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Best practices

Activating working methods

How do you engage students in times of corona? Sara Brandellero, co-chair of Latin American Studies, created assignments that require a wide range of skills. And the result was beautiful.

Read the interview with Sara Brandellero Challenging the digital natives.

Digital examination

N=300, T=120, Proctoring: No, Remindo: Yes

Online Philosophy of Science exam, with the option of collaboration.


Due to the covid crisis, the Philosophy of Science for the Humanities examination could not take place physically. But how do you offer an online multiple choice exam for hundreds of students without encouraging all kinds of cheating?


The two forms of cheating that could easily take place are using books/literature and consulting with other students. Of course, you can try to somewhat discourage this by increasing the time pressure and randomizing the order of the questions, but that doesn't get to the root of the problem. Instead, I have chosen to embrace the new situation. I have made the exam an open book exam, with fewer questions that delve deeper into the texts the students have read. And I gave the students the opportunity to work together with up to three other students. Everyone writes their own exam, but they were allowed to consult with three others; and on the exam form they were asked to mention those other students as well.


Cheating is prevented. Students come into contact with the study material again in an educational way, by discussing it with each other. The questions can delve deeper and become more interpretative. And the grades were not very different from usual.


Of course, you have to think very carefully about the questions you ask. Anything the students can look up within a minute is not a good question - they really need to show some form of insight.


I was inspired by the clip Flipping the Class Exams by Frans-Willem Korsten. (You can watch the video in the Videoportal).

Victor Gijsbers 

Flipping the classroom

The challenge: take three hundred students from widely varying fields and teach them the basics of academic thinking in twelve lessons. Impossible? Professor Ben Arps and his team of tutors did it. A flood of positive student evaluations was the result.

Read the interview with Ben Arps on Flipping the classroom.

In Dan Levy's article The Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Balancing Act you can think carefully about the structure of your online education and prepare yourself with two simple questions:

  1. How do you divide the content of your course into synchronous and asynchronous educational material?
  2. How can I learn to use asynchronous teaching material so that live lecturing becomes better?

The article contains good examples of how you can split the educational content. Dan Levy speaks of the 'laundry test' for asynchronous activities. A student recently told him that if he could fold the laundry during an online lecture, he would watch the recording of the lecture and not participate live.
By building in a step between the asynchronous learning and the live session with students, you can find out more about the students' progress and what concepts they are struggling with. As a lecturer, you can also use this step to allow students to prepare the asynchronous material properly. In this way you can also adapt your live lecture to the students' reactions.
Dan Levy's general tip: start small, change a few lectures first and see if it works.

Online education

Do you know what a chatblast is? Do you encourage casual encounters between students online, now that physical chatting after class is not possible? Or do you create a playlist to make waiting until a video lecture begins more exciting? On 12 November 2020, Ionica Smeets, professor Science Communication at W&N, gave a surprising webinar about 'communicating during strange times'. She offers very useful and tangible tips for online education in the context of the new series Nuffic meets...... which she based, among other things, on Dan Levy's article The Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Balancing Act and her own experiences during her lectures.

Ionica Smeets' webinar consists of three parts of about 20 minutes. The first part (starting at 24 minutes) is about science communication, in the second part (starting at 40 minutes) Ionica offers very useful and tangible tips for online education and stimulating interaction with students. The final part is about communicating in an international context.

On the last subject, 'Internationalisation', she is optimistic. Look at what the current situation does make possible. She offers tips on how to collaborate internationally, also on education, with researchers and lecturers from all over the world. Are you already thinking about your lectures and your course in the second semester? If so, invite an international guest lecturer who can offer an interesting (perhaps non-Western) perspective on the content of your subject by having the guest lecturer teach an online lecture.

The link to this webinar will remain available until the end of December 2020.

The webinar consists of three parts

  1. Science Communication (starting at 24 minutes)
  2. Online education: good practices (starting at 40 minutes)
  3. Internationalisation: what is possible during the corona pandemic

Redesigning your course

What is it?

Online multimedia "textbook": The study material consists of twelve digital multimedia lessons with plenty of variety: texts, video-talks by the author/lecturer, case studies, reading material, interactive knowledge checks. The academic reading material is embedded in the lessons. These articles are by definition difficult. In prior, engaging case studies - short documentaries, interviews, news articles, web pages - academic issues and theoretical concepts are implicitly addressed. All of this is offered online in a format accessible on your computer, tablet or smartphone.

What was the occasion?

Threefold: (1) The lack of a general textbook for area studies. (2) The need for case studies to bridge the gap between students' knowledge and interests on the one hand and the abstract topics and concepts of area studies on the other. (3) The need for online education (Covid-19). Make a virtue of necessity!

How do you go about it?

Think in terms of Generation Z, but do not make any concessions regarding the end goal: academic reading, writing, speaking, observing, analysing. Use Rise Articulate, Kaltura Capture and reliable and interesting materials on the web.

The advantage

The learning material is varied and divided into short pieces. It is accessible 24/7.

