Interview with a lecturer: teaching university classes online

By Larissa van Boxem
Erasmus School of Economics

What is it like for our faculty members to give lectures and classes online? Third-year International Economics & Business Economics student, Larissa van Boxem, interviewed Associate Professor in International Finance Vadym Volosovych on his experience with changing up his teaching methods. 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Vadym Volosovych, I am an Associate Professor of International Finance in the Finance Group of the Department of Business Economics. I am originally from Ukraine, but I completed my graduate studies at the University of Houston in Texas, USA. After working at Florida Atlantic University for a while, I joined Erasmus School of Economics in September 2010 as the next career step. My research focuses on international finance and corporate finance.

Can you tell us something about the classes you teach?

I teach finance courses in both the Master and the Bachelor programme. This block I taught the large-scale elective International Finance, which is part of the Master programme. I also taught the seminar corporate finance to third-year economics and business economics students. For this course, I taught two groups of 24 students. The main goal of the seminar is to allow for interactions and discussions between the students, guided by the professor. The students are expected to come prepared based on a reading list, discuss these articles among themselves in small groups, and then deliver in-class presentations. Interaction is, therefore, extremely important here.

Which online applications do you use to teach the classes?

I use different applications for different classes. I actually started to redesign my classes before the corona crisis. The online applications and software made available by the university helped me in doing so. For the graduate course, I made use of web lectures with the help of the Media Support Center, in which I am giving a lecture in a large lecture room while a camera is recording me. It is possible to stream the video live but I find it more practical to post the recording on Canvas after the lecture is finished. Before the corona crisis, I learned to produce my own videos in Panopto with the use of slides, some animation, and by doing a voice-over. Since this requires a bit more time, I only use it for some extra course material.

For seminars, I use Canvas Conferences. In my class, the discussions between the presenters and other students are not done within one large group but in so-called break-out rooms. These small rooms include approximately six students. The software allows us to split the group into 4 sub-forums, which is separated from the main group. After this round of discussion in the break-out rooms, everyone goes back to the main conference where the presenters will do their presentation and explain what was discussed. 

How do you experience teaching online classes so far?

From my perspective, I think it is a success that we managed to preserve our educational activities without interrupting the education process. In the first week, there was a lot of uncertainty and we still had to learn a lot about the online solutions, what would work and what would not, but I think that we managed to devise a good practice in a very short period of time. For example, both my graduate course and my seminar have the guest lectures in which someone from a company or organisation comes to present. In the seminar, we have two guest lectures and at the end of the seminar, the best students are chosen to present at the headquarters of the company.

This year the company was the Dutch telecom incumbent KPN. We also partnered with the business valuation company Duff&Phelps Amsterdam on practical aspects of the class material. We managed to have the first guest lecture in the first week of class on campus and the second guest lecture by Duff&Phelps took place via Zoom for the Dutch and the English programme, which had close to 200 users online. The presentation at the headquarters of KPN was replaced by a  Zoom conference, and I would say it went flawlessly. I am very pleased with the results. I really believe that the methods we use for teaching now could be implemented as a part of the conventional course.

Of course, it is also very important to know how the students feel about it. Therefore, we try to communicate with students and solicit feedback. But besides that, I also received unsolicited feedback from students who said that they appreciate our effort and that what we do is really working and helpful. The feedback I received in the student evaluations about the online solutions is also very positive. I would definitely say that the students are engaged, despite many of them being in different countries right now. Almost all of my international students have left the country when the outbreak started. I have students from the United States to Vietnam and only one student had to drop out due to the circumstances.

Have you noticed any differences in student behaviour such as motivation or activeness in class?

I think students appreciate our efforts and they reciprocate by really trying their best. Of course, extra effort was needed from them when I had to reorganise the course. For example, I asked my students to document the discussion happening in the break-out rooms. In the regular environment, I make notes in the classroom about participation and now it becomes the task of the students. Fortunately, everyone is very understanding. I cannot say anything yet about changes in terms of their results but from the quality of their presentations and assignments, I can say that the quality did not deteriorate in comparison to the previous years. I do understand that it is probably harder for them since they have to cope with this new way of living but we all experience the same thing. I also have two children which I have to home-school now, as do many of my colleagues.  

Do you have any tips and tricks for other professors?

I think my colleagues and I who taught this block have put together some nice manuals for our other colleagues, which we can share. I believe it is important that professors see the online part of the class as a part of the overall course design. If you want to decide to split the class into smaller groups, or if you would like to dedicate portions of the class to self-study, there are technical ways to do it. You just need to take a leap of faith. What works for others does not necessarily work for you, so try the technology but be prepared to scale it down and to try something else. It’s not fool-proof but ask for help and feedback from your students and ask for understanding. There is no ideal platform, but the platforms do allow us to accumulate some knowledge about what we can and what we cannot achieve.

My second piece of advice is to change your mindset. Do not only look at this time as a time of crisis but also as an opportunity. The current circumstances provide a great opportunity to try new things and achieve something which we can always use in the future. In just a few weeks, we made a gigantic step from the traditional form of education to something which really belongs to the 21st century. My last advice is to exchange ideas and educate each other. We learn faster from talking to each other and sharing experiences than waiting for the memo from the university. Of course, some guidance from the University is necessary when it comes to issues such as cyber-security, privacy, and the organisation of exams, but the tips and tricks are the things we can learn from each other.

Associate professor