“Since the pandemic broke, I’ve basically been back in my native country of Germany, near Stuttgart,” says Brandt from his home office (which has since started doubling as a nursery). In the background, two large windows look out on a wooded hill, which is showing the first flush of spring green.

docenten houden vol foto Tobias Brandt
Tobias Brandt in his working room near the forest

“I can’t imagine a better place to be in during the past year of the pandemic We try to take a stroll in the woods every day. And to be honest – and maybe I shouldn’t be saying this – there were certainly advantages to having to stay home this past year, since it coincided with the birth of my daughter. Before the pandemic, I worked three days a week in Rotterdam, where I stayed in a flat, and spent the remainder of the week in Germany. Now I didn’t have to miss a thing,” explains Brandt, as he holds up his baby daughter Sophie for the camera.

Insane and intense

On the other hand, his teaching workload already doubled in the academic year 2020 because RSM had just moved his Business Information Management lectures from the third year to the first year.  Brandt calls the period of the first lockdown ‘insane’ and ‘intense’.

The only plus was that Brandt and his colleagues had already hatched the idea of offering several tutorials via video. Which proved a fortunate decision when in mid-March 2020, it was suddenly curtains for face-to-face instruction.

Letting go of perfectionism

“The big drawback of recorded videos is that you want to do a perfect job. This means a ten-minute video quickly takes a full hour to record. It didn’t take long for me to abandon this perfectionism though.

“As it is, I enjoy teaching face-to-face a lot more, because it allows you to interact. Live streams provide at least some interaction with the students, which I enjoy a lot. And if you happen to make a mistake, you can correct it straight away. No one’s bothered by this.”

Angry e-mails

Another change that took up a huge amount of time was organising the new examination formats. Since RSM doesn’t use online proctoring for subjects that are attended by a lot of students (combined, Business Administration and IBA have no fewer than 1,400 first-year students), Brandt was tasked with the challenge of developing new strategies to assess students’ progress.

“We had little support or guidelines to work with; not even an indication how we should go about this. I think we spent at least a week simply setting up the final examination. If it were up to me, we would have had a passed/failed system, without any marks. But this wasn’t an option.

“Ultimately, we decided on a combination of examination tools: three group assignments during the course, combined with a final exam consisting of a short essay and a quiz in which students had to answer a set of questions. They were given very little time to answer so they wouldn’t be able to confer. The results of the quiz determined 30 percent of their mark.

“I got a lot of angry e-mails from students – particularly regarding that quiz under time pressure. Some of them were quite rude. My answer to these people was that while I understand that you may write something like that in the heat of the moment, I advise them to sleep it over for a night before blasting off an angry e-mail. Also, the quiz tests your ability to be quick on your feet and apply your knowledge under pressure.”

Facing same challenges

In the first six months of the pandemic, Brandt didn’t have any time left to work on his research. “Fortunately, I was able to get a deferral for a lot of revisions I had to submit – editors and the academic community in general were very understanding. We were all facing the same challenges.”

By autumn, when his daughter was born, he had managed to clear the stacks of outstanding work from his desk, leaving him free to take just under two months off. And to ramble through the woods every now and then.