Inside iversity

by Tim Vogelsang

Sparked by recent humanitarian catastrophes in the Mediterranean Sea, media attention around the topics of refugees and asylum is possibly strong enough to force the European Union to introduce quotas between member states, lower the barrier of legal immigration and accept higher amounts of asylum seekers. But how can we as a society embrace asylum as a massive chance rather than a problem? Can smart, unconventional approaches be born under the roofs of small startup offices in Berlin? Can an online education platform such as even help?

The airdome in Berlin-Wedding is a three-day home for up to 294 refugees in Berlin from all over the world. It is operated by over-pressure, which cannot be sensed by humans. I walk into this massive tent in order to join a so-called hold-up, organised by the young and sexy non-profit organisation MakeSense. A hold-up is explained to me as a very effective and fun form of brainstorming in order to solve very specific challenges. In this case: „How can we help new-to-the-neighbourhood refugee families find and use local playgrounds?“ To be honest, brainstorming with flipcharts and yellow sticky notes inside a refugee shelter feels inappropriate at first. But soon our ideas start flowing and a lot of the shelter’s guests join us and enjoy the entrepreneurial atmosphere.

Inspired by the creativity that originates from all these different cultures, I invite Mozamel and Guglielmo, two design thinkers from MakeSense, to the iversity office and ask them to facilitate a similar hold-up along with an open Facebook invitation for interested participants. Our challenge this time: „How can volunteers use in order to create learning experiences together with refugees?“

20150615-refugees-iversity-1Brainstorming and presenting ideas. Images courtesy: Nezihe Birgul Ozdemir

Wow! It is amazing how many unconventional and unexpected ideas a bunch of creative people that barely know each other can generate from a well-structured brainstorming process. We pick the four best ideas and finally pitch complete concepts – all this in two hours! Here are the four winning ideas:

1. German MOOC: Create a massive open online course (MOOC) on learning German held by refugees, and using dances of the world to build connections and learn verbs and nouns around the human body.

2. Buddy System: Connect a refugee with a local buddy to take an (iversity) online course together.

3. Video Clips: Create short shareable video clips of mixed groups of refugees and locals interacting with (iversity) online courses in order to inspire other refugees to also benefit from free courses.

4. Study Groups: Start medium-sized local events, bringing together locals and refugees for activities like games or dances. The starting point is a new (iversity) online course.

The atmosphere after our final presentations is upbeat. We are all excited about the ideas we came up with. Unfortunately, we don’t have the capacity to realise all of them, but we would still love to see our ideas come to fruition. Maybe YOU want to jump on them and start a local project?

20150612-blogpost-refugees-iversity1Idea canvas of Idea 1. Image courtesy: Julia Hein.

Looking forward, online learning can easily be imagined as an opportunity to embrace asylum and perceive it as a massive chance instead of a problem. And when talking to some of the participants of our hold-up, I see that new ideas beyond are already in the making. As a reaction to the two-hour-long hold-up, I was introduced to a whole Berlin ecosystem of companies and organisations that are developing very smart and agile approaches connected to the topic of refugees. In addition to MakeSense, there are Wings University (a university for refugees), Flüchtlinge Willkommen (a flat-share platform), Cucula (a working possibility), Serve the City (a volunteer event initiative) and „Über den Tellerrand kochen“ (a cooking initiative). And I am confident that many more will follow.

Do you want to know more about the ideas from our hold-up? Do you have your own ideas about collaborations with refugees in Berlin and want to get involved? Do you know other initiatives from other cities? Share this post and tell us your ideas! Or learn more about the related topic of „Worker’s’ Rights in a Global Economy” in our online course!

About the author

Tim Vogelsang is iversity’s director of business intelligence. He studied mathematics in Bonn and is now focussing on data analysis, algorithms and research in the context of online learning. His favourite research topics are group creation and peer grading. Follow Tim on Twitter: @timvogelsang

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We’re excited to announce a great new opportunity for our users: iversity just started collaborating with Sqore. If you like student competitions and iversity, you’re going to love what we came up with.

What’s Sqore all about?

Sqore is a platform that offers a number of challenging and fun student competitions. You can compete for anything from jobs and scholarships to certificates and vouchers. Find opportunities that best fit your skills and interests and compete with other bright minds in your field.

