Students lobby for online classes

Bingewatching last semester

Students are lobbying to get online access to recordings of lectures. Lecturers are hesitant. What if people stop coming to class?
By Eva van Renssen / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen / Photos Luís Felipe Fonseca Silva

SmartCat, Blackboard, MijnDUO: you don’t even have to leave you room to access these resources. And if you’re lucky enough that your lecturers records their classes, you can review everything online. At least 24 lecture halls at the RUG are outfitted with recording equipment, but not all lecturers want to use them.

Several student factions at the RUG think lecturers should just get on board. Students at the law department, the faculties of Behavioural and Social Sciences (BSS), and Science and Engineering (FSE) have all requested that more classes be made available online.

‘It’s currently unclear which classes are being recorded and made available online; there is a lack of consistency’, says psychology student Anniek Kievitsbosch, who represents student party PSB on the BSS faculty council. ‘Students really want all for all classes to be recorded and made available via the Student Portal.’

Clear agreements

A memo to the council outlining this request was positively received, says Kievitsbosch. ‘But lecturers aren’t necessarily all that happy to record all their classes. They fear it will lead to extra work or that students will stay home.’

Trade law lecturer Frank Veenstra argues against the trend. ‘Students appear to have forgotten how to properly learn things.’

Graduate School of Science and Engineering director Marc van der Maarel heads up a faculty committee considering recording more classes. ‘We’re taking all objections into account’, he emphasises. ‘Working with recordings not only requires proper technology, but also clear agreements and, above all, mutual trust.’


What are the main arguments for and against recording classes?


So does recording classes actually work? Several studies have shown that study results can improve when classes are recorded. But if students forego live lectures in favour of the recording, there is no added benefit. Is it possible to capitalise on the advantages of recording and prevent the inherent risks?

Kievitsbosch thinks there are ways to do just that: ‘Lecturers who aren’t convinced of the benefits could wait until the last minute to put the recordings online. That way they can’t be used as an excuse to stay home, only as a reference.’

The law department is arguing the opposite: remove the recordings right before exam time. This would prevent students from ‘attending’ the classes just before their exams.


But medical student and university council member Reinier Alberts says the entire curriculum should be changed in order to fully benefit from this new form of education. ‘Small-scale education in addition to lectures prevents procrastination.’

The BSS faculty board has agreed to start working on recording classes. They will have a look at how other faculties are including the technology.

At FSE, a committee will look into the matter; they have to figure out if the Student Portal can even handle that many videos at once, and how the data can be secured. In the meantime, small-scale master courses are experimenting with the technology. ‘Lecturers are closer to their students and it’s easier to discuss things like privacy’, says Van der Maarel.


He hopes to gain experience with the technological possibilities. ‘Audio recorders are relatively easy to work with. I participate in the master course experiment myself, recording them with normal consumer equipment. So far it’s working fine.’

But the law faculty, which has already put several recorded classes online, is beginning to have doubts. They, too, have called a committee to look into the matter. Dean Jan Berend Wezeman: ‘We need to find a solution that’s somewhere between the two extremes of putting nothing online or giving just anyone access.’

argumenten voor


1. Students absorb material better if they don’t have to write everything down at the same time

‘We’re bombarded with all this information’, says Kievitsbosch. ‘If we could watch it back we could learn the material better.’ Pedagogical sciences student Maaike Hoekstra agrees with her. She made use of online classes when she was recovering from a knee operation. ‘It was perfect’, she says. ‘It can be difficult to make notes and absorb the material at the same time.’

2. The recordings can help students prepare for exams

‘Sometimes resits aren’t scheduled until months after the last class’, Kievitsbosch says. ‘We should all strive to pass the first exam, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. It would be great to be able to have another look at the lectures.’

3. Lecturers won’t have to keep answering the same questions

‘I think it would mean less work for lecturers’, says Hoekstra. ‘Because I’ve been able to watch the lectures again, I haven’t had to e-mail any of my teachers with questions.’

