Technische Universität Berlin

Raising Awareness for Excellent Teaching

The Society of Friends awards prize for outstanding teaching

These TU Berlin members may work in different disciplines and roles at the University, but they have one thing in common: They were all awarded the Prize for Outstanding Teaching in recognition of their excellent courses. Raising awareness for excellent teaching, the Society of Friends of the TU Berlin awards an annual teaching prize endowed with 4000 euros. In 2020, the award focused on outstanding seminars offered before the coronavirus pandemic.

Prize recipients included Professor Dr. Birgit Beck (Ethics and Philosophy of Technology) and Professor Dr. Jens Kurreck (Applied Biochemistry) for their joint course titled “Introduction to Bioethics.” The Society also recognized Gerrit von Jorck, research associate at the Chair of Education and Sustainable Consumption, for his seminar “Exploring Ecological Economics.” A special prize was awarded to students Mona Beyer and Lara Danyel for their project laboratory “Denk- und Aktionslabor Stadt|Land.”

The recipients

Combining perspectives - Introduction to bioethics

At first glance, you might expect Professor Dr. Birgit Beck and Professor Dr. Jens Kurreck to have never crossed paths professionally. Birgit Beck is junior professor of ethics and philosophy of technology at Faculty I - Humanities and Jens Kurreck is head of the Chair of Applied Biochemistry at Faculty III - Process Sciences. However they have a common interest in bioethics as well as teaching their students skills for interdisciplinary collaboration. In winter semester 2018/19, the two professors were inspired to offer the interdisciplinary and inter-faculty seminar “Introduction to Bioethics,” attracting students from a broad range of backgrounds such as biotechnology, biological chemistry, philosophy, and cultural studies.

“We have both offered courses on bioethics for a number of years. However, these were held separately in the philosophy and biotechnology chairs,” says Kurreck. Birgit Beck adds: “Our aim was to combine approaches from biotechnology and philosophy and ethics and promote synergy by examining current and socially relevant issues from an interdisciplinary perspective.” However, students not only gained experience in interdisciplinary collaboration. The seminar also provided them an additional and somewhat unusual opportunity for undergraduates: the publication of a professional, citable work meeting academic standards and enabling the students to acquire the necessary practical skills involved. Working in groups from different disciplines, students prepared presentations on issues related to bioethics which were then discussed by the class as a whole. Experienced guests were also invited to take part in the discussions and provide valuable input. The results of the seminar were compiled in a joint publication: the “Kursbuch Bioethik” (bioethics course book), published in summer 2019 as an open access e-book and paperback by the TU University Press. “I was impressed by how reliably the students kept to the publication schedule - even with seasoned researchers it usually isn’t this smooth,” says Kurreck. “It was a lot of fun to hold this seminar together and see how well students complemented each other with their different skills and know-how. It required a lot of work and preparation in advance but it was worth it,” concludes Beck. Both plan to offer other interdisciplinary seminars in the future.

Teaching and research on site: Denk- und Aktionslabor Stadt|Land

Organized by students for students, the Denk- und Aktionslabor Stadt|Land (DAL) takes students out of the university and puts them to work locally. The project was set up by TU Berlin bachelor’s students Mona Beyer and Lara Danyel, both studying urban and regional planning, and brings together students from different subject areas to examine the challenges and opportunities of small and medium-sized towns in the Berlin-Brandenburg metropolitan region using the city of Luckenwalde as an initial example. In seminars and lectures on campus this work is often highly theoretical. However, DAL, which will run for four a total of semesters, is taking a different approach. Designed as a real-life project laboratory combining theory and action, it has been located in Luckenwalde since spring 2019. “Every two weeks we drove to Luckenwalde for our seminar and spoke with different key actors there. The openness and support of the municipality were essential!” says Beyer.

Each semester students working in project groups focused on different topics developed by the students themselves. These have included abandoned property, youth culture, public space, and forms of Old and New Work in small and medium-sized cities. In addition, the students conducted a mobility study for the municipalities of Jüterbog and Luckenwalde. Now in the fourth and final semester, they are organizing a poster exhibition for Luckenwalde to present their work from the past three semesters. “People in Luckenwalde are very interested in projects like ours and the the support we have received has been wonderful. They treat us like one of their own,” says Danyel. In addition to their fruitful relationships with regional partners, the students were also assisted by the TU Chair of Urban and Regional Economics: “The students are accomplishing really extraordinary work in the project laboratory. Work our academic chair also benefits from. I myself spent time in Luckenwalde on several occasions these past semesters. The difficulty of even conducting a mobility study under the current conditions caused by the pandemic cannot be overstated,” says head of chair Professor Dr. Lech Suwala, praising the students. When the project ends in April 2021, a poster exhibition and publication will make the results of DAL’s work accessible to the public.

Learning through research - Exploring Ecological Economics

Students in the seminar “Exploring Ecological Economics” also had the opportunity to learn from one another through interdisciplinary collaboration. The block seminar, held in winter semester 2019/20, was taught by Gerrit von Jorck, teaching fellow at the Netzwerk Plurale Ökönomik and teaching and research assistant at the Chair of Economic Education and Sustainable Consumption. Although von Jorck’s usual courses are primarily intended for students studying prevocational education, he collaborated with the Institute for Ecological Economy Research to expand the seminar to include students studying economics and management. “When designing this seminar, I chose to apply the approach of learning through research,” says von Jorck. “Students studying teacher training, economics, and sustainability formed small mixed groups of 3-4 and independently produced portfolios on selected topics from ecological economics. For this purpose, they were provided with basic texts by proven experts in ecological economic research as well as current research projects. Students initially worked with this information before moving on to conduct interviews with researchers from the Institute of Ecological Economy Research,” says von Jorck, explaining the approach. “Everyone involved benefited from the experience. Prevocational education students who will later teach the subjects economy, work and technology were able to develop their economic know-how by working together with economics students. And the other students improved their teaching and communication skills,” he concludes.

In their portfolios, students produced a skilled introduction to their topic that included recommendations for the different methods best suited for teaching the material. As a result the portfolios are oriented not only towards students but also to multipliers like teaching staff. The portfolios were uploaded to the digital platform www.exploring-economics.org  so that they can be easily found and used. This also means that the future teachers have created materials they can use later in their professional lives.