"Being flexible and well-prepared in the interest of our students"

How ESB Business School is getting to grips with Covid-19

Professor Dr. Martin Mocker in his "classroom".

Virtual IPBS meeting.

By Katrin Reil

As Professor Dr. Martin Mocker sits down in front of his home computer, numerous onlookers will be looking back at him. The Professor of Business Informatics at ESB Business School has recently started holding virtual lectures, as also have many of his colleagues. Preventive measures against Covid-19 have also led to many other consequences for the internationally oriented faculty.

In mid-March, the Baden-Württemberg Ministry for Science, Research and the Arts decided to suspend the nationwide start of semester from 16 March to 20 April for universities and universities of applied sciences. However, online offers for the degree programmes that had already commenced, continued to be possible. For these programmes that had already started because of the need for synchronicity with international semester dates, this has been a particular challenge. The programmes directly affected at the ESB Business School are the two Bachelors’ programmes International Business, the International Management Double Degrees, as well as the Master’s programme International Management, the MBA International Management Part-Time and the MBA International Management Full-Time collectively a total of over 800 students.

“Our students had been on campus since February and the semester was in full swing. This is why we had to react quickly to the current developments, ”explains Professor Dr. Julia Brüggemann, Dean of Studies at the ESB Business School and responsible for teaching. The courses that were already running were therefore not interrupted, but, with a lot of dedication from the lecturers and staff, were simply modified to virtual teaching formats. Within the space of a few days, face-to-face lectures and seminars were transformed into online classes. The ESB team of professors and lecturers offer live streams and recordings, discuss with their students in chat rooms, assign exercises and upload lecture notes for self-study. "We make sure that the teaching content is still delivered in line with our high educational standards and supplemented by one-to-one support and coaching," says Professor Dr. Julia Brüggemann. The lecture content is not only available in real time, but can also be uploaded at a later date. This is particularly important for the 30 percent of international students in these programmes, who have temporarily returned to their home countries and are often in different time zones.

Most of the students who should currently be studying at ESB Business School's international partner universities worldwide have returned to Germany. They will now continue their ‘study semester abroad’ by distance learning as well.

Another challenge is the compulsory internship semester in the BSc International Management Double Degree programmes. While some students are still able to complete their internship at companies in Germany and abroad, in some cases while working from home, others have had to interrupt their internship. ESB Business School has developed a quick solution for this with minimal red tape and admin involved: "Anyone who has been or will be unable to complete their internship because of Covid-19 and still needs to earn the necessary credits, will be able to offset the internship time missing. This could be, for example, by working on projects in cooperation with the Robert Koch Institute, the Chamber of Commerce or domestic public institutions that currently need support," says Professor Dr. Jörg Naeve, Examinations Officer for the BSc International Management Double Degree programmes.

Close coordination and prompt communication of important information currently plays a decisive role in ensuring that the semester continues as smoothly as possible. Reutlingen University and ESB Business School have published general guidelines, FAQs and recommendations on rules of conduct regarding Covid-19 on their websites, in specifically designed RELAX courses and on their social media channels. The individual degree programmes have also set up additional interventions to clarify programme-specific questions, such as virtual Q&A sessions. "In the beginning, students naturally had many questions regarding the transition to online teaching and many other aspects. There was a lot of need for advice, especially in the first week. In the meantime, the new daily routine has become quite well established," say Cornelia Küster and Iris Walker, who as study coordinators in the BSc International Business programme are an important communicative interface. Like the entire team at ESB Business School, they are currently working from home whenever possible.

ESB Business School is also in constant dialogue with its international double degree partners. Indeed, last week, the IPBS meeting with its 13 partner universities, took place in virtual format, where the Dean of ESB Business School, Professor Dr. Christoph Binder, discussed at length with his colleagues the current challenges. "It is very valuable to be able to exchange ideas and approaches to solutions, such as experience with online tools and formats or online exams, and to learn from each other's experiences. This indicates that the IPBS network, which has been established for more than 40 years, operates in a dependable and assiduous manner, especially in such challenging times. Members have pulled together so that pragmatic and feasible solutions are possible in the interest of the students and fundamentally so that students will be able to complete the current semester". Further topics that will occupy the IPBS network in the coming weeks are the respective application procedures and the upcoming transfer of students to the partner universities in summer and autumn. Follow-up meetings have been arranged to ensure that the latest developments are incorporated swiftly in the decision-making process.

ESB Business School's Masters’ and Industrial Engineering and Management programmes are, according to current information, preparing for their start of lectures on 20 April and are organising the deferral of exams and other important aspects. Professor Dr. Julia Brüggemann takes stock: "We are doing everything in our power to ensure that students will be able to complete as normal a summer semester 2020 as possible, albeit with some delay. This is why we are already working on a plan B if indeed the start of the semester cannot be met with face-to-face lectures, being flexible and well-prepared in the interest of our students".