VCSE Guidebook/Creating regional (e-)learning networks/The VCSE regional (blended) learning approach

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6.7. The VCSE’s regional (blended) learning approach

This chapter will now take a look at best practice examples from the VCSE partners about their ongoing and future materialization, co-operation and dissemination of educational activities for the various target groups on the regional level. Whereas the learning networks as described above are both e- and non -e-based, the following chapter outlines concrete co-operations and activities within the VCSE that are explicitly brought from a face-to-face to an e-learning level.

Each university takes a different approach and has different outcomes which will be presented in an exemplary way and which will be the basis for recommendations for other virtual campuses later in the chapter.

At the University of Graz (GRAZ), the main educational activities within the VCSE are set in the field of continuing education, aimed at a variety of target groups.

  • One with VCSE directly linked educational activity is the “Teacher Training Seminar on VCSE” in the winter term 2008/09. Within this joint seminar organized together with the Regional Center of Didactics for Geography and Economics, prospective teachers work on the available VCSE online-courses. Curriculum-relevant topics related to the course contents are adapted for school purposes, either e-based or non e-based. The methodical approaches as well as the teaching material will be uploaded onto different teaching portals as well as onto the VCSE site.
  • Together with VCSE partners and RCE Graz Styria the University of Graz allocates e-formation and e-education material on SD for local and regional actors and decision makers in German and English on the VCSE Web portal in order to open VCSE for the general public and make expertise easily accessible (see also initiative and web link “Education moves“ below).
  • Workshops “Sustainable Regional Development” and “Sustainable Tourism” at the PR Agency Styria: The press and public relations service in Styria offers a well-equipped media center which can be used for live-streaming and live chat supported workshops. In the series of workshops “Bildung bewegt” (“Education moves”), students, teachers, scientists and researchers, as well as representatives of the Styrian economy and the general public are given the opportunity to discuss regional issues, develop (educational) strategies and set common goals.
  • In the winter term 2007/08 the Department of Geography coordinated two workshops, concerning the topics “Sustainable Regional Development” and “Sustainable Tourism”. The innovative character of the programs was that not only the attendant audience could participate and take an active part in the workshops: Live-streaming via the Internet plus a live chat made it also possible for the “e-audience” to participate on-line and get actively involved in the lectures and the following discussions. Moreover, people who missed the workshops can download and view the video-podcasts also at the VCSE website

The University of Lüneburg (LUE) used the VCSE framework mainly to offer high quality (e-)learning possibilities to regional actors from different target groups. The underpinning didactical approach of the Syndrome course has been transferred to two continuing education courses with a different focus each:

  • Blended learning seminar on “Climate Change and Tourism”: This seminar was developed on the Syndrome Approach and worked with scenario management; it was mainly aimed at regional decision makers in the field of tourism.
  • Learning material for high school teachers on Moodle: The Syndrome Approach Course also served as a starting point for adopting the seminar for high school students and a relevant framework for high school teachers, using both the learning material (learning content) and the Moodle platform (learning technology) for their teaching.

At the Charles’ University (CUEC), the main challenge faced was to stimulate discussions on different levels and areas. Therefore, the CUEC created a wiki-based online encyclopedia:

  • EnviWiki: The encyclopedia was conceived as a resource for environmental educators but is also potentially a forum for debate and collaborative work, as experts are invited to contribute, and students on CUEC’s Czech language e-learning courses on sustainable development also contribute to the knowledge base. Cooperation of different specializations and also stakeholders is constantly developing around EnviWiki. Cooperation with these stakeholders is envisaged to go beyond EnviWiki activities to the development of a learning community along the lines of a Regional Centre of Expertise.

The process of creating the EnviWiki has also served as a networking activity among interested professionals. It ensures that research results are made publicly accessible very quickly. It has also been a way to encourage students’ contributions to knowledge generation. Non-university actors such as NGOs have contributed to the EnviWiki, giving a practical perspective on how to be active in sustainable development. If a common outcome from the cooperation of very diverse partners with different scopes of expertise, cultural backgrounds, etc., is required, Wiki provides excellent space for contributions and mutual dialogue.

The main challenge for the University of Macedonia (UOM) is on one hand to become a focal point for the promotion and dissemination of eco-management and environmentally-friendly practices (EMAS-certified university since 2005), and on the other to initiate from scratch local / regional structured sustainable development networks.

Following initial contact-making and official agreements with local/regional authorities, two parallel national Eco Forums were organized during the “Thessaloniki International Fair (HELEXPO)”:

  • The Eco2 Forum (Business and Environment) included the participation of UOM in form of an e-learning seminar on sustainability issues addressed to local/regional actors and decision-makers, which may be adjusted and reproduced by any local/regional authority and societal actor upon demand.
  • The UOM is currently also exploring the possibility of initiating the design and setting up of a Regional Centre of Expertise (RCE) on Education for Sustainable Development in the Region of Central Macedonia, under the aegis of United Nations University (UNU). Preliminary discussions have already taken place, but a more concrete agreement is still to be reached among the involved local/regional bodies mainly concerning the financial viability of such an endeavour.

At the Open University Netherlands (OUNL), the first strategy was to operate through the Regional Centre of Expertise on Learning for Sustainable Development (RCE) Rhine-Meuse, of which OUNL is one of the founders. However, it turned out that the current learning needs within the RCE network of local and regional actors were not at an academic level.

  • Energy Academy: The OUNL is one of the founding partners of the Energy Academy, which originated due to a cooperation with the Province of Limburg and the city of Heerlen, choosing ‘new (sustainable) energy’ as the leading theme for their economic development plans. The Energy Academy’s first product is a (government sponsored) Business Course in Sustainable Energy. The main aim of the course is to educate professionals “who will be able to face the challenges of climate change and energy conservation, industry participation in the emission trading scheme and including pollution emission in a whole production process”. From an organizational point of view, having an e-learning module in the course is considered an advantage, as the participants can start with this module any time of the year and can easily combine it with their jobs, so they do not have to wait until the face-to-face lectured modules start (running from September to December on Fridays and Saturdays).