Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Tag: erasmus+

Guest Blogger: James Brand – Erasmus+ Staff Training: Visiting the FernUniversität in Hagen (Part 4)

This is the final blog post about about an Erasmus+ Staff Training experience to the FernUniversität in Hagen which took place in June 2018. In this post I will summarise the keynote presentation that concluded the training week and reflect on my experience of attending an Erasmus+ Staff Training experience.

Keynote: The Future of Distance Education: Mind the Gaps – Professor Mark Brown

One of the highlights of the week was the inspiring keynote presentation from Professor Mark Brown, Director of the National Institute for Digital Learning at Dublin City University. Professor Brown discussed the future of distance learning and the work being done at DCU.

Professor Brown also highlighted the importance of having a philosophy for delivering distance learning and explained some of the key principles that constitute a DCU programme and a DCU student. At DCU distance learners are referred to as being part of DCU Connected or as “connected learners” and this is part of the student experience that they have envisioned for their learners. They also refer to their learning technologies as part of a suite known as “the loop”. The loop includes Moodle and various other learning technologies and personal tools that a student may use and that might connect learners in the course of their studies. However, DCU avoids referring to systems as Moodle or their students as distance or online students, as this is just the mode of delivery. This is also linked with the negative view of technical determinism, that we should not be rushing to follow technological innovations, instead, we should be considering what is best for education. The quote featured in the presentation, “The future is not something we enter, the future is something we create” is something that resonated in this session and something that we should consider as a University.

A number of different aspects on the future of digital learning were also discussed in this presentation including MOOCs and the global Higher Education market. Professor Brown’s presentation can be found on Slideshare.


The Erasmus+ staff training week I attended was a fantastic opportunity to visit a University which specialises in distance education. I was able to learn from the Fernuniversität through workshops and by visiting their resources. I was able to network with colleagues from the institution and also with attendees from across Europe. The training week provided an opportunity to gain knowledge of HE practices from other European institutions, discuss and share ideas with fellow participants and also take part in the of the cultural exchange of visiting another country.

I would highly recommend the Erasmus+ staff training weeks to staff as personal and career development opportunity. I have made new networks and now have an understanding of HE in a global market. If you would like to know more about Erasmus+ staff training activities please see the Erasmus intranet website.

Image credits: Photographs by James Brand

Guest Blogger: James Brand – Erasmus+ Staff Training: Visiting the FernUniversität in Hagen (Part 3)

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

Guest Blogger: James Brand – Erasmus+ Staff Training: Visiting the FernUniversität in Hagen (Part 2)

This is the second 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 discuss the learning technologies being used at the FernUniversität and some of the innovative projects that they are undertaking.

Learning Technologies and Innovations at the University


A presentation of E-assessment at the FernUniversität was very interesting and eye-opening. The FernUniversität has a number of issues unique to the institution in terms of conducting e-assessments. As the number of students is so high, it is difficult to conduct online exams. For example, one of their most popular courses has several thousand students. As a member of teaching staff highlighted, the exams cannot take place at a study center as they could not ensure that all students could attend. German data and privacy laws also mean that a lot of technical solutions could not be implemented. The University, therefore, does not conduct computer-based examinations.

Hybrid Lectures

One of the elements of teaching that I was most interested in was the use of hybrid lectures. These are delivered in a lecture hall but possible only to a handful of students. The rest of the students will be watching the lecture which is recorded and streamed online and will participate remotely using Adobe Connect software. A facilitator will then help with reading out student questions and to ensure that the session runs smoothly. One of our major challenges in the Graduate School is dealing with capacity issues of workshops and ensuring adequate provision to distance learners so the hybrid lecture looks to be a possible solution.

FEU login

One major project at the University is the introduction of implementing a single sign-on through a system being called ‘FEU login’. This will involve students signing in through a single portal to give them access to a number of online services including:

  • Classroom modules (on Moodle)
  • Student email
  • Student Calendar
  • A personal area for course and personal information
  • Library services
  • Regional Study Centre information and events
  • Learning Group Finder app

Learning Group Finder App

One interesting innovation at the FernUniversität is the development of the LernGruppen Finder, (Learning Group Finder) app. This app is designed to help the distance learning students to find others to study within their region or that are studying the same subject. This app has been introduced to support students studying and to help minimise isolation that students may experience from studying as distance learners.

