The pandemic as a chance to collaboratively modernize higher education

By Hannah Trittin-Ulbrich

You have probably heard this before: In every crisis lays a chance for renewal and growth. In my case, the pandemic offered me the chance to rethink and extend my methods of teaching. Two weeks before the semester at my university, Leuphana University of Lüneburg, all faculty members were informed that all courses needed to be conducted remotely, in order to guarantee the safety of our students the teaching staff.

Initially wondering how I could teach my courses remotely, I was glad to receive an invitation by my dear colleagues Leonard and Elke, whether I wanted to take part in a novel, collaborative teaching format: The Times of Crisis project. The idea behind this course: Collaboratively develop teaching material and make it publicly available for anyone interested in research topics on managing, communicating and organizing in times of crisis.

Bringing together some of the leading scholars in the German speaking context, the course provides a unique resource for students, teachers and other interested audiences alike. It makes quality scholarly knowledge available to anyone interested in topics such as entrepreneurship in times of crisis, crisis management, the role of social media for crisis management or the impact of crisis on inequality.

In my view, the course sets a signal that despite the growing international competition in academia, joining forces and acting together is possible and can deliver great results. It also offers a glimpse into the potentially bright future of higher education teaching in which we stop thinking in silos. Rather than keeping material developed by individual professors locked up in university-specific platforms, this course combines the knowledge of several experts, and makes it available to the general public.

Of course, one could argue that if this approach becomes common standard, it may motivate universities to rethink future hires of new faculty. After all, if teaching material is available, including reading and assignment suggestions, all you need then is a person who is willing and capable to grade student assignments. However, I don’t share this concern. The Times of Crisis project shows that only because of high quality research that the involved colleagues conduct, the teaching material is diverse, yet, of high quality. Furthermore, the course instructors at each university spent a significant amount of time on discussing the course contents and assignments with students – just as they would have in a traditional course format – whether it is asynchronous or synchronous. Simply put: online teaching materials complement, but do not replace good teaching.

This autumn, on behalf of Leuphana University Lüneburg and Copenhagen Business School, I will conduct a joined global classroom project on datafication with Nanna Bonde Thylstrup from Copenhagen Business School. We use material provided by other scholars, including Mikkel Flyverboom (CSB), Armin Beverungen (Leuphana) and Thomas Gegenhuber (Leuphana) to bring together interdisciplinary perspectives to the topic of data and organizations. The idea behind is directly taken from the times of crisis project. Likewise,  the UP:IT platform is building up an online teaching material collection on sustainable development and transformation.

My hope is that this project inspires other colleagues to make their material available, so that a broad audience has access to publicly funded expert knowledge. I will certainly continue to walk this path.

Hannah Trittin-Ulbrich is an assistant professor for business ethics at Leuphana Univerisity of Lüneburg. She is also a fellow at the Schöller Research Center  at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nuremberg. She studies the role of communication in corporate social responsibility (CSR), the impact of digital technologies on organizations, as well as the ethical implications of the digitalization.

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