Curfew at the uni: everything will close at 6 p.m.
On-site exams will be cancelled
Curfew at the uni: everything will close at 6 p.m.
Almost all UG buildings will be closing at 6 p.m. for the next few weeks because of the curfew. Exams that were to take place in the evening will be rescheduled.
The UG board of directors decided this after it was announced there would be a curfew from Saturday, January 23, through to Wednesday, February 10. The curfew will start at 9 p.m. and end at 4:30 a.m.
All UG buildings will close at 6 p.m., except for the buildings that are used for long-term experiments, exams, and practical classes. These buildings will close two hours later. In practice, the board says, this means all educational activities will end by 7 p.m. ‘We’d like to ask everyone to keep their commute in mind.
While the government wanted to make an exception for students who have to sit on-site exams at night, the UG decided to reschedule them. ‘We want to help curtail the spread of the virus.’
The UG will give employees involved in so-called ‘critical processes’ or who are on call an employment statement. These will be provided by the faculty boards or department heads.
Lowering the BSA requirement to 40 or 35 ECTS won’t help
Op-ed: Lowering the BSA requirement to 40 or 35 ECTS won’t help
Due to the corona pandemic, universities are easing up the BSA requirements by 10 to 15 percent, and they’ll be lenient in special cases. That all sounds nice, says associate professor Willem Jongman, but it isn’t, because it’s not feasible at all.
Unlike many students, I’ve always been a staunch supporter of the binding study advice (BSA): it motivated students to work hard and forced students who couldn’t cut it to face reality in time.
The effect was reflected in the students’ marks. But everything changed when the Covid-19 pandemic started a year ago. To make it easier on students, the BSA was cancelled last year, but this year, universities refuse to do so, even though online education is still ongoing. Universities claim that students are performing just as well as in previous years, but staff know better; students are very stressed out.
Universities have now agreed to lower the BSA requirement by 10 to 15 percent, and to be lenient in special cases. It sounds nice, but it isn’t. The new requirement would be 35 or even 40 ECTS, and that’s not enough to actually make a difference.
I held a seat on my faculty’s BSA committee for years, and our minimum was 30 ECTS. Perhaps a 30 ECTS lower limit would be smart in this case, too. On top of that, a generous leniency policy is difficult to maintain in practice; it will often be arbitrary.
A leniency policy could lead to hundreds of students applying for leniency. How will faculties deal with that?
We handled a few dozen cases of students in special circumstances a year. They usually qualified leniency. But it was custom work and always took a lot of time. Students had to have all the proper paperwork and study advisers had to issue tailor-made recommendations. We would discuss each case extensively and some students were allowed to state their case in front of the committee in person.
A leniency policy could lead to hundreds of students applying. How are faculties supposed to deal with that?? What will they base their decisions on and what paperwork will they require?
Instead of a leniency policy, which will be hard to implement, I argue that they should lower the BSA requirement to 30 ECTS, or to give students two years to earn 45 ECTS. This would allow them to show what they’ve got come September, once we’re back to administering on-site exams.
I’m worried that this is policy is more of a political compromise and that no one really thought about how to implement it.
Willem Jongman is an economic historian and held a seat on his department’s exam committee and a seat on the Faculty of Arts’ BSA committee for years.
On-site exam? You’ll need to get a speed test at Zernike first
On-site exam? You’ll need to get a speed test at Zernike first
The UG, Hanze University of Applied Sciences, and Noorderpoort are setting up a speed-testing location for students who need to take on-site exams at Zernike, starting January 18. Groningen is the first city to set up a speed-testing pilot.
The pilot, which will take place at the Facilities Management building next to the Aletta Jacobs hall, is part of the plans set up by the ministry of education to figure out if and how on-site education can resume. The first step is to see if students can be tested before on-site exams. A next step is to see if testing can be implemented to allow students into on-site classes.
The UG and Hanze University of Applied Sciences are calling on their students to participate in the pilot. ‘This could ultimately lead to making exams and on-site classes available when the situation allows’, they write.
The pilot has limited capacity. A number of students taking exams at Zernike will be selected to participate beforehand. They’ll be emailed an invitation to submit to a speed test before the exam. They’ll receive the results within three hours. A negative test will be valid for 24 hours.
Any student who tests positive will be submitted to GGD proceeding. They’ll be eligible for a resit under the corona conditions each institute set up. Some students will be able to take online exams, instead.
If their test is negative, students will be allowed to take their exam right there and then. They do still have to follow the corona rules and keep their distance from others.
