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Remote teaching: wailing kids on the webcam and ‘mixing’ like a DJ

Remote teaching: reality until at least the end of this academic year. The transition to remote teaching required a huge effort and adjustments from all staff. So what’s it like for Leiden Law School’s lecturing staff? Three colleagues tell us about their first weeks of experience with remote teaching.

Michael Klos’ home workspace

The new way of working has clear pros and cons, says Michael Klos, researcher and lecturer at the Department of Jurisprudence. 'One major advantage is that you are forced to think about what is really essential just now. Explaining what you want to teach as succinctly and as clearly as possible in a short video requires you to think and make choices.’ And the new assessment methods also have certain advantages: 'Multiple choice questions are replaced by short, written assignments, something that is good for improving students’ language skills.’ But there is a downside, Klos says. 'We use multiple choice questions to cut the time required for grading. Now colleagues are having to spend three times correcting around 125 essays.'

Many lecturers use Kaltura Live Room for online teaching where, despite the physical distance, you can still teach in an interactive way. It takes some time to get used to this – for both students and lecturers. 'During my first online lecture, the camera wasn’t working properly’, says Anna Marhold (Assistant Professor at the Grotius Centre). 'So students couldn’t always hear me properly because the connection cut out every now and then. I found that really frustrating and it led to delays. My students had to be rather patient with me!' She also missed the classroom atmosphere. ‘Now you’re talking to a screen. I usually find it very important to get a feeling for a group of students, and to adjust the level of my teaching depending on the response from the group. But you miss that feeling online, and so you can’t respond to what the group needs.'

Fascinating!

This is something that is also familiar to Jeroen van der Weide, Associate Professor Civil Law: 'You are less flexible online. It’s all about technology. Sometimes there’s a delay in the images or the sound. It’s also not possible to see and keep an eye on the facial expressions of all participants in one view. Nevertheless, I must say that I am pleasantly surprised by the possibilities Kaltura Live Room can offer. I sometimes feel like a DJ ‘mixing’ with all the digital switches. Fascinating! That said, it is second best. Nothing compares to being able to speak to people in the flesh.'

Jeroen van der Weide working from home

What advice can these three lecturers give their colleagues in this new situation? 'Make sure you are clearly visible and audible during your online lectures’, Van der Weide says. 'At home you need to have good quality, up-to-date equipment and a fast internet connection. In addition to that, preparation and communication are key. And if the image or audio connection is poor, let students log in using their phones – they often have surprisingly good image and audio quality.'

Klos also sees this period as a learning opportunity. 'Until this week I had never worked with film and sound and saw this crisis as an opportunity to learn. Not everyone is enthusiastic about digital teaching. Ignorance, though, is by no means bliss, and I am certain that even once the corona crisis has passed that digital technology can still provide benefits for teaching, as a complement to face-to-face teaching – we’re not an online university after all.'

Marhold advises her colleagues to have patience. 'You have to use what you have to hand. Keep your lectures manageable, and mix them up with perhaps a short film, quiz or a breakout discussion.' She also stresses how important it is to work with other colleagues, even from a distance. 'If you are teaching a course with someone else, it helps if the other lecturer can ‘moderate’ at a session. You can then focus on your lecture, and your colleague can help out if there are technical hitches or can help answer questions in a chat session with students.'

Anna Marhold’s home workspace

All things considered, this new online reality has positive and negative points and requires all staff to be able to improvise. 'We have a young child at home and once during an online meeting my wailing child suddenly entered the room’, Marhold says. 'But it’s such a shame for the students. They are so motivated and have come from all over the world to study law in Leiden. Though we are doing our best online, they are definitely missing out because they are missing important shared experiences.’

Klos asks everyone to take good care of each other in the coming period. 'Staff who are currently involved in teaching are working full out. It’s not possible for me now to retreat behind my computer to work fulltime on my PhD. That said, I do find teaching very therapeutic. So perhaps it’s the colleagues who are not teaching at the moment who require more attention – it’s easy for them just to withdraw. Doing research is a very solitary activity – we are used to that – but not being able to go out and see other people can make it even more lonely.'

I tell myself that there is an end to this situation

Van der Weide is also wary of becoming lonely. 'At the moment, the situation is still a bit new and exciting. But of course it is rather lonely, being cooped up in a room at home behind your laptop. I think we will all soon start to miss the faculty community. I keep telling myself that this situation, like the corona ‘storm’ that hit us, will eventually pass. Of course, I hope that we all come out the other side in once piece. My sister has lived in Northern Italy for years and the situation there is really alarming. And in the long term? The air above Amsterdam is cleaner and traffic on the roads and air pollution have dropped dramatically. Personally, I’ve been worried for some time about the next potential crisis, maybe a climate crisis, that could have far more serious consequences. Could this be an opportunity for change? Unfortunately, I fear it probably won’t be.'

More tools and tips about online teaching are available here or read more about working from home in times of corona here.

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