Tag für gute Lehre 2021: Research as the embodiment of teaching

6 Jul 2021

On 9 July, research prizes will once again be awarded to students – alongside teaching prizes for lecturers – under the aegis of "Tag für gute Lehre". For Oliver Jahraus, Vice President for Teaching and Studies, the awards serve a number of functions.

Professor Oliver Jahraus, Vice President for Teaching and Studies | © LMU

Professor Jahraus, what do you understand by good teaching? Professor

Oliver Jahraus: The Vice President for Teaching and Studies is actually not the right person to ask about this issue. Why? Because good teaching takes place in the faculties and in the individual disciplines. It is rooted in the excellent research engaged in in these contexts, to which it is always linked in one way or another. Research is the embodiment of teaching. And if we don’t first address the issue of research, we have no way of thinking about teaching.
I personally see my job as moderating dialogue about what good teaching is. I want to bring people together who, within the specific conditions and constraints of one of the top research universities, serve the cause of and strive toward good teaching.

The program Lehre@lmu came to an end when federal government’s Qualitätspakt Lehre (Pact for Quality Teaching) expired. So what part does Good Teaching Day still have to play?

Tag für gute Lehre (Good Teaching Day) is intended not only as a source of motivation but as a monitoring tool, too.Good teaching is a topic that is always present on the ground, where teaching takes place: in the various disciplines and faculties. The nominations we get for research prizes for students and teaching innovation prizes for lecturers give us a clear overview of what is happening at the faculties. And I have to say it is quite impressive to learn about the research projects being tackled and the didactic context in which they take shape!

In other words, the faculties and disciplines make every effort to give students a clear understanding of the context of their research?

Not only that. They create spaces in which, even in early study phases such as the bachelor phase, students can concern themselves with their own projects. There are projects that investigate ecosystems in other parts of the world, and others that address udder diseases in cows. I think that is fantastic.
One thing is absolutely clear: Good teaching is not going to end now that Qualitätspakt Lehre funding has expired! The people who have shaped and advanced Lehre@lmu to date are still hard at work. Better still, there are a large number of new and cross-faculty formats – on “artificial intelligence in higher education”, for example – that attach great importance to the topic of tuition. And that is not to mention the commitment shown by distributed institutions such as the Munich Center for Teacher Training (MZL), the Center for Leadership and People Management and ProFil.

Where will the funding for research and teaching innovation prizes come from now?

Essentially, awards such as the teaching innovation prizes, which recognize the ideas of the teaching profession, will remain. The prize money of 10,000 euros per prize will be awarded with the aim of reinvesting it in yet more innovative ideas.
I am really pleased that we have been able to enlist the support of the Münchener Universitätsgesellschaft, MUG (Munich University Society). The MUG’s funding means that we will now be able to award five teaching innovation prizes instead of four in the past. The society will also finance five research prizes for students. The remaining five (which this year turned out to be six, as an exception) will be financed by the university itself. I am deeply grateful to the Münchener Universitätsgesellschaft for assuming this funding commitment. In doing so, it has broadened the spectrum of its support, which now ranges from regular undergraduates (via the Deutschlandstipendium or Germany Scholarship) through students on bachelor’s or master’s degree courses to doctoral and postdoctoral students and even innovative lecturing staff.

Who picks the winners in either category?

The jury for the research prizes comprises representatives of all LMU’s main areas of study: the sciences, the humanities, the social sciences, economics and medicine. Almost all status groups – above all the students – are likewise represented. The jury for the teaching innovation prizes is identical to the composition of the Study and Tuition Committee. Non-scientific staff, including members of the study advisory team, are also involved as they have an excellent grasp of the realities of higher education.

How do the students rate tuition in general and the prizes in particular?

I have spent a lot of time talking to students in recent months, especially about teaching during the coronavirus pandemic. That obviously paints a selective picture, but still gives a good overall impression. Good teaching is a topic of great importance to the students, one on which they gladly air their views. And the vast majority of their feedback is positive. It naturally helps to have students involved in picking the prize winners, as they have a substantial say in both juries. The students are the interface between research and tuition – something you can only say about research-oriented universities.

So, you believe it is important to continue raising awareness of the prizes and of good teaching?

Of course it is! As I said, that gives you a good insight into what is happening at LMU. So yes, for that reason I want to beat the drum even more. I know that I will be making life harder for the juries if even more excellent concepts and assignments are submitted. That will naturally add to the need for discussion; and I personally find it hard to pick out the best assignments. This year, I thought all the submissions deserved prizes! The funds are limited, though. That said, trying to choose the right prize winners is one of the nicest “problems” we have at LMU!

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