Transferring the teaching of the future into TODAY: From regional teaching labs to international university labs!

Bolsinger im Lehrlabor3This week I was at the final event of the project Lehrlabor3 in Nuremberg, Germany. In the project the aim was to jointly overcome boundaries of thought in order to develop new ideas for teaching and learning across universities . I was all encouraged by the results and actors of the project – doers who are able and willing to share their insights and let them evolve! However, even though this project is really great, in my own experience, there is still very very very much potential for development in our higher education system in Germany….

What have I experienced myself? And what conclusion have I come to?

As a freshly appointed professor and voluntary sub-project leader of a research project, one of the greatest inefficiencies of the system immediately struck me at the time. Instead of pursuing the desired result of the research and development assignment with all my might, my working time was occupied with 50% of unproductive administrative work within the framework of the project. And at the same time, I did an incredible amount of extra work in order to lead the project to success together with my colleague, despite the most adverse conditions, and to implement voluntary accompanying research to determine whether it could even be called beneficial. Yes – it was worth it, because all subsequent projects have continued our ideas at that time and rolled out my vision at that time. Now a “self-assessment portal” is available to provide students with initial guidance on study options at THWS, and some colleagues are thinking further ahead.

As vice dean of the largest faculty at THWS with about 2,000 students, these experiences have deepened – unproductive administrative work in countless areas has been joined by less than insightful budget challenges in many areas. Even though the professorial experts, through their subject expertise, knew exactly what was important for the teaching process and the students’ competence development, many teaching innovations could not be realized at all or only with the highest administrative efforts.  It was not the amount of money itself that was the problem – the overall budget allocation at Bavarian universities was and is excellent! I don’t even want to think about how many nights we invested in order to realize an important part of our teaching philosophy with the Würzburg competence development model “ready to act” and to design it in a legally compliant and administrative manner. At the time, the state-of-the-art implementation of off-campus team training with students as the basis for professional project collaboration in our main areas of study generated more organizational effort than the time ultimately spent with the students in the respective courses. What was the actual problem? Teaching and competence development requirements were squeezed into a Procrustean bed of old-time administrative requirements, and if someone hid behind a paragraph, some options were not implemented at all. The motivation of teaching staff is not infinite and as soon as a teaching concept consumes more time in operational and administrative preparation than the teaching itself, even freshly appointed high performers of innovative teaching say goodbye to such projects. But here, too, it was worth it! For many years now, our students have gained much more than pure knowledge – they know themselves better than students who are only presented with content in narrowly defined knowledge units. They are able to deal with real-world challenges professionally in teams. I am still proud of this today! My time as executive dean of the same faculty then allowed me an even deeper insight into countless university areas and processes that are important for success. I could easily design an entire course of studies from the four years of a 60-hour week 🙂 Anyone who would like to hear personal impulses from this is welcome to contact me or approach me for a stimulating speech. For this stage of my life, too, I can say that this investment has paid off: redesigning and reshaping, promoting, developing, implementing, and all for nothing less than the future of our global society. Because students who leave our universities competently today shape the weal and woe of our entire world tomorrow!

Universities and colleges are political organizations and that’s exactly how they develop – not really only in terms of subject matter and technology, but for the most part politically – with all that entails and in all areas! Administrative requirements are a wonderful playground for hiding political motivation behind supposed administrative requirements, or, the other way around, to wrap them up in a non-political way. To shorten the whole thing: I am meanwhile convinced that a gradual improvement of all these areas is not possible in the required time – in any German university or college! Three of my children are currently studying at my old alma mater and are still experiencing the same problems I faced as a student decades before….  The INTERNATIONAL higher education landscape is our competitive benchmark these days and is developing rapidly. Beyond higher education structures, puzzle pieces are emerging that when put together will cause disruption to higher education. What we really need is new ACTION in new structures and with the latest technologies. To do this, we need to try higher education in a completely new way, rather than just aiming for a few small efficiencies in existing universities.

The plate on which this dish of success is served is the political will and the politically set framework conditions. I am glad that we in Bavaria have been presented with the perfect plate on which to prepare and serve our creations: the ingenious Bavarian Higher Education Innovation Act (BayHIG)! The experimentation clause in Art. 126 is, among many other changes, a perfect breeding ground to bring the future into today – to Bavaria!!! We have to be brave and design completely new international and 1,000% student needs and competency education oriented success models and test them in the real world if we want to continue to occupy international top positions in higher education!

The Teaching Lab Project has planted a small seed for this. Thank you! More of it, please – beyond all limiting structures! Now the question is: How do we get from a regional teaching laboratory to an international university lab? I am involved wherever I can be helpful with my experience. Are you also?