Virtual Linguistics

Robots, Linguistics, and the Future of EdTech

Jürgen HandkeHannover (GER), November 2022 - On November 23rd-25th this year, the OEB Conference welcomes a wide range of speakers to its leading educational showcase. Among these speakers is Jürgen Handke, a German professor of English linguistics and a pioneer of robotic teaching assistants in the world of EdTech. Jürgen will be hosting a workshop at the OEB Conference.

Good morning, Jürgen, it’s nice to meet you. Thank you for meeting with me today. So first, can you tell us a bit about yourself, your career and your history with OEB?
Jürgen Handke: Originally, I wanted to become a teacher of English and Physical Education, and then it all changed in the 1980s when I was offered a job at university. Relatively early, I came into contact with computers – in 1983 that was. At that time, I found out that there are content components that can be simply be presented in a much more adequate way using digital devices rather than traditional devices. That’s when it all started.

In the 1990s, I was a producer of educational CD Roms in my subject linguistics. Commercially, these were very successful and so I thought, and from today’s point of view it’s a silly idea, that I could replace teachers with CD Roms. That was, of course, a complete failure. In around 2000, in my team of research assistants, we transformed the CD Roms content onto our own platform: the Virtual Linguistics Campus on the web. Then we starting producing online courses in the first decade, online courses which again, worked without teachers. The materials became better and better, and the technologies on the web became better. All that improved and we managed to produce videos, we set up a YouTube channel.

Since 2012, we had a new concept of teaching and learning, but we didn’t have a label for it at that time – it was simply: digital content in phase one, in-class meeting in phase two. It was a very simple concept and we had no idea what it was, and then we found there were articles in around 2000 in the United States, talking about "inverting the classroom" and "flipping the classroom". These were terms that were around a long time ago, 10 years before we used them, but no one had actually shown examples. So, we managed to be the first and all our courses we used at university were then shaped in this format. Digital content beforehand, teaching in-class second. There was one problem though, and that made us set up our own system, which we called ‘The Inverted Classroom Mastery Model’. The problem was: how could we rely on the students to have mastered the digital content before the in-class meeting?

So, we set up this system of mastery tests, digital tests, between these two phases and that really raised the whole effect of the system. This is because now students knew in-class cultures, we don’t call ourselves teachers anymore, we are learning cultures, and we have a picture of the students before they come into class. And that is The Inverted Classroom Mastery Model, we have been using this model for 10 years , we’ve been awarded prizes and so on. The digital component of that part of the model has to be as excellent as possible. It doesn’t suffice to simply give students a video, it doesn’t suffice to show them an image, or tell them "read the following text". That doesn’t work. You have to be very professional and very careful about the design of digital content. There is too little digital content ready for self-paced learning.

So that’s our position, our field of Linguistics and Language Studies. Our platform is the Virtual Linguistics Campus, our YouTube channel has the same name, and this works hand-in-hand, the whole thing. Now on YouTube, we have more than 100,000 subscribers, and on our platform, we have about 7,000 users who permanently use the material in an online fashion, without in-class teaching. So, they do it on their own, and per day we generate five certificates or so – all these are complete classes, that can be used in any curriculum of linguistics in the whole world. They are not just a short online course that you can do in four hours, our courses have something like 120 hours workload. So, they’re regular courses and used all over the world, and we generate course clones for teachers who are interested all over the world for their students.