The LOVEDISTANCE Erasmus+ Project
The core objective of the proposal is to extend academic accessibility to excluded populations by building capacities for superior distance learning academic programs.
Current information & communication technologies nowadays facilitate distance learning. The wide outreach of Internet access in many developed and developing countries allows access to online academic programs, thereby extending academic accessibility to formerly excluded populations. These include people living in the geographical and economical periphery, people with disabilities, elderly people or culturally excluded populations such as ultra-orthodox or minorities. Furthermore, distance learning is becoming an essential component of life-long learning (LLL), advocated to be part of future wellbeing.
Notably, scholars nowadays agree that online academic programs will have a major role in the future of higher education, therefore should be pursuit by academic institutions.
Although the technology is available, online academic programs require much more than just technology. A vast set of multi-disciplinary capacities should be harnessed to create superior online academic programs that are engaging, stimulating, intriguing yet are technically easy to master and complete. These capacities include strategic (governance and management), pedagogical, educational, and technological expertise. HEIs seeking to develop online courses for the student population in general, and for excluded populations in particular, should first develop this set of capacities. Otherwise, HEIs will end up producing low-quality online courses based on sporadic knowhow. Based on current literature, such courses are generally not well accepted by students, and may result in a high attrition rate. Moreover, although the millennials are believed to be technically proficient hence prefer online studies, reality shows that students are ill prepared and lack basic skills required for disciplined self-learning. In addition, faculty may perceive these courses as a threat. Thus, capacities of all three dominant components of HEIs: students, staff and policy-makers require strengthening towards successful distance learning.
HEIs should carefully develop these capacities, preferably assisted by institutions that have already demonstrated such capabilities, to ease their transition towards the future era of higher education.
The objectives of the LOVEDISTANCE project aim at providing a holistic view and solution, and build the total capacity required for transition from the traditional, exclusively frontal higher education, to the future era of distance education. In the near future, quality academic education will have to harness technology to combine various course methods – frontal, reversed (learn at home, exercise at class) hybrid and pure online. Specifically, the following capabilities should be developed by HEIs for successfully producing and implementing modern types of online academic programs:
Pedagogical knowhow: identifying, mastering and adopting new pedagogical perceptions and principles, since online teaching is fundamentally different from frontal teaching.
Educational knowhow: formulating educational principles to assist faculty and students accept innovative teaching and learning formats. Specific educational programs should prepare staff and students for effective online learning and teaching.
Technological knowhow: understanding and mastering the technological capability of building a digital environment for producing and smoothly delivering (streaming) synchronous and asynchronous academic programs. This includes acquaintance with open-source as well as proprietary platforms and tools required for a sustainable storage and delivery of video-based courses.
Governance & management: implementing an efficient and effective governance method of the online programs initiative, either centralized, de-centralized or federated. Issues considered include principles underlying the decision which teaching format is adequate for which course (or course type), and quality monitoring schema. Management should strategically decide on the depth (the percentage of online courses in the various academic programs) and breadth (who is eligible to participate) of online courses. It should also discuss the future employment plans of academic staff. Principles of public relations and implementation programs should also be decided upon.
Financial principles: producing and implementing online courses is costly, therefore it is necessary to allocate resources and discuss return on investment (ROI) principles.
Technological infrastructure: constructing principles of the technological infrastructure, whether in-house or outsourced, and acquire the means based on the preferred architecture.
Quality assurance: defining and implementing quality assurance criteria and measures, and a measurement plan. This project aims to develop the critical capacities required for a smooth adoption of innovative distance learning and teaching platforms by HEIs and future students. It is quite evident that widespread higher education and LLL are essential for sustaining economic growth and population wellbeing in developed and developing countries. Therefore, HEIs will have to change and adapt to the new era of demand for distance learning. However, this transition requires careful development to succeed. Hence, this project is a first yet essential step facilitating this transition.
Participants: Portugal (IPP coordinators), Spain, Romania, Georgia, Israel (Ono Academic College, Levinsky College, Meital).
Budget: ~ €800,000.
Duration: 3 years