Inside iversity

iversity: As organiser of the MOOC Fellowship competition and writer of a non-fiction book on the digitalisation of higher education*, you represent iversity as its only employee on the jury that chooses the grant recipients. Why is the jury comprised of one employee from iversity and Stifterverband respectively, with all other members representing different fields? 

Hannes Klöpper: We created a jury of independent experts from diverse backgrounds to best choose the right courses. Our different perspectives legitimise the Fellowship results, proving MOOC relevance in different lines of work and education in general.

iversity: Unlike most other MOOC platforms, founded by professors, iversity was founded by students. Some 250 lecturers entered the competition but 70,000 people voted for their favourite courses. Does the competition’s popularity and large number of voters point to iversity’s unique approach to MOOCs?

Hannes Klöpper: We think so. Almost everybody on iversity’s team has a college degree, worked with academic institutions or is still pursuing a degree. Jonas Liepmann founded iversity while a student of cultural studies at Humboldt University in Berlin. We approach MOOCs as students and customers, understanding the perspectives of those interested in free, higher-level education. Public competitions through social media are normal for university students, academic distinctions, however, are awarded behind closed doors. We made student interest visible by creating a public voting.

iversity: The competition was big news, not only through social networks but also for traditional media. The university desk of German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported on Fellowship submissions, while newspapers focused on the money winners receive. Funding isn’t all that grant recipients need for high-quality MOOCs, which will be free for consumers. Aside from 25,000 Euros (around $33,000), what should Fellows expect from iversity?

Hannes Klöpper: We take the meaning of the word “Fellowship” seriously. We hope a true “class of fellows” emerges from the competition, that winners will support one another and remain in touch, from planning stages to production to running courses. We’re creating a space where Fellows develop ideas and explore what higher education can and will look like in the digital age.

iversity offers a lot more than funding: we not only provide support for  technical aspects in MOOC production, but also help define education conceptually. We will teach the most successful ways to launch MOOCs, and introduce new ideas to test with the Fellows. I’m looking forward to learning from them.

I’m confident that we will create amazing courses. We will not only have the press and students critically reviewing our courses, but also other instructors who partook in the Fellowship competition.

iversity: You watched hundreds of video applications. You can’t reveal your favourites as a jury member, but what can you say about the quality of the applications?

Hannes Klöpper: I am amazed by their range in quality, their sheer quantity and the diversity of those who entered them. We received submissions from notable experts in their respective fields, as well as lecturers with more practical approaches from universities of applied science. A few months ago, some questioned whether German universities and professors “know how to MOOC,” or even “want MOOCs” at all. The Fellowship competition has proven that German lecturers can create excellent course designs, showing quality in content, educational design, and methodology.

iversity: What steps is the jury taking to choose courses?

Hannes Klöpper: The jury will first obtain an overview of all the proposals online. We will then discuss course concepts and together determine which are strongest. There are some favourites among voters and I have some personal favourites, but only together will we pick Fellows. I am curious about the debates that will ensue during deliberations, as well as to see the competition’s final results.

iversity: Many participants asked during the voting phase how and when they can enrol in the chosen MOOCs?

Hannes Klöpper: We will first notify grant recipients. On the 10th of June, the public can start to pre-enrol in courses on iversity’s website. On the blog, we will report on winning MOOCs.

*Yehuda Elkana, Hannes Klöpper; The university in the 21st century: Towards a new unity of teaching, research and society (German)

Hannes Kloepper Buch Universitaet

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Since voting began on May 1, over 43,000 people registered to vote, with over 55,000 votes cast by May 15. Voters are allotted ten votes for their favorite courses, satisfying interests ranging from politics to computer science, from medicine to engineering. Online voting for fellowship winners continues through May 23, 12:00 pm CET.

Results will be considered by an independent jury, which will choose ten fellows in June after evaluating all course concept proposals at a meeting in Berlin. The jury is comprised of representatives of Stifterverband and iversity, as well as various experts. Members are drawn from academia, the policy realm, and business. The jury includes Prof. Dr. Sandra Hofhues, professor of education in Heidelberg, Prof. Dr. Jörn Loviscach, a lecturer with a profound practical experience in teaching online, and Prof. Dr. Jürgen Kluge, former head of McKinsey Germany.

Fellows, the press, and voters will then be notified; results will be released to the public by mid-June. On June 20 and 21, fellows will gather in Berlin for a kick-off workshop, during which iversity will walk them through all facets of MOOC production. Hannes Kloepper, CMO of iversity

"The workshop by iversity will provide professors with every possible support to produce excellent MOOCs"

Hannes Klöpper, Co-Founder of iversity

As Markus Riecke, our CEO at iversity, says, “Together, we will refine course production concepts didactically and logistically. The workshop also serves as a bonding experience for fellows. We will present the iversity platform and its capabilities, engaging fellows in dialogue. We aim to not only coach fellows, but also learn about their diverse experiences, expectations, and ambitions, which will shape their MOOCs and, more broadly, higher education.”

