Inside iversity

There is a well-known Aesop’s fable called “The Father and His Sons” in which a father gives each of his sons a bundle of sticks and asks them to break the bundles in half. None of the sons are able to do so and resort to breaking one stick at a time. He then says that like the sticks, if they work together, they will be unbreakable, but if they do not work as one unit, they will be easily be broken individually. This story came into my mind as iversity finished up its 2-day intensive all-team workshop in the beautiful Spreewald near Berlin. It was a time to get together as a team and find out how to make iversity.org even better. Workshops aren’t easy and require focus and putting yourself and your thoughts out on the table, but they allow you to dive deep into a subject as a team as a whole and come out stronger as a unit.
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Here are a few important learnings that we wanted to share with you:

1. Never forget the learner’s experience

To better understand the someone else’s experience, it helps to step into their shoes. Our team consists of MOOC experts but it can be easy to forget the online learner’s perspective when you are submerged in day-to-day tasks at the office. This is why we did an exercise called the customer journey. Ok, so you discovered iversity while surfing the web. You signed up and now you are browsing courses. You found a great course and enrolled. When will the course start? When are exams? Will you get a certificate? By imagining that we were online learners taking a MOOC on our platform, we were able to see what they may experience from enrolment to course completion. Moreover, as an open platform that attracts learners across the globe, we also had to think about the myriad needs that come from such a diverse online learning community. We encountered all sorts of possible frustrations, exciting discoveries and particular expectations. This helped us focus on how exactly to improve the user experience and we look forward to passing this along to you!

2. It’s a long road to the platform

It can be nice being a professor for a moment. You get to add a “Dr.” or “PhD” to your name and dream about all of the books you have published. Just as for the online learner, we imagined being an instructor to better understand the journey from their perspective. Indeed, it is a long road from wanting to make a MOOC to seeing your finished course on the platform. MOOC instructors often have a full-time job at the university, planning and production require a lot of time, financing and hands on deck, and online teaching in general is still very much uncharted territory. iversity seeks to make top-quality courses with top-quality instructors, and this requires supporting the instructors well along the way. This exercise helped us find out where complicated hurdles and the great opportunities lie, and find ways to improve the instructor journey to the platform.

3. Working as a team for the same cause

iversity is comprised of several teams that do many different things. In the workshop, we also had the chance to see what others are doing from beyond the confines of our own desk. We are all in this together, working for the same cause: building the best online learning platform. But it can sometimes feel like you are alone in the fight. When you step back and look at the big picture, you can see that everyone is an invaluable part of the puzzle, discover the many ways we can support each other and figure out where this young start-up can improve. We all must continue working as one unit to keep improving online education, and that requires recognising each other’s value and seeing how we can help each other grow.

Besides the Team Workshop, it was a great opportunity for us to meet outside of the four white office walls and spend some time together. The laughs we shared soon reminded us of how fun and interesting we all are, if we ever had the chance to forget. We shared the pains of mosquito bites, enjoyed some night swimming and danced by the bonfire. The whole iversitarian community was with us and we thank you all for being a part of our mission in developing great open online education! It takes both our team and our community to make us an unbreakable bundle.

Want to join the iversity team? Have a look at our jobs page and see if something fits you!

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07 Tanuj Kalia_large by Tanuj Kalia

The first time I saw iversity’s Ambassador Program, I ignored it after spending 2 minutes on its web page. I thought the program was meant only for students, just like many of the ‘campus ambassador’ programs in India. The iversity program was going viral then and a lot of my Facebook friends were sharing it excitedly. So, this time round, I’ll thank the information overload for goading me to check the program again.

bigstockphoto.com

Image: bigstockphoto.com

Ah! An iPad. An Apple device. I haven’t had the chance to own an Apple device till now but knew from 2nd hand accounts that the device was mesmerizing. Then you had a chance to win 500 pounds [hereinafter referred to as the Mango :)], which translate into Rs. 50000 in India, which is a nice one month’s salary for an upper middle class living.

The prizes made the race worthy. But was the race worthy without the prize? I checked up on iversity on Google. It seemed trusted, following the footsteps of Udemy, Coursera and Co., trying to become a European MOOC powerhouse. Getting students in India to check these courses out, and do them if they found the content useful seemed to a ‘nice’ if not a noble idea. And then, I was on a mission.

