German Studies and the Challenge of Outreach to Schools and School Teachers: A UK Perspective

November 20, 2020

The global health crisis caused by the covid-19 virus has given rise to unprecedented challenges in all aspects of our lives. Not least of these challenges lies in the realm of teaching. Those of us responsible for bringing German studies to school and university classrooms have been forced to move the bulk of our activities online. Students who might previously have had easy access to libraries and archives are now in many cases dependent solely on electronic sources. Public events that previously brought practitioners and academics face to face have had to be cancelled or moved to Zoom and its equivalents. 

As outreach and schools liaison officers for two UK-based Higher Education organisations, the Association for German Studies and the German History Society, we have also struggled in these conditions to develop our outreach programme to school teachers, particular those at the senior ends of teaching (‘A’ level German and History, and their equivalents). However, we recognise in the move towards greater electronic engagement an opportunity as well as a challenge. Even before the covid-19 pandemic, we were experiencing difficulties in reaching out to our colleagues in secondary education. School teachers have huge work pressures, and their performance reviews are ever more dependent on the grades that their pupils achieve in exam settings. In many cases, they have to follow a strict national curriculum which further discourages engagement with non-curricular themes and topics. Understandably, teachers do not seem to have the time to take whole days, or even half days, out of their busy schedules to attend face-to-face events with academics.

For this and other reasons, we have been very impressed with the resources already provided – and continuing to be built – on the US German Studies Collaboratory website. This is a very rich source for students and instructors in Higher Education, but equally it has something to offer for senior schoolteachers – including through its teaching, media and digital hubs.

In the coming months we are hoping to launch something similar, but not identical, in the UK. Our website will have contributions from academics but will be aimed primarily at schoolteachers. It will offer them resources to use in classroom teaching in the overlapping spheres of German language, culture and history. These resources might be visual, textual, or cinematic. They might be developed by members of our own organisations, or by partner bodies, such as the Wiener Holocaust Library in London. We may also offer occasional live webinars on particular themes, linked in with the resources. The resources will be aimed at teachers seeking to develop a single class on a single theme, rather than planning larger curricula. They will be aimed to fit in with teachers’ working practices, offering them something that they can develop quickly and efficiently within the time constraints that they have to operate.

While our aims are not identical to those of the Collaboratory, they do overlap. We are also conscious that the Collaboratory and its users are ahead of us on the curve. We would be very grateful for dialogue with and advice from the Collaboratory’s organisers, contributors and users, and from visitors to the Collaboratory website, especially schoolteachers, on the best way forward for us. In particular we would be grateful for ideas about how we in the UK could

  • Develop resources with schoolteachers in mind
  • Develop dialogue with teachers
  • Best balance visual vs. textual vs. cinematic sources
  • Create inter-disciplinary links between language studies, cultural studies and history
  • Seek actively to shape the school curricula through the resources we provide
  • Promote our new website (when it is up and running) to audiences in the UK, the USA and other countries

Matthew Stibbe, Professor of Modern European History at Sheffield Hallam University and Outreach and Schools Liaison Officer, German History Society, UK and Republic of Ireland.

Stefan Manz, Professor of German and Global History at Aston University and Outreach and Schools Liaison Officer, Association for German Studies, UK