Op-ed: In defence of the lecture

Law lecturers pen open letter

Op-ed: In defence of the lecture

In an interview with UKrant last week, rector Cisca Wijmenga said that lectures will be online only next year. To dozens of lecturers at the law faculty, this sounds like a horror show. If movie theatres are allowed to reopen, so should lecture halls, they argue in an open letter.
7 April om 12:10 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 12 April 2021
om 16:29 uur.
April 7 at 12:10 PM.
Last modified on April 12, 2021
at 16:29 PM.

On March 31, UKrant published an interview with our rector magnificus under the header ‘What can we expect in the new year?’ We understand that the answer to this question is still a little uncertain.

However, the rector appears entirely certain that lectures will be online only next year. Her remarks about this form of education in this still uncertain but looming new academic year have compelled us to express our dissenting opinion.

The board of directors and their ilk have been treating the concept of lectures with some disdain for a while now. They feel it’s an old-fashioned, passive kind of ‘one-way education’ where a lecturer spends ninety minutes just vomiting information on students without any meaningful interaction. According to them, students are no longer interested in lectures.

Both these assumptions are wrong. To start with the latter: students aren’t some amorphous anonymous mass where everyone feels the same. Some might not enjoy lectures in a large hall, while others can’t get enough of them.

Many past Lecturer of the Year winners have been praised for their oratory qualities. This is also connected to the former incorrect assumption: lectures have long since ceased to be ‘passive, one-way education’ where a professor just reads from a book. Lectures have become increasingly interactive. The rector was quoted as saying, quite forcefully we might add, that ‘lecturers should have active, in-depth discussions with their students’. We have been doing this for some time now. Including during lectures.

Lectures have long since ceased to be passive and one-way

The rector seems to think all this can be done online with no trouble. We say it can’t, and we underpin our statement with our experiences from the past year. Online lectures are the most passive form of education there is. It’s extremely difficult to forge a connection through a screen and a – sometimes spotty – internet connection. The thing that makes a good lecture so great – an inspiring lecturer actively transferring knowledge, sharing insights, and talking to students – is lost.

A good lecture requires interaction, facial expressions, shared looks. We lecturers have experienced that giving an online lecture isn’t teaching at all; it’s just talking to a screen. It is not particularly inspiring, and the students on the other end of the screen can see this, causing them to stop watching. It’s a downward spiral.

It appears as though the board of directors is imagining some kind of utopia where we only teach seminars to no more than thirty students at a time who enthusiastically participate, aided by all manner of fancy technology and gadgets.

But small-scale education is already being implemented wherever possible. The issue at our faculty is that it’s simply not possible in a lot of cases. Our students outnumber our staff fifty to one, which means a lot of our classes are ‘only’ lectures.

It’s as though the board is imagining some kind of utopia with nothing but seminars

We have courses with 750 students, who we divide across two lectures a week. We can’t just turn those into twenty-five seminars. We lack lecturers (even with the extra Ruggesteun), room, and most of all, we lack the urgency. As long as students are properly involved and activated during class, it’s just not necessary. Fortunately, this has been common for a long time. Furthermore, we feel that organising education is up to the faculties themselves.

None of these plans can be realised before or even during the next academic year. Not even the well-intentioned plans to add more student assistants, ‘technical support’, and more lecturers (as though we can just pull those out of a hat). You simply can’t ask this of lecturers who are categorically nearing or at the end of their rope after an especially strenuous year.

We’ll be mostly teaching lectures next year. When society, like shops, cafés, theatres, etc., starts opening up again, you can’t tell lecturers and students that they’re not allowed to use lecture halls, not even in limited capacity.

If the board of directors decides that lectures will only be taught online and not even as hybrid classes, a large contingency of our students and lecturers will be working and studying mainly, or even only, from home. This is disconcerting.

The names below are those of lecturers working at the Faculty of Law, in various departments. They sign this letter in a personal capacity.

mr. L. Bos F. Brandsma A.G. Bregman
mr. R.E. Brinkman
mr. A.A. van Dijk
mr. J.J. Dijkstra
mr. J.H.H.M. Dorscheidt
mr. S.S.Y. Engelen
mr. T.P.C. Geertsema K.J. de Graaf
mr. E. Gritter
mr. J.H.M. ter Haar
mr. N. Haasjes
dr. A.G. Hallo de Wolf
mr. H. Halma
mr. H.F.K. Harms
mr. M.M.E. Hesselman H.G. Hoogers
mr. A.J.J. de Hoogh
mr. N.G. Hoogstra B. Hoops
mr. S.R. Huisman F. Ibili
mr. C.E. de Jager J.E. Jansen
mr. A. Karapetian
mr. G. Karapetian
mr. P. Koerts A. Kolder
mr. T. van der Linden K.K. Lindenberg
mr. C.F. Manders A.I.M. van Mierlo
mr. N. Mirzojan S.A.J. Munneke F.T. Oldenhuis
mr. G.R. Oldenhuis C.M.D.S. Pavillon S.S.M. Peters
mr. M. van der Plas Ranchordas J.W.A. Rheinfeld

mr. C.P. Robben
mr. B. Schmitz
mr. L.B.A. Tigelaar B.C.A. Toebes
prof.dr. A. Tollenaar H.D. Tolsma
mr. G.A. Tuinstra
mr. S.N. de Valk
mr. F.M.M.P. van de Venne A.J. Verheij L.C.A. Verstappen F.M.J. Verstijlen
mr. I. Visser
prof.dr. G.J. Vonk P.C. Westerman M. Wever
dr. P. de Winter
prof.dr. E. Woerdman M.J.F. van der Wolf H.D. Wolswijk


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