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Germany is currently experiencing an unprecedented boost in digitisation. During the corona pandemic, universities are also changing drastically the way they transmit knowledge. What has changed at Brand University over the last few months as part of that process?

No one can answer this question better than Philipp Sichau, IT Infrastructure and Campus Manager at BU. Under his direction, the university is currently experiencing a rapid digital development.

Brand University: Hello Philipp! A lot is happening at the BU at the moment. What has the pandemic changed at the university from the IT perspective?

Philipp Sichau: The corona pandemic has created a highway for digitization at our university, we have digitalised much faster than we originally planned. Of course, online teaching and hybrid knowledge transfer formats had been on the agenda for quite some time, but the pressure of the pandemic has driven the implementation very much forward.

BU: What is the current status of the technical equipment for digital teaching at BU?

PS: Currently, we are working with collaborative tools that allow us to work together in groups online and digital teaching with live character. We have also created the possibility for hybrid teaching. Students who are at home can join live presence seminars and lectures at any time and actively participate. For this purpose, each room is equipped with a swiveling monitor, camera and microphone. This combination provides for more interaction.

BU: In April, the BU went completely online for the semester. What was the biggest challenge in the digital summer semester?

PS: At the end of March, we were faced with the big question of which tools to choose for the switch to online teaching. We had ten days to answer it and implement everything. The tools were new for everyone involved. Our students had to learn to use them just as much as the professors and lecturers. At the same time, the staff working from home also needed support – this time was a huge undertaking from an IT point of view.

BU: Since October, teaching has continued in classroom presence, supported by a hybrid solution. What has this changed?

PS: Before the start of the winter semester, the return to presence teaching was uncertain for a long time, so several strategies had to be developed at the same time. For the final implementation, based on official announcements, we again had only two weeks.
By now, teaching in attendance and hybrid is going very well, but we couldn’t avoid some difficulties at the beginning of the semester. Our current Internet line payload was previously unimaginable and could not be simulated. Now we’ve reached the point where all the BU’s rooms can go online at the same time.

BU: What else has been happening at BU with regard to digitization?

PS: In the 2020 summer semester, all students received a BU e-mail address with full access to the Microsoft 365 programs. In addition, the e-book library has grown to more than 10,000 books and is used by students and faculty with great response. Our e-campus, Moodle, is also undergoing restructuring to further simplify the digital organization of teaching.
But there have also been some changes on the physical campus. For example, all corridors have been equipped with digital information boards and the common rooms have been technically upgraded.

BU: The topic of “technology” not only refers to digital equipment, but also to air conditioning technology, for example. How are we positioned in terms of infection protection?

PS: According to the regulations of the Hygiene Policy Plan for Hamburg’s universities, the carbon dioxide content in classrooms must not exceed 1,000 ppm. This is achieved, for example, by regular cross-ventilation. Fortunately, even before the pandemic we had a fresh air supply system that constantly measures the CO2 content in the air and balances it out with fresh air from outside. This way, we don’t have to set up CO2 indicators or freeze permanently in winter.

Many thanks to Philipp Sichau for the look behind the scenes of IT at Brand University.