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Researching and overcoming the corona pandemic

Projects and Studies at the Heidelberg University of Education

Whether it is developing vaccines or digital learning opportunities for home schooling: Researchers of various disciplines in the state Baden-Württemberg address COVID-19 in their research projects and studies. In the course of this, they also consider the societal and economic effects of the measures that are being taken to contain the pandemic. Also the crisis itself affects personal and social areas. Thus, tangible offers of information and support emerged in previous weeks that aim at making it easier to handle the crisis.

On June 20, 2020, the Baden-Württemberg state Ministry for Science, Research, and Art published an overview of selected COVID-19-research projects, studies, and offers of the state’s various universities; among them projects of the Heidelberg UoE.  According to the science minister Theresia Bauer, it is intended to show exemplarily what is being done in the corona research to fight the virus and to overcome its effects. Using #CovidScienceBW, the ministry presents three of the many projects through its social media channels daily.

In the following, nine projects of the Heidelberg UoE are listed that are among the projects which were selected by the ministry of science. For each project, a short summary and contact persons are given.

"I cannot do this by myself": First findings on the corona-driven school from home

In this explorative study of the universities of education in Heidelberg and Ludwigsburg, students have been interviewed on their experiences in their first phase of school from home. This study provides insights into domestic learning for teachers and schools as well as for teacher training.

Due to the spread of the coronavirus and the measures to contain it, the schools in Baden-Württemberg were closed as of March 17, 2020 and students – with few exceptions of emergency regulations - were left to study from home. Such a prescribed homeschooling, which seeks to uphold the social educational function and compulsory schooling, are without example in the history of the Federal Republic of Germany. Concrete recommendations for action did not exist at the time of the school closures and had to be developed by schools and teachers on short notice. From a scientific perspective, many questions regarding homeschooling, that are not only substantively important for the further development of university teaching but that could also provide schools and teachers indications for action, still remain unanswered.

A recently published study of the UoEs in Ludwigsburg and Heidelberg, which interviewed students on this new situation, tries to fill this gap with first explorative results. It was conducted by Valentin Unger, doctoral student in the project “Effective competence diagnosis in the teacher education” (EKOL) from the Heidelberg UoE, Prof. Dr. Albrecht Wacker from the Ludwigsburg UoE, and Thomas Rey, also a doctoral student in the EKOL-project at the Heidelberg UoE.

In this study, students were asked about their schools‘ (digital) homeschooling procedures, their daily time spent on it, about supervision and feedback, as well as about advantages and disadvantages. A further point of interest was, what measures – given their current experiences – they perceived as beneficial, should the schools remain (partially) closed.

At the time of the interview, the participants had mastered the first phase, ranging from school closure to the Easter break. All in all, the study received responses from 169 persons while students from the “Gymnasium” track are clearly overrepresented.

Overall, a wide variety of student perceptions exist regarding homeschooling. It includes also positive assessments (“… basically it was all good.”) but most students mentioned shortcomings (“I cannot do this by myself, no one is there who can explain it to me.”). Further, more than half of the students mentioned to be working less than when they were present in the classroom; a quarter each stated to be working just as much or even more.

The study shows that the various ways and processes in which homeschooling takes place is even more varied than previously assumed: Students‘ responses not only suggest that digital teaching does not only differ from school to school; even within schools different methods are present and teachers make diverging specifications on how exercises are to be handed in. According to the students, this makes it difficult for them to structure their work and, hence, they wish for more concerted and better coordinated guidelines. The results additionally share the students’ wish for a close communication with their teachers, that exceeds the scheme of tasks and solving them. 

For further information see www.ph-ludwigsburg.de. You can find information on the EKOL research and graduate college here: www.ph-heidelberg.de/fun-ekol.

Background
The study’s authors are happy to share the data set with everyone interested and invite further research on it. The results will be published in May in the journal „Lehren und lernen“ (PDF; ca. 6.1 MB) and a short version will be made available to teachers in July in the journal b&w.

