bookmark_borderHybrid Teaching 101 Goes Startnext

In the last couple of months, Corona has turned the world upside down. Or better say from outside to inside, and suddenly we found ourselves as part of an experiment in remote work and digital teaching, which neither of us had fully anticipated, nor schools or universities would have agreed to if proposed.

Before Corona, using digital tools for teaching was an optional addendum to in-person classes and lectures: nice to have, but not essential. But then suddenly, digital teaching and learning became the only mode that schools and universities operated for weeks. By now, more and more of the social distancing restrictions are slowly lifted, and face-to-face meetings become feasible again, but teaching will have changed forever.

Going Beyond Self-Publishing

At the end of June, I met Tim Kantereit (@herr_ka_punkt) on Twitter: teacher, blogger, podcaster, and organizer of the book sprint “Hybrid Teaching 101”. Jointly with 33 teachers and digital education enthusiasts throughout Germany, he has written an entire book on hybrid teaching during and after Corona — and I am really proud that he chose Visual Ink Publishing to publish his book. It is our second #VIP project, and you can download a free copy under the CC-BY-SA license from our website (German only)

At first, digital teaching may seem unfamiliar to many, lacking feedback once everyone’s Zoom video is turned off. Let alone choosing a conferencing platform in the first place that abides by all privacy requirements. And when the meeting is all set up, there are numerous challenges for successfully transferring knowledge and relating to a course held entirely online.

How do I build a strong relationship with my students also digitally?

How do I motivate them in a digital learning setup?

How can I leverage the potential of both in-person meetings and digital tools?

The book offers various examples and impulses on how these questions can be answered in practice. It is also an invitation to develop ideas yourself and implement them early on in your teaching career. While it’s mostly targeted at young and aspiring teachers, also senior teachers will gain fresh impetus.

Starting with the Crowd

We released the ebook on Saturday, June 27, 2020, in the morning, free to download as a PDF from the VIP website and on Apple books. Around noon Tim wrote to me that his Twitter was exploding, and by the evening, our release tweet had been liked and retweeted more than 200 times!

Within a few days, that number increased beyond 500 times, our book being downloaded several thousand times and becoming the fourth most downloaded free ebook on Apple books for a moment in time.

At this point, we realized that we were on to something exciting and huge. Within a few days, Tim and I came up with a pitch video, set up a crowdfunding campaign on Startnext, and hit the start button just five days after the ebook release.

And the campaign took off. After three days of crowdfunding, we had reached one-third of our anticipated funding and gathered 30+ backers. Now, after just ten days, we have surpassed our first crowdfunding goal of €2000, and it’s now time to say Thank You! for all the amazing support we have received.

As for any project, the start is subject to lots of uncertainties, and at first, Tim and I weren’t entirely confident whether crowdfunding would be the way to go. Especially since the ebook version is still and will forever be free to download as creative commons.

And that’s exactly why we were amazed and grateful for so many people supporting our campaign, which will now give us the chance to print the first edition both as softcover and hardcover at the manufacturing costs. Our goal with this is to reach out to those who are not yet acquainted with digital teaching. But who would like to get a first impression and prefer having a printed book right in their hands.


Reaching the first crowdfunding goal is just the beginning. At this point, our campaign has been converted into a flexible campaign, which means that all additional funding will reach us no matter whether we arrive at our second crowdfunding goal. But the more pre-orders we receive, the larger the first edition that we can print, which will help us offer the book at a more attractive price even for the long-term: more books printed =fewer printing costs per book.

Therefore, please keep sharing the link to our Crowdfunding campaign and tell others about this book project. Together we can inspire much more people within Germany and beyond to leverage the potential of digital teaching.

Some final words

This is the first time I am running a crowdfunding campaign myself, and I am super excited about how it is going so far. I will update this post after the campaign and share more of our experiences.

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bookmark_borderA Game-Changer for Future Education

Early study sometimes sounds too good to be true. So there are pupils who want to learn something of their own accord, who attend lectures at a university in their free time, and who voluntarily even take written examinations. Where can you find pupils like that?! The picture that most teachers in Germany have of their school class on Monday mornings definitely looks different.

Who would have thought that pupils, besides all the workload for school, would be able to coordinate the attendance of a lecture on their own? Who would have thought that they could manage to follow a lecture when they still lack so many basics from the lessons of the upper grades? And who would have thought that some pupils do university exams even better than normal students?

Hardly anyone would have imagined before early study became reality. And yet, early students always surprise us in the way they use early study to pursue their interests and get further than we ever thought possible. Early study shows how much potential pupils bear, which often does not show up at school, but which can be developed in early study if the right support is provided.

