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TUM School of Management | 18.08.2020

Students at the TUM School of Management have coped quite well with the switch to digital learning formats for this past summer semester. “I have been pleasantly surprised with how well the virtual classroom setting has been going. Lecturers have been able to adapt their courses to make learning and participating possible. While some of my courses have integrated tools to encourage active participation, other classes have transformed into pre-recorded sessions or podcasts. I enjoy having the mix as it brings diversity to my learning”, says Master in Management and Technology student Chelsea. How about our professors? How have they adapted to online teaching? What particular challenges came with the transition to online tools, and how did their lectures differ from their regular lectures on-site? We asked some of our professors at TUM School of Management.

The Transition to Digital Teaching

“The switch to online teaching was necessary to enable our students to continue their studies this past semester,” says Prof. Gunther Friedl, Dean of the TUM School of Management, “It was an enormous feat that demanded everything from our professors and staff. I am proud that we managed it so well and I’d like to thank our students for reacting so flexibly”. Prof. Goerg also thinks that the switch to digital teaching has worked well. And he is confident about blended learning formats in the future: “We have learned a lot these past few months. This will help us in the coming semesters: either to continue offering some content digitally or to expand our classroom lectures with digital content. We were already able to demonstrate some direct advantages this semester. Prof. Hottenrott and I gave the VWL II – Macroeconomics lecture together across campus boundaries. This gives the students a little more variety in their lectures and it becomes clear how, across all locations, we work together well in the department.” “Even though the content of the lecture was comparable to previous years, we have adapted the structure quite a bit. We discussed best practices within the team and then clearly assigned tasks. There was a person in charge for Moodle and someone for technical aspects. The exercises in German and English were recorded by dedicated team members, and there were also colleagues explicitly responsible for the Q&A videos. The questions in the lecture forums were answered directly by us professors,” adds Prof. Hottenrott.

New Formats and Innovative Tools

“Preparing for online lectures is much more time-consuming because we first had to familiarize ourselves with the technologies. In addition, completely different didactic concepts are required, which were uncharted territory for many of us,” says Prof. Friedl. Prof. Hübner agrees: “Digital teaching lacks direct interaction, so you can’t use the same slides as you would in a regular lecture”. And Prof. Goerg also describes: “The direct interaction that would take place in the lecture now has to take place differently. That is possible, but it must be planned from the beginning and communicated clearly. If someone approaches me after a lecture on campus, it is easier to identify and clarify the problem right away”. Prof. Hottenrott describes: “The preparation for online lectures differs in that we consider carefully which examples we want to give and how long we want to talk about a specific topic. The lecture is therefore much less spontaneous and requires more precise planning.”

For his lectures, Prof. Hübner therefore used short, asynchronous videos with cloze texts and exercises to encourage attention. In addition, there was a weekly quiz with bonus points and an online Q&A session for the students. Further, he says, he now includes more videos, e.g. from companies, in order to incorporate some impressions from practice. “In my smaller course, I always had a somewhat funny beginning in my videos, so that each week students felt like watching the next video. In another seminar, we advised all the groups individually via Zoom. At the end, we had a big video conference where each group presented their research questions and designs as well as their results. In other words, pretty much the same as virtual science conferences,” reports Prof. Goerg. Prof. Hottenrott emphasizes some of the advantages that she noticed: “A clear advantage of the instructional videos was that we were able to build up to difficult concepts slowly. The notes and additions we made on the slides during the recording were later still available to everyone. The students also found the reference to current topics, i.e. the current crisis, and the links to interesting and useful sources in the forums very useful.”

Prof. Friedl also looks back positively on the digital formats of the summer semester: “We have had quite excellent experiences with interactive online Q&A sessions. Students asked many more questions than during regular lectures and we sometimes went into depth much more than before”. Additionally, he says, it was easier to involve top-class guest speakers. Not needing to travel lowered the threshold for joining. “We had more exciting practitioners with us than ever before.”

