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Prof. Dr. Inka Bormann on her virtual, international research semester

Experience as a visiting professor in Finland, Sweden and Denmark

Prof. Dr. Inka Bormann

Prof. Dr. Inka Bormann
Image Credit: Benjamin Kummer

During her research semester (October 2020 - March 2021), Prof. Dr. Inka Bormann (Professor of General Education at FU) is invited as visiting professor in Finland, Sweden and Denmark. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the stays cannot take place on site. Many of the planned activities, such as research workshops, lectures and co-teaching, will now take place in online formats instead. Prof. Dr. Bormann reports on the first weeks of her virtual, international research semester and provides interesting insights. In the interview, she talks about the focal points of her work, the reasons why she chose these three countries, and the successes and challenges of the first months.

What are the focal points of your research semester and why did you choose Finland, Sweden and Denmark? What do these three countries offer for your research?

In my research semester I would like to focus on the relationship between forms of governance and trust in educational institutions. After all, trust is not only considered in general and in times of crisis in particular as an important part of social interaction that facilitates living together. Especially with regard to education, studies point out that trusting relationships, e.g. between teachers and students, can not only support good performance or buffer burnout, but also help to develop and strengthen the generalized trust that is so important for social cohesion and trust in institutions.

For years now, Nordic countries have been considered the world's leading "trusted nations"; this is attributed in part to the political culture in Scandinavia. At the same time, these countries perform very well in international student performance comparison studies. This is probably more than just an interesting parallel. What concerns me is what the high level of general trust among the population means for the relations between different actors in the field of education. In the three countries I am invited to four universities as a visiting professor for one up to three weeks.

What did the pandemic change in your original plan for your research semester?

Due to the measures taken to contain the Corona pandemic, I unfortunately cannot be on site. The universities closed their campuses, staff is working from home, and people from Germany have not been allowed into the country in the meantime. Of course, I appreciate the measures, but for me personally it's really a great, great pity. But, my colleagues and I have now moved what is sensible and possible into virtual formats, and I give the pre-arranged lectures, conduct seminars, offer workshops and take part in events. I am really very grateful that this has not made my agenda for the research semester completely obsolete.

But there is clearly also a flip side: what normally happens in informal conversations in the hallway, over coffee or during breaks is virtually irreplaceable, i.e. contacts with colleagues with whom I have not yet had any personal contact or a series of interviews that I wanted to conduct on site and thus learn in a research-like manner. In short: Only the intended takes place, spontaneity is eliminated. Digital formats of exchange are, in my opinion, quite result-oriented and offer fewer occasions for random creativity and the unplanned.

How were the first weeks of your research semester? Were there any initial difficulties and how were you able to overcome them?

Due to the fact that the first stay should have taken place on site in mid-September, the Corona situation has developed very dynamically since then and the measures have become more restrictive, the imponderables have now been clarified: none of the on-site visits planned until December can take place. Of course, it was a certain effort to keep an eye on the rapidly changing situation as well as the respective applicable regulations here and there and to keep in touch with colleagues about cancelling accommodations and trips etc. But there were almost no difficulties. During one of the stays I wanted to conduct an international workshop with the support of funds from the Center for International Cooperation, and two of the stays should have been funded through Erasmus+; the staff in the CIC and in the IV B unit were very supportive, also in the "reversal". Despite the effort, I am certainly not particularly hard hit by the whole situation or by the measures taken, even though I had completely different ideas about this research semester.

Which projects are you most looking forward to and why?

During my research semester I work on various projects. One of them is a special issue with the working title "Trust in Educational Settings. European Perspectives", which I am publishing with my team. On the basis of a very extensive systematic literature review, we have developed a model of trust in the multi-level system of education that takes into account not only direct pedagogical interaction but also trust in educational institutions. The invited authors from six European countries will classify their studies in the heuristic model, so that the entire special issue will contribute significantly to the systematic development of needs in international education-related trust research. In order to coordinate the contributions, a workshop has already been held with all colleagues involved in the Special Issue. Since it was not possible to hold the event in a co-presentation format, we have now switched to a digital format. This workshop was a particular pleasure for me, because it led to very good results in terms of content and clarity for future work steps, thanks to the high level of commitment of the colleagues, who were all looking forward to seeing each other again at the workshop.

I am also invited as a visiting professor at Aarhus University (Copenhagen Campus). In my colleague's research group I will give a lecture and do a virtual co-teaching together with her in an international MA course over two days. We are also working on an article that deals with the Corona pandemic in the educational sector.

What do you hope to take with you from your research semester?

Regardless of the current corona situation, I hope that my research semester will enable me to work with my colleagues to advance both existing and new research and publication projects. I think and hope to establish new forms of collaboration with colleagues, perhaps also with regard to joint teaching formats - that remains to be seen.
I think that virtual meetings will become even more the norm in the future. Now we can see what is possible. Nevertheless, I don't think that virtual meetings are a solution that should replace personal meetings in the long run. The months of the pandemic are teaching us all to weigh up exactly when virtual or face-to-face meetings should take place - also taking into account our own carbon footprint.

The questions were asked by Sophia Marie Schröder.

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