Monday, 16 September 2013

Meet the edtech entrepreneurs - An interview with Hannes Klöpper

Despite a few announcements here and there, Europe has been slow to jump on the MOOC bandwagon. A German startup, iversity, has ambitious goals nonetheless.
The Good MOOC interviews +Hannes Klöpper, iversity Chief Academic Officer, Managing Director and Co-Founder.

  • Can you introduce yourself?
My name is +Hannes Klöpper and I'm the co-founder of iversity, a MOOC-platform. We work with individual professors as well as institutions of higher education on developing innovative teaching formats open to students from around the world.

  • Can you describe what you're doing with iversity?

We started to work on MOOCs in January 2012 after seeing Sebastian Thrun present at DLD. It took a while to convince the relevant players of the idea. But in early 2013 we could finally announce what we had in mind. We decided to approach the issue bottom-up. So instead of partnering with a handful of institutions we issued an open call for applications to professors from around the world. For this we partnered with Stifterverband, a German higher education think tank and foundation. Together we awarded ten MOOC Production Fellowships, 25,000 euros each, to ten professors so as to enable them to produce a high quality MOOC.

  • How did iversity evolve from its initial goals and what are you now hoping to achieve?

After the fellowships were awarded in June a number of professors approached us, saying that they would be interested in producing a course with us. We conducted two workshops in Berlin with the winners of the Fellowship and that second group of pioneers to discuss everything from video production techniques, to didactics and marketing. In October we are going to go live with a dozen courses. But I can already tell you that we have a lot more in store for next year. 2014 we aim to become the biggest player in Europe.

  • What's your business model?

We are looking at the same kind of options as Coursera and Udacity: certificates, licensing, recruiting. Because of the structure of European higher education, however, we will focus much earlier on providing courses for credit. We want students to pass an exam offline and earn ECTS-credit points that are recognized throughout Europe. We already struck some agreements regarding that point. For now all I can say is: Stay tuned.

  • Why do you have European ambitions (why not limit yourself to Germany or on the contrary aim for the World)?

We have no intentions to artificially "limit" ourselves to Europe. We already know that our students will come from all over the world. But we have to start somewhere and the EU, with its common market for academic credit, is a good starting point. After all ECTS credit points will not only be useful to students in Europe. Many of the countries that are usually described as emerging markets have enormous capacity expansion problems in the education sector. They just cannot keep pace. There are estimates that India would have to build 2400 universities in the coming years. That's roughly two a week. Even if they managed to build the infrastructure, who is going to teach there? Professors don't grow on trees. So these countries will have to rethink the way higher education is set up. I believe recognized credentials from Europe can be an important element in that equation.

That remains to be seen. But I don't think this is a winner-takes-all market. There will be big players and specialized niche providers.

  • Will you open your data to researchers?

We are definitely very interested in cooperating with the academic community on data analysis. We have this amazing opportunity to learn more about learning. Educational analytics are no panacea, but I'm certain that this will allow us to improve online pedagogy as well as the design of our platform.

  • What's your analysis of the current state of online learning?

It's booming. We are still in an experimental phase obviously, but one thing is for certain: it's not going to go away.

  • Where do see higher education going in the medium to long-term future?

Offline is not going to go away. Nor should it. But it will have to change. Flipping the classroom will become standard practice. Tutoring and mentoring will become more important. Students will have a lot more choice. Competency-based credits will become the norms. Assessment and credentialing will become more sophisticated and better at measuring what matters. I think the fears that MOOCs will replace teachers, when everyone agrees that there are many things that they cannot do, is ill-founded. As long as teachers make a difference in student learning, which I believe they do, they are not going anywhere.

I have dabbled in different classes for a bit. But I haven't taken a full class. I just don't find the time as I am busy making sure we don't miss the train here in Europe.

  • Any particular courses you’re looking forward to then?

The Future of Storytelling and Design 101 promise to be a lot of fun. But I personally I will work hard to free my schedule for Contemporary Architecture.

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