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The Serlo Story

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on 2015-06-18 by

'Serlo' is a small, beautifully situated buddhist monastery school in the Nepalese Himalaya Mountains. In April 2009 Simon Köhl – then a college student – visited Serlo and saw that, due to donations, the monastery school even had computers and internet access but there was a serious lack of good learning materials. This experience triggered the idea to develop a learning platform based on the role model of Wikipedia. Later the platform was named ‘Serlo’ after the monastery.

The idea that all explanations and exercises should be available for everyoneat one place, simple to discover and free of cost, originated from the belief that good education is the key to solving many problems in the world. By translation of existing materials it would be possible to make topics like mathematics or foreign languages accessible to many people. Following its role model Wikipedia, Serlo was designed from the beginning on as an organization of vlunteers with a core of professionals social entrepreneurs.

Starting with mathematics, first requirements were written down and by the end of 2009 an initial concept was developed. An important element was developing exercises with step by step solutions which included comprehensive explanations and links to articles explaining mathematical topics. By linking exercises with articles it was also thought possible to apply theory instantly into practice. In order to give orientation to pupils, the exercises had to be associated with curricula. This provided students with the tools to repeat topics on a regular basis and for mutual help like posing one another questions. The system was designed to be a wiki, so that users could contribute and share ideas and experiences.

On the 25.02.2010 an association (Serlo Eudcation e. V.) was formed and one of the founding members was the school student and web developer Aeneas Rekkas, who, together with Simon Köhl, has made up the the core of the project team ever since. Most team members in the early days were pupils and students. Though they did not know each other before, they committed themselves to the project without payment. Some of them took semesters on leave to become full time volunteers, while others contributed parallel to their studies. By 2013 a prototype of the Serlo platform was developed and in April 2014 a new version which was more flexible was launched. Since then hundreds of articles and thousands of exercises were written, downturns had to be mastered and milestones were celebrated. Today serlo is, like Khan Academy, one of the few platforms which offer a comprehensive collection of open resources without advertisement.

Since then the young team developed significantly, becoming part of the OER movement and engaged in social entrepreneurship. In order to develop a rich network, team members did a lot of travelling and participated in many events like the first German OER conference in Berlin 2013. Roles in editing, organization and software development started to emerge. Serlo also organizes biannual ‘academies’ which run for one month and offer up to 15 students the opportunity to generate OER, learn about open licenses and participate in a rich framework programme. Since it became more and more impossible to rely exclusively on volunteers, external financing through foundations, scholarships and donations has been acquired. Since 2013 Serlo has its office with three employees at the Ludwig Maximilians Universität in the heart of Munich, cooperating closely with local partner schools.

Today Serlo is the biggest German OER initiative. It offers 7000 easily understandable articles, exercises, step by step solutions, videos and courses primarily in the field of mathematics and with a growing offer for natural science, applied sustainability, computer science and literacy. Serlo is used by more than 350.000 German students each month. What started as a student project is now a professional organization with a rich network which aims at becoming an international learning platform within the next years. The team remains committed to using open education to contribute to a more just, open and diverse world and welcomes hearing from anyone who shares this vision.

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