Suddenly exclusively digital

our studies during a pandemic

In the spring of 2020, German universities switched to digital learning with haste – including TU Darmstadt. For some departments that heavily worked with students in the lab, this transition was a difficult feat! And certainly no one would have expected that there would be almost exclusively online events to this day. Which is why we would like to know: How did the #studentsofTUdarmstadt experience their digital semester between video conferencing, online teaching materials, and self-study? Six students from TU Darmstadt report their experiences.

Sooyeong,
Data and Discourse Studies

I've always felt that the university makes a lot of effort to create pleasant study conditions and provide a sense of security.

Portrait TU Darmstadt Ambassador Sooyeong
Picture: Britta Hüning

Welcome to the new digital semester

Hello everyone and thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. Of course, in concert with the theme, the interview will take place digitally. You already have a lot of experience with that, don't you? How did you experience studying digitally at TU Darmstadt last year?

Julia: All in all, very well. But of course, it depends on the professors whether you feel prepared adequately. Some of them offered a lot of tutorials, which made it easy to make new contacts or get experience from more advanced students. I study industrial engineering with a focus on mechanical engineering, which is a very broad degree programme. Especially in the first semester, it was good to see or hear familiar people from time to time.

Aravind: The start of the digital winter semester really was a valuable experience. I started my studies in India and came to Darmstadt later in the semester. So far, I was only used to classical learning, so of course I was excited. The Kick-Off Days from the International Student Services (ISS) and the digital orientation week from my department helped me a lot with my first steps at TU Darmstadt and gave me a smooth start. I never thought that I would also get to know the other students so well through digital means. I especially appreciate the efforts of the ISS. I was always able to easily set up a video meeting through the online counter when I needed help.

Masha: When I found out that everything was going to be completely digital, I was a little disappointed at first and also a little scared. Disappointed, because studying in Germany was my big dream and of course I wanted to experience everything that studying abroad entails. Digital studies simply can't offer all that. But the fear is gone after one semester. The last year has had a great impact on all of us, us students as well as the teachers, and I have often experienced a feeling of mutual support and understanding.

Moiz: The transition went smoother than I expected. The university has played a very big role in this. From the delivery of lectures over labs to exams, faculty and staff at all levels were extremely helpful and considerate. However, I would recommend other international students to start the digital semester in their home countries if possible, this way you can focus more on your studies.

Ons: I also think it's good to be in a familiar place to increase motivation. I'm in my third semester, which means I've already lived the university life for one semester. The transition into the digital semester has honestly been pretty tough for me. I was in a phase where I was still exploring my studies and the university itself, then everything changed again all of a sudden and I had to deal with it, just like everyone else. At the beginning I was a bit lost, but after a while I got used to it and also got the help I needed. I feel much more comfortable with online study now. The info page on E-learning at TU Darmstadt, for example, helped me a lot.

Sooyeong: I personally prefer on-site study for international students despite everything, the feeling of studying abroad is also quite different despite the restrictions. And I was especially grateful that some professors hold their office hours online. So, I could still talk to them and receive advice. I was also impressed that TU Darmstadt is trying to offer so many options to make studying manageable even in this chaos. For example, in one of my courses we were able to postpone the exam to the summer semester if we wanted to. I always had the feeling that the university makes a lot of effort to create pleasant study conditions and to convey a feeling of security.

That sounds very positive in general! In your opinion, what worked particularly well?

Julia: We have a Discord server where the practice sessions (at least in math) take place. There was almost always someone available to talk to about the assignments, both fellow students and tutors. I also see the freedom to study anywhere as a clear advantage. It simply makes you more flexible. When lectures are uploaded, there is also the flexibility in terms of time.

Aravind: Yes, so much flexibility is great. With online lectures, I could study from anywhere and devise my own schedule. I could attend classes from the comfort of my own home without having to worry too much about getting to the university. Since I was still at home in India at first, I was able to coordinate my German lessons in my home country perfectly with the lectures at the TU Darmstadt.

