Doctoral Student and Senior Engineer at the Laboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering (WZL) of RWTH Aachen UniversityCopyright: © privat
After the pandemic is over, should we return to having a full program of face-to-face courses, should we continue only offering online teaching and learning, or should we offer hybrid ways to teach and learn?
Hybrid formats should be the priority. We’ve been attempting to implement this style of teaching and learning for many years now, since a well-organized hybrid format offers a great degree of flexibility. This is particularly important for those students who have to work alongside their studies. What’s more, it enables those with disabilities to participate more fully and it also strengthens the students’ sense of responsibility for their studies. Before the pandemic, many lecturers unfortunately refused to do something as simple as create a video for their students. Thankfully, that has all changed now.
However, it is important to remember that simply transferring face-to-face teaching and learning into a digital format is not the answer either – see question 2 for more on this. This becomes evident during simple things like the time it takes to ask questions. By the time the student has typed their question, the lecturer has already moved on three topics. The interaction and discourse that are so necessary for effective learning are only possible with great difficulty in large classes. This in turn also makes lecturers less approachable for students than is already the case. Real hybrid teaching and learning does not just mean that we change the medium used, rather we must employ adapted concepts that enable interaction in the digital world.
On top of all that, 100% digital teaching and learning means that the students miss out on things such as the camaraderie in lectures and having lunch together.
So now, more than ever, we must find out how to provide good hybrid teaching and learning! How do we design the online elements? How should discourse in the lecture hall take place, especially with regard to the requirements stipulated by the credit points.
Which teaching and learning formats would you like to see online, and which would you be keen on having in your personal environment?
- At university:
- Lab work or practical components (e.g. in the field of Medicine)
- Work in small groups and smaller lectures
- Discussions that take place as part of a good Blended Learning concept
- Theoretical components of large classes that are used to prepare for discussions in the lecture hall
- This can then be reviewed by students in the future and the lecturers can use the material again as well (something that is particularly valuable for undergraduate courses). This in turn leads to more varied discussions in the lecture hall.
Can we organize teaching and learning together with companies? If so, how can this be achieved? Is this something that you would like to see happening?
First, let’s tackle the question: Is this something that you would like to see happening? Basically, yes! But it is very important that the university really knows the person or company in question and that important content is conveyed, without the whole thing becoming an advertising event. Furthermore, I believe that such a cooperation would be more advisable during Master’s degree programs, when the students have decided whether they want to go into research or into industry. For example, those wishing to go into research may find in-depth foundation courses more interesting than content from the field of industry.
The simplest way to incorporate companies into teaching and learning is to utilize special guest lectures. However, project courses are of great interest to the students and RWTH Aachen University has been offering these for a long time now. Examples of such courses would be Case Course by Professor Malte Brettel and Methods of Quality Management with McKinsey.
Let’s turn the clock forward 10 years. Do you think we’ll still need lecturers or do you think that an AI or robot will be enough for teaching and learning?
Lecturers should aspire to ensure that they are not replaceable. Some of the ways that they can do this would be through their empathy, the way that they express themselves, and their individual lecture style. More and more demands are being made of lecturers, but this does not mean that they will be able to be totally replaced by an AI system in the near future.
In the future, lectures should incorporate research and practical elements, regardless of whether they take place face-to-face or virtually. How do you envisage these lectures being carried out?
The practical elements in question depend largely on the subject being studied. In undergraduate courses such as Mathematics and Mechanics, the practical elements are part of the exercises. Here, we need to look at how much needs to be done by hand and when and where programs used by industry and in the field of research should be employed in teaching and learning. Examples of such programs would be CAD tools, R and Python.
In more practical subjects, the fundamental elements could be conveyed in the form of videos so that the students can get to the practical elements and work in groups more quickly.
We always need to keep in mind what the university can actually afford when considering these possibilities. How large can a university really become if teaching and studying must become more person-centric? For example, RWTH Aachen University is constantly growing. The number of students is also growing and at the same time, the lectures are meant to be of greater value for each individual student. This inevitably leads to more demand on resources when it comes to restructuring the traditional lecture model into one that offers more practical components and individuality.
Industry and society have a range of things that they would like to see universities incorporating in their curricula in the future. Assuming that we don’t want to lengthen the courses of study, we need to think about what we can remove from the courses. Do you have any suggestions?
The contents of the undergraduate courses must be subjected to scrutiny and there should be more electives in the Master’s courses. Through the incorporation and recognition of things such as research assistant jobs and working in student initiatives, some of the demands made for soft skills can be covered (such as is the case at DELFT). For this to happen, more freedom would be needed in terms of the accreditation. The system accreditation of RWTH Aachen University is certainly an advantage here, but if the curricula can only be changed every X years, then the system is just too sluggish.
How can universities become better in multi-disciplinary teaching and learning and how can they help students to think outside the box when it comes to their studies?
Formats and opportunities to strengthen multi-disciplinary skills do exist, for example in the form of research assistant jobs and working in student initiatives. However, we should consider how these learning forms can be recognized in teaching and studying alongside the core program of studies. This would not only create less work for the lecturers, but it would also strengthen the independence of the students and make them more able to work in multi-disciplinary teams.