Digital Confusion

In Bryan Alexander’s “Beyond the Virtual Learning Environment”, a central chapter of his Academia Next: The Futures of Higher Education (2020), each little subchapter deals with another digital experience one can find in the academic world. From online learning and the different modes one can find there to the utensils that are being used at the time of writing, everything is mentioned with specific examples as well as the pros and cons. The text shows how often digital media can be found in academia today and lists advantages and disadvantages that come with all of them. Here, Alexander tells the audience about different technologies such as learning management systems, social media, gaming, videos, virtual reality and 3D printing. These technologies are supposed to make learning and access to it easier for many people.

In the current situation, people have the unique opportunity to test a lot of these technologies without having a choice as no one can leave the house and professors, teachers, staff, students, museums, libraries, etc. have to work with the digital format and technologies available to them. One prominent example that we here at Kiel university have to deal with at the moment is, of course, online learning. For the students in Kiel this seems to be somewhat problematic as there are many different platforms they have to use. An integrated solution would make usage easier. In Kiel there is one platform where the students can look at their classes and interact with their classmates and professors in writing. This can happen in certain forums where little discussions might be held or via E-mail directly provided over the platform. Then there are different platforms that can be used for video or audio conferences. Here, the professor will decide which one to use, so you might have different tools in different classes. This brings with it the experience of many new tools/systems that have to be learned to be used, both by students and staff. During the discussion in our class it came up that this might have to do with the type of situation we have to deal with now since this is a “we have no other choice; getting thrown into cold water”-situation no one could have anticipated beforehand. Another problem that universities now have to deal with is finance. To get the best of the best and get one integrated system where students and professors alike can find all functions needed to learn successfully is expensive. Most universities just don’t have the means to immediately start online learning with a functioning platform where everyone knows exactly what to do and how to use it.

For students in Kiel, this obstacle of having various platforms to use and also working entirely from home brings another problem with it. Motivation and enthusiasm are lacking for many of the students. To get up and start working is different when you’re at home where you get easily distracted and quickly find something you would rather do. Enthusiasm is lacking for many because they find it exhausting to work with so many different systems and platforms and that there is not one way to do it. Each professor might use another platform and another style to teach online which can become stressful and off-putting for many.

So, is online learning a good alternative for students? Here, the opinions differ. Some like to work from home and don’t see a big difference towards studying at university. Others have more problems adjusting and try their hardest to not give up. For the future, when the pandemic is over, I would like to see some techniques of online learning combined with normal teaching. The best of both worlds so to speak. To get open access to various publications is something that is very nice as well as the possibility of working more independently and getting to choose the time to work more freely. However, for this to happen there is still some room to grow at the university in Kiel. One integrated platform for everything would be one step into the right direction.

1 reply on “Digital Confusion”

I think it is striking that online learning and teaching are perceived as so much more exhausting than regular offline teaching. As you have pointed out, using only one online learning platform would facilitate this whole online semester. It would save time and nerves, which are now needed to explore the possibilities each platform offers. I never recognized how annoying it actually is to have more than one platform and how little appealing OLAT is when you see it for several hours per day.
I’m convinced that this semester and the fact that teachers and students are thrown into cold water offers many possibilities to learn and to improve future teaching. Nevertheless, I somehow doubt that this will be the case. The university already announced that the obligation to evaluate classes is suspended for this semester (at least for most faculties, see https://www.lehrevaluation.uni-kiel.de/de/evaluation-digitale-lehre). Obviously, we can’t use the same standards to evaluate classes regarding form and content as we normally do. But wouldn’t this feedback be essential to improve teaching and show what is possible when online teaching and learning is implemented in regular classes?

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