The Mission

I run a website called Lawctopus.com, and sorry for the shameless tub thumping, but at 65000 unique visitors a month, it’s India’s most popular website for law students. So a banner advertisement on Lawctopus was my first step. The iversity’s dashboard is technologically sound and pretty neat. With the percentile scores, it also made the whole exercise a competitive one. Just with the ad I was able to reach the top 5%, but after a very limited number crunching (I am not capable of more than ‘limited’ number crunching :)), I realized I won’t be in the running for the Apple and the Mango!

Here Comes Everyone

Lawctopus has a network of around 80 college managers. We assigned them a task. The college managers who get the three highest number of registrations (using my link) will get an award from Lawctopus. Initially I thought that this whole idea was unethical. I read the rules and there wasn’t anything against ‘ganging up’. From then on it was a breeze. And finally I did get the prize. The iPad arrived safe, but slightly late, which is understandable. And ladies and gentlemen, this is my 6th blog post, after which I do hope to get the Mango too!

Blogging

Blogging for iversity has been an enriching experience. It allows me to showcase that side of India which many non-Indians won’t know about. That’s the best part of being an iversity ambassador: you are an ambassador for your country. Through your writing, you present its educational history, news, perspectives etcetera.

Namaste!

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I left Belgium three months ago, ready for a new adventure in another European capital: Berlin. I was lucky to find an internship at the Berlin start-up iversity. When I saw the job opening online it immediately got my attention: I liked the concept, I liked their style and I liked the idea that education can reach people all over the world. I couldn’t have been happier when they offered me an internship, and to be honest: my optimistic expectations have been more than satisfied.

From Belgium to Berlin

cobiToday, I can already look back at my experience at iversity, and once you can look back at it, it means it’s over. It was my first real professional experience and I’m happy that I could start it here. I will never forget these great people, the wonderful atmosphere at the company and all the things that I learned at my time being there.

I started my first day a bit nervous: accompanied by my best friend Google Maps, I learned how to get around with the U-Bahn in Berlin and arrived safely at a little town called Bernau bei Berlin. Although the first days were quite overwhelming: with a lot of new faces, new concepts and impressions, my colleagues were very welcoming and friendly and I quickly got to know the people behind these faces, the way of working at the office and the company itself. I remember how pleasantly surprised I was when I learned more about the company that I was working for.

Into the MOOC factory

To be honest, my knowledge about online education wasn’t very advanced before I started working here, but who knew I could learn so much in such a short time? The MOOCs, the platform and the ideas behind it fascinated me so much, and I tried to keep my eyes and ears open all the time to make the best of my six weeks. One thing that was a big help in exploring the whole company was my first task; I was asked to write the ‘Meet the Team- blog series’. In these 4 blog posts, one department of the company (Marketing, Product, Academic Partnerships and Operations) would be highlighted every week and the blog post would be a great opportunity for iversitarians to get to know the team of iversity. In this way, by interviewing my colleagues and learning everything about the MOOC-factory here, I got a realistic view of the organisation, the different departments, their targets and aims, the corporate culture etc.

Writing the blog posts was a real challenge for me: after spending years of writing academic text, I had to make sure this time that people would actually want to read my work. Luckily I got plenty of help from my colleagues, who helped me with the copywriting I had to do. The package of tasks that I was responsible for was very broad, which was a great opportunity to learn about all kinds of different things. I learned how to do research, to analyse the data, to implement campaigns and to design things myself. One of my first tasks, and the one that I enjoyed most, was designing an infographic. They gave me the independency to choose a topic by my own inspiration. I was able to make a mock-up and I could work closely with the designer to give it shape. The result looks amazing and I have to say I’m proud of my own little project. Unfortunately I won’t be there anymore for the launch, but I’m sure I’ll see it passing by somewhere sooner or later.

Another thing that blew my mind was the innovative way of handling things. Put 30 young and creative people together in one company and the result can’t be something else then great. Every time a new problem came up; I was surprised by the solutions and the ideas that everyone had. The meetings and brainstorm sessions were always a nice opportunity to learn, and I realised that although I just got out of school, I still had so much more to learn.

