HEInnovate webinar - How (supra-)national platforms support the digital enhancement of education in HEIs

An international audience of 80 joined this webinar to explore how national governments and other relevant institutions use digital tools to boost professionalisation and learning in HEIs. The session was moderated by Ben Jongbloed and Andrea Kottmann from the Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies, and included presentations from three experts.

Rasmus Benke Aberg, Team Lead of the European Digital Education Hub of the German Stifterverband gave a presentation on “Digital platforms connecting and supporting learning communities: learnings from Germany and Europe”. 

The Hochschulforum Digitalisierung initiative is being delivered by the Stifterverband e.V., the German Rector’s Conference (HRK) and CHE. It is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF). It shows a good example of support for the digital higher education community in Germany, including academics, admin staff and students in Higher Education. This support enables interested stakeholders to connect with one another, work together in different ways, and form a predominantly online community of practice (CoP). The CoP operates using “Mattermost” which is a collaborative working tool similar to Slack. However, the community itself is more important than the tools and processes attached. There are different work streams established for the community.  One workstream is “HFDxChange” which involved a nine-week collegiate consultation between small teams from different faculties. Another programme, HFDcert, had created a digital platform where HE teachers could get their digital teaching activities certified and documented, while receiving feedback.

At European level, the European Digital Education Hub is an example of good practice and upcoming opportunities are due to be launched soon. It is part of the European Commission’s Digital Education Action Plan for 2021-2027, implemented by DAAD, Stifterverband, EDEN, EADTU, UEFISCDI, HIP-School and Educraftor. Activities within the Hub’s CoP will include working groups established for key themes; workshops; articles and other publications; a mentoring programme; and “acceleration” programmes. Testing of the online environment is foreseen to begin in May 2022, with the online CoP up and running by the end of June. A  first workshop will be held in Tallinn in June, followed by other events to held in Brussels in September. The Hub is currently foreseen to be run until February 2025.

Current engagement opportunities in the European Digital Education Hub include participation in early testing, joining the first working group or taking part in the first workshop. The theme of both the first working group and the first workshop is mainstreaming lessons learned from COVID-19. The theme for the second working group from June to September is still to be confirmed. Those interested in participation can contact Rasmus now, with formal registration being rolled out later. Participation in a working group is expected to require around 1-2 hours per week of online engagement. Working group members do not need to be high-level experts, but should have good understanding and experience to share along the relevant themes.

Answering a question about how working group themes were chosen, Rasmus explained that the first two themes were agreed by the consortium in consultation with the European Commission. Once the community is up and running, it will choose its own themes via voting.

Lieke Rensink from SURF – a Dutch ICT cooperative for innovation in education and research gave a presentation describing her experiences with “Stimulating the sharing and reusing of Open Educational Resources in Higher Education – the Dutch Experience”.

The Dutch government wants to make all teaching materials openly available online by 2025. Within SURF, Lieke is one of the leads of the project Digital open educational resources and is connector for the Toward digital open educational resources zone, as part of this Dutch acceleration plan for educational innovation through ICT.

National collaboration takes place on multiple levels with a focus on infrastructure, communities and content. SURF facilitates a platform for the use and reuse of open educational resources: edusources. A content advisory board exists, where subject specialists and teachers advise on third party resources to be made available via the Edusources platform. Resources made available include textbooks and open access educational materials. The aim is to bring all types of materials onboard, and for the content advisory board to develop into an advisory body for decisions on making or buying decisions. When focussing on open educational resources communities are key. Communities share the burden of making and communicating content as well as being users of the material produced.

As part of an incentive programme, there are 19 self-led professional communities covering health, economics, business, sciences, computer science, behavioural and sociological studies who collaborate on building collections of OER within the community. For example, a collaboration between 15 Dutch Nursing programmes at Universities of Applied Science includes: a national education profile; key vocabulary, a quality model, a workflow, a community platform and manager, and a collection of materials. To facilitate the operation of these professional communities and their knowledge exchange, there are several tools, guides and manuals available for them, including a selection of roadmaps, Introduction to OER, Quality Assurance, Workshops for Professionalisation; Community OER. A national support desk also fosters sharing knowledge about these digital learning resources and online community building.

In answer to a question from the audience, Lieke explained that there is no formal oversight of the content produced in the CoPs. The communities were assumed to know best what was needed and useful for them, therefore they have the responsibility for their own quality assurance. SURF provides guidance and advice to help them make their own judgements.

Cathrine Edelhard Tømte, professor at the Department of Information Systems at the University of Agder, Norway, focuses her research on the role of digitalisation in teacher training. During the webinar Cathrine presented a selection of insights from her recent research on digital platforms and their role for professional learning communities in higher education.

When considering what competencies teachers and students need, the presentation covered:

    1. Digital transformation in Nordic higher education
    2. Digital transformation competence for teachers and students
    3. Lessons learned from the pandemic
    4. Some examples of teacher education at the University of Agder

The Scandinavian higher education landscape has a number of key features including its public nature, financial support sources, autonomy, reforms and mergers. Digital transformation in Scandinavian HE builds upon solid digital infrastructure and strategies to build competencies are often implemented top-down and led administratively. Digital competencies vary among faculty staff. There are several different aspects of the necessary digital competencies for teachers, including generic, didactic, professionally oriented, and transformative competencies.

Cathrine highlighted that there is still much to explore around digital competencies and the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced an emergency move to remote online teaching. A review of digital competencies in higher education indicates, that most students and teachers have a basic level of digital competence, and the pandemic stimulated them to enhance these further. How the questions remain: How can institutions map and systematise what educators learned and developed throughout the pandemic? How can we use this learning, and advance it even further?

At the University of Agder, several interventions were initiated to support teachers and students in enhancing their digital competencies. These include internal and external networks, in which teachers can acquire digital competencies, an etwinning project as well as research and development projects on multimodal assignments and assessments.

Questions to Cathrine centred around adequate incentives for teachers to engage in digital learning. In her response, she highlighted that providing support and opportunities to exchange and learn about digitally enhanced education stimulates teachers’ engagement.

Slides from the three presenters can be also accessed on this page and the recording of the webinar is now available for viewing here.