Post-corona perspectives: How the pandemic will change university teaching

Not only schools face new challenges in their teaching practice due to corona: Universities also have to respond to the consequences of the pandemic on an ongoing basis since last year. What is the status quo of the KU’s teaching practice? In retrospect, what has gone well? And what perspectives do the insights gained open up for the time after corona? These questions were explored on the occasion of the KU's annual University Teaching Day, which took place as a digital format in a video stream. Outside the daily university routine, this event has offered KU lecturers and students an opportunity to reflect on the University’s teaching practice for several years now.

"All of us at the KU have experienced a steep learning curve. The past months were a turbo boost for digital and hybrid teaching", described Prof. Dr. Markus Eham, Vice President for Studies and Teaching. Eham did, however, not share the fear that in the future, on-campus teaching would generally be replaced by digital formats. Rather, he said, it was important to examine where the advantages and disadvantages of digital media as a special type of learning lie: "How can didactical added value be generated that makes face-to-face teaching even more fruitful?" Within a short time, courses in the summer semester had to be converted to digital formats. Nevertheless, as Anja Schorr from the KU Computer Center reported, over 90 percent of the more than 1,500 planned courses could be held. In the current winter semester, only 47 of almost 2,000 courses had to be canceled due to corona.

In a review, Eham and Schorr presented various examples of digital formats that were also particularly special due to their collaborative character – for example, a seminar on computer games from the perspective of political education as a joint project with the TU Dresden, a virtual journey to German and Austrian congregations in a theology lecture, or a podcast project implemented by the Journalism Department on the history of Eichstätt. A large conference on sustainability issues with students from several universities and numerous speakers could also successfully be transferred to an online format at short notice. Dr. Sandra Stadler-Heer from the Professorship of English Didactics, in turn, offered students of teaching degree programs the opportunity to gain practical experience in teaching at partner schools despite the pandemic situation by skillfully integrating various web tools. She also offered training for the internship teachers there – both in view of technical skills as well as didactic and methodological training. Among other things, she designed micro training courses in the style of explanatory videos as are famous on YouTube, "to make things a little bit easier," as she described.

In the subsequent discussion round on the University Teaching Day, participants took a view to the teachers of tomorrow and Stadler-Heer emphasized: "We must get to a point where we no longer train only for traditional face-to-face teaching; we must be able to offer good subject teaching online as well." Daily teaching in schools and universities has also contributed to a democratization of education, she said, because the situation has often turned novices into experts – for example, with regard to the relationship between students and teachers in dealing with digital media.

As a member to KU's University Council and strategy consultant for universities, Dr. Isabell Lisberg-Haag made a fundamental plea for even greater attention being paid to digital skills in appointments of university lecturers in the future. After all, she said, the KU's productive approach to the challenges of the pandemic does not represent the reality of the German higher education landscape. "While digital teaching does offer positive aspects with regard to inclusion, it also poses new hurdles at the same time. Not all students may be able to afford the appropriate equipment", Lisberg-Haag pointed out. Here, the KU also has to transfer its social profile to the digital world.

Svenja Trump, who is a member to the Student Representatives Council, noted that it was positive that lecturers always asked for feedback during the course, which was then incorporated into the further development of the classes. For the time after Corona, she would like to see more room capacity for group work and meeting spaces. Because, as a nationwide survey shows, students in particular miss the social contacts on campus that are prevented by corona.

In this context, both Prof. Dr. Klaus Meier (Professor of Journalism and Ars Legendi award winner) and KU Vice President for Research, Prof. Dr. Jens Hogreve, characterized the KU as a special place of teaching that is not only a place of learning, but also a living space. "Knowledge must always be a co-creation. Here, I would like to see us no longer discussing whether a course takes place on-campus or online. The focus must be on the question of which way is suitable in each case for the interaction I want to experience with the students", Hogreve said. Professor Meier emphasized that corona has generally demonstrated the value of good teaching: "We will see that our good face-to-face teaching can be ideally complemented by digital formats.”

The overarching goal of universities must be to promote thinking skills, to support creativity and to allow students to grow as personalities, emphasized Vice President Eham together with Thomas Sporer, Head of the Department for Education Innovation and Knowledge Transfer. In line with a hybrid approach, online teaching could serve purely to impart knowledge, while face-to-face teaching could increasingly be used to accompany learning processes and implement projects.

The video recording of the University Teaching Day is available on the KU’s YouTube channel.