Aline Nüttgens


“Smart Study Start” Project, RWTH Aachen University

Aline Nüttgens Copyright: © RWTH Aachen

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 courses! We should keep the online courses as they are, as they offer the students a higher degree of flexibility. What’s more, they make it possible for students with children, those who work a lot alongside university and students with a disability or a chronic illness to carry out their studies. The pandemic has shown us how important face-to-face teaching and learning really is.

Which teaching and learning formats would you like to see online, and which would you be keen on having in your personal environment?

The pandemic has demonstrated that traditional lectures can take place well in a digital environment. Videos create more flexibility for all those involved. Flipped classroom concepts and seminars should once again take place face-to-face, as the students need to be physically present to hold effective discussions with each other.

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?

Teaching and learning should always be independent of any financial aspects. Having said that, I can imagine that keynote speeches made by representatives of companies could really get the students talking to one another.

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?

I believe that we’ll always need lecturers, as teaching and learning is way more than just conveying information.

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?

For me, it’s a given that university study will fundamentally change in the future. The traditional lecture, whereby a person stands in front of a number of students and reads a monolog, will most likely cease to exist at some point. This style of transferring information will probably take place in a digital environment in the future. Instead of lectures, I can definitely see face-to-face time being occupied by project presentations and discussions about a specific topic.

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?

I think that this will be different for each subject. A possible first step would be the reduction of core modules or, for some courses, the introduction of (semi)-elective subjects. We should be aiming to enable the students to freely select their credit points. This would in turn mean that the students can prepare themselves for the professional future in the best possible way. Elective and semi-elective subjects enable the university to provide the students with the things that are desirable in their curriculum. I don’t believe that it is necessary to force all students to acquire the exact same contents and skills during their course of study – on the contrary, diversity is something to be celebrated!

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?

I think that the Leonardo project at RWTH Aachen University provides students with the opportunity to do this and it is my opinion that multi-disciplinary courses should indeed be incorporated into all courses of study. Some courses of study incorporate this more so than others. Freely selectable credit points could also be of assistance here, as students would then have to look outside their own specialist areas.

Here’s a quote from Anant Agarwal (edX): “It’s always fun to dream about the future of universities. But the most important question is: What are the most important facilities for the students?” What’s your take on that?

Students need well-equipped learning facilities, but they also need places to meet each other on the campus. I also believe that sufficient psychological support and mentors must be provided for students.

Professor Lynda Gratton of the London Business School asked the following key question during a science event: “How can we create learning environments that enable creative people to meet other like-minded people whom they have not yet met?”

Rooms for students to meet in could be of assistance here. Students from all disciplines could make use of these rooms and this would bring the most varied disciplines together under one roof. Something like a beer garden with a stage might be appropriate here, or an atelier, or perhaps workshops in which they could carry out projects in their spare time. It is imperative that students be involved in the planning of such things from the start, as it is here that students belonging to totally different courses will meet each other.