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Bielefeld University

Bielefeld, Germany
Bielefeld University is a public university located in the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Founded in 1969 as a “Reform University”, Bielefeld University made a valuable contribution to educational reform in Germany, for instance, by opening up German academia to students from a working-class background.

Interdisciplinary research is of great importance at the Bielefeld University. This is illustrated by the fact that Bielefeld University is a campus university, thus allowing all faculties to be located in close physical proximity to each other, as well as their connection via the famous “market hall” in between. Today, around 25,000 students are enrolled across the 14 different faculties of Bielefeld University. One of these is the Faculty of Educational Science. Devoting an independent faculty dedicated to the matters of education is unique in German higher education, where research on education is usually organised as institutes which are incorporated within larger faculties. This highlights how education and educational research have always been at the heart of Bielefeld University. This emphasis is also reflected in the composition of the 12 working groups at the Faculty of Educational Sciences that conduct research on a diverse range of focal areas ranging from general educational science, school development and school research with a strong focus on inclusion, to media pedagogy as well as migration pedagogy and the critique of racism.

The focus on school developmental research goes back to Hartmut von Hentig, who joined the newly founded Bielefeld University as a professor for pedagogy in the late 1960s. He did so on the condition that two reform schools would be established: Laborschule Bielefeld (literally Laboratory School Bielefeld) and Oberstufen-Kolleg (an upper secondary school). Hentig intended to link school practice more closely to university teaching and research to overcome the separation of roles between teachers and researchers. The idea of “teachers as researchers” originated from that time and, although the model and its organisational translation/structure have been revised over the years, it is still alive and well today.

This duality of practical and research work is also visible on the organisational level: on the one hand, Laborschule Bielefeld is conceptualised as a university school and a state-run experimental school under the supervision of the federal Ministry of Education, and on the other hand, Laborschule’s research unit is part of the Faculty of Educational Science at Bielefeld University and under the supervision of the federal Ministry of Science. Members from both institutions, educators and researchers, collaborate in small research groups, which are called Research and Development Groups. These groups address the following aspects:

  • Laborschule’s own school practice (and challenges)
  • Germany’s school system through the introduction of models, concepts and practical suggestions into the national and international discourse on school development, thus also promoting the further development of the regular school system and
  • the scientific community (e.g. through publications in research journals or in Laborschule’s books series).

These research and development projects have to be approved by the Laborschule’s scientific advisory board. All educators and researchers involved in these projects are accountable to the school as well as to the university.

Participatory school research, especially involving Laborschule Bielefeld and its Research Unit at the Faculty of Educational Science, as well as democratic education have a long-standing (research) tradition in Bielefeld. Therefore, the team of Laborschule’s research unit is grateful that the Erasmus+ project „LabSchoolsEurope: Participatory Research for Democratic Education“ now enables educators and researchers across Europe to work together on these issues.

Bielefeld University’s famous market hall