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How to Get the Digital Into the Classroom – The “Kompetenzverbund lernen:digital” is supposed to answer this question

Prof. Katharina Scheiter
Photo : Nura van Dongen
Prof. Katharina Scheiter

The world is digital – and school has to become digital too. The German government has understood this and launched a large research consortium: “lernen:digital” is the name of the network. Its aim is to help teachers become technically and methodologically fit at record speed to enable them to best prepare their pupils for life in a “culture of digitality”. At the same time, they should also learn to combine the best of both worlds – the real and the virtual word – to support subject-specific learning. The Germany-wide network is coordinated at the University of Potsdam by Katharina Scheiter, Professor for Digital Education, and Dirk Richter, Professor of Educational Research in Educational Sciences. Both head the network and transfer office, whose task is to bring science and practice together in the field of digitalization. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding the Kompetenzverbund with over 200 million euros.

”Digitalization has long pervaded our lives,” Prof. Scheiter says “We use digital tools in almost all areas of life, from our jobs to our private lives. Schools should stay abreast of this development, as it is their job to teach children and young people all the important cultural techniques and how to use media competently." However, this does not mean that all teaching and learning processes that were previously analog must be replaced by digital ones. Sometimes this is even counterproductive. “Reading on a screen instead of in a book does not promote understanding, and in some cases even impairs it,” says the educational scientist. To create real added value, however, digital texts could be enriched with interactive elements such as comprehension questions. Digital media also have great potential when it comes to making learning more individual and responding to the very different needs of pupils in a class. And last but not least, they offer fascinating opportunities to visualize complex processes, abstract contents, and inaccessible phenomena. Katharina Scheiter cites two examples from the natural sciences: “With VR glasses, you can travel to Mars or look inside an atom.” A walk through Ancient Rome in history class or sculptural painting in virtual reality are also conceivable, as is already being practiced in art teacher training in Potsdam.

Preparing for a life in the digital world

However, all work at the Kompetenzverbund lernen:digital always proceeds from the question: What is good teaching, and how can digital media help to implement it? Prof. Scheiter knows that media should not exclusively be understood as learning tools. “We should think in a much wider sense about the educational goals of schools in terms of digitality. It is about preparing for life in a digital world and teaching how to study and learn with the help of digital tools. The respective subjects whose content we teach have also changed due to digitalization. As a result, the way we teach them should change as well.

The network is based on this holistic understanding, which aims to tap into all the knowledge on the use of digital media in the classroom that is being developed at the many German universities and research institutions and to make this knowledge usable for teachers. This is why the network has been divided thematically into four competence centers, which were gradually launched in 2023: The first center deals with mathematics, computer science, natural sciences, and technology, the second with languages, social sciences, and economics, the third with music, art, and sport and the fourth with school development. The task of the competence centers is to develop effective methods for the digitization-related professional development of in-service teachers, but also for the entire digital transformation at schools. Hundreds of professorial chairs and research groups throughout Germany are involved, some of them in several projects.

The expertise of researchers from Potsdam contributes to the work of three of the four competence centers. They are involved in five different project networks, two of which are coordinated from Potsdam. One is called KISS-Pro and deals with “Artificial Intelligence in Speech and Writing”. Educational researcher Prof. Dr. Katrin Böhme coordinates KISS-Pro. A second project network coordinated at the University of Potsdam aims to make so-called STEM teachers digitally fit, i.e., teachers in the scientific subjects of chemistry, mathematics, biology, physics, and computer science. This is why all science didactics departments and the Department of Education are involved in Potsdam. Like mathematics didactics expert Prof. Dr. Ulrich Kortenkamp, who is developing research-based training modules for digitally supported teaching together with his team and partners. “

Specifically, this is a basic module on coherent lesson planning with and for digital tools, which we are developing together with the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education in Kiel and TU Dortmund University,” he says. “On the other hand, we are developing an in-depth module on arguing and communicating with digital tools in geometry here in Potsdam.” An exemplary learning environment has already been created and piloted in seventh grade classes in Brandenburg. The next step is to develop a suitable self-learning module.

Together with other Potsdam researchers, Prof. Dr. Isolde Malmberg is involved in the DigiProSMK network. “We are developing modules for the further training of music teachers, primarily for Berlin and Brandenburg but also beyond,” says the musicologist. “Everything revolves around a contemporary way of teaching music, art, sports, and film with and about digital media. For example, making music with interfaces, inventing music in current genres, the critical and responsible use of social media and AI or AI in film music, art or inventing music in VR and AR.”

