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Remote studying: non-interactive lectures in the sun

No sitting in lecture halls, no coffee at the JuCa: Leiden Law School students will have to follow lectures and do exams from home for the time being. A huge transition.

Third-year law student Elise van der Hoek was in the KOG library when she heard the announcement on Friday 13 March that all face-to-face teaching had been suspended immediately. 'We all had to leave the library’,  she says. 'Many students decided to go into quarantine with their flatmates under strict conditions. Others returned home to spend the time with their family.'

And then came the uncertainty: are there going to be exams or not? And if so, when? 'As a distraction amidst the chaos and for some sense of stability, like a lot of other students I kept studying for the exams of the courses in the 3rd period. Unfortunately many exams were postponed till June, but luckily the exam of one of my courses did go ahead in the form of a digital exam ­– one week later than planned. Law students are not accustomed to open book exams and although it means there’s less to memorise, you’re under a lot more time pressure. So it might be tempting to look everything up during the exam, but if you do that you soon run out of time.'

The new courses in the 4th period will also be taught using remote methods. 'Since most courses already offered online lectures, this is not a bit change for us. One big advantage of remote teaching is that you can choose when and where you watch the lecture – perhaps even outside enjoying the sunshine. And since all social activities have stopped, there’s also a lot more time to focus on your studies. So you now have all the time in the world to read the course literature or concentrate on writing your thesis!'

Costs for both students and teaching staff have dropped.

Etkin Zivkara, a civil law master’s student, has noticed that remote teaching does have its advantages. 'Costs have dropped, for both students and teaching staff’, he says. ‘With remote teaching, students and staff don’t lose time travelling and have no travel costs (or at least less). It also means that lecture rooms don’t have to be occupied for two hours and could be used for other purposes. So the faculty could perhaps benefit financially from remote teaching.' Etkin has also noticed that students are on time for the online tutorials. 'Students are often late in class for tutorials, but now the online tutorials have started no one is late.’

One thing he has noticed, though, is that online lectures often go on longer. 'For most students this isn’t a problem – after all, we don’t have anywhere else to go. But more time then needs to be scheduled for online teaching . Or you just have to accept that some students will leave a tutorial as soon as it was scheduled to end which can be disruptive for the other students.' Another downside is the lack of opportunities to have discussions with the lecturer or other students, according to Etkin.  'The technology is not yet developed enough so that it all goes without hitches (I believe that 5G could solve this, but the question is if this is really something we want). But for good teaching, I believe that being able to have discussions is vital. These interactions give us all new insights.’

Previously we spoke to some lecturers about how they are finding remote teaching, which you can read (in Dutch) here.

But will this switch to remote teaching that was born out of necessity, change the future of teaching? To some extent it will, Etkin thinks. 'With purely interactive tutorials, like the master’s course Privatissimum, I think face-to-face teaching is always best. Students and lecturers have to be able to exchange thoughts without technical hitches getting in the way. But for tutorials that are less interactive, online teaching can be a good solution. Sometimes a tutorial is planned and it turns out that the lecturer only needs one hour at the most to get the message across. This hour could easily be done online.'

But besides remote studying, we need to take good care of each other at this time, Elise says: 'What’s most important just now is your health and that of those around you. Hopefully no-one will fall behind with their studies and we can get off to a fresh start for the 2020-2021 academic year. I wish everyone all the very best at this difficult time!'

Read about tips and advice for studying at home in times of corona here.

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