If there’s one topic that’s always subject to comment, it’s N@Tschool. Why is it that both lecturers and students have so many complaints about the electronic learning environment?
“Get rid of it,” says first-year business engineering student Aboe (19) in response. “N@Tschool just isn’t working for me. It’s complex and I always have trouble uploading my documents. This, in turn, results in me fighting with my lecturer, who claims that he or she hasn’t received anything. Last year, I was still studying at the Kralingse Zoom; I had issues there, too. I couldn’t even log in. At the time the ICT department informed me that they couldn’t help me.”
In principle, N@Tschool should make life easier for students and lecturers. But a short survey conducted at several of the university’s locations points out that this isn’t always the case. “It takes me really long to find the right folder,” says Social Educational Care (sociaal pedagogische hulpverlening, sph) freshman Zakia (24), for example. “There is so much information on N@Tschool; I have no clue of what half of it is or what I’m supposed to do with it.”
When we continue to ask questions, it turns out that there are lecturers who rather circumvent N@Tschool than embrace it. Selin (22): “I study French at the teacher training college, and we can simply submit assignments and reports by email. At least then we know that everything goes smoothly. And just for the record: those aren’t my words. My lecturers say so.”
Caspar Ewals, manager of the web centre of the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, recognises the complaints. “I’m not afraid to admit that the system doesn’t always work flawlessly. The latest updates, however, have actually brought about some improvement. I know that many lecturers circumvent the system and I quite understand that. In its early years, it often didn’t work properly. Many lecturers pulled out back then. And those same lecturers are still working here. For that reason, some students never even get acquainted with N@Tschool.”
Han Biemans, Dean of the Teacher Training College (IvL), believes that N@Tschool must be put under the microscope. “Our students are using N@Tschool intensively. They have to submit videos using N@Tschool – among other things – which often goes wrong. You pick up a lot of complaints. Student surveys and a study among employees also show that there is quite a large group that is unsatisfied with N@Tschool. Therefore, we recently called in the help of Deloitte. They spoke with students, lecturers, and employees of IvL. The biggest problems as well as possible solutions are currently being examined.”
We can’t just pull the plug on N@Tschool. Each system has its issues.”
Pull the plug?
According to Biemans, however, there’s no point to getting rid of N@Tschool and switching to a completely different system. “We can’t just pull the plug on N@Tschool. Each system has its issues.”
Ewals adds to this: “Moreover, we are now in the luxury position of being able to influence the supplier of N@Tschool. This supplier – Three Ships – is a Dutch company and listens to us. The issue that IvL students experience when uploading videos is now being examined and dealt with. If we switch to the American Blackboard, for example, asking these kinds of things isn’t that easy.”
Biemans wants to put the broader theme of ‘educational technology’ on the agenda of the Executive Board. Because in addition to N@Tschool, he believes it’s time for the university to take a closer look at its ICT facilities. “N@Tschool cannot keep up with current technology and the manner in which students, in particular, are dealing with it today. You can compare it to an old car; you can put the latest car parts in it, but it still is and will remain an old car. Moreover, the learning process of students as well as the work process of lecturers should become the priority focus; I miss that in our current ICT.”
All in all, a major operation – but what could be improved in the short term? “We were only given a presentation on the use of N@Tschool in the first year,” says student Selin. “Such presentations should be given more often.”
Biemans believes that we should help each other. “There are study programmes where everything is going smoothly. It would definitely help if we can explain things to each other.”
Furthermore, Caspar Ewals says that the schools are expected to figure out a lot themselves when they’re working with N@Tschool. “We work with key users. These are lecturers from the university who attend courses on the use of N@Tschool. The idea here is that they transfer their knowledge to lecturers and students in their study programme. They also serve as a point of contact for questions. Consequently, we, as an ICT department, expect a lot from them, but deploying these key users is not yet working properly everywhere. As a service, however, we should be seriously asking ourselves whether this type of support is good enough.”
This article was originally published in Dutch on April 22, 2015.