Background - 20.03.2017 - 00:00
21. March 2017. Researchers share their results with like-minded people in journals and at conferences. Also, prizes are awarded for good research. However, there are only a few platforms for "good teaching". Only the Student Union confers its annual Award for Best Teaching. "Since all the students have a vote in the award, it's usually faculty members with big lectures in the Assessment Year or at the Bachelor's Level who win," says Jacqueline Gasser-Beck, Head of the Teaching Innovation Lab at the University of St.Gallen. "That's a pity for faculty members with ideas which they implement in smaller units." To provide these faculty members with a platform for innovative teaching and show them appreciation, the Teaching Day took place for the first time three years ago: a day for faculty members, students and administrative staff of the HSG focusing on the topic of "Where is teaching at the HSG going to?"
Digitalisation on the 2017 Teaching Day
"You can imagine the Teaching Day as being like an information event in a big corporation," says Gasser-Beck, "an event where the employees are committed to where things are supposed to be going in the future." The Teaching Day is meant to inspire faculty members and show them new topics with a lecture delivered by an external speaker. In addition, HSG members will be able to present "best practice examples" of innovative teaching or let themselves be inspired for their own courses. "And the 'addressees', i.e. the students, are also invited to become actively involved."
Jaqueline Gasser-Beck's team started to plan the Teaching Day as early as last summer. The choice of external experts regularly also has an impact on the focal topic. This year, Gasser-Beck has been able to persuade Dr. Karin Vey from the THINKlab IBM to give a lecture. As an innovation expert, she will talk about how artificial intelligence can change life and teaching. "The topic of artificial intelligence has confronted us with big questions of meaning in our team: Why do we still teach at universities? What does artificial intelligence mean for us? Will teachers become superfluous?" Thus they opted for a panel discussion for the first time this year. And because digitalisation raises a positioning question at the University: what will the next digital generation look like at the HSG? Since this issue will not leave the HSG unaffected, lectures by faculty members will complement the Teaching Day. "Some faculty members approached us directly, others we asked directly."
The Teaching Innovation Lab team considers innovative teaching to be units in which students interact and become involved with their entire personalities. Jacqueline Gasser-Beck finds "these pearls of innovative teaching" by leaving her office as often as possible. "I ask colleagues from academia and administration, interview students and sometimes sit in on a lecture because I want to get to know new formats." Ultimately, this is detective work, for innovative formats are not marked with a red dot in the course directory.
Besides doing detective work on the campus, the Teaching Innovation Lab regularly exchanges ideas with other universities. "This is enormously important, a) in order not to have to reinvent the wheel and b) in order to avoid negative experiences here that others have had elsewhere," says Gasser-Beck.
Making faculty members fit for digitalisation
The Teaching Innovation Lab is the result of an initiative. The core team consists of three members: Jacqueline Gasser-Beck heads the Lab, Felix Seyfarth is responsible for the Media Lab, i.e. for video production, and Anina Angehrn looks after the administration. "In addition, we do interdisciplinary work with people from various administrative areas, and we're also in close contact with business educators," says Gasser-Beck.
The Teaching Innovation Lab's primary mission is the development of innovative and simultaneously academically demanding teaching formats together with HSG faculty members. The Lab is a contact point for faculty members who want to do something new, are looking for advice and require support. "With an innovation budget we also support small projects financially, for instance to cover initiating costs for a new teaching format," says Gasser-Beck, and emphasises that this money should not be used to purchase case studies by other universities or private providers. "We must find our own way and stand out from our competitors by means of high-quality innovative teaching."
Since communication and interaction have radically changed in the last few years and since these changes have not come to an end as yet, Gasser-Beck wants to allay fears of digital formats among faculty members and support them in their handling of multimedia tools. "Here I imagine that we’ll present one digital aid at a time in mini-workshops. After all, it need not always be big changes that are integrated into a lecture. You can start on a small scale as well."
Step by step
Thus Jaqueline Gasser-Beck also harbours clear expectations for the Teaching Day: "Faculty members should drop in and let themselves be inspired. Perhaps they should also take heart and implement an idea they've had for a long time." The way from an idea to its implementation is not always a walk in the park, says Gasser-Beck, but usually feasible – also with support from the Teaching Innovation Lab.
On last year's Teaching Day, a so-called "back-channel tool" was presented to faculty members, a kind of Twitter feed for lectures. Students are able to ask questions about the lecture directly through their smartphone. "Some faculty members were interested in this after the Teaching Day. Now it's already in use in big lectures." Such small digital aids which simplify everyday life in a lecture or in follow-up work are also presented by the Teaching Innovation Lab on its homepage throughout the year. "Thus professors and the HSG will be somewhat more digitally conversant in time and won’t have to hide from future student generations."
American universities as pioneers
"The HSG is still perceived as being innovative," says Jaqueline Gasser-Beck. The pioneers of innovative teaching, however, are private American universities like Stanford, Harvard and MIT. "The Americans are more adventurous than we are and are also better off in financial terms when it comes to driving innovations." According to Gasser-Beck, it is time for the University of St.Gallen to rediscover itself. "Like at that time when we were the first university to implement the Bologna reforms." For the HSG to be able to make such a mark, its organisation must be made fit for digitalisation. With the Teaching Day and the Teaching Innovation Lab, the first steps have been taken.
Photo: Teaching Innovation Lab