News - April 30, 2020

‘Online-only affects the educational quality’

Luuk Zegers

The COVID-19 outbreak has obliged WUR to offer all its education online only for the time being. In no time, almost all the courses were adapted to create online-only versions. Hurrah! Education can go on… But is WUR education suited to online-only?

illustration Henk van Ruitenbeek

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Anne Grundlehner (22), MSc student Biology and Environmental Sciences
‘It’s alright for standard lectures. There is less social interaction but the information does come across. It is the tutorials and practicals that have become more difficult. If you need to do a lot of modelling or programming for a course, for example, these are not ideal circumstances. It is harder to understand it, harder to ask questions, and harder to get help. In short: learning practical skills has become a lot less efficient. That makes you less motivated to complete it, but that’s another problem.

And then there are courses which involve fieldwork. During that fieldwork you see how passionate teachers are about their subjects. At moments like that, students can get really fired up about something. You don’t get that online, so students become less enthusiastic about their studies.’

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Thije van Es (23), MSc student of Nutrition and Health

‘I definitely think online-only affects the educational quality. It’s not very nice watching recorded old lectures. It works a lot better if someone records a bit of video and shows it on a PowerPoint slide. But face-to-face lectures on campus are much nicer, of course.

Communication doesn’t go completely smoothly when it is asynchronous, either. That way you never have a real conversation about something. So group work doesn’t work as well, and it’s harder to get feedback on your questions. If you get written feedback on your questions, you can also interpret it wrongly. In conversation it’s easier to check whether I’ve understood something right. A big pitfall with online-only is that you are very much left to your own devices. It helps when you get a clear overview of each course every week: this is what is expected of you.

I am curious to see what will happen if it turns out that the pass rate dives in an online-only course. What will WUR do then? On the one hand, you can’t just give away credits, and on the other hand, it means something is going wrong with the education.’

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Paul Lichtveld (24), BSc student of Business and Consumer Sciences

‘I think the quality of the education has gone down. That is partly because both students and teachers have to get used to online education, and partly because the courses have not yet been optimized for online learning. I’m not a great fan of it, either: I miss the contact with other people. There is so much less of that now.

It is nice for students to be told clearly what is expected of them every week. At the moment, the course guides don’t completely tally with what has to happen. If you give students an overview of what they must do every week, it makes it very clear. A clear structure gives you something to hold on to.

If you have a class that goes on for two and a half hours, sitting at your computer the whole time, it’s difficult to pay attention continuously. I sometimes do a few push-ups, otherwise you are sitting still all the time. It simply is a lot harder to concentrate in front of the computer.’

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Aarzoo Kohra (22), MSc student of Plant Sciences
‘I think the quality of the education is affected. I think, for example, that nobody can look at their computer screen continuously for hours. I know there is no better alternative at the moment. I do think, however, that online-only education could be improved: by changing the workload for students. The current workload is fine for campus education. But studying online is more difficult and takes longer. I think that the workload should be adjusted to that.’

‘Recently, I dropped one of my two courses because it just wasn’t workable anymore. It feels bad to drop a six-credit course which I thought I would be able to do. But because of the switch to online education, it became more difficult for me to grasp the course content efficiently. Instead, I will focus on one course for now and look into options to catch up on my credits when I do my thesis in the second year of my degree. That will be difficult as well, but it is the best option I have now.’

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Laura Mommers (23) MSc student of Biology
‘I am currently taking just one course: Advanced Statistics. It’s quite a big course, with students from several different programmes. Our teachers do their best to arrange things as well as possible. We received a home timetable, and twice a week a teacher explains things live and you can ask questions in the virtual classroom. And you can email your questions in between. We get answers quite fast. The teachers are doing great. The education is different, but I don’t think it’s necessarily worse. You are on your own more, so you are more responsible for the quality of your studies. A few courses are not being run, those involving fieldwork for instance. That is a shame, but by postponing them you do safeguard the quality of the education: you’ll just do them later. And actually, for some practicals there are perfectly good online alternatives: there are apps with which you can dissect a virtual animal online.

Tip for WUR: make free software available to students now we can’t make use of the PC rooms on the campus.’