Information and knowledge on innovative and relevant teaching

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Exchanging information and knowledge on innovative and relevant teaching and learning practices in Higher Education (HE) is an important issue worldwide. With the development of new web based tools that facilitate user generated content, it is possible to share information and knowledge and discuss ideas using networks without geographic constrains.

Taking into consideration the need to faciliate the exchange of information and knowledge, this study intends to investigate and create, within an investigative approach, a web based platform that organises and disseminates materials about good teaching and learning practices across the European Consortium of Innovative Universities (ECIU). The study will focus on (i) gathering information about teaching best practices and innovative strategies on HE teaching in ECIU members (ii) and develop a web based platform that will enhance the knowledge and best teaching and learning practices, with the purpose of building a learning community on Teaching and Learning in HE.

More than ever "the Bologna Process, and the need for ensuring a highly skilled/knowledgeable workforce, require that all institutions, in Europe, rethink and improve the delivery and quality of teaching in Higher Education (HE) in general" (Huet, Oliveira, Costa, & Estima de Oliveira, 2008). With the Bologna guidelines the design of the courses changed and with it students started to be more proactive in pursuing knowledge. Nevertheless, teachers are the most important learning resource available to most of the students (Villar & Alegre, 2007). Thus, it is not only important that those who teach have a full knowledge and understanding of the subject they are teaching, but also have the necessary competences and experience to facilitate knowledge and understanding in a range of teaching contexts (European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, 2005).

Across Europe there has been a growing awareness of the importance of exchanging knowledge and experiences and of establishing European networks and partnerships to improve the attractiveness and quality of European HE in general (Directorate-General for Education and Culture, 2006).

The complexity of this change and the need for discussing what is occurring in HE institutions has been a motive for the creation of many projects and networks in Europe. One example of these networks is the Tuning project (http://ec.europa.eu/education/policies/educ/tuning/tuning_en.html) that focused on proactive measures to design the course structure and disciplines based on the student workload, learning outcomes and competences. Another example is the network of European Tertiary Level Educators (NETTLE) that aim to develop a wide academic platform that equip educators with competences and skills (www.nettle.soton.ac.uk/).

Communities, using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and Multimedia, are applying new trends in technology and communication giving all the users the facility of creating knowledge (Wang, Huang, Jeng, & Wang, 2008). Also, ICT gives HE stakeholders the opportunity to participate actively in a Knowledge Management System Grid (Ferguson, Mohamed, Weir, & Wilson, 2002) gathering knowledge for their use or disseminating good practices and information.

Researchers (Ferguson, Mohamed, Weir, & Wilson, 2002; DeSanctis, Wright, & Jiang, 2001) have also noted that the elements benefit when access to expert documents, engage in conversations with peers and make use of authentic contents. ICT tools play an important role in bringing people together and offer a platform through which communities communicate, share information and learn. The use of the web can enhance this process by allowing individuals to extend their professional interaction, exchanging new ideas and their respective opinions without formalisms (Ferguson, Mohamed, Weir, & Wilson, 2002).

The ICT-Ed project (Ellis, Markham, Munro, & Sheard, 2002) explore the extent of innovation and best practice in ICT education, mainly in Australian universities, with the purpose of sharing good and innovative practices. The Scottish Teachers Online Resource Modules (STORM) aimed at providing support for teachers of computer courses at Scottish schools (Ferguson, Mohamed, Weir, & Wilson, 2002). These are examples of platforms for enhancing collaborative learning communities that will, certainly, constitute importante roots for our project.

The ultimate aim of this proposal is to develop an open educational platform that will facilitate the users' access to information and knowledge and to manage high volumes of information on learning and teaching in HE.

The study has also the objective of selecting, based on the literature, criteria that will allow filtering teaching and learning best practices, which will be retrieved from the knowledge and experience of the European Consortium of Innovative Universities (ECIU). These criteria will be fundamental to define the level of innovation and quality which is crucial for the validation of the information added in the platform.

