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Leuphana emphasizes personalized teaching approach in online university education

Piloting course "ThinkTank Ideal City of the 21st Century" a success – more than 2800 participants from 107 countries – winning team from Argentina, Germany, Spain, and the US – Future courses will further focus on quality, not quantity – presidential board will significantly invest in further development of Digital School

In response to the roaring success of their new "Digital School", Leuphana University of Lüneburg will strive to focus on intensity and quality teaching for students participating in their online curricula, by developing a third alternative to video lectures and the "Community MOOCs", in which students are supposed to learn primarily from their peers. The reason for this strategy is the growing skepticism of academia in regard to what has become known as Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC).

In reaction to these recent criticisms, Leuphana will only offer Open Online Courses and will drop the word "Massive" from the title, designing the courses around the idea of smaller number of participants and more personalized interaction from the teachers. “Quality before quantity”, Holm Keller, Vice President in charge of the project, justifies this step. At the same time, Leuphana University will significantly invest in broadening their online curriculum over the next few years and will continue to focus on their coaching system made up of teachers, mentors, and tutors.

In their pilot course "ThinkTank Ideal City of the 21st Century" Leuphana set a capacity limit, but still 2800 students from 107 countries participated. Under the supervision of famed architect Daniel Libeskind international teams of students were asked to develop models for living in dense urban areas. 380 online students finished the course successfully and received a university diploma. Five finalists teams were chosen at the end of the course and of those five, the winning team was “Cookbook”, which included Esteban Fernandez Rosso (Argentina), Martina Helm und Bianca Kindler (Germany), Javier Pérez-Lanzac (Spain) und Eric Reinhard (USA). Their city of the future was entitled "New Port City Brazil" and proved to be the most convincing and detailed. The team and their concept will be presented to the public for the first time in Lüneburg during the university’s freshmen’s week at the beginning of October. During Leuphana´s freshmen’s week, 1500 first-year students will be grouped into 100 teams and will focus on urban planning and societal change during a five-day project. Central aspects of their investigation will be demographics, digitalization of culture and sustainability.

Development of new online course options to follow strict guidelines

With its pilot open online course “ThinkTank Ideal City of the 21st Century”, Leuphana is the first German University to offer its digital range via its own individual facility. A special feature is the awarding of credits. Depending on their home university these credits may be applied towards the participating students´ degree program. Leuphana Digital School´s aims are the development of benchmarks for Social Learning activities and to generate innovative models that improve academic knowledge sharing. Its online education courses are planned to be accessible to everyone all over the world.

Nevertheless, Leuphana University is concerned about the soaring interest in MOOCs, which may result in a reduced educational quality and a lack of support for each individual student. The large-scale MOOCs offer education for up to 160,000 students simultaneously, a phenomenon that – according to Harvard Professors – is endangering the academic standards in online education.

According to Leuphana, securing the possibility of constant interaction in student-teacher relations is inevitable to the success of online courses. Pre-taped video lectures and constant repetition of content need to be prevented in order to design attractive offerings in online education. “Simply videotaping a lecture and publishing it online is not the innovation online education is capable of – online offerings are not to be the demo version of real academic education. Watching a video will never be able to substitute reading a book”, says Holm Keller, Leuphana University´s Executive Vice President.

Leuphana Digital School intends to keep working within its international network. Its first open online course was implemented with the involvement of internationally distinguished scientists from the Columbia University New York, the Arizona State University, the London School of Economics, the Goldsmiths University of London, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the ETH Zurich, the Collegium Helveticum and the University of Zurich, the Sun Yat-Sen University Guangzhou and the City University Hong Kong, as well as leading experts in politics, media and economics.

The education platform used by Leuphana for its Digital School is called Candena Scholar and was developed by Candena, a Digital Media start- up, which specializes in conceptual design of white label educational platforms and making them available for global online courses focusing on Social Learning. Candena is a spin-off of the Digital Media Department at the EU Lüneburg Innovation Incubator. Leuphana Digital School´s project partner is the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and the course is supported by the campus management systems designer Datenlotsen, Tipp24 SE and the business and career network Xing.

Leuphana University sees itself as a public university for the civil society of the 21st century. Its unique study model, the first of its kind in Germany, has received numerous awards. There are more than 8000 young people studying at Leuphana.

Find out more about Leuphana Digital School:

Henning Zuehlsdorff | idw
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