4. Students don’t always have time to go to class

An increasing number of students have jobs, thanks to the loans system. ‘It’s not something we like, but sometimes students can’t come to class because they have to work’, says Van der Maarel. ‘Online classes can help them.’

Since students are expected to graduate nominally it’s become harder to find students for board work. ‘I’m missing a class to attend this meeting, even though I’m a very motivated student’, BSS student Daan van Gulik explained during a faculty council meeting.

5. Sometimes students can’t travel to Groningen

An increasing number of students still live with their parents, which means they have to travel to get to class. ‘Public transport isn’t always reliable’, says Van der Maarel.

6. The recordings serve as back-up

‘A live class where students can interact will always be better’, says history lecturer Rik Peters in a video posted on the RUG website. ‘But just think how nice it would be to have a video recording as a back-up when a class is suddenly cancelled.’

7. Recording classes can improve teaching

‘Lecturers might get motivated to make their classes more interactive, so recordings aren’t a good replacement for attendance’, says Kievitsbosch. Recordings could also allow lecturers to get feedback from each other, says Peters.

8. If the lazy students stay home, everyone in your class is motivated

There will always be people who don’t attend classes, Kievitsbosch says. ‘But that’s their responsibility. And if you don’t start studying for a class on time, the chances of passing are slim.’

Sociology lecturer Rozemarijn van der Ploeg thinks it’s fine if fewer students show up. ‘Because when they do, there’s no guarantee they’re actually paying attention.’


persoon 2


1. Students will be less motivated to come to class

Van der Ploeg taught a class that only part-time students could watch online. ‘The full-time students pretty much all showed up, but some part-time students didn’t attend even when they didn’t have another class at the same time.’

Teaching a half-empty room isn’t quite the same, said assistant professor of sociology Michael Maes during a BSS faculty council meeting.

2. Online classes might encourage bad study habits

Not only do some students stay at home during class, they wait to watch the recording until the last moment. This may negatively impact their chance of passing the course.

3. Students should be able to keep up

If you can’t keep up with your classes, should you even be at university? ‘Some people say it’s hard to keep up with the class schedule, but I’m not particularly sympathetic’, says Van der Maarel. ‘That’s just how academics are.’

4. A camera recording might put pressure on the lecturers

‘If a lecturer isn’t comfortable being on camera, recording them might negatively impact the quality of their teaching’, Van der Maarel warns.

5. Recordings could prevent students from asking questions

Might students be too shy to ask questions, if those questions will be recorded in perpetuity? ‘I can imagine some people might find it awkward to hear their own voice’, says Hoekstra. ‘But I would like to be told beforehand when a class is being recorded. It would suck to only find out about it afterwards.’

6. The videos can be used against lecturers

A lecturer who reserved a room but then didn’t teach a class in it was reprimanded by management. ‘The recording was used to check up on me without my permission. I wonder if these videos could be used during performance reviews. We need to reach clear agreements about this.’

7. The video could be taken out of context online

How secure is Student Portal? Could the videos be downloaded and uploaded to sites like Imgur? ‘These recordings could put lecturers in an awkward position. Before they agree to be filmed, they have to trust their students to treat the videos with respect’, says Van der Maarel. ‘That’s not necessarily obvious to everyone and should be discussed with the students.’

8. Recording lectures is a hassle

Not all lecture halls are outfitted with automatic recording equipment. In smaller rooms recordings are done with mobile equipment, which requires extra staff. ‘We need to make sure that recording classes doesn’t lead to extra work for the lecturers’, says Kievitsbosch.

9. Recording classes does not always add value

Take FSE: some courses are specifically taught without PowerPoint slides; lecturers use old-fashioned blackboards. ‘Recording those classes isn’t very useful’, says Van der Maarel. ‘We could do something like instructional videos, but that’s an entirely different form of material.’