VCSE Guidebook/Enlargement of the Virtual Campus for a Sustainable Europe/The VCSE model and enlargement

From VCSEwiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

4.1. The VCSE model and enlargement

This chapter aims to present and reflect on the objectives and strategy of the VCSE partnership enlargement, capture the lessons learnt by partners, and consider directions for future development.

The enlargement goal of VCSE was to expand from 5 to 15 universities in 10 countries across Europe, the principle tool for this being the organisation of three events to engage with potential partners: “Central Demonstration Workshops”: Europe is a frame for our activities as the Bologna process allows easy exchange of students and recognition of courses for all participating universities. The diversity of this network is crucial for making the most of the virtual mobility experience in terms of providing a cross-cultural learning space for students and teachers. Cultural diversity is accompanied by diversity in approach to sustainable development and teaching methods. Openness to both of these factors is important for creating opportunities to share, reflect on and develop our understandings of ESD. From an administrative viewpoint, the VCSE method of sharing single semester courses between European partner universities is a very simple, flexible system, which involves minimal bureaucracy for partners. This provides flexibility and accessibility for new universities to join the partnership. Each partner needs to find a strategy at their university for ensuring that the courses can be offered: the presence of an “open” module for the student to fill with any course of their choice is the easiest way. Alternatively, if a university requires students to develop a specific competence through a module of their choice, then they can be allowed to take one of the VCSE courses with matching learning objectives. The model has proved to be viable for a small group of 5 universities and, due to the minimized administration which accompanies the model, it is anticipated to be equally viable for the larger partnership of 15 institutions envisaged by the end of the 2 year project. Another benefit of the model as it currently stands is the accessibility to courses by full time or part-time students, whether they are studying on-campus or via distance learning.

Potential new partners are given the opportunity to join on one of three degrees of involvement as:

  • An observer: Being offered the opportunity to take a closer inside look at the VCSE e-learning courses at their running phase. The observer-university may decide or not to join the VCSE Network as a partly-active of full member.
  • A partly-active member: Being offered the opportunity to admit university students to the VCSE e-learning courses. The participating students will be awarded a certificate of attendance by the VCSE partner-universities. The observer-university may decide or not to join the VCSE Network as a full member.
  • A full member: Being offered the opportunity to admit university students to the VCSE e-learning courses and contribute a new e-learning course to the VCSE Virtual Campus.

New partners may change their status to the direction of a greater or smaller commitment as expressed in these three categories according to their needs.

From an academic viewpoint, the teachers involved in VCSE benefit from the course exchange process by having access to the courses and to the course evaluations: the approach to evaluation is currently being reworked to make it more relevant, transparent and informative for the partnership. Diversity in approaches to sustainability and sustainable development, as well as to teaching methods, are valued as a learning opportunity (for more information on the teaching methods and learning goals of the courses offered, please see chapter 2). The content of the courses is not limited by the borders of Europe, and while much of the material presented in the courses does reflect the values and approaches to sustainable development strategy at the European level, voices, concerns and ways of understanding from beyond Europe are also included. These various techniques aim to develop the students’ capacity to think critically and make responsible use of data sources, ideas and concepts. This diversity is an important factor for stimulating and developing our own understandings of what and how we teach, and for what purpose.

There are good arguments for maintaining the VCSE model in its current form: 1) the minimal administrative requirements are an important point in VCSE’s favour in terms of the sustainability of the partnership, 2) the openness to diverse approaches to/understandings of sustainable development and methods of teaching makes it possible to easily access a rich pool of experience and approaches, for both teachers and students.

The search for new suitable partners for VCSE was guided by the following points:

  • Diversity of content material and theme: it is positive to expand the VCSE with courses which approach various aspects of sustainable development, and focus on thematic areas which are not yet addressed by the current VCSE courses
  • Pedagogical diversity: we agree that a variety of competences are necessary for engagement in sustainable development. No single semester course can address the development of all these competences, so e-learning courses which offer different learning objectives achieved by different pedagogical approaches will enrich the VCSE
  • Accessibility: courses should be run by European institutions to allow smooth transfer of ECTS credits and be multi-disciplinary in approach and accessible to students of a wide variety of specialisations

The goal to expand to 15 partners has been fulfilled: the new members are as follows:

  • The University of Economics Prague, Department of Environmental Economics - Czech Republic
  • The University of Aegean, Department of Environment, M.Sc. Environmental Policy and Management – Greece
  • The University of Maribor, Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering – Slovenia
  • IRDO - Institute for Development of Corporate Social Responsibility, Maribor – Slovenia
  • The University of Karlstad, Department of Environmental Sciences – Sweden
  • The University of Central Lancashire, Lancashire Law School – UK
  • The Dutch Network for Sustainable Development (DHO) at the University of Amsterdam - the Netherlands
  • The University of Bremen – Germany
  • The University of Oldenburg & Centre for Environment and Sustainability Research, University of Oldenburg – Germany
  • University of Exeter School of Geography, Archaeology and Earth Resources – UK

Two more universities are currently undergoing the administrative procedure of joining:

  • The University of Geneva, Swiss Virtual Campus SUPPREM – Switzerland (An Internal Cooperation Agreement is still under the process of being signed between the University of Geneva and the University of Macedonia-VCSE Coordinator (12/2008).)
  • Universidade Aberta - Portugal (The relevant Expression of Interest will be signed in the near future (12/2008).)

A further five universities have expressed their interest in joining:

  • University of Antwerp – Belgium
  • University of Santiago de Compostela – Spain
  • Technical University of Graz – Austria
  • Centre for Environmental Education and Research, Faculty of Education, University of Malta – Malta
  • University of Potsdam - Germany