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A collection of best practices based on a comparison between the Dutch and the British educational system.

Introduction

COVID-19 is a worldwide pandemic currently holding the world in its grasp (World Health Organization, n.d.). Education has been facing many challenges trying to adapt to the changing learning environments because of it. Teaching from the comfort of your home, or an empty classroom while students attend from their home is not uncommon any more. But because of these unexpected rapid changes in the world, education is required to change alongside it as COVID-19 isn’t expected to disappear anytime soon (Scudellari, 2020; Mintz, 2020).

This article examines the differences between the Dutch and British educational systems, to learn about the experiences of lecturers when it comes to online teaching to learn from their different viewpoints. This concludes with categorizing best practices when it comes to online teaching to help colleagues in their online teaching practices based on their experiences and research.

Context

On  March 13, 2020, The Netherlands went into a full educational lockdown that lasted until the end of the school year in September 2020. From there on, the Dutch Universities went into a partial lockdown, allowing students back into the University for 4-6 hours of contact time, the remaining hours are still being taught online, resulting in about 3 out of 8 courses to be offline and the remaining 5 to be online (RIVM, 2020).

On March 13, 2020, The UK went into a full educational lockdown that lasted until the end of the school year in September 2020. Starting the new school year, British Universities opened their doors again to students adhering to a partial lockdown (GOV.UK, 2020).

Universities in both countries have formed regulations for offline and online teaching based on the guidelines the countries’ government has set out for education. Most universities have chosen for a form of hybrid learning, both online and offline and have chosen to implement tools and teaching practices based on what they believe works best.

Current status

To learn about the differences and similarities a topic list has been designed. These were then shared and discussed with lecturers of both a Dutch and British University. The outcomes have been entered into Table 1.

Table 1 Dutch University versus a British university – thoughts, and practices during COVID-19

UniversityDutch University – creative industryBritish University – creative industry
Current Covid-19 guidelinesClasses partially online1.5-meter regulations to ensure safe face-to-face classesCOVID-secure buildingsOne-way walking routes, new cleaning regimes, available facemasks for everyoneSupport for international students during a quarantine Regular communication towards students and staff about current measures (RIVM, 2020)Classes partially online1.5-meter regulations to ensure safe face-to-face classesCOVID-secure buildingsOne-way walking routes, socially distances study spaces, new cleaning regimes, available facemasks for everyoneSupport for international students during a quarantineRegular communication towards students and staff about current measures (GOV.UK, 2020)
Course hours online vs. offline6-8 hours per class are scheduled offline. The rest of the classes are held online, this is increasing. On average this means 2-3 classes offline and 3-6 classes online.Practical subjects like dance are still having in-person lectures but will be online when that is possible. Most classes are online.
Tools used for online teachingBlackboard collaborate and Discord are used for most classes. Sometimes Microsoft Teams is used for meetings or COL’s (community of learners).Blackboard collaborate and MS teams.
Preferred online practicesDiscord (faster and better connection) allows you to see 25 cameras versus blackboard where you only see 6 cameras, the ability to screen share, having plenty of exercises so it’s not just listening. Also allows for out of class learning BB collab has a nice powerpoint integration. Discord is already used by students so it becomes a low threshold.Blackboard Collaborate is useful for sharing documents and screens.   MS Teams is not user friendly and creates more frustration than it being helpful.
Best practicesUsing polls, directly speaking to students, screen share, creative exercises, break out groups, chat available to increase interaction. Cameras on as a teacher to model behavior. Creating fun/creative exercises to increase engagement.Setting creative tasks to then share with teachers and peers. It allowed them to be creative despite the restrictions. “break out” groups are a good tool to have students remain online. The smaller groups help in discussing the topics. We give continuous feedback and encouragement to give each other feedback on the work done.
Teacher thoughts on teacher student-interactionHarder to see when student’s facial expressions change when they don’t understand stuff, so it becomes harder to know what is going on in your ‘class’. If you set a good start, with cameras and microphones and show a safe space and positive attitude, students seem to keep this up throughout the course. Online interaction is a bit more informal, teachers become more accessible.Online teacher-student interaction feels removed and it is harder to work intuitively. However, it can be fruitful and camaraderie is often expressed between students and teachers.  
Teacher thoughts on student-student interactionWhen they know each other in-person students are more active and supportive than when they don’t.Students are very supportive and encouraging towards one another.  
Pro’s of onlineNo travel time, students don’t interrupt when arriving late, being more available to students, no border restrictions. Easier to share screens and learn from each other. It’s safe, sustainable, reduces costs as it’s easier to schedule.It’s easier to direct them to research and independent reading they should be doing.
Cons of onlineLack of proactiveness/energy you experience from students. But also personally, less movement, less interactionIt’s really difficult to judge the students’ responses and can feel a bit depressing. It feels lonely. 
Attendance in online classesAttendance is sometimes better than offline. On average, classes are almost all full.There has been close to full attendance which is better than in person. Internet connection issues have caused some problems with students attending. 

Both the universities show overlap, possibly due to the COVID guidelines being similar or because they deal with the tools given to them. Overlap can be seen in setting creative and engaging tasks, and a experiencing lack of interaction. Where the University in the United Kingdom chooses to work with Blackboard Collaborate only as their designated tool, the Dutch University tries to give students an online learning experience closer fitting to their target audience (Discord), both having benefits and disadvantages (Table 1). The British university seems to take a positive approach towards student-student interaction whereas de Dutch university seems to still look for tools to increase interaction.

