Professor Beatrix Busse


Vice-Rector for Teaching and Learning, University of Cologne

Prof. Dr. Beatrix Busse Copyright: © Monika Nonnenmacher - Photographie

Should we return to full live courses after the pandemic, continue to offer online-only teaching, or do hybrid teaching?

First of all, it is important to remember that there is both synchronous, i.e., live, as well as asynchronous online teaching that allows students to participate in at any time. Furthermore, joint virtual work cannot and does not necessarily have to be less 'live' than in-person sessions, even though I would like to emphasize again: a university without discussions and interactions in person is like Shakespeare without a theater.

Quite fundamentally, we cannot simply revert to old patterns after the pandemic. In the past semesters, we gained a first impression of the strengths and weaknesses of online teaching and virtual collaboration in its current form. We also learned a lot about what makes face-to-face formats beneficial and how we want to use them in the future. Therefore, after the pandemic, when all forms of teaching and learning are fundamentally available as options again, we should think about which types of events and which new forms of collaboration work best in which contexts and for which subjects.

Both synchronous and asynchronous hybrid formats will play a major role in this, as they provide flexibility for teaching and learning, including when it comes to participation opportunities. We should pursue this flexibility and consider this option, regardless of the pandemic.

Which teaching formats would you like to see online, which ones in personal contexts?

In my experience, dynamic teaching formats based on exchanges, discussions, and collaborative work benefit from in-person sessions in particular. However, a fantastically well-delivered and engaging lecture can, of course, also benefit from being together in a beautiful and impressive lecture hall that inspires and resonates. But then this strength could also be played out accordingly; for example, in the form of few but truly passionate lectures in person, supplemented by appropriate virtual formats.

I hope that, in the future, we will be able to use the time spent on site together, especially in smaller seminars, to engage in discussions and joint work. Of course, hybrid formats are a great benefit here, too. It would be wonderful if it were possible and common to have colleagues and students, for example, from abroad, join an in-person seminar.

Your vision: What should the successor model of a traditional lecture look like that integrates research and "doing" (no matter whether in presence or online)?

In my experience, good lectures primarily have two features, regardless of the number of participants: A teacher who is passionate about their discipline and inspires their students to follow along with their enthusiasm, and the fact that lectures systematically work through and present complex topics that are often very hard to grasp for non-experts.

In my view, the lecture of the future should retain these strengths while becoming more interactive, co-creative, and communicative. One way to implement this would be to complement a flipped classroom model with individual 'traditional' in-person lectures, in which students can experience the teacher as an enthusiastic scientist, in contrast to the other content that is taught via video, for example.

In the active and collaborative phases, which are now in the foreground due to the flipped classroom model, the focus should be on applying the knowledge covered in the lecture to concrete problems and issues together, in particular by carrying out research.

Will lecturers still be needed in ten years' time or will AI/robots be enough to keep traditional teaching alive?

If in ten years we are still talking about lectures being 'held' by individual 'instructors' for a group of learners, it is quite feasible that parts of this task could be ceded to non-human intelligence. But how advanced they will be in ten years’ time is, of course, written in the stars. The first 'teaching machines', although technologically something completely different, will soon be 100 years old.

But assuming that the role(s) of the instructor will fundamentally change in the future given changes in leading media and University 4.0: "From Teaching to Learning" – I am really not worried about this profession. In the future, instructors will have to act much more as guides, assistants, and facilitators who use their knowledge and experience to accompany learners through an increasingly complex world and foster highly individualized learning processes.

In addition, the boundary between instructors and learners will probably become more blurred than it is now. Instead of the omniscient instructor, who can perhaps also be replaced by an appropriate robot (or simply a video), we will need innovative instructors who learn and work in a flexible, agile, and co-creative manner together with students and colleagues.

Of course, this does not mean that we will not work collaboratively with machines in the future (even more so than we already do) – perhaps even with machines that do or think certain things differently than we do.

A number of demands are coming from industry and society as to what universities should include in their curricula in the future. If studies are not to be extended, one must also ask what we will no longer need in the future. Do you have any suggestions?

This question cannot, of course, ever be answered across the board for all subjects and contexts. Without going into detail, however, one can, of course, think about distinguishing between pure content and competencies, for example, problem-solving skills.

In many subject areas, perhaps with the exception of certain fundamentals, the half-life of knowledge has been drastically shortened. Furthermore, it is difficult, even for industry, to foresee today which knowledge and skills will be in demand and necessary in the future. For this reason, I would advocate focusing on the things and questions that qualify students to deal with challenges that are still unknown today in a self-determined and confident manner in the future.

In addition to a high level of technical and disciplinary knowledge, this also includes competencies in collaborative, co-creative work and in New Work. In addition, studies must lay the foundation for lifelong learning, both in terms of basic professional knowledge and the corresponding attitudes, competencies, and (future) skills, which I would prefer to call "now-skills". However, the urgency to address these issues RIGHT NOW! is obvious.