Monday, May 12, 2014

Opening up higher education - Opportunity or challenge for quality?

Workshop in progress
Quality assurance in higher education deals with formal education where students follow set courses within a degree programme and where administration, course design, learning outcomes, assessment and examination are well-defined and where quality criteria are clearly defined. However, the growth of open education, in particular the various interpretations of the MOOC concept, has demanded a reassessment of quality when dealing with a highly flexible and less structured learning environment. Can we define quality assurance for the moving target of open education and if so how can universities adapt?

This was a major theme of this year's EFQUEL Innovation Forum & LINQ Conference, held in Crete 7-9 May and as part of that I ran a longer workshop session with my colleague and EFQUEL president, Ulf Ehlers, called Opening up higher education - Opportunity or challenge for quality? To help us we had asked four experts to be facilitators: Stefan Delpace (Secretary General, European Association of Institutions in Higher Education), Michael Gaebel (Director Higher Education Policy, European University Association), Stamenka Uvalic-Trumbic (Senior advisor, CHEA International Quality Group) and Elisabeth Gehrke (newly elected Chair, European Students Union). The workshop gathered about 25 participants consisting of policy makers, consultants and teachers and over two sessions the groups discussed the challenges facing universities and then possible strategies for higher education governance.

Results of the workshop on Padlet (click to see original)


How do developments like open education, OER and MOOCs challenge the traditional quality and accreditation schemes of European higher education institutions? What possible new accreditation and quality approaches can be proposed?
  • For conventional education there are sufficient quality frameworks, tools, accreditation experiences and regimes but they cover neither e-learning nor open learning. 
  • There is a need to involve ministries and QA agencies into a dialogue on how to integrate open learning outcomes into quality assurance. 
  • QA agencies need to develop new criteria which take into account the real learning process, competence and not only input factors. 
  • However, in many areas the recognition and QA responsibility remains mainly with HE institutions. There needs to be a mechanism for gathering experience and expertise at institutional level and a possible start could be to involve pioneers of digital learning in convening HEIs for dialogue and experience sharing. These activities need coordination and EU organisations have a clear role in this. 
  • Elements of the solution could be building on recognition of prior learning, working on assessment of informal learning and building recognition tools. 
  • A further important issue is how to align the treatment of traditional learners with MOOC/open learners?
  • Promising new initiatives are in progress such as the SEQUENT project with ENQA, EADTU and EFQUEL collaborating to investigate the harmonization of European e-learning quality tools and approaches.


In times of change, diversification and non-traditional higher education providers, how does higher education governance need to react to openness and what could be successful strategies?
  • Combination of top-down and bottom-up (critical mass of practitioners + management decisions)
  • Create a colloquium: to share good governance strategies with others, foster a culture of sharing, create an open space arena, move forward faster together.
  • Strategic approaches on the way. 75% of European HEIs have a strategy for ICT-based learning but how good are they? Change process needs momentum. Not sure that OER are sufficiently considered.
  • Plenty good e-learning courses exist but they are not open (my university, my course). CC licensing is the exception rather than the rule.
  • Take into account the varying motivations of the students (qualification, general interest, professional development)
  • Opening up at HEI management level.
  • In Europe good strategies exist on access to research but not on OER.
  • Do we need standards (ISO project committee PC288 underway for example)?
  • Responsibility for teaching/ education. Teaching is changing. How to share this between teachers, teachers and other staff? A more active role for students? (student-centred learning, peer groups). Include external learners and teachers.  
  • MOOCs - maybe good enough will do.
  • HEIs - need to develop own strategy for MOOCs and be clear why you're doing it.
  • Develop MOOCs as lifelong learning and outreach with interactivity and self organisation as central elements to the courses. MOOCs provide introduction and overview to a subject area.
We maybe didn't arrive at a concrete list of strategic proposals but the process was extremely interesting and the debate continues. Have a look at our notes and ideas on the workshop's Padlet page.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Alastair,
    thanks for the wonderful summary of the event via blog and padlet (love the tool for documentation!).
    I remember from our group discussion on strategies for HEI governance:
    - raise awareness among HEI lecturers and staff on open & free offer of non-traditional providers
    - support an interested group of tech-savy lecturers/a department in finding ways how to utilize open learning provision from non-traditional providers, e.g. as reading material for own teaching, as complement to a programme, etc. -> share outcomes and successful practice

    Greets from Germany, Anne