Since last week my main job is being the Executive Director of the TU Delft Extension School for open and online education. This week I got a lot of remarks that these Coronavirus times are great opportunities for online education. I'm ambivalent about that. Creating high-quality online education takes time. Careful design and rigorous delivery are important for a good learning experience. Yesterday the Government decided that all Dutch universities should directly move all their education online and not offer any on-campus classes until the end of March.
Currently, the Extension School has about 150 courses and develops about 30 courses per year. We are in the third quarter of our academic year, this means we have to move at least 800 courses instantly online and April 20th the 4th quarter starts with another 500 courses. This scale means that our regular processes of creating and offering online courses will not work. We have to redesign our processes, expand our tools and support.
So the online education we offer in our Extension School is incomparable to the online education we are going to do in the next weeks. I prefer to call it remote teaching and learning, to clearly distinguish it from our regular online education.
Readiness of students
Our normal learners in our courses make the decision to do an online course. We inform them what to expect. Our campus students are used to classroom teaching, we should be aware that their readiness for online education might not be as high as we expect. It is important to address this in our courses.
I see a lot of teachers asking for new tools and edtech companies offering their platform for free. This might seem like a good idea, but please be aware of a couple of things:
- implementation of a new tool takes time. From checking GDPR-compliance to setting it up the right way.
- if every teacher starts to use their own tool, the student will get frustrated very quickly. Most of them are fulltime students, who are following multiple courses. If they have to figure out new tools for every course it takes a lot of effort.
- the university offers an extensive set of tools. These tools are integrated, documented and supported, that means if you encounter a problem there is someone to help you.
So for use your campus LMS and the tools that are available. Yes, this will limit you to what you can do, but it is good enough to offer remote teaching and learning.
Most of our education is based on synchronous activities in classrooms. This is something that has a lot of limitations online. My recommendation is to only do synchronous activities when absolutely necessary and your group is not to big. If your regular class is a traditional lecture for a large group, online video is probably not the best option. Powerpoint with voice, a discussion board for questions and online office hours might be a much better option in this situation.
Other educational activities
There are a lot of educational activities that are even harder to move online, such as lab work. Another big challenge is our exams. Most exams are still 3-hour written exams. We have the option for digital exams, even with remote proctoring, but most exams have to be redesigned to work as a digital exam and our infrastructure can't handle 26000 students.
These are times that Teaching and Learning support staff can show their value. They are all doing their best within all the limitations to offer the best support for teachers and students. Make use of their expertise and involve them, you don't have figure everything out by yourself. And don't forget to be nice to them, send them hugs and chocolate.
Altogether, what we are currently offering online is remote teaching and learning and is not typical for online education we offer via the Extension School. It does offer an opportunity to continue to run the university as best as possible. Many things will fail, will be frustrating and will impact your life. Don't blame your teachers or university, they are really doing everything in their power to continue to offer your education.