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The University’s digital revolution

Date:28 April 2020
Jouke de Vries
Jouke de Vries

It is generally incredibly challenging to implement changes in large organizations. This applies to all organizations, including universities. Complex universities are notoriously difficult when it comes to change. A British university director once compared implementing change at a university to reorganizing a graveyard: ‘You don’t get much support from the inside’.

An important prerequisite for change is a profound external shock – something that has been demonstrated by the coronavirus pandemic. While the University of Groningen had been ready for change for years, in terms of software, hardware, online teaching, ‘blended learning’ and ‘flipping the classroom’, staff and student behaviour barely changed at all. However, due to the necessary transition to digital teaching as a result of the coronavirus, the University has become fully digitalized and has seemingly found a new normal.

Change only becomes clear when the existing situation – the status quo – has been established. What will the future of the UG look like? I believe we have to work towards the optimal combination of online and in-person teaching. Students have accepted online academic teaching but have also indicated that they miss the face-to-face contact with their lecturers and ‘real’ interaction. The same applies to lecturers. The quality of online teaching could be much higher than what we have become used to.

In the future, we will have to find the perfect combination of online teaching and research, and face-to-face encounters: ‘blended learning’, a term I never fully understood before the coronavirus pandemic. This is the path that lies before us.

Maintaining the status of Groningen as an attractive student city – both for students from the Netherlands as well as international students – will be crucial. How can we make sure that the University Library remains a comfortable place to study, the ACLO a place to re-energize and the Usva a place to develop one’s talents and meet new people? That's what we need to address.

Jouke de Vries

President of the Board
28 April 2020