What does the maximum student capacity mean for BME?

The challenge became clear for the Director of Education of Biomedical Engineering (BME), René van Donkelaar as soon as he heard the government announcement: in three weeks, students were allowed to attend on-site teaching in groups of up to 75 people. BME has courses with over 200 enrolled students. "At this moment, we are contacting every lecturer to find out what they think is the best for their course."

photo Vincent van den Hoogen

To act fast is the motto of Biomedical Engineering. Van Donkelaar expects an official message soon about the strategy TU/e will employ for the new measure. However, he does not want to wait for it. "Priceless days will be lost. At BME, we have been trying to handle the entire Corona crisis at our discretion. Experience shows that the sooner you act, the bigger the chance of success. Of course, sometimes adjustments need to be made when a different decision has been finalized. Nevertheless, it is always better than idle waiting", writes the Director of Education in his response.

Smaller courses, such as electives in the master's, can continue as they are. However, the major in particular has various courses with "too many" students (200 to 250) per course.

"The press conference was Friday night. By Sunday, our coordinator, Mariëlle Bosboom, had already prepared an overview of all the courses that needed adjustments and what options wouldn't be possible for which courses. Aside from the introductory lecture for the freshmen and an IT training, there are still nine courses that need adjustments and two courses we need to keep an eye on in terms of the capacities. On Monday morning, we have mailed all lecturers involved." BME has almost forty lecturers, some part-time, and not all are active in the first quarter.

Own choice

Van Donkelaar thinks that it is essential that lecturers decide for themselves, "Because the best choice is very much dependent on the course. We are going to try to organize it in the way that the lecturer prefers."

One of the options is teaching the course in a lecture hall for 75 students and streaming it for the remaining students at home. "That sounds good, but it is impossible to carry out. We work with time slots of four hours. Following the two-hour lecture, there are also two hours of supervised self-study or seminars. Those are scheduled now in groups of less than 75 people, thus divided into three or four lecture halls. Students need to be on campus within fifteen minutes after the live stream to attend the self-study. That is near impossible for most. It would only work if the students decided to watch the stream on campus. Though if everyone were to do that on campus, then there wouldn't be enough space, and MetaForum would end up overcrowded."

A different alternative is relocating the hours that were planned in the lecture halls to multiple smaller halls. Instead of the two-hour lecture followed by the two-hour self-study, you will end up with four hours in the smaller setting. Nonetheless, Van Donkelaar knows it is not feasible to have three lecturers teach simultaneously in three different lecture halls. "Moreover, many of those self-study halls are not meant for lectures and, as a result, aren't furnished with the customary audiovisual equipment."


For now, BME has made reservations for extra halls, sent out a request to adjust the furniture to 75 students, and is trying to arrange audio equipment at the Information Management & Service (IMS) for the halls they might use for the seminars. "If necessary, we can also purchase microphones," says Van Donkelaar.

He expects that many departments will let the lecturers decide what they want to do. "I also expect that we will run into trouble if all the departments need to divide the students into groups of 75 people at most. As a result, there will be courses that once again need to be taught online. It is a shame".

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