Covid-19 poses new challenges for teaching at universities. For this year’s Summer School “Project Management for Knowledge Transfer” of the International SEPT Program at the University of Leipzig, the options were “drop out” or “go digital”.
The team, led by Prof. Dr. Utz Dornberger, quickly designed a digital two-week course from August 31 to September 11 and received financial support from the DAAD and BMZ.
New, innovative approaches and instruments of connection and communication were used, which SEPT would probably not have tested otherwise. The aim was not only to transfer knowledge, but also to create a group identity. And that is a challenge for all people, who work, study or attend school individually from home due to Covid-19.
The joint leisure activities in German culture, which is foreign to the participants from Africa and Asia, took place virtually during the two weeks, with great success and lots of fun. The program included cooking together under the guidance of a professional cook via Zoom video conference, a visit to a virtual escape room and interactive improvisational theatre via Zoom.
For the SEPT team it was an exciting experiment and an enriching experience for all involved. Through several surveys during the Summer School, a growing feeling of belonging to a group was proven. Given the enormous distances between all participants, this is a great success. If one were to connect all the places where the Summer School participants are staying, one would cover around 39,000 kilometers – from the Philippines and Cambodia to Mauritius, Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, Benin, Burkina Faso to Leipzig.
Where the team had previously asked itself anxious questions about the smooth running of the daily teaching operations, such as: will the internet connection be stable for all participants and is everyone always logged-in on time despite time zone differences? Afterwards the conclusion can be drawn that everything worked very well. The communication between the daily teaching and training units took place via a Messenger App developed especially for the Summer School, where questions were answered in real time and information, links and working materials could be exchanged as files.
Of the 21 innovative project ideas, three stood out in particular and were awarded prizes in a competition on the last day of the Summer School. Mechanical engineer Lucy Kariuki from Nairobi, Kenya, wants to use 3D printers to produce orthopedic prostheses that are custom-made for the customer/patient. In doing so, she is serving an urgent local need and delivering an excellent, unprecedented product to the market.
Cédric Agbessi from Benin is working on the production of compostable packaging for meals made of organic material from agricultural waste. Blessing Sibanda, a computer scientist from Zimbabwe, is planning to develop an app for small farmers that will enable them to diagnose plant diseases and vermin by taking photographs with a smartphone. This application is based on artificial intelligence.
The second round of the Digital Summer School is scheduled for March 2021. Hopefully all participants from September 2020 and March 2021 will be able to complete the second part of their program in Leipzig in September 2021.