A completely new challenge awaits all status groups at the TUHH over the next few months. The semester is to start fully digitally. But digital teaching is still completely new territory for most of us. So it's understandable that some are looking ahead to the next few weeks with misgivings. But the external compulsion to follow the digitization trend a little faster than many might like also holds opportunities.
In the following, we would like to explain how we students imagine successful digital teaching. The focus here is on weighing synchronous and asynchronous courses and what these concepts mean in the context of digital teaching.
At the core of all teaching are the exchange and interaction between teacher and learner. As a rule, these are inherent in the structure of university teaching. Lectures, lecture hall exercises and tutorials offer a synchronicity of teaching and teaching reception. Thus, these formats normally allow instructors to involve students in the design of courses. Conversely, with such concepts it is also possible for students to participate proactively, to ask questions and to grasp teaching content in greater depth through active participation.
This possibility should not be lost even in times of digital teaching. Recordings and purely frontal streaming offers are not sufficient to replace otherwise interactive teaching. In addition to this danger, however, digitization also offers great opportunities for synchronous teaching. Through the competent use of chat functionalities, interaction between participants and lecturers is possible to a degree that remains unattained by analog formats. Anonymous requests to speak can further lower the inhibition threshold for questions and comments on the course. In addition, a chat enables a parallel exchange among the participants beyond the circle of seat neighbors. In addition, survey tools can be used more easily and in parallel than, for example, clickers, in order to further increase the interactivity and activation of the students. For this purpose, it may be useful to implement courses with additional support on the part of the lecturer in order to facilitate coordination of chat, surveys, etc., as is common in modern streaming offerings.
In addition to the opportunities for synchronous teaching, there are also great opportunities in asynchronous teaching. Recordings of courses, the upload of extensive exercise and solution sheets, as well as online tests are, in our opinion, not only useful but also necessary as an extension of synchronous teaching formats.
On the one hand, the provision of such teaching aids allows students greater flexibility in their own learning process. It becomes easier to prepare for and follow up on courses. If these formats are particularly well implemented, we can also imagine a partial replacement of synchronous teaching formats with asynchronous formats. For example, a combination of asynchronous scripts or recordings and exercises for self-study in one week in combination with a question and answer session/interactive study in the other week is conceivable for us.
Asynchronous teaching also offers the possibility of minimizing problems with course overlaps. Particularly in the case of courses that deviate from the prescribed normal, students are often unable to attend certain courses synchronously. Asynchronous teaching formats can mitigate this circumstance in that they can support students in their self-study.
In addition, two other circumstances of the current crisis can be mitigated by asynchronous teaching formats that might otherwise become a burden for some students.
On the one hand, facilitated self-study also enables students who are dependent on work at lecture times due to the current tight job situation or the sudden loss of parental support to continue their studies without delay.
On the other hand, the division of courses into halves of the semester could lead to very long periods between course content and the exams. In these cases, asynchronous teaching formats can enable better preparation for exams and more in-depth study of the course content.
Lastly, we even see a necessity in the expansion of asynchronous teaching offerings, as fully synchronous teaching can lead to very long screen times for students. This is already not necessarily healthy under normal circumstances, since students are not equipped with appropriate work safety measures such as adjustable workstations etc. in their homes. However, this becomes particularly critical for people with limitations, such as impaired vision or hearing. For these groups of people, participation in a fully synchronized course might thus not only be unhealthy, but not possible at all. This topic is of such importance to us that we will comment on it again separately.
Thinking one step further
If teaching is implemented in the sense of the aspects described above, we are convinced that fully digital teaching can be a success for both teachers and students. However, we could even imagine thinking one step further. So far, there has been little or no opening up of parts of the asynchronous teaching program at the TUHH. Internationally and in Germany, however, this is no longer a rarity. For example, lectures and shorter teaching videos from MIT or TH Köln have been available on YouTube for years. This not only makes it possible to make teaching content accessible to non-TUHH members without major additional effort or costs. Publications of this kind can also generate immense reach. MIT professor Walter Lewin, for example, reaches 567,000 subscribers with his lectures and up to 2.8 million views per video. The German channel Welt der Werkstoffe also has 20,000 subscribers and in some cases over 100,000 views per video. This large reach not only makes it possible to get schoolgirls and prospective students excited about engineering topics. It could also be a way to further establish the TUHH as a place of good education and progressive thinking.
We believe that in addition to all the difficulties of this new crisis and the challenges of the coming year, we also have a multitude of new opportunities. Instead of despairing over the challenges, we should focus on and seize these very opportunities. We therefore call on all status groups to use the coming period to work constructively on innovative solutions. Our position is as described above. We would like to see all stakeholders familiarize themselves with the possibilities that digitally synchronous teaching concepts can offer. In our view, this is the only way to compensate for reduced face-to-face communication. We also believe that fully digital teaching cannot function without an expansion of asynchronous teaching options. However, it is precisely in this necessity that we also see the greatest opportunity. Through an expansion of asynchronous teaching formats and a progressive competence of teachers and learners with digital teaching, we see the opportunity to meet the zeitgeist of digitalization, interactivity and individuality. In this way, we could experience progress rather than a setback as a result of the crisis.