In the middle of a Covid-19 lockdown packed with distance learning difficulties, teachers at the Schmalkalden Elementary School in Thuringia, Germany, learned that the digital tool they had been using didn’t meet the country’s strict data-privacy restrictions. “A parent at the school asked whether I could develop a program from scratch over the weekend,” said Mathias Wickenhagen, a 20-year-old programmer in the neighborhood. “And I did.”
While her neighbors rush down the street to catch the school bus, 14-year-old Lilah Hadden starts her school day at home. After spending the morning on math and creative writing with her mother, she takes a violin class online, finishing her day with independent reading. For two years now, homeschooling has worked well for her. “I’m getting to … learn more of what I actually want to learn about,” Lilah says, noting that she’s particularly passionate about music. But if it weren’t for the pandemic, the idea to school at home would never have crossed her mind.
Covid-19 forced students around the globe to learn without physically going to school, as entire states and countries went through long periods of lockdown. It’s sparked new interest in homeschooling alternatives in places ranging from Des Moines, Iowa, to Hamburg, Germany, where homeschooling has been banned for over a century. Students have discovered that alternative school arrangements can offer more flexibility to manage differences, pandemic stress, and distractions.
Project seminars are always challenging. Since they involve more work than a traditional seminar, they often attract those types of students who enjoy a good challenge and want to create something lasting. During the summer semester 2020, it was no different. Well, at least during the planning phase. But then Covid-19 hit. Within three weeks, we had to transform our seminar to remote learning. There was much to learn, and the ecocritical project I had envisioned took a major detour into the unknown. Originally, I had planned – as I had done in past semesters – to have students create different projects on campus or in and around Lüneburg, for example guerilla gardening or various installations (for which we often needed the university’s permission). However, during a lock down in which we were only supposed to leave our homes to go to work, the doctor, or the supermarket, I quickly knew that tried-and-true recipes for a successful project seminar would not work. So what could we do?
Well, it wasn’t long after explaining the predicament to my students that they came up with an idea. And a great idea it was.