News - April 3, 2020

The first week of online education: a student’s diary

Albert Sikkema

How is online education going? Student Sandra Sikkema kept a diary of the first two weeks. ‘Interacting with other students is what normally adds flavour to studying.’

Sandra Sikkema (above right) in a Zoom-meeting with classmates. ©Sandra Sikkema

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I received the first message from teachers regarding the corona measures on Saturday, 14 March. Two teachers explained they needed time to redesign the course and make as much of its content available online as possible. One of the teachers stressed that it is quite time-consuming to re-structure a class, especially as so much time and effort had been put in designing it in the first place. Because of the coronavirus, they had to start all over again. It really took some getting used to receiving education online during the first week. But discovering this new method was also fun.

18 March: the first virtual classroom
On Wednesday 18 March teachers launched their first live lecture through the virtual classroom, at 2.00 pm. It went really well! The lecture was interactive, and there was a chatroom available where we could ask and answer questions. The teacher also used polls so we could vote. I thought the courses WUR offers don’t look at all hastily designed. It was surprisingly well set up!

Sometimes the teachers get lucky. One of my courses is easy to do online; the teachers use the lectures that were recorded in the academic year of 2018-2019. Unfortunately, these lectures take a long time to load. They sometimes don’t load at all, because so many people are online at the same time using data.

We miss the coffee break chatter and the interaction with teachers and fellow students

On 18 March we receive an email announcing that WUR will be improving streaming service by increasing the server capacity. The very next day, the morning live stream is cancelled because the servers are unable to process the number of live streams. On a positive note: students have been given access to Skype for Business through their email accounts, making it much easier to have face-to-face interaction between students and teachers. WUR also made an ‘Online Student Café’ available through Brightspce that day, so that students could chat and get in touch. Very well set up.

Zoom-coffee break
The following day we have a virtual classroom from 14.00 to 15.45 hr. So far, it’s going well. We even had a Zoom-session with some friends during the coffee break. But we do miss having classes on campus. We miss chatting during coffee breaks and the interaction between students and teachers. But we are happy to note that teachers are going to such lengths to get things set up as best they can.

The second week, much has become “normal”. It is now beginning to feel more like a long study week before the exams because you are mainly studying at home without contact with the outside world. And, you are tempted to do other things.

We were supposed to do an ACT-course with four weeks of fieldwork in Spain in period 6. This is cancelled. Very disappointing

There is also a huge setback. We were supposed to an ACT-course (Academic Consultancy Training) in the sixth period as part of our masters. First four weeks of classes at the university, followed by four weeks of fieldwork in Spain. This will almost certainly be cancelled. Very disappointing. Students from the previous year told us this is lots of fun. Teachers are working on a fall-back plan. I feel that everyone is very disappointed that this is going to be cancelled, we were all looking forward to it.

Lucky break
On 27 March, we received an email with more information on the upcoming exams. These will be administered using software that WUR has been using for their online masters-programmes. There will be a mock exam so that we can get used to all the ins and outs of the system, which is very pleasant.

Another lucky break is that we can suddenly access all sorts of online courses provided by other prominent universities. That is very cool. So much is being arranged behind the scenes, which is incredible. It feels weird that there won’t be any live classes on campus until the summer. Because of this, we won’t be seeing much of the other students in our year anymore, as most classmates will start their thesis or internship after the summer.

Content and level wise the courses are as challenging as usual. Still, the pressure feels higher because I am studying by myself. It takes more self-discipline than usual to get behind your laptop when you’re alone, especially since the interaction with fellow students is what makes studying extra fun.

The days are all alike. Sometimes I have trouble adhering to the course planning. Some days it is easier to stay motivated and perform my tasks than others, particularly if we are required to sit through last year’s lecture. I get distracted more quickly because there is no interaction compared to the virtual classrooms. These classes and Skype meetings are delightful. This helps us keep in touch with fellow students and teachers.

Phew. That was quite the week. On Friday, 21 March, I finish an individual assignment. I meet a friend online to exchange our assignments and give each other feedback. Very useful! On Saturday, I finally get round to viewing the online lecture I couldn’t motivate myself for on Tuesday. This online studying does blur the boundaries between weekdays and weekend.’