“Learning online, discussing in person”

19 Jul 2022

We talk with Simone Cramer from the eUniversity unit at LMU about which vhb courses are available for students, why they are also valuable for classroom-based teaching, and what teachers should watch out for when applying.

Ms. Cramer, how has online teaching in Bavaria developed over recent years?

Simone Cramer: The most comprehensive range of e-learning courses in Bavaria is offered by vhb, which has 32 member universities throughout Bavaria. Since its foundation in the year 2000, 2.03 million places have been filled in its numerous online courses. Usage numbers were climbing sharply even before the coronavirus hit, but the pandemic caused them to surge again by up to 83 percent. In the 2020/2021 academic year at LMU, almost 25 percent of students took a classic vhb course, which is slightly above the vhb average for Bavarian universities. On average, LMU students attended 3.5 out of a total of 570 courses from 15 different disciplines.

What kind of courses are they?

There are three types in total. The best-known are the classic courses, which are integrated into the curriculum of a degree program as an (elective) compulsory course. Students from all over Bavaria can then take courses from the entire portfolio and accumulate ECTS points. Thus, the foundational knowledge does not have to be taught individually at every university, and students can find courses in more recondite subjects even at small universities and experience the faculty culture at other colleges. The best-attended LMU course last semester was in the foundations of chemistry, followed by medical courses, but law and educational sciences are also well represented.

What other types of courses are there?

Open vhb courses are addressed not just to students, but to the general public. As such, ECTS points are not awarded for them. Some open vhb courses are abbreviated classic courses – to give people interested in a course of study an initial impression, for instance. The courses can also be used for advanced vocational training or simply for general education. Meanwhile, smart vhb courses contain a 45-minute teaching unit that teachers can integrate into classroom lessons – for example, when dealing with a complicated subject. These courses must be clearly structured with interactive elements. In 2020 and 2021, there were 47 such smart vhb courses that were created by teaching staff at LMU.

How does the application process work for a course at vhb?

To get a classic vhb course approved, at least two Bavarian universities must be involved. At LMU, my colleague Corinna Friedl and I provide advice with the application. The internal deadlines for submitting applications are April 12 and October 12. Since 2012, 58 classic vhb courses have been developed at LMU alone. This puts LMU among the top three of the so-called consortium lead universities (konsortialführende Universitäten). And by the way, incentives are also available for improvement applications to update existing courses.

What should be noted when creating course contents?

Content development is time-intensive. For just two semester hours per week, content must be developed for around 30 learning hours. On the other hand, vhb very much wants applications to be successful, which tends to be rare for funding applications. There is also the opportunity to obtain advice from the project manager at vhb in advance. In addition, we recommend the free vhb workshops or e-tutorials.

Do some members of teaching staff make use of online courses as a time-saving device?

I wouldn’t think so, because it’s not as if there is less work involved. As a rule, teachers who offer online courses tend to be especially dedicated. Students enjoy the freedom of being able to learn at their own pace. And then they can collectively discuss the subject-matter at classroom-based events – the “flipped classroom” approach. Many teachers simply grew to like it during the pandemic and realized that e-learning can be an interesting complement. In particular, the compact smart vhb courses are very popular as an introduction to e-learning.

What are you looking for?