At the start of the New Year, the Center for Distance Learning Austria takes a look back at its 30-year history.
To mark the Center for Distance Learning’s 30th anniversary, director Dr. Josef Reif spoke about the challenges and changes during recent times.
What do you consider to be very challenging over the past few years or while you have been in office?
Josef Reif: Over the past few years it’s been important for us to work on not only sharpening the profiles of our study centers in Austria (centers for distance learning) so they are understood as extensions of the JKU, but also support existing (and new) cooperation efforts with the FernUniversität in Hagen and provide the support those in distance learning programs in Austria need. The new degree program “Artificial Intelligence” has enabled us to do this since 2019 (in Vienna) and since 2021 in Bregenz. We’ve been supporting remote learning courses for the multimedia Diploma degree program in law (Bregenz, Villach, Vienna) and the University Enrollment Eligibility Examination (only Bregenz) for decades now. In support of the NaSciTec degree program, we plan to offer secondary school students in other regions of Austria a trial degree program while still at school or support their efforts (Bregenz, Saalfelden, Vienna).
When you compare the way the Center for Distance Learning is today compared to 20 years ago, what do you think? And how has the Coronavirus pandemic changed things?
Josef Reif: Today, the Center for Distance Learning Austria is more integrated into the university’s overall structure, increasingly perceived as a stage and network where we can roll out innovative degree programs in Austria. Twenty years ago, the focus was more on Hagen.
The pandemic has also been challenging. During the first year of the pandemic, we felt a stronger response due to an option to complete classes without having to be on-site. We switched on-site classes offered at the study centers to online, including academic advising services. The face-to-face university(ies) had to follow suit during the pandemic and also offer many courses online, including exams. This has made the courses more accessible to our target group (professionals, etc.).
What do you think makes distance learning so special?
Josef Reif: The FernUniversität’s program is very flexible in terms of how the course is structured and in terms of no location and time constraints. This means those who work, those who have an educational leave of absence, or with childcare or family responsibilities can still pursue an education. There is a certain level of freedom (as in other areas of life), but it also means there is a high degree of personal responsibility. You have to plan and organize your daily and weekly schedule well in order to achieve your academic goals.
The FernUniversität and we here at the Center for Distance Learning provide support services in the form of information, academic advising, and student support during the studies (guidance counselors at the FernUniversität, student courses online or, if necessary, also in on-site block sessions). As mentioned above, certain degree programs at the JKU enjoy flexible components as well.
What do you still enjoy about this job, even after all of these years?
Josef Reif: Things change constantly, whether it be the various degree programs, how we organize the way we provide information, academic advising, or support services. People are becoming more familiar and accepting that our study centers are extensions of the JKU, especially in cities like Vienna and in other Austrian regions. I also appreciate our dedicated, strong, focused team that takes these challenges head-on.
What is your wish in regard to the future of the Center for Distance Learning?
Josef Reif: I hope that we, as the Center for Distance Learning, can continue to serve as added value for JKU (and FernUni), and continue sharpening our profile. There are many challenges during these times of digitalization - but also perhaps because of just this - it is also an opportunity to emphasize this kind of added value when it comes to the competition between on-site universities in Austria.
Information about the Center for Distance Learning
The Center for Distance Learning Austria, opens an external URL in a new window at the Johannes Kepler University is also an official partner of the FernUniversität in Hagen, the only state-run remote learning university in German-speaking Europe. For over 30 years, Austrian students enrolled at the FernUniversität have had an opportunity to take advantage of academic advising services at study center close to home, study in a more personal environment, and find support to pursue an academic degree.
The Study Center Linz and central management services are located at the JKU; study centers located Vienna, Bregenz, Saalfelden and Villach are also available to address any concerns in regard to distance learning. Throughout Austria, approximately 2,500 students are currently enrolled in distance learning programs. Students can choose from among 10 undergraduate degree programs and 15 graduate degree programs.
The Center for Distance Learning also assists in the organization of some of the JKU’s degree programs, such as the unique JKU degree program "Artificial Intelligence" ", for example. Students in Vienna and Bregenz can complete courses via distance learning. Students in the Linz Multimedia Diploma Degree Program in Law can also take exams in at study centers in either Vienna, Bregenz, or Villach.
Students who wish to pursue an academic degree program but need to first pass the University Enrollment Eligibility Examination in order to enroll at a university can also take preparation courses at the study center in Bregenz.