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The corona-related measures have accelerated homeworking and online teaching. We talk to colleagues to find out how they are experiencing this. This time Maike Steen, lecturer in Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure, talks about her experiences so far.

Maike Steen homeworking
The view from Maike Steen's homeworking room

How did your shift to homeworking go?

‘It already feels like a long time ago, but because I had a very intensive teaching day literally the day after the lockdown, I can still remember it clearly. That same evening I was bombarded with emails, the WhatsApp group for the Master’s students had gone ballistic. Everyone was wondering: can we hold our pleas at the court next week? The following day I set up a private Skype which enabled us to start communicating with the students. The picture froze from time to time but everyone was in good humour and patient. The first day seemed very unreal anyway. A week later we’d all progressed a step further with Zoom, good support was being provided and slowly the digital encounters were becoming “the new normal”.

I’ve been back once to REC A to pick up paperwork. That was a pretty strange experience, an empty building where life has come to a complete standstill. I watered and fed all the plants in my section and shifted them to a nice place in a sunny room, and listened to really loud music.

At the moment I’m very busy. I have a seven-year-old son at home who needs lessons and my attention. Luckily my partner “Master Uif” helps out a lot. In recent weeks we’ve recorded nine days of hearings at the moot court, all via Zoom. That went really well, although we stretched out the days of hearings over several days because otherwise it would have been too intensive. Interaction is possible and in terms of content you can assess it really well, but what I do miss is the feeling. Luckily a small number of the guest judges were also with us. So in the end things were a little more cheerful for the students after the big disappointment of the court sessions not taking place.’

Where do you work?

‘I work in my own room from which I have a good view of the trees, birds and the garden. Since I truly see the same view for weeks on end, I have the sense of being closer to actual time. You literally see the flowers emerging from the ground and the leaves opening up, and all the time that blue sky without contrails, with the sun. That’s why I often have Here Comes The Sun by The Beatles in my head.’

‘Here comes the sun, doo-dun-doo-doo
Here comes the sun, and I say
It's all right’

What aspects of the UvA do you miss the most?

‘I miss the atmosphere, the building, the central hall, the hustle and bustle of all those students: being remote isn’t my thing. You can do a lot digitally, but it doesn’t give you back any energy. I miss being involved with the students, the contact; contributing to their development is a much more remote activity now. I’m more in transmission mode, instead of being in dialogue and having the shared energy that I experience during normal lectures.’

What are you hearing from students?

‘Students find it more lonely than normal, and also more intensive, with all this digital teaching. But I also sense that they are well disposed towards us and are satisfied with all the things we’re trying out digitally.’

‘Experiencing the mutual sense of connection as an academic community is crucially important’

Have you discovered anything new during the homeworking?

‘I find it an interesting time. In the first week I was keeping track of all the news and my main activity was compiling and sharing heartwarming initiatives, texts and videos. After that I felt the need for more peace and quiet. A quote that I read in Shakespeare’s King Lear, which he wrote during the plague, is apposite here: “The weight of this sad time we must obey.” Indeed, what is the weight of this time? What kind of tempo fits the situation? What aspects come to the fore in the world, in people and in me? It raises a lot of questions. I can’t really give an opinion on this yet, things are revealing themselves slowly.

Apart from that, it’s a good time for clearing up. While I was dusting my bookcase I discovered a book I hadn’t read yet, Afdalingen by Marjoleine De Vos. This book, containing classical myths, has a description of the quest for immortality. I was moved by the myth of Admetus, whose fate is to die young. But Admetus treated Apollo so well that it’s deemed he doesn’t have to die if he finds someone else who’ll sacrifice themselves for him. He asks his parents. But his mother says, “He thinks that we, because we are old, will recoil from the sight of each other; he thinks that we no longer love the warmth of the sun, the scent of flowers, the sound of birds singing. He thinks that we are as good as dead.” This myth relates to two themes of our own time: the rights of a younger generation are being limited in favour of older people, whereby some people think like Admetus. But also Admetus himself: can we deal with death, with the fact that we can’t control everything? That things are finite?

Now we are literally being forced to a standstill, and hence also to consider things. This can be a good moment to take a new look at how we live. The trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort also said this in Tegenlicht: “The whole world can be reset. An end to so much consumerism.” It’s a really big opportunity, but will we take it? I say to students: “Take time to reflect on this. What things come to the surface in you now, which you normally wouldn’t take time for? What do you really want?” These questions also generate dissent: students feel that we’re expecting a great deal of them at the moment. The train has to keep running, and that clashes with the space for reflection which they also feel a need for. I think this what causes some of the stress: that the whole world is standing still, everything is slowed down while we, in our own educational reality, are continuing at the same pace. Although this is all understandable due to the importance of completing one’s studies, but I still find it at odds with Shakespeare’s appeal to obey the weight of this time.’

How do you view the future of homeworking?

‘It can be useful as a way of preparing, but personally I’m not eager to provide lots of digital teaching in the future. It’s not my thing: I think too much is lacking. I feel that I can’t really “see” the students.

I expect that today’s students will now also reconsider what they’ve been saying for a long time: that they would like to attend large lectures digitally. Now they’re experiencing what it’s like to spend the whole day at the computer. So that’s what you miss: the shared energy, the thought processes, the exchange. Experiencing the mutual sense of connection as an academic community is crucially important. This deficiency is now becoming clear.’