Is education going back online? Radboud faculties choose their own paths
Now that lectures are taking place in person again instead of in virtual rooms, many students are facing difficulties. Whether suffering from long-term chronic illnesses or trying to combine one’s study with work – the reasons for students being unable to attend all of their lectures physically are manifold. Which support are the faculties of Radboud University offering their students? ‘We are a regular university, not an open university.’
‘From the next academic year onwards, students may follow lectures online again.’ That is what Professor Cees Leijenhorst, director of education at the Faculty of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies (PTR), promised in a previous Vox article. Seeing that many students have trouble balancing their education and other responsibilities, it has become necessary to work on better online solutions, Leijenhorst said. Because of that, weblectures will likely be making a comeback at the Faculty of PTR.
While the faculty is keen on improving its online portfolio, many other faculties at Radboud University already seem to be a step ahead. At the Faculty of Science, for example, recording lectures has been the norm for years.
‘Since 2011, we have recorded all our standard lectures every two years’, says professor Sijbrand de Jong, dean of the Faculty of Science. The recorded lectures constitute what could be called a ‘web lecture library’. This library is available for all students of the course, either on the same day as the actual lesson took place or the day after. The students can access the recordings for the duration of the course. ‘This way, students who cannot come to campus do not miss out on anything,’ says De Jong.
A similar recording policy is also practiced at the Faculty of Medical Sciences: lectures are recorded by default and are made accessible for every student the day after the actual lecture. Other faculties, like the ones of Law and Social Sciences, as well as the Nijmegen School of Management, also record their lectures. However, these faculties make their recordings available only one or two weeks before the exams.
‘Since 2011, we have recorded all our standard lectures every two years’
An exception to this rule is made for students who have the ‘flexible studying status’. This status includes students who, for example, combine their studies with elite sports, suffer from a chronic illness, are caregivers, or study two programmes simultaneously. The faculties enable students with this status to watch back lectures as soon as possible.
At the Faculty of Arts, matters are handled differently. Unlike the other faculties, there is no policy regarding the recording of lectures. This means that lessons at the faculty are not recorded by default. Instead, the faculty only focuses on made-to-measure solutions for students who have a flexible studying status.
For almost all faculties, recording lectures and making them accessible afterwards has become normal. Hybrid lectures, on the other hand, in which some students are present in class and other students follow the course online, belong to the past, says De Jong: ‘We have stopped livestreaming because we wanted to send a message to the students, namely, that they should come back to university if possible.’ This is a message that all faculties can agree on. None of them are streaming their lectures live anymore.
The main reason for this aversion of hybrid lectures is the importance of physical contact, says professor José Sanders, dean of the Faculty of Arts: ‘We decided against streaming options because personal interactions between students and lecturers are of great didactic importance.’
The contact between students and teachers is also emphasised at the Faculty of Law. ‘There are made-to-measure solutions for people who have real problems, and we are certainly committed to helping them’, says dean Roel Schutgens. Other students, on the other hand, generally are best helped by having to come to lectures, Schutgens argues. ‘That is our conviction.’ Because of that, the faculty stepped away from livestreaming its courses.
‘Personal interactions between students and lecturers are of great didactic importance’
This conviction is shared by professor Anna van der Vleuten from the Nijmegen School of Management: ‘Physical interaction between students and teachers is crucial for the learning and socialisation process of students. Therefore, our educational model focuses on lectures that are being held on campus.’
While Van der Vleuten understands the complaints of individual students who wish for more flexibility, she argues that not every student can expect a made-to-measure solution: ‘If a student wants to follow an educational model that is more flexible – and I am not talking about students who have a flexible studying status here, but about students who want to work or play in a band – that is fine with me. But we at the Nijmegen School of Management will not change our vision regarding education because of that. We are a regular university, not an open university.’
Offline or online?
According to De Jong from the Faculty of Science, offline and online are combinable. He argues that the key is ‘blended learning’, meaning that lecturers assess which teaching method fits a certain topic best and, based on that, decide between on-demand, online exercises or in-class discussions. ‘Online will slowly be merged into the teaching methods,’ predicts De Jong.
And the Science Faculty is not alone with this: at the Faculty of Medical Sciences, lecturers work with e-learning and other digital material, says Marjolein van de Pol, managing director of Medical Education. ‘Furthermore, we are developing ways to offer certain lectures, like special hours in which students’ questions are answered, partly online.’
‘Online will slowly be merged into the teaching methods’
At the Faculty of Social Sciences, the possibilities of online tools are currently being investigated. Right now, the faculty is evaluating a research pilot for which lectures were recorded, but only published at specified moments and for a short period. Based on the results of this research, the faculty will decide about its online policy for the next year. While the return of teachers and students after Covid is appreciated, the faculty is aware that online education can be a good alternative to physical lectures.
‘We learned a lot from Covid about alternative forms of teaching,’ says De Jong. ‘It would be wonderful to integrate these alternatives into an improved form of teaching in the future.’