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Back to the Faculty with lecturer Alexander van Oudenhoven

Last year he became Teacher of the Year because of his innovative and online teaching, now Alexander van Oudenhoven has to change course again and teach physically. What have the first weeks been like for him? ‘Let's apply what we learned in the lockdown period.’

In this series, we let colleagues talk about their return to the Faculty. Would you like to share your story too? Let us know

This interview took place before most of the corona measures were lifted on 25 September.

‘How is everyone doing?’ With this question, Alexander van Oudenhoven used to start every lecture since the lockdown. A tradition that has persisted, even now that he is back to teaching in person again at Leiden University College. ‘I think it's important to continuously gauge how my students are doing and what their preferences are regarding the form of teaching.’ 

There are plenty of options, Van Oudenhoven explains. ‘Everything on-site, everything online, or a hybrid form. But few of my students have a preference for hybrid lectures. It is more difficult to divide your attention. You also feel less part of the group if you are one of the few who participate online. As a team of lecturers, we have not yet entirely decided what the best solution is if someone cannot or does not want to be physically present.’

Less expression than on a screen 

Van Oudenhoven enjoys seeing his students in real life again, but it also took some getting used to. ‘We are with 21 students in a room where you cannot keep a distance of 1.5 metres. During the first lectures, the students themselves chose to wear a mouth mask. Paradoxically enough, I now see less expression from the students than during an online lecture. But the atmosphere, the interaction, the togetherness, you can't replicate that online.’

Recognising and discussing problems 

Students’ problems are also important to recognise and discuss, says Van Oudenhoven. ‘The majority of students have had difficulties with the measures and continue to struggle; it is good if students know that about each other. They can then drag each other through it and it becomes apparent that it is okay to be vulnerable and ask for help.’ 

Van Oudenhoven tries to see the positive aspects of the pandemic: ‘I hope and think that because of this bizarre situation we are paying more attention to how students and lecturers are doing. Well-being must be put back on the map and stay there.’

Let the teachers decide

And that also means that teachers need to be heard more, something that doesn't always happen. ‘When my colleagues and I read the news from the VSNU that universities were going to open up completely again, there were few colleagues who could see how this would work for them, all of a sudden. There was mostly doubt, not general relief. If a situation is uncertain, you have to acknowledge that and not act as if everything is fine again.’         

Van Oudenhoven therefore argues that lecturers should be given the freedom to do customised work. ‘It is no use if students or teachers go to lectures with reluctance, doubt or uncertainty. I think that a lecturer is best placed to assess what works for the whole group and the course. That way, you ensure that students achieve their learning goals and that their well-being is good.’

Because, Van Oudenhoven argues, every lecturer has just figured out what works and what doesn't. ‘Let's apply what we have learned in times of corona and develop it further from there. We have become better at being flexible, so let's embrace that and not blindly go back to the way things were.’  

Tips from the Teacher of the Year

A year and a half of online education has changed Alexander van Oudenhoven's view on teaching. How does he organise his teaching now, and what has he taken with him from the corona era? Three tips from the 2020 Teacher of the Year:

  1. Video and literature: ‘The attention span of a student is too short to give a normal lecture online. It is better to transfer knowledge with recorded short videos, literature and small assignments. I still do this: I record the straightforward parts of my lecture so that students can watch them at their own pace.’  
  2. Quizzes via Microsoft Forms: ‘Then we discuss the content during the lecture, and I also hold short quizzes. My students really enjoy this, because it is interactive and they get feedback immediately. It is also a good way of testing whether people pick up on what you are saying, including the quieter students. I use Microsoft Forms for this, which is already linked to the users in your Team Channel. I find it ideal: students can simply log in with their phone or laptop, and I can immediately export the results to show and analyse them.’
  3. Guest speakers: ‘Because video calling is now fully established, it is much easier to invite a guest speaker from abroad for a Q&A or lecture. We can then all attend from home, or we can all watch it together in the lecture hall.’
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