Edukation / 06/21/2016

In 2015 I gave a talk at Humboldt Forum Berlin, trying to make the case for a better education.

The basic idea was this: They way we teach at university has not significally changed over time. Yet we have a variety of almost unused technological possibilities at hand and(!) we understand much better than ever, how the human brain works and how we as a species learn. So we should try to make use of this knowledge, not by changing everything we do, but by improving our education, by adding new possibilities to our array of methods and tools.

When applying for a Master of Science degree in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh, I made this talk into a film, thus somehow unifying form and content.

Here (i.e. above) is the video and here (i.e. below)  is a text version, which I hope you find useful.
Comments are very welcome and can be placed here.


Underneath the academic gown, there is the stench of a thousand years.

What does this revolutionary slogan of the sixties mean for us today?
Well, that’s quickly explained.

In 1088 the first European university was founded in Bologna, Italy.
There, students went into a building, where they read and were being talked to.

Let’s make a leap forward. Humboldt university in Berlin, about a thousand years later. What is happening here?
Well, students walk into a building, where they read and where they are being talked to.

[Talking and Reading – 100 years of tradition] So basically nothing much has changed in the course of a thousand years.

I will try to explain, why this is not really helpful or necessary. I will try to show, how we can improve our educational system, while making it accessible to more people and, at the same time, safe money.
You say this is magic?
Well, in a way it is.

Imagine a professor at a university in a lecture hall.
And imagine their students. This will be a depiction of a very common situation. And you could say the professor- student ratio is rather bad.
So the way we teach at university is pretty inefficient in the way we teach. Let us look at the people who are being taught.

Imagine your social situation is such, that you can not attend every class at university which you are meant to attend, because you have responsibilities.
Or imagine your economic situation is such, that you do not have the time to walk into the university building every time you are told to, because you need to make the money you need to be able to afford going to the university you do not have the time going to.
Or imagine your health situation is such, that you are not capable of attending every lecture at the given time and location.
Or imagine your grades at school were such, that you are not admitted to university. Even though your bad grades in math have nothing to do with the degree you want to gain at university. Even though you just might be the one person who would revolutionise your favourite subject at university. You will never know, because university won’t let you.

So from a social perspective, our university system is anything but social. So it is ineffective, it is antisocial – and it get’s even worse.

If you are studying at, for example, Humboldt University in Berlin, you know there is another university in town. You have heard of it. But you have never seen it or met students from there. Because you are stuck in the ivory tower of your institution.
You have even heard of universities in other parts of the country, but you will never know what people learn and teach in Hamburg or Munich.
Not to speak of universities in other parts of the world. You know they exist. But this is only hearsay.
The universities of the world are ivory towers – on islands.

And we are not even done. Let’s look at the way we teach.

We spend a lot of time in classes, in rooms where we are being talked to and where we talk ourselves.
But if this is the best and only way to learn, why do we not take our new born children, put them in a university classroom, pick them up fifteen years later and hope they have learned all they need to know?
Or if we love football, why not learn all about it in a lecture, instead of playing in the park and going to watch games?

Yes, the way we teach at university is a good way to teach. It is tried and tested. But is not the only way. And we know.
So what are we going to do about it?

We need decentralised video- enhanced learning.
Because it is economic, international, social and efficient.

Let me try to give you an example. Let’s imagine we want to know what love is. Well, we might look it up in a book and this is what we might find.

[Love – the fostering reaching out for each-other, which acknowledges its mutual existence.]

Mmh… Have we all not seen films or heard songs about love, making us instantly feel and know, what love is all about?

So if we want to learn, I suggest we make use of the technology and the research and the knowledge we have at our disposal today. It can be done.

TED talks are free speeches on the internet dealing with all sorts of academic topics.
Khan Academy is private attempt to revolutionise education.
Apple are trying to cash in on education using technology.
Skype is being used all around the world. In one instance, school kids in South America learned English by speaking to retired people in America via Skype. Everybody involved profited – and it was free.

So let’s to this at university. Let’s have decentralised video- enhanced learning, which makes economical sense, which is international, social, fair, and effective.

But how do I know? I don’t know yet. Why do I believe we can do it? Well, I hold a degree in education.
And before this, I worked as head of editorial for MTV in Germany. So I dare say I know a bit about the needs of education and the possibilities of media.

We can do better in education. We can be better. And we should be better.

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