Art and inclusion

Currently, persons with so-called mental disabilities are even more socially marginalized than usual: The workshops are closed, people are sitting at home or in their residential home, have few activities, and few opportunities of participation. Some belong to at-risk groups and even have to abstain from socially distanced contact. Quite a number cannot read and write, do not own a mobile phone, no computer and are thereby also cut off digitally from communicating with the “outside world”.

Thus, the arts department adapted the already existing course “art & inclusion” and re-invented the creative interactions between students and persons who are regarded as mentally disabled: Artistic dialogues in words and images are being sent and exchanged via postcards.

The mail contact and artistic tasks provide meaningful activities and allow for risk-free communication and encounters with new people. In some cases, the participation in the project motivates unexpected, autonomous actions in the sense of self-sufficiency and a self-determined lifestyle. The project has the potential to provide a valuable contribution to an inclusive (arts) education.

The project is being implemented in collaboration with Lebenshilfe Heidelberg. Your contact person at the university is Susanne Bauernschmitt.

For further information see www.ph-heidelberg.de/kunst.

Hackathon "EduThon": First solutions for the problems of digital schooling

In the middle of April, 2020, participants of the hackathon “EduThon“ jointly developed concepts to solve the challenges that the corona-driven homeschooling brings along. This online event was organized by the Heidelberg UoE and the metropolitan Rhein-Neckar region GmbH. Results range from a guideline on opportunities of guest visits (German: “Hospitationen”) over apps to printable weekly plans. In a next step concrete services and products will be developed in a timely manner and in collaboration with the S-HUB Mannheim.

The coronavirus changed the educational system in a short period of time and challenges learners, teachers, and families tremendously. To solve these problems, the project TRANSFER TOGETHER – a joint venture of the Heidelberg UoE and the metropolitan Rhein-Neckar region GmbH – organized the digital hackathon EduThon: „Over night, the class community transforms into a chat group, the dinner table turns into a home office with an integrated classroom, homework comes via mail or e-mail and digital lessons depend heavily on a stable internet connection. In the framework of EduThon, everyone can bring in their personal expertise to help other”, say the organizers Carsten Huber and Dr. Melanie Seidenglanz (metropolitan Rhein-Neckar region GmbH) as well as Julika Ritter and Max Wetterauer (Heidelberg UoE).

Overall, seven teams – among them many students of the Heidelberg UoE – developed digital and analog concepts during this two-day hackathon, which immediately feed into the homeschooling routines. The teams focused on the challenges which, in interviews with parents, have been identified as being the most pressing issues beforehand. The jury of the hackathon selected three of the submitted concepts which offer an added value for society and that can be realized near-term.  A concept combining assorted tips on digital education with tangible assistance und offers was evaluated as being particularly promising. The team addressed the problem how students can be motivated to actively participate in digital lessons. Teachers find concrete answers in a guideline that was developed during the hackathon. The second place went to a story-based, playful, and didactically founded app, which aims at helping younger students to structure and reflect their own learning. The learning progress is planned to be accessible to parents and teachers. A prototype of a stress-app tied for the third place. With the help of the app, one can determine one’s personal stress level through a self-evaluation and it shows balance options that are suitable for everyday life.

Most participants of the EduThon took the opportunity to subsequently partake in an individualized workshop to develop solutions, projects, and business models. These will be held by the S-HUB Mannheim, a start-up center with focus on sustainable and responsible entrepreneurship, in cooperation with the EduThon organizers. The goal is to develop the concepts into specific services and products in a timely manner so that they can be used by affected students, teachers and parents.

Your contact persons at the Heidelberg UoE are Julika Ritter and Max Wetterauer and from July 01, 2020 on Carsten Huber. For further information see transfertogether.de/eduthon.

"Mapping corona": Learning to read maps and graphs about the pandemic

The geography department of the Heidelberg UoE developed an online course on the spread of the coronavirus: In this free course, adolescents learn to read and interpret maps and graphs on COVID-19. The students additionally acquire important competencies within the realms of education for sustainable development. The course “mapping corona – what maps and satellite images can tell us about COVID-19” is available online; it targets students in the grade levels 7 to 9 as well as teachers.