In addition, this open educational platform aims, in the long term, to create a Consortium Centre of Excellence where HE institutions can gather information and share new and innovative teaching and learning strategies. We believe the different experiences that occur in each institution and that represent a variety of cultural and social backgrounds will add a valuable input to the study objectives.

Specifically, this study intends to pursue these objectives:

(i) To identify and analyse institutional and Departmental/Faculty policies to promote the quality of Teaching and Learning at each ECIU Institution and, in particular, to identify changes motivated by the Bologna guidelines;

(ii) To identify and select criteria retrieved from ECIU partners that will permit to define innovative teaching and learning strategies with quality in HE;

(iii) To conceptualise and develop, using web 2.0 concepts, a multifunctional application in order to build online learning communities on HE teaching and learning practices;

(iv) To facilitate access to resources on teaching and learning for users from HE institutions;

(v) To evaluate the impact of such community on the ECIU as a support for increasing the quality of the teaching and learning in HE, in particular taking into consideration the Bologna guidelines.

The University of Aveiro, the hosting university, and the University of Strathclyde are members of the European Consortium of Innovative Universities. This Consortium, founded in 1997, involves 11 European universities and 3 non-European universities, with the goal of becoming "one of the global leaders in HE" through the "collective expertise and commitment to innovation in teaching and learning" (http://eciu.web.ua.pt/).

Within this Consortium several new and innovative experiences have been made with the purpose of enhancing teaching and learning quality through the expertise of each member. Individually, ECIU universities have been involved in new strategies and innovative approaches on Teaching and Learning. The University of Aalborg (http://adm.aau.dk/fak-tekn/aalborg/engelsk/), for instance, designed the structure of science and engineering courses using a project-organized approach (Kolmos, Fink, & Krog, 2004). This model was adopted afterwards by the Higher School of Technology and Management of Águeda (Oliveira, 2006), an integrated polytechnic school that belongs to the University of Aveiro.

Another innovative strategy adopted at the University of Aveiro, is the use of Virtual Reality in a classroom context, giving academics and students a new way of interacting with each other. Using Second Life concepts academics can be closer to students using a more informal channel that is a familiar environment for the student (Franklin & Harmelen, 2007).

These experiences are a small dimension of what ECIU members are certainly doing to enhance the quality of Teaching and Learning. Thus, it is important to gather all the good and innovative practices from each member of the university Consortium, organise it and develop a way to disseminate and enlarge this knowledge across the Consortium and, in the future, the wider academic community. In this study we intend to create a Learning Community using a online based platform that organises and disseminates good and innovative practices of Teaching and Learning in HE.

Taking into consideration the importance of sharing information and knowledge on collaborative tools, especially on HE education, this study intends to address the next research questions:

(i) What are the institutional and Departmental/Faculty policies to promote the quality of Teaching and Learning at each ECIU institution? Which specific mechanisms are being used in each ECIU institution to promote the quality of Teaching and Learning, in particular taking into account the Bologna guidelines?

(ii) What criteria is being use to evaluate the quality of teaching and learning experiences at the ECIU consortium?

(iii) What strategies are being used to enhance the sharing of knowledge and information in the Consortium and how can they be improved, in particular taking into account the potential of ICT, particularly new trends such as Web 2.0?

Taking into account these research questions this study will be developed in three years. From January through September 2009, we will proceed to the literature and software review. We aim to select the criteria for evaluating Teaching and Learning quality, retrieved from questionnaires, by analysing the literature, reports, and findings from Centres for Excellence on Teaching and Learning at different ECIU institutions. We also intend to analyse and test the open source software available on the market that satisfies the needs of the project, mainly the possibility of sharing knowledge, discussion forums and user generated content. The literature and software review will take nine months, however we predict the importance of continuous update with new reports throughout the study.

