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Aris Politopoulos lectures like an Assyrian king: ‘Video lectures need to be ten times more engaging’

There are some lecturers who are better equipped to provide remote education than others. And then there is Aris Politopoulos, who already owned professional streaming gear long before he could apply this in his education. Now he lectures on ancient Assyria while sitting in an Assyrian palace, moving immersive education to a whole new level. ‘It sets the mood for a casual and engaging presentation.’

Aris as Assurbanipal

Arisbanipal

It all began by trying out his setup. ‘Since I have a green screen, it felt strange not to use it. First I put my head on the body of the Assyrian king Assurbanipal, and then I made my presentation from the palace.’ He chuckles. ‘A good lecture needs to be interesting and engaging. And when you do it on video, it needs to be ten times more engaging. You need to make sure to grab the interest of your students for as long as you can.’

Creating interaction can be a challenge though. ‘It depends on the size of the class. When you have a hundred students, you need to be more creative.’ For smaller groups, Kaltura Live Room is ideal. ‘We use that platform to discuss topics and answer questions.’

Faith and trust

And how are the students coping? ‘It is fifty-fifty, some cope really well, others find it more stressful and difficult to deal with.’ Technical issues can also hamper the efforts of students, aside from other factors. ‘The quality of the internet connection, different time zones, laptops that are not up to the task. It is very important to get constant feedback on that. Students put a lot of faith and trust in the lecturers. We need to take this seriously.’

Aris Politopoulos hails from Greece himself. How is he coping, far from his family in this trying time? ‘It is difficult. While my brothers are in Leiden, doing their master’s, my parents are in Greece.’ This is naturally stressful for everyone involved. ‘That’s a thing lecturers have in common with our students. It is a stressful time, but we are doing the best we can.’

While lecturing on Assyrian city planning, Aris uses his green screen to its full advantage

Adaptive creatures

Aris takes a broader view on the current situation. ‘Humans are adaptive creatures. In times of crisis we learn, especially when we work together.’ He puts this in practice by sharing his own experience with online teaching in a YouTube video for his colleagues. ‘It is important to share and help each other out. You do not need to reinvent the wheel.’

Aris' video about online teaching

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Llama infestation

A way to interact socially and archaeology related is the World Archaeology Minecraft server created by VALUE, of which Aris is a founding member. ‘That is a lot of fun! In Minecraft students and staff alike have already built some 15 to 20 monuments, excavations, and ships.’ He grins. ‘We even have a llama infestation in the Alps.’ The efforts are presented in a weekly livestream.

The first of a series of livestreaming Minecraft

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So, ending on this lighter note, what kind of history and archaeology related video games does Aris recommend playing to keep us occupied during self-isolation? ‘There are so many games coming out, but if I have to pick one, I go for Hades. There is so much Greek mythology in that game, and it is really well placed.’

Follow Aris' activities via the YouTube channel of the VALUE Foundation.

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