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Online education in the lecture hall

Everything around us is in motion. Students, the University, technology, society, the labour market and the world. These developments provide an impetus to experiment with new forms of education. This article samples a small selection of the many dozens of innovative educational projects. What is striking is that online education is becoming increasingly important, but the lecture hall is proving far from obsolete.

Virtual education lab

Cutting and pasting strands of DNA, cultivating bacteria, making decisions about the right doses of chemicals... It is important for students in study programmes like chemistry, biology and biomedical sciences to get in as many practice hours in the lab as possible, but due to the growing number of students, the labs are becoming overburdened, not to mention that students are left to practise newly acquired skills independently – far too risky. Leiden University cell biologist Roeland Dirks devised a smart solution: a virtual laboratory. Thanks in part to that idea, he won the LUS Education Prize in 2018, the award for the best lecturer of the year. With the 25,000-euro prize money, he is developing a virtual lab together with an educational company, in which students can practise to their heart's content. The biggest advantage? In such a lab, students can also make mistakes from which they can learn a great deal, without the whole lab doing up in flames, Dirks suggests. And those learning moments can then be discussed again during the lectures. Dirks hopes that the practice lab will be up and running for his students in the coming academic year (2019-2020).

Improved learning thanks to wheels

High-tech digital tools are not necessarily the missing component for making education more flexible and innovative. The so-called Active Learning Classroom that was conceived following a lecturer brainstorm session is proof of that fact. These lecturers wanted to make their tutorials more flexible and allow students to collaborate more. The heavy lecture hall furniture is being exchanged in many faculties for light chairs and wheel-mounted tables. This allows lecturers to switch much faster between lecturing and getting students to work together in groups. Students are enthusiastic, because they are stimulated more to engage actively with the material during the lecture. This speeds up the learning process. It can really be that simple.

The flipped classroom!

More and more programmes are integrating blended learning, the combination of online and contact learning, in their education. ‘The great advantage is that students also learn when they are not sitting in front of their lecturer, Maarten van de Ven of ICLON explains. He advises programmes participating in the Flipping the Classroom pilot. Lecturers provide instructions that they had previously only given during the lecture, so that students can already get acquainted with the concepts at home and practise them during the lecture. This is how online and offline learning moments complement each other.

Knowledge clips are also sometimes used. Each faculty now has film equipment in house. In front of the camera, the lecturer discusses what his or her students need to know about a particularly complex subject. Prior to the lecture, the students study the approximately 7-minute knowledge clip and can replay the video until they are sure they understand its content. Van de Ven: ‘Digital tools are an asset to knowledge acquisition and the learning process, and students are challenged more actively during the lectures.’

Web lectures

Try to quickly write down or type what the lecturer is saying. One cough by the student next to you and you miss that important name or conclusion. And what if you are ill? Fortunately, more and more lecturers are recording their lectures: web lectures. Students can watch and listen to the lecture again in peace. But the objective is still for students to take notes themselves during the lectures, because it helps them remember the material better, says education adviser Maarten van de Ven of ICLON. This University inter-faculty centre for teacher training, education development and further training investigated whether students at the Faculty of Law attended lectures less frequently due to the implementation of web lectures,which does not seem to be the case. Anna Benjamins, ICT education adviser at the Faculty of Humanities, also says that students still like going to live lectures and not without reason. ‘Many web lectures are only available a week before the exam. Moreover, students see the value in the social aspect of lectures.’

Want to read more?

This article appeared in our alumni magazine Leidraad (in Dutch). The magazine can also be read online.

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