Studying during COVID-19

Master’s degrees at HECTOR School going ahead as planned

In March of this year, the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to both travel opportunities and classroom teaching at all German universities from one day to the next. This meant that especially study programs with a high proportion of participants from abroad were forced to make new plans very quickly. The team at HECTOR School of Engineering & Management of the Technology Business School at the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT) with its international outlook succeeded in converting their entire concept to provide successful online teaching within just a few weeks. Even practical group tasks such as building, programming, and running a robot, were shared out among students around the globe and mastered with flying colors.

The students in the six extra-occupational Master’s programs at HECTOR School, which have been running since October 2019, were caught out by the national and international lockdowns and travel restrictions in March 2020. “Our concept of maintaining small study groups with a maximum of 25 participants strongly promotes networking,” explains Stefan Franck, head of the ‘Operations’ team. “The participants come from all over Germany and the rest of the world and from a wide range of companies and industries with different professional backgrounds. They benefit not only from our excellent lecturers and content, but also from the exchange amongst themselves,” he emphasizes. “And that includes getting to know each other in person, studying, working on tasks together, presenting results, excursions to companies and institutes, and direct and unfiltered contact with lecturers,” adds Franck. The participants usually travel to Karlsruhe several times over a period of about 15 months to take part in the 14-day compact modules. Between the modules, they continue to work in their respective companies and professions. What they all have in common is a hunger for profound knowledge, new ideas, and opportunities that result from the unique combination of management and technology as taught in HECTOR School KIT study programs. And then came Corona.

“Within just four weeks, we managed to move all modules completely online,” Stefan Franck describes the challenging situation. “Lectures are now all available as live streams. We do not pre-produce contributions. This is the only way students and lecturers can enter into direct and instant communication,” emphasizes Franck. At the same time, we set up virtual video group rooms and even break rooms. “Nothing stands in the way of studying together and having a chat with each other,” he says.

“The time difference can really take a toll on some participants,” he admits. “On the other hand, travel costs and commuting times are eliminated,” he emphasizes as a positive point. The participants have often solved practical tasks by cleverly redistributing the work packages — as the example of the robot group shows: things were put together in Germany while the programming took place in India. “The result is a 100 percent functional, self-propelled model,” Franck is pleased to report. The students’ feedback is also clear: “The online lectures work really well. Especially since the lecturers make full use of the new possibilities and use them to our advantage,” confirms Arvid Ottenberg who is on the Information Systems Engineering and Management course.

“All exams have taken place on schedule,” assures Franck. “This way, we can guarantee that our participants manage to gain their Master’s degree within the set time, even under these difficult conditions.” In the meantime, some practical parts of the courses are taking place under strict conditions in Karlsruhe again. “For those who cannot or are not permitted to attend in person, we stream the events so that they do not miss anything,” Franck describes the current procedure. “We have worked out a concept for nearly every possible situation, that we can put in place straight away if necessary,” he confirms, “but we do hope to return to entirely face-to-face teaching again in the long term.” Franziska Feßenmayr from the Production and Operations Management course agrees: “Interaction is the key — so while it is also easy to ask questions, start discussions or participate in working sessions online, ultimately, nothing beats direct contact with professors and fellow students.”

In October 2020, the new courses for the six Master’s programs will be getting started without delay. “As soon as it is possible and permitted, we plan for all lectures and seminars to again take place on site in Karlsruhe,” says Franck. “Until then, we will continue to have some parts online for participants to stream if they face difficulties coming to Germany.” The HECTOR School homepage continuously provides information on the current situation and gives helpful tips when it comes to applications and financial support programs during the coronavirus pandemic.


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