The Virtual Classroom: Teaching in Challenging Times
Prof. Dr. Martina Lütkewitte is a Professor of Business Administration at IUBH. In an interview, she spoke to us about how she is adapting her teaching approach to work best for students in light of the Covid-19 restrictions.
Thank you for speaking with us, Prof. Dr. Lütkewitte! With physical classrooms temporarily closed at IUBH and lectures moved into the virtual space, how as a teacher have you found working in these new conditions?
Prof. Lütkewitte: I teach Change Management on the MBA programme, examining how companies and their employees deal with and potentially learn from change. In this context, it was great to see how quickly and efficiently IUBH was able to adapt to the situation via the virtual classroom. While my teacher friends at other universities or schools were still helplessly struggling with digitalisation, my virtual lectures were already running at full speed as the “new normal”. The overall positivity and hands-on mentality was really impressive. The result is that the summer semester has been able take place in the original timeframe, with no teaching content lost and no extensions to the normal study period required.
And how have the students responded?
Prof. Lütkewitte: The students have also responded very positively. They understand that the current situation is not the fault of IUBH; on the contrary, they appreciate our quick and solutions-oriented reaction. Since I am only teaching new courses this semester and therefore did not know the participants beforehand, I was a bit nervous before the first virtual lectures: Would I be able to create a pleasant lecture atmosphere and build a personal bond with the students? Well, I soon realized that the concern was unnecessary: today, it feels like we’ve known each other forever!
Although it is sad not to see each other in person, I do think that the virtual courses have some advantages over the face-to-face lectures – not least the time saved on commuting, as well as the occasional cat amusing us by walking over a student’s desk at home! I also have the feeling that my students learn in a more concentrated way: Everyone sits in the “front row” and there is less distraction from desk neighbours. Nevertheless, the students do of course miss the personal contact with their fellow; peers and friends.
You’ve been bringing in guest lecturers as part of your classes – could you tell us a bit about that?
Prof. Lütkewitte: Seeing the opportunity that the virtual classroom presented, I used my broad network to bring in guest speakers from all corners of Germany and even from the Netherlands and Malawi – without any of them having to leave their homes. And my students loved it!
For example, I had the Head of Employer Branding and Recruiting of a large auditing firm give my HR Management students a fascinating overview of how a major global company can attract new talent – there were many examples provided and time for a Q&A at the end. For my Project Management course, I am already looking forward to a guest lecture that will take place towards the end of the semester. An experienced coach and speaker will present on mountain rescue service and basketball, and explain how these topics connect to Project Management. I believe this additional and unusual perspective will broaden everybody’s horizon.
Which guest lecturer made the biggest impression on the students?
Prof. Lütkewitte: The guest lecture that my students will probably remember most was a surprise – and came with something of a prank. In my MBA class on Change Management, we were already halfway through the semester when I started one session with the announcement that a friend of the dean’s would be joining the class, who then explained that he would be responsible for the group presentations (which students had already been working on for weeks). He would re-assign groups and topics, set new grading criteria and move the deadline forward. What a shock!
We let people believe this for a few minutes before revealing the prank, to everyone’s relief. We then discussed how it made them feel and what companies should do differently when communicating and implementing change.
What are your overall thoughts on the Covid-19 situation so far?
Prof. Lütkewitte: The pandemic and resulting restrictions came suddenly and unexpectedly for everyone. However, they have also presented opportunities for new ways of teaching and interacting. Even though we’ve had to stay apart, we’ve also found ourselves all in the same boat, navigating these uncharted waters together in a positive and forward-looking way.