unizeit Schriftzug

Improving and modernising teaching

Vice President for studying, teaching and continuing professional development, Professor Markus Hundt, knew what he was getting himself into when he was elected to this post by the University Senate on 7 October last year. Yet he still enjoys the work, partly due to the challenges posed by corona conditions, he emphasises in an interview with unizeit.

Markus Hundt
© Jürgen Haacks, Kiel University

unizeit: Together with President Professor Simone Fulda; the two other Vice Presidents, Professor Eckhard Quandt and Professor Nele Matz-Lück; and Chancellor Claudia Ricarda Meyer, you now form the inner circle of leadership at Kiel University. What motivated you to take up this office?

Markus Hundt: First and foremost, the fact that although I have the greatest respect for research, my convictions lie in the importance of teaching at a university. I wanted and still want to contribute to us improving and modernising this aspect further. And then of course we have this special situation, which changes virtually everything with the almost complete switch from in-person teaching to digital formats. It's not every day that you get the opportunity to play a leading role in such a process.

How are you coping with and in this exceptional situation?

It's very intense right now. Of course, it entails a huge effort when 28,000 students and a four-digit number of professors and other lecturers need to go digital. That called for and still requires our best efforts at all levels. Didactic methods need to be adapted on the one hand, while the students certainly need to draw on skills such as self-organisation. And, as for so many people, the situation was very, very different, especially at the start. Some find it easier, others harder. When the blanket switch to digital teaching began in March 2020, I wasn't yet responsible as Vice President, but this issue will most certainly shape my and our work for a long while to come.

How do you regard the current status of digitalisation?

Continuing development, the expansion of servers and other hardware, the adjustment of the OpenOlat learning platform, new software, innovative concepts for digital teaching, all of these are key issues that have long been there, but which have assumed great urgency through corona. We've really achieved a massive amount here in a short time. The willingness of lecturers and students alike to adapt to the new circumstances and formats was very strong right from the outset. Perhaps that is the deciding factor in why we have got through it so well so far. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone involved for taking on the additional workloads and helping us to continue providing study and teaching despite this difficult situation.

Aside from the fact that we barely see anyone in person, what are the practical changes?

What comes to mind here are things like the form and content of examinations. If they take place in digital form – and that is now certainly the case – it doesn't necessarily make sense to pose purely knowledge-based questions. Where possible, they should be tasks which require students to solve problems themselves and apply their knowledge. Yet the switch from the usual face-to-face teaching events to digital formats demands a great deal from lecturers and students.

Aside from the primary issue of digitalisation, you must have looked into other issues for your three-year term.

Above all, the Future Contract "Strengthening studying and teaching", which is a federally and state-financed agreement that replaces the previous Higher Education Pact. At the start of the winter semester 2021/22, the successor regulation approved at the end of 2020 will be fully put into practice, and until then Kiel University has several challenges to overcome. How can teaching be ensured at a high level across the board in all degree programmes, where does teaching need to be improved, where would possible new degree programmes be appropriate, and what is necessary to strengthen teaching structures in general? These are the questions that must be focused on. The new Future Contract could also bring about a better future for non-professorial teaching staff. In the past, they have had to live from project to project and should now receive more reliable perspectives. The goal of the state policy is to raise the number of permanent contracts for scientific or research staff from 32 to at least 40 percent. This needs to be implemented at university level. Overall though, we are well positioned despite the many tasks ahead of us. I fully expect the Future Contract to be implemented at Kiel University by October 2021.

What is the situation in terms of continuing professional development at Kiel University?

We are excellently positioned here, as we have been for a long while. Of course, new issues and perspectives are always cropping up, but the past months especially have shown how flexible the university's Continuing Professional Development Team is.

In terms of how you arrange your personal work day, you must have had to be very flexible following your appointment.

I certainly had to make some changes. I've drastically reduced my activities as professor, but that was clear to me from the very start. My office takes priority. Yet of course I hope that times will become somewhat calmer and I can dedicate more of my time to teaching again.

This interview was conducted by Martin Geist

Short biography of Prof. Dr Markus Hundt

Markus Hundt was born in Ulm in 1965 and studied German, history, and philosophy in Tübingen and Freiburg im Breisgau from 1986 to 1992. After his doctoral degree in Freiburg, he held a teaching position there, which was later followed by a habilitation (postdoctoral lecture qualification) in German linguistics at the Technische Universität Dresden (TUD). Hundt took up deputy professorships at Chemnitz University of Technology and at European University Viadrina in Frankfurt an der Oder. Since 2006, Markus Hundt has worked as Professor of German Philology / German Linguistics at the Institute of German Studies at Kiel University. From 2010 to 2014, he was Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Kiel University and, from 2016 to 2020, deputy member of the University Senate. (mag)