‘I can’t spend all day giving tutorials now the kids are at home’
Lecturers had a week to convert their courses to online teaching. An enormous challenge because remote teaching definitely wasn’t commonplace at Leiden University, and some lecturers have to share their ‘lecture hall’ with their children or partners. Alexander Pleijter, a lecturer in Journalism and New Media, talks about his experiences.
This is one in a series of articles in which our lecturers talk about how they have switched to online teaching.
Alexander Pleijter teaches the Internet Journalism course in the second semester of the minor in Journalism and New Media. This course is followed by around 100 students from various bachelor’s degree programmes, ranging from Political Science to Archaeology and from International Studies to History. They were just halfway through the course when the face-to-face teaching ground to a halt.
New daily routine
‘The biggest change is having to work from home while my children are at home all day too. We had to devise a new routine that gave everyone the chance to do their thing. We live in a small house and I don’t have a study. We sit together at the dining table every morning from 8:30 to 12:00. My oldest is eight and does schoolwork; the youngest is six and does drawing and crafts. It’s a real bonding experience, but you can’t really concentrate on your work. So in the morning I do short tasks like answering emails, sending feedback to students and so on. In the afternoon, we’re free and go outside: we’ve got an allotment so we can be outdoors and yet still be in isolation. It’s great. I do a few more hours of work in the evening. Then I can do work that I need to concentrate on, like reading theses, writing, assessing students’ work and preparing lectures. And of course recording lectures because I can’t do that in the daytime with the kids around. To get all the work done it’s somewhat later than is good for me. This new working day is the biggest change.’
Lectures in 15-minute videos
recording of your computer screen. You speak while you go through your slides on your computer screen. I’ve made instruction videos with Screencastify in the past, so I was already used to working with it. But using it for lectures is different: I now give a theoretical story instead of a practical explanation of how certain online tools work. I then upload the videos to a YouTube channel so that my students can watch them.’
Alexander’s tips for colleagues
‘The main thing is to do what you feel comfortable with. Giving live tutorials with a whole group in front of the camera doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. In my experience, that soon descends into chaos, with poor connections and tinny sound, so I don’t do that. What I would also say is just try things out. That’s always fun!’
More work but easier to plan
‘I’ve dropped the planned exam. Instead, I’m getting the students to write a short paper based on the literature that they would have had to read for it. Marking these will take me more time, but it’s better for the students to do at home. Each student makes four journalistic products, which we discuss in tutorials. I’m now giving them individual written feedback on each product. That also takes more time, but the advantage is that I can do that at a time that suits me. With my children at home, I can’t spend the whole day in video calls with groups of students.’
Learning experience to give different shape to your teaching
‘The weirdest thing is that I won’t see the students at all in the coming weeks. That makes the teaching impersonal.’ On the other hand, it’s a learning experience to think about how you can give a different shape to your teaching. I wouldn’t rule out that I will continue doing some of the things I’m doing online now next year too, such as offering videos of lectures that students can watch at home when it suits them, and as often as they want. What I also miss now is cycling to Leiden. I normally try to cycle to work from my hometown of Haarlem three or four times a week, but that’s not an option now. Which is a shame, just when it’s such beautiful spring weather!’
Editor: Marieke Epping
Photos: Alexander Pleijter
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