VCSE Guidebook/Enlargement of the Virtual Campus for a Sustainable Europe/Reflections and conclusions

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4.5. Reflections and conclusions

In the short run, in addition to capitalising on existing national and European e-learning and ESD networks, the project has focused on “joining the dots” in the rapidly expanding field of ESD and e-learning. Based on the approach of “subsidiarity”, (the idea of working with the lowest competent authority, i.e. professional peers (please see chapter 4.1), we have searched for course information on-line and contacted tutors and course directors. This has been more successful than attempting to capitalise on institutional priorities for e-learning or multi-disciplinarity through contacting the relevant learning development centre staff who are not themselves engaged in teaching. Partners had varying experience with contacting people with whom they had no prior connection: some found contacting known colleagues much more effective, while others successfully encouraged the participation of previously unknown contacts.

We can draw the conclusion that the possibility to join the consortium as an observer or partly active member is a strong incentive for potential new members, as these have been the preferred status for new members. However, follow-up on the suggestions made by new partners to engage them fully in network activities is crucial to make the whole exercise meaningful.

In the long run, we can benefit from linking with “top-down” approaches to sustain our activities:

  • The Lifelong Learning Network for Sustainable Development project (3-LENSUS, funded by the European Commission, beginning January 2009) will draw VCSE activities closer into the sphere of activity of Regional Centres of Expertise through more systematic connection with cross-sector learning communities (please see chapter 5 on VCSE local learning networks)
  • Integration with the reanimated Copernicus network of universities for sustainability
  • If there is ever a virtual Erasmus programme, that might be an opportunity for VCSE to become “institutionalised”, but whether this is desirable or not is a subject for discussion if and when such a virtual Erasmus ever develops.

An important point for continuing discussion within the network is the question of what we mean by education for SD in the context of our courses. Continual opportunities for capturing and capitalising learning about procedural aspects of the project and intellectual engagement and collaboration across the consortium are both necessary. Significant progress towards understanding the needs of the network members, particularly new joiners, on how to ensure their engagement, therefore ensuring the full functionality and sustainability of the network, was made in discussion with new partners during the final project of events. An excellent opportunity to capitalise on the experience of VCSE in terms of network development for virtual mobility and on-line education for sustainable development will be provided by the forthcoming 3-LENSUS project which includes the continuation of VCSE.

During the VCSE project, enlargement of the partnership is limited to partners from European universities, due to the VCSE funding agreement. In the long run, the only barrier to cooperation with non-European universities is the problem of recognising and rewarding students’ participation in courses. However, we can learn from the successful experience of the Alfa course, networking universities in the Netherlands, Germany and six Latin American countries (Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru). Learning for sustainability or sustainable development should be a global discussion and therefore even more diverse voices and perspectives should be included. In the long run, the “Virtual Campus for a Sustainable Europe” could evolve to be more inclusive and engage partners from the global South to become a “Virtual Campus for Sustainability”.