Illustration: Ira Bolsinger for Friday, material: Freepix
Corona does not have the same effect, but on the communicative level the effects of the pandemic have something equalizing: opaque tiles communicate everywhere, also and especially at universities. Inadequate equipment, unstable WiFi, the multi-voiced student community or simply the shame of presenting yourself in a sleepy self or in a messy, often private environment - there were many reasons, including social ones, for the mass flight of images in video conferences. The mystery of the “black squares” only gradually cleared up in the winter semester, when more and more students began to recognize their color. What a relaxation for me as a teacher when the voice no longer only sounded off-screen, but took on contour, including squawking children and rumbling fellow students in the background.
For 23 years I have been offering seminars at the Humboldt University in Berlin, which are supposed to lead students from the heights of the alma mater into the lowlands of practice. Actually, the core business is to drive the students out of the hard-trained academic style and break down thresholds: If you ever want to become something in journalism, you have to be able to speak to people without fear. Anyone who has autodidactically done this knows what challenge it is.
The institute now had to plan completely from scratch because the practical offers that had been practiced no longer worked. To stir up archive dust with 25 students, realize an exhibition like my colleagues, or go to the theater as I planned to do in the summer: none of that was possible anymore. In addition, closed libraries and no rooms, even for the most rudimentary activities. Like “Flugis”, as flyers were formerly called at universities, I threw the students' work in front of the institute in July, with little announcements. I didn't want to do it digitally, but my throwing solution was also unsatisfactory.
Then came the long winter of agony and continued half-baked lockdown. Meanwhile more experienced in handling the digital university platform, we experimented together: online programs such as Etherpad and H5P, spontaneously invited visitors who talked about their work, Zoom makes it possible. Just don't let boredom arise! Always keep on your toes! Until then, teachers still had the illusion of being ingenious explanators of the world, conveyors of knowledge and adjutants of subversive thinking, but it could no longer be denied: We are digitally supported mental animators: inside.
Even infected is studied
However, something else could also be observed. Suddenly they were really there, the students. The usual crumbling over the course of the semester, the sporadic surfacing and submerging, which after the Friday Night Fever popping up late and with puffy eyes in the block session on Saturday morning: none of that. In return, theses papers and super-prepared presentations were disturbingly punctually submitted. I never really figured out what that had to do with. My thesis: You were just so bored at home in isolation that university meant variety, even for those who were directly affected by Corona, due to infection, job loss and much more. There was that too.
Sometimes I have dreamed of sitting together with these so little distracted, not infinitely diversified, concentrated students who are driving through Berlin and speaking properly, even beyond our subjects. In contrast to earlier phases, when our seminars broke up in university strikes or other political upheavals that resulted in a “project”, the bodies that, and only those, can set the world in motion were missing. The subliminal discreet gestures, the mutual laughter after a joke, the catching of those drifting at the bottom of the attention and, yes, sometimes even the pub crawl, cannot be simulated digitally.
A year ago none of us could have imagined that we would pose as a tile again, for the third time, in the summer semester that is now beginning. There are students, even in my private environment, who have never seen the inside of a university and should be doing their bachelor's degree in a year's time. What will happen to them? The corrected papers from the past semester are on my desk. The "winterlings" still have to wait. I still hope to see her in person at least once.