Making teaching more digital within the system -- Interview with C.

The Corona pandemic has ruthlessly exposed the weaknesses of the education system in Germany. How teaching can be digitised within the system with the available resources or the existing previous education will be the topic of the following interview.

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Estimated reading time:12minutes

alucation has been around for a few years. Our goal is to make education available in many languages for everyone. The topic of digital education became the talk of the country with the federal election and, of course, before that with the Corona pandemic. Is this the time to rethink a little? Does school have to become more digital? What potential do existing platforms already have? How is foreign language didactics changing? Now there are some thinkers who have many ideas and suggestions. To what extent this can be implemented directly in the classroom, especially as an individual teacher, without a school collective or politics behind it, is one thing. So how do I deal with this as a teacher, in a normal school? I talked about this with my friend C. She is a teacher at a public grammar school in Baden-Württemberg that has reintroduced the nine-year grammar school in a pilot project. The school has also just been awarded the title "Digital School". C. teaches French, German as a foreign language, biology and other combined science subjects. In her free time, C. is more analogue and creative and can be found at parties, in theatres and concerts, on  stage and backstage or as an audience member, or at home at her sewing machine. 


Hello C., I am glad to see you. Please introduce yourself briefly for our readers. Who are you? What do you do?


I am C. and I am a teacher of Biology, BNT, NWT (scientific and technological subject combinations) and French. I have a degree in biology and French. At that time it was still a state examination.

The school where I work reintroduced the A-level after 13 years in the pilot scheme and I appreciate that very much. 


Oh, that's exciting. We can definitely talk about that briefly. I'm sure there's more time there too. How can you deal with the syllabus?


Yes, the syllabus is actually not so compressed and you have more time to do experiments and make the lessons more practical. You have more time to practise. Especially in the lower school, the learning material is distributed differently. You often have split classes, which is much better for learning, especially for practicals. 

There are only 15 students in my French class. That's also great. Everyone can ask questions.


Okay, so you like small classes...


Who doesn't? Who wants to have 31 fifth graders sitting in front of you when you could have only 15? 


You did your traineeship during the pandemic. What was that like for you? Did you have to rethink didactically? Was the whole digital world at school completely new?


Partly. Before that, I had already created my blackboard notes using One Note. You could then share that very easily via screen sharing. Since I have a tablet with a pen, I could correct all the assignments directly and didn't have to print them out, correct them and scan them in again. I could easily manage that. In French, it was very difficult to practise pronunciation. Talking to each other in small groups was also difficult. You can form subgroups via video chat and divide the students into different virtual rooms, but the chat platforms are very different. At the different schools I was at, different platforms were used. However, you can't be everywhere at the same time. I can't be in every chat room listening. You don't know what exactly they are doing then. That was a bit frustrating. But I did my very best. 


I believe you. It is always said, for example in the media, that Germany is lagging behind in terms of digitalisation, also in the field of education. Do you see a need to catch up?


(C. smiles) Some of the servers were overloaded, which is why the sound and images were transmitted in very poor quality. If you could expand it so that the learning platforms are accessible at all times and you can use all the functions, that would be very good. However, the learning platforms are now used less during face-to-face teaching. It was an exceptional situation. 


In general, the question arises of how to continue with teaching. What was also often criticised is that what was done, teaching via video chat, is not digital education, but analogue education through a digital medium. Do you have any ideas on how to make biology or French lessons more digital?


For example, you can create digital quizzes. That way, the students can do something themselves, check themselves. Of course, you can also digitise different task formats. I always ask myself whether I make myself superfluous as a teacher when I put assignments online and also show solutions. Actually, I think the best thing about teaching is interacting with the students. 


Something else: You said that you appreciate, for example, that the G9 gives you more time for pratical stuff. When I was at school, for example, there was far too little time for that. And I didn't do G8. The only science teacher who ever asked if we wanted to do more experiments was our biology teacher. We also dissected the famous pig's eyes with him. 


But that is obligatory in the syllabus.


Really? Okay, but there are more experiments. But these are exactly the ones I imagine to be very difficult digitally. Maybe I am naive about it. But it's also about the safety of the students.


That was not possible at all. In such cases, you can't demand that the students buy the materials for an experiment themselves. After all, they are expensive. 


That's right. Let's move on to language teaching: To what extent do you see potential to digitalise it?


I think quizzes are good for teaching foreign languages. It is more fun for my students to learn this way. Otherwise, I think that French lessons thrive on interaction, with many partner- and group work phases. The teacher is always available to answer questions about vocabulary or pronunciation. 


But you design it quite interactively. When I was at school, there was more traditional teaching at the blackboard.


Yes, but the core competence of foreign language lessons is communication and students should speak as much as possible in French.


But then, in the course of time, things have quite changed. Older teachers have also said that they can read Shakespeare or, in French, perhaps Molière, but that they can't interact. But a lot has happened in teacher training. It wasn't quite so extreme in my time either, but some things were based less on communication. 