The UG, Hanze, and Noorderpoort will join up with the Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health to study the effect of speed testing on safety during on-site exams, based on this pilot. Noorderpoort will supply students who are studying to be physician assistants, as well as students to help with administrative issues.
The ministry of education has picked three cities to start with a speed-testing pilot: Groningen, Amsterdam, and Delft. Research universities, universities of applied sciences, and regional educational centres are participating in the pilot.
500 first-years share their stories of stress and the BSA
500 first-years share their stories of stress and the BSA
Lijst Calimero and the Groninger Studentenbond collected five hundred stories in a day from first-year students about the stress and problems caused by the BSA. It’s a ‘last-ditch attempt to convince the UG to abolish the BSA during this corona pandemic’.
Students are experiencing a lot of stress and problems focusing and have to deal with technical issues during online classes. Student party Lijst Calimero and the Groninger Studentenbond (GSb) says it’s unfair to expect students taking online classes to ‘perform like any other year’. The stories were sent to the UG’s board of directors on Friday.
Universities of applied sciences have suspended the BSA. The ministry of education says that students at research universities have regular access to education, since it’s more theoretical rather than practical. The ministry also says that students at research universities have barely suffered any study delays due to the corona crisis.
The BSA requires first-year students at the UG to earn at least 45 out of a total 60 ECTS during the first year. If they don’t, they have to leave the programme. In early December, the Lower House passed a motion to not fully apply the BSA this year. But the UG had always said it would continue to apply it.
Responses to the decision have been mixed. While student organisations asked the university several times to cancel the BSA, some lecturers would rather that didn’t happen. They say it would harm the quality of education and ultimately be bad for students. The university will make a definitive decision on the BSA on Tuesday, January 12.
Loneliness and stress
According to Lijst Calimero and the GSb, the BSA is a cause of stress for many students. ‘Students’ well-being has always been an issue, but the pandemic has only exacerbated it’, they say. Earlier research showed that many students have problems focusing, and that they feel lonely and stressed.
GSb president Marinus Jongman says these issues have only become worse. ‘This research was done during the first wave. It’s six months later; we’re in the middle of an even stricter lockdown, and we don’t know if it’s going to get better any time soon. We keep hearing that students are having a really bad time.’
This is also clear from the stories the student organisations have collected. ‘We were shocked by the stories we read. We knew it was bad, but reading hundreds of these stories made it very real’, says Lijst Calimero faction chair Rozemarijn Gierkink.
Students are scared they’ll be kicked out of programmes they really want to follow, they have trouble focusing and finding motivation, and many of them are on the brink of a depression. One student writes: ‘I’m expected to earn points at a university I’ve never set foot in.’
Excerpts of the first-years’ stories
‘This year was supposed to be great. I was going to meet new people, enjoy my studies, and have a lot of fun. But the reality is so different: students spend their time alone in their rooms or in their parents’ house. I’ve barely met any new people and I have a hard time focusing in front of my computer at home. I can’t focus in my room. I’m practically depressed and I’m barely passing my exams.’
‘I get anxious almost every night because I’m worried I won’t have enough ECTS this year. The idea that I won’t be able to do this programme because I have trouble with online education is really stressful to me. The BSA looms over me like a giant, while the corona measures make it hard for me to keep it together.’
‘I’m an international student. I live alone, far away from my family. It was difficult to hear that my parents tested positive for Covid. The BSA puts the pressure on students to meet all these requirements. This has turned out to be difficult and impossible for first-year students.’
‘This year has been extremely hard. It’s had an immense impact on my mental health; the stress has reached new levels. I haven’t seen my friends or family, and locked in my room all alone, it’s been difficult to stay motivated to study.’
Photo by Reyer Boxem
Over the past month I’ve had some new ‘first time’ experiences. I spent Christmas here in Groningen for the first time. Unfortunately, the lockdown left me with little to do. Mostly I was in my room, worked on my thesis, read, and played some games. The most excitement I’ve had has been a friend visiting the Monday before Christmas. What happened during their visit got me thinking…
Around 2.30 a.m. I woke up to the sound of 80s synthpop blasting through the walls. My neighbours were having a bit of party. Normally this wouldn’t bother me because I love Duran Duran (who doesn’t?), but my friend had to be up at 7 for work. Now, nobody should have to deal with me that late at night, but by 4 a.m. I knocked on their door and became every angry Irish neighbour complaining about noise that I’d laughed at as a teenager. Another first. Hooray!
The neighbourly apologies came around the evening time and everything is fine now. It turns out the ladies living next door are all first-year students doing their bachelors here at the UG. I have to admit, I feel a little sorry for them. I might be missing out on a Christmas with my family, but that opportunity will still be there next year. They’re missing out on so much more.
