By Michiel Jekel, Living Pasts student 2020-I

On December 31 2019, China alerted WHO that in the city of Wuhan were various cases of uncommon pneumonia caused by an unknown virus. The following weeks more and more became known about the disease called COVID-19 and the virus that causes it, which is SARS-CoV-2. At that moment it all seemed very far away and not harmful for us. Students were finishing courses of period 2 and with the start of period 3 on the third of February 2020 nothing really changed for them. I started with the Living Pasts course. A course that is very different organized with respect to my chemistry courses. With the entry of the coronavirus in the Netherlands and the closing of the university, all courses moved to online platforms. How is Living Pasts organized and how has it changed after the corona outbreak?

The first session of the Living Pasts course was about the course itself and how it was organized. At that moment it was both for me and other students very vague how the course was organized and what the course really was about. I chose this course due to a lecture of Toine Pieters at a symposium organized by the Science Honours Academy. I liked the historical aspect of the course and I was curious how history can be told via new technologies like AR. During the first session a lot of time was spent to talk about the education method, which was co-creation, meaning that all participants have influence on what the course will look like (to a certain extent). For example it involves what rubrics will look like, when deadlines are set and what the planning of the day will be. I think this new education method is very suitable for this kind of courses that are on a small scale and where you are creating something, but not for large-scale courses like my chemistry courses. But I like the general concept that students are involved in the organization during the course and not afterwards with an evaluation. We are always encouraged to fill in an evaluation form, but most students will not do it, because if things are changed they will be of no use to them. With co-creation this problem is tackled.

But what is the course really about? That was a question that was still there after the first session, despite some explanations. It became clearer with each session. The first half of the course was a fly-in of experts to offer support in their field of expertise that could be used in the mapping Janskerkhof assignment. This kind of education with a lot of guest lectures is an eye-opener for different orientations and is very useful for the assignments. However it would also be reasonable for the students to get more time to discuss about and work on the assignment during the sessions. As in each course there were study learning outcomes (SLOs). But what was special in this course was the fact that students could set their personal learning goals to develop themselves in specific ways that had according to them space for improvement. During the sessions, assistants paid attention to these PLGs, but I think personal conversation about the PLGs after a couple of sessions would be handy to encourage the students to work on their PLGs. I like that this course both has team and individual assignments, as both are important during your later career.

In my other courses Blackboard is always used, however for this course Notion is used as online platform. It is combined with Utrecht Time Machine [a Nextcloud instance –Ed.]. It took a while how to find out how Notion worked, but in the end it is a very structured platform that shows the course information, schedule, deadlines and rubrics. In my opinion it is very nice for students that all information is centralized. Documents are mostly stored in the Utrecht Time Machine, the course archive. This is a downside, because now the course content was decentralized and most of the time not available on Notion. However the advantage of this separate platform is that all content of previous iterations of this course is available. I think that it is the best way to put all the course content of the current course on Notion and to use the Utrecht Time Machine as an archive for previous times of this course in order to centralize all information on one platform. Students are also updated by e-mail after each session. This is useful and in particular if you missed a session and therefore I recommend to keep doing that. As said this course is based on co-creation and thus the Notion is a “living document’’ that can change at any moment. You will not get a notification of this in Notion, so if things change it is of great importance that the assistants communicate this well in order to prevent miscommunication and confusion.

Things changed with the 27th of February, when the first Corona-patient in the Netherlands became a fact. Consecutive announcements of the university led to the transfer to totally digital education. Most courses were not prepared for this unforeseen circumstance, although Living Pasts was. The day after the closing of the university, the sessions of Living Pasts immediately went digital via Microsoft Teams. At that moment the teams were already formed to work on their final project. The first session via Microsoft teams was a bit awkward and everyone had to get used to it, but now it is almost if you are in a classroom together just like before the corona outbreak. A great improvement is that also subgroups were made for each project and a supervisor was designated. Thereby the interaction returned, because students became more active during a session. The only disadvantage of going fully digital is that technical problems can appear, however most of the times they are easily solved. In the end I think that the session remained quite the same. The assistants still focussed on co-creation, PLGs and SLOs. There is still space for improvement for the course, but overall I think that this course is very innovative and an example for other small-scaled courses.