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“We've received lots of positive, enthusiastic feedback”

The conference of the German Association for Educational Development (dghd) was held online due to the coronavirus. Wolfgang Deicke, a member of the organization team, shares his experiences in an interview.

Apr 08, 2020

The 49th Annual Conference of the German Association for Educational Development was made into an online event overnight.

The 49th Annual Conference of the German Association for Educational Development was made into an online event overnight.
Image Credit: Bernd Wannenmacher

“Envisioning Teaching and Learning as a Common Task: Together – Cooperative – Integrative” – this was the motto of the 49th Annual Conference of the German Association for Educational Development, which was supposed to be held at Freie Universität Berlin from March 10, 2020 to March 13, 2020. The sense of community was felt very strongly, albeit somewhat differently than anticipated: The conference was made into an online event overnight in order to minimize risks for conference participants during the coronavirus pandemic. The majority of the lectures, symposiums and short statements from workshops and discourse panels took place live via AdobeConnect. The event platform was hosted by the German Research Network (Deutsches Forschungsnetz – DFN). The conference was organized by the Berlin University Alliance in cooperation with the Berlin Center for Higher Education.

Below you will find an interview with Wolfgang Deicke, head of the bologna.lab at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and one of the conference organizers:

Wolfgang Deicke, head of the bologna.lab at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Wolfgang Deicke, head of the bologna.lab at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Image Credit: Andrea Riedel

Mr. Deicke, when did the organization team notice – or rather, when did they decide – that the face-to-face event would be made into an online one?

That was actually decided about a week before the conference started. Of course, we had already considered this issue beforehand. We received initial inquiries from the USA at the beginning of January regarding whether the conference will be taking place, as a travel ban had already been imposed there. Similar inquiries came from Switzerland a month later. The cancellations then started to pile up. We were expecting some of them not to turn up, and we thought of a scenario that incorporated both face-to-face and accompanying online events. In the end, the risk of a face-to-face conference was simply too high, but we didn't want to cancel completely.

How might we imagine the online conference? What did it look like? Were all of the participants sitting alone in front of their devices?

Yes, that’s right. As there would be at a face-to-face event, different types were being presented simultaneously: keynotes, lecture sessions, workshops. The presenters were mostly either sitting alone or with a number of people in their offices and gave their talks. The others were listening live and then sent their questions and comments to the presenters via chat. Some online events had ten participants, others had up to fifty. Experienced online moderators were on hand in each of the virtual rooms. They guided the discussions in larger groups.

What effect did the new format have on the event?

A purely online conference was a new experience for many, even if the conference was primarily run for and by university education experts. The discussions were a little more restrained, but also more thoughtful than they usually would be. Some things were also missing, for example the conversations that would usually take place during the breaks. The technology didn't always work perfectly; some weren’t able to get into the virtual rooms, for example. However, it was a great learning opportunity for anyone who was open to it. Learning was happening on three possible levels: First on the level of the subject-specific content which are the focus of every conference; second, on the level of concrete experiences in dealing with technology and media with regards to online teaching; and finally, on the meta-level of a learning experiment under extreme conditions. Our own evaluation of the conference is still ongoing, but in general we’ve received lots of positive, enthusiastic feedback, and the format was widely supported.

How did you find it on a personal level?

I think the learning process will stay in my memory for a particularly long time. What struck me the most was the community’s willingness to engage in this experiment. From the Berlin University Alliance organizational team to our student staff and the participants. The conference simply wouldn’t have been possible without the fantastic support from our student staff and the higher education teaching community. Within 48 hours, we managed to recruit experienced online moderators for 55 online meetings. Despite the physical distance, I think many found this conference to be especially intense.

Do you think that this or other similar examples will promote digitalization in teaching?

I can well imagine that our experiences within the Berlin University Alliance institutions will certainly make it easier to overcome some of the concerns that would otherwise be raised, and that we will work together to increase digitalization in teaching.

Interview conducted by Ljiljana Nikolic

This interview was first published March 23, 2020 at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.