This virus has taken that away from my neighbours, and for all first-years
When I was in first year of my undergrad, I was spending my time trying to get into the local nightclub without ID and giving my friends money to buy me cans! We were going to pubs, clubs, and house parties. Those memories, to me, are priceless and I’ll never have the same opportunity again. This virus has taken that away from my neighbours, and for all first-years.
Now, everything from lectures to dating has moved online to an app. This possibility didn’t even exist when I started college and we’re all so lucky to have it now. But no app can compare to the memories from my first year, like the feeling of sneaking past the bouncer with my mates, meeting people in the back of the lecture hall, telling stories to get through a boring lecture and meeting my first proper girlfriend at orientation.
So, my advice to those missing out, is to enjoy the apps and the little get-togethers you can still have safely. Treat them as a practice run, but don’t forget about the real world once it comes back.
That’s where the real memories are.
Aletta Jacobs chairs: 15 female professors
Aletta Jacobs chairs: 15 female professors
The UG will soon have fifteen new professors. The Aletta Jacobs chairs that were announced in March have been filled.
On International Women’s Day in March, rector Cisca Wijmenga said that in an effort to catch up, the UG would be creating fifteen Aletta Jacobs chairs specifically for women. The number was later increased to seventeen.
The UG’s number of female professors has been below average for years now. The Women Professors Monitor 2020, which was published last week, has the UG and the University of Tilburg in shared seventh place; 23 percent of the university’s professors are female. The average percentage of the fourteen Dutch universities is 24.2 percent.
Earlier, the UG acknowledged that it wasn’t catching up fast enough, and that without taking extra steps, the university would not reach its goal to have one in three professors be female by 2025. As such, it created the new chairs, which were quickly filled. This development was not included in the most recent Monitor.
The new professors are distributed across five faculties. There are three new positions at the Faculty of Economics and Business, two at the Faculty Spatial Sciences, three at the Faculty of Law, two at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences, and three at the UMCG.
Rector Cisca Wijmenga said: ‘We were able to fill the positions relatively quickly, even though appointing new professors is a lengthy process. That shows that there is no shortage of female candidates. I’m confident in the UG’s ambitions for 2025.’
Dutch universities have been pursuing an active policy for years in an effort to attract more female professors, to varying degrees of success. The Association of Universities in the Netherlands says the percentage of female professors has increased by 6 percent over the past four years.
The goal is for 31 percent of professors to be female by 2025. The Open University is the only one who has already far surpassed this target; 40 percent of professors there are female. Wageningen University, the University of Twenty, and the Delft and Eindhoven Universities of Technology are still quite far behind, as they’re all below 20 percent. When it comes to research universities, the Erasmus University of Rotterdam has the lowest percentage, at 21.
The pain of graduating in the middle of a pandemic
Op-ed: The pain of graduating in the middle of a pandemic
The corona crisis means that graduating isn’t particularly festive right now. Adina Sauciuc, who graduated summa cum laude from the UG in August, understands this. But she was deeply hurt by the way the Faculty of Science and Engineering treated her graduation. ‘I feel used.’
I would like to tell you my story as a recent master graduate student and second-place Pfizer prize for Life Sciences laureate. It’s a bitter story, which shows the pain of an international student graduating at the UG in the middle of a pandemic.
I’m currently a PhD student at the Faculty of Science and Engineering. Five years ago, I came here to study chemistry at the UG and ended up staying for the master. As an international student from Eastern Europe, my life hasn’t been easy, but I’ve managed. In August, I graduated summa cum laude from the master in biomolecular sciences, and in September I embarked on my PhD journey.
Obviously, the current situation does not allow for any conventional graduation ceremony, but what FSE did instead left me very hurt. I tried to reach out to them to let them know how I felt about it, but nobody has answered me in more than a week, which shows that nobody cares.
To cut a long story short: we were told that all graduation ceremonies were cancelled until at least March 2021, and that the only alternative was to pick up the diploma at the support desk between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. in a five-minute assigned time slot. Moreover, we were forbidden to bring any loved ones with us. I went along with this charade because I needed my diploma.
The time came for me to pick up my diploma. It was already painful that my parents, the only people who supported me my entire life, could not be by my side. Another student who was there to get his diploma at the same time as I did, brought his parents and even managed to get them inside. All the people that were there to make sure that the rules were respected, failed to reinforce one of the most important rules.
I have never ever felt so alone in my entire life. I could not stop my tears as I was cycling back home, heartbroken. Furthermore, receiving a so-called ‘goodie bag’ that was empty only exacerbated the emptiness and humiliation I experienced picking up my diploma. I still don’t feel good holding it; after two years of hard work, I feel nothing when I see my diploma.
