‘N@Tschool must be put under the microscope,’ was the headline of a recently published article on this website. It was a statement by Han Biemans, Dean of the teacher training colleges (IvL). By now, IvL has taken up this microscope, and improvements are being made.
Both lecturers and students have complained about electronic learning environment N@tschool, but the issues are only partly related to N@Tschool, says Biemans. “Deloitte conducted research on the matter, which confirmed our suspicion that N@Tschool is only part of the problem. The larger problem is formed by all sorts of disruptions in the administrative chain, for example because Osiris administers in classes, while education is not always organised this way. These matters surface in N@Tschool.”
N@Tschool is being criticized by several schools, but “IvL draws heavily on the system,” says Biemans, explaining the large number of complaints at his school. “Part of the final assignment, a class situation, is filmed. This film then needs to be uploaded, which doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye in N@Tschool.”
One of the short-term improvements seeks to alleviate such problems. Facilities and Information Technology service’s Ruud Ooms is closely involved in the improvements: “We will teach students to compress videos, so that they can be uploaded.” This teaching process takes place using new teaching materials and peer coaches; as of recently, hours have also been scheduled at IvL to provide students with an explanation of N@tschool.
A small hourglass
Some improvements have already been realised. For example, students now receive an email – albeit belatedly – after the lecturer has added comments to the submitted task. As of recently, N@Tschool also shows a small hourglass when a student uploads and converts a video. Additionally, students are informed – through posters, among other things – that they are advised to connect their laptop to the network of the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences to upload faster.
Another ‘improvement to alleviate’ involves tidying up. Biemans: “We offer a lot of courses, which means a lot of courses that are, in turn, linked to a lot of codes. Students and lecturers often get lost in all of these codes; they are having a hard time finding the right courses. To structure all of this data we are moving all courses that are no longer offered to the archives – where possible.”
Additionally, N@Tschool will organise the Facilities and Information Technology service in a more user-friendly way. At IvL, for example, will be provided with instructions about uploading videos – among other things. Biemans: “This ensures you can get an answer on the spot rather than having to leave the system to search intranet Hint, as is the case at the moment.” Ooms: “We will also improve our communication as to why submitting assignments can, occasionally, take a long time: this has to do with an anti-plagiarism program. We need to manage expectations.”
However, Biemans does acknowledge that N@Tschool is an outdated system with functionalities that could be found in a more user-friendly format elsewhere. It is, for example, easier to quickly consult with fellow students from your project group on Facebook. Biemans: “N@Tschool is a sound system, but nowadays, people are used to technology, and they have grown accustomed to the top-notch functioning of things. If this is not the case, they will quickly opt for an alternative.”
Everything up for discussion
Wouldn’t it therefore be easier to say goodbye to N@Tschool? Perhaps, but that is still a long way off for Biemans. “If you don’t deal with the chain, each alternative for N@tschool will more or less cause the same problems. But we will bring everything up for discussion,” says the Dean, who also deals with the subject of information management throughout the college, along with several fellow Deans. Biemans: “One idea is to come up with a so-called cafeteria model, which allows users to choose from a number of systems.” Ooms says that colleagues from his Facilities and Information Technology service are looking at the systems that other colleges of higher education are using. But the Dutch Data Protection Act also plays a role. Ooms: “If we store too much ‘in the cloud,’ we run serious risks.”
To Biemans, it’s a challenge to find the systems that are best suited to education today and in the future. “If you’re talking about gamification and learning in groups – in and outside the college – how would you support that technically?” The basic principle continues to be that N@Tschool, or any system, is merely a means. Ooms: “We should help the student and lecturer rather than burden them.”
Biemans and Ooms hope to ‘regain confidence’ with the repairs that are being made to N@Tschool and the probability that a better solution will be available at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences in a few years. Biemans: “And we should re-invite the lecturers who pulled out and no longer use N@tschool. N@tschool is part of the administrative chain, and you can’t take links out of this chain without consequences.”
Because circumventing N@Tschool causes problems. Biemans: “We need to record a lot of information for the accreditation, and the administrative organisation has been set up in such a way that this is done through N@Tschool.”
Jos van Nierop
Students in the teacher training colleges noticed that the layout of N@Tschool has recently changed. A lot of students consider this an improvement. “It’s more conveniently arranged,” responds Jeohn, a second-year biology student. Fellow student Tugba, on the other hand, has lost his way around the system. “It has become more difficult to find your own material. It requires quite a detour.”Few students know about the email that students receive after the lecturer has added comments to a submitted task. Christa, also a second-year biology student, does recount the notifications in N@tschool that you receive when a lecturer has reviewed your work or when a plagiarism program has checked the work submitted. “You can see it immediately in N@tschool, which wasn’t the case last year.”
Is it easier to upload videos? “No problem, it takes approximately 5 minutes,” says John, a math freshman. “I think that’s quite long,” responds fellow student Jozefien. Students have not yet seen the small hourglass that should be running when uploading. However, this could also be related to the submitting method. Sascha, a third-year history student: “We can also email the videos to the lecturer.”
Many of the students who spoke to Profielen experience little to no inconveniences when using N@Tschool. This does not apply to everyone. Rob, freshman in the teacher training college: “Submitting means a lot of hassle. I completed all the assignments, but they have to be put into one folder. You have to create a zip file from this folder, which, in turn, should be compressed and submitted; I’m looking for an instruction now. I’m not very good with computers and all of this takes extra time. Things are made more difficult for you. It would be better if we could just submit it to the teacher on a USB stick. And look at this: the ‘installation technology’ course – I’m not even taking that! Nor am I taking many of the other subjects listed here.”