Take a quiz, win a fee waiver!

With iversity you can currently “Sqore” on our courses “The European Union in Global Governance” and “Store Design, Visual Merchandising and Shopper Marketing“. Would you like to win a fee waiver on the courses’ Certificate Tracks? Then test your knowledge about the European Union and Store Design in these fun quizzes and show that you are an expert. The winners will be chosen from the highest scoring entries and will be notified via email. Enter the competitions now!


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We wanted to make sure that you know that the Flash Referral Challenge started today. You have 1 week to refer at least 3 friends and if they enrol in a course, you’ll get a 10€ iversity voucher. You can use this voucher towards any Certificate Track in any course!

Flash Referral Campaign May 2015

Remember that this is a Flash Challenge: You can only earn the voucher between the 4 May – 11 May! Just go to Your Referrals to participate and click the “Join the Challenge” button. After the week closes and you successfully referred at least 3 friends, we’ll email you the 10€ iversity voucher. Sorry, only one voucher will be rewarded per person!

Need more information about how the referrals program works?

First go to Your Referrals, either found in the main menu bar or in the dropdown menu by your name in the top-right corner of the page. If you scroll down the Referrals page, you will find all of your personal referral links. Your unique referral code has been added to the end of each link. To start referring, simply copy the links or use the easy social media buttons to share with your friends.

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Last week we introduced Susana, the winner of our Study Anywhere competition. Now it’s time for some of our ten runners-up to shine. Here we introduce six of these standout online learners and get to know a little bit about them, the place they call home and how MOOCs have helped them on their journey to success.

When we asked these students to tell us about their learning experiences, the responses we received were amazing, and illustrate the fact that iversity attracts students of all ages and from all walks of life. We hope you enjoy reading their stories as much as we have.

Silvia Ordoñez, 25-year-old Social Communications graduate from Ecuador


E-Learning profile: Right now I am looking for a master’s degree that suits me. In the meantime, I am studying by myself and love working on social topics such as communication for development and investigative journalism. Here in my country there isn’t a lot to offer when it comes to higher studies. That’s why I love iversity so much. I have found very interesting topics to study and I think you have a great platform so I can study anywhere.

I also like the methodology you use for the classes. I have learned from great professionals and academics, and it’s free! iversity has inspired me with great ideas and motivates me to work on my personal projects and dreams, Thank you for existing!

Giulia Dogliani, 24-year-old Italian currently studying Architecture at the University of Turin


E-Learning Profile: In my country, education is still tied to conventional methods of teaching, online education is not developed to its full potential. But above all, online educational projects such as iversity are not yet widely known. It would be great if my university could become partner of iversity and offer some courses given the high quality of teaching I see in Polytechnic of Turin.

Discovering iversity: I heard about iversity about a year ago, thanks to my brother who invited me to attend the “Contemporary Architecture” course by Prof. Ivan R. Shumkov. The first course was a great experience, I could expand my knowledge in the field of architecture and at the same time broaden my horizons comparing them with people around the world, and everything at any time simply using my PC! My experience with iversity is currently ongoing with the “Architecture 101” course.

Najeeb Ullah s/o Abdullah Jan, 23-year-old Political Science graduate from Pakistan


E-Learning Profile: Education is the tool we starve for here the most in my hometown, studies are not up to the mark that I wish for right now. That’s why I tried an online course from iversity. I have never enjoyed any course as much as i enjoyed this one! People such as myself cannot afford further higher studies so these online courses are the best thing we get to learn more and more for free..

Discovering iversity: I read about iversity on Facebook, one of my friends shared one of your courses. I am currently taking “From International Relations to Global Politics” and I have enrolled in  “The European Union in Global Governance”. I am enjoying “From International Relations to Global Politics” even more than I thought I would, its great! I like the teaching method, the automatic questions, the use of technology, the classroom, and most importantly course content. I also like participating in discussions with international students from all around the world.

Juan Carlos Montes Herrera, 23-year-old Marine Biology student from Mexico

juanedit1E-Learning Profile: I haven’t decided for sure yet but I am planning on doing my thesis on vulnerability of fishing communities as a result of climate change. I grew up in Veracruz, but moved to La Paz, BCS for my career.