After two years of hard work, I feel nothing when I see my diploma
The day after I was officially awarded my Pfizer prize during a Zoom ceremony organised by the Koninklijke Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen, the university immediately added my name to the list of the KHMW prize winners on their website.
Although I demanded my name be removed due to the way I felt because of my humiliating graduation, I was ignored. Even more, they failed to realise that the master they wrote next to my name does not even exist: chemical biology is merely a track within biomolecular sciences. Right now, I feel used, like I was just a number and an extra tuition fee.
In my opinion, FSE could have organised something like KHMW did, an online ceremony safe for everyone but still festive. The KHMW actually made me feel proud of my prize and the diploma I got via mail.
Fortunately, I have a great research group and they showed their appreciation and that they do care about me as an individual by offering me a wonderful bouquet for my graduation. Their gesture has somewhat soothed the pain caused by FSE, but at the same time, I cannot forgive the university for the sorrow, belittling of my achievements and, using my name only when it suits them.
I would really appreciate it if I were heard at least – I think people deserve to know that graduating in these times is not as great as the university shows on their Instagram profile.
Adina Sauciuc is a PhD student at the Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE)
‘Horrified and ashamed of discrimination at the UG’
Photo Reyer Boxem
Op-ed: Racism at the uni
‘Horrified and ashamed of discrimination at the UG’
Chief diversity & inclusion officer Gerry Wakker was appalled by last week’s UKrant article about discrimination against Chinese students. She calls on the academic community to report any and all incidents.
The UKrant article of November 25 Chinese students face discrimination, mocked and excluded made me feel not only horror but also shame at the attitude of some of my countrymen. The incidents described are very sad.
The University of Groningen strives for a safe work and study environment for all staff and students. That is what I am committed to as chief diversity & inclusion officer of the University of Groningen (UG). I realise that we are not yet at our final goal.
We strongly disapprove of and try to combat discrimination. We have a zero tolerance policy with regard to any form of violation of integrity and undesirable behaviour (code of conduct academic integrity), but we also know that this will not prevent discrimination and racism.
The UG is a learning organisation, also in the field of diversity and inclusion. It is important that we listen to each other, learn from each other, hear each other’s stories.
We know a code will not prevent discrimination and racism
Leaders are responsible for an inclusive community; staff and students should engage and learn from each other. That is why we are working hard to establish a well-functioning D&I office, together with a diverse advisory committee, and with the close involvement of the university council.
In addition to the confidential advisor, an ombudsperson will also be appointed in 2021. We realise that there is a lot of work to be done, but in an open dialogue between staff and students and by implementing (existing and new) policy, we must and can take steps towards a safe environment in which everyone can feel at home and have equal opportunities.
To realise this, it is also important that students and staff (continue to) report their negative experiences. This can be done via the confidential advisor, but also via email@example.com.
Gerry Wakker is chief diversity & inclusion officer at the UG
UG students join nationwide climate justice rebellion
UG students join nationwide climate justice rebellion
On Thursday afternoon, students from twelve Dutch universities demonstrated against the lack of action on climate and ecological crises. UG students also presented their demands to university president Jouke de Vries.
Five UG students stand in front of the Academy building, holding banners reading ‘democratisation,’ ‘decarbonisation’ and ‘decolonisation.’ The allowed maximum of thirty attendees are listening to their University Rebellion Manifesto.
‘The social and climate crises need to be declared emergencies at universities,’ reads out the sixth member of the Groningen branch of the University Rebellion movement, a nationwide network of students, lecturers, and university staff members.
They want universities to demand action from the government and become carbon neutral by 2025. In addition, a student-staff assembly should be established, but only if the community decides that’s what they want.
Jouke de Vries, president of the board of directors, listened to the demands and said that change takes time. When the manifesto speaker asked De Vries to ‘sit down and talk with us’, the president agreed to that.
‘Universities need to use the power they have to tell the truth and create change’, said one of protestors after the demonstration. ‘Universities should have already declared the emergency, so we cannot wait for a slow change. We need an immediate change.’
Medical students alarmed as exams to be held on campus
Medical students alarmed as exams to be held on campus
Medical students are in uproar after the faculty announced all exams will have to be taken in person in the Aletta Jacobs hall. They fear problems with both quarantine and Christmas celebrations.
Second-year medical students have three more exams left in this semester. After positive experiences in the Aletta Jacobs hall, where students obeyed the RIVM regulations, the board decided to have them exclusively on campus ‘to improve the quality and reliability of the exams’.