At TUM Campus Heilbronn, David Wuttke, Professor for Supply Chain Management, has started to explore the use of virtual reality (VR) for classroom applications this summer semester. “It’s early stage work in progress and there are many things we will improve”, he says “but already now we note that VR offers many benefits such as a highly immersive environment and a clear focus on content without any distraction. It’s exciting to be in this test phase, recording a few VR clips for lectures myself.”

Positive Feedback and Outlook

All in all, our professors agree, the formats of digital teaching have been received quite well among students, but most of them, students and professors alike, would like to come back to campus in person again. “Of course, we are getting the feedback that the majority of students would like to have classroom sessions again. That is the same for us professors. Direct interaction with the students during lectures is much more fun for me than looking at the video camera all day long. However, there is also a small group of students, who actually prefer digital formats. It allows for a certain flexibility in their daily routine, which can of course be an advantage depending on circumstances.” In conclusion, Prof. Friedl gives a brief outlook on the coming winter semester, “As the length of online teaching increases, it becomes more and more clear how important onsite formats are. The creative exchange of ideas and spontaneous inspiration works much better in classroom teaching. We must now bring the best of both worlds together and offer our students a learning environment that combines virtual teaching and face-to-face teaching.”

Making Optimum Use of the Offer

As a tip for students to make the best possible use of the wide range of material offered, Prof. Friedl recommends: “This online semester offers material for exam preparation in an unprecedented variety. The decisive factors are planning and motivation. Because the usual rhythm is missing and because there are no interpersonal contacts, it is all the more important to plan your exam preparation well. Why not arrange a weekly jour fixe with two or three other students to discuss the current exam material? Such a jour fixe could also take place in the beer garden.” Hanna Hottenrott and her colleagues offered several quizzes on lecture topics during the semester to ensure that students did not put off exam preparation for too long, but rather spread out the material throughout the semester. “Binge-watching shortly before the exam would be fatal, because that would mean lots of hours of video materials,” she says. In addition, she prepared a short mock exam in which students could familiarize themselves with the details of a digital exam.

Prof. Goerg has a similar concern: “A general problem in revising the material before exams is that you only look at the materials instead of actively dealing with them. This temptation is probably even greater with the additional materials in digital teaching. Only looking at the recordings of the lecture parts again is not enough. You have to be able to take notes yourself, summarize it in your own words, do your own calculations, and understand and reproduce arguments and trains of thought. The nice thing about it is that you can sit in the sun without a computer to learn for the exam.”

Individual Profiles for Facing Corona Together

Die Professoren Friedl, Goerg, Hottenrott und Hübner

From left: Prof. Gunther Friedl, Prof. Sebastian Goerg, Prof. Hanna Hottenrott, Prof. Alexander Hübner.

Prof. Gunther Friedl:

“The switch to online teaching was necessary to enable our students to continue their studies this past semester and I am proud that we were able to manage it so well”, says Prof. Gunther Friedl, Dean of the TUM School of Management. “Preparing for online lectures is much more time-consuming because we first had to familiarize ourselves with the technologies. In addition, completely different didactic concepts are required, which were uncharted territory for many of us.” Overall, Prof. Friedl looks back positively on the digital formats of the summer semester: “We have had quite excellent experiences with interactive online Q&A sessions. Students asked many more questions than during regular lectures and we sometimes went into depth much more than before”. As a tip for students to make the best possible use of the wide range of material offered, Prof. Friedl recommends: “This online semester offers material for exam preparation in an unprecedented variety. The decisive factors are planning and motivation. Because the usual rhythm is missing and because there are no interpersonal contacts, it is all the more important to plan your exam preparation well. Why not arrange a weekly jour fixe with two or three other students to discuss the current exam material? Such a jour fixe could also take place in the beer garden.”

In conclusion, Prof. Friedl gives a brief outlook on the coming winter semester: “As the length of online teaching increases, it becomes more and more clear how important onsite formats are. The creative exchange of ideas and spontaneous inspiration works much better in classroom teaching. We must now bring the best of both worlds together and offer our students a learning environment that combines virtual teaching and face-to-face teaching.”

