How SRH Berlin is moving away from the traditional curriculum model
Photo taken by Lars Roth
In 2009, Robert Lingnau, along with three academic colleagues at that time, had the chance to develop and found a school that is now the School of Popular Arts (SOPA) within the SRH Berlin University of Applied Sciences. Beginning as a small institution with 24 students and two degree programs, the school now has about 750 students in the area of cultural and creative industries, and the SRH Berlin University has about 2500 students in total from 100 nations.

"I wanted to develop a realistic and contemporary approach to how music production was handled with a focus on popular music," he explains, talking about how while Germany has a lot of degrees geared towards classical music and jazz, there is still a palpable lack of emphasis on popular music.

A key feature of an SRH education is that the institution constantly adapts their curriculum. The students play a big part in this: a mandatory survey is done every two years by professors, who are also required to reflect on their own study programs, where the young musicians give their feedback on each course.
Perhaps one of the most significant changes was introduced one and a half years ago. Usually, most European universities have a semester system, where you have a certain number of classes that last throughout the entire duration of the semester. SRH, however, constructed five-week blocks instead, while maintaining some modules for a 15-week period where it seems necessary. On top of that, most blocks have a practical goal tied to the theoretical foundation of the course material, so that the students can apply the new knowledge to practice.

This approach — Competency-Oriented Research and Education (CORE) — also helps the professors in preparing their lessons to be more effective. "From that goal point, you go backwards and constructively align the content of the class that is necessary to reach that goal," Robert says.

The goals are self-explanatory most of the time. For instance, if you're taking a songwriting class, the end product would be a finished song. On the other hand, there are a plethora of them — if traditionally you would have homework and an aural exam, at SRH Berlin you have 48 assignment types that lecturers can choose from depending on the specific needs of the module.

Looking back on his six-year studies at Amsterdam University of the Arts, Robert remembers only one workshop, Arts in Practice, discussing "how to put your competences on the market" and being ready to apply your "rent-paying skills" in real life. "I didn't even feel that one class of vocational or business preparation was not enough — I was gladly taking what they were offering," he smiles. Times have changed since then in popular music oriented study programs, which is why the professor places such a heavy emphasis on the importance of the practical goals and projects that he helped build into the programs at SRH.
Photo of Robert Lingnau
On top of that, the school offers weekly workshops with external professionals that also cover commercial aspects of the music industry, and each student has the opportunity to individually choose from around 100 of them. When it comes to job opportunities, SRH has a specific career service that helps in developing ideas of what you want to do after college and takes care of the internships (or a semester abroad), which are mandatory.

In case the completion of goals every five weeks isn't enough of competence-based learning, there are also practical projects that musicians do during electives. Right now, for example, one class is doing an online adaptation of a TV show, while one of Robert's classes is evaluating methods of time management in creative jobs that serve students' individual needs and perspectives.

The professor notes that although the society is changing faster than ever before, and the accessibility to online educational platforms and YouTube tutorials is growing, these changes still make attending schools more favorable compared to being self-taught. "When you study on your own, there is no need to move outside of your comfort zone, your box, and you can always choose what pace and content is best for you," he elucidates. "This isn't appropriate when it comes to your professional life as you want to be able to cope with things that people ask you to do." Lingnau draws an analogy with cooking: while on YouTube you have recipes for a specific dish, in school you learn how to properly use and treat the ingredients to then be capable of making any meal you or someone else needs.

At the same time, Robert leaves the decision of how much one wants to learn up to the student. "We do have classes, projects and assignments [and] that's all we can mandatorily ask for," the professor concludes. "The effort that they put into the subject is up to them. As in all forms of energy, the more you put in, the more you get out."
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