WhatsApp groups exploded after the message. Students who have been staying abroad will not be able to follow quarantine rules after returning to Groningen to do onsite exams. ‘Some people can’t even make that, right. Aren’t some of you folks still abroad?’ said one medical student in the group chat. ‘Let alone the psychological problems that this email causes just a week before the exam,’ added another student.
Students are also angry at the date of the last exam: December 17. International students might not be able to get home to celebrate Christmas with their families, as most countries demand two weeks of quarantine, or a negative test for Covid-19, that would be hard to get, shortly before leaving.
The second-year medical students decided to address the situation and started a petition, asking the faculty to switch back to the hybrid exam model that was used before. They stated that the faculty’s decision wasn’t well-grounded and that it will affect both students in Groningen and those who went abroad. ‘The negative impacts of a physical exam cannot be justified,’ they said in the petition letter. ‘No (international) students have been consulted during the decision-making process.’ They also find the decision ‘very unfair’ for the students of the medical faculty when other faculties can have their exams online.
Four hundred students
Medical student Silke van Belkom is one of the 117 students who signed the petition. ‘If we all have to stay home for the fun things, we also have to stay home for our education’, she says. She believes that the faculty sets a bad example by putting over a hundred students in one exam hall.
‘I feel nervous to attend the exam with four hundred other students’, says Makrand Gulati, a second-year medical student from India. He visits his grandparents in The Hague every weekend and takes all the necessary precautions while he is in Groningen.
The faculty board, however, says that students in quarantine or isolation can take the missed partial exam with a catch-up exam at the end of the semester in February. Students who are at risk or have housemates who are can request a facilitation scheme from the Board of Examiners.
However, students who have been abroad are not eligible for the scheme; they are expected to take the catch-up exam, the faculty board said. Besides, the catch-up exam can be also used as an extra resit for those who fail the exam, in addition to the regular resit in summer.
Makrand is concerned that because of the ´inconvenience´ of the catch-up exam there is a high chance that students with mild symptoms will show up for the physical exam.
Silke also feels the faculty’s decision puts the students at a crossroads and even those in doubt about their health may try to avoid the resit at all costs. This might risk the safety of all the students. ‘I wouldn’t want to get my parents sick because I just took an exam,’ says Silke, who visits her family in Friesland every weekend.
Nevertheless, the university insists that with the new layout of the Aletta Jacobs hall, it is safe to conduct physical exams as long as the students follow the guidelines. ‘Exams are held online as much as possible unless there is absolutely no other option’, says spokesperson Jorien Bakker. ‘The exam policy has been issued after consultation with the students.’
She believes there is enough support among the student community. ‘In addition, it has never been said that students could travel ‘home’ and take their exams from there.’
UKrant is looking for a student columnist
Are you critical, original, and delightfully strong-willed? Is your writing style pithy? Are you currently a student?
You might just be the new student columnist (non-Dutch) we need! UKrant, the independent journalism medium for academic Groningen, is looking for an enthusiastic writer to write innovating, original, and, when necessary, scathing columns twice a month, in English.
You decide what you write about. The only thing we ask from you is an affinity with student life, the RUG, or Groningen as a student city. You’ll have a lot of freedom.
Are you interested and up for the challenge? Email our editor-in-chief, Rob Siebelink, a short motivation and a sample column before November 30, 00.00 hrs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Reyer Boxem
This week I noticed a new conversation beginning to bubble up on social media. My friends and colleagues here in Groningen are starting to wonder about what they are going to do for Christmas. In the middle of the coronavirus lockdown here in Holland and in (almost) every country in the world, it’s no easy question to answer, particularly for international students like myself.
A lot of people, including me, want to be home for Christmas. As an international student I don’t see family or close friends from Ireland regularly during normal times. Now with covid restrictions in place even the little occasional visits from friends and family are gone. It’s easy to feel homesick and I often do.
For me, and so many internationals trying to pull through, the idea of heading home for Christmas seemed like a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Now, with the Dutch government recently advising that people not travel until at least mid-January, that light has gone dark. I have no doubt some will travel anyway, and I understand why.
Personally, I can’t really go home. Three of my immediate family members are nurses; so they are essential workers. Travelling from Groningen to Ireland would mean I would have to self-isolate for two weeks on arrival. On top of that, my family would be considered my close contacts, so they wouldn’t be able to go to work. I’ve known this since October.
A lot of people, including me, want to be home for Christmas
So, without a change in restrictions allowing no self-isolation period (or a short one), getting home was never really on the cards. Still, the confirmation of new restrictions against international travel here in Holland until after Christmas stung. I had been clinging on to a little bit of hope that things would work out, but it isn’t going to happen.
