Document Actions

You are here: Home Online Magazine teaching & learning State Teaching Prize for Political …

State Teaching Prize for Political Scientists

Julia Gurol and Ingo Henneberg receive award for their interactive and multi-site seminar series

Freiburg, Dec 04, 2019

The seminar starts when the live transmission is good to go. During the summer semester of 2019, students from a total of five universities from four German federal states met in an IT Services' room at the University of Freiburg.  Most of them had tuned in virtually to a video conferencing call. More than just their interest in peace and conflict research united them. They were also curious about how an interactive, multi-site seminar would unfold and how new digital tools, including the online learning platform ILIAS could be used.  Now, researchers Julia Gurol and Ingo Henneberg of the University of Freiburg's Department of Political Science have been awarded the 2019 State Teaching Prize for the cooperative project together with their colleagues from the University of Tübingen. Judith Burggrabe spoke with them about the objectives and challenges of the new teaching concept. 

Using e-learning to give conventional lecture and seminar formats a makeover, students become more involved and present the results of their work online. Photo: Rawpixel/Fotolia

Mr. Henneberg, you led the first multi-site lecture series in 2016, and a year later, the first seminar series. Why did you change the format? 

Henneberg: It's not a rigid concept. Each year we tried out different things and saw what worked and what didn't. Thirteen universities took part in the lecture series back then. In terms of organizational effort, that was relatively simple, but we wanted more participation and interaction between the students. That's why we reshaped the lecture series as a seminar.

But clearly fewer universities took part. Why?

Henneberg: A seminar has more requirements than a centrally organized lecture series. We hit our technical and organizational limits quite quickly. The more universities that joined in, the less talking time each location could receive. What is more, you need technology that provides for stable video conferencing. It works really well with six universities, but eight are too many for the state of technology today. And the organizational work and planning involved can't be underestimated.

Gurol: When you're preparing a conventional seminar, the main thing is planning the content for the individual sessions. For a multi-site seminar, the focus is above all on making arrangements with the individual locations. You have to establish who takes over the leadership of the session and which content should be learned during it. Everything has to be discussed before a decision is made by consensus.

Why have you opted for the teaching concept of the 'flipped classroom?"

Henneberg: In what is known as the flipped classroom, the point is to get the students to leave their role as listeners and become more involved in processing content. We want to promote that by using many digital tools and methods for preparation and follow-up. Among other things, the students carried out radio and video interviews for the seminar, created surveys, or produced a literature pod-cast in which a small team recreated the content of the required lectures.

What learning objectives were you pursuing?

Gurol: In addition to developing their skills in political science, we wanted to teach the students this new form of imparting knowledge. Practical, technical skills are a must in this case as well.

Henneberg: One of our arguments was that the world of work is developing in this direction and oriented towards new, digital formats. Video conferencing is used in companies and industries today in order to work more closely with people at other locations or institutions.

Researchers Julia Gurol and Ingo Henneberg of the Department of Political Science of the University of Freiburg have received the 2019 State Teaching Prize. Photo: Sandra Meyndt

How did the seminar go during the summer semester? How did you use technology?

Gurol: We met in the video conferencing room of IT Services. By way of preparation, all the students had been assigned to watch ahead of time a video lecture given by an expert on the relevant session topic. The good thing about that is at home, you can do it at your own pace. During the session itself, the expert was included in the call and there was an opportunity to ask direct questions. These students could discuss things among themselves using "'tweedback" as well.


Gurol: That's an online platform that makes it possible to ask questions or give feedback in real time. Visually, you could imagine it as something like a chatwall. The questions are received as text messages and a digital projector is used to show them on a screen. That's a really effective digital tool for us to promote direct, multi-site interaction among the students.

Henneberg: It was also helpful that we had a joint, e-learning space for all the locations, where the teachers and students from Freiburg could meet and the other universities could link in as well. That meant there was space for communication where the course materials were also centrally collected.

To get back to the expert lectures. What's the advantage of that?

Henneberg:  For one thing, we could make it so the lecture didn't eat into classroom time. Another thing was that pre-recording it gave us a certain guarantee – otherwise, if the transmission of the lecture failed, the whole seminar session would have been a flop.  What is more, the materials prepared in the seminar are then available to interested members of the public afterwards. That's a considerable step towards sustainability.

Gurol: During the seminar it was great to be able to ask the experts questions directly. It was as if the author of required reading for the seminar would actually come to class. It was a rare and pleasant opportunity.  Especially in the field of political science, it's really grand to be able to include international guests in the conference call – from Britain, when it's about Brexit; or Africa, if we're talking about migration. 

Which problems proved to be stumbling blocks in the new format?

Henneberg: You really need good communication and coordination, because depending on the federal state, there are different semester schedules and examination rules.  But the biggest challenge was actually that nearly all the involved teachers are mid-level faculty and most only have temporary contracts.  We did make an effort to pass the baton conscientiously and leave the materials in good order, but ultimately, it really isn't in our hands. How long we manage to bring the format forward into the future is written in the stars. That's why we need professors who are prepared to commit themselves to the program. 

Gurol: For that reason, making the seminar a permanent offering is really close to our hearts. In order to reduce the high level of initial effort in the long-term, we want to develop seminar framework modules which we will be able to reuse in the coming semester. That would make the format more attractive for other institutions. At the same time, we view the whole thing as instructional research, in which we try out different methods and allow them to be evaluated critically afterwards. We then try to be transparent about our experiences by presenting them in professional journals or providing guidelines like the ones on our homepage.


More information

Video "Ringseminare Landeslehrpreis 2019" (only German)

Online-Magazine: The Flipped Classroom