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"We shouldn’t lose sight of the human side of things"

"We shouldn’t lose sight of the human side of things"

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Simone Golob

MAASTRICHT. All Maastricht education is to be carried out remotely until the end of the academic year. But what does that mean for staff and students? Tutorial groups work through Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Blackboard; lecturers are working on online lectures. But what about large-scale exams in the MECC? What are the alternatives?

As Jessica Mesman, dean of education at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASoS) emphasises, “everything is focussed on preventing students from incurring study delays.” In addition, the Faculty Board is trying  “to prevent staff from having to work until 31 August and then start again on 1 September. Education is very important, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the human side of things, for both staff and students.”

Mirjam Oude Egbrink, scientific director at the education institute of the Faculty of Health Medicine and Life Sciences (FHML), agrees. Fortunately, most of the lectures are to a large extent already available online. “We have recordings from last year and the year before that.” At the faculty of Law too, lectures were recorded in the past. Those who need to get started again because of a new lecture, may do so as simply as possible. Minimum requirements have been set for lecturers, says programme director Sjoerd Claessens. But those who have advanced software and the technical skills to use it, is given carte blanche by the faculty board.
In the meantime, all faculties are looking for best practices. Tips and tricks are being shared so that everybody can learn from each other. It is really necessary, because working online will also be the case in periods 5 and 6.

The university has an even greater challenge when it comes to exams. All exams and resits that were planned to take place in the MECC or in other exam halls from next week, must be replaced by a remote alternative. Law and Arts and Social Sciences are switching to a paper (“most exams at FASoS are already in the form of a paper,” says Jessica Mesman), a take-home exam or an exam with essay questions that needs to be completed within a certain amount of time. Similar plans are circulating for most Maastricht programmes.

A large faculty such as the School of Business and Economics (SBE) is probably going to postpone the exams from this period to June or July, and will have to come up with an online variant that can serve about a thousand students. The board has not yet taken a decision. According to Mark Vluggen, director of bachelor education at SBE, this concerns most of the first- and second-year subjects. Lecturers of the smaller subjects can replace exams with an oral exam, using Skype. Vluggen: “In such a case, two examiners must be virtually present and the students must be able to identify themselves.”
Oude Egbrink from FHML: “Small groups, such as some master’s programmes, will be given a take-home exam, a data set that they have to analyse and interpret, or write an essay.” At the same time, she points out the disadvantage: “Checking three hundred essays is a megajob. So, we also need to monitor the work pressure for lecturers.”

The department of Data Science and Knowledge Engineering (DKE) will apply an “assignment-based testing method” for the next block period, says Mark Winands, programme director for three master’s programmes. “This can be in the form of programming assignments, essays, discussions about scientific articles et cetera. The aim is to do this for the majority of the subjects.” But it is not possible for a number of subjects, because “then we cannot guarantee that the learning objectives are being met.” DKE is looking into the possibility of online proctoring, doing an exam online watched by a supervisor, the so-called proctor. The students will do the exam on a computer at home, while a lecturer is watching by means of a video connection. This is to ensure that the exam is done independently and “honestly”, says Winands.

Then we have the work placements: faculties are looking into what can be done remotely. According to Oude Egbrink from FHML, it depends on the type of work placement, but also how far someone was with his or her work placement. In consultation with the supervisor, the student could already write a report or do an alternative assignment. “Research using online questionnaires can take place as planned.”
No solution has been found yet for the internships. “We are having intensive negotiations on this matter.” The faculty urgently advises anyone doing an internship abroad to return to the Netherlands.

Editors of Observant

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