In German speaking countries it is called “Hochschuldidaktik”, which in English speaking countries is called Higher Education. Even at colleges and universities, not all teachers may have a clear idea of what “Hochschuldidaktik” is and what it is for. Doubts may outweigh whether it is even necessary. After all, the venerable university has functioned quite well since the 13th century, even without “Hochschuldidaktik”.
However, it is not quite true that the university has always functioned well over the centuries. It has had its crises, as can be seen, for example, in Stefan Fisch’s booklet worth reading: Geschichte der Europäischen Universität. Von Bologna nach Bologna (C.H.Beck Wissen, 2015). And “Hochschuldidaktik” in the sense of thinking about the education that the university provides, as well as thinking about how it can do this, has also occurred time and again at german-speaking universities.
Higher Education is a science that is concerned with the principles according to which content is selected for teaching. The more extensive the results of the sciences become, the more this reflection on which principles can guide the selection of content is needed. And, of course, Higher Education also considers how content can be conveyed. Finally, it is also about the principles on which examinations are based. Here, too, there are very different concepts of what and how examinations should be tested and by what standards the examinations can and should be evaluated. Higher Education is therefore not only an empirical science, it is also a normative one. It refers to the results of pedagogy, educational psychology, rhetoric and social sciences.
“Hochschuldidaktik” is an empirical science. There are enough questions, which we can only answer with a clear question and empirical research. Which method better supports a learning process is only one of the many questions. “Hochschuldidaktik” is also a normative discourse. It is also concerned with the justification of fundamental goals of university teaching. Education theories are therefore also discussed in it. Normative guiding ideas are critically and controversially applied.
“Hochschuldidaktik” is also a program for the continuing education of teachers at universities. It imparts basic pedagogical knowledge to lecturers who have been appointed to the universities on the basis of their specialist careers. Experts in their own subject, but are far from being experts in teaching anything. This is exactly where “Hochschuldidaktik” can help. It shows in a practice-oriented perspective how complex subjects – the results of science – can be conveyed to students.
Wouldn’t it be better to talk about science didactics (“Wissenschaftsdidaktik”) right away? The question is justified. “Hochschuldidaktik”aims at how science and scientific attitudes can be communicated. It is not only scientific in itself, but it wants to help to communicate science. Science is a challenging concept. Nobody teaches science, but chemistry, physics, sociology or anthropology. In german language there are more problems with the term science. This ist because it exits in the singular (“the sciences”), and also in the plural (“the sciences”). Nevertheless, there are common rational structures of science, which the “Wissenschaftssdidaktik” is about.
In the German-speaking world, the term “Hochschuldidaktik” has become much more widely accepted than the term “Wissenschaftsdidaktik”. This is regrettable.