Desperate teaching staff on the verge of a nervous breakdown? Not even close. The corona-related mass changeover to e-learning in the past summer semester worked remarkably well. For a number of reasons.
"The first few days were challenging," said Dr Marcel Austenfeld, and notes that in March, after the nationwide cancellation of face-to-face teaching, there was initially some tension among his team. His team is eLK.Medien (e-learning coordination and new media), a central service point for everything to do with digital teaching at Kiel University. In fact, at first the enquiries were practically raining down on the only three-strong troupe – but on the other hand, Dr Austenfeld and his colleagues Markus Alber and Roman Adler were by no means stuck for answers.
“It's not as if we were starting from scratch," said the eLK.Medien director, referring to the fact that the facility had already been working in this field for the past eleven years. Nor did it serve an academic niche during this time, but quite the contrary: even before the corona crisis, 35,000 people had already registered for the e-learning services offered by the university and its affiliated institutes. And according to Dr Austenfeld, an impressive 30,000 of them were active.
So advice and teaching are old hat for the coordination unit, which basically only had to adapt its work to current requirements after March. In Dr Austenfeld’s words, OpenOlat, the teaching and learning platform developed in Switzerland, is a "very broad toolbox" whose instruments simply, and understandably, were not used quite as extensively in times of classroom teaching. Materials in the form of text, sound or image documents had long been deposited by teaching staff on this platform, but video conferencing and online lectures were far less commonplace.
The e-learning experts aligned their teaching courses accordingly. And because the courses also took place online, they were able to reach a large number of interested parties in a very short time.
"Of course, you always have to consider the amount of prior knowledge, but also take into account factors like the students' current semester," explained the team leader. And e-learning also requires didactic skills in all directions. Which, he emphasises, have increased dramatically thanks to corona. One strong indication of this is the number of people who used OpenOlat at the same time. In the winter semester 2019/20 the figure was 3,300; in the summer semester it had increased to 6,700. There was also a tremendous increase in the amount of teaching materials stored on the platform. Whereas there had once been 600 videos, there are now almost 7,000, and there are almost 250,000 PDF documents.
"People very quickly got into the technology," Marcel Austenfeld praises teaching staff and students at Kiel University. No matter what happens next with regard to corona and its consequences, he believes his university is extremely well prepared for dealing with the coming challenges.
Author: Martin Geist
The boost in digital teaching at Kiel University was achieved in particular by the very flexible increase in (server) hardware initiated by the University Board and the additional acquisition of software licences. By the same token, eLK.Medien attaches tremendous importance to sustainability, especially when it comes to software. Wherever possible, it relies on non-commercial open source products. These include, for instance, the OpenOlat learning platform, Nextcloud storage software and the OnlyOffice program, which allows people to work on documents together. What is also used a great deal at Kiel University is the BigBlueButton conference tool, which is suitable for up to 200 participants. The main advantage of open source is that there are no royalties, which can cost a great deal over time. In addition, the user basis has a tremendous influence on the improvement and further development of open source products. Open source is always the method of choice at Kiel University if it is easy to use and secure. (mag)