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The virtual semester went well – was that surprising?

Initial review on studying in times of corona

The current summer semester was a premiere for all members of Furtwangen University (HFU). Working and studying from home, virtual lectures, closed libraries - the Corona pandemic required a fundamental change of direction. On April 20 digital lectures began at Furtwangen University, on July 17 the lecture period ended, and three weeks of examinations now follow. Time to draw some first conclusions.

One thing is certain: The "Corona Semester" has given the HFU an immense boost in digitalisation. "We want to maintain the positive effects," explains HFU President Prof. Dr. Rolf Schofer. The lectures have been digitised, and various software and tools are used for online meetings. Journeys between locations have been replaced by video conferencing. The libraries' online resources are more important than ever.

The measures taken as a result of corona were all based on the following: infection control, avoidance of a "zero-semester", equal treatment for all and legality. The aim was to ensure that the University could continue to operate while complying with all necessary infection protection measures. New concepts were born. "Nobody knew at the beginning of the semester how this was going to work out," recalls President Rolf Schofer. "The uncertainty of not knowing how things would continue was the most difficult thing. At the beginning of April, it was not clear how the summer semester would develop." The corona regulations for universities were always only valid for short periods and long-term planning was not possible. "We were faced with challenges that had not existed in this form before," says HFU Chancellor Andrea Linke, "but I was confident from the beginning that we would succeed."

The results of the latest student survey show that this has been achieved with great success. The majority of students surveyed say that for them this semester was "a full semester" despite digital teaching.

The coming winter semester will probably be taught in hybrid form. Scenarios are currently being developed, for example with students being taught either at the University or at home over live broadcasts of lectures on alternate weeks.

From an international viewpoint Germany has so far survived the corona crisis well. This makes HFU very attractive for prospective students from abroad who are currently rather reluctant to choose the USA or the UK as their destination. The International Center is preparing to welcome international students at the beginning of the winter semester.

While the easing of lockdown measures makes attendance at the University more likely, health protection will still play a crucial role in the coming winter semester. In the coming months, face-to-face courses will have to be supplemented by digital formats. "To be honest, we were surprised at how well the switch to a digital semester worked," admits President Schofer. "But it didn’t just happen by itself – it was a lot of work." Nevertheless, Furtwangen University does not want to turn into a distance-learning university. "The personal contact, the individual support of our students, and the exchange among the lecturers cannot be completely replaced by online meetings."