Wittenborg Hosts 3rd Annual Students and Staff Conference
Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences successfully hosted its third annual Students and Staff Conference this week and the first one to be held online. Dozens of student representatives and members of staff logged in from home offices around the Netherlands. The unique event gives both parties the opportunity to gather and discuss a range of topics related to education at Wittenborg. High on the agenda this year was mental health issues as a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, policy around working from home and how the pandemic is shaping the future of education.
Praise for Wittenborg's Hybrid and Online Learning Response to the Pandemic
Student representatives were particularly full of praise for the 'positive and successful' way that Wittenborg quickly moved its education provision online (in March 2020) and when possible between lockdowns supported a hybrid teaching and learning format with a mix of classroom and online teaching.
High on the agenda this year was mental health issues as a side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, policy around working from home and how the pandemic is shaping the future of education. Proposals emanating from the conference will be presented in a report to management next.
The day-long conference saw student representatives and Wittenborg staff meet separately in the morning before convening in the afternoon and exchanging ideas. At last year's conference mental health was already an issue for students and this year it was raised with even more urgency as students reel from the impact of the coronavirus on education.
Aside from the internal academic issues raised, students also requested more support from Wittenborg in terms of learning Dutch and integrating better into Dutch society – especially as knowledge of the Dutch language is an advantage in pursuing internships and eventually jobs for those who opt to stay in the Netherlands after graduation.
Working from home
With staff the question of balancing work and personal life was widely discussed and many had questions on Wittenborg policy around working from home once the pandemic has been dealt with effectively. Many members of (support) staff said they enjoyed the flexibility of working from home, the time saved on not having to commute and reported higher productivity. On the downside, they mentioned missing the interaction with colleagues at the office and the blurred lines between personal and working life.
Also discussed was the continuation of the hybrid teaching model after the pandemic and the suitability of online learning to bachelor versus master students. Wittenborg senior lecturer and academic supervisor, Adeyemi Banjo, said a thorough evaluation has to be made on whether study aims and objectives were achieved the past year to accurately assess the effectiveness of online learning.
The New Normal
Afterwards, Wittenborg's president Peter Birdsall stated 'Our [Wittenborg's] very special higher education product, of internationally orientated bachelor and masters programmes is an 'experiential learning environment' aimed at international and internationally minded students who want to come together, in a diverse and often new environment. This means we bring students and teachers and staff together physically, from all over the world, to share experiences with each other and open new possibilities for themselves.
We do not plan to extend our current online education in the future (after Covid19) within our current degree programmes, however will continue using the hybrid teaching and learning environment, to support and facilitate students throughout all the modules, allowing for more flexibility and also for particular elements of the degrees to be offered online - for instance elements of project weeks, guest speakers, and teachers who live far away in other parts of the world. The hybrid systems of teaching and learning will also remain in place for our satellites in Germany and Austria as long as they are needed.'
Its clear that the 'new normal' as post covid life is sometimes termed, will be a source of discussion for many months.
by Anesca Smith & Others