Outstanding Digital Teaching

Professors Vera Meyer and Utz von Wagner awarded the Prize for Outstanding Teaching for their digital courses

Shortly before the start of summer semester 2020, students and teachers were forced to make the shift from live teaching in lecture halls to working online, literally from one day to the next. This was the first digital semester and courses had to be taught via computers. In light of this, it makes sense that this year’s Prize for Outstanding Teaching, awarded annually by the Society of Friends of TU Berlin, is for the best digital courses. Or to be more precise, for the best digital lecture/integrated courses in bachelor’s programs in summer semester 2020.

The 4000-euro prize is awarded to raise awareness both within the University and beyond for innovative and best-practice teaching and focuses on a different aspect of teaching each year. This year’s prize has been awarded to Professor Dr.-Ing. Vera Meyer of the Chair of Applied and Molecular Microbiology and Professor Dr.-Ing. Utz von Wagner of the Chair of Mechatronics and Machine Dynamics.

Teaching as a team effort

Utz von Wagner was awarded the prize for his course on statics and strength theory, which was attended by some 700 students. The course is offered as a compulsory or compulsory elective course in all bachelor’s programs at Faculty V - Mechanical Engineering and Transport Systems, as well as a number of MINT pre-study orientation programs offered by other faculties. Lectures and larger tutorial sessions, which would normally take place for all students in the Audimax, were provided in asynchronous format using specially prepared videos. These were supplemented by tutorial assignments as well as additional materials, such as formula, theory, and math problem sheets. Utz von Wagner is a keen photographer and filmmaker, which proved a major advantage when preparing lecture videos. “I have been a passionate photographer and filmmaker since my youth. So I already had all the equipment I needed, which was a real stroke of luck.” He recorded the teaching material in his own garden, adding introductions and comments, and selected short videos for breaks focusing on nature and technology from his own personal collection. Newly produced screencasts and weekly self-tests were offered in addition to tutorials otherwise held in small groups. Extensive consultation hours were provided in synchronous format and were developed to include small calculation tasks, which served as an introduction to discussions. “The basic classes in technical mechanics are always a team effort,” von Wagner is quick to stress. “More than 20 instructors were involved in the statics and elementary strength theory classes, including research and teaching associates, tutors, and professors. The tutorials and consultation sessions were organized by Dr. Sylwia Hornig, with further support provided, as always, by the Center for Scientific Continuing Education and Cooperation.” In addition to thanking his team, Professor von Wagner also expressed his gratitude to his students. “Not everything worked perfectly from the word go and we had to get used to the new situation. But I think we learned quickly. We would like to thank our students for their positive and constructive feedback.” Von Wagner will use the prize money to purchase equipment and resources for his teaching. 

Thinking outside the microbiological box

Some 80 students from the Biotechnology and Brewing and Beverage Technology programs took part in summer semester 2020 in Professor Vera Meyer’s Microbiology II course at Faculty III - Process Sciences, which was offered using both synchronous and asynchronous formats. In addition to the lecture videos prepared by Vera Meyer herself, a number of supplementary videos taking a closer look at the topics of the lectures were uploaded from YouTube. These were intended as further reading, so to speak, and proved very popular. Links were also provided to relevant current public media news videos to provide a broader microbiological context. The (synchronous) lectures included a Zoom discussion on the content of lectures, introduced by a 20-minute quiz. The participants received the questions via their cell phones and answered them live. The answers were then checked together and discussed to provide an opportunity for students to ask additional questions. “The synchronous sessions included lively discussions, often taking in subjects beyond microbiology, and proved very popular with students. This gave them the chance to get to know each other, even when working in a digital space, to discuss together, and become better acquainted with the world of microbiology,” says Meyer. Consultation sessions, where a tutor answered students’ questions, were offered in ISIS via a chat function. Vera Meyer will donate her prize money to fund a Deutschlandstipendium scholarship. “This means I can help a microbiology student to focus fully on their studies for a whole year without the distraction of financial worries,” she explains.


Author: Bettina Klotz