VCSE Guidebook/How to promote the VCSE-model/On-site workshops
5.3. On-site workshops
On-site workshops in the context of the VCSE dissemination strategy are face-to-face meetings at location. The location being a European university (faculty, department, centre) not yet involved in the VCSE or similar virtual campus initiatives. The on-site workshops were proposed in the VCSE project description as an innovative and potentially highly effective means to disseminate the VCSE-model. The underlying idea was to involve local staff with (positive) experience in international e-learning, invite not only educational staff but also relevant senior-level decision makers (e.g. dean, vice-rector, head of department, director), and to create opportunities for hands-on ‘test-it-yourself’ experience. Furthermore, persons that became interested during the workshop were to be offered a ‘free trial period’ of access to the virtual campus and its e-learning courses as an observer. Establishing contacts and organizing the on-site workshops was the responsibility of the individual VCSE-partners. The leader of the relevant VCSE work package (OUNL) developed a PowerPoint presentation of the VCSE-project specifically for use in on-site workshops, with a focus on the educational, organisational and technological aspects of the virtual campus and the advantages of this type of virtual mobility (‘Virtual Mobility': The VCSE Approach’, made available - including accompanying text - to all VCSE-partners in the VCSE E-Library). Given the ambition to create a hands-on experience in the on-site workshops, a ‘live visit’ to the on-going courses at the virtual campus was foreseen as an important component of a workshop. However, the first experiences with on-site workshops showed that due to the dispersed activity pattern in the courses, ‘live visits’ were neither very exciting nor informative. As an alternative, ‘virtual tours’ of the current VCSE e-learning courses were developed by each partner for use at on-site presentations. Other materials for use at on-site workshops are presentation hand-outs and the VCSE-project flyer.
The Open University of the Netherlands (OUNL) organized two VCSE on-site workshops at the University of Santiago de Compostella (USC, Spain) in collaboration with prof. Urbano Fra Paleo: one at the School of Law and one at the Lugo-campus. The target groups were educational staff active in the field of sustainable development, educational staff active in other domains with an interest in virtual campus initiatives and university decision makers. The workshops were centred around the VCSE PowerPoint presentation (‘Virtual Mobility: The VCSE Approach’). Both workshops were well advertised and publicized, including four pre- and post-workshop articles in the university journal and on the university news bulletin board. The workshops resulted in an expression of interest from a professor of chemical engineering to join the VCSE with an e-learning course and support from the vice-chancellor for active participation in the VCSE initiative by USC staff.
The Charles University Environment Center (CUEC) approached people through the Forum of University Teachers (attached to environmental and sustainable development study programs) and the Prague Universities Agreement on sharing sustainable development and environmentally oriented teaching. CUEC identified those researchers and teachers that are interested in multi-disciplinary teaching, informed them about the VCSE approach, and offered them participation in ways that would most beneficial for them. CUEC also identified teachers responsible for relevant specializations across the University and demonstrated the VCSE courses to them, with the proposal to recommend our courses to their students. Within the Prague Universities Agreement, CUEC approached universities who are interested in implementing environmental management systems to try and find interest in a going beyond technological solutions for environmentally friendly universities to a broader idea of sustainable development reflected in the curriculum etc. The activities resulted in an exchange of experiences with other e-learning and sustainable development programs, which slowly leads to making links with educators who share similar values and hopes for education at national level.
The Leuphana University of Lüneburg (LUE) arranged a number of internal on-site workshops to inform University members about the project, to find new partners within the university and to sensitise for the organisational aspects (e.g. in the administration). LUE also organized three external on-site information workshops: at the University of Bremen, the University of Oldenburg and the University of Potsdam. The first two German universities have joined the VCSE as new partners while the third one expressed its general interest.
The Karl-Franzens-University of Graz (GRAZ) based on-site workshops on new media such as Powerpoint presentations including videos as well as the VCSE portal (Moodle) itself. The main intention was to explain the VCSE project targets and contents and to invite people to join the virtual campus either as new members or as new users. Target groups were both internal (Academy for New Media and Knowledge Transfer; Sustainable University; Center for Continuing Education; Institute for Systems Sciences, Innovation and Sustainability Management) and external (Technical University Graz; University of Maribor in Slovenia). This resulted within Karl Franzens University in an extension of the VCSE team with new members from different institutes within the university, and to participation and – eventually – membership of several new partners.
The University of Macedonia (UOM) has plans for three VCSE on-site demonstration workshops: at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, the Open University of Greece, Patras and the Aegean University, Lesvos.
