Op-ed: Online classes
The university is not a YouTube channel
Because the corona crisis, the UG has switched completely to online classes and exams. On top of that, all university buildings are closed. This has led to problems: students are forced to study at home, sometimes lacking a proper internet connection as well as other necessary facilities.
Cheating at exams has become easier. Students miss the social interaction that on-site classes provide. In spite of lecturers’ and students’ excellent efforts, these factors contribute to a decline in the quality of education.
Nevertheless, the UG is implying that online education is the way of the future. Newspaper Dagblad van het Noorden recently quoted president of the board of director Jouke de Vries as saying that the UG is aiming to be ‘the best online university in Europe’.
This is not the kind of goals an educational institute should be striving for. This is especially relevant in light of the UG’s multi-annual vision, the Strategic Plan 2021-2026.
Digital or recorded classes certainly complement education, but they should never replace it. The transition to blended learning will take years; a crisis situation is no excuse to rush the process.
Granted, we’ve learned a lot from the current form of studying and the UG has reaped the benefits from it. We’ll be able to provide access to exams for disabled students and recording classes has turned out to be much easier than we initially thought.
But we should not get carried away by our fetish for digitisation.
Recently, the Lower House suggested that students should be banned from using public transport during peak hours even after the corona crisis has passed. This would be a disaster for the only university in the north of the Netherlands: our students come from far away.
If students can’t travel during peak hours, classes would have to be taught primarily in the evenings or online. This would only add to lecturers’ already high work stress, which would not benefit educational quality or our lecturers’ well-being.
Switching to online education would be a substantial policy change and requires proper debate. The current crisis situation isn’t and shouldn’t just become the ‘new normal’.
Fortunately, we’re not alone as students. This Monday, the rectors of all Dutch universities, including our own Cisca Wijmenga, published an open letter in ScienceGuide, asking that students be given the opportunity to participate in on-site education. This has given us hope.
Again, we say: let’s not get carried away by our fetish for digitisation in higher education. The students don’t want it. Online education should be seen as an emergency solution and should not be hailed as the future of education. The UG is not a YouTube channel.
Fleur Renkema and Lennard Pierey represent student party Lijst Calimero on the UG’s university council.