Online teaching works!

Digitizing knowledge as quickly as possible and communicating it online – this is the task that the corona pandemic has given colleges and universities. The problem has been solved very well: A research paper from the Cooperative State University of Baden-Württemberg (DHBW) shows that online teaching can work.


at national scale

Press release

Cooperative State University of Baden-Württemberg

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“Self-assessment of undergraduate students’ computer skills” is the name of the research that Professors Kay Berkling (DHBW Karlsruhe) and Carmen Winter (DHBW Stuttgart) and Professor Dirk Saller (DHBW Mosbach) have now published in Science online magazine [email protected]

The publication aims for a closer integration of theory and practice in the field of educational technologies and teaching and learning practices. The central statement of the scientific evaluation of Baden-Württemberg: online computer science education works alternately and can impart all important skills that are otherwise acquired with classroom education. Basically, according to the assessment of the students surveyed, there are on average no significant qualitative differences in the teaching of numerical theory compared to “on-site study”.

In pandemic spring 2020, the first mass lockdowns also took place in colleges and universities around the world. “With two Italian education researchers with whom we are in contact, we immediately understood: we must investigate and evaluate this historic turning point”, says Dirk Saller, describing the starting point of the research. As early as April 2020, he launched a survey of DHBW colleagues and other university professors in Italy and Tanzania on how professors and students perceive the confinement in the summer semester 2020 – and what they expect: “What does it have in store for us? Can we take it? Can we start teaching and studying online right away if we were only used to being in person until now? »

This approach resulted in a longer-term research perspective with several surveys that identified different aspects of the overarching topic of “online teaching and its effectiveness” at different points in time. “Even in the first phase, we were surprised that teachers and students spoke positively about their experiences,” says Professor Kay Berkling. “The basic tenor was: ‘We can do it’. There were no panic reactions. Around a third of respondents had fears about what was to come – but on average the values ​​of a total of 2,000 respondents from various courses and faculties were in the positive range when it came to teaching success in line. Professor Sabine Möbs from DHBW Heidenheim also participated in the study.

The additional research that has now been published is based on these approaches, but only became possible as the pandemic progressed – Corona did not want to end. “We now had the opportunity to ask different semesters and years about their different experiences and studies,” says Professor Carmen Winter. “How did it go online versus face-to-face? Did the students have the feeling or even the certainty of acquiring sufficient knowledge even without being present at the university?

An important question was the measurement criterion to compare before/after and online/offline. “The simplest criterion is of course satisfaction,” explains Carmen Winter, head of the computer science course at the DHBW in Stuttgart and involved in educational technologies since her doctorate. “But we focused mainly on the concept of ‘competence’.” This had found its way into the planning of university curricula at the latest during the Bologna process – that is, the standardization of courses and degrees on a European scale. In the case of bachelor’s degree courses, it also includes practical vocational qualifications. In this phase, the emphasis was first placed on the computer course.

“Thanks to the modular structure of current courses, we can measure the achievement of skills for each module. In the end, it’s more objective than the question of student satisfaction,” explains the computer science professor. The basic question of the second phase, which retrospectively dealt with the corona blockages in mid-2021: “Did we achieve these competence goals better in person or better through online teaching?” The result indicates that there are no significant mean differences in computer science degrees existed. First, students from the 2020 and 2021 promotions were asked about their self-assessment. Overall, the responses showed good results with the conditions of online teaching and, in their opinion, the students met the proficiency objectives of their courses.

The persistence of the corona pandemic finally gave the DHBW scientists the opportunity to dig even deeper – because another research approach emerged. Instead of “simply” surveying the cohorts about their experiences and skill acquisition with alternating online and offline courses, the researchers were now able to analyze two full cohorts of graduates who had either only recorded the same material in person or only online. “This gave us the unique opportunity to take a closer look: Do students who learn the material in the individual modules exclusively digitally ultimately have the same specialist knowledge as those who learn the traditional way in lectures and labs? “, says Kay Berkling. The professor was recently awarded the Baden-Württemberg State Teaching Prize for her approach to study support through the integration of online social networks.

It is precisely this question that the authors explored in their study “Self-assessment of the skills of undergraduate students in computer science”. Of the approximately 550 graduates sent each year, approximately 15% completed the questionnaire designed for this purpose. “The result: in computer science, neither a significant increase in the proportion of online courses nor the exclusive implementation of individual online modules had any negative effects on perceived competence”, reports Dirk Saller. “Averaging all the results, it can be said that the DHBW system has proven to be extremely robust in the computer science course, even with high online shares during the pandemic.”

Researchers also looked at substructures and compared individual DHBW sites – computer science is taught by DHBW in eight cities across the state. Significant differences between the online subgroup and the offline subgroup became visible when examining individual modules and individual locations. “Here, the informative value decreases rapidly due to the low number of feedbacks attributed. Some perspectives become more important ‘under the microscope’ when there are few answers,” says Carmen Winter. The major trends in the survey are therefore more significant.

Based on their findings, the three DHBW experts are of the opinion that the current survey has proven to be effective enough to comprehensively assess the shift to online education. “Because we also identified weaknesses and strengths based on skills and location, it would be interesting to ‘institutionalize’ this type of survey,” says Winter. It could be conducted at the end of each school year, then carefully separate the years, conduct the survey closer to when the skills were taught and thus detect potential problems earlier. “This would reduce the time required for the survey and could possibly also increase the number of student participants. As we can draw important conclusions from the responses, the student response rate would need to be increased in order to be able to confirm the trends identified.

The authors of the research paper emphasize that their job is not to “balance” online or offline teaching: “The sharp increase in online teaching is clearly due to the corona pandemic. But this event also meant inevitably people were able to experiment with the digital possibilities faster and more intensely than expected,” says Kay Berkling. Examining this in detail and thus proving the robustness of the DHBW system even under special conditions is a significant result. “But of course, we in no way question the teaching in the classroom”, underlines the professor. “Presence is important – for the teaching of social skills, for training in work and negotiation situations, for human interaction, for s fun to study.”

Nevertheless, according to his colleague Dirk Saller, there is of course also a “market” for online offers. “For decades, there have been distance education universities that teach certain content remotely. In our opinion, sandwich courses in which the theory is taught online are also possible for the DHBW in the future. Our new scientific findings show us that we are good at it at DHBW. »

In coordination with the dual partners, whose concerns, needs and “use cases” are of course integrated, a three-year pilot project for an online computer science degree is currently underway. Saller: “It is still a discussion in the committees, and the legal framework still needs to be checked. However, I think it is possible that we can start with this in the winter semester 2023/2024 – because we now have a lot of digital experience and know-how.However, we also agree that the experiences of our course cannot simply be transferred to all courses.

We are very excited about new data and possible ideas for the next promotion. This data includes new student declarations, since this year started online teaching directly in the 1st semester. “There are already indications in previous surveys that a subgroup of students struggles with online teaching, while another subgroup feels particularly comfortable. This is due to the problem of online study ability.There is another post about it.

Based on this study, indicators were created based on well-known standardized tests. They allow students to better assess their suitability before deciding to study online. Kay Berkling: “Despite the research available, there is still much to do and understand to successfully design and implement online education over the long term.”

Kay Berkling, Dirk Saller, Carmen Winter, Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University Karlsruhe: “Self-Assessment of Competencies by Bachelor Students in Computer Science”, in: [email protected] – Open Journal por la formazione in rete, https://oaj

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