The University Day in the summer semester 2023 took place on Wednesday, June 7, 2023 and was dedicated to university life at ASH Berlin The central questions were: How have the study and working conditions changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic? And how did we adapt to it? How do we want to shape ASH Berlin as a place of life, study, and work? What characterizes our university? The University Day aimed at fostering exchange and common understanding, providing impulses for learning and teaching, offering spaces for self-reflection, networking, and getting to know one another, as well as generating ideas for the development of sustainable future concepts and strategies. Participants included members from all university groups and areas: students, faculty, technical, service, and administrative staff, as well as research associates.
Insights from the Preparatory Group from a Student Perspective
The preparatory group initially met in March to define the framework and objectives. For some of the participating students, it was their first time being involved in the planning and preparation process. They were grateful for the provided structure and the guidance from more experienced contributors. Meetings were held online, and tools like Etherpads and Moodle facilitated organization and coordination. The members of the preparatory group met nearly every week for planning, keeping each other informed, and distributing tasks.
It was essential for the participants to capture a variety of voices from the university. This led to the formulation of the guiding questions: "What is needed for me to see and appreciate the university as my own?" and " How would everyday university life have to change for the place of learning to become more attractive to me and a place where I enjoy spending more time?” Consequently, the idea to create a networking opportunity for various initiatives and groups within the university emerged. Projects and initiatives could thus exchange ideas and cooperate more closely in the future. The goal was to show the existing resources and initiatives at our university and how diverse their engagement can be, enabling active participation in university life and, as a result, take part in university politics.
Another guiding question was: “How participation and involvement at the university can be strengthened and what is required for that?”. For example, translation into English and interpreters for German sign language should be established as fixed components at university events. However, implementing such changes for the University Day on such short notice proved challenging. Overall, the students felt the collaboration was productive, cooperative, and at eye level.
The University Day included interactive formats such as Murmelgruppen (small discussion groups) and the Kitchen Table. A dialogical exchange on topics that make up, complicate, and make university life. Various ASH Berlin stakeholders engaged in discussions, positioning themselves, debating, and seeking consensus. There was significant interest in networking opportunities, and in 10 Networking Spaces, initiatives, working groups, and projects presented their work and provided opportunities for discussions on topics like sustainability or "Education in Presence." The international student initiative (ISI) presented its work, and the Care Initiative invited Julia Dück, a union representative from ver.di Berlin-Brandenburg, to discuss "Social Work at its Limit? Self-Organization!" Finally, the importance of spaces, in the sense of learning, participation and open spaces, was identified as a key issue, as well as transparent and participatory forms of communication, which are needed at ASH Berlin to make the university an attractive educational setting.
Voices from the Preparatory Group
As the new Vice Rector for Teaching, Studies, and Digitization, I saw the University Day with its thematic focus on the one hand in my area of responsibility, and on the other hand I found an organization together with the ASH participation groups that fits to the title of the day instead of organizing it for them. The specific knowledge and the different ideas of the participants as well as the shared responsibility enriched the planning and organizing process for me. (Anja Voss)
With my perspective from the field of quality development in studying and teaching, within which the promotion of participation and involvement of students and the "creation of spaces for experimenting, arguing, reflecting and criticizing" as well as the design of learning and teaching (in shared responsibility" according to the mission statement Learning and Teaching are of great concern to me, I found it particularly important and stimulating that students have participated in the working group from the beginning and have contributed their perspectives on issues around the design of university life both in the working group and at the University Day. In this way, it was possible to create a place for exchange, for listening and for learning from each other. (Urte Böhm)
As a new officer for the (re)design of the interdisciplinary study entry phase, it was important for me to quickly gain an insight into the university. The cooperation in the preparatory group gave me access to various actors at the university, whom I would not otherwise have gotten to know in this way. In particular, the contact to the university initiatives that participated in the preparation. (Kleo Streichert)
As a student and member of the sustainability initiative TrASHform, I got involved in the preparation group by chance. However, I found it interesting from the beginning to plan a larger event with different actors from the university and to be involved in all decisions. Especially since Corona has only really felt like studying since 2023, and I know from my own experience how difficult it is to dare to join an initiative as a newcomer. (Vanessa Kron)
