One of the features of UCR’s “small and intensive” Liberal Arts & Sciences educational mode is the ubiquitous possibility of face-to-face discussions between students and faculty. Not just in the classroom, also during office hours, in the hallways of academic buildings, and in café’s and libraries and sports-clubs and museums around Middelburg.
We value the extra communication layers of face-to-face meetings enough that we normally ask all applicants who can make it to Middelburg to attend their admissions interviews in person. In practice, this has resulted in the majority of Dutch and Belgian applicants being interviewed in person, while the majority of others have been interviewed via Skype and Zoom. This begs the question: What effects might such a difference in the nature of first encounters with UCR faculty have upon the types of (near-) native and foreign students that choose to join our community?
I became a full member of UCR’s team of admissions interviewers only in January, and only a handful of the interviews that I performed were before the onset of the Corona crisis. Afterwards, student-teacher interactions in much of real life moved into the world of Zoom and Skype. Therefore, most of my experience in talking with eager/nervous/curious/confused/inspired/inspiring applicants from nearby and far away have all been framed by the same window within the same laptop screen. This means that I have not been able to gather many new insights into the effects of different interview formats. Instead, both new and current students, framed by the same laptop screen, amazed me in how much they have in common with one another:
- A determination to pursue studies of several very different subjects, because not to do so would deny a part of who they are;
- A love of talking about real, important questions and answers that makes it all too easy to hold an hour-long conversation that feels like just 15 minutes;
- A fundamental need to be intellectually challenged, because if studies are easy, there must be much more that you could be learning;
- A bit of frustration due the disruption of studies, more than overshadowed by willingness to adapt, and impressive success at so doing;
- Real understanding of the challenges faced by the educators tasked with creating new ways to teach and assess them, and appreciation of and collaboration with those efforts;
- Joy in the experience of getting to know people and ideas from different cultures;
- Expressed passion by each and every one for tackling the problems of either environmental threats or social injustice or both;
- Considerable skill at finding and reading/viewing all sorts of academic material online… perhaps even enough to educate themselves… but…
- Missing oh-so-very-much real-world in-person learning and teaching, and looking forward oh-so-very-much to a Fall of 2020 at UCR when they can begin once again to share the world of the mind face-to-face.
Should UCR, in the interest of fairness, switch to a uniform policy of online interviewing? Perhaps. I need more information before daring to answer that question. What I DO know now is that we should never, EVER abandon the face-to-face teaching and learning or any of the other core components of small and intensive, communal, broad-based, international, theoretical and practical Liberal Arts and Sciences Higher Education that makes UCR such a special place to be.