There is a big scientific community here in La Paz, so research and studying is an everyday thing. ‘Ecosystem Based Approach’ measures are starting to be implemented in the city and I would love to participate and create similar projects.

Discovering iversity: I heard about it in a whilst surfing the web, maybe even on twitter. I really don’t remember, but I’m very glad I found you!  The “Disasters and Ecosystems” course is awesome, the interviews with professionals and the unit teachers are awesome and I’m learning a lot.

Arskydik, 20-year-old Public Health student from Indonesia


“iversity is a brilliant website! I hope to some day study in Berlin and visit your office”

Bilyana Ivanova, 34-year-old Economist from Bulgaria


“I found iversity whilst looking for German Language courses. So far I have enjoyed the Critical Thinking and Social Innovation MOOCs very much!”

If these learners have inspired you, then check out our Course Catalogue and start learning a new skill today. Also keep an eye out for our next Blog post profiling some of our runners up in more detail.

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We at Team iversity are really excited to announce the winner of our recent Study Anywhere competition, Susana Epiepang!

Thanks to her hard work, learning on iversity and spreading the online education message, Susana is now the lucky winner of an all-expenses-paid trip to Berlin. This means that later this year she will be jetting off from Cameroon to join us in the city that iversity calls home. Here she will get to meet the iversity founders, whilst staying in a luxury hotel in the heart of the city.

susanaberlintripedit2 smallerThe lottery couldn’t have picked a more worthy winner. Susana currently runs the Agape Love Cameroon Association (ALCA) and is keen to use her trip to form connections with European organisations. One of the objectives of her organisation is to teach Cameroonians about subjects such as Democracy, Good Governance and Human Rights. She also works for the Election Management Body in Cameroon, upholding the fairness of the electoral system there. Susana has taken the certificate track in iversity’s “EU and Global Governance” course and is currently working her way through “International Relations to Global Politics“. Courses which have helped Susana build up the knowledge she needs to run her NGO. A perfect example of how MOOCs can really make a difference when it comes to learning new skills whilst working.

“Studying is my hobby, and I would like to see others approach it in this way. I am never tired of studying and mostly take courses that are related to my area of work.”

We had a chat with Susana to find out more about her work, and how she felt when she realised she had won first prize.

Hi Susana! First of all, congratulations on winning the trip. How did you feel when you found out?

I couldn’t believe it was real! My husband and I took a while to come around to the fact that I might have actually won something. It’s a dream come true and I really can’t wait to see the sights of Berlin and hopefully further the aims of my organisation ACLA.

susanapicture 2 edit 1

Susana at ALCA with her iversity Certificate


Could you tell us a little more about your work with ACLA, what are you currently working on?

Yes, of course.  Our aim at present is to help and empower women to vote.  We meet with women who have reached the voting age threshold (20 years old here in Cameroon) to facilitate their registration into the Voters’ Register. We do this by sponsoring their application for their National Identity Card and by bringing a mobile registration centre to their door steps. Making it as easy as possible for these women to take part in the democratic process.

What are your plans for the future of ACLA?

We are looking to build a site of our own to minimise cost, and encourage Cameroonians to take courses related to Democracy, Good Governance and Human Rights both online and face-to-face. We are partnering with online schools which offer courses in these domain, and they are quite
prepared for it.

Our dream is seeing the ALCA owning its own training site, where both face-to-face and online courses are being taught by retired Election Cameroon workers as well as guest facilitators. We want to organise elections for organisations and churches as well as any community wishing to have a free and fair electoral process for their activities.

What role do you feel MOOCs have played in achieving your goals?

If it wasn’t for the fact that I am involved in such major projects, I would have loved to do all
the courses that were relevant to my career, as there are many! These MOOCs are such wonderful online communities, and it is this that has made them really enjoyable. The instructors are very professional and, whilst the course is free of charge, they have high standards when it comes to completing homework and tasks. This combination of interaction and professional instructors has driven me to do really well and carry my knowledge into my work.

Thank you for your time Susana, we can’t wait to meet you when you visit Berlin!

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