Professor Heribert Nacken


Rectorate's Delegate for Blended Learning und Exploratory Teaching Space, RWTH Aachen University

Prof. Dr. Heribert Nacken Copyright: © RWTH - Lehr- und Forschungsgebiet Ingenieurhydrologie

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

We at RWTH will certainly not revert to the old way completely – far too many instructors and students have experienced the benefits of virtual teaching. When speaking with instructors, I often hear statements such as "If I had known how easy it is to enhance my teaching with virtual offerings, I would have done so much sooner." Our Center for Teaching and Learning Services has certainly made a significant contribution to enabling this.

However, the basic principle in all of this must always continue to be choosing formats that improve the quality of teaching. This is certainly very dependent on both the subject and the instructor.

In this respect, the answer to the question is probably rather: The future format will depend very much on the teaching culture of the respective subject and the teaching style of the instructor, but will always focus on the quality of teaching for our students.

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

In-person formats generally benefit from discussions and communication. In this respect, I would like to see highly interactive formats.

But this does not form a contrast between face-to-face and online formats. I can also personally interact with my students via avatars in a virtual reality environment, whereas in pure Zoom sessions I only see black windows and no interaction can take place.

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)?

My vision of the successor model of traditional lectures is avatar-based teaching and learning, which allows all students and instructors, regardless of their real-world location, to interact with each other in a virtual reality, experience things, discuss ideas, and learn from the best instructors in a field.

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

In any case, we will still need the dedicated instructors then; those who can convey to students the enthusiasm for a subject, a specific content, and also be available to them for immediate discussions. AI will certainly play a crucial role in individualized teaching by then (see the current developments of MiT and Harvard University after the sale of edX).

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?

To be honest, I think it is pretty simple: the specific disciplines should have a discussion about what the minimum content should be. For example, what does a hydrologist need to be allowed to enter the world? We are having a discussion about this right now, for example, creating courses that are being developed as Open Educational Resources (OER) between three university campuses.