Dutch students ‘struggle to raise questions in online lectures’

Survey results show online switch ‘going better than expected’, says union. But students at universities of applied sciences appear harder hit

May 4, 2020
A passenger stands at an airline counter protected with a plastic tarpaulin on March 27, 2020, Netherlands
Source: Getty

Dutch students say their lecturers are more responsive via email following the switch to online teaching, but they find it harder to communicate with academics during lectures, according to a student organisation that has carried out a survey to gauge how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting teaching.

The survey may shed light on student experiences of the global shift to online learning, a move forced on the world’s universities by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Dutch Student Union (LSVb) found that, overall, 41 per cent agreed that the quality of their online education was good, while almost a third disagreed, and the rest were neutral.

“It’s going better than expected,” said Alex Tess Rutten, the LSVb’s chair. “It’s nice for all the teachers out there who are working so hard.” 

The survey results appear to show that the end of physical teaching is hitting students of universities of applied sciences harder than their counterparts at traditional universities.

At universities, 27 per cent of students said the pandemic would delay their studies, but a third said it would not. The rest said it might do.

But those at universities of applied sciences were much more likely to say the pandemic will mean a delay – possibly because their courses involve more practical teaching than can be offered online, according to Ms Rutten. These students were also significantly less positive about the quality of the online education now on offer, according to the survey, which received more than 400 responses. 

Lecturers are now more accessible via email, though, a number of respondents to the survey reported. Unable to give physical classes, academics were spending “all day” in front of their laptops and “they feel it’s more important now to be reachable”, Ms Rutten said, as students with problems could no longer knock on their office door.

One downside is that students report more problems interacting with their lecturers. Online, “it’s much harder to ask a question in a non-invasive way”, said Ms Rutter. “Normally, with our body language, you can indicate you want to ask a question.”

But during an online lecture, “you can’t make eye contact” in the same way, she said.

Although the LSVb thinks the results are encouraging, “we see people are very worried about their study delay” and there is uncertainty “about the financial consequences of that”, she said.

A degree delay of six months might force students to take on an extra €7,000 (£6,119) of student debt, she said.

Dutch students were heavily dependent on part-time jobs – they might count on them for half of their income – which had been devastated by the lockdown, she explained.

david.matthews@timeshighereducation.com

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