The digital added value of the corona crisis: Teaching and learning digitally in corona times

<<English>> The current crisis creates difficulties at all possible levels. The corona virus forbids us to keep our working day, our social life and also our studies or apprenticeship in the usual way. These are times of social distance, and accordingly, classroom teaching at colleges, universities and schools will be cancelled for the time being. Teaching now takes place digitally, which requires completely new techniques from students and teachers.

However, what may seem frighteningonline-3412498_1920 at first may also have advantages in the long run. Digital teaching enables a completely new approach that can accommodate the students in their personal life situations and opens up more individual learning methods for them, which no longer have to run stringently and synchronously as it was the case with the conventional face-to-face teaching method.

I have been working on the possibilities of digital teaching for a long time. In the following interview you will get an overview of the possibilities, but also the difficulties, offered by online teaching.

In an interview with Kati Ahl, I had the chance to reflect on the topic of digital added value for teaching and learning, and the opportunities that the digital shift we are experiencing offers us. Kati Ahl is the headmistress of a primary school and was therefore able to add a complementary perspective to my rather university-oriented perspective. I was particularly interested in how schools and universities can benefit from each other’s experience.

Kati Ahl: What experiences do we take from the Corona phase into the everyday life of our educational system?

Ulf-Daniel Ehlers: That is an interesting topic. We have already planned a conference on this topic for autumn. The common experience at the university is that digital media can be used for contact with students and that the inhibition of using digital media has fallen. We now know the telephone number of the IT support, we have a video camera, we have learned that it is possible to switch it off. Many prejudices have become more informed through real experiences.

KA: What is particularly important to you?

Ehlers: In the field of education, the question of what we can do differently through digital media is important to me, in other words, that we go beyond the idea of doing the same thing we did in class. I also experience this when I talk to colleagues at the institution of higher education. For example, many of them experience that it is very exhausting for the students when they have to sit in front of the screen for two hours during an online lecture. But the amazing thing is that there is a potential for flexibility and individualisation. This is the greatest benefit. So you get away from the fiction that everyone is learning the same thing at the same time and at the same speed, and you find the attitude that there can be different learning paths, that learning has to solve a problem and not just follow one topic, that there are different ways to do this and different materials. And one can learn at different times and places and take one‘ s life situation into account.


Ehlers: Yes, another great opportunity is the possibility of networking and the resulting form of cooperation.For example, this can lead to cooperation with the interested professional community, because we put material and work results online. For example, we had a collaboration with Südwestrundfunk, which produced a report on this. Through contact with the real world, the topic takes on a whole new relevance, it gets out of university. Suddenly you no longer learn only for yourself or your professor, but in a social context.

KA: What concrete potentials would you name?

Ehlers: These are the potentials of individualisation, flexibilisation and the creation of a new public sphere and networking. However, this requires a rethink, away from the frontal lecture. One then finds that learners can certainly learn without teachers, but they have a new great role to play. They sensitize for problems, they give support and provide learning materials.

KA: I heard three points: the possibility of individualisation, which is self-explaining, the new flexibility in teaching and learning and the opening of new spaces, both the learning spaces and the thinking space to the real world, for the application of learning. But I ask myself: when people work on something like this, isn’t there a lack of social reference?

Ehlers: I would say that these are possible risks that one takes in digital work. But the important thing is that online communication, online feedback and a process of a peer group working online does not work automatically. You have to learn this in your presence as well. This requires intentional and directed guidance, which we call online didactics or online pedagogy, as we also do in classroom teaching.

KA: Could you paint me a positive picture of innovative digital education that makes pedagogical sense?

Ehlers: One example: I had very good experiences as an online professor at an American university in 2006. There was a learning platform without synchronous elements, only text and discussion forums. We worked on a topic there, with a weekly assignment on a lead text, which the students answered themselves. In addition, we were required to write two feedbacks on the results of others. The criteria for the feedback were clearly formulated. They had to refer to each other and to the original text. Everybody got and gave feedback, and also commented on the comments of others. This led to a rolling discussion; it was such a rich exchange of ideas, I would never have been able to do that in a presence class, because the interaction there is different. Every statement can be referred to here! That’s what is needed, that’s an artistic event, just like successful face-to-face teaching. This world is much more individual and flexible than the world in which we organize our schools, in which everyone learns the same thing at the same time for 45 minutes.

KA: That’s interesting: So digitalisation needs a new learning process for communication?

Ehlers: Exactly. During these Corona times I teach online, for example. I noticed that some students are not yet able to give this rich feedback. Therefore, we proceed step by step and explain the criteria for feedback. That’s how we are practising and it gets a little better every week. So we need a socialisation process for online teaching. This requires a rethinking and socialisation into the subject matter for both universities and schools, and also new didactic forms.

We have the choice. In my view, we are conducting a sham discussion about the apparent opposition between classroom experience and digital experience. Surely we can make the present experiences richer through digital experiences and combine both. In the future we might want primary school as you describe it, and at the same time we want an individual speed of learning, perhaps computer-supported, perhaps not in all subjects and all the time. The learners may also be able to network and talk to each other in new ways, between primary schools or with the local mayor… these are also experiences, only conveyed digitally. I think both are important. We should take the best of everything, so that the best for the children comes out of it.


The full interview will be available here in August 2020:




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