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Prime Minister Rutte’s digital working visit to Groningen and Maastricht

‘You miss non-verbal communication, but other than that, it’s going well’
29 April 2020
Prime Minister Rutte’s digital working visit to Groningen and Maastricht

‘That was quite something!’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s ‘online working visit’ to the Intensive Care and Anaesthesia lecture given by professor by special appointment Eric van Roon this Wednesday morning made quite the impression on the 45 or so Master’s students of Pharmacy.

At 10.25 a.m. on the dot, Mark Rutte joined the lecture in BlackBoard Collaborate, which had already been going on for an hour and a half, with a cheerful ‘Good morning, Eric van Roon, Mark Rutte here!’. Shortly before that, he had paid a visit to Maastricht University. The technical support for both working visits was provided by the VSNU (Association of Universities in the Netherlands) office in The Hague, some 200 metres from the torentje (Mark Rutte’s office in the Dutch parliament building).

‘Thanks for letting me in, Eric. So, what are you doing today?’ Professor Eric van Roon, who works as a pharmacist at the Medical Center Leeuwarden’s intensive care department, explained that those attending the digital lecture are in the final year of their three-year Master’s degree programme and that the focus is now primarily on the practical side of the profession. He then talked about how to give a lecture via Blackboard Collaborate and about the field of Specialist Pharmacotherapy in relation to the coronavirus. ‘Just for my information, as a historian: will these students be responsible for making sure that we have good medication in the future?’ asked the Prime Minister. ‘Essentially, yes,’ responded the professor.

‘You really have to do it on your own.’

Besides Eric, two of the 45 students were also visible on screen in Blackboard Collaborate: Maxime Chieu and Frank Pierik. Rutte asked Frank: ‘What’s your social life like now? Do you actually still see your classmates?’ Frank admitted that he does still occasionally see some of his friends, while respecting the 1.5-metre rule, of course, but that it is much more difficult. Maxime agreed: ‘Things are very different, you hardly see your friends. It’s such a shame. Usually after a lecture you can talk about the exam material with your fellow students. We can’t do that now. You really have to do it on your own.’

Rutte was curious to find out how the students are finding online teaching. ‘It’s actually going quite well at the moment,’ said Maxime. ‘It’s great that the University was able to set everything up so quickly. But being able to sit next to each other in the lecture halls is much better.’

Prime Minister Rutte’s digital working visit to Groningen and Maastricht

Chat function

The coordinator of the Specialist Pharmacotherapy course unit, ProfessorKatja Taxis, also attended the lecture. She explained: ‘Technically, of course, it all has to work.But we have now also installed Blackboard’s ultra-collaborator feature, which we didn’t use before, and that is working really well.’Rutte was curious to hear more:‘Yes, you have chosen to use Blackboard. Why not one of the other tools where you can see everyone on screen at the same time?’Eric explained that only he and his presentation are visible on screen and that he can communicate with the students in the lecture via the chat function. ‘Of course, you miss non-verbal communication, but other than that, it’s going well.’The Prime Minister thinks that this might be a good option for the House of Representatives...

He was also curious to hear about the examinations. Katja explained that oral exams are ideal for this degree programme. ‘Oral examinations? Then you can waffle a bit when giving your answer, can’t you?’, joked the Prime Minister. Frank: ‘In Pharmacy, it’s a little harder to talk around the issue than it is in politics.’ Everyone burst out laughing.

Then it was time to bring things to a close. The Prime Minister wished Eric, Katja and the students the best of luck and reminded everyone to ‘stay safe and keep 1.5 metres apart’. And with that, he was gone. ‘That was quite something!’Eric decided to give his students a 10-minute break, and then continued with the last hour of the lecture.

House of Representatives

In another online session, Rutte spoke to Rector Magnificus Cisca Wijmenga, her colleague at the University of Maastricht Rianne Letschert and VSNU President Pieter Duisenberg.It seems that the day was well chosen: it was during exactly this day that the House of Representatives debated the situation faced by students during the coronavirus pandemic.

From The Hague to Maastricht, to Groningen and then back to The Hague all within an hour. Who will follow in the Prime Minister’s footsteps?

Last modified:01 May 2020 11.05 a.m.
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