E-learning has become a key teaching and learning tool in the current pandemic and ensuring its quality throughout Europe is one of the aims of a series of research projects being launched this year.
In Europe, e-learning covers a range of teaching methods that vary from country to country. The Erasmus+ Empower Competences for Online Learning in Higher Education (ECOLHE) project, in which the UOC is a participant, has been set up to examine the way in which the idea of e-learning has been put into practice in the European Higher Education Area.
"This research-action project has been set up to create conditions under which best practices can be shared across a range of aspects, including teaching digital skills in higher education, validating teaching competences and online teaching strategies," said Montse Guitert, coordinator of the Edul@b research group and the ECOLHE project at the UOC. She is working alongside her colleagues Teresa Romeu and Marc Romero from the same research group.
With a projected duration of 36 months and a budget of over €416,000, ECOLHE is headed by Italy's Link Campus University Foundation and involves another six universities and organizations from six countries: UOC, Spain; University of Rome III, Italy; the National University of Ireland's University College, Cork; Patras University, Greece; the European Association of Erasmus Coordinators, Cyprus; and Laurea University of Applied Sciences, Finland.
Their research covers six case studies from the participating countries, apart from Cyprus. In Spain, the UOC will analyse the online education system being developed by the University and involving professionals from all its areas, including: administration, students, teachers, researchers and management, focusing specifically on the implementation, management and assessment of digital innovation in the university's educational project.
The Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) is a leading online university, with over 25 years' experience with innovative online teaching methods. It has the eLearn Center, set up to promote innovation in e-learning. According to Carles Sigalés, UOC Vice President for Teaching and Learning, "the pandemic has confirmed that switching to online teaching is not so easy. Universities that offers online teaching have to be organized in a completely different way, as the switch from classroom to remote teaching is not automatic."
"This experience we have will go hand-in-hand with input from policymakers responsible for education, and a report will be drafted, presenting the UOC as an example of a fully online university. It will form part of a comparative report, which will include the other cases analysed by our project partners, all of whom use face-to-face learning," said Guitert.
Lifelong online learning
As well as this research, the UOC is involved in all the stages of the project, including validating tools for the data collection, and applying and analysing them at local level.
"Much of our focus is on creating a training course for teachers and tutors to improve online teaching within a framework of lifelong learning," said Guitert.
The UOC became involved in ECOLHE through its links with Italy's Link Campus University, which is leading the project. The University's prior experience also includes the DECODE project, helmed by Link and aimed at teachers of compulsory education, enabling them to apply digital skills in their classrooms.
Recommendations applicable throughout Europe
After the project is completed, its findings will be applied throughout Europe, not just in the countries directly involved. "One of the primary aims of ECOLHE is to generate a framework and tools that can be used to improve the quality of online education," said Guitert.
"When COVID-19 came along, we were already experiencing sustained growth in demand for online training. Before the pandemic, 15% of university students in Spain were already studying online. The boom in online learning is closely linked with the demand for lifelong learning, which is absolutely unstoppable," said Sigalés.
This means that the project can be used to provide recommendations for politicians and policymakers and academic bodies on how to build a European higher education area based on independent quality guarantees.
This project supports the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): SDG 4, Quality Education, SDG 9, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, SDG 10, Reduced Inequalities and SDG 17, Partnerships for the Goals.
The UOC is a leader in the field of research into e-learning, having conducted 224 projects from 2001 to 2020, and currently has 20 research groups active in the field.
Project co-funded by the European Union Erasmus Plus Program [Project Code: 2020-1-IT02_KA203_079176]
The UOC's research and innovation (R&I) is helping overcome pressing challenges faced by global societies in the 21st century, by studying interactions between technology and human & social sciences with a specific focus on the network society, e-learning and e-health. Over 500 researchers and 51 research groups work among the University's seven faculties and two research centres: the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) and the eHealth Center (eHC).
The United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and open knowledge serve as strategic pillars for the UOC's teaching, research and innovation. More information:research.uoc.edu. #UOC25years