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It Adds Up to a Confident Start

Future students refresh the principles of mathematics on a preparatory course

Freiburg, Oct 18, 2018

It Adds Up to a Confident Start

Photo: Thomas Kunz

Learning starts before university studies: about 160 prospective students have taken a preparatory course in mathematics at the University of Freiburg. Working online and later in the lecture room from a few weeks before the start of semester, they tackled shared projects and refreshed the school learning that they need to study Natural Sciences, IT or Engineering Science. This new option is part of the Kosmic project, designed to make the first semester easier for new students. Kosmic stands for ‘Kompetenzorientierte Online-Selbstlernangebote für Mathematik, Interkulturalität und Chemie’, which means ‘Competence-oriented online self-learning options for Mathematics, Interculturality and Chemistry’. As the name indicates, preparatory courses in other subjects will be added.

Mathematician Susanne Knies developed the preparatory course – she will be seeing the participants again at her lecture in the winter semester. Photo: Thomas Kunz

Sine and cosine, amplitude and phase shift – how did that go? A new student might well wonder sometimes in a maths lecture. Although it is not long since the school leaving exams, the material is complex – and the prospect of picking up the subject material on your own is not much fun. The university has created the Kosmic project to offer help – before the degree studies proper start: The new preparatory course in mathematics is the first major offering from Kosmic at the University of Freiburg. It is designed for everyone who have signed up for the lectures Mathematics I for Students of Natural Sciences or Mathematics I for Students of IT and Engineering Science in winter semester 2018/19.

What makes this unusual is that the blended learning format combines online and classroom work. The online exercises were released on a special platform in mid-September; in early October – before the start of semester – there was a week of class work, lectures, exercises and online self-learning phases. The online function can be particularly beneficial for participants, explains Marion Uhl, who is responsible for educational media at the E-Learning Service Center in the IT Center, “Students decide for themselves what they want to repeat.” Exercises reveal where there are weak points – and then the prospective students can tackle them.

Flexible and free: by combining online and classroom work, course participants can decide for themselves when they tackle different material. Photo: Thomas Kunz

First encounter with the University

The preparatory course is the first encounter with the University for some. Anyone who has not yet been enrolled and still does not have an account can create a Kosmic account and take part in courses. There is no lack of social activities during the week of class work either: during a break, participants gather in groups to discuss the topics of the lecture, and some also work on the exercises together afterwards. Sarina Müller is starting a degree in Environmental Sciences this winter semester. When she came to Freiburg for her interview, she saw a poster advertising the course. “I took a year out after the Abitur and had forgotten things.” The course was exactly what she needed. “It’s a really good option for refreshing material,” she explains, as she goes through exercises with fellow students during a self-learning phase.

During the week of class work it is mainly the lectures that give prospective students a first impression of the University. Dr. Susanne Knies gives the lectures and knows why it is important to disseminate knowledge successfully – she will be seeing the participants again when semester starts, in her lecture Mathematics I for Students of Natural Science. Together with Jeremias Moser-Fendel, she devised the concept of the course and the online exercises. “It comes between school and university,” she explains. The course does look at Abitur-level material, but at a different pace to school. Moser-Fendel sees to the preparatory course’s teaching methodology. “This component is very important to the success of Kosmic and of the preparatory course,” says Knies. The experiences and results gained with the course will be incorporated into Moser-Fendel’s doctoral degree on online materials in the introductory phase of studies.

Prospective students ponder the exercise together. Photo: Thomas Kunz

Older students also welcome

Students in later semesters also use the course. Mona Horn and Silvio Mastrogiovanni are in the third semester of their Earth Sciences studies. “We had time in the period before lectures started,” explains Horn. “We signed up for the course because we wanted to get off to a good start on the subject of the lecture in the winter semester.” Horn and Mastrogiovanni especially like being able to decide on the workload for themselves. “We could do the work and find out for ourselves where we needed to go over it again,” stresses Mastrogiovanni.

The course is very popular: “About 120 students came to the second day of the week of class work, 160 registered online,” enthuses Marko Glaubitz, who is in charge of project coordination for Kosmic at IT Services. “That’s a success. We’ll also be delighted if the number of study drop-outs is reduced,” he says. “If someone gives up their degree, it shouldn’t be because the transition from school to university doesn’t work.” The project’s offerings are going to expand: more preparatory courses are planned in the near future for Interculturality and Chemistry. “There are also other activities, such as by student bodies,” Glaubitz mentions. However Kosmic is not aiming to compete with them. “We have to look and see what there already is. This should provide synergies,” adds Uhl. Both of them are happy so far with the course, “a first milestone”. And the students have refreshed some of their knowledge which was otherwise getting a little rusty.

Pascal Lienhard