• Prof. Dr. Dorothee Hafner, HTW Berlin

    Guest contribution: "Online teaching is more engaging than I thought"

Teaching is currently only taking place online. This is a largely new experience for both instructors as well as for students. Members of Berlin universities and colleges share their experiences as guest authors on Brain City Berlin: For Dr Dorothee Haffner, professor for Museology at HTW Berlin - University of Applied Sciences, it is also a new challenge to teach this semester without any personal contact to the students. She tells more about this in her guest interview and in the podcast series #HTWOnlineCampus.

Professor Dr Haffner, what is your experience of switching from presence to online teaching?

Initially, I provided my lectures with the help of PowerPoint slides set to sound. However, I quickly noticed that conveying information this way didn't work so well and the students quickly spoke up and said that they would rather have live lectures. So, after two weeks, I switched to a format that focuses on regular online events. I record these events and make the recordings available to my students through our learning platform. As I see it, it's going pretty well. It's been a big problem trying to make up for the hands-on experiences students would normally have with museum objects. Unfortunately, we're mostly not doing them at the moment.

Do you have any ideas on how to handle this problem?

Currently, I can't really imagine how we should replace or at least partially compensate exercises or work in the laboratory with online offers. Exercises with museum software we use are possible thanks to web-based systems. But individual support while learning with software is difficult. And to understand things, to experience them in 3-D, is a completely different level of experience. As a practically oriented university, that's one of our core competencies. I just spoke to a student who decided to study at HTW Berlin for this very reason.

Many of your colleagues have said that they are currently preparing from week to week because they need to put in a lot of work producing and posting materials online. How about you?

It's the same with me, too. It's been a lot of work converting my content to online teaching and incorporating it into the Moodle learning platform. But I'm also now discovering the possibilities this system offers for teaching. I was aware of them beforehand, of course, but now I'm finally finding the time to prepare everything, because I no longer have the commute to my classes and other distractions, leaving me more time for teaching. And hopefully my online lectures are getting better and better. I now work with breakout sessions for group work and sometimes use interactive surveys to incorporate what my students already know into my teaching. Basically, I really am figuring it out from week to week and am realising that there's so much more that's possible.

How would you assess the participation of your students in your classes?

I only see few differences compared to my previous in-person teaching. Back then, I might have 40 students in the room, but only about five would really be involved in the discussions. That's still the case now and that's okay. I also do not check attendances because I believe that many students are busy enough organising their everyday lives. I don't have to put pressure on them and prefer to use opportunities to make the teaching asynchronously. All in all, I find online teaching to be more engaging than I previously thought.

Did you switch to new types of exams for the online semester?

So far, I have used traditional exams in foundations classes. In seminars, the focus has been on papers and group work. Papers and presentations work exactly the same in online environments. As for the exams, I switched to open book exams at the end of the winter semester. Students can now use all their notes and the readings. This forced me to switch my exams more to case studies and tasks that test learning transfer. I've been planning on moving in that direction for a long time. The crisis has made it happen. The interesting thing was that the switch to this format did not result in everyone getting top marks. Surprisingly, the distribution of grades has remained similar.

Do you actively accompany your students as they do group work online?

Together with my colleague, Tobias Nettke, I support students in their project work as part of a project seminar. We rely on a combination of regular meetings with all those involved and weekly consultation appointments with individual groups. So hopefully, despite the distance, we can offer good support, for example when developing a concept or implementing ideas. The fact that my colleague set up a separate room for each group in the open source web conference system BigBlueButton has worked particularly well. Our students can coordinate themselves without needing us to intervene.

If you think of the upcoming winter semester, where do you see the greatest challenges for your teaching?

I clearly miss having personal contact with my students. The gesture, the nod when I give a lecture, the conversations on the side. All of this falls by the wayside in online environments. And, of course, we have to find a way to resume our exercises and practical work. If there is no solution for this, we will probably have to push individual modules.



Podcast with Prof. Dr Dorothee Haffner

Other episodes in the series: including talks with Dr Michael Lindemann, Professor of Mechatronics in the Vehicle Technology course and Professor Dr Heike Joebges, specialist for international economic relations at HTW Berlin.

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