Two weeks ago, I gave a lecture on science communication to about 150 students. Well, theoretically 150 students, as there were only seven in the room. The rest could of course have been watching the screen at home with great concentration, but there is also a chance that they missed it. I think that as a university, we overestimated how easy it would be to go back to ‘normal’.
First of all, the staff are not yet back to normal either; they are seeking a new balance, with people spending significantly less time on campus than they used to. Secondly, students take about five years to do a Bachelor’s plus a Master’s, and now students have been studying at home for two years (as one of the restrictive Covid measures). We therefore lack institutional memory of the ‘old normal’ within a large proportion of the student population. This means that a lot of students have never experienced the benefits of living in Wageningen. And for some of them, coming to the campus suddenly becomes a massive chore and a hassle, especially for just one lecture of an hour.
I asked myself: why do I want the students to come to lectures? Aren’t they old enough and mature enough to decide for themselves whether or not they want to come to a lecture? I struggle with this, just like many colleagues (see also the discussion on page 18), because on the one hand I think that students are mature people who are allowed to make their own choices, but on the other hand, the practice often shows that some guidance and encouragement help students to make the ‘right’ choice. A degree and the development you experience as a young adult during these years is more than just that one lecture.
I don’t want to force students to come, but I don’t want to lecture to a wall either
It is a phase in which you are left to your own devices, meet new people and learn to run your own life. This is more difficult when you stay at home and watch the occasional lecture online. On the other hand, I recognize that there are many ways of going about it and that I am making a lot of assumptions about other people.
It’s going to be a challenge to find a new balance, particularly in education, where the temptation to watch lectures online will not actually provide a full substitute for in-person attendance. Again, I struggle with this, because I don’t want to force students to come, but I also don’t want to lecture to a wall. So it is precisely now that I hope that our students, student councils and study associations will be proactive and come up with some proposals. We’ve got to do this together.
Guido Camps (38) is a vet and researcher at Human Nutrition and OnePlanet. He likes baking, beekeeping and unusual animals.