15.04.2020
An interview with Rupert Schäfer and Marian Sander

 

The coronavirus crisis puts the improvable status quo of the German education system in the context of digitalization on the agenda. Schools across Germany have been closed for weeks, and since then, education has had to be provided virtually. To be fair: There was hardly any time to adapt to digital teaching methods. Subsequently, teachers, parents and students are now the ones who have to struggle with this. And while physical instruction appears to remain wishful thinking for the foreseeable future, educational institutions in this country lack both the necessary technical infrastructure and the corresponding know-how of teachers to translate content into the digital space.

 

The need for action is great. But what can help? For us as a digital strategy consultancy, one thing above all came to mind here: free remote tools, which we ourselves work with on a daily basis and which are also suitable for the home schooling sector, should be presented and explained. Not a panacea, but perhaps a good pressure bandage. No sooner said than done: In cooperation with Digitale Stadt München e.V., we have put together a series of emergency aid measures over the past few weeks – including suitable digital tools, methods and content for virtual classroom design, and a series of webinars to deepen the package of measures. Rupert Schäfer, Nunatak’s Co-Founder and Managing Partner, and Project Lead Marian Sander explain the background of the idea and why the quick fixes are interesting not only for teachers.

How did the idea of providing support to the German school system as a digital strategy consultancy come about?

Rupert Schäfer: There is an enormous need – we first had to realize this in the private sector. Many of us are parents ourselves and, just like our children and teachers who are friends of ours, are currently facing new challenges every day: On the one hand, teachers are trying to set up videoconferences for the first time via zoom or Google Hangouts and to research suitable tools for digital teaching, such as Trello, to send teaching materials or simply to communicate with their students. There are also problems on the other side of the virtual classroom. For example, many students are lacking the necessary technical equipment at home. 

In short, we are unfortunately seeing all too clearly these days how digitalization is doing in Germany – especially in the school sector. Here we are in 27th place in a Europe-wide comparison, behind all other member states. It is therefore both understandable and urgent that our teachers, students and parents need support in coping with these new requirements. And because Nunatak, as a digital consultancy, deals every day with issues that are now in particular demand, we can and want to provide this support. For example, we have been working for years on cloud infrastructures with chat rooms and classic videoconferencing tools to create virtual work environments for our clients. So it seemed only logical to offer the same for students and teachers, and to make it available free of charge as a crisis aid. 

You created your Education Booster (“Bildungsbooster”) together with the association Digitale Stadt München e.V. What was the role of the association and what does it normally concern itself with? 

Marian Sander: The association Digitale Stadt München e.V., at which our co-founder and managing partner Robert Jacobi is also a member of the expanded executive board, is a cross-industry network in and around the digital metropolis of Munich. Its members come from all kinds of sectors – from large industrial companies to representatives of the educational system and aviation. Their common goal is to strengthen Munich as a business location, promote innovation in the context of digitalization and create jobs. 

In the case of our Education Booster, the “Digitale Stadt” (or “Digital City”) was actually also involved as a source of ideas. Our request to offer the Education Booster as a comprehensive digitalization measure free of charge for all interested parties, including those outside Munich, was positively received by our members. And thanks to the bundling of our resources and networks, we were able to quickly put the initiative into practice together.  

In the Education Booster you define three packages of measures for the fastest and easiest possible implementation. The first deals with tools and infrastructure, the second with methods and formats, and the third with content and educational partners. What makes you feel confident that structured, efficient online teaching will be possible quickly?

Rupert Schäfer: First of all, one thing is important to explain about the packages of measures: We are not interested in turning the German education system inside out and telling teachers how they should conduct their lessons. That would be presumptuous and is far beyond our competence. We are interested in sharing the knowledge we have acquired over the years about digital forms of collaboration in business, presenting methods and using quick fixes to create the ability to act. Because that seems to be what is lacking the most at the moment. In other words: What tools are there and how can I integrate them into my teaching? By answering these questions, we want to help teachers to at least maintain the basics of their lessons virtually. 

Marian Sander: To this end, we have first of all listed tools in our packages of measures that are easy to implement, easy to use and, above all, available free of charge or at low cost. In this way, not only teachers, but also students and parents can benefit directly. And since these tools have proven themselves in our everyday work with companies from the business world, we can also say with certainty that they can be applied pragmatically.

In addition to the proposed action packages, Nunatak offers a three-week webinar series in the Education Booster. Which target groups is the format aimed at?  

Marian Sander: In principle, anyone can register – the webinars are free of charge. In terms of content, the main aim is to deepen the use of the Education Booster tools. Our focus is on teachers. But of course, students are also allowed to acquire knowledge and take what they have learned into their schools themselves. The same applies to parents who are currently more involved in their children’s homeschooling and would like to support them in using such tools. Finally, we also aim to develop a common image: What can we – as teachers, as students and as parents – do to make sure that the lessons work in the best virtual way possible?

Which contents should be especially deepened in the webinars? And where do you expect the greatest need for action?

Marian Sander: First of all, we address the most pressing problems of many teachers: How can the current one-on-one communication be replaced by a variant that allows teachers to reach all students more easily and efficiently? How can individual homework meetings be bundled? How can a virtual school lesson be mapped? And how can I provide my students with suitable teaching and learning materials? 

In a second, more advanced step, the focus will then be on how parts of common teaching methods can also be depicted in the digital space. For example, how can I integrate something like a virtual blackboard within a digital environment like Google Hangouts? 

What are the next steps? How do you make your Education Booster so public that it can be used everywhere?

Rupert Schäfer: Fortunately, we have a strong partner on our side when it comes to distribution. Thanks to its large network, the association Digitale Stadt München e.V. will be playing a leading role in the dissemination within our home city and the Munich metropolitan area. Of course, we also draw attention to the publication with the help of our digital channels. And since we offer our webinar free of charge to an unlimited number of participants, we are confident that we will reach many people with it.

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