In April, the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany announced that the start of the fall semester 2020 at all higher education institutions will be postponed to November 1. For the University of Mannheim which has introduced the international academic year in 2007 this would have meant that the beginning of the lecture period would be almost two months later than previously planned. In contrast to most German universities, where the lecture period usually begins in mid-October, the lecture period at the University of Mannheim starts at the beginning of September and ends before Christmas. The beginning of the lecture period on November 1 would have made it impossible to stick to this rhythm.
The Ministry of Science of Baden-Württemberg gave the University of Mannheim permission to start the fall semester on September 28 – which is only three weeks later than previously planned. During yesterday’s special session, the Senate of the university officially confirmed this date.
Professor Thomas Puhl, President of the University of Mannheim, is relieved: “By starting at the end of September, we manage to mainly stick to the international academic calendar and to return to our usual rhythm in the fall semester 2021, at the latest.”
Fall semester will mostly be a virtual semester / More on-campus classes for first-year students
Like the spring semester, the fall semester 2020/2021 at the University of Mannheim will be mostly a virtual semester, too. In addition to online teaching, first-year students in particular will also be able to attend on-campus classes. The implementation of classroom teaching is a great challenge: In contrast to schools where a class is made up of a defined group of students, lectures at the university are attended by alternating groups of students. In the fall semester, universities will therefore probably still be obliged to ensure the minimum distance of 1.5 meters between students and to document attendance. Under these conditions, only a fraction of the seats available, even in large lecture halls, can be used and many smaller seminar rooms cannot be used for teaching.
“Under these conditions, we will quickly reach our capacity limits”, President Prof. Dr. Thomas Puhl says. “Therefore, we have decided to primarily offer our first-year students the chance to participate in on-campus classes, since they have not had the opportunity to get to know university life and its processes and we want to make it as easy as possible for them to integrate.”
Extending digital infrastructure
In order to enhance the quality of online teaching and to enable the long-term use of digital formats, the university intends to make further investments in digital infrastructure.
The didactics of online teaching are also further developed. A survey among students to evaluate the classes taught in the “corona semester” is already in progress. “Due to the coronavirus crisis in the spring semester, we were basically thrown in at the deep end and had to develop new teaching and exam methods within a very short amount of time”, says Puhl. “We will use the summer to thoroughly reassess and revise these methods, together with the schools and the central university institutions.”
In addition, it will be evaluated which of the benefits of online teaching the university wants to keep in the long term. “Even if online teaching cannot replace classroom teaching, it is an asset for didactics in many ways”, says Puhl. With regard to the university’s internationalization, online formats will already play an important role in the fall semester, in order to make it possible for international students to study at the University of Mannheim, even when travel opportunities are limited.