Moiz: Yes, the biggest advantage is the flexibility of being able to study from anywhere. So, in the summer semester of 2021, I was able to decide whether to attend the lectures from my home country, Pakistan.

Masha: I was actually surprised that I was able to concentrate much better during the digital classes than I had expected.

Ons: Yes, I found that too. For me, the online classes also helped me keep a regular schedule and practice good time management. I have felt very productive. Being able to study from anywhere is super beneficial. For example, I'm with my family in Tunisia right now.

Sooyeong: During the digital semester, not only did the classes take place online, but also the group work. Since we worked in a digital meeting room, we were able to have discussions more often without time and place constraints. Since I didn't have to physically be in the lecture room or change rooms on campus, I was able to be more flexible in planning my schedule and also had more choices.

Internationalization@Home: The virtual International Summer University makes it possible!

Six weeks together with other young people from all over the world to get to know the latest in engineering, learn German, and experience and understand German culture. Sounds good? Then you should take a look at the International Summer University!

In the English-language engineering courses and workshops, you will learn about mechanical or electrical engineering in theory and practice. In addition, the German companies Continental AG and Merck KGaA present themselves in virtual excursions and share their knowledge and work.

You will learn German together to make your daily life easier and to support you with a focus on STEM-related content and academic work, especially in the working world or in your studies. In addition, you will receive a crash course in intercultural competence so that you can easily find your way in a diversified working world. Perfect to prepare you for a stay abroad at university or an internship in Germany!

You can also earn valuable credit points for your studies. Up to 12 ECTS (or 6 US/Canadian credit points) can be added to your transcript.

You can find more information on the website of the International Summer University. There you will also find all details about the requirements and deadlines. Maybe you are also interested in other short-term programmes for international students of the TU Darmstadt.

Moiz,
Materials Science

The biggest advantage is the flexibility of being able to study everywhere. In the summer semester of 2021, I was able to attend classes from my home country.

Portrait Moiz
Picture: Britta Hüning

Are there any other benefits of studying digitally?

Ons: Whether you're more of a fast learner or a slow learner, you can set your own pace, because you can rewatch the lecture as many times as you need to without any pressure.

Aravind: True, a big advantage of digital learning is that a lot of the courses have been recorded. So, if I missed something or didn't quite understand a particular topic, I could watch the course again. I was also able to take breaks when I felt I couldn’t concentrate any more – a luxury you don't have with face-to-face lectures!

Masha: Wearing pajamas all day! But all kidding aside, it's really nice that the corporate license for Zoom is made available to us and that we have access to many books from the library via the VPN connection. I also know that the library is working on making even more material available digitally soon. I also like that the online communication is really fast. I always get answers from the university within a day.

Were there things that didn't go so well and where you currently see potential for improvement?

Masha: I would say that the orientation week could have been organized a little differently. My experience was that many people were too shy to ask questions online. Especially with so many people listening. I think it's especially important that right at the beginning of the programme everyone has a convenient and appropriate way to ask questions and have them answered.

Julia: I believe it would be beneficial if you could get information about what is live and what will be made available as a recording before the semester starts. Since the lectures sometimes overlap, you have to choose them at your own risk. Personally, I also found it a pity that there was no option for the freshmen to have a small city tour or similar events. Doing everything digitally is very exhausting in the long run.

Moiz: Yes, of course, studying online has its pitfalls. I study materials science and would have preferred to do the lab units at the university. The lab is simply an important part of my studies. A hybrid semester would have been perfect for me, i.e., all lectures online and all lab practical offline. Unfortunately, that wasn't available at my department. But of course, the university and the departments always have to weigh things up and observe the regulations. In chemistry, for example, there were lab exercises in person.

Sooyeong: In my case, there were last-minute changes and a wide range of rules within different courses. Of course, this is completely understandable given the rapidly changing situation. But based on previous experiences with the situation and the digital semester, it would have been helpful to provide changes earlier so students would know what to expect.

