Successful German-Canadian Teaching Collaboration

Students from the Faculty of Social Sciences at Bielefeld UAS and from the College of Health Sciences at the University of Alberta gain valuable experience in intercultural and interprofessional collaboration.

Bielefeld (fhb). Germany, Monday evening, almost 6 p.m.: 13 students from the bachelor’s degree programme in Social Work at Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences (UAS) start their computers and enter a virtual conference room. Change of scene. Canada, Monday morning, 10 a.m.: 40 students from the bachelor’s degree programme in Nursing at the University of Alberta start their day at uni. First on their schedule: A video conference with the students from Bielefeld UAS.

A total of 53 German and Canadian students participate in the digital seminar “Interprofessional Practice and Education” – a teaching collaboration between the Faculty of Social Sciences at Bielefeld UAS and the College of Health Sciences at the University of Alberta. 

Interprofessional Change in Perspective

In weekly Zoom meetings, students of the different professions and nationalities learn with, about and from each other, talking in English and solving collaborative tasks. Together they explore the other group’s professional field, its tasks, roles and perspectives. What’s more, they form smaller teams consisting of German and Canadian students to work on case examples from practice – together, but not at the same time. The method they use for this is called “online peer-to-peer support”. It is also used by specialists to consult each other on clients in interprofessional teams. To document and execute the process in writing, the students use online tools. 

“Through this method, students experience different professional perspectives. They discuss, develop practical solutions and reflect on their own experiences and professional perspectives together,” says Prof. Dr. Anna Lena Rademaker, who is responsible for the course on the German side. She is professor of social work in the health-care sector at Bielefeld UAS and organises the virtual seminar in cooperation with her Canadian colleagues Dr. Sherry Dahlke and Dr. Susan Sommerfeldt from the University of Alberta.

Their common goal is for students from social and health sciences to teach each other valuable interprofessional knowledge, skills and experiences – in spite of the distance of 7,000 kilometres that lies between them. 

Digitalisation in the Health-Care Sector

Digitalisation is one important aspect that inevitably receives special attention: “The Coronavirus pandemic has shown us that the social and health-care sector, in particular, lack concepts and methods for digital collaboration. This seminar is intended to contribute to eliminating this lack,” says Rademaker. “On the one hand, the online teaching format provides students with valuable hands-on experience in digital collaboration. On the other hand, the method of online peer-to-peer support gives participants a concrete tool for digitalisation in the social and health-care sectors, and that’s vital for a digital future in these fields.”

Enhancing Intercultural Skills 

The seminar is not only characterised by interprofessional collaboration and digitalisation, however. It also enhances students’ intercultural skills, which is absolutely essential in today’s globally connected world. Students are enabled to explore cultural perspectives in the social and health-care sectors, including those within their own community, and to recognise similarities, differences and conflicts between each other. “In the very first teaching unit, seminar participants compared the German and Canadian health-care systems on their own initiative,” says Susan Sommerfeldt, assistant professor of nursing at the University of Alberta and currently digital lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences of Bielefeld UAS. “The seminar has the additional learning-layer of language and culture, which neither group of students could do on their own. Consequently, there is a high learning effect for the students.”

Valuable Experience for Practical Work

The combination of the interprofessional teaching approach and intercultural aspects also prepares them for their future career, Rademaker explains: “In a globalised, multidisciplinary (working) environment, particularly in the health sector, students will consistently face various stakeholders whose knowledge and requirements they will have to integrate into their own experience. A broader professional horizon, combined with a culturally sensitive approach, is exactly what they need in their future daily work.” 

Sherry Dahlke, primary instructor on the Canadian side, is happy that this is achieved within the course: “Despite the time offset and the professional, cultural and language differences, teamwork is excellent in the larger and smaller teams alike. Right from the beginning, students support each other, listen to one another and show consideration of any language barriers the others may encounter. We can see that the participants particularly enjoy working in the smaller teams of German and Canadian students.”

The numbers prove it: Thanks to high demand, the seminar is currently taking place for the third semester in a row; preparations for the next semester are already underway.

Funding by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)

The German-Canadian teaching collaboration is part of the Alberta OWL university cooperation’s “We CAN virtuOWL” project. It is supported by the Campus OWL liaison office in New York. The project provides virtual teaching and support formats to the cooperation of the East-Westphalia Lippe university network (Bielefeld University, Bielefeld UAS, Paderborn University and OWL University of Applied Sciences and Arts) with four Canadian universities in Edmonton, Alberta (University of Alberta, MacEwan University, Concordia University of Edmonton and Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) that has been existing since 2018. Its objective is to develop cutting-edge digital teaching in both regions and to provide students with the opportunity to gain international intercultural experience independent from physical international mobility.

Last year, the project was one of 50 projects selected by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for the “International Virtual Academic Collaboration (IVAC)” programme. With this programme, the DAAD supported German universities in designing and expanding international virtual teaching collaborations. Until September 2021, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research has funded the IVAC programme with approx. 5.5 million euros.

Seven teaching collaborations between University of Alberta and OWL professors were funded under the project. 

All images credit photographer: Patrick Pollmeier / FH Bielefeld.