All work, all play

And except for all this hard work I enjoyed the atmosphere in the office most. I always thought working wasn’t really ‘my thing’, that it would be ‘too boring’. It was nothing like that: I had so much fun while working; there was always room for a joke and on Friday we had our famous Frunch, a nice opportunity to talk to everyone. The company found a perfect way of growing, without losing its charm or the vibes that are so typically for a start-up. I think that this way of working makes employees feel more comfortable; they are able to be true to their selves, without too many restrictions. This open organisational culture stimulates the creativity and people get the change to get the most out of their selves. In a company like this, you can feel like home, you feel loyalty and you can be proud of the good results that you’re working for.

Now, at the end of this adventure, I can only look back at my time working there with a smile on my face. Thank you iversity, for helping me grow, for learning me so much and for giving me such a great time. I hope we’ll see each other soon!

Cobi

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iversity would be nothing without a platform and courses, but who keeps iversity itself running? This wild, fun online learning start-up needs to get things done and grow up strong, and the team behind Operations makes sure the beast is under control. They research and implement the best strategies and practices and secure the productivity so that iversity can keep growing and stay on the road to glory! 

Operations Team picture
From left to right: Tim, Isabelle, Jackie, Julia and Martin

If you put 20+ highly skilled, motivated and creative minds into an office and tell them to work something out, just imagine the world after the big bang: order is needed to allow innovation to emerge from chaos. To keep the operations of the company in working order and maintain solid growth, oh so many rules of game have to be taken into account. Take the legal frameworks, take the HR planning, take all the controlling that needs to be put in place in order to ensure our money is allocated wisely. And last but not least, take the external image we build through all different channels, be it in the press or at all kinds of events and conferences, so we can show the world who we are: innovators in the field of higher education. 

Sound smug? Kind of. But the Operations team also works to make the office a place where you love to go by cultivating the good vibe we are so proud of, while at the same time instilling a good workflow with high productivity for the entire company. In this way, this department as a whole helps our start-up grow, without losing its spirit.

Who does what?
 

Julia is responsible for the company’s operations and leads the Operations team: Isabelle, Jackie, Martin and Tim. She oversees the multifaceted projects of this team and consults all other departments, developing the best working systems to make sure everything works smoothly together. As our COO, she is also responsible for all matters concerning legal affairs, HR and financial controlling. 

Tim, our office manager, has been on board at iversity for a long time. He started as an ambassador of un.iversity.org (iversity.org’s predecessor – a learning management system), then joined the team as an intern and never left. He handles employment contracts, budget maintenance, office services, accounts and operational structures. At the end of the day, he’s the one who knows everything in and around the office and usually has an answer for every question you have. 

Jackie and Martin started out in the Communications Department – or “Complications” Department as we later dubbed it. This duo was blessed with the gift of gab and rocks out the PR, content marketing and informational workflows. Jackie, the ‘feel good manager’ of the team, came to Berlin for a 6-month stay 6 years ago – and alas hasn’t left since! She is handling all kinds of events, promotions, awards and is creating endless content for our website and blog. Martin is our PR manager. He works with journalists and keeps iversity in the media and looking good. He also works on the blog with Jackie and the iversity Ambassadors and builds our public image and identity.

Isabelle is currently doing her internship at iversity, assisting with the many tasks that occur in this multifaceted department – be it assisting Tim with sharpening our office structures, general organisation or establishing a great contact management system. She’s hawk-eyed as she proofreads all kinds of texts and undertakes research tasks for the management. 

Fun Facts:
 

  • Julia is notorious for using her mobile “whipping sound app” to make everyone at iversity toe the line – but can never refrain from laughing about it. She also has an unbreakable skull – resulting from several cranial fractures as a child – which only makes her more assertive and, well, headstrong.
  • Tim comes from northern Germany and proves this with his motto: don’t write too much, don’t talk too much. But we all know still waters run deep! His hidden passions are directed at his lanyard collection and explosive ping pong skills.
  • Jackie was a metal sculptor as a teenager. She loved riding with the Harley Davidson crew that worked in the shop. She loves making trashy music videos in her spare time.
  • Martin trains in Kung-Fu and is nearly impossible to beat up. Jackie and Julia have tried. A few times. He is also an avid philosopher and goes to a reading group every week. 
  • Isabelle is a speed-reader and compulsively organises by colour. Her desk looks like a rainbow exploded on it. She buys a cake nearly every day, but doesn’t eat the outside chocolate layer, much to the joy of anyone who passes her desk. 
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What is the secret formula for a great MOOC? Well, first we need a great professor, of course, then an interesting subject that will catch your attention and meet your learning needs. But that’s just the start – we need online learning experts to make sure the best courses make it to the platform. Inside our beloved MOOC laboratory is a team researching and discovering the greatest possibilities digital education in the 21st century has to offer! This week they’re willing to reveal their identity: it’s time to meet our Academic Partnerships team!