After the workshop, fellows will begin producing their courses, while our experts at iversity document their creation. Hannes Klöpper suggests to, “Keep an eye out for exciting MOOC Production Fellowship news. And attend our public event on June 20 in Berlin, at the Stifterverband headquarters inside the the Allianz Stiftungsforum at the Pariser Platz. At this event we will explore the impact of MOOCs on higher education more generally. I look forward to our workshop in Berlin. iversity will provide professors with every possible support to produce excellent MOOCs.

Please note: once the winning MOOCs are determined by the jury, we will keep you updated on ongoing developments and enable you to pre-enroll for your favorite courses. News about the fellowship, grants, and upcoming MOOCs will be posted in blog updates.

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Applications for the first MOOC Production Fellowship closed on April 30. The results are in: with over 250 qualified applicants, this was the most popular competition for MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) in Europe to date. Professors from over 20 countries applied, with 190 from Germany and 14 from both the United States and Italy. They’re competing for 250.000€ grants (about $320,000) from Stifterverband, a public trust for science in Germany, and us at iversity, to produce one of ten online courses. Furthermore, we as a European MOOCs provider, grant them technological and didactical support throughout course production.

The grants are comparatively high, given previous private initiatives in Germany. But, as our CEO Markus Riecke says, “This competition is not about money. Instead, our fellowship programme is all about advancing online education. And the inquiries show a demand for MOOCs among university instructors in Europe and across the world that is way beyond expectations. Together with Stifterverband, iversity is committed to produce exciting and inspiring courses that are open to everyone.”

This project isn't exclusive to Europe and the US. Professors from countries as varied as China, New Zealand and Columbia are competing for fellowships; many come from esteemed research universities such as the University of California at Berkeley, Columbia, Cambridge, LMU and TU Munich, Heidelberg, Tübingen, Freie and Humboldt Universität Berlin and RWTH Aachen.

"iversity is committed to prMarkus Riecke, CEO of iversityoduce exciting and
inspiring courses that are open to everyone.”

Markus Riecke, CEO of iversity

Submissions from American Ivy League universities, Britain’s most renowned colleges, and German “Eliteuniversitäten” were expected, as these universities often pioneer MOOC development. Surprisingly, some of the most intellectually stimulating courses, however, were submitted by professors and lecturers from less well-known institutions.

Hannes Klöpper, one of the fellowship programme’s initiators at iversity, explains, “MOOCs provide an excellent opportunity for outstanding scholars and enthusiastic teachers, who, for whatever reason, do not teach at one of the elite universities to reach a global audience.
MOOCs not only allow for students to participate in courses, no matter where they live, but also for instructors to teach independently of where they happen to be located.“ The proposed online courses are even more diverse than the academic backgrounds of potential fellows from which they stem. About a third of the applications focus on law, economics, business studies and social sciences, a third are interdisciplinary courses, and about one sixth teach STEM subjects.

English may be today's language of science. But among the applicants from Europe, German prooved to be still a very popular language for MOOCs: 115 of the applications for a MOOC Fellowship are in German, and 109 are in English. Roughly 10% of the the courses that are presented for a fellowship-grant by iversity and Stifterverband are bi-lingual. And two percent of the suggested MOOCs are even multi-lingual, meaning that they would be taught in more than two languages.

Ten of these courses will be chosen by online public votes and a jury of MOOC experts.

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Open Road

iversity has come long way since Jonas Liepmann took the first steps in 2008 and Hannes Klöpper and some friends won a student idea competition for an online learning platform. Soon after launching the blended learning course platform (“The collaboration network for academia”) in autumn of 2011 we first announced that we would create “Open Courses” on iversity. Back then we contended that:

“Up to this day .. [open educational] resources have only been posted on static websites, void of possibilities for interaction between instructors and 'students', or just between independent learners themselves. What so far has been missing was exactly what for many learners is the key part in the learning process: the exchange with others. This is what iversity's free 'Open Courses' seek to provide. By integrating open educational resources and public domain content into a social learning environment, iversity enables self-learners to engage with the content and exchange with their peers.”

As the first experimental open courses grew more and more popular, we realised that this was indeed the right direction to pursue. In January of 2012 Hannes wrote a piece in the Huffington Post on the emergent MOOC-phenomenon. Since then we have been working on bringing this idea to Europe. We wrote about it in our blog, talked to professors, investors, large companies and institutions of higher education, working tirelessly to popularise the idea on this side of the pond.

Deeply convinced of the transformative potential of the MOOC-phenomenon Marcus Riecke decided to join our team in December 2012. A long-time veteran of the European Internet industry Marcus did not only joined our team as full-time CEO. He also invested some of his own money in the company. Impressed by this level of commitment our existing investors Frühphasenfonds Brandenburg, BMP media investors and Masoud Kamali as well as T-Venture decided to join the round. At this point we would like to express our deep gratitude to them as well as the countless others who have supported us throughout.

Today is not only the culmination of our team’s work of the first two months of this year. It is also feels like we arrived at the destination of an expedition that started over a year ago. Surely our journey is far from over. Today just marks the beginning of an even more exciting trip that now lies ahead of us. Managing the MOOC Production Fellowship selection process and the subsequent course production will present us with many new challenges. But we extremely excited to have this opportunity to publicly and practically rethink what higher education should look like in the digital age.

We are taking the road less travelled and we are excited to see where it takes us.

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