The corona pandemic is still very present in the media and substantially influences students‘ everyday lives all over Germany. In this context, adolescents encounter various graphs, diagrams, and maps whose messages are often seemingly not congruent. So that students learn to read and interpret data themselves, the GIS station at the geography department of the Heidelberg UoE developed an appropriate online course: “We want to give students an understanding which role geographical data and geo-information technologies play in these representations, how maps and graphs can be read correctly, and which pitfalls exist in their interpretation”, the researchers state.

The course uses recent data on the spread of COVID-10 as an example. As a consequence, the adolescents do not only gain map reading and methodological expertise, but they also learn about global interrelations. This competence is a key factor in being able to shape worldwide economic progress in accord with social equity and within the limits of the ecological capacity of the Earth system.

The online course “mapping corona” addresses grade levels 7 to 9 and can be accessed via mobile devices without registration. The students are being guided through the course by an explanatory video and with the help of small work steps; additionally, teachers receive instructions as well as a sample solution. The expertise of the UNESCO chair for earth observation and geo communications of world heritage sites and biosphere reserves, which is located at the Heidelberg UoE and which is the only UNESCO chair in the state of Baden-Württemberg, decisively shaped this project.

You contact persons at the Heidelberg UoE are Prof. Dr. Alexander Sigmund and Johannes Keller. For further information see  www.ph-heidelberg.de/geographie.

Differentially promoting algebra skills (aldiff)

Elementary algebra skills are indispensable for successfully studying one of the so-called MINT subjects (mathematics, information technology, natural sciences, technology). The current homeschooling due to corona will most likely increase the heterogeneity of university entrants in their knowledge of secondary level mathematics in the upcoming semesters. The diagnostics and promotion concept aldiff is asynchronously organized  so that the course participants can work on it independently. Each participant receives immediate feedback as well as randomly generated exercises when needed.

aldiff has the potential to ease high school graduates‘ transitions from school to university: The program identifies knowledge gaps resulting from homeschooling and offers exercises to fill them.  It can help to reduce the number of dropouts in the MINT subjects and to counteract the shortage of specialists.

The project is being headed by Prof. Dr. Guido Pinkernell and Prof. Dr. Markus Vogel of the mathematics department. Tim Lutz coordinates the project.

For further information see www.ph-heidelberg.de/aldiff.

The digital summer semester and its impact on teaching

The switch from analog to digital teaching took place more or less abruptly and had only a short transition period. This probably took most teachers – not only in the state Baden-Württemberg – by surprise. This project surveys all teachers and students at the Heidelberg UoE to apprehend the teachers’ perspectives on this “digital summer semester” from different viewpoints.

The project wants to provide insights into the (digital) teacher training and – from the teachers’ view – for example promises findings on changed requirements concerning didactics as well as teaching. With relation to the students, the project aims to answer the question how students collaboratively work together with digital tools and what shapes the “digital communication“ between students and teachers take.  The results can directly flow into teacher education.

Your contact person at the Heidelberg UoE is Prof. Dr. Christian Rietz. For further information see  www.ph-heidelberg.de/institut-fuer-erziehungswissenschaft.

Moderation in corona times: thoughts on us and our future

The corona crisis placed our whole society in a state of “forced moderation”. It, thereby, led to diverse problems in the individual, economic, and social sphere. Many people face psychological and social problems in handling this new situation. Meanwhile, the shutdown overstrained many and resulted in mental ailments and various forms of aggressions and domestic violence.

The philosophy of moderation can provide stimulation for thinking about how one can cope with this situation and at the same time for the development of new, more sustainable concepts of life. Thus, professor Vogel continued his education-theoretical studies on “moderation” in relation to this current pandemic. In doing so, he does not limit himself to the theory but also shows how we can learn moderation and use it sensibly (also) in times of crisis.

The project helps to reflect on a new, individual lifestyle and to start it. It further provides a foundation for the educational-scientific discourse on a different, more sustainable, and future-oriented narrative for our culture.

Your contact person at the Heidelberg UoE is Prof. Dr. Thomas Vogel. For further information see  www.ph-heidelberg.de/institut-fuer-erziehungswissenschaft.

