[Column] Online interaction

TU Delft is trying to centralise online teaching tools in this time of crisis, but columnist Monique van der Veen is not intending to obey.

Monique van der Veen: “If you are concerned about polarisation at all, then assuming that ‘I am the problem’ is a very good option.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

Last month I attempted to push the limits and possibilities of the Smartboard in my lectures as research for this column. But last week Thursday, this topic swiftly became the least relevant topic on campus. Over the coming weeks, we will all teach online or transfer to ‘remote learning and teaching’ as the Executive Director of the TU Delft Extension School would like us to call it.

As it is, it seems almost impossible not to write about Covid-19. Yet, I am sure that whatever opinions I have on this subject are not particularly original. We are all aware of the overburdened intensive care units and field hospitals in Italy. Most of us are also aware that the number of confirmed corona cases in the Netherlands is underestimated because of limited testing capacity. The first data showing that children are just as likely to be infected by Covid-19 have been published in a preprint and are also being discussed in the news round-up in the latest issue of Nature. Luckily, on Sunday our Government conceded to closing all schools and daycare centres.

In the meantime, our campus has become quiet, and we are converting to remote learning and teaching. Initially, the central TU Delft advice was to undertake as few synchronous activities as possible. This means limiting activities where students and teachers gather at the same time. So the educational advice was to limit real-time online interaction.

Revelling in my Belgian cultural heritage of a healthy disregard for guidelines that seem nonsensical to me, I of course planned for interactive lectures. Especially as in this case disregard does not result in additional casualties. (Partying across the border when your country is in lockdown clearly does not fit this bill.)

‘For interactive lectures, I, and many colleagues, will be using Zoom’

For interactive lectures, I, and many colleagues, will be using Zoom, which is supported by the Faculty of Applied Sciences. This caused a minor rift as the central services reneged on their advice for asynchronous teaching and started offering Bongo YouSee’s Virtual Classroom. Yet, while Zoom allows me to easily share my iPad screen– on which I need to handwrite my derivations during class (try doing that with a mouse) – via Airplay, Bongo YouSee does not. In fact, Zoom has superb software ergonomics. It is intuitive to use and  has functionalities you never dreamt of but that you really want to have. In short, it’s the sort of software you fall in love with.

For my exercise sessions, I am looking at interactive chatrooms via talky.io which enables video chatting with the teaching assistants. Several teachers at the EEMCS Faculty are creating and updating a wiki on how to use these online teaching tools effectively. On Twitter, some teachers even posted having had good experiences with holding classrooms in World of Warcraft and Second Life.

As TU Delft teachers are currently sharing their experiences with different tools, they will probably soon converge on the most useful tools. My recommendation to the central teaching services is: track this process and support it. By trying to control things centrally, you are at risk of getting out-of-touch. To all the support staff, centrally and locally, and colleagues that are working to enable online education: thank you very much!

Monique van der Veen is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Applied Sciences, department of Chemical Engineering. You can read about the work of her research team at www.tudelft.nl/cheme/vanderveengroup and follow her on Twitter at @MAvanderVeen.

Monique van der Veen / Columnist

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