Most of the friends I know who are planning travel will have family off work for holidays for the two weeks they spend at home. For these people going home makes sense, because they can isolate without it being an issue. But what’s really struck me is how many people are only now realising that travelling home isn’t something they should do.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. There will be plenty of my friends in Groningen wishing they could go home and looking for something to do.
I’ll bring the whiskey.
At UKrant: on headlines and misleading readers
At UKrant: on headlines and misleading readers
‘This UKrant headline is misleading.’ People occasionally reproach the editors for this. Sometimes it’s justified, but most of the time, it isn’t. ‘At UKrant’ discusses clickbait.
Occasionally, people contact us to say we use clickbait to mislead our readers. Clickbait is when a journalist writes a misleading (and often shocking) headline to seduce the reader into reading the article, which usually doesn’t have all that much to do with the actual headline, making readers feel cheated.
Whenever I teach my journalism students, I use an example from an old gossip magazine, which printed the following headline in bold letters: ‘Is Willem-Alexander cheating?’ After a long list of trivia about the king, the article ended by saying that, no, he wasn’t.
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with writing a shocking headline. After all, shocking things do happen. But the headline should reflect what’s actually in the article, and this one certainly didn’t.
In addition to gossip magazines, some ‘news sites’ also depend exclusively on clickbait. A study by the University of Leiden two years ago showed that Ongelooflijk, Trendnieuws, and Viraal Vandaag got more responses to their headlines than, say, the NOS did. It’s a great revenue model.
Don’t we care about how popular our articles are? I’d be lying if I said that UKrant is indifferent to how many people visit our site. After all, writers want to be read. We do keep track of which articles are popular and which get no traction, and we have access to detailed information: did people click on our article on their phone or on a personal computer? Did they read it at noon or at 8 p.m.? How many readers do we have in Brazil or Japan?
The difficulty lies in writing a headline that draws readers in and conveys what the article is about
Headlines are an important tool in journalism and serve to both inform readers and reel them in. In the so-called reader hierarchy, headlines are in third place, behind photos and photo captions. Writing headlines is an art in and of itself. You have to basically summarise an entire concept in just a few words, and that can get complicated. Headlines have to entice readers and tell them what the article is about.
That’s where the difficulty lies. We might occasionally overdo it a little, but never with any ill intent. Sometimes, we deliberately write edgy headlines, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Edgy is not the same as misleading.
‘Scientists, hang ‘em all’ is a recent article we published, about UG scientists receiving nasty criticism on their work, and an example of an edgy headline. We took inspiration from the abuse hurled at one of the scientists we interviewed for the article.
Some people might think this headline is unnecessarily shocking, but I wouldn’t call it clickbait. It properly conveys the aggression aimed at the scientists in the article. It should be said that people increasingly tend to accuse media of using clickbait, when the person who was complaining simply didn’t agree with what a story was saying. That’s a whole different ball game.
In terms of the revenue model, we don’t work with Google Ads, an advertisement system that allows news websites to earn money based on the number of clicks they receive. UKrant is funded by the UG (but don’t worry, our independence is guaranteed; we have a foundational board and statutes) and for our ads, we work with Groningen acquisition firm Martini Media. Our arrangement with them is crystal clear.
In other words, we don’t need to mislead our readers to make money. We just want to be taken seriously and most of all, we take our readers seriously.
Rob Siebelink, editor-in-chief UKrant
Thirty squares with faces in them do not a classroom make
Op-ed: Thirty squares with faces do not a classroom make
Before the corona pandemic, it seemed online education was the future. Now, we know better. Online and hybrid education aren’t the high-quality solutions we were hoping for, the Young Academy Groningen argues.
On Friday, 2 October, students in Amsterdam protested to show their dissatisfaction with the online education they’re currently receiving. In September, a Groningen student told UKrant that she couldn’t wait ‘for everything to go back to normal’, and in Dagblad van het Noorden a spokesperson of the Groningen student union expressed his concerns about the quality of the courses that had been moved online. This academic year falls short of many students’ hopes and expectations.
We share these students’ concerns. Lecturers and support staff are doing their best, but it is difficult to offer the quality of teaching we want to. Online courses are exhausting for both students and teachers, and the relief students express when a seminar turns out to be in person is understandable. In hybrid courses, it’s hard to involve those attending online to the same extent as those present in person.
What could explain all of this? One possible answer is failing tech. But this is too simple. The software used by the UG offers a fair range of functionalities, and after some teething problems, most students and lecturers seem to have found their way around these programmes fairly well. So why doesn’t online or hybrid education reach the quality we aim for? As lecturers, we see a number of explanations.
