30 April 2020

I don't pay my tuition fees to listen to glorified podcasts

Is online education during corona as good as it used to be? Master's student Nathanael Korfker doubts it

In an interview [in Dutch]with Ad Valvas on 29 April, VU director Marcel Nollen ventured the opinion that the quality of teaching today is just as high as it was before the coronavirus crisis hit. But this is not a position I could agree with, to say the least. Online education does not even approach the experience of face-to-face teaching in a lecture hall full of other students.

Quite apart from the problem of hit-and-miss internet connections – whether on the student’s end or that of the lecturer, students also have to contend with roommates who need to follow different classes of their own, or neighbours who decide that this would be the perfect time to get their electric drill out. All this means that digital education is far from ideal.

The BBC recently conducted a study into why it should be that video conferences are so tiring [link]. The conclusion: you are constantly having to process all the different images on your screen, and ultimately this overloads your brain. As somebody who lives with autism, I am already quite used to the fact that my brain cannot process stimuli from non-verbal communication easily, but video conferencing confronts every participant with multiple stimuli at the same time. This makes group discussions in the digital age even more tiring, and you cannot tell me that fatigue improves the quality of teaching.

However, the greatest shortcoming of digital teaching methods is the lack of a campus environment, the benefits of which are lost when students are studying remotely from home. Lectures are moments for absorbing and assimilating new knowledge, and seminars give you the chance to demonstrate what you have learned and understood. But it’s those moments between classes that contribute so much to the learning process: talking things over with fellow students, reflecting on what your lecturer has said, how it was said, why it was said – this is what really leads to high-quality education.

I pay tuition to interact with intelligent people who share roughly the same interests

Thanks to years of right-wing policy from government, students have increasingly been forced into the role of consumer. Well, as a consumer, I now conclude that I’m not getting my money's worth. I don't pay my tuition fees to listen to glorified podcasts. I pay my tuition fees to interact with other intelligent people who share similar interests to me. The university’s many support services are doing a tremendous job, but that does not detract from the dramatic deterioration in teaching quality that students are now facing.


Nathanael Korfker, Master's student in Philosophy of Culture and Governance


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