In March 2009 there will be a meeting of the ECIU, in Aveiro, where we intend to discuss the proposed study with the ECIU pivots, who were previously engaged in the study. The questionnaire will be presented to the partners that will be invited afterwards to answer the online questionnaire. This online questionnaire will be made in order of finding innovative strategies and approaches being held in the consortium, but also, it will have the purpose of collecting the criteria used, in each university, to define good innovative learning and teaching practices. This task will be done in twelve months and will be separated in four different phases: the designing of the instrument, the validation of the instrument that will be held in Aveiro and in Strathclyde, the data collection and the analyses of the data collected. Meanwhile the findings of the questionnaire and the project update will be communicated to the ECIU partners' institutions using a Blog.

From January till April 2010 the study will be focusing on selecting the criteria for filtering cases of good teaching and learning practices, retrieved from the online questionnaire done to the partner's institutions. The selection of these criteria will give the opportunity of choosing good and innovative practices collected in the same questionnaire and on the literature review.

The web based platform will start to be developed on May 2010 and will be finished on February 2011. In this process we will make an exploratory study, develop and deploy the database and design, and develop the platform. On January 2011 we will test the application in terms of usability and accessibility. It is important for this project to be accessible for everyone, even those who have accessibility problems.

Finally, in March 2011, we intent to evaluate the quality and pertinence of the platform and we intend to find out the users' satisfaction when browsing the platform. To proceed with this objective we will design a questionnaire that will be made online, in the platform, and validated using Head of Departments and Faculties previously engaged in this project. We also intend to find out more about the behaviour and origins of the users when browsing the platform, using log analysis to do so.

The process of writing the final thesis will start on March 2011 and it is expected to be finished on December 2011. However this process will start with draft versions early on. During this research work we intend to present the findings on International Conferences and on Journals, in both cases with referee.

A detailed chronogram of this research project is attached to this proposal.

DeSanctis, G., Wright, M., & Jiang, L. (2001). Building a global learning community. Communications of the ACM, 44 (12), 80-82.

Directorate-General for Education and Culture, E. C. (20 de December de 2006). Education - Lifelong Learning Programme. Obtido em 18 de August de 2008, de Europeean Comission Education and Training: http://ec.europa.eu/education/programmes/llp/call/part1_en.pdf

Ellis, A., Markham, S., Munro, J., & Sheard, J. (2002). Disseminating innovation and best practice in ICT education: The ICT-Ed database. Nineteenth Annual Conference of the Australasian Society for Computers in Education. Auckland, New Zealand.

European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education, E. (2005). Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area. Helsinki: Pikseri Julkaisupalvelut.

Ferguson, J. D., Mohamed, R., Weir, G., & Wilson, J. (2002). Professional Development On-line. Computers and Advanced Technology in Education (CATE), Cancun, Mexico.

Franklin, T., & Harmelen, M. V. (2007). Web 2.0 for content for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. JISC.

Huet, I., Oliveira, J. M., Costa, N., & Estima de Oliveira, J. (2008). The Effectiveness of Alignment Matrices in Curriculum Design. Bologna Seminar on 'Development of a common understanding of Learning Outcomes and ECTS'. Porto.

Kolmos, A., Fink, F., & Krog, L. (2004). The Aalborg PBL Model: Progress, Diversity and Challenges. Aalborg, Denmark: Aalborg University Press.

Oliveira, J. M. (2006). Project Based Learning in Engineering: The Águeda Experience. In G. a. (Eds.), Management of Change - Implementation of Problem-Based and Project-Based Learning in Engineering. Rotterdam/Taipei: Sense Publishers.

Villar, L. M., & Alegre, O. M. (2007). Measuring the learning of university teachers following online staff development courses: a Spanish case study. International Journal of Training and Development , 11 (3), 200-213.

Wang, K. T., Huang, Y.-M., Jeng, Y.-L., & Wang, T.-I. (2008). A blog-based dynamic learning map. Computers & Education , 51 (1), 262-278.

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