I only have one eighth grade French class. Today we went through "Au marché" in class. My pupils had to write a dialogue and act it out. I always say to them: "Please practise too. I'd like to hear it acted out as dramatically as possible." I always emphasise acting presentations en classe. Some people really come out of their shells. I like the theatre pedagogical approach. 


I like to think so. Let's move on to my next question: What potential do you see in the use of videos, audios, podcasts, etc., especially, but not only, in foreign language teaching?


I see great potential there. I use videos regularly. More often in biology than in French. In biology there are many audio-visual informative sources. In French, I found a funny grammar video. It's a bit more funky. I'll show it at the end of the lesson on Friday just before the end of the day. I'm sure they'll like it. I want my students to have more fun in French lessons. For some of them it's a torture. French is not as present as English. 


Yes, English is simply being pushed a lot. Here, everyone sees the need for the language to be learned. This is less the case with French. We often think very utilitarian à la "What do I need this for?". Recently, there was the European Day of Languages, which is supposed to counteract this a bit.


Fortunately, the class has never asked me why they should learn French. Oh, I have actually used podcasts in my classes as well. When teaching online, I said from time to time: If you're more of an auditory type, listen to this podcast. 


You don't teach computer science. Sometimes it's not so easy to programme something yourself. Well, I can't do that.


Indeed, it is not. However, if everyday school life were to become more digital, terminal devices would also have to be made available. Many schools are not so well equipped. It was very practical for online lessons because you were already on the Internet and could call up the sources directly. 

Another thing that comes to mind: I like to do things via QR codes. They can download further literature or quizzes directly onto their mobile phones. For example, my sixth grade class was allowed to do that on the topic of puberty and intimate hygiene.


Surely the Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung (Federal Centre for Health Education) also provides material on this subject?


That’s right.


It certainly depends on the topic. Puberty, for example, concerns us all.


There are also many situations where frontal lessons are not so suitable. My students are supposed to learn this for themselves. 


Do you already know alucation?


[She actually didn’t]


In your opinion, would this be sustainable in schools? For example, to integrate foreign languages into the subject lessons? For example, by watching a video in French in biology class? Or dubbing and translating a video in French, but on a biology topic? To find examples in your subjects. 


There are videos in biology that are only available in English. We also watched a few of them in class. But I haven't linked any subjects now, I haven't done any vocabulary introductions. 


Well, you're not an English teacher. 


However, this belongs more to bilingual teaching. In bilingual schools, there are also appropriately trained teachers. 


But in this case, do you see the possibility that, for example, pupils with a migration background can inform themselves in their first language in this way? Could this be an opportunity?


Definitely a good idea. I also teach German as a foreign language. I should also provide help for linguistically weaker pupils. That would be the perfect lesson.


Do you have to change something in the training for the teaching profession if school is to become more digital?


Something has been changed. It is already more digital now. The students were thrown in at the deep end. I had to teach myself a few things, but I grew up with a lot of it. Older colleagues had a much harder time. But it was still very analogous during my studies. Otherwise, I can definitely recommend a tablet with a pen. My school has now been awarded the title of "digital school". We are quite well equipped.


Finally, something I like to ask in general. What languages do you speak and what languages would you like to learn?


I speak German, Swabian (laughter on both sides), French, English, a little Italian and I would love to learn Danish. It's a funny, sweet language. Part of my family lives in Denmark. I started learning Danish via Duolingo. I used to want to learn more languages, but I don't have time and I have so many other hobbies. 

I want to be able to use the language then. The best thing is to learn a language in the respective country. The foreign language classes at German schools are only a tired imitation. Fortunately, there are exchange programmes. 


Well, there is always the question of how best to learn languages. 


With a tandem partner?! That has always been the best. 


I definitely think it's good, but with more complex languages it does make sense to learn grammar. I don't have a clear opinion yet on the best way to learn languages.


What C. and I talked about afterwards was the topic of unschooling. It's too big to put it in the interview. Nevertheless, I was interested in a few thoughts from a teacher. In Germany it is forbidden. C. is very critical of it, because school also promotes skills such as social behaviour and finding one's place in society.  Personally, I find this school system relatively one-sided and not made for all pupils equally. Nevertheless, free learning would be less of an option for me. However, the individual reasons for this would go beyond the scope of this article. 

Finally, I criticise myself in the interview. I had not informed myself enough in advance about the possibilities of digital education, such as the possibility of viewing an embryo from all sides using augmented reality in biology lessons. It would be nice if something like that were available nationwide. However, such offers still seem to be the exception rather than the rule. 

I see great potential in alucation. How would it be to work on a topic in biology class, make a video about it and then sit down at the dubbr in foreign language class and make it multilingual? That would also be a gift for others?


What do you wish from the school of the future?






Photo: Olesia Buyar via Unsplash


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