How should the learning of the future look?

Do chemists learn better when they can use digital media for experiments? To what extent does an online learning platform help theologian students in Bibelexegese? And how can a software support university teachers in the preparation and evaluation of examinations?

Many, although not all, of the universities are concerned with these and similar questions. You have to catch up, because for the students, the Internet and the digital media have been part of everyday life since childhood. They also expect modern technology at the university. Although they are usually satisfied with what they find there. Jörg Dräger, CEO of the Bertelsmann Foundation, puts it this way: “You eat what is on the table.”

The universities of the digital world must open themselves not only to their target group. “The economy requires new, even digital competencies, and the universities are obliged to do so,” says Jens Andreas Meinen, chancellor of the Fachhochschule Münster and a member of the board of directors of the Digital University of North-Rhine Westphalia (DH-NRW). For the universities, therefore, digitization is a top priority. The association of university lecturers, presidents and chancellors as well as representatives of the Düsseldorf Ministry of Innovation wants to promote teaching, research and infrastructure of the universities in modern times. But not with the power of the determinants, for the money is lacking anyway, but with the care of the thinkers.

In the university development plan of the Münster University of Applied Sciences, digitization is one of the five core topics to be addressed in the coming years. Chancellor Meins explains why it is not done with a momentum of new computers: “We see the digitalization not only technically, but also ask what this means for our education process.” Does the digital age need to be taught differently than in the analog world? In view of the massively growing range of distance courses, online courses and Massively Open Online Courses (Moocs) for everyone, the answer is no different than: Yes. The question is how?

Answers are also looking for the digitalization of higher education in Essen. And if some good ideas lie on the table, it wants to ensure that other colleges learn about them. The university forum was initiated by the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft, the CHE Center for Higher Education and the University Rectors’ Conference. The Hochschulforum is conceived as a large platform, on which the various influences of the digitization on the universities and in particular to the university teaching should be discussed. Hochschulkanzler Meinen from Münster sees no competition for DH-NRW – the federation, which he himself belongs. For the Founders ‘Association, he will be praising words: “He wants to show initiative. The founders’ association wants to bring issues that are important to the economy into the academic world.”

“So far this was a pure expert”

This seems to be necessary. For many chairs are still thick boards to drill. This explains the efforts made by the political community and the economy to put the universities on the agenda with regard to digitization. “To date, this has been a pure subject of expertise,” explains Ralph Müller-Eiselt, a specialist in digital education at the Bertelsmann Foundation. “Now we have to go into the breadth, namely, to the teachers: Where can the individual professor use which digital tools?”

The teachers, according to a recent study by the Bertelsmann Foundation, are familiar with online courses, presentation tools and social media. However, the teachers are only partially behind this type of teaching: They expressed skepticism about the knowledge transfer through videos (86 percent), saw unresolved legal problems (62 percent) and complained about the high expenditure in the preparation (60 percent). Three out of five professors feel disturbed when students use laptops in lectures.

Data Competence

“Data literacy” is the ability to consciously use, query, and evaluate data. The university forum for digitalization sees this as a central good of the knowledge society and is looking for ways to communicate it to the students at the universities. The acquisition of “data literacy” is crucial for the development and use of knowledge and competence in the digital world. The Hochschulforum has launched a study to examine national and international examples of subjects, placement formats and structures at universities with a view to imparting data literacy. The study is intended to show how the new basic competency can be integrated into all disciplines and curricula. Christine Demme

The lack of technique is not the point. The students are satisfied with the equipment of the lecture halls. “They are still,” warns Ralph Müller-Eiselt. In a similar way to Dräger, he says: “They are accustomed to taking what is offered to them, and as soon as the students have learned good digital learning contexts, they demand it as a matter of course.” Not every university had to digitize everything. But everyone needs a strategy for technological change. This could focus on new didactic offers and teaching methods. Müller-Eiselt cites an example: “If you want to open up new target groups like students from non-educational families, digital media can help to deal with the diversity of first-year students and their previous knowledge, and to bring them all together as quickly as possible.”

The Hochschulforum Digitization donated six universities a year free strategy consulting. A jury selected the Bochum University of Applied Sciences, the Braunschweig University of Technology, the Dresden University of Technology and Economics, the University of Göttingen, the Heidelberg Pädagogische Hochschule, and the University of Stuttgart from the 56 universities that had applied for the program in the spring of this year. Their experience should be made available to all universities.

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