Part 1: From the teachers’ point of view

11 May 2020

Things got off to a somewhat rocky start, but have now settled down – a good time to find out from members of LMU’s teaching staff how they experienced the opening phase of the first truly digital semester.

Julia Budka, Professor of Egyptian Archeology and Ancient Egyptian Art:

“One thing certainly hasn’t changed. – Although the new Summer Semester is still quite young, much has already become routine and familiar. My teaching schedule is proceeding as planned, except that everything is in digital format. I teach my undergraduate seminars and lecture program using a combination of Zoom and Moodle. Senior-level seminars and practical sessions require more creativity, and have been partly replaced by offline exercises and reading assignments. The only elements of the teaching schedule that have had to be dropped are visits to museums, and sessions involving the direct study of material artefacts and art – although virtual tours of museums are available and are experiencing a veritable boom.

All in all, the opening weeks of the new semester have gone by without any problems and, from a technical point of view, everything has worked very well so far. – I had already prepared and taught Moodle-based courses. So, for me, the extra effort required under the current circumstances has been relatively small.

However, teaching in a digital format quickly made me realize how much teaching itself means to me, how much I had missed it, and how much motivation one can derive from a successful teaching session! Although teaching via Zoom works very well, giving a lecture in video format is definitely more demanding than giving a lecture in front of a class. And I miss the bustle on campus, the hubbub in the corridors, and the physical presence of students that are part of my normal day. Passing the vacant dining hall on campus, while walking the dog at mid-day, has become a recurring reminder that nothing is normal at the present time. That makes me appreciate the regular schedule of video lectures and digital get-togethers with my students even more!

Tests and questionnaires have become part of my digital lectures, and that’s one element I will continue to use when the coronavirus crisis has subsided. In this case, the digital medium has indeed opened up new modes of interaction that one often misses in face-to-face lectures – perhaps because today’s students are already so familiar with digital communication.

The fact that the new semester has got underway without notable hitches should not lead us to forget the fact that the present situation confronts many students with serious problems – financial uncertainty, lack of the technical equipment necessary to take part in digital teaching sessions, the increased burden of child and family care. These are aspects of the corona crisis that are not as easy for Moodle to solve." Stephan Lorenz, Chair of Civil Law, International Civil Law and Comparative Law, and Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Law:

“I think one can now say that, having held lots of meetings, we made the right decisions. With the closing of the University Library system in March, it was quite clear that this Summer Semester could not proceed in the usual manner. In close consultation with the Office of Student Affairs, and with the support of the Students’ Council, the Faculty very quickly made necessary preparations to switch teaching programs at all levels to digital formats. This wasn’t difficult for me personally because, for years now, I have been recording my lectures as podcasts, and I am quite familiar with this technology at least. So, in this sense, it’s my ‘return on investment’ in digital teaching media. In addition, I teach live via Zoom, which necessitates some adjustments on both sides of the lectern. But I have the impression that we all got used to the format very quickly. Some of my colleagues have taken advantage of this digital semester to try out new teaching formats, which would be very difficult to realize for large audiences in the classroom situation. What really hurts students is that the libraries are closed to the reading public. And although the Faculty has significantly extended opportunities to carry out literature searches online, this of course cannot replace the social dimensions of group learning in the library.

It will be interesting to see what sorts of new examination procedures emerge. LMU has amended its statutes to permit greater flexibility in the structuring of exams. This has also made it possible to hold exams online, although the detailed planning involved was no easy task. The real test is still to come – but I’m confident that we will pass it.

This crisis has given us the chance to make significant advances in the area of digital education – and we are determined not to let this opportunity go to waste by trying to take the easiest way out or ‘going digital on the cheap’. Taking the rough with the smooth, we’ve made a good start.“ Lucas Stich, Lecturer at the Institute for Electronic Commerce and Digital Markets:

“We at the Institute for Electronic Commerce and Digital Markets began to consider very early on how we could best go about teaching our classes in the Summer Semester of 2020 exclusively in digital form. That gave us enough time to develop a suitable concept and to test various software options and tools for this purpose.

It was pretty clear from the outset that this semester would pose challenges that would demand a certain amount of flexibility and mutual accommodation from us all. On the other hand, the current situation also presents opportunities for innovation and creative solutions in both research and tuition. So my expectations for this semester were fundamentally optimistic

After a fortnight, I can confirm that our experiences in this first digital semester have been very positive. Not surprisingly, there are situations in which more work is required than usual. Then there is the basic problem of the lack of direct contact with students during and after lectures. Interactive exchanges and discussions are definitely more problematic online, at least in the case of courses taught to large numbers of students. In spite of that, I have the feeling that our digital teaching sessions have gone very well so far. That‘s certainly true of the kick-offs and subsequent meetings with participants in our project courses, in which our students work on real-life practical tasks set by our commercial partners. Our digital collaboration with firms and their individual software preferences has really been very successful up to now. Our user-oriented Master’s seminar on Data Analytics, which uses a markedly interactive approach and is normally held in our own computer laboratories, has got off to a very promising and encouraging start. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the staff of the IT department in our Faculty of Business Administration, and to the eUniversity team, for the marvelous work they’ve done to make all this possible.

