By far the most radically dedicated lecturer was RSM’s Florian Madertoner, who gave his students (some 1,800 Business Administration and IBA students) his mobile phone number, so that they could message him if anything was the matter, be it in their studies or in their private lives. He spent a few hours every night chatting with his students on his phone. He also taught live lectures on YouTube, and at the end of the year he organised a pub quiz for a group of students at his own place, which was live-streamed to his other students.

For her part, ESHPM-affiliated lecturer Femke Hilverda also said that she was spending more time talking to her students. “If a student calls you in tears, you don’t just hang up on them,” said the lecturer, who went through a rough time of her own when her neighbours decided to renovate their home during the first lockdown.

Hats, Zoom meetings and music

And then there were Erasmus MC’s Fred Petrij and ESL’s Nathalie van der Kooij. The former wore a different hat during every online lecture and turned it into a competition for his students, while the latter placed her Zoom channel at her students’ disposal so that they could hang out there even when no lectures were being taught. ESSB’s Matthias Wieser compiled a special Spotify playlist for his students so as to create a sense of group togetherness even though the students were not able to meet in person.

Brigitte Hoogendoorn, who is ESE’s programme director as well as a lecturer, also saw the flipside of lecturers’ high level of intrinsic motivation. Remote working proved highly mentally taxing for many lecturers.

Outside the comfort zone

The pandemic also forced lecturers to try and use new-to-them methods, some of which were quite outside their comfort zone. For instance, ESHCC’s Evert Bisschop Boele really hated the idea of teaching online, but he got over it. And not only did he receive many compliments from his students, but he also found himself admitting afterwards that things could have been far, far worse.

An online world also opened up to veteran lecturer Christiaan Heij, who works at ESE and is about to retire. He learned how to work with a tablet and provided his econometrics students with many, many online Q&A sessions, without complaining.

ESHCC’s Michaël Berghman was new to recording videos, as well. He transformed his guest bedroom into a studio and generally recorded his lectures in the evening and in the wee hours of the night, when his children were asleep.

Presumably those were the same nights Fred Petrij spent tossing and turning, nervous about the prospect of teaching his first online lectures. “A large chunk of my seminars is interaction-based, and I felt I wouldn’t be able to give my students that online.” He managed to do so, anyway, as proven recently when medical students voted him the best Year-3 lecturer.

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ISS-affiliated lecturer Georgina Mercedes Gómez noticed that she and her colleagues were highly encouraged to try and experiment with new methods. “We also learned to plan less, adjust to what was happening in real-time and do things differently. I think we tried out many methods that we might otherwise have felt uncomfortable about.”

In other words, lecturers spent a great deal of time experimenting with recorded lectures, short educational videos, live streams and online quizzes. For many of the lecturers we interviewed, this was a good reason to treat themselves to some new gadgets. Again, no one went quite as far in this respect as RSM’s Florian Madertoner, who built a complete TV studio in his living room when he found that EUR could not meet his technical requirements. ESSB-affiliated professor Sandra van Thiel, too, believed that being forced to present lectures from home was a good reason to invest in a proper microphone and camera.

And while some lecturers were very much opposed to the idea of working from home, such as Bisschop Boele, who did not even have a home office, working remotely proved a blessing in disguise for others. For instance, RSM’s Tobias Brandt was working from home when his first child was born.

Missing their students

But oh, did the lecturers miss their students – the interactions, the discussions and the laughter after a well-timed joke. Florian Madertoner had tears in his eyes when he ran into a group of ‘his’ students last spring, with whom he ended up having a beer outside.

It took Bisschop Boele, who in his capacity as an ethnographic researcher is used to observing people in their own natural habitat, some time to discover that people seated in front of their computers are humans who are doing things, as well, and to discover some scientific beauty in that.

The lecturers were almost unanimous in saying they can’t wait to start teaching in-person classes again. “It’s become very obvious to me that proper teaching largely consists of presence and engagement. You don’t absolutely have to meet each other face to face, but I’m convinced that contact between lecturers and students is the key to students successfully getting their degrees, particularly in this changed world,” says ESL’s Nathalie van der Kooij. For his part, ESSB’s Matthias Wieser agrees – teaching and research thrive when people accidentally bump into each other.

RSM’s Tobias Brandt confirms the same thing. He believes a university degree is more than just attending lectures and seminars. It’s also a ‘rite of passage’, and thus important to young people’s personal development. “And in an online context, many of the social elements associated with that are lacking.”

Here’s hoping we’ll continue to be flexible

docenten houden vol 29 01 2021-14

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Lecturers are hanging in there

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Nevertheless, many lecturers expect that some elements of remote teaching are here to stay. The short educational videos, videos in which things are explained and quizzes will continue to be around to ensure a proper transfer of knowledge. Meanwhile, the seminars taught on campus will focus on conversations, discussions and thus a more in-depth understanding of the subject matter.

Gómez hopes that some lecturers’ opposition to working with new (online) methods has been well and truly vanquished now. Van der Kooij hopes so, too: “This crisis has made our work and teaching methods much more flexible. That’s not a bad thing, and I hope it will stay that way.”

And Bisschop Boele, who was very much opposed to remote teaching initially, now says: “Due to the pandemic I had to rethink several routines inherent in how I was teaching my classes. That was useful. I may continue to offer ‘pure explanations’ in the form of short educational videos so that I’ll have more time during my seminars to have actual conversations. Because the things that need to happen, happen in conversations, not in explanations.”

And although Florian Madertoner is a huge proponent of direct contact with his students, he has just upgraded his lecture-recording-and-streaming set-up. “I plan to do everything in my power to improve students’ online experience, with or without the virus.”

With the cooperation of Feba Sukmana