January 18, 2012

New Flensburg faces on campus

Seeing German students on the Knox campus is no surprise, thanks to Knox’s relationship with the University of Flensburg in Flensburg, Germany. This year, however, a new exchange has brought fresh faces to the German department in the form of faculty members.

While Assistant Professor and Chair of German Sonja Klocke teaches in Germany, two Flensburg professors have come to Knox: Monika Budde during fall term and Christian Riedel this winter. Riedel is currently teaching Advanced Conversation and Composition as well as Contemporary German Culture; Budde taught Elementary German I and Intermediate German.

Knox has long had a student exchange with the University of Flensburg, wherein both Knox and Flensburg students are able to directly enroll at the other institution. In addition, a teaching assistant program has brought one German master’s student to Knox each year since 2005 to help out with introductory German courses and act as a writing tutor for upper-level students.

“It was just the next logical step to exchange faculty members and in essence to have a teaching exchange, not only a learning exchange,” Visiting Assistant Professor of German Todd Heidt said.

Solely applying the term “teaching” to the professor exchange, however, overshadows what both the professors and their students are able to learn from the experience.

“[The Flensburg professors] are exposed … to a very different style of student and a very different style of teaching and learning that’s much more personal, much more face-to-face than some of the German lecture courses that they might offer,” Heidt said.

While Flensburg is small compared to many German universities, typical features of the German university system — including large classes and less interaction between professors and students — are still present. Higher education is also free in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, where Flensburg is located, which presents both advantages and disadvantages.

“On some levels, this is great. … However, it also means that there is never enough money,” Klocke said.* “Consequently, professors have to educate, teach and mentor many students, and there is definitely no advising in the American sense.”

Riedel pointed to another difference: the way in which classes are structured. The multiple-page syllabus complete with a week-by-week schedule is virtually unheard of in Germany.

“I think I will use this idea in Germany in my seminars,” Riedel said. “I don’t know whether everything will be so exact, but I believe that I will indicate more clearly my exact expectations and evaluation methods.”**

The exposure to different teaching methods and styles has had benefits for the students in Riedel’s and Klocke’s classes as well. Although Klocke is German, the amount of time she has spent in the United States means that her teaching style is not stereotypically German.

“I think the greatest benefit for the students I teach in Flensburg is the fairly close interaction with me,” she said. “While I continuously worry that I am not devoting enough time for each student, the feedback I receive is much different: they love how much attention they get from me.”

At Knox, the exchange allows students to learn about topics in which Heidt or Klocke, the only two professors in the German department, do not specialize.

“I think it provides students with a more robust academic experience to be exposed to different specialties,” Heidt said. “I think that the students and faculty enjoy the exposure to new people.”

Although he has not participated directly in the exchange, Heidt himself has seen his own teaching methods alter as a result of Budde’s focus on reading didactics — the theory of how to teach reading.

“My specialty is not second language acquisition, so in some ways, speaking to her has also been beneficial for me about how to approach reading,” Heidt said.

Given the apparent success of the exchange thus far, Klocke and Heidt see no reason not to continue it in the future. While the small size of Knox’s German department may at first seem inhibiting, other professors at Knox in the theatre, history and English departments with either German language skills or interests in German topics could also potentially participate.

“Certainly this could be a relationship which opens up to envelop a number of other specialties to create some interesting exchanges,” Heidt said. “It’s highly interdisciplinary, serving the very eclectic and broad interests of Knox students.”

*Because Klocke is currently living in Flensburg, her interview was conducted over email.

**Quotation translated from German by the reporter.

Anna Meier

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