Universiteit Leiden

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Digital dissection and remote microscopy lessons

Due to the corona crisis, they had to switch to online education halfway during their course: associate professor Marcel Schaaf and PhD candidate Michiel Hooykaas of the Institute of Biology Leiden talk about digital practicals, online lectures and their biggest obstacle: exams.

Online dissection

On 19 March, all Leiden University students were told that education would take place online from 23 March onwards because of the corona measures. Teachers had to redesign their lessons over a weekend. ‘We were very lucky to be halfway through the course and had already done all the practicals,’ says Marcel Schaaf. He is an associate professor at the Institute of Biology Leiden (IBL) and was in the middle of his Microscopy and Imaging course for second-year biology students, 60 in total.

Image of the digital practical about dissecting a grasshopper. (Source: Michiel Hooykaas)

Lecturer Michiel Hooykaas also already had finished a series of practicals in his course Animal Biodiversity. However, his 185 first-year students still had to dissect a grasshopper as a practical. Hooykaas: ‘I developed a digital module with photos of the steps of the dissection together with a narrative description seen through the eyes of a student. For example, the first-person narrator made mistakes, just as it can happen to students in a real practical. I got some very nice reactions from students.’

Watch lectures again

Hooykaas noticed that the students liked the short videos he had made. However, he missed the interaction and the opportunity to respond to the audience in the audio lectures he recorded. In Schaaf's microscopy course, students were offered online lectures by guest speakers via the video platform Kaltura. Both teachers and students were very pleased with this. ‘The students liked being able to watch the lectures at their own pace. We put the lecture online in the morning and in the afternoon we had a meeting with the guest speaker in Kaltura Live Room.’ Schaaf sees advantages: ‘Students found it useful to be able to have a second look at the lectures. It also saves travel time and workload. A recorded lecture means less preparation time.’ 

Hooykaas: 'These creative solutions can later be used alongside existing education'

Hooykaas sees opportunities to use his digital practical modules for students who have to catch up on a practical. Both teachers agree that physical education cannot always be replaced. According to Schaaf online education comes down to the students' discipline. He emphasizes the importance of first getting to know the students in real life because solely online education would make it too anonymous. 

Cheating at the exam

Both Schaaf and Hooykaas held their exams in Blackboard. Schaaf experienced that the system could not handle it: ‘Images would not load and it sometimes took a minute before an answer could be filled in.’ He now shares the lessons he learned with other teachers: ‘I have dived so deep in this matter the past few weeks, I can now help others who run into issues.’

Normally, the students are not allowed to use books at these exams, but there was no way to prevent cheating. Hooykaas: ‘I gave them a time limit and encouraged the students to prepare well. Still, the question is what the results of the digital exam mean. We will discuss this with the education section.’

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