When it comes to international relations, of whatever nature they may be, education is a crucial element in order to connect people, not only across national boundaries, but essentially across cultural boundaries. Consequently, transatlantic relations, in particular, can be complemented by illuminating the capabilities that education can have in solidifying cross-cultural bonds between America and Germany. The assessment of a foreign culture indispensably requires a detailed proficiency in a country’s national history. However, I argue that the knowledge that the general public has about historical developments in each other’s countries is currently fragmentary. Therefore, for transatlantic relations it is imperative to reinvent historical education in schools, because it can strengthen the reciprocate understanding of national characters, cultures, and traditions.
In recent decades, transatlantic relations between America and Germany have been shaped by technological innovation and digitalization. Together with cooperation in education these two elements of the German-American partnership can be combined to thoroughly modernize transatlantic relations. It is my idea to use virtual reality (VR) technology in schools to educate students from America and Germany about German and American history, respectively. From my own experience, history classes in high school can be fatiguing and dire, and dusty, decade-old textbooks proof incapable of sparking interest in history among young people. VR technology has the power to communicate history in a playful and tangible manner, making it liveable today. Using newer types of media, students will go increasingly enthusiastic about studying each other’s history, and education generally will be suitable for a 21st century learning experience.
Utilizing VR technology in schools to teach history yields multiple advantages: First, young people today grow up using smartphones, tablets, and other advanced technologies, and they go intuitively about familiarizing themselves with the possibilities that such devices have to offer. Thus, it will be easily feasible for students to adjust to a VR based learning approach, since smartphones can even be used together with VR glasses. Of course, the project would have to provide the technical equipment, and smartphones for student who do not possess one, but, theoretically, students will be able to use their personal devices. Second, VR technology can transport students back into the middle of historical developments and make for fascinating and original impressions of the past. For example, they can experience life in colonial America, the development of metropolises like New York City in a time lapse, or examine the coming-of-age of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation first-hand. With the technology that is available today, students will be able to move around in a world of the past, experiencing history with their own eyes. This will hopefully ameliorate the appreciation for each other’s culture among young people and eventually forge cross-cultural relationships to conduct transatlantic relations and continuously renew the German-American partnership in the future. Third, the VR technology based education is a reasonable project for the private sector to become involved in, as companies and think tanks can be integrated in the process of implementing the program on both sides of the Atlantic. For example, the private sector can be given the incentive to participate in the project and conduce toward success in return for amenities. Simultaneously, the project will function as a feedback mechanism that contributes to and improves the technological development of VR, and it may initiate further innovation in the digitalization industry.
To initialize the project I propose to assemble a consortium of historians, politicians, and teachers from both countries to compose a core curriculum. Furthermore, entrepreneurs and programmers will have to be added to the project to discuss the technological feasibility of particular simulations. I am convinced that if students experience each other’s history with VR technology, it will have a lasting impact on transatlantic relations and the German-American partnership in the future. Hopefully, the project will cause spill-over effects within Europe so that additional countries manifest their participation in the wake of the implementation of the project in America and Germany. The most intriguing aspect of using VR technology in history education is that it enables people to time travel. Not only will students be able to acutely follow cultural evolution throughout the past, they will also be able to more precisely assess the respective other culture in present encounters, which ensures trustworthy and fruitful collaboration in the future.