The German government has announced a new spending initiative aimed at making Germany a world leader in the development of educational software. During the next 5 years, 400 million DM (200 million US$) of Public Funding will support so-called edutainment projects at universities, publishing houses, museums, and media agencies. As the fledgling industry grows, young academics with experience in teaching, science, and multimedia will likely find themselves in great demand.
Germany's goal is to become a global leader in the field of educational software within the next 5 years, said science minister Edelgard Bulmahn, who announced the program, "New Media in Education," 2 weeks ago in Berlin. The science minister added, "PC-aided learning has to become the normal case, no matter whether in English, Math, Biology, or Geography. For that reason we need good learning software urgently." The funding program is part of the German government's initiative "Innovation and Jobs for the 21st Century" and will be administered by the GMD , Germany's National Research Center for Information Technology.
"This funding initiative really makes sense, and it comes at the right time, too," says Uta Zorn, director of the multimedia section of Cornelsen, a major textbook publishing house. In the past, publishing houses hesitated to enter this market because educational software products are usually expensive to develop. "They simply didn't pay off too well," says Zorn. But the infusion of government funding has eased the financial pressure. "We can now use our know-how and develop learning software at a completely different pace," Zorn tells Next Wave.
As the programs grow, and hopefully become profitable, the edutainment field will need an increasing number of highly creative staff. "The branch is definitely growing now," agrees Zorn. To play this game, however, scientists will have to develop a wide range of nonresearch skills. "Beside your insight into scientific and multimedia concepts, you also need a distinct talent for teaching," says Zorn.
Scientists who have the necessary skills find the work extremely rewarding. "It's probably the great variety of tasks that I appreciate most in my job," says Georg Pickers, a script manager at Cornelsen. A physicist by training, Pickers now heads a team of pedagogues, programmers, and graphic designers. "Multimedia only works teamwise," says Pickers. And the expertise of every team member is valuable. "To refine a script into the final multimedia application, you will have to transform scientific and educational concepts into a language of graphics and computation," explains Pickers.
Although a science background can prepare people for many different careers in the new branch--scientists work as software developers, scientific project advisors, and multimedia editors--just a Ph.D. won't get you a job. "Some sort of project experience is really crucial," Zorn says. "Try to get an internship at a multimedia agency or even communicate your graduation thesis with multimedia tools," she advises. Clearly, certificates and grades are not everything: "Who knows how to do it--and proves it--gets the job," Pickers tells Next Wave.