Nils Kok lives in America, works for the UM
MAASTRICHT/NEW YORK. From Tuesday, 14 April, Nils Kok, associate professor at the School of Business and Economics, who lives in a suburb of New York, will set the alarm for two o’clock in the morning. Half an hour before the first of four tutorial groups starts. His teaching day finishes at around twelve o’clock in the afternoon, local time.
Normally, Kok flies to the Netherlands for his subject Real Estate Finance, block 5 of the Finance master’s programme. That is not possible at the moment because of the corona crisis: the American outer borders have been closed and there are no flights available. He sounds very matter-of-fact: it’s just the way things are. “I am trying to make online education as engaging as possible. By using videos, a quiz. We also have guest speakers, who I was fortunately able to plan in at 16.00 hrs. Dutch time. That is ten o’clock in the morning for me.’’ Should the measures by the American and Dutch governments become more relaxed halfway through the block, he will catch a plane. ‘’The power of a university is that you bring teachers and students together. Online is possible but it is not as good as when you are sitting together in a classroom.’’
Aside from that, exams are more difficult: ‘’You have to prevent students from committing fraud. I have 65 students; an oral exam is impossible. It will be an open-book exam, but how can you prevent them from phoning each other? You can give them a limited amount of time, but whether that helps or not? We also have a plagiarism checker, but the first results are not hopeful. There was a lot of plagiarism with my colleague Thomas Post, who teaches Behavioural Finance. Or let’s put it this way: students collaborated on a large scale. It looks like a competition: who is cleverer, the teacher or the student?’’ Kok will, at any rate, give more weight to participation and assignments during this block: ‘’That is usually fifty-fifty with me. Now the exam will only count for 25 per cent. The students know that, it is in the introduction of the block book.’’
There is a continuous stream of incoming e-mails during the Zoom interview. Kok is in close contact with his colleagues in Maastricht. There is not a lot of difference between his situation in the US and their situation in the Netherlands, he says. ‘’We live in Westport, Connecticut, about fifty kilometres from New York. We were one of the first corona hotspots in the US. It appeared that a visitor to a birthday party on 5 March was infected with Covid-19. We even made the New York Times with the news. Schools closed a week earlier than in the Netherlands. You also have to maintain physical distance and leave your house as little as possible. Only the supermarkets are open. You are allowed to go for a walk or jog. Cycling is also allowed, but that is too dangerous here, they would drive you off the road in the blink of an eye. Almost all restaurants are now offering takeaway meals: curbside pickup, so you order and drive past to pick it up yourself. Or you order through Uber Eats, then they will bring the food to you.’’
He feels safe, not in the last place because the state and local governments largely determine what has to happen. ‘’Trump doesn’t have control over the situation, but swift action was taken here in Westport. Americans are also sticking to the measures well. The people are quite obedient, more obedient than in the Netherlands, I think.’’