Sorry for going to Brown University

Universities in online mode: frustration studies, in the 3rd semester

In the coming semester, too, the course will mostly remain digital. Dissatisfaction is growing - not only among students.

Empty lecture hall at the Free University of Berlin Photo: imago

BERLINtaz | On Thursday, literary scholar Giulia Maria Chesi from Berlin's Humboldt University (HU) is doing something that she has not done for over a year: she gives an offline seminar. In front of the students present, without digital devices, and - due to Corona - outdoors.

It starts at 2 p.m. in front of the Rotes Rathaus, the seat of the Governing Mayor Michael Müller (SPD). The location was chosen deliberately. Müller - in his position as Senator for Science, which he also holds - decided together with the Berlin universities to start the coming semester "in digital mode". Like other federal states.

Campus life, goodbye! At most universities in Germany, classroom teaching has largely been shut down. Some states, including Bavaria and Saarland, have currently prohibited face-to-face events. In Brandenburg they are allowed with up to five people. There are exceptions in the federal states for laboratory internships, art, music, sports and medical students.

University autonomy Other federal states such as Lower Saxony, Thuringia, Hamburg or Saxony emphasize the autonomy of the universities - and let them decide when face-to-face classes should be aimed for, taking into account the pandemic and infection control regulations. Berlin has developed a step-by-step plan for the universities.

Lonely freshmen Some federal states want to allow special regulations for freshmen, for example Rhineland-Palatinate. (taz)

The third wave of the pandemic is currently thwarting all opening plans. Even those of the universities. At the beginning of March, the university rectors loudly demanded a return to face-to-face operations and brought quick tests into play. Last week they rowed back: The current situation, they explained in a joint statement, does not yet allow this. A view shared by the state governments - even if some states leave the final decision to the rector.

For most of the three million students in Germany that means: another online semester, the third in a row. For many of those affected, this prospect causes despair. Also with HU lecturer Chesi: “We are about to burn out,” says the 44-year-old, referring to students and lecturers alike. The physical and psychological stresses are enormous, the quality of teaching suffers. Chesi welcomes the fact that the HU has created a "very good advisory service". But it couldn't go on forever. Therefore she calls for a “careful return” to face-to-face teaching.

Students demand classroom teaching

Giulia Maria Chesi is one of 1,600 people who have signed an open letter to the Berlin Senate and the Berlin universities. It was initiated by students. In it they demand that face-to-face teaching be made possible “also under Corona”. The initiators of #NichtNurOnline themselves do not know exactly how this should be possible in view of the increasing incidence values. “We don't ask for an immediate return to classroom teaching,” says Lucie Gröschel, who studies political science at the Free University of Berlin (FU).

Brigitte Reysen-Kostudis, psychologist

"The students do not have the time horizon for how long they still have to hold out."

“But it bothers us that there is no opening perspective”. For shops, football stadiums and opera houses there are pilot projects on how to get social life back on track. “The universities are completely forgotten,” believes Gröschel. It serves as proof that the latest federal and state resolution does not mention students at all.

A nationwide survey by the German Center for Higher Education and Science Research (DZHW) last year shows why students are dissatisfied with the purely online course. Accordingly, every: r third felt that the implementation of the digital offer had failed. One in five stated that their own living situation was not suitable for studying at home. 80 percent of those surveyed did not have a personal exchange with fellow students. Not to mention financial hardships.

Bachelor student Lucie Gröschel also considers isolation to be a major problem: “My course depends on exchange”. But it can hardly be reached digitally. First-year students in particular are faced with a problem with digital operations. Simply asking the person sitting next to you is no longer possible.

Uni hardly seen from the inside

And the number of those who have never or hardly ever seen the inside of their university is growing. Almost 500,000 started their studies last year. Tens of thousands will be added to the summer semester in April. Many universities now want to offer as many face-to-face courses as possible for freshmen - but is that enough to introduce them to their studies?

Oliver Jahraus can "absolutely understand" the frustration of the students. Jahraus is one of the five vice-presidents of the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich (LMU) and is responsible for studying. "The situation is very unsatisfactory for everyone involved," said the Germanist on the phone. But the latest infection control measures ordinance of the Bavarian state government of March 5th is unmistakable: "There it is clear: 'There are no face-to-face events at the universities.'"

Year in and year out, doubts that this could change in the course of the summer semester. "It looks bad with face-to-face teaching soon." He hopes that the winter semester will then at least run hybrid, the course will include both digital and on-site events. For example, one could reduce the size of the seminar groups.

The LMU developed such concepts last summer, but has not yet been able to apply them. However, Jahraus believes that regular rapid tests, as in schools, as suggested by the university rectors, are hardly feasible for large universities such as the LMU: “We have 54,000 students attending 8,000 courses at 150 locations. It will be difficult. "

Libraries are big concerns

In Berlin, on the other hand, rapid tests could soon be used. At least that was the prospect of the responsible State Secretary Steffen Krach on Monday. The crisis team of the Senate Chancellery and the universities is in discussion about how exactly the tests can be used. The results are expected later this week.

A major concern of the students: that the libraries open again soon. According to a recent survey by the Center for University Development (CHE) among 27,000 students, only a quarter of them were able to find an undisturbed study room at the university in the winter semester. The possibility of booking appointments to study in the libraries is by no means available everywhere. And - this has just been decided by a Berlin administrative court in an urgent procedure - students are also not entitled to study for a state examination in the library.

Brigitte Reysen-Kostudis can tell how much stress the current situation means for students. In a team of six, the psychologist at the FU Berlin is responsible for psychological counseling for students - and currently has her hands full. While the number of advice requests remained relatively constant last year despite the start of the pandemic, more and more students have contacted Reysen-Kostudis and their colleagues since the beginning of the year.

The concerns have also changed: Last year it was mainly about learning blocks, decision-making problems, doubts about studying and difficulties in organizing yourself. "Now every second request has to do with uncertainty due to the uncertain situation," says Reysen-Kostudis. “The students do not have the time horizon for how long they have to hold out.” What the psychologist also observes: The number of students who went to the counseling center because of depressive moods has “increased massively”.

Much content has been lost

Are your students increasingly considering dropping out of their studies? Reysen-Kostudis denies that. However, she urgently advises you to thoroughly evaluate your previous experience with online teaching - and to design the opening plan accordingly.

Some will have left the universities until the openings come. For example Lisa Winkelmann, who studies literature in Erfurt. In the next semester she still has to write her master's thesis, after which her studies are over. Winkelmann also found the digital course exhausting and regrets that a lot of the content has been lost through online teaching.

In some seminars, Winkelmann and her fellow students are only ten inside. Nevertheless, she understands that her institute has switched to online teaching regardless of the number of participants: “You don't have to take any unnecessary risk and there is less to and fro”. But Winkelmann is a bit sad: "My last three university semesters were taken from me".