News - March 17, 2020

Why people are still on campus

Roelof Kleis

There are still quite a few people around on the campus. Setting up online teaching, for instance. Or picking up the stuff they need to work at home.

© Roelof Kleis

Here comes Professor Remko Uylenhoet (Hydrology and Quantitative Water Management) with a screen under his arm. Followed a bit later by some other colleagues. They are not secreting them away, though. ‘I asked my group to collect screens, docking stations, and anything else they need to work at home.’ Uylenhoet thinks the buildings will be locked sooner or later.

In a rush
Along comes a visiting academic from Brazil. ‘He wasn’t going to leave for another three weeks, actually,’ explains Uylenhoet. ‘But now he’s in a rush to leave now because he’s afraid he might not be able to get into the country later.’ That makes his ticket rather expensive, he mentions politely. Uylenhoet reassures him that he mustn’t worry about the expense. ‘It will all be alright.’

It’s quiet in the buildings on campus, but not everybody is working at home. Lecturer Jente Ottenburghs is alone in his room checking emails from students. ‘I can do this at home but I can concentrate better here. When everyone’s gone, I’m alone here anyway.’ He is not seeing students but teaching is going on. ‘We’re working on running all classes online.’

All a bit nerve-racking
How, then? Jente Ottenburghs: ‘By using lectures from last year. For the Climate Change Ecology course, all the guest lectures from last year are available, so we are offering those. Additionally, students have to read a book and complete assignments on it, which we supervise by email. Normally, they have to work in groups to study a chapter of that book and then present it to the others. But we can’t do it that way now.’

It’s all a bit nerve-racking

‘We got this all set up last week,’ Ottenburghs goes on. ‘We created an email contact address and made a short film to explain the system.’ Ottenburghs, who got his PhD in Wageningen, has been working as a lecturer here for a month. ‘Yeah, a great start,’ he says wryly. ‘It’s all a bit nerve-racking.’ 

Lecturer Ingrid Lubbers (Soil Geography and Landscape) is working in Gaia. ‘A rather big group is due to start on a Landscape Geography course in this period. I’m here to consult my colleagues. Keeping the appropriate distance, of course.’ Improvisation is the order of the day. For this course there are no off-the-shelf old lectures to hand. ‘They were not recorded last year, precisely because we wanted the students to come to class.’


So people are busy recording lectures in the Forum. Lubbers’ colleague Roy van Beek is delivering a lecture to an empty room. But a bigger challenge is that the course includes a number of field trips. How do you adapt that element? Lubbers: ‘The idea is that teachers will go into the field and make film clips of the work with their mobile phones. That will then be available on brightspace. We’re going to discuss that this afternoon. That digital environment is our salvation. We’re trying to make the best of the situation.’

Necessity is the mother of invention. ‘It can’t take the place of normal teaching and learning of course, but actually it’s quite nice to try out something different,’ says Lubbers. And she is not the only one who thinks so. ‘Other people I talk to are positive too. We’re just going to give it a go.’