VCSE Guidebook/Strategies for developing and running e-courses for the VCSE/The design of the VCSE e-courses

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3.2. The design of the VCSE e-courses

The existing 5 e-learning courses of the VCSE have already been tested in real-life with evaluation standards and structured procedures (VCC Project, October 2005 – February 2006). Over time, they have been adapted to the needs of an international and interdisciplinary audience; in most cases, they rely on national face-to-face or blended learning courses. The case study of the e-learning course “European Virtual Seminar” (EVS), offered by the Open University of the Netherlands gives an insight about the challenges faced as well as the methodology used, the results achieved, and the lessons learnt.

All five courses on offer so far present a variety of different approaches to ESD, based on the different backgrounds and disciplines of the partner involved. The different approaches can be characterised by at least four aspects:

(1) The variety of topics

  • The courses offer a variety of different disciplines and topics. They range from more specific subjects like “Environmental Economics and Management” (UOM) or “Sustainable Spatial and Regional Development” (GRAZ) to more general sustainability-related topics like “Globalisation and Global Sustainability” (CUEC) or the “Unsustainability and Global Change” (LUE). On offer are also case studies that cover a wide range of sustainability-related topics.

(2) The degree of instruction

  • Typologies of learning settings often consider the degree of instruction and thus the difference between teacher-oriented and learner-oriented approaches. Within the VCSE courses variety in terms of instruction can also be found: from instruction-oriented courses like “Environmental Economics and Management” to partly instructed courses to the “European Virtual Seminar”, which sets aside instruction and is based on the tutoring of learning processes.

(3) Individual learning vs. collaboration

  • Courses can also be characterised regarding the relevance of communication for learning. Communication ranges from independent self-directed learning in exchange with interactive material to communication-based collaboration between learners. While the first is truly time- and place-independent learning, the latter offers the opportunity for interdisciplinary and intercultural learning experiences and covers what is discussed as virtual mobility. Again, the VCSE courses cover a wide range of different approaches from courses with mainly or partly self-directed learning-oriented phases to others with a strong emphasis on collaboration. Given the overall aim of the courses, collaboration takes place in all courses but differs in its extent degree.

(4) Explicit vs. implicit knowledge

  • Based on the role of self-directed learning vs. Collaboration, another distinction can be made by the way explicit or implicit knowledge is integrated. While some courses are based on a fixed set of knowledge that should be learnt, others are based on implicit knowledge and knowledge communities, which build their own knowledge base. Within the VCSE courses, both approaches can be found in different gradations.

The case studies including challenges, approaches and outcome with regards to all VCSE e-courses are presented in Annex 1.

The analysis of the four aspects shows that the existing courses differ in specific elements, on the one hand, and cover a wide variety of approaches of learning for sustainable development, on the other. While the difference in specific elements is mainly due to the different course histories, the variety of learning approaches offers a broad range of learning possibilities.

Following the Interim External Evaluation (June 2008), it was decided to introduce in all VCSE e-courses a common “welcoming phase”, during which all main activities and guidelines will be explained in order to increase the individual learning outcome (e.g. chat guidelines, uploading functions, time management in virtual settings, etc.). Furthermore, the basic common VCSE content aspects will also be discussed, such as the meaning of sustainable development and “Sustainable Europe” in the VCSE context. This common “welcoming phase” will be incorporated in the VCSE e-courses during spring 2009.

Thus, a working group was compiled to create a set of shared materials explaining main activities and expectations and intended to function as a common framework for all courses.