Blog: Behind the scenes

At WUR we’re still teaching and learning online. How is it going behind the scenes? Well, it’s going.

Text: Donatella Gasparro

As people start seeing friends again, the Hoogstraat gets more and more crowded, and the police closed the road to the Rhine last Thursday because way to many Wageningers were crowding onto the beach on a 27-degree day, at WUR we’re still teaching and learning online.

A strong team

I’m on the teaching staff of a course that caters for more than 100 students. The course is running, lectures are live and students have the chance to ask their questions and get them answered, breakout rooms enable discussions and group work, and recording the sessions makes it possible for people overseas to follow classes despite being 9 hours behind.
Online, perhaps even more than in the classroom, those few outspoken students soon become the usual suspects, always asking questions. But constant monitoring of parallel chats gives voice to the shy students – the chat is a little bit like the back rows of a classroom.
It takes several pairs of eyes to monitor all these platforms, so here we are, a crew of two besides the main teacher of the day, keeping the boat afloat. Yes, even without the distance and the occasional connection dramas, you need a strong and well-attuned team to run an online course. And I am lucky to be part of one.

 The chat is a little bit like the back rows of a classroom 


Nonetheless, working on an online course in these times entails working more than fulltime, answering students’ messages at weekends, and dreaming about Zoom meetings at night. And as a bonus, online live classes drain all your energy, and after two weeks of six hours of video-calling a day with more than 90 people, you learn to live with a headache and in some cases backache.

Meaningful connections

For sure, teaching online works in meeting basic learning objectives and allowing people to bring home the needed ECTS. Also for sure, students are missing 50% of the experience: the personal relationships and the atmosphere of excursions that have the magical power of massively enhancing learning. Even surer, teaching online requires double the energy from teachers, only to deliver part of the quality of their teaching.

 Teaching online requires double the energy from teachers, only to deliver part of the quality of their teaching 

Lessons learnt?

Teaching online fits the purpose of emergency adaptation to unforeseen circumstances. But don’t for a moment imagine this should ever become the norm. When all this is over, I would like to make a stand for moving education outdoors as much as possible, especially in the natural sciences; for fostering even more personal relationships and meaningful connections; for reintroducing hands-on, offline activities wherever possible; and for a well-deserved detox from laptops and screens.

Donatella Gasparro graduated recently as a master’s student in Organic Agriculture; she hails from Italy. She currently works as a Teaching & Education Coordination Assistant – Farming Systems Ecology.

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