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“It was about time,” says Martin. “Juicy!” Santiago exclaims. “It’s real college,” smiles Tabea. For many LMU students, the first semester on campus after a year and a half of online learning has been very satisfying. Finally, they could see friends again in the amphitheater, go together to the cafeteria, find themselves in student councils and associations.

“Campuses in Bavaria are once again buzzing,” report Johanna Weidlich, Torsten Utz and Lena Härtl of the Bavarian State Student Union (LAK), which has its offices at LMU. As examples of events that can now be held again, they mention orientation days for future students and job fairs for graduates.

“Naturally, there were students here and there who preferred digital home learning,” they acknowledge. Adjusting to campus life has been greatest for “coronavirus freshmen” who started their studies during the pandemic, they observe, but overall the prevailing feeling was one of joy.

Elisabeth studies at LMU MunichExpand
As it should be: Elisabeth, 2nd semester | © HNBM

This impression was shared by Professor Oliver Jahraus, Vice President for Teaching and Studies at LMU. “A lot of students really wanted to go back to campus to be among people again,” he reports. For him personally, as for many colleagues, it was an “overwhelming feeling”.

Of course, some conferences still take place online. “We gave the faculties the freedom to decide for themselves.” Nonetheless, LMU sees itself as a classroom-teaching university and will always remain so, says Jahraus. Yet this does not mean that it will reject the digital formats, techniques and processes initiated during the pandemic and not use them for future teaching. As an example, the vice-president cites the aptitude assessments which are a prerequisite for many courses. He sees no reason why students, especially foreign ones, cannot take these assessments online.

To supplement face-to-face teaching with digital offers in the future, LMU has set up a specific educational fund of one million euros over two years.

Coronavirus boosts Moodle
Martin studies at LMU MunichExpand
“About time,” says Martin, 8th semester | © HNBM

There is no lack of ideas in the faculties as to what to invest the money. Psychology and educational sciences. Moodle is a central learning platform with course management system for universities and other educational institutions. Before the pandemic, the syllabus was still distributed on paper. “It’s hard to imagine today!” Thanks to Moodle, it is now possible to continuously supplement course syllabuses with digital learning offers, and students can chat in the forums with each other or with their teachers. “It’s something that’s here to stay,” Frenzel insists.

The first semester in the classroom also feeds her research. At a later date, she intends to study the effects of digital teaching on interpersonal relationships. “I myself was rather surprised at how much I missed our students.”

It was a similar story for the vice-deans (students) of LMU’s Faculty of Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistics. The first lecture in front of the students was a joyful experience. “At that point we thought, ‘That’s why we got into this profession in the first place!'” says Professor Thomas Augustin from the Department of Statistics, Professor Andreas Butz from the Institute of Computer Science and Professor Konstantinos Panagiotou from the Mathematics department. They believe that videos can add significant value to courses, tutorials and exams in the future. “In more technical courses like computer graphics for example, we have increasingly used programming tasks as the preferred form of examination, as they lend themselves to partly automated correction.” According to the vice-deans, it is also now much easier to integrate colleagues from elsewhere in the conferences via online guest presentations. In the past, their physical presence was apparently indispensable. Nevertheless, there are professors, mostly renowned ones, who still insist on being personally airlifted to the conference.

Technical equipment has improved
LMU Tabea StudentExpand
Studying in the presence – for Tabea “real uni” | © HNBM Design

At the Faculty of Law, the teaching staff is also delighted to no longer be forced to teach in front of the always identical black tiles, it seems, of the videoconferencing services. “Compared to that, looking at a full auditorium with its sea of ​​eyes and the unmistakable non-verbal feedback almost induces sensory overload,” reports Andreas Bartholomä, head of the student affairs office and digital education coordinator. And most students feel the same way, he adds. He sees considerable potential in blended learning, i.e. the combination of classroom instruction and online learning. As examples, Bartholomä cites flashcards, glossaries, quizzes, crossword puzzles and other online self-testing devices. As the law often relies on fine details that easily go unnoticed, students will increasingly have the ability to re-listen to lectures on podcasts in the future. Thanks to the improved technical equipment, the students were also able to cultivate a new form of presentation at seminars, where they were encouraged to film a creative presentation video.

Vice Dean (Students) Professor Manfred Schwaiger of LMU’s Faculty of Business Administration is pleased to be able to teach students in the classroom again. Currently, only end-of-study dissertation colloquia take place online. During live events via Zoom, he had often wondered if there were students behind the black tiles on the screen. The different digital education offers have been carefully analysed: “We tested many different formats,” he says. “Anyone in which a member of the teaching staff did not introduce the material was poorly received.” Even though there are many requests from students for hybrid events, Schwaiger worries that many of them will no longer attend classes and that this will have a negative impact on their studies. In addition, hybrid formats represent an additional burden for teachers. According to a survey by the Center for Higher Education (CHE), students were very satisfied with the handling of the pandemic at the Faculty of Business Administration. “While we haven’t always been blessed with positive feedback from students in the past, we’ve had extremely high satisfaction rates of 80-90% in individual categories during the pandemic,” says Schwaiger.

I was rather surprised myself at how much I missed our students.
PROFESSORINE ANNE C. FRENZEL
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In contrast, Dr. Andreas Brachmann from the Faculty of Biology is a fan of hybrid lectures. His tip: “Because I record them, the students have to be as quiet as mice during class,” he laughs. He is not afraid that young people will no longer attend his classes. First, they want to see their friends. Second, he answers questions during his lectures – and he does not record this part of the proceedings. And thirdly, there are a lot of internships in biology, and therefore many students have to come personally to Martinsried anyway.

Brachmann thinks there is also a social aspect to hybrid conferences. “We get a lot of positive feedback, especially from mothers of young children.” Additionally, many students still lived with their parents away from Munich, as they could not afford the high rents in the state capital. The Faculty of Biology plans to make greater use of e-learning in the future.

For the Methods in Molecular Biology electronic platform on Moodle, which was launched during the pandemic, LMU biologists Dr Dagmar Hann and Dr Daniela Meilinger even received the Ars legendi faculty award for excellence in university teaching at the spring 2022.

The Bavarian Student Council (LAK) also points to hybrid concepts and recorded lectures as the best innovations to emerge from the pandemic. However, he is of the opinion that the didactic concepts must be more elaborated so that there is a true hybrid teaching. The option of small group digital collaboration has also proven successful. “For many projects, it is not absolutely necessary for students to meet in person,” say Weidlich, Utz and Härtl, noting that the possibility of digital exchange simply offers greater flexibility. In general, the board perceives a high openness to digital offerings from teaching staff and students at universities in Bavaria. They therefore hope that the many videoconferencing platform licenses will be renewed – if only for another reason, in case the coronavirus puts an end to classroom teaching again in winter.

Understandably, the whole college family is nervous about another online semester. “We are well prepared,” says Vice President Jahraus. A lot of money has been invested in technology and new rooms and their layout. In addition, LMU is in close contact with the Ministry of Education and Research and can quickly re-establish security rules if necessary. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t view the prospect with dismay,” he stresses.

The faculties also feel well equipped: they now have sufficient digital learning materials, the methodological toolkits have been expanded appropriately and the remaining obstacles – such as online exams – could undoubtedly be overcome at short term, they say in unison. “But”, Vice Deans Augustin, Butz and Panagiotou say loud and clear, “for the sake of our students, who after all are expected to experience the university as a community of learners, and also for the sake of our own pleasure, who we have in the amphitheater, we hope that we can continue to meet in person.

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