by Sarah Wolpers

The digital revolution affects economic and social as well as political life. It presents us with new challenges. But at the same time, it offers opportunities. Also for us as students. In 2010 Bill Gates said that five years later the world’s best lecture would be offered for free in the Internet. But first of all, what kinds of digital tools can help the students? And how does it help to perform better at university?

In General, there are three digital tools which can help students for their academic performance. These are Learning Management Systems, blended learning concept, and learning analytics.

Over the last years, most of the European universities have already established Learning Management Systems (LMS), like Blackboard, ILIAS or Moodle. This digital platform offers the possibility for lectures and students to upload teaching material like scientific essays. Also, the professors can provide additional material as well as students submit their homework electronically. The LMS is an additional teaching room where pre-tests and examinations can be completed. Students get enabled to connect with their lecturer, which offers a better coordination of studies and closer relationship between professor and his class. Furthermore, students can get a deeper inside view to the academic dialogue. The reason for it, is the possibility for young academics to share their research results and get in touch with students.

Another digital tool is the blended learning concept. It is a teaching concept that links digital structures more closely to classical teaching. This model integrates e-learning elements into the traditional lectures and classes. To prepare himself, the student uses LMS in the form of tutorials or a short online lecture on the study content of the lecture. On the other hand, the students are able repeat the learning content on the LMS after the lecture and conduct individual online tests on the basis of which the lecturer can evaluate whether the study content was understood. The blended learning concept is particularly suited to natural sciences and engineering sciences because it allows complex topics to be dealt with more effectively. Due to the increased participation of the students, the lecturers also receive a feedback, which allows them to improve their lectures. In the humanities, the concept of blended learning is less widespread.

Also, Learning Analytics is a feature of e-learning, which will become part of European universities in the upcoming five years. It is already used in the United States and Australia. According to the NMC Horizon Report 2016 Learning analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimizing learning and the environments in which it occurs. The students receiving a real-time feedback of their current performance in class and can recognizing their knowledge gaps. Nevertheless, it is important to maintain personal data security.

All the e-teaching concepts digitize the entire teaching. Lectures, exercises, homework, etc. will be held as an online course. The lecturer can provide their courses to the students on an LMS. However, if the state of the arts changes, the content of the lecture must be adapted. Any questions about the content can be asked and answered on the LMS forums. E-Teaching is rather less common and is not suitable for first-year students, since they usually do not cope with independent learning and reworking. The interaction between teacher and listeners also suffers a lot. Apart from homework or examinations, the lecturer does not receive any feedback on the extent to which the content was understood. Therefore, e-teaching is only suitable for purely application-oriented courses (for example, programming, digital humanities) in higher semesters.

After explaining all the digital tools and concept, there is still the open question how these can help students? Studies show that learning analytics lower the quota of students’ dropouts. Although it helps to receives better study results of about 30 percent It is crucial that universities invest in new digital tools to promote students’ learning. Another example is that 90 percent of the students passed a class while using digital tools.

Digitization must be an interdisciplinary research into all disciplines. Three core areas play a key role here: digital studies, interaction between teaching and research, and online courses in domestic and European countries. We should see Digitalization as a Chance for us students and take advantages, so that Europe does not lose touch on the future. Nevertheless, the basic pillars of the academic knowledge transfer will still be lecture and seminar, multiple choice test and final thesis.

17 December 2017
This text was published in Bullseye issue 70