Are online lectures a blessing or a curse? What can be done to improve online lectures? A small survey reveals how students and lecturers of Hanze experience their digital university life. In part III, students and staff give recommendations on how to improve online lectures.
In the two previous articles, we dealt with the advantages and disadvantages of online lectures. Participants agreed on perks such as sleeping longer and being able to attend lectures from literally anywhere, but also drawbacks such as the lack of human contact and loneliness. So, how can the situation be improved? To answer this question, the 39 participants, consisting of students and lecturers, were asked for their recommendations on how to improve online lectures.
‘It is a false assumption that physical lectures can be replaced one-to-one by online lectures’
One word that struck out more than anything else was interactive, usually with an additional more in front of it. Mentioned by 11 of the 39 participants, students and lectures alike, the desire for more interaction is strong. But how can lectures be made more interactive for students when people are sitting alone in their rooms staring mindlessly at their laptops? Let’s look at recommendations from both participants’ sides separately.
One lecturer, expressing their recommendation rather philosophically, stated that in order to improve online lectures, it requires ‘dedication from teachers and motivation from students.’ However, in order to stay dedicated, lecturers require ‘more resources and training for teachers, both in the technical and didactical aspects.’ As explained by a Hanze UAS lecturer, in order to ‘do things right, much more preparation is needed for online lectures and – if recorded – this is best done without an audience. It is also a false assumption that physical lectures can be replaced one-to-one by online lectures.’
‘Lectures should be shorter, max 45 minutes with more interaction and more variety’
‘As mentioned before, much more preparation is needed and online teaching is more physically and emotionally exhausting. It is also less efficient and more time consuming, meaning that you can cover less material in the same time.’ This explanation was supported by another lecturer, who mentioned that lectures should be shorter: ‘max. 45 minutes [with] more interaction and more variety (i.e. using different digital tools).’
For some this may come as a surprise, but several students owned up to the faults of online lectures, mentioning that they believe that online lectures are ‘good right now, but the attention span of students is lower. It’s not the lectures that have to be improved, it’s the behaviour of the students.’ Nevertheless, students would also like to interact more. Many agreed that shorter lectures could keep students more focused as they ‘cannot pay attention for 3 hours straight while sitting alone at home.’
‘Don’t ask me to turn on the camera’
Students even had a few incentives that they would appreciate in order to make lessons feel a bit more like good old physical lectures. ‘Smaller groups, all cameras on, more interactive tasks so people stay motivated.’ Students seem demotivated by lectures in which lecturers ‘re-read the slides back to us.’ Although some students feel strongly about having their cameras on – ‘don’t ask me to turn on the camera,’ – being able to see other students attending the lecture could help make classes feel less lonely, even if it would require attendees to get dressed the way they would when leaving their homes (at least for the section that the camera sees).
Finally, students are hoping that in the future hybrid classes will be a possibility. Being able to attend ‘some lessons online and some on campus,’ would help students that are struggling to pay attention in online lectures. The Hanze UAS already has some guidelines on how multi-location education can be conducted. However, as the current corona measures have suspended all activities on campus, this prospect is sadly currently not a possibility.
Whatever the future may hold in place for the students and staff of the Hanze UAS, one thing remains true: ‘we all just need to hold tight and wait for this corona infected storm to pass.’