Interview

"Let students know you're there for them"'

Interview

Susan McKenney from University Twente

All education offline for a week. And then to be able to offer online education after that week. From content to didactics, to assessments. They succeeded, says Susan McKenney, director of the Master’s programme Educational Science and Technology at the University of Twente and of Pro-U, the university’s in-service training organisation for teachers at primary and secondary schools in the region. But now we must fully focus on personal contact with students. For example with online office hours.

Professional development interview with Susan McKenney from University of TwenteIn that one ‘quiet’ week, teachers’ homes were converted into recording studios, with green sheets on the walls and equipment for their own video recordings. Tips were quickly shared with colleagues. Pro-U teachers who were already involved in online learning delivered webinars. Canvas was used for conferences, MS Teams for consultation with students. “We are training educational subjects. So if there is a group of teachers to be able to handle that, it’s this one. What was also a key factor for success: everyone was aware of the need to make this transition quickly. Students have hardly been delayed in their courses.”

Lots of space and support

First, the current courses were converted to an online mode, with as little delay as possible to the next terms. “Then I said to the team of teachers: ‘You’re all very skilled and creative. You know the content better than anyone. I want to give you that space. So we’re going to exchange suggestions, I want to hear what you’re up against and need help with.'” One teacher worked on online tests, another one on take-home essays. “They were also linked to people with technical know-how. Most lecturers didn’t know what options there were for online education within the UT. Or how to interact with students online. That information was provided each time. So the teachers had a lot of freedom and received a lot of support. That combination, with the strong focus on the goal, worked very well.”

Communication lines

All programme directors held a weekly crisis meeting. Their challenges were discussed, information shared. For example about the assessment policy. “That was also the moment when we could tell the portfolio holder for education what to pass on to the Executive Board. For example, the lines of communication worked not only top to bottom, but also bottom to top.”

Ease

But it was hectic. Sometimes the pressure was just too high. “I believe we’ve now achieved a combination of calm and renewal. I see the ease with which teachers use tools for their online education, from choosing a Canvas conference or breakout rooms to creating videos. The challenge now is to keep teachers up to date with the latest developments in an accessible way, in line with the content and didactics of their subject.”

Personal contact

Another challenge is how to shape the DNA of the programme, says Susan. “We’re a small-scale training, where personal contact is very important. That’s what we are known for and we want to convey that to our students. At the moment this doesn’t always work. An example? If you sit together in a room and have to make groups, you encourage students to form their own groups. With MS Teams you do that as a teacher as this can’t be done online. By doing that, you take away this opportunity from students.” Online interaction with students is also decreasing. “We really yearn to have students back in the halls, to see the faces. On the screen, it’s like looking through bad glasses. You can see something, but there’s only so much you see. The question now is: How can we make a combination with hybrid education in which this ‘poor part’ can be tolerated and is compensated by other things? We’re struggling with that.”

Online office hours

Psychological support for students is now a priority. Some initiatives have already been started to address this. For example, most lecturers are available an hour before and/or after the lecture via MS Teams. Students don’t have to schedule appointments to meet their teachers. For community building, some teachers organise a no-obligated pub quiz in the evenings. The programme also has online office hours. “Now we’re working online, we’re often even less visible than before. To keep the threshold low, we’ve said we are always available at specific times. Then you make it clear the other person is welcome and that it’s okay to contact them. You just say: “I’m here for you.”‘

Interview: Hester Otter

This is part 4 in a series of a total of 7 interviews with participants in the Professional development zone. In the interviews, they share practical experience and inspiration for supporting teachers in educational innovation with ICT.

Tip from Susan:

Invest in personal contact with students. For example, send emails and don’t write a generic ‘best student’, but mention the name of the student. Ask the study programme, for example by the study advisor, how it’s going. What he or she needs. What you can do. In this way you develop short personal lines with the students, making them feel welcome.

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