research and development of digital tools for elementary school children

At August 1 2018, Prof. Dr. Daniel Hromada takes over the joint junior professorship for Digital Education at the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK) and the Einstein Center Digital Future (ECDF). Born in Slovakia, he obtained a bachelor's degree in humanities in Prague before completing a second bachelor’s in linguistics with a focus on computer linguistics in Nice. “That’s where I really became interested in the development and acquisition of language in the human brain and in natural language processing,” says Hromada. From there, he went to Paris to complete a Master’s in Human and Natural Cognition, where one of the areas he worked on was the digital recognition of facial expressions. In his doctorate, he developed and investigated evolutionary models of the ontogenesis of linguistic categories. “It was a specially designed research project: a double doctorate with joint supervision by two universities, one in Bratislava, Slovakia, and one in Paris, France. My Slovak PhD supervisor has a background in electrical engineering and computer science with a focus on cybernetics, while my French supervisor is a researcher in cognitive psychology. The thesis was about simulating the language acquisition of small children in a computer system. I developed machine learning algorithms that simulated evolutive language learning.” In 2016 he defended his thesis while working as an IT administrator at the UdK. 

Most of the work he has published to date has dealt with topics such as natural language processing, robot ethics, computational linguistics and rhetoric, computer vision, and evolutionary computations.

His professorship in digital education will focus on the research and development of digital tools to enable language-based, cognitive and narrative learning of reading, writing and arithmetic skills for elementary school children. “I’m not talking about extending the functionality of smartphones, but about a completely different digital artifact (device) – one that is more akin to a book,” explains Hromada, who enjoys reading poetry and old books. It’s no coincidence that he calls the digital artifact he is working on the “E-Fiebel" (“e-primer”).  “I think of it as a kind of personalized textbook. So this digital artifact is a kind of humanistic teaching machine that facilitates the one-on-one human interaction between the student and their chosen teacher (or the teacher's artificial avatar) and works via voice control.”

His goal in teaching is on the one hand to expand the school curriculum so that children gain appropriate theoretical and practical knowledge about how digital artifacts work. On the other hand, he wants to investigate the potential functions and tasks that digital artifacts could perform in teaching. “Teaching is about more than just imparting knowledge. Values and behaviors are also taught. This is hardly taken into account in digital education today – if at all,” says the junior professor, who speaks seven different languages. “Digital education still centers entirely on understanding computers. But computer science has as much to do with computers as astronomy has to do with telescopes. The aim of digital education should really be to increase the quality, efficiency and intensity of the educational process; computers can be an important tool in this.