Tales from my home office II: The rise of the online teacher

By Patrick Bijsmans

We are now in week 3 of online teaching and learning here in Maastricht. Last week I posted some first reflections on my own experience so far, and I want to come back to this again. But I want to start with the rise of the online teacher.

Make no mistake, I am not referring to myself – or, better, not just to myself. Instead, what I am referring to is the immense commitment and motivation of academic staff (and students!) to make the best of these rather confusing times. And not just your normal teaching and learning crowd, but virtually everyone I talk to via Skype or Zoom or correspond with over email or WhatsApp.

Let me start by illustrating this by the fact that our first ever FASoS webinar on online teaching and learning, which took place yesterday, was attended by just over 40 (!) colleagues from all ranks of our faculty (and some from beyond). Notwithstanding the usual challenges, Zoom worked quite well and everyone was willing to learn and engage in sharing experience. Obviously, some rules had to be set from the start (inspired by our MA ES colleagues, but also for instance by these useful guidelines), but we had stimulating discussions in groups of five, followed by a plenary debate, plus input from experts.But when I refer to the rise of the online teacher, I am also referring to the social media flurry. So many colleagues are sharing interesting links or their own experience (check out Rachel Dickson’s blog on connecting with students online); on making online teaching and learning work, but also on making life work (something that is certainly not to be underestimated either). And thankfully there are also creative souls who make us laugh, such as my friend and colleague and poet Paul Stephenson, whose quatrains and limericks are spot on!

This is all truly inspirational. And if we can keep this momentum going when ‘normal’ teaching resumes, at least one good thing will have come out of these confusing times.

Meanwhile, I’m slowly finding a new daily focus and routine. On a normal day, I would walk to the faculty, grab a coffee halfway, and arrive 20 minutes after having left home. Now I go for a 30-minute walk before breakfast, which is always very relaxing. With a small nature reserve just next door and Spring upon us, it’s also a very rewarding time for going for a walk. Fortunately, I’m also still able to go for a run and ride my race bike.

In a more radical move – for someone who’s a bit of a news junkie – I’ve temporarily stopped following most of the news. Not because I don’t care – because I do; but because it is quite depressing, which really doesn’t help right now. The good thing is that I have a bit more time for other stuff, such as working on an alternative skill set. I’ve also started listening to some new podcasts. Call me boring, but I’ve really gotten into Gardens, Weeds & Words by Andrew Timothy O’Brien (he and his guests discuss gardening and the arts, identity, race… inspirational stuff!).

Meetings with students and colleagues continue like before. Here too it is great to see that most people are patient and willing to help and share experiences. And everyone is always well-prepared and willing to make the best of the meetings that we have. But online meetings continue to be rather exhausting – more so than meetings in the real world, out there. And while email traffic has certainly lessened, most emails either need immediate attention, or a detailed reply (or worse: both).

Because of this, focussing on research is a bit trickier than I had hoped it would be (I cannot even imagine what people with kids are going through!). I get some stuff done, but not nearly as much as I wish. But I did finish a revise and resubmit today and I’ve emptied my calendar for next week so I can finally continue work on two papers.

It is learning by doing, I guess. Or as my colleague Mirko Reithler put it during yesterday’s webinar, it’s “building the boat while sailing”.

About the author

Patrick Bijsmans is assistant professor in European Studies and one of the editors of the FASoS Teaching & Learning Blog. He teaches European Studies at BA and MA level and is faculty coordinator of the teaching staff professionalisation programme Continuing Professional Development. He is currently trying to find his way in the online teaching and learning universe.