This is the third of four related blog posts about about an Erasmus+ Staff Training experience to the FernUniversität in Hagen which took place in June 2018. In this post I will be discussing initiatives that the FernUniversität  has implemented to ensure the quality of distance learning being delivered at the University. I also mention the instructional design approach and educational theory that underpins e-learning at the University.

E-teaching Certificate

One of the benefits that the FernUniversität offers to staff is a recognised qualification in e-learning for practitioners at the University in the form of an E-Teaching Certificate. This is an internal training programme available to teaching staff at the University, the course takes on average 1.53 years to be completed. The course is made up of a number of fundamental workshops including Introduction to didactics, Overview of FernUni-Tools, E-Learning and Law, Evaluation, E-Assessment, Documentation, and reflexion (individual), Peer observation of teaching (kick-off workshop). There are also a number of electives which can be taken as part of the programme and concludes with an e-teaching project which involves the planning, implementation, and evaluation of a project with a peer overview observation element. This training is delivered as a mixture of online and blended learning. This programme has proved to be very popular and is in high-demand from staff. There were several requests as to whether the University offer the course externally but unfortunately they are not able to!

Instructional Design

Instructional design and didactics were topics that raised throughout the training week. Dr. Ada Pellert, President of the FernUniversität, in her welcome to attendees of the training week said that previously there had been an absence in the expertise of instructional design at the University. This is something that they are trying to improve by working with academic staff and the introduction of the E-Teaching Certificate.

A session from Dr. Theo Bastiaens, Vice-President for Digitalisation and International Affairs, on Instructional Design was informative and discussed many aspects of delivering education. This included discussion of the psychology of learning and major learning theories. The importance of having a learning philosophy was also emphasised during the session. Dr Bastiaens also explained the use of learning patterns, the framework for high-quality distance learning, that the University encourages staff to follow.  One important statement on the use of technological innovations in learning was that “Technology is not a solution – it is a tool to make education easier. This is why instructional design theory is important. It’s all about your approach to teaching and learning.”

Like the University of Portsmouth, the FernUniversität also uses Moodle as its Learning Management System (LMS). A number of presentations during the week highlighted how support staff at the FernUniversität had worked with academic staff to develop their courses on the LMS into high-quality template designs to improve the student experience. A number of courses had been relaunched with a face-lift and with new approaches to maximise learning. Presentations from a number of academic staff highlighted the course design of the online and blended elements. In the Faculty of Law, all courses featured an introductory video from a lecturer. I could see many elements of best practice in the work of colleagues at the University of Portsmouth. The University is also using H5P to develop learning materials on Moodle.

One of the things highlighted was the need to be aware of different academic cultures and allowing academic freedom is important when considering course design and the use of the LMS. For example, the Faculty of Mathematics had a very different approach to the Faculty of Law.  This is something that I’ve been aware of for a long time at the University of Portsmouth but it had not really resonated until hearing it at a different University.

In my final post post I will be reflecting on my experience of undertaking an Erasmus+ Staff Training week and I will also summarise the keynote presentation that concluded the training week.

Image credits: Photographs by James Brand