'Students need digital skills to solve the major societal challenges of the future'

Interview with Professor Marcus Specht, Scientific Director of the Leiden-­Delft-Erasmus Centre for Education and Learning

The Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Education and Learning (CEL) focuses on technology-driven educational innovation. Scientific Director Prof. Marcus Specht is a full professor of Digital Education with TU Delft’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science and joined forces with the Centre last year. We asked him about the Centre’s long-term vision ‘Towards Digital Higher Education’.

Marcus Specht

The Leiden-Delft-Erasmus collaboration focuses on four societal themes: Sustainable Society, Digital Society, Healthy Society and Inclusive Society. Where does the Centre for Education and Learning fit into this?

Marcus Specht: ‘The work of our Centre links best to the Digital Society theme. But of course, education and teaching form an important part of all the themes. Better education and more knowledge are needed to form the foundation of a healthier, more sustainable and more inclusive society.

The digitisation of our society will go hand in hand with educational innovation. The technology is developing fast and the field is getting ever wider, encompassing artificial intelligence, big data, mobile applications, virtual reality, etc. Moreover, students are developing their digital skills all the time – skills they need to take on the major societal challenges of the future – and they expect the university to be at the forefront of the digital revolution.

The Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Education and Learning is a multidisciplinary research centre that focuses on the design and evaluation of educational technologies. We are continually driven by the question: What works, how and why?’

Technological educational innovation: what works, how and why? 

Available soon on the website of the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Education and Learning:
more than 300 reviews of articles on educational innovation selected by our scientific editorial board.

Go to https://www.educationandlearning.nl/research/successful-teaching-and-learning-blog

The Leiden-Delft-Erasmus profiling themes effectively reflect wider social developments and social agendas. What developments and themes are important for your centre?

Marcus Specht: ‘One agenda that is important to us is the Digital Society agenda of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU). I am leading the Open University’s work in the area of Digital Learning and Education > video interview. This agenda has been jointly established by the universities to provide an academic answer to all manner of questions related to digitisation. The agenda is important for our Centre because it brings together a network of knowledge from a wide range of scientific disciplines.

In addition to societal developments such as the digitisation of society, our Centre also closely follows trends in higher education, such as blended learning (integration of traditional and online education), study performance measurement and redesigning learning environments. We consider the most important technological trends in higher education to be:

  • Learning Analytics and Big Data
  • Artificial Intelligence in Education
  • Educational Games and Gamification of Learning
  • Mobile and Wearable Technologies
  • Augmented and Virtual Reality.’

What are the implications of Augmented and Virtual Reality and Gaming for higher education?

Read more about these trends in the Centre for Education and Learning report. Among other things, MIT professor Eric Klopfer, author of the book Augmented Learning, explains how the real world will be integrated in the learning environment using virtual objects, whereby good game design is essential to ensure that students stay motivated.

Read more: https://www.educationandlearning.nl/news/cel-innovation-room-8-augmented-reality-in-higher-education

What is the basis on which your centre can now go on to build from the first phase of Leiden-Delft-Erasmus?

Marcus Specht: ‘During the past years, the Centre for Education and Learning has focussed on the professionalisation of lecturers, knowledge sharing and research on technological innovations. For example, we organise various knowledge sessions to help the staff of the universities stay abreast of digital developments in higher education. Examples include the Technology Enhanced Learning workshop, the Learning Analytics workshop, the Programming Education and Research Lab and the EC-TEL and mLearn conference that we are hosting this summer.

Over the past years our Centre has also built a community of researchers, innovators, lecturer trainers and policy staff at the three universities and they will continue to play an important role in phase two.’

How do you want to grow further as a centre? Can you give some examples of activities envisaged for the next phase of Leiden-Delft-Erasmus?

Marcus Specht: ‘We believe academic research is required to ensure the effective implementation of educational technology. Without research, you are left with only the believers and the naysayers, and you will overestimate the potential of the technology, or underestimate it, as the case may be. This is why the second phase will focus on research. We have decided on the following research spearheads:

  1. Digital literacy including data literacy, information literacy and digital skills: Which digital methods and competencies in digital media will the lecturers and students of 2020 need to master?
  2. The mobile generation in a seamless connected world: How will this influence higher education in all its facets?
  3. Augmented and virtual reality: How can we combine new media such as games, videos and social networks with existing resources like books to improve teaching?
  4. Intelligent learning environment: How can we use artificial intelligence for personalised learning and teaching?’

How do you view the relationship with your regional partners?

Marcus Specht: ‘The universities are part of an innovation ecosystem. Government bodies, knowledge institutions and businesses all play a role in this ecosystem. Educational technology is an emerging sector, which is why we are cooperating in a programme for start-ups in educational technology called EdTech start-ups. The partners are innovation centres like Centre4Innovation (Leiden), Community for Learning Innovation (Rotterdam) and the Teaching Lab (Delft), faculties and institutes that perform multidisciplinary research, and various incubators in Leiden, Delft and Rotterdam. The opportunities to exchange knowledge will benefit us, while the start-ups will profit from our scientific insights.’

What is your greatest challenge?

Marcus Specht: ‘To make a meaningful contribution to research for better education and to make more knowledge available to all.'

More information:
Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Education and Learning
Centre4Innovation Leiden University
Community for Learning Innovation Erasmus University Rotterdam
Teaching Lab TU Delft

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