Everyone is welcome on campus again, but lecturers still notice that their classes are not as well attended as before the pandemic. “Often, lecturers give in eventually, and then the lecture is put online anyway.”
Between 40 and 50 students walk out of the lecture hall after a lecture on research methods of the interdisciplinary social science course. In total, almost 270 students are taking the course. That is more than five times as many students as actually attend the lecture. “Traditionally, lectures that start at nine in the morning are less well attended. But now I am really experiencing that there are fewer students than before the pandemic," says Anouk Kootstra, head lecturer of the research methods course.
The same trend emerges from a small survey by Folia. Teachers of different faculties see that attendance to their classes is far less than before the corona crisis. “Looking at our courses, I can confirm the impression that students are coming to lectures less frequently than before the corona crisis,” writes one lecturer. “My estimation is that a maximum of 25 percent of the registered students attend lectures in person.”
Another writes: “Attendance was indeed lower in the first study period of this year. Normally about 75 percent of the students are present, but this year it was about 50 percent. That lecture was recorded, which explains the decrease. Many lecturers point to the livestreams as the culprit. “My estimation is that a maximum of 25 percent of the registered students attend classes in person," writes another instructor. “In my opinion, this can be explained as follows: the lectures can also be followed via livestream.”
What used to be
Kootstra has been giving lectures within the study programme for almost 10 years. At first, she mainly led tutorials, but now she almost only gives lectures. “Before corona, I often gave lectures in front of a much fuller lecture hall. That is more fun than when the lecture hall is only half full, as it is now.”
Although attendance is low, there are more students present than in the first semester of the year. At that time there were also all kinds of restrictions due to corona, Kootstra explains. “I gave lectures then and only about 20 students came. Those were the very motivated ones.”
Kootstra understands why students attend the lectures less. “If they have to travel two hours to attend in person, it is more efficient to follow it at home. I also think that students and people in general are used to staying at home because of the pandemic.”
She does think it is important that students physically attend classes. “That cannot be measured objectively or empirically. But I believe it is important to be present. It also allows you, as a student, to ask questions. In the breaks, you get to know your fellow students, and on the way home you might just think about the material you've covered. If you switch your screen on and off, all that is lost.” In addition, Kootstra sees that it can also cause more “fear of speaking” in the tutorials if students do not get to know each other. It is probably less intimidating to discuss matters in a setting in which you know your fellow students.
Nova van der Hoek (21, interdisciplinary social sciences) is one of the students who always tries to be physically present at lectures, “because then I can see someone”. Online lectures do not work well for her because she is easily distracted.
At the beginning of her academic year, Van der Hoek attended a lecture with only six students in total, while almost 300 people were following the course. She sees that it is often the same people who attend the lectures. “And when we have exams where we must be physically present, I see so many students from my year that I have never seen before,” she says.
She lives two hours away from Amsterdam. “That's why I make a day of it when I go to Amsterdam. Then I go and talk to fellow students on campus, or study.”
Alone at a lecture
The same morning at eleven o'clock, the lecture of Mette Noldes (19, sociology) starts on the Oudemanhuispoort. As a second-year student, she did not attend many lectures on campus during the corona pandemic, which meant she did not get to know her fellow students. As a result, she hardly ever attended a class in the first half of this academic year. “Going to a lecture without knowing people was quite a big step for me. I also have to travel for more than half an hour to the UvA locations, so staying at home is the easy option.”
Noldes now attends lectures more often, but still “no more than once a week”. She has recently got to know more fellow students and the weather is better. Those are all factors that play a role.
She says it's also because of the lecturers. In the first half year, students were not actively encouraged to go to campus, as many lectures were still being put online due to the virus. Now, often only a livestream is available, which means that students cannot listen to the lecture at two different speeds.
Lectures in the future
Kootstra finds it worrying that students are attending fewer lectures. “It is the job of the lecturers to show why it is necessary to physically come to the campus.”
Student Van der Hoek sees a lot of resistance from students when the lecture is not put online after the livestream. So many students are used to a flexible schedule through corona that they only want to watch the lectures at their convenience. The lecturers often eventually give in and put the lecture online anyway. Although she always attends lectures, she does see that hybrid and online education offer many possibilities. “For me, coming in person is best, but online options might be better for others.”