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Teaching at a Distance - How Can it Work?

Like many other teachers, you too are perhaps currently faced with the question of how to reorganize your teaching in the face of the cancellation of all attendance courses. In this situation, digital teaching and learning scenarios are of particular importance. We inform you about them in detail on our overview page "COVID-19: Notes on the use of digital teaching" (German only).

A common feature of all these scenarios is that higher demands are placed on the self-learning competencies of students. At this point we would therefore like to give you some general hints and suggestions that should make it easier for you to adapt your teaching to the current conditions as good as possible.


Important prerequisites for successful teaching are clear and transparent learning goals and evaluation criteria as well as a structured approach. This applies all the more when students are more independent. So make it clear to yourself and the students what your learning goals are and determine how you would like to proceed together with the students during the semester in order to achieve these goals. In doing so, align both the exam and the teaching-learning activities with these goals. You should also make your assessment and grading criteria as clear as possible and communicate them so that students can more easily assess their individual learning progress. (More on this under "Constructive Alignment" [German only)

Formulate the learning objectives in a competency-oriented manner, i.e. do not just describe which content should be "covered", but what the students should be able to do more or better afterwards. For example, don't define the learning objective as: "Deeper understanding of the theories from the area of XY", but rather "Students can describe, explain and discuss the theories X, Y and Z in detail". If you define this once for your entire course, you will also avoid the otherwise frequent question: "Is this relevant for the exam?

Motivating factors

From research on the didactics of higher education, several factors are known to have a particularly positive effect on the motivation of students to learn. Some of these factors will be presented here.

  • Teacher's enthusiasm for the topic: Their own motivation is transferred to the students. So let the students feel your enthusiasm for the subject.
  • Challenging but achievable learning goals: Goals that are set too high can easily discourage students; goals that are too easy to achieve can underchallenge and bore them. Choose an appropriate level based on your experience. Idea: Ask students how difficult they find the topics or work assignments they are dealing with, e.g. using an audience response system. Or assess the students' previous knowledge beforehand.
  • Teacher support: The combination of challenging learning goals and constant support of the students in achieving these goals is very effective. Be there for your students, also and especially in times of Covid-19. Systematically combine subject input, work assignments and support formats in your curriculum planning already. For example, distribute work orders via Stud.IP and use the original attendance time for coaching in the form of online consultation hours via video conference.
  • Feedback: One of the most powerful tools at your disposal. Individual feedback makes individual learning progress visible, and visible progress motivates learners to stay on track. A short quiz in between makes it easier for students to assess their level of knowledge. Even more effective is qualitative, formative feedback, which enables students to identify starting points for their further learning behavior. If you have too many participants in your course to give individual and differentiated feedback yourself, you might consider peer reviewing, i.e. letting students give each other feedback on their learning and work results.
  • Activating teaching and learning methods: Even without a face-to-face meeting in the lecture hall or seminar room, you can incorporate methods into your online teaching that activate students. An audience response system such as the Cliqr plugin in Stud.IP can be used just as well in a web meeting, for example. Or use the chat function in your online meeting for a flash feedback round. We have compiled some methods for you (German only). There you will also find links to more extensive method collections.
  • Clear assignments: Do not simply say or write: "Please read the text XY until the next meeting," but at least give the students concrete guiding questions or formulate concrete tasks that are based on the reality of life or the students' later fields of activity.

Forms of accompanied self-study

(adapted and translated from Landwehr, N. & Müller, E. (2008). Begleitetes Selbststudium. Didaktische Grundlagen und Umsetzungshilfen (2. Aufl.). Bern: hep-Verlag.)

With this list we would like to give you a suggestion how you can (re)design your teaching in the sense of supervised self-study.

  • Integrated learning tasks: The teacher provides the students with tasks that they work on independently ("homework"). These tasks are integrated into the course in the sense that they are based on the topic of the course and make a contribution in the sense of a preparation or follow-up, an elaboration or a transfer.
  • Script-based self-study: The teacher issues a script containing all exam-relevant content. The students work on these contents independently. The teacher is available to clarify questions.
  • Social support model: The teaching-learning process is divided into several phases in which different forms of learning and different social settings (plenary, individual self-study, learning tandems, accompanied and unaccompanied learning groups) are used. Mutual support plays a major role in this process. The teacher acts both as a subject expert and as moderator and supervisor in the accompanied group meetings.
  • Structured learning programs: The teacher gives prepared written learning instructions, which typically contain learning objectives, technical texts, tasks and learning controls and are worked on independently by the students. In contrast to script-based studies, the materials are more elaborate and have more of a claim to control the learning process in detail.
  • Problem-based learning: The teacher specifies practical problem cases that are "solved" by the students. This requires different knowledge and competences, which the students acquire independently in the course of problem solving, if necessary by using  materials supplied by the teacher. The learning or problem-solving process follows a predetermined, multi-step procedure.
  • Individual projects: Students choose an individual thematic focus which they would like to pursue within the framework of the module. The type of project can be very different (theoretical treatise, creative work, research project, exploratory project, practical project). The teacher has an advisory and supporting function within the framework of individual projects.
  • Learning and practice projects: Students work on given problems or tasks in project form. This can be a case-based project in which students are to work on a solution to a problem, or a design or construction assignment in which a given "end product" is to be realised. The requirements of the project control what knowledge and skills the students acquire during the project work. The teacher provides the framework conditions and, in the further course of the project, primarily fulfils a controlling and advisory function.
  • Real projects: In contrast to learning and practice projects there is an external client who has a real interest in the project results. The students have to find out what exactly the "client's" concern is, and develop suitable proposals for solutions, present them to the client in a comprehensible manner and implement them independently. The project management skills required for this are of particular importance.