Corona crisis: Shifting to online teaching and changing course topics

Undoubtedly, the coronavirus constitutes a significant crisis affecting society and its actors (government, profit- and non-profit organizations, families, individuals). For instance, governments struggle with how to react to this crisis appropriately, health care organizations reach their limits, and consumer goods industries face the challenge of maintaining their supply chains. This crisis constrains our participation in public life and constitutes a threat to our general health and financial prosperity.

The corona crisis is a complex event with a high degree of uncertainty. It is an exogenous shock questioning practices we took for granted. In this course, we will apply various theoretical perspectives and concepts to this crisis in order to making sense and understanding it. Through this exploration, we seek to answer questions such as: how to manage common-pool resources such as health care in times of crisis? How do organizations communicate in times of crisis? How can organizations effectively respond to a crisis? What can society learn from such an event?  A crisis can be turning point: it is a source of radical change – sometimes even for good.

This section is part of a course outline for an online course I teach this term. Usually, I would teach a research seminar on digital platforms. Given the crisis at hand, I want to give students the opportunity to reflect and make sense of the crisis through various theoretical lenses (within organization theory).

Understanding Socio-Technical Transitions: Contemporary Perspectives on the Politics of the Internet and the Digital Economy

For this course I am teaching in the interdisciplinary “Komplementärstudium” of Leuphana University (where students from all faculties attend this courses), I originally attended to visit the re:publica conference in Berlin with them. The idea was to prepare  research questions based on selected readings (they could choose from a reading pool) and then they could seek answers to this question at the conference. Due to the corona crisis the re:publica was moved to August and I needed to change to online teaching too.

Given the interdisciplinary nature of this seminar, I will now use literature (e.g. the Circle, The Warehouse) portraying various forms of a digital society. We know from entrepreneurship research that stories can be powerful in explaining what can or could be. Hence, literature is a great starting point to think about the consequences and paths of socio-technical transitions. The main project for the students is a blog post where students examine the analogy between literature/movies they choose (e.g. Uwe-Kling’s Quality Land, Theresa Hanning’s Die Optimierer, Black Mirror episodes etc.) and empirical reality as well as corresponding social science concepts (e.g. Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism). This exercise has the goal to enable to them to critically reflect on how we as a society want to make use of technology.

The power of communities in times of crisis

Yes, we struggle with lot of fake news at the moment. This problem will remain to keep us occupied, we will need to find suitable governance solutions in an age where everyone can become media provider.

But I wan to turn our attention to the force of good of digital platforms and online communities. There are groups to coordinate help for old people (e.g. shopping for them), campaigns to call for the right to tip supermarket employees, initiatives helping to cope with the psychological challenges of isolations, etc. In Germany there is a massive online hackathon (with 40.000 participants in Slack) taking place this weekend working to find novel solutions to the Corona Crisis. These initiatives demonstrate that solidarity and caring for each other are still key values of our society.

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