Professor Rianne Letschert


Rector Magnificus, Maastricht University

Prof. dr. Rianne Letschert Copyright: © Harry Heuts

Should we return to full live courses after the pandemic, continue to offer online-only teaching, or do hybrid teaching?

The lockdown that forced us to switch to online education overnight has presented us with the limitations, as well as the opportunities of online learning, as much as it has confirmed and exposed advantages and shortcomings of “regular” physical teaching and learning practices. In other words, the lessons learned apply to the previous situation before COVID-19 as much as the new, in which governmental restrictions are in place. It is however important to distinguish between emergency remote teaching and learning, which is the name of the quick fix for online learning that took place in march 2020, and well-designed online/blended teaching and learning, which is the name for the education we as a university with a strong emphasis on high quality education strive to provide when all lessons learned are incorporated into our programme and course design, and governmental restrictions no longer apply. Teaching and learning, including decisions about online and face-to-face activities, should be based on these lessons learned, integrating the best of both worlds into one. That is the core of blended learning.

The COVID-19 lockdown has also illustrated the importance of social engagement. In the absence of the physical campus, spontaneous social interactions no longer occurred, thereby creating a disconnected experience among teachers, as well as students. The engagement students feel with their learning and the institution is often broken down into three separate, yet related dimensions: affective, behavioural and cognitive engagement. The three dimensions interact, and may weaken or reinforce each other. Looking at engagement in terms of these three dimensions, opens the door to a more systematic review of the impact we as a University have on the student experience in all of its facets: modules, curriculum design, pedagogy, administrative procedures, facilities, assessment, and more.

It is therefore of vital importance to explicitly incorporate synchronous and asynchronous activities in any educational design, whether on campus, online or blended, that address the socialization function of education; through working and learning together students (and staff) feel more closely connected to the subject matter, and their peers. This is done by creating communities of inquiry. The Community of Inquiry framework provides guidance in facilitating meaningful learning experiences through three presences: cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence. Online community building has positive effects on the quality of student learning, increases student engagement, and encourages motivation of students in online and blended courses. Most importantly, it allows teachers and students to present themselves as real people in digital environments.

Will lecturers still be needed in ten years' time or will AI/robots be enough to keep teaching?

Definitely we will continue to have lecturers. It will not be one size fits all, but an optimal combination of campus, online and blended forms of education.

A number of demands are coming from industry and society as to what universities should include in their curricula in future. If studies are not to be extended, one must also ask what we will no longer need in the future. Do you have any suggestions?

Difficult question for me to answer. Students today still need modules on digital literacy, but maybe in ten years no longer, depending on what the digital tranformation still has to offer to us in the future. Being able to adapt quickly and resilient to change will become crucial. Curricula need to incorporate that more in skills and competences trainings. Maybe less knowlegde on knowlegde transfer in the traditional sense of the word, but at Maastricht University we are already know for our problem based learning that encourages students to have an active role in their own learning process.