News - May 13, 2020

Blog: Academic rumination

Angelo Braam

The first period of our new online reality has passed, and blogger Angelo Braam is slowly beginning to yearn for physical classes.

The first period of our new online reality has passed, and, despite the numerous advantages this ‘new normal’ has (see my last blog), I am slowly beginning to yearn for physical classes. And, with that, I don’t just mean human contact, but I’m also longing for effective learning. Online education definitely has a detrimental impacting my educational output.


I must admit, social studies such as my field of International Development Studies, are uniquely suited to home learning. With a workload of which some 80 per cent already is self-study based, the past few months have not differed notably. A typical working week consists of combing through about eight scientific papers, which does not require a classroom. And the few lectures I had, well, I could easily go without. Or so I thought.

The opposite is true. Looking back upon the past weeks, I am wondering what I learned. As usual, we have been bombarded with abstract concepts. But now, there was hardly any opportunity to discuss these concepts. Thinking back on last year: It took three weeks of heated debate on the negative effects of consensus politics before it finally became clear to me. Now, vague theories remain vague. That fact that discussions are the very essence of lectures is becoming apparent now that a one-way stream of information has replaced interactive learning.

I must admit that I learned more about baking bread than about rural sociology


This became even more clear to me this morning, during my first online exam. When I was asked to reflect on concepts such as feminist epistemologies and notions of place in conservation, the result was not a well-substantiated personal view on matters that I would normally have reached through discussions in class. Worse still, the answers were repeatedly a re-written regurgitation of what the teachers had tried to show us in online videos — academic rumination at its best. Did I learn anything? Not enough, I’m afraid.


The fact that tossing around concepts and heated discussions were absent this period does not mean that good online education is impossible. The online teaching environment was launched in a headlong rush, and teachers have done a great job. Assignments in the shape of blogs and summarizing videos challenged students in new and creative ways. I am convinced there are also innovative solutions to be found to allow online discussions on abstract concepts. Perhaps they are even already under development.

For now, I must admit that over this last period, I learned more about baking bread, singing songs and cultivating potatoes than about rural sociology. But hey, I’ve always wanted to learn these things. Sociology can wait until we’re back in the classroom.

Angelo Braam is a third-year student of International Development Studies, who recently returned from an exchange in Jerusalem.