Neighborhood assistance as a manifestation of local solidarity structures

The current corona crisis poses major challenges for our community. It is often emphasized that these challenges can only be overcome by a collective effort. Thereby, pleas for individual responsibility as well as social solidarity are often made. Indeed, it can be seen that the crisis mobilized solidarity and commitment in many social spheres. This project investigates initiatives of neighborhood assistance in the times of corona in Heidelberg as a manifestation of local solidarity structures. It focuses on the question of backgrounds, needs, and perspectives.

The project “the establishment of neighborhood assistance in times of corona as a manifestation of local solidarity structure“ is carried out by the sociology department in cooperation with the FreiwilligenAgentur Heidelberg. Your contact person at the Heidelberg UoE is Daniel Vetter.

For further information see  www.ph-heidelberg.de/soziologie.

WHO study provides base line for measuring the effects of COVID-19

On May 19, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a study report on the health-related behavior of children of school age (HBSC). The report contains comprehensive data on the physical health, social relations, and the psychological well-being of circa 227.500 schoolchildren from 45 countries. Thereby, the report serves as a base line for measuring the effects of COVID-19 on the life of young people. It shows a deterioration of adolescents’ psychological well-being in many countries in the time period between 2014 and 2018. In Germany, a study network collected the data, to which also Prof. Dr. Jens Bucksch (prevention and promotion of health) belongs.

The European regional office of the WHO published a new study report on the health-related behavior of children of school age. It covers the health and social behavior of schoolchildren aged 11, 13, and 15 from 45 countries. The report indicates a deterioration of the psychological well-being of adolescents in many countries between 2014 to 2018. Furthermore, it shows that children’s psychological well-being gets worse as they get older. Compared to boys, girls exhibit a particular high risk of having a poor psychological well-being. Every fourth adolescent states to be struggling with nervousness, irritability, and difficulties to fall asleep. The report clearly shows that substantial differences in mental well-being exist between countries. Cultural, political, and economic factors might play a role in promoting psychological well-being.

In about a third of the countries, adolescents are increasingly fraught with schoolwork in comparison to 2014 and less and less young people enjoy going to school, according to the report. In most countries, school experiences get worse with age: Adolescents’ satisfaction with school and the perceived support from teachers decreases with the growing strain of schoolwork. Besides the changes in adolescents’ mental well-being, the study also investigates the increasing use of digital technology by the youth. According to the researchers, these technologies can have positive effects but they can also aggravate conspicuous features and result in new dangers. This includes cyberbullying which especially strongly affects girls. More than every tenth adolescent states to have been a victim of cyberbullying at least once in the past two months.

At the time of the most recent HBSC-study, which presents results from the years 2017/2018, the world fights the COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, the next studies with results from the years 2021/2022 will reflect the pandemic’s impacts on the life of young people: “The large variety of topics that the HBSC-study covers, gives important insights into the lives of today’s adolescents It should, thus, provide a useful base line for measuring how COVID-19 affects adolescents when the results of the next study will be published in 2022”, explains Martin Weber, head of the program for the health of children and adolescents in the WHO regional office for Europe. “By comparing the data, we will be able to measure to what extent and how long-term school closure and curfews impact the social interactions of young people as well as their physical and mental well-being”.

The full results can be found on the WHO website:  www.euro.who.int (results as well as basic information); for a summary see the HBSC Website: www.hbsc.org. For further information on the department prevention and promotion of health at the Heidelberg UoE see www.ph-heidelberg.de/gefoe.

Background
For over 35 year, the HSBC study tracks the experiences of young people. It is an important instrument for identifying the progress that has been made with regard to a variety of health and social indicators and for emphasizing problem areas that might require coordinated plans of action and practical interventions. The HSBC data are being used to gain new findings on adolescents’ health and well-being, to better understand the social determinants of health, and to inspire how policies and practice are designed to improve the lives of young people in all parts of Europe and Canada.

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#CovidScienceBW

The projects presented here are a part of the #CovidScienceBW campaign of the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research, and Art. For further information see mwk.baden-wuerttemberg.de.

Date: June 23, 2020

Coronavirus

For current information on the university's handling of the coronavirus see www.ph-heidelberg.de/coronavirus.