Julius-David Friedrich is Project Director of the University Forum for Digitization at the Center for University Development. In his work, he deals with, among other things, higher education in the digital age and presents universities and politics with digital options for action. He was interviewed by Larina Klöckner.
Mr. Friedrich, do you see progress related to Corona in digitization in universities?
Yes, but the issue of progress is also related to where universities were already before the Corona pandemic. In Germany there is a heterogeneous field. A lot has happened at universities during the pandemic. But not everything contributes to long-term progress. For example, Zoom licenses were purchased to hold lectures online. This is often not something sustainable or reusable. But there are other cases where, for example, educational videos have been produced or already exist. This can still be used.
What is the biggest gain of the epidemic in terms of digitization?
The experience of group digital teaching – and for many educators also motivation to continue using digital. Before the pandemic, I would say that one of the biggest problems was educating teachers widely to try digital tools. Because of the pandemic, it only happened because there was no other choice. This is the basis for further progress.
Hybrid teaching in particular seems to be a concept he doesn’t really pick up on, at least at Berlin’s universities. How do you explain that?
What is meant here is hybrid teaching in the sense of ‘we give a lecture to which students can switch simultaneously’. I would say that the concept is an emergency and temporary solution. During the pandemic, it made sense to be able to connect digitally for health reasons. The question now is whether this setting is also useful from an educational point of view. I would exaggerate by saying that the hybrid concept is the worst of both worlds i.e. analog and digital. I don’t see any future in that.
[Lesen Sie auch Larena Klöckners Bericht über die Digitalisierungs-Lage an den Berliner Hochschulen – Stand Sommersemester 2022 (Tagesspiegel Plus/€): Was von E-Learning übrigbleibt]
But weren’t the lecture halls equipped for that anyway?
Lots of technology has been purchased in some cases. But there, too, are very heterogeneous. Some universities have equipped only two lecture halls and have experimented with the technology. Others spent a lot of money and equipped many lecture halls. But instead of investing more in technology that enables hybrid teaching, we must first ask ourselves what digitization can and should do in the future.
And what would that be?
One possibility is asynchronous digital teaching. We can use digitization to deliver knowledge transfer over the internet and thus use presence differently. The key word here is blended learning. I effectively combine teaching face-to-face with the digital world. I can convey content, for example in the form of videos, that students can view flexibly. Permission to transfer digital knowledge. The knowledge is then sent to the campus, where what has been learned is discussed on site.
So is the campus being used more for the active exchange between each other?
Yes, you have to ask yourself what do you want to use the campus for in the future and what is the added value of getting together. This does not mean for me that lecturing and pure knowledge transfer takes place in the first place. Teaching online almost exclusively during the pandemic has shown that there is a lack of exchange and acceptance in student life. If I transfer the knowledge online in the future, I will have the opportunity to respond to these needs on the site. Transfer of knowledge is only one component of any degree, and time for cooperation and exchange is just as important. Later in the professional world, students work together a lot on projects and have to be creative. These skills must be taught at university.
Are universities ready for this?
For many universities, there is still a long way to go to redesign the curriculum and campus. If you really want to implement this across the board, you will have to consider bigger building measures on campus. How many lecture rooms are required? What alternate spaces do you need? I can think of so-called creativity spaces, where students can create something together or work together on projects, or flexibly equipped rooms that allow for exchange and collaboration. This is not yet the case at many universities.
Are there universities in Germany that set a good example in this field?
There is not one good example. Alternatively, there are some approaches that show the building blocks of a future university. Macromedia University, Code University or Stuttgart Media University show what new learning spaces could look like. But it is also worth looking outside the box, for example at St. Pölten, where the flipped classroom was introduced across the board. In general, I think primarily in terms of co-ed universities. In other words, universities that use digitization naturally as well as opportunities for presence and which link both approaches meaningfully.