In the context of this book, the question was raised as to what it would be like if more pupils were participating in early study and benefit from its advantages such as promotion of interests, study orientation, or even personal development. But this question can be turned around just as well: How would it be if we made education at school a little more like early study? A little more free, a little more individual, a little more diverse. What would it be like if more pupils had similar learning conditions as those currently reserved for early students?

A large part of the enthusiasm for early study comes precisely from the fact that early students are free to choose their lectures. To finally learn what they had always wanted to learn. To learn something on your own and not because you have to write an exam. So how would it be if there were more freedom at school to decide for yourself what you want to learn, what interests and inspires you?

Many teachers feel (rightly so!) overburdened with the task of supporting pupils individually; a Herculean task, given the current educational structures, which are based on fixed schedules, segregated classes, and rigid curricula. How can lessons be designed individually for classes with more than 20 pupils? How about instead creating offers, for example, lectures, seminars, and courses, or even self-study offers such as at the university library, with books, online courses, or in learning groups, and then letting pupils choose from these offers themselves?

Early students sometimes pass exams better than normal students, not only because they attend lectures out of their own interest, but also because they decide to take the exam themselves and voluntarily, and because they know that they can retake the exam at any time when they study later. This eliminates a lot of pressure and exam anxiety, and they can concentrate more on the actual learning material and what is interesting about it. So how useful is the concept of the “final failure of an examination” at German universities? Are we talking about lifelong learning and about helping people advance in their education? Or are we concerned with saving the time and money needed to correct an additional exam?

How meaningful is it, in fact, that exams assign a grade to a topic, unchangeably, fixed forever and ever, with no room for improvement or additional learning? How do we want to motivate people that way to deal with a topic again and improve their own performance if there is only one chance?

Last but not least, early students profit immensely from contact with older fellow students, to ask them questions, learn about their environment and thus develop personally. They come into contact with very different life stories: Some of their fellow students started their studies right after school and are only a few years older. Others have already completed an apprenticeship, work alongside their studies or have already started a family. And from all of them, they can learn different things and take experiences with them. So how sensible is it to have a strict age division in school classes that primarily include people of the same age? Is it not possible to learn something from and with people of different ages? Can’t younger people develop further through contact with older people than by always comparing themselves with their age group? And can’t older people also learn something from younger people, for example about trends that have not yet arrived in their “old” age group? Why not form learning groups according to interest, regardless of age and school class?

Early study creates different structures and freedoms than we are used to at school or even at university. You are free to choose the lectures you want to attend, you can take exams as often as you like and you come into contact with students of different age, all of whom have a certain basic interest in their course of study. Of course, early students first have to learn to deal with these freedoms. But then early study also has an enormously positive influence, not only helping to orientate pupils towards their studies, but also motivating them to learn new things on their own, encouraging them to give their best and helping them to develop themselves.

At present, early study — like many measures to promote gifted students — reaches the country’s educational elite, to put it boldly, privileged children from academic families. How would it be if even more pupils could benefit from the advantages of early study, not only by participating but above all by transforming educational structures in such a way that more pupils can develop their potential and learn what they have always wanted to learn?

So far, we have concentrated primarily on labeling committed students as gifted (giftedness recognition) and providing targeted support for these chosen students (giftedness promotion). Bravo! What about creating an environment in which pupils can develop their talents as the next step? We should not wait until highly gifted students just pop up, but rather create a framework for gifted students to develop.

Early study is a first step towards a more liberal education system that values lifelong learning as a continuous process that never comes to stop by exams and degrees, but on the contrary, is encouraged by constant genuine feedback. It shows how much potential there is in pupils, and suggests that there is much more potential hidden in countless other pupils who cannot participate in early study. How about giving this potential a chance? What if school were a little more like early study?

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bookmark_borderFrom Classroom into Lecture Hall

20 Years of Early Study in Germany

In 1999, one of the most exciting experiments in the modern promotion of gifted children launched in Germany: Pupils in the upper grades of high school were given the opportunity to attend beginner’s lectures in mathematics even before they had covered the basics in school lessons.

They would attend lectures during school hours together with regular students who would be at least three to five years older. They would be enrolled as early students and thus would have the chance to take part in real university exams. And they would be able to have these credited for later studies if they passed. The idea of early study was born: higher education studies before high school graduation.

A Success Story

What began as an experiment at some universities established itself soon after as a permanent program in the course catalog and its success inspired universities all over Germany to offer early study on their own. Nowadays, around 2,000 pupils take part in early study every semester — from grades 7–13 at over 60 different universities throughout Germany. The range of subjects on offer has also expanded significantly from STEM subjects to linguistics and humanities, as more and more departments began to open up their lectures to early students.

