What do professors think of homeschooled students

Nobody should be lost

Ms. Schmidt, Mr. Calliess, you are worried about the winter semester. Why?

Grail-Peter Calliess: The semester has been announced as a so-called hybrid semester, a mixture of digital offers and events on the university campus, also by the Senator for Science, Claudia Schilling. Nevertheless, we are concerned that the corona crisis will mean that online teaching will in the future be given more importance than is good for the university and the community of learners and teachers.

Do you already know what such a hybrid semester could look like and how do the face-to-face events relate to digital offers?

Susanne Kerstin Schmidt: We are still at the very beginning of planning this semester. We are currently considering and discussing what classroom teaching in small groups and possibly a rotation principle can look like, what can be added digitally and how, and we are creating a space and utilization concept. The range of courses will then be based on such a model.

Why is face-to-face teaching important? Does it really make a significant difference whether you follow your lecture at the Audi-Max or from home?

Susanne Kerstin Schmidt: I gave a lecture this semester, asynchronous. I recorded MP3 files and uploaded PDF slides. That worked out pretty well. There are also zoom sessions, i.e. video conferences, for direct exchange. But the exchange suffers, and that is a problem - less for the students, who can structure and sort themselves well and work very independently. Others find it difficult or even very difficult. The interaction between the students is also neglected. But it is important: Students help each other, they give each other tips, they inspire themselves and us. Seminars live from exchange. This is currently largely no longer available, which we very much regret.

Grail-Peter Calliess: The structure of the university is important for many students: they have events on campus and meet friends, go to the cafeteria and the university library together. In addition, not all students have ideal living conditions; not all can work at a desk in peace and quiet at home. Quite a few are dependent on working and learning at the university.

What is your experience with digital courses?

Grail-Peter Calliess: It's hard to keep students engaged online. As a professor, you sit in front of a large number of registered users, many of whom do not reveal themselves. They switch off the video function, they do not enter their names, they do not speak up, but ask questions via chat. But it must also be noted that not every student has the appropriate technical equipment. Some follow the online events with their mobile phones. But you can hardly read the slides I'm showing with it.

Susanne Kerstin Schmidt: Many also complain about their internet connection not being stable enough to follow online events.

You say you are losing students. What do you mean by that?

Grail-Peter Calliess: We don't know where some of our students have ended up. An example: I offer a lecture for the second semester for around 300 students. Even before the Corona crisis, only a good half of this came at the end of the semester. There were around 40 participants in the most recent Zoom conference. The rest is gone. It may be that some are lost, that they dropped out of college. It is to be feared that there will be significantly more students who will no longer be able to catch up if teaching remains largely digital, i.e. significantly more long-term students and dropouts.

Could sticking to digital teaching also become a future model for cost reasons?

Grail-Peter Calliess: That is conceivable, even if nobody would say it at the moment or consciously calculate it. But of course the infrastructure of a university costs a lot of money, and distance universities show that you can also train differently. However, life on campus is part of studying, it has consequences for teaching and academic work. You can't just cross that out and believe that the university will remain what it is until now.

Susanne Kerstin Schmidt: The digitization of teaching has great potential for rationalization, with both opportunities and risks. There is nothing to prevent us from using the findings from this digital semester for the future. A lot can certainly develop from this. But we have also found that the effort and stress in digital teaching is high for everyone involved. That also had something to do with the fact that we couldn't prepare and were pushed into this digital semester. Most worrying, however, is that digital teaching increases inequalities - much like homeschooling. All students must feel that they are in good hands with us, they must have contacts and points of contact. Our offer must be attractive because we are in competition with other universities and training institutions.

Grail-Peter Calliess: This is especially true for the next freshmen. Newcomers to the university orientate themselves strongly towards others and receive a lot of help and support from students from higher semesters. You can quickly find your way around the campus, in the faculty or with study plans. For these students in particular, we will ensure as many face-to-face events as possible with as few restrictions as necessary. The impression that almost everything is closed in Bremen should not be allowed to solidify, especially not if it is already or will soon be different at other universities.

What would be the consequences if fewer students opted for the University of Bremen?

Grail-Peter Calliess: In 2007, the Federal Government created the University Pact, a financial instrument from which the federal states benefit for each student. So if you win a lot of students, you get more money. The state of Bremen has committed itself to the federal government with a commitment to a certain number of students at the university and the colleges. The grants have already been received. If the agreed number of students is not reached, it could theoretically happen that money has to be paid back. The grants from the new pact for the future are also based on the number of first-year students, students in the standard period of study and graduates. If there are fewer due to the Corona crisis, that could also have financial consequences.

Susanne Kerstin Schmidt: As a university, we have a social responsibility that we want to live up to. That is why it is important to us to present the best possible range of courses despite the Corona crisis. It is rightly politically desirable for young people who do not have the easiest of qualifications to obtain an academic degree. You need more support, we have to make sure of that.

What about other colleges and universities? Are there any of them further than the University of Bremen in terms of specific plans for the next and thus the hybrid semester?

Grail-Peter Calliess: I have the impression that we are relatively early on with our considerations. Many universities are still waiting because no one knows what will be possible again in November and what will not yet. But it is clear to everyone that we will not have a winter semester like any other ahead of us.

Susanne Kerstin Schmidt: My hope is that in this special situation we can play to the strengths of the University of Bremen and that the challenges we face together will also strengthen the university. We cooperate extremely well across departmental boundaries. We also have a lot of expertise at this university, from epidemiology to computer science, which is very beneficial to us.

Susanne Kerstin Schmidt is a political scientist, since 2006 Professor of Policy Field Analysis and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Bremen.

Gralf-Peter Calliess is a lawyer, since 2007 law professor at the University of Bremen and dean of the law faculty.