Students in the spotlight: Using collaborative autoethnography to build a community of learning in the Corona crisis

Dr. Isabel Steinhardt (University of Kassel, Germany)


Due to the Corona crisis, German Higher Education Institutions had to close their campuses in March and lecturers had to teach online. To understand how the Corona crisis affected students, first this article explains the structural and social inequalities in the German higher education system, using Tinto's (1975; 1997) student engagement theory. Second, the concept of Bergman-Rosamond et al. (2020) is used to analyze the challenges that Corona has raised for students, including current surveys. We found that the closure of the social space campus (and the Corona crisis as a whole) particularly hit hard those students who had previously been affected by (intersectional) inequality. Therefore, to lessen the specific challenges associated with the ad hoc transition to digital studying, the creation of a digital community of learning can help. We demonstrate how such a community can be created by the example seminar, "Digital practices: an autoethnographic observation". During the seminar, students recorded their digital technology use in a journal, and we analyzed the diary entries using the collaborate autoethnography method. The seminar example shows that this method is well suited for the development of a community of learning as it not only places students in the spotlight but as students work together on a topic they get to know each other, and a basis of trust is created through peer-feedback. Therefore, it was important to have a digital space (in this case Mahara) where the exchange could take place. The continuous insight into the students’ "learning status" enabled the lecturer to promote the learning and provide individual assistance for the students.

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