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.
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.
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).
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.
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