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Since its inception 2007, Leuphana College has invited students to start their  first-year with an interdisciplinary case study to get to know both their new learning environment and their fellow students in a result-driven (and yes: competitive) intellectual challenge. This year’s topic “Future. City. Life!” centered on urban design and planning in the face of demographic change, digitalization of culture and shrinking natural habitats. To solve the case study, the City Planning Council of the fictional European township of Leinwig (somewhat closely modeled on Lüneburg) has to be presented with an action plan for future urban development.

I have participated in this format for a number of years, and unlike the incoming students was acutely aware of a number of innovations: Not only did the topic relate closely to the MOOC “Think Tank Cities” taught earlier in the year at Leuphana’s Digital School, but the same MOOC platform was used to conduct the on-campus case study – a European first, as far as I can tell.  Moreover, the entire presentation layer (keynote speeches, case study briefings and data, student contributions, opening and closing ceremonies, administrative support) were conducted in English due to the fact that a number of international scholars, professional experts and guests were participating.

Three the student-created films were awarded prizes in the Friday ceremony. The event itself is largely organised by second- and third-year students.

Three the student-created films were awarded prizes in the Friday ceremony. The event itself is largely organised by second- and third-year students.

While I enjoyed the preparation and looke forward to teaching one cohort of about 800 students (half the total Class of 2016), I confess to being skeptical about some of the didactic aspects as recently as a couple of weeks ago. The majority of the incoming students are completely new to academic learning, and to confront them with a triple challenge of a case study, a foreign language and a Learning Management System optimized for MOOC formats seemed daunting: Would the problems of an ageing society be able to keep everyone focused for a week of hard work? Would student language skills suffice to comprehend complex introductory lectures into urban planning and to develop innovative solutions? Would the software and the campus infrastructure withstand the concurrent access of 2.000 users?

In spite of these uncertainties, that gave the event an experimental flair, it turned out to be an unmitigated success for all involved. Don’t take my word for it, you can watch a compressed account of the entire week below.


The students were divided into working groups of fifteen, each of which had to come up with an idea for urban design in Leinwig and then present it in an engaging short film of no more than 90 seconds to the City Planning Council, i.e. the jury. This dual excercise in urban planning and digital storytelling yielded 118 short films of an overall astounding quality, watch the three winning entries below.

Grand Prize Winner 2013:


EU Special Prize Winner 2013:


Audience Award Winner 2013:


Congratulations to the winners, and equally to all student teams who have worked hard to submit a project film. I was impressed with the creativity and energy on display during this week. Have a great first semester!