I’m actually looking forward to the rest of this unusual semester. At the moment, we are doing all we can to optimize our palette of digital teaching programs. We are experimenting with various tools and exploring possible ways of finding the best equivalents for those elements of face-to-face classes that are difficult to realize online (in particular, we want to set up a return channel for bidirectional communication with students who use asynchronous digital formats). In the course of this semester, we also intend to evaluate the various formats and technical elements, and decide which we would like to retain when the present situation is over.“ Thomas Prokosch, Staff Member of the Institute of Informatics:

“At the end of last year, I agreed to take over the lecture series on ‘Programming and Modelling’ for Bachelor’s students in Informatics. So I was looking forward to seeing lots of new faces, but more particularly to enjoying the interactions that lecturing live makes possible. When I then heard that there would be no live lectures in Informatics until further notice, owing to the coronavirus pandemic, I was quite frankly disappointed – in particular, because, for technical reasons, video conferencing is not really designed to accommodate lectures that are intended for large audiences.

What then is the best way to ensure that the interactivity between students and lecturers can be maintained in online teaching courses? I was of course aware that prerecorded videos of the lectures for passive consumption leave little or no room for interactivity. So I argued for video streaming, which my students could follow live. We finally decided on Zoom for this purpose, because LMU was able, at short notice and in a non-bureaucratic fashion, to obtain a general license to use Zoom’s software – for which I would like to express my thanks! We also recommended the installation of software that would enable students and staff members to set up and participate remotely in discussion groups of various sizes. This type of software is indispensable for tutorials and demonstrations, and it also enjoys a very high degree of acceptance among students.

My own interactive online lecture series works as follows. While I set out and explain the content of the lecture, my colleague Felix Weitkämper keeps an eye on the written questions that the students send in, and relays them to me at an opportune moment. This enables the students to play an active part in the proceedings, and it enlivens teaching sessions in unexpected ways! Because the digital format allows me to concentrate fully on content, one student actually remarked that the lecture was better than it would have been in the lecture theater. That’s a big compliment, because it demonstrates that we have succeeded in meeting the standard we set for ourselves – namely to develop a digital teaching format that would be sufficiently engaging to bring us all through this very difficult time.“ Jan Lipfert, Professor and Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Physics:

“None of us is likely to forget the Summer Semester 2020. The virtually complete switch-over to digital forms of tuition is probably the most significant – peacetime – transformation of teaching operations in the more than 500-year history of our University! And I must say here that I have been very impressed both by the level of commitment and enthusiasm with which my colleagues have approached the task, and by the willingness of our students to face these challenges with us.

I am currently giving a series of lectures in a compulsory elective course for Master’s students via Zoom. The video recordings are also available on LMUcast, so that those who followed them on Zoom have an opportunity to review the material, and those unable to participate online have a chance to hear them. In addition, my lecture notes and other materials are accessible on the website devoted to the lecture series. The numbers ‘attending’ the lectures are comparable or even higher than in the previous semester, although many of them are not in Munich at all. For instance, two students are following the course in Northern Italy. And even when face-to-face lectures become possible in Munich, we will have to take into account that some of our students may still be in quarantine.

I am lucky to have had considerable experience with the use of digital teaching media before the onset of the corona crisis. For example, several years ago, I recorded a series of lectures given over the course of two semesters and made them available on LMUcast. In my lectures before a live audience I often use both pre-prepared transparencies alongside mathematical derivations that I write on a tablet during the lecture. At the moment, everyone is trying to provide resources for digital education programs, and I greatly appreciate these efforts. But I have to say that, up to now, LMU was not particularly well positioned in this respect. I hope that the exigencies of the present situation provide the motivation to invest massively in this sector when this crisis has passed.

The current situation is forcing us to experiment, to try out new approaches and strategies – and these are practices with which researchers in the Natural Sciences are well acquainted. As with most experiments, not everything will work well, and some things will have to be discarded when the situation returns to normal. Nevertheless, I am quite sure that this experiment will yield novel and unexpected insights, which will open up new and enriching opportunities for us all.” You might also be interested in:

Digital Education Logbook Part 2: On the receiving end “It will take a while for all concerned to get used to it. But there’s a good chance that it will turn out well!” Victoria (23) is studying for a Master’s degree in Germanic Languages. For her, as for so many others, the onset of the first truly digital semester required a period of adjustment. 

Teaching Awards Triple Crown for tuition Winning three titles is a rare feat in any discipline, but physics professor Jan Lipfert obviously has a rare talent for teaching. He is the first lecturer at LMU to win teaching awards from the Faculties of Physics, Chemistry and Biology.

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