Social distancing bringing us together in FAU, Germany

University teaching without presence? This question is confronting universities worldwide since classroom teaching at many universities is currently suspended due to the corona crisis which has meant that alternatives must be prepared and implemented very quickly. For e-learning and digital education advocators, it is an important time to present and quickly implement the concepts and the solutions that have been used over the last 20 years for multimedia and E-Learning in higher education.

But how to quickly transform – within four weeks – standard face-to-face lectures, seminars, exercises and tutorials into interactive and entirely online formats? How can lecturers quickly develop e-teaching skills and technical expertise? and who provides the necessary equipment? What must be considered from a didactic point of view when designing and implementing online formats? The Institute for Learning Innovation (ILI) of the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) in Germany tries to give answers and present solutions to exactly these questions and bundles its entire competence in the field of digital education in order to bring FAU teaching through the crisis. ILI is the center for digital education and integrates in a single unit, e-learning and digital education, media production as well as competence development programs and day-to-day service for lecturers at FAU. Since the announcement of the measures to combat the corona crisis, ILI, together with other central institutions of the FAU, is coordinating the comprehensive “ad hoc digitization measure” of the entire university. Under the heading “rapid digital!” (schnell digital! (also available in EN), the university President and ILI launched a support program that offers lecturers quick and uncomplicated help. The main aim is helping lectures to help themselves.

The program is based on rapid capacity building in three main areas:

1. Rapid knowledge development,

2. Organisational, didactical and technical assistance at all time and for all questions and

3. funding for software, equipment and student assistants as well as an award for the best rapid solution.

As an immediate measure and central contact point, the website rapid digital! was set up, which is continuously filled with didactic and technical support, DIY tutorials and numerous resources from the FAU as well as from other German and European networks. The goal is to bundle knowledge about digital teaching scenarios, tools and their possible applications as well as their technical implementation, with the aim of enabling lecturers to implement in a DIY approach their digital teaching concept – creatively, effectively and above all quickly. Despite the focus on DIY measures, lecturers are not left alone at any time and can always take advantage of a telephone or VC consultation with experts in the area, where the demands and special features of the lectures are individually taken care of.

Video & audio production is very central with different purposes: a friendly personal introduction, a vod- or a podcast introducing the basic concepts central to a subject, a video for skills demonstration – e.g. diagnostic skills for medical students -, presenting experiences or simply doing a traditional lecture with no or less interaction; or rearranging existing videos and combining them with news resources. For all these formats and a lot more we are providing ideas and assistance helping lecturers to help themselves.

But this not always an easy task. In 10 days we received 170 requests for consultation and funding, each of the consultations generated further questions especially addressing the AV competence team as well as generic questions to the FAU leaders and administration team . In addition, some new problems come up: can we easily scale-up our hardware to allow 40.000 students and 4000 lecturers to be permanently online, streaming videos, doing online assessments, having a chat on our VC-System? Can we manage, can we do it? The answer is we think so, we hope so, but we actually don’t know what we will be facing …

Understanding the crisis as an opportunity

The corona crisis represents an enormous challenge for all of us. Nevertheless, every crisis also holds the potential to create something new and positive. This can be seen at FAU: Despite social distancing, the lectures and service staff are more and better networked than ever and exchange ideas, solutions and competencies in a community that is growing daily. And we have always known that learning needs the social!


Sonia Hetzner

Friedrich Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg,