect on their study regimen. Half of them report spending more time on their studies – although in some cases this is due to problems concentrating. A quarter of the respondents even indicate that their results have improved since the pandemic.
“My social life is less of a distraction, which helps me to focus more on my studies”, said an RSM master student. “I’m getting higher marks”, noted a second-year student at ESE. “Since I no longer have to factor in travel time, I’m left with more time to study. And since I don’t have to get up before 8 in the morning, there’s less sleep deprivation.” Incidentally, 43 per cent of the respondents state that Covid has had a detrimental effect on their academic results.
Fewer concerns about education
Students are also less worried than before the summer about the quality of education or falling behind in their studies. While at the time, more than 50 per cent of the respondents were concerned about delays, this has now dropped to one in three. On average, international students tend to be more worried than Dutch natives. Likewise, quality of education is mentioned less frequently as a cause for concern than before. The previous academic year, 62 per cent of the respondents were worried about a decline in quality; at present, this is a mere 43 per cent.
Right now, students’ leading points of concern are ‘My mental health’ (64 per cent), ‘The economic consequences of the crisis’ (58 per cent) and ‘My freedom of movement’ (47 per cent). International students are also quite worried about their job prospects. No fewer than 67 per cent of the international respondents say this is a concern to them.
About this survey
A total of 498 students took part in this Erasmus Magazine poll. Students were invited to complete the questionnaire between Thursday, 3 December and Monday, 14 December (meaning that the poll only refers to results that came in before the new lockdown was announced). The respondents answered questions about their experiences with online instruction and examinations, their social life and love life, their existing concerns and expectations of the future. The male/female ratio, distribution across faculties, respondents’ programme phase and the ratio of Dutch/international students are comparable to those found in the overall EUR student body. The number of respondents from ESPhil, ISS and EUC was too low to draw individual conclusions for these faculties.
With cooperation from Wouter Sterrenburg.