Preparations for the winter semester 2020/21

Email from the president

Dear colleagues,
dear students,

All faculties are currently in preparation for the winter semester 2020/21. Even if the number of infections is currently low nationwide, we should not be misled with regard to the novel corona virus. The pandemic is not over yet. Local outbreaks in certain cities and districts in Germany as well as the developments in other countries clearly show that the virus does not forgive negligence in infection control.

With this in mind, we will keep to our infection control strategy in the coming winter semester as it has proved extraordinarily successful in recent months. We must continue to keep our distance, ensure strict hand hygiene and wear everyday masks where frequent encounters with others cannot be avoided. At the same time, the University aims at taking a big step towards on-campus teaching in the winter semester.

The past few weeks have shown us clearly that higher education needs direct and personal exchange between teachers and students as well as between students themselves. Some learning content can be transferred to the digital world quite easily, other content requires a major effort and some does not work in online formats at all. Despite all the challenges and demands that the corona pandemic still holds for us, the University of Tübingen is still committed to high-level university teaching. Therefore, we want to establish a new balance between on-campus teaching and online offerings for the coming winter semester.

The president’s office and the faculties have agreed to offer the following courses primarily on campus:

  • courses for students in their first semester,
  • courses that are specially designed for international students and have a strong component of interactive teaching,
  • courses for which direct interaction between teachers and students is essential, such as seminars, practical courses, exercises or case discussions,
  • practical lab courses that require special laboratories or work rooms.

Other courses, on the other hand, have to take place online. These include:

  • courses with more than 100 participants (for lack of suitable rooms, even if they are aimed at students in their first semester), 
  • courses that are part of English-language master programs, 
  • lectures without exercises for students in higher semesters.

Our goal is to hold about half of all courses in the coming winter semester online and the other half on campus. For the latter, we will continue to ensure a high level of security. If the University does not want to run the risk of becoming a potential corona hotspot in winter, a safety distance of 1.5 meters must be maintained between all those present in class. Accordingly, courses that used to take place in seminar rooms in the past will often have to be held in lecture halls in future.

In order to provide the necessary room capacity, we want to offer courses in the coming winter semester from Monday to Friday between 8.00 am and 9.00 pm and, if possible, on Saturdays as well. The university administration is currently negotiating with the staff council to allow for the necessary extension of regular working hours.

We also plan to reduce the regular time window of a two-hour course from 120 minutes to 90 minutes, so that the number of courses per day can be increased. In order to have enough time for airing between two courses, we will also reduce the contact time in all teaching units from 90 to 60 minutes and have a 30-minute break between two courses. In order to enable students to switch between online and on-campus classes without any problems, it is imperative that all digital teaching formats also comply with the new time grid if they are offered synchronously - i.e. as a live stream at a specific time. Asynchronous courses are excluded from this requirement.

With this in mind, please note that all organizational information on courses that you can find in the ALMA campus system for the winter semester will only be preliminary in the coming weeks. The new scheme outlined above will inevitably mean that the time, place and duration of many courses will have to be adjusted again. I urge the faculties and departments to pay special attention to the needs of teachers and students with family responsibilities. This applies in particular to the allocation of time slots for teaching or, in the case of students, to the attendance of courses.
As we have already announced, classes at the University of Tübingen in the coming winter semester will not begin until November 2. The situation with regard to room availability requires that introductory courses should be held in the two weeks before that date, i.e. in the time from 19th to 30th October 2020. The orientation week for first-semester students will be a mix of online offerings and smaller on-campus formats and, as in previous years, will be organized and coordinated by the student counseling service.

I am aware that the upcoming changes raise many questions. Students can address their questions at any time to the student counseling service or the subject-specific counselors. University teachers should contact their departments or faculties. The deans’ offices also have a list of contact persons in central administration.

To put it in a nutshell: We want to open the university in the fall as much as possible, but we don't want to be frivolous. We want to fulfil our educational mission to the full extent and continue to focus resolutely on protection against infection. This path will bring about changes and challenges especially for the teaching staff, but also for all other employees. However, it also offers the opportunity to rebalance the range of online and on-campus courses and to combine the advantages of analogue and digital formats. I ask you all to join us on this path in order to take the University a big step back towards normality.

Best regards,
Professor Dr. Bernd Engler