University of Freiburg: Four projects with new ideas for university teaching will be funded by the “Freiraum” program

Four projects at the University of Freiburg that develop new formats in university teaching are receiving funding from the “Freiraum 2022” program. It was announced this year for the first time and is supported by the Foundation for Innovation in University Teaching, which allocates public funds from the federal and state governments. “Freiraum” is aimed at individual teachers who want to try out promising new ideas. The Freiburg projects develop digital learning platforms and interactive videos, conduct field research, and require that students design an exhibition and learning videos for students.

Projects should leave their mark
“In the future, the new foundation supporting innovative university teaching will be something like the German Research Foundation (DFG) for teaching,” says Dr. Günter Schmidt-Gess, head of the Innovation and Quality of Learning Division, which advised the successful projects. “Freiraum” is just one of several funding formats that will be offered on a regular basis in the future. It is aimed at individual members of a university with independent teaching responsibilities. Projects can be funded for nine, twelve or 25 months, and the maximum funding per project is between 225,000 and 625,000 euros.

The funded projects should leave their mark on the University of Freiburg, says Schmidt-Gess, by incorporating them into the curriculum or adopting their ideas in other areas. In addition, he says, the funding means a further strengthening of university teaching: “If you can say you raised third-party funds for this teaching development project, then that’s also valuable for your academic career.”

Project “Transferring cultural knowledge”
Bachelor students of cultural anthropology produce YouTube videos for students in which they present and discuss topics such as the construction of gender roles or social movements, which is the basic idea of the project “Transferring cultural knowledge.” Students explain socially relevant topics to schoolchildren. It was conceived by Prof. Dr. Markus Tauschek, a cultural anthropologist from Freiburg, and his colleague Prof. Dr. Michaela Fenske from the University of Würzburg. The project pursues three goals, says Tauschek: students learn to communicate complex topics in a comprehensible way; students become aware of the subject; and students experience how a cultural studies discipline contributes to society.

“This can boost their professional confidence considerably,” Tauschek says, “while acquiring a whole bouquet of skills at the same time.” The forms of presentation in the approximately five-minute videos can range from cartoons to interviews while workshops teach skills such as writing a script, sound editing and picture editing. And the project also encourages discussion of content: “To explain a complex topic well in five minutes, you have to be really good at it yourself.” The project will be funded for one year.

Project “Bringing the bioeconomy into the picture”
Also aimed at bachelor students of cultural anthropology is the project Bringing the Bioeconomy into the Picture: ‘Photovoice’ as an innovative method of research-based learning in cultural anthropology. Bioeconomy is the name given to the trend of replacing fossil raw materials with bio-based materials such as making packaging from plants instead of plastic. “In the project, we’re interested in what this means for people, especially for farmers,” says Dr. Sarah May, a research assistant at the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and European Ethnology. “We go with the students quite literally into the field with them.” The farmers are given small cameras with which they document their daily lives. Afterwards, there are discussions with students in which a joint analysis of their everyday life takes place based on the images. This method is called Photovoice.

The images and texts will then be used to create an exhibition, which will be on display on large walls and on the Internet in at least Freiburg and Stuttgart in the spring of 2023. “We want to bring the topic into everyday urban life with questions such as ‘What does agriculture have to do with you?’” She says it’s “a great motivation” for students to meet with stakeholders, work on the analysis themselves and ultimately create the exhibition as a visible end product: “They’re not just observing a current sociopolitical issue; they’re helping to shape it.” The funding period will be for one year.

Project “Knowledge – Practice – Skills”
The project “Knowledge – Practice – Skills: Digital Self-learning in Psychotherapy Studies” is developing modules that allow Bachelor’s and Master’s students to watch and edit videos of therapeutic situations at their own learning pace. “The videos, which last about 50 minutes, correspond to real introductory sessions of a therapy; they are portrayed by therapists and actor-patients,” says Dr. Lena Krämer, a research assistant at the Department of Psychology. The videos are intended to be interactive; they are accompanied, for example, by a commentary podcast by a therapist and interspersed with small tests or work assignments, such as making an initial diagnosis.

The self-learning modules, at the heart of which are the videos, are integrated into seminars and lectures, says Krämer: “The students can then deepen and apply the knowledge from the courses in the digital modules. Such ‘dry runs’ with practical material already during their studies are something the students themselves have often wanted.” A scientific accompanying evaluation is also part of the project, says Krämer. “And as a further goal, we would like to develop general recommendations for action for good digital self-learning modules.” The maximum funding period here is also one year.

Project “Academic Writing for Students of German Studies”
A new course for Bachelor students of German Studies is being developed by the project Academic Writing for German Studies Students: Teaching and Learning Writing with Writing Training in the Digital Space. “For us, academic writing is a basic skill,” says Dr. Elisabeth Zima, research assistant at the Department of German. “But you don’t learn to write by someone telling you how best to do it. You also have to become active and write yourself.” In a course aimed at more than 200 students, however, that is a didactic challenge, especially regarding feedback on the written texts. The project is responding to this by setting up a digital learning platform.

On the one hand, it will contain self-learning elements such as exercises on the correct citation of scientific literature. “On the other hand, working groups of students can read their texts together there, comment on them and give each other feedback,” explains Zima. The digital platform creates the technical and didactic conditions for this, and participation can be monitored by lecturers. The design of the platform will be evaluated during the project. “Our goal is a permanent, innovative and sustainable teaching/learning concept for academic writing in German studies,” says Zima. The funding period will be for 25 months.