The Biggest Distance Learning Experiment in History

This semester we have been tasked with putting all of our teaching online, because the Angewandte is closing its doors to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Therefore, we all have to be prepared to learn online. As a consequence we are all embarking on an unprecedented experiment: With little training and in just a matter of days the Angewandte has shifted from an education system focused on face to face interaction since its inception to one that works entirely at a distance. For all our students during this summer term BASE Angewandte is an important source of information: As a first step all our department’s lecturers have put their course materials on BASE Angewandte, for example, slides, literature in the form of PDF files, films, and videos. Online education tools and the infrastructure to communicate with our students remotely are playing a critical role in keeping our students connected in the midst of university closures due to the crisis. This semester our students will not meet with their teachers in person to talk about their learning outcomes, but via ZOOM meetings (or other forms, like writing essays). However, we must all be aware that under the current emergency most teachers do not have any experience at all with this approach.

Because of this outbreak it will be possible to sign in for courses until April 15, 2020. Students will be able to join in later and catch up on the content and learning material because all lectures will be well documented and accessible online on BASE Angewandte.

Regarding the effects of the corona crisis on the future of ways of teaching in our department, there is no doubt that one-to-one teaching and social exchange are indispensable and are central elements to all of us. It is important to emphasize that the current measures are only due to the present situation, which aim to ensure that our students do not experience any major disadvantages. We hope that after the crisis we will return to the way of teaching and learning we experienced before the coronavirus crisis hit: to meet with our students in classrooms, in seminars, on field trips, in workshops, or just for a quick lunch or coffee. The Austrian government, like many other governments around the world who are facing the challenge of this pandemic, has decided that the universities should not be closed and that teaching and research should continue and go on in a virtual form or let’s say different form.

When we have overcome this crisis, we shall have to start to reflect in the virus aftermath that this situation has increased the appreciation for online education — something that will likely continue once we get through this crisis. We will have to talk about the uneven level of preparedness for remote education — this crisis has exposed existing inequalities — among departments, among disciplines, among teaching staff, and among students. What we know from studies of online learning is that students learn less in online classrooms, compared with person-to-person learning, and that disadvantaged students learn the least. Because of these inherent inequalities, we have to focus on making up lost learning when things get back to normal — through summer schools and other remediation: no student should be left behind, no student should have any disadvantages due to this crisis.