The Architect of a National Education Platform – Prof. Ulrike Lucke

For many years, Prof. Ulrike Lucke has been a sought-after expert in the field, is a member of the board and spokesperson for numerous committees, gives lectures and publishes scientific articles. Since the coronavirus pandemic, things have changed. Suddenly, a topic that she has been researching for more than 20 years, but which was previously treated as a marginal issue in politics and society, has come into the limelight: E-learning.

Our conversation takes place via zoom. She has 55 minutes, explains Prof. Ulrike Lucke, then she has to go to her next appointment, a conference. As a professor of Complex Multimedia Application Architectures, her research focuses on e-learning and the question of how digital infrastructures must be designed to enable multimedia learning with digital devices.

E-learning and the missed opportunities

Of course, she is pleased that so much attention is now being paid to this topic. On the other hand, she is also a little disappointed. “The opportunities were there early on. These are topics that have been discussed for decades. Now we are embarking on a hair-splitting digitalisation course. The topic was simply slept through”, is the sobering conclusion of the computer science professor. “It has caught everyone a bit cold. Teachers. Politicians. Then in 2020, when suddenly everyone was to be made fit for media, it was definitely too late”, says Prof. Lucke.

Missed opportunities are the impression Prof. Lucke has had again and again in recent years. After all, digital applications have come on leaps and bounds in the last ten to 15 years: The smartphone replaced conventional mobile phones, social media portals grew, virtual reality became marketable. At the same time, however, education has come to a standstill and is lagging behind: “Tools were exchanged, programming languages came and went. This fast pace is not frightening, but part of our field”, says Prof. Lucke. “In many places, however, little has happened, especially in e-learning. I have seen that research advances have mostly not made it into practice. That makes me sad.” But that is just the role of science, she says, looking at the situation pragmatically: “I see the role of science as showing society what is possible. I can show what options there are for action. The decisions are made by others.”

Building a national education platform

The fact that it is time to act has now also been recognised by politicians in the pandemic. And they are relying on Prof. Ulrike Lucke as an expert in digital education. She is to coordinate the “Bildungsraum digital” project, or BIRD for short, from 1 April. The goal is to build a digital education platform that pools and networks all platforms and services from all areas of education. The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). In addition to the University of Potsdam, the DAAD, the TU Berlin, the GWDG Göttingen and the University of Magdeburg are among the project’s stakeholders.

Prof. Lucke explains her approach as follows: “We want to respect the autonomy of the individual systems and network them in the background. You can compare this well with a city – each has its own network; there are many vehicle manufacturers with different models. But the roads are the element that carries everything. It’s similar with the national education platform.” Her wish would be that at some point, for example, it would be very easy to collect credit points at one university, which would then be immediately in the system at another university: “Without having to stamp them, type them, show them somewhere else, have them checked and so on”, says Prof. Lucke.

An impressive career at the University of Potsdam

Looking at Ulrike Lucke’s unique career, building a national education platform seems like the logical next step for an incredibly passionate and go-getting scientist. Ulrike Lucke has been a professor at the University of Potsdam since 2010. Since then, she has built up and advanced a lot. Until 2014, she was the spokesperson for the e-learning section of the Gesellschaft für Informatik [German Informatics Society], was then an elected member of the executive committee and has now been vice-president since 2020. She was a member of the board of the Konrad Zuse Society, is a founding member and was deputy chair of the Hochschul-CIO e.V. until 2021, was Chief Information Officer at the University of Potsdam for eight years and executive director of the Institute for Computer Science and Computational Science for four years.

She divides her research into three main areas. “The first is classical teaching scenarios. This raises the question: How can we use technology to support education – be it via virtual reality, apps or other multimedia applications?”, explains Prof. Lucke. Through coronavirus, the demand for this has increased greatly. The second focus is the technological infrastructure in which the teaching scenarios are embedded: “Who communicates with whom? How must users and data be managed? We are looking at this on an institutional level. We’re not talking about a classroom, but a whole school or university, even across the board.” And then, thirdly, there is the social component. Prof. Lucke: “With technologies, we also change social structures. For example, it’s about the competences of communities, pupils, teachers, but also about ethical questions: What can and what do we even want to change?”.

New impulses through the move to the Potsdam Science Park

In addition to her work on the national project “Bildungsraum digital”, her position as professor of research and participation in committees, Prof. Ulrike Lucke is still in the middle of a move. The entire Institute for Computer Science and Computational Science has had a new building in the Potsdam Science Park in Potsdam-Golm since the beginning of the year. The new location has many advantages for the computer science professor: “What I find exciting is that we are surrounded by institutes of other sciences. Here, for example, we have chemists, biologists and material scientists and, what is particularly interesting for me, educational scientists”, says Prof. Lucke. So she hopes for new impulses: “We want to serve diversity. We want to build bridges to other disciplines. The density of research at the Potsdam Science Park is very high. I’m looking forward to meeting new and exciting people. The spatial proximity creates connections. And that’s how research works: discovering new paths and possibilities through diversity – that’s what creates inspiration and makes science fruitful.”

This blog and the projects of Standortmanagement Golm GmbH in the Potsdam Science Park are funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the State of Brandenburg.

Photo 1: Prof. Dr. Ulrike Lucke © Ernst Kaszynski