Universities: difficulties of online teaching

Universities: difficulties of online teaching

A plea for a return to the university’s teaching of presences

In all german universities, the summer semester 2020 ran purely digitally due to the conditions imposed for the pandemic defense. The corona conditioned ‘online teaching’ should thus provide for a smooth flow in the tertiary education sector. Unfortunately, after a relatively short period of time, it became clear that digital teaching was creating new difficulties for students.

This has to do, on the one hand, with the problems arising from the corona crisis and, on the other, with digital teaching itself. In recent months, many students have lost their jobs, some have now gone into debt, and others have dropped out of college altogether (starting at 00:52 min.).

Scientific work without money

But if you don’t have the money, you can’t buy a laptop or the books for the seminar. Because the university libraries are only opening gradually and are only open for a short time, and by no means every book is also available digitally, you have to get these books yourself. Or one waits at present for books sometimes several months – for a seminar paper, which should be ready already.

This puts additional prere. Those who are looking for a job or simply have to work off their debts cannot study, and those who have no more money cannot satisfactorily complete their studies due to lack of resources. The only thing left to do is to get through somehow.

The problems of digital teaching

You only have to look at the comments under a post on online teaching to get a first glimpse: no laptop of one’s own, no fast internet – which in my own experience always ultimately leads to everyone having to turn off their cameras and microphone in online seminars so as not to overload the connection – online seminars can’t be followed up on when you’re absent because they’re not recorded, or the new workspace simply doesn’t fit with your own seminar schedule any longer. At the same time the pc rooms in the universities are still empty.

As a result of the previous relaxations and in order to anticipate these problems, the universities will make the following winter semester a mixture of prasence and online teaching. According to the german rectors’ conference, the teaching of presences will be used primarily for exchange students, first-year students and those who will complete their studies in the near future. However, this means that the majority of students in the winter semester 20/21 will continue to be dependent on purely digital teaching.

Equal opportunities and exchange

It is obvious that this is not enough to ensure equal opportunities. But there are also other reasons. For one thing, students who continue to rely on digital-only instruction also face higher costs: lunch is cheaper in the dining halls than ‘outside’, copies are cheaper in the universities, and expensive books can be borrowed for free there after all.

What is still often criticized by students with respect to digital teaching is the lack of exchange. Der physische raum ist begrenzt und genau deswegen zwingt er uns gewissermaben zum meinungsaustausch. In virtual space we can escape from it. Here is an example from an online seminar: four groups of 3 to 4 participants each were assigned to work on an ie. After the required time had passed, these groups should naturally present their results. The result was that no one (!) said something, one hoarded nothing and saw nothing. Since the online seminar was so stalled, the position was eventually skipped.

This would never have happened in a seminar group where everyone is physically present. Obviously, the virtual space creates conditions through which one can escape from possible discussion. Or you don’t have access to this discussion in the first place because of the aforementioned lack of preconditions. Now one or the other voice will probably counter that the exchange is also possible online. But this requires preconditions that are not given to everyone for a long time or that are difficult to achieve due to the current situation.

It cannot be in the interest of all parties involved that only those students can successfully complete an online semester who can afford it. Be it financially or because they are fortunately in a social situation that leaves them enough room for the university.

It is therefore too easy to evaluate the online semester only in terms of those who managed to complete it because they had the necessary resources to do so. This view alone no longer had much to do with equal rights or even an equal appreciation of all participants.

Apart from that – and who knows how this will develop in the future – a pure focus on digital teaching would eventually mean to close down the unis. A room full of servers was finally enough.

An orientation to schools and daycare centers

I therefore advocate an orientation of the universities to the schools and daycare centers. In the meantime, these educational institutions have shown that they are able to implement the right to education even in the current situation. Because the schools will be back in regular operation at the latest in the next school year.

In the daycare centers, this happened z.B. In brandenburg already on 15. June, in the berlin daycare centers one week later, on the 22nd. June. So the care is taken. Students who are also parents were able to take part in the winter semester’s teaching again.

And the call for a return to teaching in the present situation is by no means confined to students who, for reasons beyond their control, have not been able to access digital teaching. The 2.000 teachers – meanwhile there are 5.700 supporters – who in an open letter call for a return to prasenzlehre, also suggest orientation in schools.

However, if you take a look at the daycare centers and schools, you will not be able to avoid a discussion about the distance rule or the mask requirement. In the two educational institutions mentioned above, both are largely dispensed with. This can lead to an uncomfortable discussion, especially in the current situation, but basically there is no way around it.

For this reason – and if only to finally open up what i consider to be a necessary discussion on the design of the prasenzlehre in the universities – i also argue for the possibility of dispensing with the distance rule and the mask requirement within the prasenzlehre in the following winter semester. Just like in the daycare centers and schools.

A return to the prasenzlehre would also, at least in part, redress the unequal relations i have mentioned. And when the university fully reopens, it could z.B. Also reallocate jobs and thus absorb some of the students who have lost their jobs in recent months. From all the above-mentioned reasons it is also evident that only physically based exchange can achieve a quality that virtual space can only produce to a limited extent.

On the 5. July berlin’s roughest flea market opened its doors again: the flea market at mauerpark. This market has on a good day 40.000 visitors. That is more people than the fu-berlin has students. It is already possible to link health protection and the presence of a large number of people. The senate of the german rectors’ conference recently passed the following resolution: "priority for health protection – as much impact teaching as possible". And if a flea market can do it, a university should be able to do it, right??

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