An introduction to LDE-CEL PhD-projects


As part of its renewed focus on Research on Digital Education, the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Education and Learning (LDE-CEL) currently comprises nine PhD-students. In the upcoming months, we’ll introduce the researchers and their projects. Now, director Marcus Specht explains the how and why of the shift in focus towards Digital Education.

‘There are many examples of outstanding digital education and learning at the LDE universities,’ says Marcus Specht, director of LDE-CEL. ‘But what is excellent right now, may not be so anymore in five years. We must recognise that there is a changing environment that we need to learn from.’ For one, companies have changing requirements, demanding new skill sets – interdisciplinary skills, social skills, you name it. On top of that, the COVID pandemic has laid bare some serious limitations of the traditional broadcast approach to education. Specht: ‘Current solutions often offer little feedback options, no interaction, no way to ask questions. There are much more interesting and innovative ways to provide digital education, such that people won’t succumb to Zoom-fatigue. But rather than yet again adopting a new cool piece of technology, such as virtual reality, we need to go about this in a structured way. Starting at the base, which is research.’

A design process
‘In industry, new solutions come to life through fundamental research, followed by evidence-based cycles of prototyping, product release and the evaluation of customer happiness,’ Specht says. ‘Compared to that, education may appear to be a huge field of trial and error. We think education warrants the same rigorous design process.’ Each of the three LDE-universities already houses one or more centres aimed at educational innovation and teacher professionalisation. ‘It is not so much a lack of drive, but rather a lack of means to do the fundamental research that serves as a basis for iteratively improving education,’ Specht says. ‘It is the aim of LDE-CEL to help fill this gap. We do this in a systematic way, making the evidence exchangeable. The experiments run in Leiden can be used in Delft and Rotterdam, and vice versa.’

Nine PhD-students
LDE-CEL currently houses nine ongoing research projects, co-supervised by professors from each of the three universities. About half of the PhD students have a background in social and educational sciences, the other half in computer and engineering sciences, and one in management science. The core of their research is university teaching, with some bridges towards pre-university and post-university education that will also be explored. ‘There are other centres worldwide that have a similar setup,’ Specht says. ‘But our unique quality is that we are embedded in three universities, it’s a huge playground and a source of experience.’ The nine PhD-students are only the beginning, as LDE-CEL is scaling up, getting more professors on board and building a network on different levels. ‘In September, we will also start a new minor in for students from teacher education, educational technologies, and management sciences tracks. These minor students will work on educational challenges submitted by any LDE faculty.’

Digitalisation is key
Over the next few months, when we present the ongoing PhD-projects, you will notice all of these to focus on understanding the role ICT and digitalisation in designing educational solutions. ‘Datafication plays a two-fold role,’ Specht says. ‘In online classes, it is the basis for providing enhanced feedback to students who will need to rely on their self-regulation and self-monitoring skills. But it also is the feedstock for intelligent educational solutions based on AI.’ You will also see projects aimed at increasing digital skills, or that explore the use of augmented and virtual reality. Specht: ‘We are not aiming to introduce these technologies no matter what. It’s a back and forth of shaping the media – trying to see what works and what doesn’t, linking back to the original research questions and hypotheses of the impact of these tools.’

And sometimes, research at LDE-CEL is about trying out something radical, such as building educational prototypes as Holograms. So, keep your eyes out for our upcoming feature stories!