Online courses are exhausting for both students and lecturers
First, both students and lecturers miss information from non-verbal communication. Even if all students have their cameras switched on, lecturers miss a lot of the input we’d normally have. Usually, we adjust our pace in light of the verbal and non-verbal signals we’re getting from the group and the body language of those present. Now, we often find ourselves guessing as to whether we’re going too slow or too fast, whether the material is too difficult or rather too easy, etc.
Second, interaction in an education setting works best when students feel safe to ask critical questions. This requires a bond of trust not just between students, but between students and lecturers as well. But it’s hard to build that relationship when everyone’s confined to their own offices.
What might seem like a dumb question can sometimes be the perfect introduction to a new concept or to an interesting problem. But while it can be intimidating to ask a question you don’t feel quite certain about even under normal conditions, this holds true all the more when it’s hard to gauge how your fellow students might respond to your question.
Third, the success of a lecture or seminar is determined in part by the group dynamics that develop in a lecture room. In a successful lecture or seminar, one question leads to another to bring the discussion to a higher level, and ideally, a feeling emerges that participants are collectively working on a problem or question.
The success of a lecture or seminar is determined in part by the group dynamics
Not all lectures go like this, and it’s hard to achieve this ideal. But it’s particularly hard to achieve online. A grid showing thirty or so faces does not a classroom make. Indeed, it’s hard to develop a sense of belonging to an academic community when we don’t see and talk to each other during the breaks, and when there’s literally no room for spontaneous encounters and chats in the university buildings and cafeterias.
Fourth, it tends to be easier to focus on something when those around you are doing the same thing. A student following a lecture from behind their laptop, however, is literally and figuratively alone. Something similar holds true for lecturers. It’s relatively easy to stay focused when you have the attention of a room full of students. It’s much harder to stay focused and inspired talking to a laptop– especially when Blackboard fills the screen with your own PowerPoint presentation.
What to do? Here, we need to make a distinction between the short and the long term. On the short term, we’ll probably have to live with the present limitations. Organising safe, in-person education on a large scale will . With regard to the longer term, we want to highlight three points.
The UG’s ambition should be to return to what was normal until March 2020
First, we will no doubt learn from the experiences of the last few months. For example, we may have discovered digital platforms we’ll want to keep using to collaborate with colleagues and students abroad.
Second, we must not be naive about the degree to which IT can replace in-person education. Perhaps there once was a time when we thought that online was the future of education. In practice, we now find that it’s hard to provide the quality we want in an online or hybrid setting. Moreover, lecturers and students alike miss personal interaction.
Third, the UG’s ambition should be to return to (a version of) what was normal before March 2020. It probably won’t be easy. But if the last six months have taught us anything, it is that an in-person model of education, built on personal interactions between students and lecturers, is well worth the effort.
Lisa Herzog, Hanna van Loo, and Han Thomas Adriaenssen are members of the Young Academy Groningen (YAG). They wrote this opinion on behalf of YAG.
Ocean Grazer and IvyONe winners of first Ben Feringa Impact Awards
Artist impression of Ocean Grazer, one of the winning projects. Photo: UG
Ocean Grazer and IvyONe win Ben Feringa Impact Awards
Renewable energy project Ocean Grazer and the innovative medical equipment of IvyONe are the winners of the first Ben Feringa Impact Awards. Both are Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE) projects.
The University of Groningen instituted the prize, named after Nobel Prize winner for chemistry Ben Feringa, at the beginning of this year, with the aim of bridging the gap between science and society.
The prize is awarded in two categories: students and researchers. The winning project in the first category is IvyONe by Niels Wijermans. The winning project in the second category is Ocean Grazer by Wout Prins, Antonis Vakis and Bayu Jayawardhana.
The Ocean Grazer harvests energy from sea waves and integrates this with a modular solution for the large-scale storage of electricity that is generated by wind turbines and floating solar panels at sea. As a result, clean energy can be generated under all weather conditions.
Niels Wijermans, a student at FSE, developed a piece of equipment named IvyONe that enables people to walk through corridors and get in busy lifts without having to drag an IV drip stand behind them. Instead, it can be worn as a shoulder bag. This gives patients more freedom of movement and lightens the workload of the nursing staff.
Two honourable mentions were also awarded. In the category for researchers it went to the inaugural lecture From pillars to bubbles: on the future of consensus leadership in a globalized society by Caspar van den Berg of the UG/Campus Fryslân.