Pooling results and putting them into practice

The Potsdam-based networking and transfer office, which is unique in Germany, will pool all innovations and “get them on the road”. It will support the competence centers in their work, bring them into contact with each other, and bundle their results for transfer into educational practice. “This requires close cooperation with school authorities and state institutions, stakeholders in education policy and administration,” Scheiter says. “We cannot train hundreds of thousands of teachers,” explains the digitalization expert. "That is beyond our capacities – and it is not our job. For the nationwide transfer, we rather address those who offer further training, for example at state institutes. These are the ones we prepare and empower.” Scheiter announces that the required knowledge will be made available and ready for use on a nationwide digital platform established by the federal states. “In this way, we can ensure that our findings do not waste away on platforms far from practice but reach schools directly via the broad qualification of teachers by the state institutes and that they become firmly anchored in the entire education system.”

Bringing things into practice is also particularly important to mathematics didactics expert Kortenkamp. “Fortunately, in mathematics we can draw on the systemic work on professionalization networks at the German Centre for Mathematics Teacher Education (DZLM). So, our products are integrated into the QuaMath project initiated by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Laender,” he says. As a result, the further training courses for mathematics could be fed into the training systems of the federal states nationwide via a network of almost 400 multipliers and thus reach up to 10,000 schools over the next few years. “At the same time, we are trying to learn from this project for the network and establish similar subject-related structures in other STEM subjects. This is a long process – the DZLM had a lead of over ten years to prepare for this.”

The Researchers

Prof. Dr. Katharina Scheiter has been Professor for Digital Education at the University of Potsdam since 2022, funded by the Hasso Plattner Foundation.
Email: katharina.scheiteruni-potsdamde

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Kortenkamp has been Professor for Didactics of Mathematics at the University of Potsdam since 2014.
Email: ulrich.kortenkampuni-potsdamde

The Project

The Kompetenzverbund lernen:digital shapes the dialog between science and practice for the digital transformation of schools and teacher training. Its networking and transfer office, which is coordinated by the University of Potsdam, forms the umbrella for the four competence centers, which combine the research on different subject groups. The first center deals with mathematics, computer science, natural sciences, and technology, the second with languages, social sciences, and economics, the third with music, art, and sport and the fourth with school development in the field of digitalization. The task of the centers is to develop innovative and effective methods for the digitization-related professionalization of teachers and for the digital transformation of schools.


Potsdam Researchers Involved in Kompetenzverbund lernen:digital

The expertise of researchers from Potsdam contributes to the work of three of the four competence centers. Prof. Dr. Vera Kirchner, for example, works in the project “Wirtschaftspädagogik und Ökonomische Bildung: Lehrkräftebildung und Unterricht digital (WÖRLD)“, which belongs to the competence center Languages, Society, and Economy. The network KISS-Pro, which looks at “artificial intelligence in speech and writing” and is intended to develop “professionalization concepts for and perspectives on the use of AI-based feedback systems and writing agents for language learning in schools”, is also part of this center. Several researchers of the structural unit Educational Sciences are involved in this network, which is coordinated by Potsdam education scientist Prof. Dr. Katrin Böhme. The network DigiProSMK is a part of the competence center Music, Art, and Sports and researches “the digitization-related and digitally supported professionalization of teachers”. Prof. Dr. Andreas Brenne, Prof. Dr. Esther Pürgstaller, and Prof. Dr. Isolde Malmberg from the University of Potsdam participate in this network. The network DigiProMIN is part of the competence center STEM and deals with “the digitization-related and digitally supported professionalization of STEM teachers”. The network as well as the transfer office are coordinated by Prof. Dr. Katharina Scheiter. Professors of all fields of natural science didactics and the department of Education Science are involved in this network. The teams of Prof. Dr. Dirk Richter and Prof. Dr. Andreas Borowski work in the network D4MINT that is to develop “didactic double-deckers for digital education in STEM subjects”.

Participating: Prof. Dr. Vera Kirchner

Participating: Prof. Dr. Katrin Böhme, Prof. Dr. Rebecca Lazarides, Prof. Dr. Steve Nebel

Participating: Prof. Dr. Andreas Brenne, Prof. Dr. Isolde Malmberg, Prof. Dr. Steve Nebel, Jun.-Prof. Dr. Esther Pürgstaller

Participating: Prof. Dr. Katharina Scheiter, Prof. Dr. Amitabh Banerji, Prof. Dr. Andreas Borowski, Prof. Dr. Ulrich Kortenkamp, Prof. Dr. Rebecca Lazarides, Prof. Dr. Ulrike Lucke, Prof. Dr. Helmut Prechtl, Prof. Dirk Richter

Participating: Prof. Dr. Dirk Richter, Prof. Dr. Andreas Borowski


This text was published in the university magazine Portal Wissen - Eins 2024 „Bildung:digital“ (PDF).