unizeit Schriftzug

The key is in the mix

Preferably online. This motto is not always the best, even during a pandemic. The German as a foreign language department at the CAU relies on a mixture of digital and attendance elements – for good reasons and with great success.

Bar chart
Grafik: pur.pur

Weekly hits on the OpenOLAT homepage since the winter semester 2019. The start of the Corona pandemic is marked in red.

When the first COVID wave washed over Germany in March 2020, lots of people in many places were still quite relaxed about it. "We thought we’d have to cover about two weeks using online options, then we’d go back to normal attendance teaching," said Dr Annedore Hänel, who heads the German as a foreign language (DaF) team at Kiel University. It soon became clear that the pandemic and the restrictions associated with it would last a lot longer. And at the same time, the limitations of digital teaching formats became ever more noticeable.

"This had a lot to do with the target group for German as a foreign language," explained Kati Lüdecke-Röttger, the departmental head of degree preparation. Per semester, 100 to 120 people from over 20 countries prepare themselves for their studies at the DaF department, which is part of the Key Skills Centre. In each individual case, the first job is to find out the level of language proficiency. Depending on the findings, the participants usually spend one or two semesters working towards what is known as the DSH exam. DSH stands for "Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang" and is a German language proficiency test for university entrance which is recognised by more than 100 universities or similar institutions in Germany. According to Lüdecke-Röttger, it is also the ticket for registering for German-spoken degree programmes in Kiel.

"But good language skills alone are often not enough," added her colleague, Martin Lange. He knows that the prospective students come from Iran, Jordan, Korea, Russia and many other countries where the course of a degree is frequently "prescribed extremely specifically". In order to understand how the local university system works, you need to develop a good intuition of how the students interact amongst themselves, but also how students and lecturers interact with each other. This is just as much part of preparing for a degree as practicing the independent study required in Germany. "The finer points of communication in particular require lively and spontaneous interaction," emphasised Kati Lüdecke-Röttger and refers to the fact that the previous experiences of digital channels highlighted weaknesses in this regard: "Progress is often slower and more tedious."

On the basis of these experiences and by continuously making readjustments, the people responsible for the course have now developed a hybrid teaching concept in order to combine the best of both worlds. If the main focus is on interaction and the softer aspects of Kiel as a university location, the DaF department relies on attendance formats. Of course, the currently applicable COVID regulations are always adhered to, emphasised the departmental head. However, if the main intention is conveying facts and subject matter, the teachers often set themselves up in their offices in front of a video camera. Consolidating knowledge, grammar exercises and much more can be done very well via the teaching and learning platform OpenOLAT, which is used at Kiel University. This platform is a digital toolbox of teaching videos, interactive exercises and more besides.

"We have systematically and continually expanded this concept," explained Kati Lüdecke-Röttger and, just like the other members of her team, highlights that the mixture of formats at the German as a foreign language department has its advantages. For example, one thing that frequently happens, even pre-COVID, is that prospective students only manage to arrive in the country later than planned due to lengthy visa application procedures. But they can still manage to join the course from home, because some lectures are broadcast via live stream. "Sometimes a lesson might spread across three time zones," said Martin Lange and reported that even this can work under seemingly adventurous circumstances. A young woman repeatedly logged in while she was sitting on the bus in Ghana – and was extremely successful in her studies after seamlessly switching to an attendance format.

Author: Martin Geist