Top (from left to right): Manuela, Mattia and Viola. Bottom (from left to right): Fabian, Michael and Lara.

“It’s Alive!”
 

Dr. Frankenstein screams as he sees his creation come to life. Though much less morbid and frightening, a lot also has to happen before your online course comes to life. By the time you start your first chapter, the Academic Partnerships Department has been looking for the right professors, and helping them design and create the course layout that provides you with the best learning outcomes and the most engaging experience. It starts with two main ingredients: interest and ideas. While the team researches desirable subjects, reputable professors and well-respected institutions, professors, who want to reach students all over the world and be a part of this new and exciting digital wave in education, can contact iversity with their course concept. When the Academic Partnerships team thinks the course and iversity are a match, the real work begins! 

Don’t forget that digital education is still in its beginning stages – inside the MOOC laboratory we discover and innovate learning methods everyday! So, after they work out the logistics of creating a partnership, the team is available to share the latest didactical methods in online learning, the best assessment formats and good layout options for an all-around cohesive course with the professors. Professors have to structure their courses well, so following lectures can be engaging and enjoyable. For that, we divide them into digestible chapters and units. But, there’s even more to think about: a quiz at the end of every unit, further readings for the enthusiastic learners, the homework assignments and the exams. The professors have to break down their course into little pieces and plan out all of the details, and that’s why there is the course maintenance team to support them. The next step is warming up our online learners for the new MOOC. They add it to our course list, set up the course description page and get the word out about the upcoming course. That’s when it’s time for the professors to start the real production process. This part is all up to the professors, but our didactic managers are always behind the scenes, giving tips on educational tactics or video editing when needed. And how does this story end? With a brand new MOOC on iversity.org of course!

Who are these academic experts?
 

The people behind this MOOC-creating process have two important jobs. One part of the team takes care of course acquisition: organising new professors and more course offerings. Fabian, the head of this side of the department, focuses on future partnerships with universities and talking to potential instructors. He was a part of the early beginnings of iversity and would later return when it turned its focus to MOOCs. His Master’s thesis explored MOOCs, and the Bologna education reforms and ECTS system in Europe, so he was excited and equipped to join iversity in a new mission. Manuela comes from southern Italy, and after finishing her Philosophy degree in Florence, soon found herself in Berlin as our Country Manager for Italy. She works alongside Fabian building partnerships with Italian universities and professors, as well as with German professors. Mattia studied at Zeppelin University and the University of California Berkeley. With a strong focus on international relations and research, he is primed to be an academic partnership manager, where he discusses the potentials of joining the exciting MOOC revolution. They know iversity.org is a great platform and take this passion with them as they share what we do, explain what digital education is about and collaborate with partners that fit our vision.

Once the professors are on-board, it’s time for the course maintenance team to take over. They guide the instructors with transferring their traditional courses into a new digital format. Also a certified teacher and pedagogue, Lara provides didactic support for the professors. She helps them to come up with a good MOOC and concept, quality assessment methods, and every once in while, she assists our Product Team with thinking about new features from a didactical perspective. Michael, our video production freelancer and Canadian rock star (no joke), is responsible for audio and video editing support. He also creates info material and support documents to help instructors with the post-production process.

And finally, there’s Viola, holding an M.A. in Media Management from the Bauhaus-University Weimar. She’s the brains behind our new business strategy as the Business Developer at iversity. She ensures that iversity continues to grow, that we form fair and healthy partnerships with institutions and instructors and that our learners have more to gain from our courses regarding certificates and accreditation. 

What’s to come?
 

Expect some new and exciting assessment and exam features in the near future. They are busy finding great new solutions that will provide you with better online learning feedback! Yes, we can guess that you really want to know what new MOOCs are in the making. Well, there’s a lot going on right now and we can’t announce a course until all of the logistics have been worked out. Our goal is still to have 100 courses by 2015, so expect lots of new courses along the way! We’ll keep you informed – we always announce new courses on Facebook, Twitter and in the newsletter (sign up near the bottom of our homepage). In April, almost like the start of a new semester, 9 courses will begin – take a look at our course page and get prepared to learn!

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