Assessment of the work format: number of stars (max 5):



Make sure that each part requires 5 to 20 minutes of concentrated work. (The reading material - academic articles - is an exception.) But avoid disorientation: indicate time and again how the section in question fits into the whole.

And: start, as an experiment, with a lesson or two. Just like making a textbook, this is very fun to do, but a lot of work.

Number of students:
- 268, from 14 different BA and pre-Master's programmes


- one semester, 12 lessons
- Online in 2020/21, hybrid expected in 2021/22
Lesson 6 from the course 

Support enabled:
- Grant provided by ECOLe: use of student assistant in designing the case studies


Have you ever caught your students playing video games during your lecture or seminar? Have you ever wondered how you can make your students more engaged and help them learn more actively? Senior University Lecturer Florian Schneider designed his MA course The Politics of Digital East Asia to include XP as inspired by Pokémon.

Gamification is the inclusion of video game elements in activities that are not related to video games. It is an innovative concept within education and includes point systems, rankings, feedback, and rewards, which ensure that students achieve their learning goals.

Skills: Creative thinking, critical thinking, communication, cooperation.


Gamification can be applied to the whole course or just one or two elements of it. If you use gamification for a whole course, consider using XP or other video game scores that can easily be translated into a grade. This ensures that there is a clear connection between the game elements and the learning elements.

Testing in a course that uses gamification works best with a lot of small assignments or larger assignments in which the students should be able to see clearly how to earn points with every component of said larger assignment. If the students have to give each other feedback or evaluations on assignments, it will help promote the engagement of students with the course, each other and the subject matter.

Various platforms such as Brightspace and Pitch2Peer work well with gamification.

A student's thoughts

Marit: I took a course that uses game elements. I was able to gain XP by doing assignments and the XP were then translated into a final grade for the course. I felt in control of how much XP I could gain, which led me to do a lot of assignments. As a result, I got a high grade for the course and I have learned valuable skills on how to present information visually.

Unfortunately, there were also elements of gamification that did not work as well for me. I'm highly competitive and, because you had to give feedback on the work of fellow students and rank them, I had the feeling that my work was never was never good enough. I struggled with these feelings a lot, because it felt like a constant battle with myself.  

All in all, I thought it was an innovative way of teaching that motivated me put effort into all the assignments for the course, but because of my personality I also struggled with comparing my work to that of fellow students


Pecha Kucha (Japanese for 'chit-chat')

Explanation of presentation format

In this activity, the student gives a presentation consisting of 20 slides, shown for 20 seconds each. This form of presenting has a set duration, which saves time.
The presentation is designed to focus on the visual aspects, challenging the student to engage with the material in a new and different way.

Skills: creative thinking, presenting, processing information, structuring

Group size: 1 person
Time: 6 minutes and 40 seconds

  1. Decide on a topic for the presentation.
  2. The student prepares a presentation of 20 slides, each shown for 20 seconds. It is possible to attach a time limit to slides in various presentation programs (PowerPoint, Keynote, etc.). For the slides it is important that it is mainly visual, so images with occasional quotes or definitions that contribute to the spoken words.
  3. The student practises the presentation several times to ensure that the student is comfortable presenting within the time limit and with the transitions between slides.
  4. The student gives the presentation during class/tutorial.
  5. Optional: Other students in the class can give peer reviews as an assignment in order to keep focus on the presentations.

Teaching experience

Andrea Giolai: Since I was a bit dissatisfied with the classroom dynamics in one of my MA courses, I decided to include Pecha Kucha to stimulate student participation. Many students have never done a Pecha Kucha presentation before, so it is a fun, new experiment: this spirit of experimentation gives a sense of ease to the whole class, which invites open-hearted discussions on how to improve specific presentation skills, master public speaking, and craft better presentations more generally. The risks of this format include the rigid timing and the possible dullness of having serval presentations in a single meeting. To try to put yourself in your students’ shoes, consider starting the course by giving a Pecha Kucha presentation yourself: it’s challenging, but a lot of fun!

How does it help students?

Marit: When I first saw a Pecha Kucha, I thought it was an interesting presentation format. The speed at which slides change makes it easy to keep attention on the presentation. In addition, the many visual elements accompany the story quite well.

I was up first when we had to give a Pecha Kucha for the first time, which was exciting but also challenging, because I was unsure of what was expected of me in this particular context. I know that I talk fast and therefore I know that I can convey a lot of information in a short period of time. However, the real challenge was to find the right balance between just talking a lot and conveying the story in a comprehensible way. The importance of images on the slides was a godsend to me, because I prefer not to have big chunks of text on a slide.

I thought that Pecha Kucha was an interesting work format because I had to be more mindful when selecting what information was important enough to include and how to structure it clearly in order to make it understandable for the audience. I had to do a peer review assignment when others gave their Pecha Kucha and because of that I paid close attention during the other presentations. I would definitely be interested in giving another Pecha Kucha.

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