Ons: Sometimes I really lacked motivation and didn't feel like studying. In order to not waste the whole day, I worked hard on this. I incorporate more positive activities into my daily routine so that I feel better and more productive at the end of the day. A short walk is usually enough to clear my head and recharge my batteries.

Aravind,
Logistik und Supply Chain Management

I never thought I would get to know the other students so well through digital means. I especially appreciate the efforts of the International Student Services. I was always able to easily set up a video meeting through the online counter when I needed help.

Portrait TU Darmstadt Ambassador Aravind
Picture: Britta Hüning

Digital studying: a challenge at first, now part of everyday life

How were your studies organized during the digital semester? What was the exact organization?

Aravind: Everything was really online for my studies. Because of the online lectures, I was able to stay at home in India until shortly before the exams, for which I then had to be present, and only came to Darmstadt at the end of the semester.

Masha: Everything was online for me too, except for one exam. The other exams were designed so that we could take them from home. The lectures were live for the most part. But some of the lectures were also pre-recorded and then we were able to discuss and ask questions on Zoom.

Moiz: Yes, exactly. All of my modules were online, that included the lab practical as well. One week's lectures were all made available at once as videos and then a live Q&A session was organized the following week. But some departments also had face-to-face lectures. In chemistry they have a large practical component, and in some cases, they were able to do their lab practical on site in smaller groups and with special precautions.

Maybe back to the exams again: Some of them were digital, others on site. How did that work out specifically?

Aravind: I took all the exams on site, so there were no big changes there. Of course, hygiene and distance were taken very seriously, so TU Darmstadt was able to comply with all safety regulations.

Julia: My exams all took place in presence, except for one, which was digitized about a week before. We actually had the opportunity to decide whether we preferred digital or face-to-face.

Masha: For me, most of the exams took place online or were converted into homework. My programme is very international, and many were still abroad because they couldn't enter Germany due to the restrictions. So, it was a good compromise to conduct the exams this way. However, a few exams also took place on site. That certainly has its advantages, at least you don't have to worry about the stability of the internet connection, and it was also a really good feeling to be at the university. On the other hand, for those who were stuck abroad, an alternative form of examination was not always possible. That did cause some frustration, which I can definitely relate to.

Moiz: My exams were conducted online. However, there were some last-minute changes that caused confusion. Some exams that were supposed to be on campus were switched to the digital open-book format – so we were allowed to use all transcripts and lecture slides! Sounds great at first, but it caused a lot of stress because we had to completely change our exam preparation strategy at the last moment.

Forms of examination in digital studies

The restrictions we are currently experiencing are a push to introduce alternative forms of exams. For example, some exams have been transformed into either oral online exams or essays. But formats such as open-book exams also took place for the first time in some modules.

In addition, the strict withdrawal deadlines were suspended, and students were able to withdraw unbureaucratically until the exam was issued. Only a no-show was counted as failing the course. Also, for the summer semester 2020 and the winter semester 20/21, failed third party exams were not counted. This at least takes some of the pressure out of studying.

Mascha,
Data and Discourse Studies M.A.

I was a little disappointed and scared, when I found out that everything was going to be digital. I was disappointed because studying in Germany was my big dream and I wanted to experience everything studying abroad was about. Digital studies just can't offer all that.

Portrait TU Darmstadt Ambassador Masha
Picture: Britta Hüning

Student life despite lockdown: Is that possible?

Most of you have just started your studies. How did you experience the start at TU Darmstadt during this extraordinary time?

Moiz: I was very excited when I saw the virtual campus tour and I am really looking forward to being on my campus soon. Coming from South Asia, I think adjusting to a new country, language, norms, and education system in itself was a big hurdle for me. Then the special circumstances added to the difficulties. It took some time to get used to everything. Overall, though, the digital experience ended up being fun and I learned a lot.

