Looking back on online education

redactie online 22-6-2020

During the last period, a lot of flexibility of universities, teachers and students was necessary. Suddenly, students no longer had to go to the campus, because there was only online education. This also had consequences for the exams. A lot of uncertainty arose during block 3, especially for students who were concerned about their binding study advice and for students who want to graduate this academic year. Information about whether or not to take exams in the third period was communicated very late. Lecturers had to announce whether the examination took place before March 24th, while many economics students would have examinations on March 26th or 27th . During the corona period, criticism arose about the communication and some decisions of Radboud University.

According to announcements on Brightspace, some exams were likely to be moved to the end of June. This led to a lot of stress among students, because they would have the exams of block 4 too. It was also unclear when retakes of block 3 would take place. It was announced that students would automatically be re-enrolled for postponed exams. This went wrong, as second-year students were registered for the exam of the first-year course Microeconomics (while they already passed this course). Fortunately, this mistake was quickly corrected.

Nevertheless, it was decided to take some postponed exams earlier. An understandable choice. If it were otherwise, the study pressure would become enormous in the last examination period. In a new announcement on Brightspace, the new dates of the exams were represented in an Excel file. Many of the postponed exams would take place in the week after the holidays in May, which seemed a good solution. This did increase the study pressure because the lectures and assignments of the fourth block continued as usual. In the file, it was stated that some dates of some exams were still unknown, causing uncertainty. Remarkably, a course was missing in the list. April 23rd (a day before the holidays in May), it was announced that this exam would also take place after the holidays. Eventually, many students had three or four exams in about a week, while they also had to watch the weblectures to hand in the assignments in time. Many students also had to work on a paper. But in general, the alternative forms of the exams were a good solution given the circumstances.

In block 4, all lectures were online. Some teachers put a lot of effort into the weblectures, others put less effort in it. For the course Project: Financial Instruments, interactive lectures were given via Zoom, where students could ask questions in the chat. This was a good solution, appreciated by a lot of students. A teacher of another course edited the weblectures of last year into shorter videos per subject, so that students did not have to stare at their screens for one and a half hour each time. This is also a reasonable solution. For another course, however, the full weblectures of last year were published online, while large parts could hardly be understood, because the teacher wrote a lot on the board without pronouncing the numbers (the board was illegible in the weblectures). Students of this course had to read and understand the slides themselves, while the tuition fees remained the same. This course also scheduled a guest lecture in the morning before a delayed exam of block 3. There were opportunities to ask questions for this course, but many students fell behind after the week in which there were both exams and lectures. Thus, the quality of the education decreased drastically for some courses.

The dates of the exams of block 4 were announced early. However, it took a long time before the university announced that the controversial Proctorio would be allowed. Only one business day in advance, a teacher was able to announce whether Zoom could be used for proctoring. Eventually, this exam started half an hour later than planned due to the ID checks. So, the university could have prepared the teachers in a better way. For example, during an exam of block 3, students were not able to see the number of the question which they were answering. Vox had a shocking statement on June 12th: the exam of Voortgezet Boekhouden may need to be retaken due to fraud. Probably, the teacher asked many of the same questions during the oral exams. A part of the exam of Topics in Business Economics may also need to be retaken. There was a lot of panic because of the master enrollments. June 19th, Voxweb fortunately reported that fraud could not be proven. There was also panic before the exam of Accounting, because students were not able to log in on Brightspace and Osiris after an incorrect update, while Cirrus could not be reached too. According to Martijn Gerritsen, spokesman of the university, it appeared that 620 students had to start their exams later. This led to a lot of stress.

Many students who had to use Proctorio got notifications that their connection was weak. Even the room scans decreased the exam time. The use of Proctorio had already been criticized, because it violates the privacy of students. The extension is similar to spyware. Tracking keystrokes is known as a keylogger. June 18th, Reuters reported that Chrome removed more than 70 malicious extensions because of spying, while they were downloaded for 32 million times. They were able to avoid detection by antivirus software. For example, by tracking keystrokes, they tracked a lot of passwords. Researchers from Awake Security have notified Google about it. In 2018, Google already promised to improve their security, but apparently that has not happened yet. Proctorio is also likely to be an attractive target for hackers, putting students at great risk. Zoom had many security problems too, but Zoom has worked on these problems after all criticism.

So, the university has solved many problems in this difficult situation, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. Presumably, the beginning of the next academic year will look similar. Therefore, it’s important that the employees evaluate the past period.

By: Kelly Veldman