Other examples of digital learning innovations at the University can be found on their E-Koo blog (German language only).

Study books

One of the most surprising revelations during the week for attendees was that paper is not dead at the FernUniversität. During a visiting to their Logistics Center, the printing, and production facility just outside of Hagen, we saw the scale of their use of non-digital learning materials. Students are provided with study books to accompany their courses. These have proved to be popular with students who like to receive something tangible to go with their studies so there are no plans to discontinue this method of producing course materials. The printing facility was very impressive on its own, with all aspects of print and design, provided in-house on large production line type setup. They also handle the production of other media including CDs with teaching material, newsletters, and stationery. 

Video Studio

One of my favourite parts of the training week was the visit to the facilities of the video studio. The media production team are responsible for the production of a range of audio-visual teaching materials including talking-head videos, video lectures, podcasts, and animated videos to name a few. They are also responsible for ensuring the accessibility of materials for all learners. The media production center features professional recording studio, with green-screen, lighting and cameras all of a professional quality. This studio was comparable to studios that might be used in news or television broadcasting. The facility had clearly had quite significant investment behind it and there was acceptance among attendees that this was needed to produce high-quality distance learning. To quote a delegate, “everyone wants distance learning until they have to pay for it!”.

In my next blog post I will be discussing some of the practices being implemented at the FernUniversität to ensure the quality of distance learning provision at University. I will also discuss instructional design and the educational theory that underpins e-learning at the FernUniversität.


Image credits: Photographs by James Brand

Guest Blogger: James Brand – Erasmus+ Staff Training: Visiting the FernUniversität in Hagen (Part 1)

This is the first of four related blog posts about about an Erasmus+ Staff Training experience to the FernUniversität in Hagen which took place in June 2018.


I was recently able to take part in an Erasmus+ Staff Training week to the FernUniversität in Hagen, Germany. Hagen is a city located in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany and the FernUniversität (fern meaning remote in German), is the largest distance learning University in Germany with 80,000 students.

The staff training week was a unique experience to learn from a leading distance learning University, understand the German Higher Education system and to also a fantastic cultural exchange experience. The training week was well attended by delegates from various European Universities, including a number from distance learning Universities. The training week featured a number of workshops, presentations and discussions as well as opportunities to visit the facilities of the University. There were also a number cultural events arranged including a visit to a castle and an excursion to the nearby city of Dortmund.

The following is a summary of some of the things I learned during the week from attending presentations, visiting facilities and speaking to staff at the University:

About the University

The FernUniversität is the only German teaching distance learning University in the world. As expected, most of their students are based in Germany and the bordering countries where German may also be spoken. However, it was interesting to see that they also have students as far afield as America, Canada, and South America. The University was founded in 1974, following a similar model to that established by the UK Open University. Further information on the structure and course offerings of the FernUniversität can be found on their English language website. The FernUniversität has a range of students, however, typically students at the University will already have a first degree or they will be people studying later in life for the first time.

Study Centers

Interestingly, for a distance learning University, not all of the teaching is conducted remotely. The University has opened 60 regional study centers, the majority of which are located in Germany, however,  they have opened up a number of study centers abroad. The study centers allow an opportunity for the distance learning students to receive face-to-face teaching and advice on all areas of their studies. If there is a high concentration of students they will open a center to allow face-to-face teaching. If a student cannot attend one of these study centers they will try to provide a digital alternative, although from seeing the map of study centers it looks like it would be fairly easy for most German students to at least attend one.

In my next blog post I will be discussing how distance learning is delivered at the FernUniversität, including some of the learning technologies and innovative projects that they are undertaking. More to come next time…

Image of: Dortmunder U Art Gallery

Image credits: Photographs by James Brand

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