Julia: The start was difficult for me, especially at the very beginning. Most of the time in isolation, alone with my own thoughts, sometimes having cabin fever and yet you still want to achieve the same performance. Everyone tells you that studying is the greatest time in your life, that you meet so many people at the beginning who will leave their mark on you for a long time. That's not the case now, as expected, but I just hope that I can still make up for it. Since we noticed that many feel the same way, we wrote a blog post on the topic of Mental Health.

Masha: Of course, I was worried in the beginning. Especially in the first few weeks, when I first had to understand how everything worked in the first place: How do I sign up for classes, how are the Zoom meetings organized, and so on. Friends of mine who also study at TU Darmstadt helped me a lot and explained everything to me. Our faculty was very helpful as well. They patiently, kindly, and in detail answered the endless questions I asked them.

And how is it in the meantime? How have you found your way around in the new city and established contact with your fellow students?

Julia: I still miss the personal contact. I have made some good acquaintances so far, but I haven't made any real friends yet. If I have questions or problems, I ask around in one of the chat groups of my year, but I find it very difficult to establish contacts online and also maintain the relationship.

Aravind: Darmstadt is really a beautiful place. I arrived here a month ago and have just started exploring the city. I have already fallen in deep love with Darmstadt and with German cuisine.

Masha: Darmstadt is beautiful. The city is surrounded by forests and I find it very relaxing to walk in nature. Unfortunately, so far there hasn't been a real opportunity for me to get to know my fellow students. Instead, we have organized a few Zoom meetings to introduce ourselves and chat a bit. We also have a joint WhatsApp group, which is super helpful. We still manage to study and work together amazingly well, even if it is only online. Of course, I miss the feeling of going to university and hanging out with the others. But I try to make the best of what I have now!

Moiz: I did a lot of research beforehand by reading info about settling in the city provided by the university and the university groups like TUtor International and the ISS. There are also tips for international students and info about living in Darmstadt here on the blog. I also got in touch with students from my home country who are already studying the same degree programme here as me. They were able to give me valuable insights into both studying and living here. Because of the online courses, I also miss the social contact with other students. I would like to see intercultural meetings from the university (online at the moment, of course), like TUtor International offers. I would recommend these for the new students of the same department. I think it's more fun to study when you know each other better, when you have a relationship with each other and make closer connections.

Sooyeong: There are many beautiful parks, lakes and forests in Darmstadt, and I really enjoyed hanging out there with my fellow students. Unfortunately, we couldn't spend as much time together because of the lockdown. I hope that we can have a beer together in the park again soon, if the rules due to the pandemic allow it. Until then, we are collecting our favourite places in Darmstadt that are still accessible in a blog post. That way, others will benefit, too.

Event formats and international projects also go digital: INSPIRED

INSPIRED is an event format that combines interdisciplinary teaching and learning in international teams, blended learning through an e-learning phase at the beginning and the later three-week stay in Darmstadt with teamwork. Wait, blended what? Blended learning or integrated learning combines the advantages of e-learning and face-to-face events.

Well, actually it was meant to be… Because in the current situation the foreign students from e.g., Lisbon, Barcelona or Stockholm will unfortunately not be able to come to Darmstadt. But the responsible persons have found a cool interim solution for the participants: INSPIRED now became a virtual format and could therefore still take place as the first UNITE! project.

Do you want to know more? Then just ask INSPIRED for a no-obligation consultation and find out even more about your options. Or watch a short video about INSPIRED 2020 to learn a bit more.

Study digitally? Why not!

Despite the changes, 936 international students enrolled at TU Darmstadt in the 2020/21 winter semester. That's about a third more than in the previous winter semester! Would you recommend starting at TU Darmstadt to future students despite digital teaching and what advice can you give them?

Ons: To be honest, I'm not completely satisfied with my studies right now. I'm super happy with my choice, but I want to work harder and improve. It's hard right now to always stay motivated and keep everything in perspective. So, I advise everyone to just do their best to achieve what they are striving for.

