14. April 2022

Interculturality in Teacher Training Interculturality in Teacher Training: Students from Germany, Austria and Israel tackle case studies together

Students from Germany, Austria and Israel tackle case studies together

How do you promote digital literacy and intercultural skills among trainee teachers? This is the purpose of the University of Bonn project entitled “Virtual Intercultural Skill Acquisition Via International Sessions,” or Vis-à-Vis for short, which won a delina Award in 2020. Students from three countries are working closely together in direct dialogue, supported by videoconferencing software and digital tools. This is now the fifth time that Educational Sciences has run the project. forsch accompanied three of the students on their learning journey. 

Connected: - Prof. Dr. Jutta Standop and Christoph Dähling and the students Noumidia from Bonn, Hannah from Austria and Muhammed from Israel worked together with various digital tools. © V. Lannert (Portraits privat, image composition)
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It’s 7 o’clock on a Wednesday evening. Noumidia from Bonn, Hannah from Austria and Muhammed from Israel have arranged their second video call. The group of three are sharing their thoughts on a case study. After a little small talk, the participants gradually begin to feel comfortable around one another and find it increasingly easy to speak English.


And this is a necessary step, because the case study they are discussing is a tricky one: during a lesson, a pupil in elementary school asks her teacher what the word “Holocaust” and the swastika symbol mean. The teacher now has to decide whether to teach this topic in her class and, if so, how she is to do so in a way that helps the children form values.


In their first video call, the three trainee teachers identified what aspects they needed to research in the literature so that they could answer the teacher’s question. They are now taking it in turns to present and discuss the results they obtained from working independently.


The three students—from the University of Bonn, the Private University of Education, Diocese of Linz in Austria, and the Oranim College of Education in Israel—are taking part in the Vis-à-vis project, which was set up in 2017 by Professor Jutta Standop, Professor of General Didactics and School Education, and her research associate Christoph Dähling. It has formed part of a bachelor’s seminar on the University of Bonn’s teaching degree programs ever since. “Even as early on as five years ago, it was important for us to have the students work with digital media and get used to employing digital tools in a targeted way,” Standop explains. “Ultimately, prospective teachers will only use them in lessons if they’ve gained experience with them themselves.”


People are more technically advanced nowadays, she says, “thanks” to the pandemic. “In the past, students were worried about whether the videoconferencing software would work on their devices,” Dähling remembers. “So we used to put on a trial videoconference before the first plenary session.” This hasn’t been necessary since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, he says: videoconferences are now part of everyone’s everyday life.


Standop had the idea for the project before she even joined the University of Bonn in 2017. “While I was a professor at the University of Trier, I was a representative on the university’s digitalization forum,” she explains. “During this time, I built up an extensive network of colleagues from all kinds of different disciplines at other universities both in Germany and abroad and was given a lot of suggestions. This gave me the idea to bring trainee teachers from different countries together.”


In her opinion, the arrival in 2015 and 2016 of a large number of young people who had experienced displacement made it clear that many teachers lacked basic intercultural skills. In addition, she says, the increasing digitalization of society is making it increasingly obvious that schools need to do more to turn their pupils into competent users of digital media. However, studies have shown that teachers do not possess the necessary skills, so prospective teachers should engage more with digital media even before they qualify. “The Vis-à-vis project allows students to use digital media, collaborate with their peers from different cultures, and tackle theories of interculturality and problems with real-life relevance, all at the same time,” Standop continues.


The project is split into several stages. Before it starts, the students look at a basic text about intercultural skills. They can then choose one of three case studies to work through, debating solutions to general pedagogical and didactic questions with a major intercultural element. All the studies are embedded in a school context, such as lessons or conversations between teachers and parents.


The members of a group get to know one another at a virtual kick-off event. Following an introductory talk about the concepts of interculturality, digital media and problem-based learning, the three-stage group work begins: “The students start by analyzing the underlying problem in the case study together, looking for contexts and connections and brainstorming some initial ideas for a solution,” Dähling explains. “They also make a list of learning questions that they’ll then go away and answer themselves in order to get closer to solving the problem. In the third step, they discuss their findings and agree on a single solution.”


Noumidia, Hannah and Muhammed agree that the elementary-school teacher should broach the subject of national socialism in her lessons. If she didn’t, they think, her pupils could get incorrect information from the Internet instead. They also feel that it is important for the children to be confronted with this topic in a safe space such as school—ultimately, young schoolchildren often have an unreflected and incomplete knowledge of National Socialism. Leaving the issue unaddressed until high school would therefore be too late, they think.


The three students are keen to discuss their proposed solution with their fellow participants and lecturers at the closing event. Everyone reconvenes to present and debate their findings in the form of a group puzzle, where the students are mixed up so that each group contains three people who looked at completely different case studies. Working together, they decide what skills a teacher should have in the 21st century and use a web application to pool them together, with flexibility, technical expertise and patience being mentioned most frequently.


“I really enjoyed the project,” Noumidia says, summing up her experience. “I think it was mainly down to my group, because we understand one another so well and always had fun in our meetings.” She realized during the project just how nice it can be to work in a team. “Since I’ve been studying at the University of Bonn, all events have been held online, so I’ve hardly done any work with other students. Finally, the Vis-à-vis project has given me the chance.” Hannah was pleasantly surprised that she had enjoyed the project so much. “I’m noticing how much more open I am now when it comes to getting to know new people and cultures,” she says at the end. Muhammed would have liked to meet all the students face to face in Israel. Nevertheless, he says, he was amazed how successfully they collaborated despite the vast distance between them.




The Vis-à-vis project rose to prominence in 2021 when it was nominated for the delina innovation award for digital education in the “Universities” category. The delina Award is presented every year at LEARNTEC, a trade fair for digital education. It honors ideas and projects that combine innovative media and technologies of the future with everyday learning.

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