VCSE Guidebook/How to promote the VCSE-model/Conclusions and discussion

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5.4. Conclusions and discussion

On-site workshops versus other dissemination channels

This chapter on dissemination of the VCSE-model focuses on the on-site workshops, as being the more innovative of the various dissemination channels used. Many activities were employed however using the other four channels as well (see Annex 2). It is likely that these channels contributed more effectively to the accomplishment of the first objective (informing about virtual mobility and raising awareness of the benefits of the virtual campus model) as many more people can be reached with these means than with on-site activities. In particular, the combination of mailing an electronic newsletter throughout our networks and connecting this E-newsletter to the VCSE website appeared to be an effective means (see Chapter 4). In view of effective dissemination, the website should then contain clear and prominent information on the actual VCSE activities in virtual mobility, the benefits of the VCSE approach, and the courses currently available.

Whether our use of channel 1-4 was effective in enlarging the basis of support for virtual campus initiatives has not been verified, but a major impact is unlikely. Responses to our dissemination activities through channel 1-4 in the form of e.g. web site visits, questions or requests for information were numerically satisfactory, but did not result in requests for VCSE-membership or in starting up of new virtual campuses. With regard to this (third) objective of dissemination, the on-site workshops were expected to be much more effective. As mentioned before, the results were mixed in this respect. Apparently, it needs a more targeted strategy to make new partners out of a principally interested audience. Possible improvements to the on-site workshops approach are discussed in the next section.

Enhancing the effectiveness of on-site workshops

The on-site workshops can probably be made more effective by focussing on more specific objectives and specific target groups with specific needs; In other words, by making the on-site workshops more tailor-made. In the context of enlarging the basis of support for a virtual campus initiative like the VCSE, a specific objective could be to address the administrative hurdles at the visited university. The target group would then be the senior-level decision-makers and other staff that involved in the administrative issues at stake. Another specific objective, in the context of raising interest to become involved in the VCSE, could be to address the educational and technical competencies required for active participation in the VCSE. In that case, the target group would be university teachers and perhaps also technical support staff. To make sure that the workshop meets the local needs effectively, these should be clearly identified in advance. Tailoring the workshops also requires careful consideration of the benefits of the virtual campus that should best be emphasized for the specific target groups. Senior-level management, for example, is particularly sensitive to the issues of costs, returns and risks, given the history of high-cost failures of virtual learning initiatives in higher education. To them the benefits of cost-effective improvement of course offer and the minimization of financial risks with to the bottom-up ‘quid-pro-quo’ model could be stressed. Educational staff might be particularly interested in benefits associated with ‘virtual mobility for staff’: collaboration and joint learning with colleagues from other European universities on tested and novel approaches to e-learning.

The current VCSE-model for a virtual campus can be characterized as bottom-up and informal, and has grown out of the success of a single course, the European Virtual Seminar on Sustainable Development (EVS). Perhaps, this pathway should also be followed in the dissemination of the VCSE virtual campus model to other domains. In practice, this would mean that enthusiastic participants in EVS would organize on-site workshops on ‘virtual mobility through international virtual seminars’ for educational staff of other domains at their home university, and support the establishment of virtual seminars in other domains. When these virtual seminars are successful, they may develop into virtual campuses.

In addition to a more targeted approach, an active role for an enthusiastic local contact person in the on-site workshop, indicating the potential benefits and challenges of the virtual campus for that particular university, will enhance the effectiveness of on-site workshops. On-site workshops are therefore probably best organized as a follow-up activity with interested potentially new partners after a Central Demonstration Workshop.

Finally, there is the issue of longer-term sustainability of the on-site workshop approach. In the light of the objectives of dissemination listed in section 5.2, continuation of dissemination efforts is important to ensure longer-term success of the VCSE network. This raises the question whether on-site workshops should and can be continued after project-funding ends. Probably the best strategy here is to focus first on successful establishment of the expanded VCSE virtual campus itself, which means that on-site workshops should be primarily aimed internally, at colleagues and senior-level decision-makers at the partner universities. Successful operation of the VCSE and recognition as an excellent example of a virtual campus will then provide compelling evidence for more internal promotion as well as for further external dissemination.