Portrait of column writer Claudia Werker.
Claudia Werker: “Students would rather passively consume the lectures instead of actively preparing in advance and daring to share their results and thoughts in front of a large audience.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

Being back on campus means having to answer hard questions about how we deal with, often contradictory, self-interest. Read about it in Claudia Werker’s last column.

Now that we are back on campus with no Corona restrictions, students and staff members are struggling to combine on and off-campus activities. Students lost the connection to their universities, I read on Delta. They would like more personal development and interaction in learning activities. Colleagues who joined us in the last three years would appreciate more on-campus activities. Colleagues who have been with us for a while are struggling with juggling the efficiency of back-to-back online meetings of the Corona era and the new reality of having to change rooms or even buildings between meetings.

Independent of the rules that apply, I feel that some lessons in self-organisation, i.e. a spontaneous order emerging from self-interested individuals that communicate and voluntarily cooperate, would be helpful to proceed. Unfortunately, the self-interests of students and colleagues are often contradictory. Some students prefer plenty of on-campus activities, others would rather follow classes from home, many having moved back to their parents’ house during the pandemic. Alas, hybrid lectures are not a magic formula either because interaction suffers both on-campus and online. In addition, the situation of staff members differs considerably regarding their tasks on campus, the length of their commute and their personal preferences. Communication seems to work quite well though. Students share their opinions in Delta, in the lecture halls etc. Staff members discuss their points of view with colleagues and supervisors, in their teams and through the Works Council. Voluntary cooperation is not brought about by pointing at others to change.

We could hold the meetings of one section or department on the same workday

Self-organisation means asking hard questions about how to account for various self-interests and have the self-discipline to act accordingly. To serve the interests of the staff members who more or less prefer on-campus meetings, we could hold the meetings of one section or department on one working day. Colleagues would need the self-discipline to organise their work accordingly so that they do not need to ask for hybrid meetings so that they can continue preparing lectures while attending the meeting. For students, we could offer lectures with more interaction and personal development – even in larger groups. Lecturers would then have to make a considerable extra effort to learn and apply the principles of blended learning and flipped classrooms. Yet I share the experience of quite a few colleagues that this kind of teaching is not popular with students, and certainly not with those who are not used to it. They would rather passively consume the lectures instead of actively preparing in advance and daring to share their results and thoughts in front of a large audience.

Self-organisation is not a magic wand. It is finding answers to the hard questions and it is hard work. Its reward is high though: a university to which we would all like to come to work and learn.

Claudia Werker is an Associate Professor of Economics of Technology and Innovation at the Faculty of TPM. She has worked at TU Delft since 2007. She is also the Vice Chair of TU Delft’s Works Council. This is her last column for Delta.