“A new era in teaching”

9 May 2022

Vice President Oliver Jahraus about the future of teaching and what it means for a university of excellence.

To coincide with the large-scale teaching symposium organized by the ProfiLehrePlus from 9 May - 13 May, LMU Vice President Oliver Jahraus talked to us about the importance of teaching for a University of Excellence.

How important is teaching in the context of a University of Excellence?

Prof. Jahraus: The relationship between research and teaching is often perceived to be like a set of scales. If a university is very strong on research and this side of the scales grows heavier, it is assumed that the other side goes up and loses importance. I am adamantly opposed to this notion because, at a university, research and teaching are intimately intertwined: A university that excels in research must also excel in teaching. Why? Because outstanding teaching breeds outstanding researchers. Conversely, good teaching also always follows the latest research conducted at the university. To my mind, then, there is no set of scales: The two sides are of equal value.

We want to give our students research-based teaching right from day one. That is very important to us, and it is a signal we want to send out to the wider higher education community – for example with prizes for students who were able to set up their own research projects because, in their early years, they were exposed to a form of teaching that does not merely demonstrate research but makes it a hands-on experience.

Prof. Oliver Jahraus, professor of German studies, has been Vice President for Studies at LMU since 2019.


As Vice President for Study and Teaching, you have close links to the faculties. What do you make of the last few semesters in the shadow of the coronavirus?

However you look at it, the last few semesters have been very challenging. I had been in office as Vice President for six months when the pandemic broke out. And what I saw, I would never have thought possible – in terms of both challenges and potential. You have to look at the numbers: With 54,000 students and 8,000 courses per semester, we succeeded in migrating to digital courses literally overnight. And we accomplished this feat because so many people at this University – especially the teachers in the central building, but also the students – played an active part in enabling this mammoth switch. It was a collective tour de force – “collective” truly being the operative word in this case.

That said, many of my colleagues wanted me, a member of the University management team, to give them a more reliable planning basis at this time. I knew that their demand was perfectly justified, but also that I could not give them this certainty, although we still tried to cushion the impact of changes of direction in corona policy. To this end, the Vice Presidents for Study and Teaching from all the Bavarian universities met every two weeks during this period.

How did LMU help its teaching staff to digitalize the courses?

One huge challenge was that a major dismantling project more or less coincided with the coronavirus pandemic when the federal/state government Qualitätspakt Lehre (Quality Pact for Teaching) was discontinued. So, we had to quickly get ourselves reorganized on two fronts. I would like to give a special mention to PROFiL, LMU’s teacher training qualification program. At this difficult time, PROFiL established itself even more firmly as a central port of call to help us learn how to raise digital tuition to a high didactic standard. The Central University Administration, the IT Division and the eUniversity too organized advisory and support services to meet the needs of the teaching staff.

However, since a major transition in teaching also incurs costs that we cannot cover out of our own resources, we also took part in new rounds of bidding. One involved the Stiftung Innovation in der Hochschullehre (Foundation for Innovation in Higher Education), where PROFiL too had already been successful as part of the Bavarian ProfiLehrePlus network. The associated symposium Konstruktiv, wertschätzend, digital – Beraten in der Hochschullehre (Constructive, Respectful, Digital – Consulting in Higher Education), which is now underway, is a clear signal for the start of a new era.

What is the ProfiLehrePlus network that is organizing the symposium?

All Bavarian universities, the Universität der Bundeswehr (University of the German Armed Forces) and the Virtuelle Hochschule Bayern, vhb (Virtual University of Bavaria) are part of this network. Bavaria’s universities have always maintained close links with regard to teaching, alongside networks spanning those university departments that handle these operations. So, since the infrastructure was already in place, it was only logical for LMU, acting within this network, to take part in the new Innovation in Higher Education bidding round. The aim is to improve the quality of digital tuition at universities in Bavaria. Our first major symposium is intended to make a clear statement: This network gets things moving. The topic is consulting as a source of stimulus for high-quality digital tuition – an important subject that will be explored from many angles through a host of fascinating workshops, lectures and keynote addresses.

To what extent does LMU benefit from cross-university collaboration on teaching?

LMU is a big place, of course, and we have resources that other, smaller universities perhaps do not have. Yet we can still learn a lot from other institutes of higher education. This kind of network is always about sharing ideas and discussing teaching conditions for all of us here in Bavaria.

At the same time, if the Bavarian universities all pull together, we can exert a greater influence on shaping these conditions in collaboration with the political echelons. That in turn can lead to more favorable conditions for improving and ramping up digital tuition.

But a university of the size of LMU surely also has to master unique challenges of its own?

Of course it does. We have 18 faculties, countless departments and as many as 400 courses of study, depending on how you count them. There can never be any one-size-fits-all didactic concept for such a wide variety of disciplines. What makes LMU unique, however, is that no one wants that: On the contrary, each discipline is given the freedom to develop the teaching culture that suits it best and to try out new things. That is why I see my job as Vice President for Study as moderating the debate around improving teaching and fostering a culture of dialogue. The Tag für gute Lehre (Good Teaching Day), an event focused squarely on this topic, is one aspect that springs to mind. Others include research prizes for students to recognize and promote research activities during the study phase.

What are your plans for the future of teaching at LMU now that many areas have returned to regular operations?

This is an exciting time, because we have a big question to answer: “What will the new era after the pandemic emergency regime look like?” One thing I can say straight away is that LMU is not about distance learning. Direct, face-to-face dialogue in events, lectures and seminars is at the core of what we are, but also beyond that – in university life, in dialogue between students and between groups at the University.

On the other hand, we have learned a lot about forms of digital teaching during the coronavirus pandemic, and we are not about to mothball all that. How will we use it in the future? Where does it make sense? There is no standard answer to these questions. For me, in my capacity as moderator, it will be a particularly exciting phase. The faculties have already got their thinking caps on, and my goal is to let everyone participate in this process. LMU is investing heavily in it and has set up a fund to support teaching. Because there is one thing we can be sure of: The future will no longer look like what we knew before corona. No, we are about to experience a new era in teaching.

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