The Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences master’s degree started two years ago with fourteen students. At the time it was already the aim to do as much as possible online and that proved necessary because of the coronavirus. “Everything actually went really well,” stated Derks.
‘Hybrid just doesn’t work’
More was allowed on campus in the second year, so it became a hybrid study programme. “We actually wanted to continue online. But our programme director remembered that this wasn’t possible as we’re not an institute that delivers distance learning,” stated Derks, somewhat disappointed. Several practicals were therefore delivered on campus. But Derks and Tabbers aren’t keen on hybrid education. “Hybrid meetings just don’t work,” Derks insists. “Of course, there’s added value in meeting in person, but if half the group is at home listening in, you need to divide your attention.”
When the Community for Learning and Innovation (CLI) contacted them during the coronavirus to ask whether the master’s degree was suitable for moving fully online, the coordinators were immediately enthusiastic. “We’re actually a group of three enthusiasts,” Derks revealed. Zwaan mainly researches fake news, while Tabbers specialises in online learning and Derks in online interruptions.
New teaching methods
They also enjoy using new online tools and teaching methods in their work. For instance, Zwaan has a YouTube channel for knowledge clips and Tabbers uses Feedback Fruits, software that makes it easy for students to give feedback on lectures. Derks invested in her contacts. “I asked a lot of well-known researchers and other people in my network whether they’d provide a ten-minute clip for my lectures. I was amazed that they almost all did that.”
For them, flexibility is a huge advantage of digital only. “One of the most difficult challenges in education is timetabling and booking rooms,” explained Tabbers. “For example, if you want to work on an assignment in eight small groups, how do you find eight small meeting rooms next to each other? For us that problem is solved as we do everything online. All you have to do is create a few breakout rooms in the video call.”
This doesn’t mean that everything is easy as breakout rooms also have their disadvantages. “Sometimes it’s really difficult to follow what everyone is doing. If you put students in a separate group, you can’t see or hear them anymore. You can visit each room, but that’s really time-consuming,” admitted Tabbers, which is why he and Derks experimented with other software that makes it easier to ‘visit’ students. Getting acquainted is also difficult. “That’s much easier offline, but we do everything we can to get to know each other online, one bit at a time,” explained Derks.
The two lecturers recognise that there are many obstacles en route to full online education and that things do sometimes go wrong. “For example, when we first started we used Zoom and that’s not always handy. For instance, chats disappear in the program as soon as you close it, which is why we started using Microsoft Teams as that saves everything we need,” added Tabbers. “Those chats can be really useful for students who may have the same questions later on.”
In a digital media master’s degree, students encounter many theoretical issues directly in practice. “Our course is an exact reflection of what we’re doing,” explained Derks enthusiastically. Her course focuses on things such as interruptions during digital sessions and she also experienced that in practice. “At a certain point, I was sitting at the kitchen table giving a lecture on interruptions and the postman rang the doorbell, and as he was really quite persistent, I had to answer the door,” she explained smiling. “It was a great practical example of the theory we were just talking about. But next time I think I’ll sit upstairs.”