A UU lecture in 2007. Photo: Maarten Hartman / DUB

Will Covid kill the live lecture? DUB panel reacts


The age-old practice of gathering hundreds of students in a lecture hall might soon be a thing of the past. Large gatherings will remain scary and risky for a while because of Covid-19, leading many study programmes to prefer that students work on assignments on their own. Would it be a bad thing if face-to-face classes disappeared altogether? We asked the DUB panel and their opinions vary.

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The digital revolution the education sector has gone through last year has got study programmes thinking. Could students be making a more benefitial use of their time on campus than spending forty-five minutes per class just sitting and watching a teacher talk? There is no reason why they can't do it (partially) from home.

Moreover, the UU board has decided that in the upcoming academic year, no more than one hundred students are allowed to be in a room together. Rumor has it that the board has also urged study programmes to organise large-scale meetings online as much as possible.

Although students did express a desire to have classes in theatres and stadiums during lockdown, now that they're allowed to go to campus again, many of them are actually skiping classes  – at least, that has been the experience in Leiden University (link in Dutch),

Whether that’ll be the case in Utrecht is hard to say. There isn’t a whole lot of education being provided on campus yet, and the classes that do take place there don't involve a lot of students. But the programmes in Utrecht say they are reflecting on the added value of face-to-face lectures.

The dark clouds hanging above this age-old practice have led some to jump to its defense, passionately. Maastricht teacher Sander Jansen, for example, took to newspaper De Volkskrant  to stress the importance of an inspiring story, of learning to listen well, and getting to know each other. His colleague from Limburg, educational specialist Barend Last, reacted on Linkedin by saying Jansen's was a rather shaky plea. In his view, the classic lecture with passive students has to go.

Therefore, we have plenty of reasons to present the following statement to the DUB panel:

Face-to-face lectures shouldn't make a comeback after Covid.

Inge Vliek, student of Media & Culture: ‘Shorter online lectures are often easier to follow’

“If it were up to me, large-scale lectures as we know them wouldn't have to come back, although maybe it’s easier to discuss topics with each other and the teacher during such lectures. The online option can work better for some lectures, so whenever this is the case, the university should stick to the online option".

“It’s great that online lectures are recorded, which isn’t always the case with live lectures. In addition, shorter online lectures are often more productive and easier to follow than face-to-face ones that go on and on forever".

“Moreover, online lectures are also great for students who have to go through a long commute to reach Utrecht. They can get the information they need without the travel time."

Philosopher Floris van den Berg: ‘Students shouldn’t confuse studying with entertainment’

“As a teacher, I miss the theatre aspect of (large-scale) lectures. Teaching a class feels a bit like a theatre performance. If I do it while sitting behind my desk, not being able to see anyone except for my own face, that isn’t very inspiring.

“One thing I do like about virtual classes is the interaction with and between students through the chat. Students indicate there's less pressure when asking a question that way compared to calling all the attention to yourself in a packed lecture hall.

“Thinking back to my own college days, lectures were what I enjoyed and learnt from the most (such as those by Herman Philipse). I didn’t care much about the work groups. I think the level of concentration and dedication required from a student watching a lecture online is lower than when students have made the effort of coming to the university. In general, attendance isn't very high for lectures, but I don’t think we should lower the academic bar. If students aren’t willing to come to class, then either the classes are too simple or boring, or the students aren’t at the right study programme or university.

“Listening carefully for a long period of time, and being able to process that information in notes, is an important academic skill. A good academic can amuse themselves mentally even during boring classes. Students shouldn’t confuse studying with entertainment. Studying requires perseverance, like attending lectures and good old reading (including books that aren’t in the syllabus).

“I dislike hybrid classes, as I prefer to either teach fully online or in a lecture hall, without live transmissions through Teams. Hybrid teaching is distracting and – for me, at least – something almost always goes wrong with the technology.”

Leonie Schiphorst, Master’s student of Youth Studies: ‘What you actually want is the in-person class to be more appealing than the online version’

“I personally don’t necessarily want the lectures on campus to come back. Most of them were already barely interactive, so they might as well be pre-recorded.

“It’s also interesting to see that student unions have been begging for months for more face-to-face classes, but now that we do have them, so few students actually show up. When your alarm goes off in the morning, it’s probably an easier choice to attend your lecture from the comfort of your own bed than to travel for a few hours.

“But if we all stay home, then we lose a meeting place for students and teachers. Perhaps we should keep the classes on location, alongside the online version. That provides freedom of choice, you can decide if you want to attend in person or not, rather than having to attend it online.

“At the same time, it’s not ideal if students who can easily attend the lecture in person all attend it online. But no one’s really checking that. So, what you actually want is for the face-to-face class to be more appealing than the online version, so students aren’t tempted to just stay home.”

Innovation scientist Frank van Rijnsoever: ‘It’s up to teachers to choose the appropriate means’

“Abolishing face-to-face lectures completely would be taking things too far. Although the learning outcomes of lectures are fairly poor, they can inspire students. Moreover, lectures function as a meeting point for students to socialise, and that’s also important for the academic community. Besides, I personally enjoy lectures too much to get rid of them.

“Having said that, I do think the number of lectures could be lower. In some cases, online classes, podcasts, or knowledge clips can be an excellent substitute for lectures, so we should definitely work on that. Covid-19 has expanded the offer of tools teachers can use. It’s up to them to choose the appropriate means to teach a course. I think the lecture will be chosen less often going forward.”

Educational scientist Casper Hulshof: ‘Replace lectures with a Q&A session’

“One method that has worked well for us is holding a discussion class. You replace the ‘classic’ lecture with a few videos. When it’s time for the lecture, you organise a Q&A slash discussion session with the students. This past year, most of these sessions took place online, but as soon as it’s possible to do it face-to-face, that’s what I’d choose.”

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