In October 2019, I started studying computer science in a german university of applied science. The first semester went pretty well and so I was motivated for the second one. I remember exactly the day of my first exam: I saw a news report about the first Covid-19 case in my homeland, Germany. From here on, it didn’t take a long time until the virus has spread worldwide.
Because of the circumstances my university, and many others, decided to hold the next semester as a digital one. In this post I’d like to share my experience with this semester and how it differates from the previous one.
About the lectures
You might be familiar with how a typical university lecture looks like: Hundreds of students sitting in an auditorium, where maybe 20% of them listen to the professor. Since my university was closed during Covid-19 this was not the case any more. The professors had to find a new way to teach their students. So let’s talk about the ways my professors hold their lectures and which digital media they used for that.
One thing to notice is that all of them shared their teaching materials per PDF with their students. So you always had the chance to repeat the content.
Video conferences were actually the way-to-go for most of them. Mostly, there was a Zoom lobby with hundreds of students. In front of us: our professor reading, clicking and scrolling through his script.
This was by far the hardest medium to pay attention to. Sitting straight 90 minutes in front of a laptop, because it was live, and listening to my professor is extremly monotonous. The consequence: one get distracted so easily. I don’t know how many times I just had a “quick” look on my Facebook or Twitter newsfeed.
One could say that this happens in an auditorium as well. For sure, but it happens way more often in front of a laptop, at least in my case. In a normal lecture you mostly don’t have to use your laptop to pay attention to the professor. Moreover it’s less boring with other students than alone in a room.
Videos were my most prefered medium. The professor recorded himself in front of a whiteboard talking and taking notes. At the beginning of each week he uploaded new videos and content. One huge advantage: you were not time-bound. You could watch the videos whenever you want, multiple times, and take breaks occasionally.
A disadvantage was that I postponed those videos quite often. Most of the time I watched all of them at the the end of the week within one day but I guess that’s my bad.
One of my professors recorded his own podcasts and hosted them on multiple platforms. This was actually a little bit unusal but not that bad as you might think. A podcast was not longer than 30 minutes. So it was easy to pay attention for such a period of time. Moreover you could do some other work in the meantime as well.
It should be mentioned that this subject was much about learning by doing. So the professor handed out some papers, that he discussed in his podcasts, but the most work was practical. In this case it might have been inappropriate to hold long presentations from his side.
Since the semester took place from home, it was much easier to plan and organize it. There were six appointments every week that I attended via video conference, each one of them took about 90 minutes. The rest of the week I had more freedom.
Almost every week I had multiple deadlines for submitting different tasks online to get admitted for the exams. Solving these tasks took actually the most time.
So even though I studied from home there wasn’t much time for other things during the week. At the weekend I could meet friends and pursue my hobbies, as long as the pandemic allowed it. However, I guess that was related to my study course and not to the digital semester in general.
A huge benefit was the time I saved due to not taking the bus / train to the university. Everyday I saved around 1 hour because of the absent travel time.
The communication went pretty well. Most of the time we used our universitie’s teaching platform or emails, which the professors answered within one day mostly.
Moreover you had the opportunity to schedule private meetings with the professors, that were hold via Zoom. Here you could ask more personal questions regarding your studies.
The exams didn’t really differ from the ones before the pandemic. The only remarkable difference besides distances rules etc.: all students had to wear a face mask on their place during the exams. This was a little bit annoying at the beginning but you got used to it pretty fast.
In two subjects we were supposed to hand in a project work instead of writing an exam, what I welcomed very much.
Advantages and disadvantages
Last but not last some pros and cons of a digital semester compared to a normal one.
- independent of location
- no traveling
- more sleep
- more free time
- more freedom
- less paper work
- no bad canteen food :P
- less or no social contact with co-students
- less movement
- harder to communicate with professors
- more self-learning (could be an advantage as well)
- more personal responsibility
- no physical access to the library
- a good internet connection might be needed
All in all I really liked the digital semester: it was less stressful and way more agil. Nevertheless, I think that this way of learning is not for everyone since there’s no personal contact to other students or the professors. Moreover, it’s definitly less exciting to study from home alone.
For the future I’m hoping for a good mix of “digital” and “analog” schooling. Both of them have their own benefits and limitations. Coronavirus had a deep impact in our way of teaching. It opened a door, to digital schooling, that otherwise might has kept closed for the next years, at least in Germany.