It has been a year since the Dutch government announced the first 'three-week lockdown' to flatten the curve of coronavirus infections. In the past year, a lot has changed, and we have spent the bigger part of the year working from home. LDE Centre for Education and Learning's staff share their experiences of a turbulent but educative year. Three staff members talk about how the pandemic had an impact on their work and personal lives.
Research and education activities shifted online, and the dynamics of the university have changed completely. LDE Centre for Education and Learning's staff share their experiences of a turbulent but educative year. Dr Bibeg Limbu, Dr Gillian Saunders and Sylvia Walsarie Wolff share their stories from a pandemic year. Read about experiences from having an online PhD defence ceremony to a digital sabbatical and watching PM Mark Rutte's first address to the nation from Curaçao.
A virtual PhD ceremony - Dr Bibeg Limbu
November 2020 was an important month for Bibeg Limbu. After years of dedicated research, Dr Limbu defended his research on 'multimodal interaction for deliberate practise' in an online PhD ceremony. He talks about his experiences of a virtual PhD defence:
'My PhD defence was almost entirely online. I was a bit sad to see the usual grand defence ceremonies, a momentous occasion that one looks forward to for over four years, not take place. Of course, I wasn't the only PhD affected by these circumstances, but I am sure many fellow scholars defending their thesis during these times would agree with the sentiment.'
'I am generally someone who gets rather nervous while presenting during online sessions, more so than in in-person sessions and I didn't know to what extent this would affect the quality of my defence. Regardless, the panel was kind enough to sit through shaky voices, eventually agreeing to award me the doctorate - an honour indeed. The positive side of this came at the end of the defence when I did not have to dance (something that I never could)! Some of my colleagues were too keen on making me do so at the defence celebrations. At the end of the day, I am grateful for the openness and accessibility of the online ceremony, as everyone- including friends and family from abroad- happy to see me graduate was there congratulating me, albeit virtually.'
'In the past year, for the most part, we all have been isolated and working individually. As an introvert, I often think I prefer that; however, the key is moderation - as with anything in life. Working alone, I feel like my motivation has been in steady decline. There are certain benefits to being alone or working from home, but there are also many benefits for working in an office and social gatherings. The key, in education, too, should be the balance.'
At the end of the day, I am grateful for the openness and accessibility of the online ceremony, as everyone- including friends and family from abroad- happy to see me graduate was there congratulating me, albeit virtually.'
A stay-at-home Sabbatical - Dr Gillian Saunders-Smits
Dr Saunders joined the LDE Centre for Education and Learning as part of her sabbatical, and took lead in the creation of a new MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). The course 'Multidisciplinary Research Methods for Engineers' explains the fundamentals of planning and carrying out state-of-the-art qualitative and quantitative research in different phases of an innovation or research project. In the middle of the pandemic, the course launched successfully with over 550 learners from 82 countries. An impression of Dr Saunders' stay-at-home sabbatical:
'Less than two weeks into my sabbatical at CEL, we all started to work from home. I had not even met the whole group in person yet. This made for a whole new way of getting to know people online and to also collaborate online to build a MOOC from our respective home-built “recording studios”.'
'Working in a group of Edtech specialists in an online environment, I learned a lot about using new tools I’d never used before such as Miroboards, Slack, Padlets as well as new open-source software applications. Such online platforms allow for visually-stimulating interaction, collaborative content and make for interesting tools for working together digitally. I believe it has really increased my range of interactive online teaching methods even though I was already an experienced online lecturer.
The past year has required us to become more flexible in how we teach and I hope we can maintain that flexibility and will continue to offer more tailored solutions to students and that we can move away from the "one-size-fits-all" mentality.'
Working in a group of Edtech specialists in an online environment, I learned a lot about using new tools that I had never used before such as open-source software applications and online visual collaborative platforms.
Managing LDE CEL during COVID - Sylvia Walsarie Wolff
Sylvia Walsarie Wolff manages and coordinates over a dozen people at the LDE Centre for Education and Learning. As a pro-active and interactive person, she participates in various activities and events, which led to a very unusual start of the pandemic:
'This week, one year ago, I represented CEL at a workshop in Curaçao to prepare the NWO project proposal RESILIENT ISLAND. On the last day of the workshop, Curacao’s airspace was closed. Some of my colleagues there panicked: can we get home? My first reaction was: well, if I cannot work on campus, I might as well work from a sunny Caribbean island, so why worry? It was during PM Mark Rutte's press conference that I realized the urgency of the situation, so I was glad that KLM sent empty aeroplanes to pick us up. Back in the Netherlands, the emptiness of the airport and the A4 highway to The Hague felt surreal.
Managing CEL for me means to facilitate our staff, maintain our network and promote CEL as much as possible, next to the organizational issues. While I manage to do this online, it does not enable optimal efficiency for me. Facilitating staff is technically doable online, but introducing new colleagues to the complex Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Universities environment is complicated. How do I help them become part of the team? How do we get to know each other if we’re not able to have tea and lunch together? Maintaining our network and promoting CEL is also more challenging since in-person events and drinks are off the table. On the positive side, online meetings are efficient and sustainable, however, I do miss the informal human connections.
There are many lessons to be learnt, and experience to be gained during this period. Organizing our Annual Meeting online was an inspiring experience and a real strong example of CEL team effort. For virtual events, in particular, it is possible to invite experts from all over the world for talks and discussions. And, planning meetings are easier because participants have no travel time, and shared calendars.
After a year, new routines are developed: instead of dropping by a colleague’s room, we Slack (chat with) each other; instead of cycling to Delft - I do a daily yoga workout. Now that the weather is getting warmer, we aim to have outdoor working sessions in-between LDE locations.
The end of the pandemic is in sight, we are almost there. Arrangements to work on campus again are in full swing - while taking with us the tools and lessons from the pandemic year.
After a year, new routines are developed: instead of dropping by a colleague’s room, we Slack each other, and, instead of cycling to Delft - I do a daily yoga workout.