Teaching online: best practices

Recent research states that remote learning will not go away and will become a part of future learning. But remote learning also brings new challenges, such as isolation, lack of engagement, rigor, and quality differences (Mintz, 2020). As found through the teacher surveys, social interaction is harder when teaching online, but also an integral part of the learning process (Veenker & Steenbeek, 2017).

Several researchers have stated that within this new form of education there are several issues, but also possibilities for change (MacGillis, 2020; Crone, et al., 2020; Mintz, 2020). These possibilities for change are categorized into 3 themes; diversity & well-being, interaction, and assessment as learning and are followed by best practices based on the results from table 1 and theoretical research.

Diversity and well-being

No student is the same, and no student has the same equipment, internet connection, or even the same safe learning environment when they are at home (Crone, et al., 2020; MacGillis, 2020). It is important to look at each individual student and to ask them what they need to study properly.

Best practices

  • Create a continuous learning environment for students to learn in as offline study spaces are absent or limited. Such as a continuous open space in Blackboard Collaborate or Discord where students can come together to study, creating an equal work environment for everyone (Mintz, 2020)
  • Student support is more important now that there is no face-to-face support. Study guides help, but there are other ways to support students, such as; FAQ’s, video tutorials, generalized class feedback, peer support systems, and proactive interventions from the teacher’s side when students seem to go off track (Mintz, 2020; Crone, et al., 2020).
  • Schedule classes with fixed times to increase the effectiveness of online classes (table 1), making it clear to students when tasks need to be done and when they are expected to be present. A clear structure helps in the learning process. (Mintz, 2020)
  • Set timed deliverables for student exercises in class, to increase clarity and help with goal setting. This will increase engagement and structure for the students to learn it (Mintz, 2020; Crone, et al., 2020).

Interaction

Interaction is a key component of learning and development (Veenker & Steenbeek, 2017), but when students are online, interaction is arguably more complicated (table 1).

Best practices

  • Create easy access to messaging tools to promote student interaction outside of class (table 1) (Mintz, 2020).
  • Create COL’s (Community of learners), smaller groups of students that have weekly sessions to discuss course material, ask questions, and debate to build writing, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills (Mintz, 2020; Crone, et al., 2020)
  • Small ‘break out’ groups can also be used during online classes to discuss the material, work together, and learn together (table 1)
  • Make use of the tools you have, such as hand-raising, polls, chats, Q&A sessions, co-hosts, screen share, panelists, etc to increase the interaction (table 1) (Mintz, 2020).

Assessment as learning

Continuous feedback improves learning (Dochy & Segers, 2018) (Paloff & Pratt, 2003) and is thus an important aspect of learning and has to be integrated into this new learning environment.

Best practices

  • Short quizzes can help to check and see if students understand the topics discussed in class
  • Problem-solving activities (analyzing videos, creative assignments) can help with higher-order thinking and can help with processing information (Mintz, 2020)(table 1)
  • Reflective assignments or exercises can help with processing information and increase metacognition (Mintz, 2020; Dochy & Segers, 2018; Crone, et al., 2020)

Conclusion

The global COVID-19 pandemic has drastically influenced how we teach and has forced the world to take a look at education to see what we can learn from this. In the current state, and possibly for longer in the future, online teaching will remain apparent in education (Scudellari, 2020), which could mean that hybrid learning will become more incorporated into our daily lives as educators and thus requires education to change alongside with it.

Hybrid learning might well be the future thus incorporating these best practices might improve education as we know it without losing the core strengths of education, such as learning through interaction. Future research could be done into the effects of these best practices on study success and student well-being to further improve hybrid education.

 

References

Crone, V., Dilaver, G., van Haeften, T., van den Hoven, M., Janssen, J., Kluijtmans, M., . . . Meijerman, I. (2020, November 2). Vijf lessen van de coronacrisis die het universitair onderwijs beter maken. From ScienceGuide: https://www.scienceguide.nl/2020/11/vijf-lessen-van-de-coronacrisis-die-het-universitair-onderwijs-beter-maken/

Dochy, F., & Segers, M. (2018). Creating impact through future learning. London: Routledge.

GOV.UK. (2020). Coronavirus (COVID-19). From GOV.UK: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

MacGillis, A. (2020, September 28). The students left behind by remote learning. From ProPublica: https://www.propublica.org/article/the-students-left-behind-by-remote-learning

Mintz, S. (2020, October 12). Remote learning isn’t going away. From Inside Higher Ed: https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/higher-ed-gamma/remote-learning-isn%E2%80%99t-going-away

Paloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2003). The virtual student: A profile and guide to working with online learners. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

RIVM. (2020). Actuele informatie over het nieuwe coronavirus (COVID-19). From RIVM: https://www.rivm.nl/coronavirus-covid-19/actueel

Scudellari, M. (2020, August 5). How the pandemic might play out in 2021 and beyond. From Nature: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02278-5

Veenker, H., & Steenbeek, H. (2017). Talentgerichte ontwikkeling op de basisschool. Bussum: Uitgeverij Coutinho.

World Health Organization. (n.d.). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. From World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

Odette Jansen

Odette Jansen

Autism Coach | Teacher | Dungeon Delver