Photo: U. Kullik
Digitalization and internationalization in teaching
Digitalization is rapidly encompassing all spheres of public and private life – including teaching at the University of Cologne.
A report by Ulrike Herbst
Digital forms of teaching offer an array of opportunities
“Especially for universities that have defined internationalization as a strategic goal, as the University of Cologne has done, digitalized forms of teaching and learning offer a wide range of opportunities,” explains Jan Eden, head of the Digital Studies department.
For example, universities can market themselves across national boundaries by employing digital media and networks and use previously unavailable information channels. Digital learning can complement classroom teaching and enable students to learn flexibly, regardless of the time and location. E-learning platforms simplify collaboration and exchange between students and teachers. Open Education Resources (OER) enable the development and use of digital teaching materials without any copyright restrictions, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) open up new target groups for courses or position the university effectively in international competition.
Especially for universities that have defined internationalization as a strategic goal, as the University of Cologne has done, digitalized forms of teaching and learning offer a wide range of opportunities.
Digitalization at the Universty of Cologne
"Wherever possible, we want to take advantage of these opportunities" continues Jan Eden. “The Institute for Scandinavian Studies and Finnish Studies of the University of Cologne has already developed a model for a digital and international degree programme with the E-Master program in Scandinavian and Finnish Studies”. This programme includes e-courses and digital lectures developed by a network of partner universities in Germany, Finland and France which are integrated into the Master’s degree programmes of the respective universities. "Smaller subjects can benefit tremendously from expanding their range of courses through e-learning," says Professor Schröder from the Institute for Scandinavian and Finnish Studies.
Despite the opportunities – digitalization is not a sure-fire success and also presents the universities with challenges in terms of the strategic management of information infrastructure (governance) and the coordinated support of digital teaching. To prepare a suitable digitalization strategy for teaching at the University of Cologne, delegates of the Vice-Rector for Teaching and Studies visited a number of international universities since last year to exchange experiences on structures and projects.
International dialogue on best practice schemes
As part of the Digital Studies delegation, representatives of the Vice-Rector for Teaching and Studies, the faculties and the Regional Computing Centre visited five universities in the USA and Canada. The universities visited, among them Stanford University and UC Berkeley, emphasize the responsibility of their faculties for teaching, as does the University of Cologne. In recent years, they have developed ecosystems in which central and decentralized institutions collaborate to develop digital teaching concepts supported by IT services. Excellent progress has been made by higher education institutions such as the University of British Columbia, where IT services and teaching expertise are combined in a Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT). "Advice and support from a single source is an essential condition for the use of such services by lecturers," says Professor Herzig, Vice-Rector for Teaching and Studies at the University of Cologne.
Additional financial incentives for innovation in higher education teaching have been set up at the North American universities with funding programs similar to the Innovation in teaching funding line at the University of Cologne. "A major success factor for – not just digital – teaching projects is ongoing support during the application phase, which was successfully implemented at the University of British Columbia, which was also down to the work of the CTLT," adds Professor Herzig.
The Digital Studies delegration gave impetus for establishing the Digital Learning and Working Group to improve networking between experts for digital teaching in Cologne. One of the first tasks of this working group is a survey of all projects and services related to digital teaching.
Advice and support from a single source is an essential condition for the use of such services by lecturers
Digitalization requires new structures
In two further trips, Jan Eden visited the University of Cambridge and several universities in the Netherlands (Twente, Eindhoven, Utrecht, Nijmegen). During his visits, he assessed the quality of IT services and strategic IT management. Several years ago, each of the named universities appointed a CIO (Chief Information Officer) with responsibility for the strategic management of information resources and the operation of all IT services. “The CIO model and consolidation of IT services in one institution has also gained international acceptance at universities. However, not all models can be transferred directly to the University of Cologne – and generally – to German higher education institutions,” explains Jan Eden.
With the introduction of modern concepts for information technology, Cambridge and the Dutch universities have also undergone fundamental restructuring measures that temporarily impaired the performance of IT infrastructure and also had an impact on digitialization. The University of Cologne must find a way to implement administrative changes while consistently delivering a high level of service.
The University of Cologne will face this challenge in the coming years. Through the work and research the university is well prepared for the continuous innovation in teaching and research which is the lifeblood of an excellence university.