VCSE Guidebook/Strategies for developing and running e-courses for the VCSE/Involving Students in the VCSE

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3.3. Involving Students in the VCSE

One of the main features for making the VCSE a success is to attract a certain number of students for the VCSE e-learning courses; this includes a variety of promotional activities before the commencement of each course as well as course design and communication. Challenges, approaches and results show some common lines at all five partner universities, despite some universities having specific cases as well. The main challenges faced by the VCSE partner universities have been cited as follows:

  • General low interest and fear of learning innovation as regards interdisciplinary and inter-institutional approach with e-learning
  • Non-integration of courses in curriculum: lack of support from home universities; courses are very often accredited as electives only and not as compulsory subjects
  • Accreditation of course credits at home universities: difficulties occur due to non-integration in the curriculum, as students feel insecure about whether they will receive their credits; this degrades interest and motivation for students to participate
  • Students’ motivation and mentality: English-language e-courses are regarded as more demanding and time-intensive
  • Institutional and legal framework: general changes in curricula due to the Bologna Process are ongoing but also necessary
  • Promoting courses at other partner universities: the crucial point is to find appropriate communication channels

Starting out from these challenges, various approaches were chosen by the partner universities to attract potential students for the e-learning courses. These approaches have to be seen from two perspectives: First, the course offered at the home university needs to be promoted to home students as well as to students at partner universities. Second, the partner universities’ courses need to be promoted at the home university. The 5 VCSE partner universities chose a variety of means to communicate the courses to potential students, such as:

  • information on university website (CUEC, GRAZ, OUNL, UOM) and institute website (CUEC, GRAZ, UOM)
  • study information system: announcement and information, internal information and course systems (CUEC; GRAZ, LUE)
  • flyers and leaflets for information (LUE, GRAZ, UOM)
  • posters on info boards (CUEC, UOM, GRAZ)
  • presentation to other departments (CUEC)
  • individual approach to researches and staff (CUEC)
  • information workshops of VCSE in courses at home university and/or institute to potential students (GRAZ, UOM. LUE)
  • e-mails to students (LUE, OUNL) and newsletter (OUNL, UOM)
  • articles in university papers (OUNL, GRAZ)
  • English language virtual course as a follow-up to mother-tongue face-to-face course (CUEC)

In order to attract students, the partners also have to be aware that there are a number of factors influencing a student’s decision to choose a course. These factors can be found both at the student’s and the course design side:

As far as students are concerned, they need to bring along certain prerequisites to consider participating, such as motivation, feeling of responsibility, open-mindedness towards other cultures and opinions, willingness to work together, ability to show understanding, and last but not least sufficient English language skills.

Once the students are participating, they also need to be encouraged to stay actively engaged in the e-courses. Here a number of challenges have to be considered, such as an adequate and easy-to-use virtual learning environment and organizational aspects. The degree of the intended active engagement of the students mainly depends on the aims and related methodological approaches as well as information and communication tools chosen for an e-course. All courses in the VCSE share some common experience with regards to being successful e-courses:

  • Introduction to the learning environment: a good introduction to and familiarization with the new e-learning environment is crucial to successful participation, especially since face-to-face elements are missing
  • Group formation: forming intercultural and interdisciplinary groups to enhance exchange allow transfer through group work
  • Role of e-moderators and e-tutors: showing presence and being equally actively involved in the learning process (e.g. motivation through feedback, participating in discussion)
  • Providing technical support in case of problems
  • Rhythm, rules and structure: regular rhythm of activities (“not too much at a time”), good structure outline and course rules as well as realistic workload seem important.
  • Reward due to participation: the participants need to feel rewarded by participating, for instance by earning credits, gaining work experience, getting international experience, etc.

The course aims and methods chosen for setting up the courses were different depending on the course instructor; whereas some e-courses were more collaboratively and communicatively set, with a strong use of tools in the learning platform (e.g. wiki, forum, messaging, chat), other courses did not make such wide use of these tools as they were more focused on self-directed learning and individual work.