Since last autumn, higher education didactics expert Caroline Ebel has been responsible for working with the studies commissions on the development of teaching at our institution as well as for the advising, coaching, and professional development of faculty. In the following conversation with mdw Magazine, Ebel provides an initial impression of how her work has been progressing.
Mrs. Ebel, you’ve now been working at the mdw for a full year with a focus on higher education didactics. How might we best understand what’s meant by this term?
Caroline Ebel (CE): The field of higher education didactics addresses the culture of teaching and learning, which means: how teaching and learning take place in a university-level context. I like the expression “culture of teaching and learning”, because it expresses what are some foundational values of ours as an educational institution. How do the attitudes we have and roles we take on as teachers look? How do I form a relationship with my students, and how do I convey what I stand for with my artistic, field–specific, and pedagogical expertise?
What are you looking to accomplish as an expert in this area?
CE: I want to support our faculty members and contribute to the further development of teaching here. To this end, I’m in the process of visiting each department and asking teachers what they feel they’d benefit most from. I’m looking to find out what the essence of each department’s teaching is, what’s preoccupying our faculty, and what areas in need of improvement or possible points of leverage exist—and I’m using what I learn to develop my offerings and create formats appropriate to the various thematic areas.
Do individual teachers approach you with concrete themes, or is the point to offer a certain selection of formats from which they can choose?
CE: Both. Teachers can approach me with questions and concerns anytime they like. I have a supervision and coaching background, so I make myself available to teachers in this function. Alongside helping with their direct queries, I bundle themes and develop offerings that I then discuss directly with the departments. I’ve already started with a number of these—like a supervision group for teachers who provide individual instruction, meetings for collegial exchange on central questions of teaching, and methods-focused group training sessions. I’ve also been asked to sit in on the teaching of a few faculty members who were interested in getting some feedback.
I speak with the teachers in order to find out their concerns and then develop offerings with which these can be addressed.
Alongside your work in the Office of the Vice Rector for Academic Affairs, you’re also still employed at the Department of Music Education Research, Music Didactics and Elementary Music Education (IMP).
CE: I’ve held on to a lectureship at my former department because I feel it’s important to remain active as a teacher in my own right. I want to retain the opportunity to reflect on my own teaching; otherwise, I’d feel like an inauthentic pedagogue.
You’ve also worked as a music teacher at various academic secondary schools. Did those teaching experiences end up figuring into your interest in supervision and coaching?
CE: They did. While I’m an enthusiastic educator, I had great difficulty with my role’s conception in the scholastic context. My work as a supervisor enabled me to access a different perspective on education, and what I especially liked about that was the idea of working on an equal footing. School teaching, on the other hand, was something that felt very instructive to me back then.
So it was this knowledge that you put into practice as an assistant at the Department of Music Education Research, Music Didactics and Elementary Music Education?
CE: I applied to work at the mdw with the idea of teaching teachers in a way that integrates personality-building formats like supervision and coaching—which I did ultimately succeed in doing. And that, in turn, caused my own teaching to change greatly over time as I tried to bring my pedagogical concept together with what I’d learned while training as a supervisor and coach. And eventually, I came across the field of higher education didactics and ascertained that it was precisely that area with which I’d already been dealing for years.
You’re continuing to support teachers as they begin their professional lives. What fascinates you about that?
CE: I’m interested in the transition from learner to teacher, in how that occurs. My particular interest here is in how the processes of identifying with one’s professional role as an educator play out—and in how we can accompany this developmental phase here at the mdw.
How exactly can support be provided, here?
CE: I accompany students with concrete, case-based supervision during the practical phase of their studies such that everyone can contribute and speak about their own situations; we then, as a group, take an analytical look at each presented case and explore alternative courses of action and creative latitudes. I guide our young teachers into these deliberations with help from various building blocks: What is the essence of their role? What expectations are present? And wherein do special challenges lie? In this context, I attempt to unite coaching-derived elements with aspects of education and educational science in order to support the teachers in their own self-reflection.
In the context of higher education didactics, you also join forces with the studies commissions where the overall development of teaching is concerned…
CE: Right. I work together with Director of Studies Ester Tomasi-Fumics on curriculum development and provide support and advice to the studies commissions on didactic matters such as appropriate course formats or formulations used to describe various proficiencies. For example, one of the things I’m working on is a classification scheme for mdw courses that should ease the studies commissions’ work. What’s more, Ester Tomasi-Fumics and I are also looking at what teaching and learning formats (including innovative ones) we haven’t yet accounted for and at how we can further develop and complement the teaching that’s done at our institution.
What projects are planned to go forward next, and what are your desires in terms of higher education didactics as an area of work?
CE: I’d like to firmly establish various higher education didactics formats at the mdw and also team up with Barbara Strack-Hanisch, the new Vice Rector for Academic Affairs, to develop something in this area together. And in general, I hope we’ll be able to raise awareness of higher education didactics as such as well as contribute to inspiring, universal engagement with teaching and learning at the mdw.