Community building and e-learning experiences at German universities

Socialization and learning practices benefit from balanced approaches.

The abrupt change to the virtual setting due to the pandemic disrupted learning experiences worldwide. Soon enough, we understood that studying and working from home is not as simple as it seemed to be. Apart from covid's direct impacts on people's health, much has been discussed about the effect of social distancing on our mental health. Expatrio and its non-profit organization, DeGiS, have partnered up with students from the Minerva Schools at KGI to understand more about community building at universities operating online, as well as the e-learning experiences of students enrolled at German universities.

Research has shown that an increased sense of belonging at universities can positively impact academic achievement and students' health. However, building significant connections in the virtual environment can be challenging. A strategy used by Linden Education was to continue offering the same activities but adapted to the virtual format. Such an action created a sense of stability much appreciated by the students. 

The study found that one of the best strategies regarding community building is offering extracurricular activities (ECAs). Research shows that student participation in ECAs increases positive feelings and sense of belonging. However, implementing successful ECAs in an online setting can be quite challenging. The study has developed a few best practices on how to design online ECAs to overcome those challenges. 

  • Online groups should include fewer participants
  • Meetings should establish clear goals, purpose, and processes
  • Activities should respond to students' interests and needs
  • Participants should have their cameras on
  • There need to be appropriate technological tools and skillsets

According to the study, universities must commit to providing a combination of online and offline sources to their students. They should explore the gray area of online versus in-person communal interaction instead of approaching the two formats as mutually exclusive. 

The learning experience at German universities was another research topic. The survey conducted with 350 students addressed how the digital classroom learning experience could be improved using active and passive learning methods. Results showed that students using both methods, the so-called mixed approach, tend to have better outcomes.

Students learning with a mixed approach felt more motivated and engaged with their online classes and more likely to participate in class. One of the essential aspects of mixed learning is the addition of active learning strategies to the traditional teaching methodology. Without the presence of physical classrooms, students' challenges are to keep focus and participate in class. Active learning strategies help reduce those effects by encouraging students' class participation and requiring a higher level of attention to the ongoing discussion to present their knowledge in class properly.

In conclusion, both studies expressed the importance of a balanced approach and German universities' need to adjust to the virtual environment. In terms of community building, engaging in an association could be highly beneficial for newly arrived international students. The non-profit, DeGiS, is the largest network for international students, allowing them to support each other mutually.

For more information about building communities in an online setting, check out the report here. For more information about active and passive learning at German universities, please see the info here.