This way, early students get to know everyday life at university from an early stage. They can get insights into different courses of study, pursue their interests, exchange ideas with other students, gain experience and prepare for later studies. In addition, they can voluntarily take part in the examinations at the end of the semester and — if they pass — have them credited for later studies.

Early study also offers a whole range of advantages for schools and universities: Early students can contribute their acquired knowledge during lessons and help their fellow pupils with questions — teachers are thus relieved when it comes to promoting gifted students. Early study can also introduce students to university at an early stage, motivate them to study later on and, as a form of study orientation, reduce the dropout rate.

Studying Physics at Age 15

I had always listened in awe when other pupils told me about these legendary early students, who apparently managed to attend lectures at university in addition to all of their work for school. It was quite impressive and therefore I got really excited, when teachers approached me, at the end of the 9th grade, whether I would be interested in taking part in early study myself. Back then I had just turned 15 years old.

In the following, I had the privilege of participating in early study at TU Dresden in the field of physics for three years, from the beginning of the 10th grade in 2012 until the Abitur (German A-Levels) in 2015. It all began with attending the lecture ‘Experimental Physics I’ in the first semester, where I had also the good fortune to meet the lecturer, Professor Lukas Eng, who became my mentor on part of the university.

After I had passed the exam for his lecture ‘Experimental Physics I’, I continued with early study in the following semesters and was exempted from school each semester for taking exactly one course. However, I soon noticed that the other students were attending many more interesting lectures, so I started to follow up also on other lectures, learned the material myself, asked my fellow students to share their notes, solved the exercise sheets on my own, and finally took the exams — without ever having attended the corresponding lectures, seminars or tutorials.

This way I passed my Abitur in spring 2015, wrote my Bachelor thesis at the Institute of Applied Physics during summer, defended it in autumn 2015, and started with my Master’s studies in physics.

I definitely did not begin early study with the goal of completing my Bachelor’s degree in physics alongside school. Rather, it had turned out that way over time — through my interest in physics and through the great support of my high school, the TU Dresden, my classmates and fellow students, and last but not least my friends and family.

Above all, early study is a great program to get to know life at university and to get insights into different fields of study. Of course, it also offers the possibility to speed up your later studies, but first and foremost, it is a chance to get a glimpse into the world of knowledge beyond the school curriculum – already as a pupil.

This is why I would like to see more pupils being able to take advantage of this opportunity and more teachers and schools supporting them in their early study — without the pressure of having to take an exam; without the fear of ruining their high school degree; simply out of interest and curiosity. That is exactly why I wrote a book about early study, the program in general, and my personal experiences.

Sitting on a Magenta Sofa

During my research for this book project, I contacted the Deutsche Telekom Stiftung (German Telekom Foundation) in September 2017. The foundation had supported early study in Germany for ten years until 2014, commissioned a major study dedicated to it in 2007, and conducted a survey in 2012. So if anyone should have an overview of early study it was the Deutsche Telekom Stiftung.

My inquiry was met with positive resonance, and two months later I’m sitting on a magenta-colored sofa in the main building of the Deutsche Telekom Stiftung in Bonn, talking about the book project. In fact, the Deutsche Telekom Stiftung had largely withdrawn from the project in 2014 after the end of its financial commitment. However, it would be interesting to know how the program has developed since then.

In January 2018, I finally received green light: The Deutsche Telekom Stiftung had decided to conduct a third large-scale survey on early study and therewith also support my book project. That was simply amazing! While the Deutsche Telekom Stiftung did their survey in the summer of 2018, at the time I was interviewing more than 20 early students about their experiences. What came out is not only the first book on early study but also an up-to-date overview of early study in Germany. Therefore I would like to kindly thank the Deutsche Telekom Stiftung for their support.

Perspectives for Early Study

The survey shows that circumstances never were better for studying early. But while the number of universities participating in the program kept increasing even the last couple of years, the overall number of early students stagnated at around 2.000 per semester throughout Germany and the average number per university declined slightly. Even today, when I talk to people, many are not aware of this opportunity. Especially teachers, classmates, and parents are the most important multipliers when it comes to promoting early study, and of course, pupils themselves should know about this opportunity, to consider giving it a try.

Early study is a lean way involving low organizational effort to support pupils individually in their education. No additional courses need to be organized. It significantly reduces the dropout rate within first-degree studies. And it promotes pupil’s interest and personal development. By now, early study celebrates its 20th anniversary in Germany and by telling others about this program, we can continue this success story and help pupils make the most out of their education during the early stages.

Overview by the Deutsche Telekom Stiftung (German and English)

The first book about early study (German only)

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