The Media Center at Technical University Dresden (TU Dresden) in Germany was created about ten years ago by bringing together two units, one of which focused on media research and design and the other on media production including e-learning.
Dr. Thomas Köhler, previously responsible for the media production center, became Director of the combined research and service Media Center which now has five specialized departments:
- Digital Teaching and Learning;
- Media Strategies;
- Media Design and Media Production;
- Teaching and Learning Spaces; and
- Media and information Technology.
The variety of knowledge and skills in these five departments is reflected in the wide range of activities and responsibilities.
Developing and Using a Learning Platform: One of the primary responsibilities of the newly-formed Center was the development of an e-learning platform, using public funding. In the second phase of this initiative, a company was set up with other universities in Saxony to run the OPAL Learning Management System (LMS) for use by all state postsecondary institutions. TU Dresden plays a central role in this company. The LMS is largely used to support campus-based learning, enabling students to study from home or in their dormitories. About 100,000 students in 20 universities across the state of Saxony use this LMS to access materials for their courses.
Even though the teaching material is primarily used in an institutional context, there are a few examples of cooperative inter-institutional developments. For example, The Media Center worked with a nearby college of applied sciences to develop a new master’s program that makes use of a consistent pedagogical and resource design across all subjects to facilitate student access and success. Introductory videos were created for each section of the course, with Adobe Connect used for communication. Resources are provided online, as well as integrating the textbook. At TU Dresden, a professor of business informatics set up a course with virtual collaboration among students in Germany, the Baltic countries and Iran, with groups combining students from each of those regions using the LMS as the core meeting place.
In the last five years, increasing attention was paid to producing video-based resources, including recording of lectures and creation of MOOCs. The most recent MOOC, coordinated by TU Dresden, was a joint production of the nine leading technical universities in Germany. The MOOC offered information similar to an introductory course for students considering studying engineering, with the goal of attracting students to study at one of the German universities.
Training and Support: Support for the LMS includes training lecturers and professors in its use, providing design and implementation consultation and support, and creating special resources for course use. The Center works with partners on educational projects and conducts evaluation and quality assurance reviews of online courses.
Advice and hands-on assistance in the use of technologies and their applications to teaching and learning, as well as the recording and posting of lectures, support the use of technology in the classroom. Full-service video and audio production facilities are available for production, editing and distribution, in addition to print production, web design and 3D design and modelling.
A 90-minute online introduction is offered to faculty who are new to e-learning, as well as face-to-face seminars, courses on e-examinations, and information on writing and photos for web sites, including issues of copyright. Two 30-hour modules lead to a E-Teaching Certificate; using a blended format, with content largely online and some in-class components. This training is offered to faculty at TU Dresden, but it can be provided to faculty at other universities in the region for a fee.
Research: Much of the research activity is linked to external grants, with particular focus on the use of media for teaching, learning, and research. A recent European Union project looked at the virtual reconstruction of historic sites and how virtual and augmented realities could help scientists to understand the lived realities of these sites. The technological infrastructure for this was created and applied to numerous locations.
The German Government funded a project looking at using digital mobile technology to respond to challenges in workplaces, specifically helping workers in geriatric care homes cope with the stress they experience related to the suffering of their patients. Programs were created for mobile devices so staff have tools at-hand in moments of need in the work environment.
Outcomes and Benefits
The diversity of services combined in the Media Center brings together a broad awareness and critical analysis of developments in teaching, learning, and media design and production. The hands-on approach results in practical and applicable solutions and designs. The interchange among staff assures successful solutions are shared and applied to new situations.
Partnership with other colleges and universities in Saxony results in more reliable results applied across institutions and avoids duplication of effort. This collaboration is now expanding to institutions in other states.
Challenges and Enhancements
The transfer of the knowledge and capacities from the staff in the Media Center to the academic sector is an ongoing challenge, as faculty are more convinced by their own experience than by new ideas.
The strong employment market in Germany makes it difficult to find qualified staff. This is a long-standing problem in media and information technology departments and a growing challenge in social and educational science areas.
TU Dresden is in the top three technical universities in Germany, and attracts considerable grant funding, most of this on a project basis. Grants range from six months to three years, with 18 to 30 months as most common duration. This term-limited funding creates financial pressure and some insecurity, as some basic routines in teaching and research are reliant on grant funding.
Dr. Köhler sees the challenge for the future as determining the methodology for producing and reproducing knowledge in an all-digital world. Questions of innovation, economic structure and learning are central to this shift. He describes a future in which “there will be a stronger focus on how we create meaning in society with digital technologies, with the question of what role scientists play, using which skills and what tools.”
For Further Information
Professor Dr. Thomas Köhler
Faculty of Education, Institute for Vocational Education
Technical University Dresden