The honourable mention in the student category went to the project ‘Behavioural counter-expertise in criminal cases’ by Cleo Huisman, Kim de Wildt, Marjorie Drees, Sanne Rodenboog, Maud Olde Keizer, Jolanda de Jong and Pim van Tongeren of the Faculty of Law.
The winners were selected last spring, but due to the corona crisis, the announcement and presentation were postponed. The next round of the Ben Feringa Impact Award will therefore begin in the autumn of 2021.
Melting sea ice greatly affects North Pole ecosystem
Scientists launch a helium balloon near the research vessel Polarstern. Photo Alfred Wegener Institute/Stephan Schön
Melting ice greatly affects North Pole ecosystem
The melting sea ice will lead to drastic changes to the ecosystems at the North Pole over the next century, writes a group of thirty-four polar scientists, including the UG’s Maria van Leeuwe and Jacqueline Stefels.
The growth of algae, which are crucial to the local ecosystems, is particularly impacted. The research was published in scientific journal Nature Climate Change.
Earlier this year, Stefels spent four months on a research vessel that was stuck in the ice on the North Pole, where she saw for herself the changes the melting sea ice is causing.
Some of the effects are positive. With less ice in the environment, algae have more room to grow, which means there’s more food for organisms that eat algae, like zooplankton. This in turn benefits animals that eat this plankton.
The drawback is that the increase in algae can lead to a shortage of certain nutrients and limited biodiversity, says Maria van Leeuwe.
The growth of algae also impacts the absorption of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere in the Arctic Ocean. It was discovered not long ago that algae form a carpet-like layer beneath the ice, which slowly sinks to the bottom of the ocean in thick clumps. Because the algae bind carbon dioxide to their body mass, the CO2 also disappears. This process can counteract climate change.
On the other hand, the increased production of algae means zooplankton has access to it when it is still near the surface. Consumption of the algae releases the CO2, which contributes to climate change.
The research outlines various potential consequences. Jacqueline Stefels specifically studied the production of dimethyl sulphide, a substance created by algae that naturally emits sulphur.
Dimethyl sulphide is important for the creation of clouds, says Stefels: ‘That means it’s important in the fight against climate change, since clouds block sunlight and help cool the earth.’ According to Stefels, the algae growth can lead to more emissions of dimethyl sulphide. However, premature melting of sea ice can also have a negative impact, since that process releases the substance into the air.
In order to fully figure out the consequences, more research is needed, the group of scientists says.
The ‘weather kitchen’ for the Northern hemisphere
The North Pole is considered the ‘weather kitchen’ for the weather in North America, Europe, and Asia. Extreme weather conditions, such as extra cold winters or heat waves during the summer, are directly linked to changes in the Arctic.
The North Pole has been warming up very quickly over the past few decades. The climate processes in this area could be a piece of the puzzle needed to create better prognoses about world-wide climate change.
Photo Reyer Boxem
This week I’m full of anxiety again as I stare down the barrel of a loaded gun. This deadly weapon is more commonly called exam season. To make things extra deadly it seems that, in response to cheating in online exams, academics have taken the chance to make exams even harder! In ways I never could have dreamed of, too: delightful.
On Halloween, I joined two colleagues for a few socially distanced beers and we discussed this issue. We talked mainly about the fact that many exams were changing from multiple choice to essay based questions, or some other switch. This is fine, and honestly it makes sense that lecturers are thinking about the best way to ask exam questions in an online format.
One colleague even told a spooky story about their whole class getting dozens of urgent e-mails from lecturers during an exam. It didn’t work as it was supposed to and had to be ‘reset’ a few times. With all of the concerns about the quality of online exams, maybe a trial run before the exam gets sent out might be a good idea.
Do the questions you know and come back to the ones you’re unsure of. Now even that’s been taken away
But the real issue is cheating and what’s being done about it. It’s no secret that some people will always cheat and often do during ‘in-person’ exams too. Now cheaters have graduated from scraps of paper and arms covered in tiny notes to talking online using WhatsApp. It’s so serious that some entire classes have even seen their results cancelled after taking the exam over fears of cheating.
I agree that something needs to be done, but one practice to stamp out cheating is just grotesque. Now, some exams will only show students one question at a time, with no chance to go back after answering. This is a disgusting system. We were all taught the same basic strategy for exams. Do the questions you know, and come back to the ones you’re unsure of. Now even that’s been taken away.
So now I sit in my room at my laptop to prepare for exams just as I have with lectures. Apparently, I can’t be sure if my exam will work, but I can be sure it will be harder. It seems this system has had a trial run though and it works well enough that most departments are rolling it out in at least a few exams.
It’s nice to see the testing can work sometimes.