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Culture

Cutting costs shouldn't be the goal of e-learning, says professor

More and more degrees and courses are being offered online at German universities. But improving teaching methods - not cutting costs - should be the focus, says Professor Christian Spannagel.

Students at computers

More and more degrees are offered online

The ever-increasing integration of the Internet in university life is in the spotlight at the Didacta trade fair, one of the largest events in Europe examining trends in teaching and education. It runs through February 26 in Stuttgart and offers a platform for universities to present their e-learning initiatives.

Deutsche Welle talked with Christian Spannagel, professor of math and computer science at the Heidelberg University of Education, about how his approach to teaching is changing in the digital age.

Christian Spannagel at the blackboard

Spannagel still uses the blackboard from time to time

Deutsche Welle: Professor Spannagel, can you tell us how you use the Internet as a teacher?

Christian Spannagel: I have a blog where I write about my scholarship and my experiences as a teacher. Students comment there from time to time, and I also get into conversations with them. Email now accounts for about 90 percent of the communication between students and me. I also have a Wiki where I write about my work and that can also take comments. And I use Twitter as a tool to talk about what I'm doing at the moment.

How has your work changed by using these forms of communication?

My online communication has had a big effect on my seminars and lectures. For instance, in one of my seminars, students were coming into contact with people outside of the class because I wrote on my blog and on Twitter about the things I was doing online with the students. So people from outside suddenly came and started interacting with us.

That can have a big motivational effect on the participants in a course - when it's conducted publicly.

What are the limits to e-learning in your view?

You have to make sure that you're not spending too much time solely on communication as a professor. It can get to the point where you're communicating for the sake of talking and not in order to exchange substantive ideas. There have been times in the past where I've gone too far with using online media like Twitter, Facebook or Xing. Then I said, ok, I'm going to take a break and just use some of them.

University lecture hall

The Internet shouldn't replace classrooms, says Spannagel

In Germany, there are currently around 2.2 million students, and that number is set to rise dramatically in the future. Can teaching via the Internet help save universities money by reducing the need for physical lecture halls and seminar rooms?

These are arguments that I hear a lot. People are proposing recording lectures and putting them online to deal with the problem of lecture halls that are filled beyond capacity.

I do that myself. My lectures are available on YouTube, but I don't do it for the sake of saving money. Instead, it helps me use the time in class better by being able to involve students in the conversation more.

For me, that's the point of using online tools to help students learn. It should be about creating better didactic opportunities and not just about saving resources.

Interview: Svenja Üing / gsw
Editor: Kate Bowen

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