Amongst the unprecedented shifts in pretty much all facets of everyday life amid the coronavirus outbreak, transitioning to the digital semester stands out as the greatest adjustment Berlin universities had to accommodate. The virtual classroom, previously limited to long-distance study programmes, ensured compliance to epidemiological safety measures whilst clearly demonstrating that the traditional model of class attendance is not always necessary for fruitful class discussions and uninterrupted learning.
For those of us focusing on our theses or dissertations (i.e. those who did not have to attend any seminars), it is safe to assume that the digital semester experience was not as intense as for second-semester Bachelor’s students, for instance — except for the clearly felt limited access to bibliography due to closed libraries during the quarantine. It is hard to imagine that such an urgent transition under these extraordinary circumstances would not be accompanied by practical impediments, be that software issues, human error, or administrative lags — speaking for myself, I was one of the students who missed out on the time frame to validate their new semester card at the university before the quarantine took effect and effectively closed campuses down. I’m fairly certain that my experience was not uncommon (as a matter of fact, most of my closest friends found themselves in the same situation as me), and it would not come as a surprise if more bureaucratic incidents like this arose during this time; however, given the times, this is understandable, as long as issues are efficiently dealt with and resolved fairly for those affected.
At the end of the day, academia has shown that it can be administratively flexible when required. Therefore, my key takeaway from the digital semester is that a systematization of an academic model wherein both digital and physical class attendance can be an option in the future (that is, after the pandemic is over) will only benefit both students and staff — as long as it based on the values of fairness, accessibility, diversity, and inclusivity (as opposed to efficiency, fiscal or otherwise). Considering that the university should constantly strive towards facilitating access to people with disabilities and students from marginalised backgrounds, a flexible academic model is long overdue.