Prof. Dr. Jörg Bagdahn, President of Anhalt University of Applied Sciences, talks about the digital start of the summer semester and how students can succeed in completing courses and examinations.
The spread of the coronavirus and the effect this has on the university’s teaching operations has been an issue at Anhalt University of Applied Sciences for quite some time now. Can you tell us what the University's crisis management team has had to deal with over the past weeks?
Over the past three weeks, the crisis management team has met on an almost daily basis. At the meetings, the university management passed the pandemic plan and plans for the restricted university operation. To protect our students and staff, we decided to cancel examinations, lectures and classes in labs and studios. At present, the majority of our staff work from home and libraries, computer pools, laboratories and workshops, that is all public facilities, are closed. Business trips, events, meetings have also been prohibited until further notice. By postponing the start of lectures to April 20, 2020, we want to do our bit in slowing down the spread of the coronavirus in Saxony-Anhalt.
What are the University’s plans for the summer semester? In what way will teaching and examination operations be affected by the current situation?
Although the summer semester 2020 is likely to be a challenge for staff and students, the university management has decided to set a date for when the teaching period will start. As it is not yet clear when regular on-campus teaching will be possible again, we will rely heavily on what online teaching means can offer.
What do your specific plans look like?
In order to be able to offer appropriate online teaching in all areas, all members of staff are currently cooperating − across all fields and areas of expertise. This includes, for example, that teaching staff decide what they want to teach their students online over the first few couple of weeks of the semester and what resources they have at their disposal to do this. We also have our own IT systems, our own server structures and we have our own specialist staff. Last but not least, experience and developments coming from our own Departments are at our disposal for this. Online teaching will first and foremost rest on what the learning platform "Moodle" has to offer and we will also be able to run seminars using video conferencing systems. Staff at degree-program and department level see to the details and provide students with everything they need to know on how this will work for them. Please understand that we will not be able to have the entire summer semester planned out by April 20 and that we will have to keep updating our schedule over the coming weeks.
In light of the current situation, will students be able to do the coursework required of them in order to successfully complete their courses?
The University’s Board of Management has decided to run the academic year 2020/21 on a flexible schedule, which means that
1) courses originally scheduled for the summer semester may have to be moved to the winter semester, and vice versa, and that courses suitable for online teaching and scheduled at a later stage of the curriculum may also be brought forward,
2) the period between July 26 and September 13, 2020, designated as non-teaching weeks in the current academic calendar, may be used for classes and/or examinations, and that
3) we may apply a flexible approach as regards course types and their specification in the degree program and examination regulations (lecture/Vorlesung, practical course/Übung, seminar, lab/studio class/Praktikum, independent study/Selbststudium).
With this approach we intend to create a framework for students to complete their courses, despite the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 crisis.
Students and staff can get a first taste of what distance and online teaching may look like when they access the digital training material (digitale Bildungsangebote) the university has made available on its website on April 1, the date on which the summer semester usually starts. What lies behind this step?
Students and teaching staff are currently facing the challenge of a digital semester start. The training material is intended to ease both parties into online teaching, reduce uncertainties and strengthen cooperation. The contents of this material are not part of the official curriculum, but rather meant as a way of preparing for a semester of distance learning. Since we have technophiles among our students and also among our staff, the idea is to share technology expertise, to talk about options and ways of making things work and, of course, to support each other.