There are broadly three target groups for on-site VCSE workshops at European universities: educational staff working in the field of sustainable development, educational staff working in other interdisciplinary, internationally-oriented fields and senior-level decision-makers at there universities. As the local contact persons involved in the organization of the on-site workshop were usually educational staff members working in the field of sustainable development, the first target group used to be well-represented. It turned out to be more difficult however, to get the other two target groups in substantial numbers on-board. Senior-level decision-makers – even when supportive - often feel they lack the time to attend such a workshop, and educational staff from other domains have to be well-motivated to cross so many bridges at the same time: to another domain (often another school or faculty as well), to international student mobility, and to e-learning. It is probably better to follow a very targeted approach, with on-site workshops tailored to specific target groups and more narrowly defined objectives (see also Conclusions and discussion).
Although the original idea was to reach out externally, to other universities in our dissemination activities, it turned out that internally the ‘home university’ of the partners was also an important target. CUEC, LUE and GRAZ all targeted dissemination activities towards educational staff within the own university to raise awareness, enlarge the basis of support and/or generate interest in becoming actively involved in the VCSE. In the case of the local on-site workshops by LUE the target group included administrative staff to create more support in organisational matters.
Whether the dissemination activities are addressed at the own university or other universities, in both cases, careful selection of the target audience is required for success. Even then, success may only come in the longer term. E.g., the Czech institutions that were interested to cooperate in the VCSE are the same as those, which cooperated already with CUEC on other projects/activities – the number is growing very slowly and strongly depends on mutual trust and exchange of opportunities which is more long-term vision than immediate outcome. With regards to the decision-makers to be targeted, it can be concluded that extensive investigation is required in order to identify to key-players in the academic world, as well as the invaluable key-persons that may act as intermediates and promoters of the virtual campus idea.
- The original idea was to visit the on-going VCSE courses ‘live’ during on-site workshops to give participants a better impression of how courses are implemented in the virtual learning environment. We quickly learned that a ‘live visit’ is not a very efficient way of demonstrating the courses and instead we included a series of screen dumps in the PowerPoint presentation prepared for on-site visits, showing various aspects of the courses in VCSE’s virtual learning environment. Subsequently, ‘virtual tours’ of each VCSE course were developed which are even a better alternative to the ‘live visits’ during on-site workshops. By also including the ‘virtual tours’ in the public part of the VCSE website any interested visitor can now be informed about ‘how the courses work’. Currently, the five ‘virtual course tours’ have been implemented in quite different ways, which makes it difficult for the audience to note the commonalities and specifics of each course. Thus, a future challenge is to devise and implement a common, attractive format for the ‘virtual tours’.
- The international dimension should be more stressed within all dissemination activities as this is an attractive feature.
- The audience at on-site workshops appears to be particularly interested in the organizational aspects of the virtual campus (e.g. transfer of credit points). In the materials and presentations for on-site workshops, ample attention should therefore be paid to these organizational aspects, and not only to the educational and technological aspects. As quite a few organizational issues must be handled at the local level, it is key to know and inform the audience about the different ways in which each VCSE-member deals with these ‘local’ issues. In this way, solutions that fit the local context best can be identified during the workshop.
- When the target audience is from the own university or from other universities within the country, adaptation of the workshop materials is advisable as the information should best be provided in the national language, and placed in the context of the national educational system and its challenges.
- It may be worthwhile to invest in attracting the attention of the local media for the workshop and the VCSE initiative, as many senior-level decision makers pay more attention to positive reports in the media than to pleas from their educational staff.
Outcomes and follow-up
Outcomes of on-site workshops with regards to the stated objectives have not been formally evaluated, but it is plausible that the workshops themselves and the publicity generated before and/or after the workshops have contributed to a raised awareness of the benefits of a virtual campus model and an enlarged basis of support for virtual campus initiatives, such as the VCSE, at European universities. With regard to the third objective of dissemination, motivating the target groups to become involved in the VCSE or to start a similar virtual campus in another domain, the results are mixed. The workshops did (thus far) not result in the start-up of virtual campus initiatives in other fields following the VCSE-model and/or making use of the open-source VCSE virtual campus software. The workshops were more effective in raising interest in the involvement in the VCSE, and resulted for example in attendance of a Central Demonstration Workshop (CDW) or an explicit expression of interest to join the VCSE in the near future. None of the workshop participants interested in the VCSE made use of the offer of a ‘free trial period’ (i.e., access to the on-going courses as an ‘observer’). It seems that active follow-up is needed, either in the form of CDW or regular contacts, and that on-site workshops alone will not result in new members joining the VCSE. This supports our active approach to enlargement as described in Chapter 4.