Most of the tutors for the orientation events work on a voluntary basis. Is it easy to motivate these students to take part?
Dipl.-Kffr. Christiane Reese: It is actually the student bodies in the faculties who recruit the new tutors for the OWO phase themselves. In our experience, many of the students are happy to take part because they consider the OWO to be important themselves. They have a desire to pass on their experience and the motivational and informative start to student life offered by the OWO to the new students
The student bodies in the faculties and the tutors are extremely dedicated and really think about how they can help the students to settle in well at the university. There are also introductory events available for our international students.
What topics are coved on the training courses for the tutors?
Dr. Sandra Rieger: At the start of the qualification course, the tutors are asked to imagine that they are once again a fresher at the university. What general challenges do freshers face at the beginning of their studies and what challenges does the digital semester bring? We also focus on the role and tasks of the tutors.
Dr. Maria Clippard: At the same time, it is hugely important for us to ensure that the tutors are aware of their responsibility to TU Darmstadt and their department. They are in some cases the first faces that the freshers will see and associate with TU Darmstadt.
Rieger: We also teach them that they should be open-minded and treat the freshers with respect. A key aspect of the training is to highlight the options for students to network with one another in a digital setting. We also focus on difficult situations that could arise and examine possible strategies for finding solutions together. And we raise awareness for the themes of gender and diversity.
Clippard: We also discuss how to organise the schedule and simulate an informative discussion between the tutors and their freshers in small groups.
What key skills are important for prospective tutors?
Clippard: We place a clear focus on social skills. An important theme is how the tutors manage and instruct their groups, as well as showing the required level of empathy so that everybody feels included. The training courses also promote self-confidence and assertiveness. In particular, we focus on improving problem-solving skills: How will I deal with any difficulties that may arise during the week? Communication skills are the real key here, including sensitivity for gender and diversity.
What special challenges are you facing in your work due to the digital semester?
Reese: Networking is an important component so that students can study together during the digital semester. In addition, it is important to keep the students motivated for a semester that they cannot attend in person. In particular, this requires a great deal of personal responsibility.
Clippard: We have spent a lot of time over the last six months looking at interactive tools that can encourage the students to network with one another. And we were able to identify some tools that should be very useful during the OWO.
Rieger: Interactive tasks – such as a solving a puzzle or completing a quiz together or creating something digitally with others – help students to discuss things in a digital setting and get to know each other better.
Reese: We recommend, for example, the use of lots of small “breakout sessions” for students so that they can exchange information and ideas digitally in small groups. We also encourage the students to participate in the chat session, which takes place in parallel, to network with one other.
Clippard: It is important for the tutors to give some thought to how they can achieve an ideal mix of pure input and joint activities in the small groups. In the process, they need to find ways to make a record of what was discussed in the groups. It is only in this way that handouts and minutes can be sent out to the students. Our motto in the training courses was “less is more” because everything takes more time in the digital world.
Rieger: Exactly. And your head is so full of information after around 60 minutes that your concentration then begins to decrease rapidly. It is certainly advisable to take a break in this situation.
Reese: When we were faced with a situation where we would be unable to hold face-to-face training courses, we initially thought it would be impossible. Our training courses depend on the fact that we communicate with and learn from one another.
In light of the experiences on the courses, we have now learnt, however, that a lot is still possible. But it still remains a challenge. It is necessary to communicate in a more nuanced way. The personal contact is now different and sometimes has to be established in new ways in a digital setting. This applies both to the qualification process and also later on to the OWO itself. On the other hand, it has to be said that a lot is still possible and things have worked amazingly well. We were pleasantly surprised by the diverse range of networking options offered to us by the digital tools.
Interview: Martina Schüttler-Hansper
Firmly committed to making contacts online
We asked the tutors taking part in the orientation week: What motivates you? And what special challenges are you facing in your work due to the digital semester?
Facts and figures
Around 180 students were qualified as tutors in 19 training courses held between the 21 September and 23 October. There were more tutors than ever before this year due to the digital semester. The qualification process for OWO tutors takes place in small groups and lasts five hours.