Moiz: My mood right now is 4 out of 5: I love the flexibility of studying online, but it's starting to get annoying being at home so much. But I'm sure this is a problem all students worldwide are having right now! Therefore, if you want to start studying, don't give up on your dream and get started at TU Darmstadt.

Masha: Honestly, I think studying right now was the best possible decision I could have made. My studies give me very concrete goals and help me to use this time and not just wait until the pandemic is over. Of course, studying locally would have been better in terms of social life, but I don't think studying online diminishes the quality of the education itself. It just takes some time to get used to the format and get into the rhythm. I can definitely say that I am happy with my studies at the TU and I am looking forward to a new semester!

Moiz: Here’s a piece of advice for when you start your studies: I recommend all first-year students to be very active in the Q&A sessions of the lectures and in the forums on Moodle. This way you can get in touch with fellow students who have the same problems or questions. You can discuss together and support each other. And you can join a university group, get involved in the student council or use the offers of TUtor International, the Intercultural Tutor Team or the University Sports Center.

Thank you and good luck with your studies. Hopefully you will be able to enjoy your study life and return to a “normal” everyday life soon – that is what we all wish for. For all of you who would like to get more information, we would like to recommend our FAQ, where we have already answered many questions about the beginning of your studies. And of course, there is also official information about the current regulations from the TU that might be of interest to you. Stay healthy!

Portrait Moiz
Picture: Britta Hüning

Moiz

Hey, human! I'm Moiz and I'm from Karachi, Pakistan. I'm in my 2nd master's semester studying materials science. I have always dreamed of studying and living abroad, mainly because of my past travels to different countries around the world for the game Scrabble. Out of all of them, I chose TU Darmstadt because of its research profile and rankings. So, either you are already living your dream of studying abroad or are in the process of living it, I hope I can help you on your journey with my experiences.

Portrait TU Darmstadt Ambassador Masha
Picture: Britta Hüning

Mascha

My degree programme at TU Darmstadt – Date and Discourse Studies – is not available anywhere else. It is a combination of very different disciplines that you wouldn't normally combine. I love Darmstadt. The city is full of young people. The city of science exudes a freshness, along with enthusiasm and unstoppable imagination.

Portrait TU Darmstadt Ambassador Aravind
Picture: Britta Hüning

Aravind

Hey, I'm Aravind and I study Logistics and Supply Chain Management at TU Darmstadt. Why I came all the way from India to study in Darmstadt? I was mainly attracted by the excellent worldwide reputation of TU Darmstadt! My master's programme fits perfectly with my interests. I am excited to be involved in the ongoing research projects in the field of logistics and also to gain practical experience. In the meantime, I have also become a real fan of the very delicious, traditional German cuisine!

Portrait TU Darmstadt Ambassador Sooyeong
Picture: Britta Hüning

Sooyeong

For my personal focus, my Data and Discourse Studies programme has a promising approach in the field of digital linguistics and its applications. Since I was interested in different fields at the same time, this was an incentive to choose TU Darmstadt. What I like about Darmstadt: living in a dynamic atmosphere full of students! I want to meet new people from all over the world.

Portrait TU Darmstadt Ambassador Julia
Picture: Britta Hüning

Julia

Hello, I'm Julia and I'm a freshman studying industrial engineering, with a focus in mechanical engineering. I am one of the first students who started their studies digitally. The start was different than I imagined, but considering the circumstances, I liked it. There were a lot of online activities to meet new people, which went very well.

Portrait Ons
Picture: Britta Hüning

Ons

Salut! My name is Ons and I am currently studying mechatronics in my third semester at the TU Darmstadt. I come from Tunisia and have been in Germany for about two years to continue my studies. I decided to study at TU Darmstadt because it seems to be the right place for me and I am especially excited that I can study mechatronics here, which combines my passion for mechanics and electrical engineering with my interest in computer science.