Thanks to the opportunity to work as a student assistant at the university, I initially took part in the first meeting to plan the University Day in a rather informative way. However, this quickly developed into an intrinsic motivation to actively participate in university political discourse, to help organize the University Day and, in the end, to moderate it together with Johannes Verch. I was able to contribute my ideas in the planning phase as well as in the organization, and in my role as moderator, I gained more self-confidence in speaking in front of larger gatherings. (Anne Maria Wünsch)
For me, the University Day offered open opportunities for discourse, a great preparatory team, and intensive encounters, and at the same time a (repeatedly) weak participation in terms of numbers and composition, so that in my opinion the question formulated in the outlook arises as to the future format. (Johannes Verch)
As an international student and member of ISI and the "Start with a PEER" project, it was important for me to be part of the organizing group for the University Day for a second time to draw attention to the needs of international students. Unfortunately, no translations were offered during the preparation or during the University Day. Therefore, there is still a long way to go before full inclusion is achieved. Nevertheless, I am grateful to be able to participate in the planning with contributions in English and this also shows that changes are slowly happening and overall, we are on a good path. (Chrystel Brisson)
As a student of the SWHR Masters, member of ISI and the "Start with a PEER" project, it was my goal to incorporate previous experiences and insights already in the preparation of this university day with the aim to think about student perspectives from the beginning and to give them more space. I see this university day as a step in the right direction, but it has also shown how many further steps are necessary for a barrier-free and inclusive design. (Anja Rosa Neuner)
As a consultant for digital media didactics, the spectrum of student perspectives was particularly interesting to me in the preparation and implementation of the university day, to be able to better take them into account in the post-pandemic development processes of the university, among other things. It will also be important to include these perspectives in a timely manner against the backdrop of the new building and the associated scope for design. (Daniel Klenke)
University Days offer valuable learning opportunities, and the University Day on University Life is no exception. The chosen open format enabled open interaction between various university members - students, staff, faculty, etc. While this format was a great strength, clarifying the methods and goals for future use is essential. The discussions throughout the day revealed the need for networking and exchange platforms to consider the realities and challenges faced by all members within ASH. Many participants expressed a lack of information about university policy processes, existing initiatives, and participation opportunities. They called for inclusive decision-making, as decisions made top-down often overlook different realities and consequences. In this regard, involving students and other groups more in university politics and decision-making would positively impact university life. The lack of translations during the preparation also highlighted the need for a structural and lasting solution.
Based on our experience, we make the following recommendations for the next groups planning the University Day.
- Begin conceptualization and preparation at least six months in advance to allow for sufficient time and resources.
- Do not assume that contributors during the idea phase will be involved in the preparation phase.
- Distribute tasks early on to maximize resources.
- Encourage participation by involving individuals from different groups.
- Consider offering compensation to increase involvement.
- Proactively invite student assistants and initiatives to systematically promote student participation.
- Finally, more promotion and integration into the overall structure of ASH Berlin is needed to improve overall participation.
The University Day provided an intense platform for exchange. The collaboration between university groups in the team and among attendees was exemplary, with a balance between planning and improvisation. Our leading question, how we want to learn, teach, and work at ASH, could be answered insofar that we need more (and different?) learning, participation, and free spaces as well as participative forms of communication. The student desire for a central information opportunity for current university processes, the dialogue about teaching and learning formats in presence and digitally, (more) participation in campus life but also longer cafeteria opening hours are thus on the agenda.
The university has changed with and through Corona. For example, new teaching/learning structures are emerging that are unsettling and need new framings. The pandemic has in part changed student and faculty biographies, and it has become clear that we need new design options, new learning spaces and open spaces, but also physical meeting spaces. It became clear from the administration that they need to be heard and involved much more in terms of content in the current transformation processes.
The total number and not complete composition according to our SAGE (German acronym standing for social work and health professions) profile of the (very discourse-active!) participants signalled "room for improvement". For future university days we suggest varying the format from time to time and to switch between topic- or input-led university days (e.g., inclusion), discussion forums for all interested parties for the purpose of exchange and understanding or a "general meeting" of the ASH with a focus on concrete measures and implementations.