Universiteit Leiden

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How these three students experience education from home

A lot has changed for students during the corona crisis: no physical education, exams behind the computer, and lecturers who accidentally mute themselves during an online lecture. How do students experience online education? ‘During one of the lectures in Teams, someone kept on kicking people out of the meeting.’

Luit Verschuur

Studying with twenty housemates

Luit Verschuur (22) is a third-year Computer Science student. He is currently enrolled in four courses and is working on his bachelor’s thesis, in which he studies the interaction between human and robot. He notices a lot of difference in studying. ‘It has changed a lot. Everything is online and because you can rewatch most of the lectures, there is less time pressure. So now you have to schedule when you want to do what, instead of going with the natural flow of lectures. That means that I am way busier with planning.’ 

His living situation does not help: Luit lives with twenty other men in a dorm at the Oude Vest in Leiden. ‘Almost everyone is at home now and few housemates are not doing any study work. So, it is hard to concentrate when everybody is chilling, especially when the sun is shining.’ Nevertheless, Luit tries to make the best of it. ‘When there is good weather, I start studying in the morning, until one pm or so. The rest of the day I hang out with my roommates in the sun on our roof terrace, and then I go back to studying in the evening.’  

Camille de Valk

Loneliness during the lockdown  

The home situation of Camille de Valk (23) is drastically different than that of Luit. The master’s student in Physics & Business Studies has been living with his girlfriend in Utrecht since the summer, after having lived in Leiden for four years. ‘At the beginning of the quarantine, my girlfriend was still on vacation, and I only was enrolled in one course. I felt quite lonely back then. But now I can have quite a good time!’

He is doing well in quarantine. ‘I currently have a quiet period, during which I mainly take courses from my specialisation in Business Studies. Online education is fine, I can focus quite well. Fortunately, that's something I've learned over the past four years.’  

Separated from family 

Sophie Aarts is in her first year of the master’s Biology and Science Communication and Society. She is half Dutch, half English, but her family lives in Belgium with their 16-year-old dog. ’She went into surgery last week and they weren’t sure whether she would survive. Fortunately, she did survive and is now very healthy, but I would say that being isolated and far from home really started getting to me then.’ 

Sophie Aarts

Studying from home suits her well, she says. ‘I like how free I am to organise my day and create a little routine for myself. I also love that I’ve been given the chance to do some online classes that are a little further out of my field, such as journalism and philosophy.’ However, there are some downsides as well. ‘I presented last week for a course and it’s very strange and impersonal when you’re talking to a bunch of names on a screen.’ 

Online lectures 

‘Lectures have not changed that much: lecturers give a PowerPoint presentation, but then online,’ says Camille. ‘And that works well, teachers really do their best.’ Still, not everything works as normal. ‘Some lecturers point to something on the screen, just like in the lecture hall. But because they don't have a pointer, we do not see that. Especially on a slide with a lot of text, it is a bit of a search what the lecturer is pointing at.’   

‘In Teams we had a lecture where a malevolent person kicked people out of the meeting’ 

Technical problems  

Also, the three students sometimes experience problems with lecturers who have a bad internet connection. But also the technique itself can take some getting used to: ‘Lecturers sometimes accidentally switch to mute or the settings are not set up properly,’ Camille says. ‘In Teams we had a lecture where a malevolent person kicked people out of the meeting. So pay close attention to the settings,’ he advises the lecturers. ‘You can adjust the settings so that only a host can mute people or throw them out of the meeting.’  

‘Communicate more’

A problem Luit encounters is the information supply. ‘A lecturer often discusses practical matters at the beginning or the end of the lecture. But because there is less time pressure to arrive on time, not everyone is there at the beginning of a lecture. The same applies to the end of the lecture: sometimes you want to skip the question round to get to work yourself. That is why it would be better to always put practical information on Blackboard or send it through email, and not just discuss it in the lectures.’  

Understanding is important 

Sophie: ‘In all honesty, I have loved the way my lecturers are handling everything – from organising us and calming us to encouraging us and pushing us to be creative within these new restrictions. More clarity and transparency on what the plans for the future are is obviously always necessary but I am well aware that their job has suddenly become overwhelmingly difficult and complicated. For example, the other day my lecturer had three online classes at the same time!’ 

‘I love the way my lecturers are handling everything’

Privacy at exams  

In addition to the lectures, the exams are also online, which brings along some challenges. Taking exams online is very difficult, Luit is aware. ‘There is now a protocol that gives a computer program all the rights over your computer – they see you through the webcam, they see your screen and they see everything you do on your computer. A lot of students find that very intense, and petitions have been signed against it.’ Lute himself is not necessarily for or against. ‘Without those programs, you could easily text someone during an exam, so I understand why they do it this way. But it is very invasive for your privacy.’ 

‘Scaremongering with online exams is unnecessary, I think’  

Camille took an exam through ProctorExam, an online program that lecturers use to supervise students. The program automatically checks what students are looking at, and thus whether or not they are cheating. Camille: ‘As a lecturer, you can even choose an option where students must connect a telephone that films from the opposite side of the webcam, offering a 360 degrees view. But that scaremongering is not necessary, I think. You’re already scared to move your head. It only makes it difficult to focus on the exam.’

Take it home 

Another option is a so-called take-home exam or open-book exam, in which the student is allowed to look up everything and has to finish the exam within a certain period of time. ‘For some exams, you can take 24 hours,’ says Luit. ‘But that can also cause a lot of stress because if you want, you can work 24 hours on that exam.’ 

Satisfied students

Despite the points for improvement they mention, the three students are satisfied with the online education. Camille: ‘The lecturers are doing great! Everyone is flexible. For example, if you miss a lecture because you missed an email, they show understanding. That's nice in these times.’ Sophie is satisfied too. ‘All in all, I am really impressed with how quickly our University has adapted. Having said that, the lack of human interaction is a huge burden on everyone’s mental and physical health and I really do hope that this lockdown ends in the near future.’ 

Interview by Bryce Benda

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