Prof. Sebastian Goerg:

All in all, Prof. Goerg also thinks that the switch to digital teaching has worked well. And he is confident about blended learning formats in the future, “We have learned a lot these past few months. This will help us in the coming semesters, either to continue offering some content digitally or to expand our classroom lectures with digital content. We were already able to demonstrate some direct advantages this semester. Prof. Hottenrott and I gave the VWL II – Macroeconomics lecture together across campus boundaries. This gives the students a little more variety in their lectures and it becomes clear how, across all locations, we work together well in the department.” However, he describes: “The direct interaction that would take place in the lecture now has to take place differently. That is possible, but it must be planned from the beginning and communicated clearly. If someone approaches me after a lecture on campus, it is easier to identify and clarify the problem right away”. He therefore adapted his classes to further attention and interaction: “In my smaller course, I always had a somewhat funny beginning in my videos, so that each week students felt like watching the next video. In another seminar, we advised all the groups individually via Zoom. At the end, we had a big video conference where each group presented their research questions and designs as well as their results. In other words, pretty much the same as virtual science conferences.” In order to now prepare for exams, Prof. Goerg has some tips: “A general problem in revising the material before exams is that you only look at the materials instead of actively dealing with them. This temptation is probably even greater with the additional materials in digital teaching. Only looking at the recordings of the lecture parts again is not enough. You have to be able to take notes yourself, summarize it in your own words, do your own calculations, and understand and reproduce arguments and trains of thought. In doing so, it helps me to work things up in the classic analog way with pen and paper. The nice thing about it is that you can sit in the sun without a computer to learn for the exam.”

Prof. Hanna Hottenrott:

“Even though the content of the lecture was comparable to previous years, we have adapted the structure quite a bit. We discussed best practices within the team and then clearly assigned tasks. There was a person in charge for Moodle and someone for technical aspects. The exercises in German and English were recorded by dedicated team members and there were also colleagues explicitly responsible for the Q&A videos. The questions in the lecture forums were answered directly by us professors and we coordinated everything cross-campus”, says Prof. Hottenrott. “The preparation for online lectures differs in that we consider carefully which examples we want to give and how long we want to talk about a specific topic. The lecture is therefore much less spontaneous and requires more precise planning.” As her lecture and exercise sessions were asynchronous, questions were collected in a forum and then either answered directly, or in the next Q&A video. This had the advantage that – compared to a regular lecture – there was more time to prepare a detailed answer. Prof. Hottenrott emphasizes some more of the advantages that she noticed: “A clear advantage of the instructional videos was that we were able to build up to difficult concepts slowly. The notes and additions we made on the slides during the recording were later still available to everyone. The students also found the reference to current topics, i.e. the current crisis, and the links to interesting and useful sources in the forums very useful.” Hanna Hottenrott and her colleagues offered several quizzes on lecture topics during the semester to ensure that students did not put off exam preparation for too long, but rather spread out the material throughout the semester. “Binge-watching shortly before the exam would be fatal, because that would mean lots of hours of video material”, she says. In addition, she prepared a short mock exam in which students could familiarize themselves with the details of a digital exam.

Prof. Alexander Hübner:

“My concern was that the students could continue their studies this semester without any significant loss of quality. Digital teaching offers options to bridge the certainly difficult time as best as possible”, says Prof. Hübner. However, “digital teaching lacks direct interaction, so you can’t use the same slides as you would in a regular lecture.” For his lectures, Prof. Hübner therefore used short, asynchronous videos with cloze texts and exercises to encourage attention. In addition, there was a weekly quiz with bonus points and an online Q&A session for the students. Further, he says, he now includes more videos, e.g. from companies, in order to incorporate some impressions from practice. Overall, the student feedback has been positive, especially on the tailor-made videos for the lectures. Good are cloze texts and the calculations in videos, so that students have to actively participate and take notes. This increases attention, as noted by his students. “We have weekly quizzes in Moodle with bonus points and students have to answer questions about the video lecture and the exercises. This is where students that continuously put in work are rewarded,” he says.