“The coronavirus crisis might not have been foreseeable, but the fact that digitalization would be an important reality in teaching was.”
The pandemic might have interrupted in-person teaching in 2020, but more than 19,000 newly “invisible” students still continued to pursue their studies – thanks to both measures initiated in the past few years to modernize university teaching as well as the enormous commitment of all those involved.
By Prof. Dr. Bruno Moretti, Vice-Rector for Teaching
While a total of 19,230 students have been registered at the University of Bern since the 2020 fall semester – over 650 more than in the previous year – anybody passing through the university buildings during many of the months of 2020 would have seen very few of them. Teaching went remote (meaning that students were still very “visible” to lecturers and vice-versa) and new approaches to teaching, learning and testing were implemented.
The measures implemented over the past few years to modernize university teaching helped the University of Bern transition all courses to distance-learning solutions in March within the space of just three days. For one, the University was able to rely on a good infrastructure, with two examples of this being lecture halls that were already equipped to automatically record podcasts and the ILIAS learning management platform (as well as the employees in charge of the platform, who put in a lot of overtime).
It additionally collaborated with the IT Services Office to swiftly purchase additional tools wherever needed. For another, we were able to count on the excellent developments and experience of recent years, which were made possible in part by the “Promotion of Innovative Teaching” (FIL) fund. The coronavirus crisis might not have been foreseeable, but the fact that digitalization would be an important reality in teaching was. Even before the coronavirus, for example, more than two-thirds of FIL projects related to digital solutions. The Educational Development Unit assisted many lecturers by providing advisory services. A valuable contribution was also made by eCoaches: Within the scope of a program that has been in place since fall 2019, these students have been trained to help lecturers use digital technologies.
"Around 3,500 high school students took part in the digital Bachelor’s open days at the beginning of December. On a virtual 360-degree tour of the University’s premises, they were able to get to know around 40 bachelor degree courses, chat live with students and professors, and gather information on all aspects of studying."
In hindsight, even the topic of our eighth annual Day of Teaching in February 2020 sounds a bit like a premonition: “Self-study in the age of digitalization”. And the topic of the ninth annual Day of Teaching in February 2021, which was held virtually, could have been nothing other than: “Digitalized learning and teaching – what really works?” On the topic of the digitalization strategy in teaching, last year’s annual report contained the following statement: “The University of Bern does not want to be and will never become a distance-learning university. It will continue to be a brick and mortar university that leverages the advantages offered by new technologies to continuously improve its teaching activities.”While this statement remains valid, it now takes on a new meaning. Nowadays, it's no longer about experimenting with the possibilities of digital technologies, but about making the most of the forced digitalization experience ushered in by the coronavirus: The goal is to achieve the best-possible blend of distance learning and in-person classes to make teaching as efficient and engaging as possible for students and lecturers alike.
2020 also featured major events that were held using digital solutions, such as the open days for first-semester students in September (organized together with the General Secretariat) and the bachelor’s open days for prospective students at the beginning of December (organized by the Communication & Marketing Office). Feedback received from the many attendees has confirmed that the University of Bern succeeded in creating an innovative, compelling format.
On the other hand, the enormous amount of effort required by staff to sustain teaching activities made other activities impossible, such as the new call for innovative teaching projects in the spring and one of the dates for our crash course for lecturers entitled “Tips and Tools for Good Teaching”. One project absolutely had to be continued, even despite the special situation: the revision of course evaluations and introduction of performance check evaluations. The new process was in use by most faculties in the 2020 fall semester. The subject areas included in the Online Self-Assessment project for prospective students was also expanded to include biology. Another offer involved the first and second round of optional programming classes geared toward students. More than 400 students signed up for these classes in the spring and more than 500 in the fall semester. Not all of them stuck with the virtual sessions until the end, but the number of students who signed up for the course testifies to the enormous amount of interest in the subject.
Many people at the University of Bern pulled out all the stops to ensure that the University’s teaching activities could continue to function smoothly in 2020. We’d like to say a big “thank you” to everybody who made this happen: lecturers, students and staff alike.