Prof. Dr. Hans-Jürgen Kaftan, Vice-President for Academic Affairs and Continuing Education, on converting actual classroom teaching to a digital format and the flexible study options available for regular full-time students and students enrolled in career-integrated programs.
Professor Kaftan, Anhalt University of Applied Sciences launched its digital lecture period on April 20. Were all of the departments within the past few weeks able to successfully convert the scheduled lectures, seminars or practical courses into digital formats? Are there any areas where digital teaching and learning will not be possible?
The online courses at Anhalt University have indeed been started thanks to the great commitment of our teaching staff. It is really impressive how quickly lectures and seminars have been converted into digital teaching and learning formats over the course of the past few weeks. Staff primarily used video conferencing and video recording tools for this transition. For instance, on our first day of lectures, 300 classes were held using online conference systems and no major problems were reported. Digital teaching on this scale is uncharted territory for our teaching staff and students. The same goes for the university's service facilities. Staff at the Student Service Center, the IT Service Center and those coordinating our career-integrated and degree programs taught in English have also managed to create the organizational and technical structures required to set up digital teaching and learning courses. Again, I must reiterate, they achieved this with immense commitment and over a rather short period of time. Despite the many possibilities open to digital teaching, practical classes in laboratories, workshops and outdoors, for example, are very difficult to carry out virtually. However, we are also preparing appropriate solutions to this problem within the framework of our flexible academic year.
Not all students have efficient network connections and computer capacities at home. Are there plans, for instance, to reopen computer pools when Saxony-Anhalt’s Fourth Containment Ordinance comes into force on May 4? What has to be done to make this happen?
Since this problem will affect some students, we have already been in talks with the department heads to make sure that a selection of our PC pools will be open to students. Naturally, we have to minimize the risk of infection and to ensure that the health of our students is protected. Such measures include limiting the number of users per PC pool, increasing the distance between the individual workstations and ensuring access to proper hand hygiene. In the next few days, departments will provide students with detailed information regarding the requirements for using the computer pools.
Many students are wondering how they can coordinate the flexible academic year, lectures and examinations to suit their personal situation. For example, will they have to take examinations during the period when lectures are held, or will they be able to do an internship (Berufspraktikum) during the lecture-free period of the summer semester? How should they go about this?
The guidelines for the implementation of teaching and examination procedures at Anhalt University of Applied Sciences and all subsequent exceptions have been designed to provide students with flexible options so that this summer semester does not become a lost semester. Students who have exams pending should contact their academic advisors in good time to discuss the possibilities and requirements for sitting these examinations during the period when lectures are held. Internships (Berufspraktika) are an important part of a degree program in order to acquire practical skills and, in addition to the bachelor's thesis, they generally form the final component of a degree program. Therefore, postponing an internship is generally not an option. I would, therefore, advise students who have to complete an internship this summer to start enquiries with suitable companies. The department internship coordinators (Praktikumsbeauftragte) and the university's career service will be happy to support students with this.
What does this semester look like for career-integrated students?
Even students on career-integrated programs, who have so far only travelled from all over Germany to the university’s campuses to attend classes during their periods of required attendance, are largely being taught in the form of online or distance learning since April 20, 2020. Proof of the required academic work is initially done online or with other suitable alternative types of examinations. Since currently it is not possible for individual teaching staff and students to travel to Bernburg, Dessau or Köthen, digital teaching formats will also have to suffice here. The availability of digital teaching content via the university's learning management system has already been common practice for our very extensive self-study periods. The academic schedule for the summer semester is being adjusted by the degree program advisors as they see fit (e.g. condensing the semester, postponing modules). However, we are making every effort to ensure that students do not have to face any disadvantages as a result of this.
Last week, the universities and the Saxony-Anhalt Ministry of Science agreed that events and examinations requiring attendance can be held under strict hygienic conditions and in small groups starting from May 4, 2020. Does that mean that examinations, possibly even lectures, seminars and lab/studio classes will soon be held on campus again?
All classes that can be taught using digital teaching and learning formats will not be held as face-to-face courses this summer semester. This includes in particular all lectures. Examinations may be held from May onwards. Lab/studio classes and seminars most likely will only be possible in exceptional cases, with a limited number of participants and in compliance with social-distancing rules and contact restrictions. In this case, the required measures and specifications are currently being drawn up and will be published promptly on the university's website.