Following on from my visit to Potsdam University I visited Hamburg University.
The idea was to catch a train from Berlin on Sunday night to Hamburg. Unfortunately, Storm Xavier hit that weekend throwing trains from Berlin in chaos. Luckily I was able to get to Hamburg the following day where I met Antje Katzchner from the International Office. She did a great job acting as the liaison between staff at Hamburg and the two learning designers from Macquarie. The first thing I was surprised at was the level of involvement between our respective universities. Hamburg, Macquarie and Fudan (based in Shanghai) had signed a Tripartite agreement which had resulted in a number of joint initiatives. International law plus was such a program where students from both Macquarie and Hamburg would visit each other’s respective campuses, to attend lectures and engage in a cultural exchange. They would jointly work on a piece of assessment which would contribute to the academic progression in their respective degrees. This was going to happen in session 1 2018 and a lot of work is to be done to support this. Particularly since Hamburg is just starting out in elearning and is not familiar with online platforms such as iLearn which will play a central role in this program.
Hamburg City has provided financial support for all the universities located in Hamburg to develop open online resources for all. This initiative is called Hamburg Open Online University. Essentially it is a repository of educational resources designed for both the general public and teachers. Hamburg has 13 staff working on developing resources for this initiative. Before a resource is created it needs to meet these criteria. It needs to be open, scientific (based on research) and student-centred. The majority of resources are in German, however, there are also resources in English. The resources are built using H5P a new standard that supports interactive resources and activities.
Hamburg University has a comprehensive student support service, Piasta, run by students for students. There is 50 paid staff, of which 48 are students. These are highly competitive and sought-after positions by students. Hamburg University has a lot of international students. They have access to a range of services including buddies (teaming up with a German student to help navigate on and off campus), language and cultural exchanges, intercultural evenings (meet other students), cultural and leisure activities such as tours, seminars and workshops. Interestingly students can apply for a Certificate of Intercultural Competence (CIC). This recognizes the students’ intercultural engagement and willingness to engage in extra-curricular activities.
Master of International Business and Sustainability debates
As part of providing opportunities for students in the MIBAS program to develop their employability skills, students are supported and encouraged to host a series of debates on topics related to the area with outside experts ranging from business to government. A small group of final year students decide on a topic to address, research and contact the experts, and facilitate the debates. This has been a successful initiative that has been running for a few years and students who engage in this are developing skills that will benefit them when they join the workforce.
The faculty of business at Hamburg University is developing a self-test for students to assess whether they have skills to successfully complete a program in business. This is to help address the 33% non-completion rate of students starting this program. They hope that by better informing students before they start the program, that students can self-select as to whether the program is right for them. The questions are on literacy and numeracy, and general knowledge of the program and around expectations of students. It’s available prior to enrolment and is optional. However, to encourage students to complete it, they need to indicate that they have completed the test (checkbox) on enrolment. The test will shortly be rolled out and they are looking to expand these self-tests to other programs including in science.
Over the course of my stay in Germany visiting both Potsdam and Hamburg I found that we were all struggling with similar issues. These included student engagement, improving the process of student enrolment and ensuring collaboration across large departments, and faculties. From the co-development of international lessons in OIL.UP to engaging lessons in Open University, both universities are attempting to engage with their students through new opportunities for students to work with international students and interactive content. Improving student enrolment through student empowerment was a theme in both universities with similar approaches, whereby students self-assess whether they had the skills and personality traits to successfully complete the program. A common issue was ensuring that departments and faculties worked together and there were programs and developments that supported the whole university. Both universities struggled with this, although Potsdam was in a stronger position to develop strategic projects, having a small, motivated central team with a well-defined role within the organization. They also had the technical staff that were able to implement some of the initiatives such as OIL.UP and Campus.UP. They were less reliant on large IT departments that had other priorities.
The German and Australian higher education environments are different, and this leads to different drivers that lead to different emphasis. Germany does not charge either domestic or international student tuition fees. From 2014 students at German universities only pay an administrative fee of approximately $320 USD per semester. Universities receive a budget from one of the 16 states that comprise the Federal German state based on annual or biennial negotiations. Consequently, there isn’t the same driver to increase student enrolments in Germany as there is in the Australian context. From my limited observations, the two German universities I observed were less concerned with student non-completion and increasing student numbers than Macquarie and other universities in the Australian Higher education environment. As a result, they did not have the large numbers of students in classes nor the associated issues experienced by Macquarie. Given these differences, it’s not surprising that there is a different emphasis. The German universities focus more on research, with people in roles that would be filled by learning designers at Macquarie, being researchers and academics. Also, these roles are not well supported or understood. Macquarie focusses more on educational technology and educational design. It needs to look at ways educational technology and design can support it to provide quality education to large student numbers. This is why there is the development of educational systems such as an LMS like iLearn, automated administrative systems like iTeach and lecture recordings like ECHO360. Also, there is a large group of professional elearning staff, learning designers, which help staff at Macquarie use educational technology and pedagogy to support learning.
However, the two German universities I visited were starting out on the journey of utilising elearning to support teaching and learning. They were aware that educational technology can support and create rich and rewarding educational experiences for students. They were extremely interested in finding out what we had managed to achieve at Macquarie and were willing to share their own experiences and insights. I think the most beneficial aspect of the exchange was to see how similar and yet different universities in Germany and Macquarie were but to also acknowledge that there were common problems we all faced, and there were knowledgeable and friendly people that were willing to share and learn together.