This blog post will provide a brief introduction and overview of the European e-VALUATE project as it currently stands and will provide a snapshot of its primary aim to further the recognition, validation and accreditation of new forms of open online learning.


Tomorrow, as part of the European e-VALUATE project, I attend the e-VALUATE Work Conference in Humanity House, The Hague, Netherlands, where I represent my university, the University of Limerick, as the Irish higher education institution (HEI) resonance group representative, along with Quality & Qualifications (QQI) NARIC Ireland, the Irish project team member led by Angela Lambkin.

Gabi Witthaus will keynote the Work Conference building upon some of her previous expertise in this area.

Prelude

One of the great hopes for online learning lies in its capability to open up new learning possibilities to those who traditionally have had little access to higher education. For this to be realised, certificates etc. awarded to students for undertaking online learning on whatever platform, will need to become greater recognised as a means to progress onto further study (via RPL, exemptions, and other methods) and to employment.

Outcomes of these ‘alternative’ learning experiences aren’t always captured and can go unnoticed within current HEI recognition practices which focus primarily on assessing prospective student’s qualifications obtained through formal or more ‘traditional’ forms of education. In tandem with improved recognition practice comes a need to quality assure the online learning being recognised so that evaluators and institutions can safely stand over the certificates being awarded as a means for awardees to gain entry onto their institutional programmes of study. The e-VALUATE project is looking to expand upon this to provide further clarity and guidance in the area of recognition of non-standard standalone e-learning.

e-VALUATE is an Erasmus+ project co-funded by the European Commission. The project consortium comprises representatives from the ENIC-NARIC network (ENIC = European Network of Information Centres, NARIC = National Academic Recognition Information Centres):
NARIC The Netherlands (Project Coordinator), NARIC Denmark, NARIC Lithuania, NARIC Norway, NARIC Ireland, and UK NARIC. Other partners involved are the Vice-President of the Lisbon Recognition Convention Committee, the European Consortium for Accreditation in higher education (ECA) and Kiron, the non-governmental organisation enabling access to higher education and learning for refugees through digital solutions.

To ensure that the representative views and experiences of European HEIs are taken on board, a resonance group was formed comprising HEI representatives from each of the project team nations involved. My University received correspondence from QQI NARIC Ireland via the Irish Universities Association (IUA) and I was fortunate to be invited to be the representative Irish HEI resonance group member, which I accepted.


Aims and Outputs

e-VALUATE aims to offer evaluators handling applications some practical, accessible information and guidance on academic recognition, validation and accreditation of new forms of open online learning – MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), SPOCs (Small Personal/Private Online Courses), and other forms of standalone online learning, etc. The target groups for the project are HEIs, ENIC-NARIC centres, students, online education providers, policymakers, and refugee organisations such as Kiron.

The project proposes to produce two main outputs: a Position paper and an Online Learning Information Tool for HEIs.

The position paper will aim to provide clarity and raise awareness about what is needed to ensure online learning is recognised for admission to a HEI or for exemption from parts of a formal programme of study. It’s aimed at policy makers and educational staff involved in online learning provision at HEIs, online learning platforms (MOOCs etc.), and other stakeholders such as government bodies, quality assurance organisations and university umbrella organisations.

The Online Learning Information Tool will offer practical and easily accessible information for the purpose of academic recognition of MOOCs, SPOCs, and other forms of standalone online learning. The tool will be geared towards use by practitioners in the field of recognition. Depending on the context and purpose of its use, this tool will be useful to a diverse range of stakeholders including:

  • University admissions office staff
  • University access office staff
  • Faculty course directors
  • Boards of examiners
  • Credential evaluators at ENIC-NARIC’s
  • Others
Quality assurance of open online learning

In a previous publication entitled ‘Oops a MOOC!‘  – a paper produced as part of the New Paradigms in Recognition (PARADIGMS) project – the e-VALUATE project coordinator, NARIC Netherlands, led a project aimed at developing minimum standards that MOOCs and in-company training programmes should meet for the purpose of recognition. The findings presented in the paper are also relevant for HEIs.

The paper proposed 7 Criteria for assessment, including descriptions and indicators, against which open online learning could be recognised by a credential evaluator:
1. Quality of the study programme
2. Verification of the certificate
3. Level of the study programme
4. Learning outcomes
5. Workload
6. The way study results are tested
7. Identification of the participant

As a subsequent second step, the paper proposed use of the traffic light model as described in the JRC Science for Policy Report (p.6). Each of the 7 criteria above can be strongly present (green), present to some extent (orange) or not present at all (red). It’s also possible that no information is available on specific criteria (no info). Therefore, by using this traffic light model in conjunction with the 7 criteria for assessment, it’s possible to begin to evaluate whether a particular form of standalone e-learning is more or less suitable for recognition.

e-VALUATE_traffic lights
Proposed Traffic Light Model Measuring the Level of Robustness of each of the 7 Criteria for Assessment. https://www.nuffic.nl/en/subjects/e-valuate/

If HEIs begin to openly adhere to these criteria for acceptance onto their study programmes then it further becomes beholden on e-learning providers who are interested in ensuring that students who receive further academic recognition from their e-learning courses, HEIs themselves included, to bear in mind these criteria and the presence of them when designing and developing their offerings so that they can ensure adequate and appropriate academic recognition for the awardees of their certificates.

I understand that the Online Learning Information Tool aims to build upon this previous work to be a practical, easy-to-use, interactive object, helping practitioners in the field of recognition to assess all forms of open online learning that they might encounter during applications admissions processes.

I’m looking forward to delving a little deeper into this at tomorrow’s work conference.

The National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Ireland recently launched its Online Open-Access Professional Development Short Course platform aimed broadly at the ongoing professional development of all who teach in Irish Higher Education.

“This interface is designed as a ‘one stop shop’ for those colleagues who are interested in courses under the broad heading of Professional Development. The offerings are the result of work by National Forum staff and by higher education colleagues across the sector. As such, this space reflects the collaborative commitment of the HE community to ongoing professional development towards positive individual, institutional and sectoral change.”

The launch of this open course initiative aligns with the vision set out by the Forum in it’s National Professional Development Framework for All Staff Who Teach in Higher Education published in 2016. (View the document directly).

 

National Forum Professional Development Framework Aims

 

The PD Framework is underpinned by certain core values – Inclusivity, Authenticity, Scholarship, Learner-centeredness, and Collaboration –  and articulates five key domains that all staff who teach in Irish higher education should consider when planning to engage in meaningful professional development:

  1. Personal Development: The ‘Self’ in Teaching and Learning
  2. Professional Identity, Values and Development in Teaching and Learning
  3. Professional Communication and Dialogue in Teaching and Learning
  4. Professional Knowledge and Skills in Teaching and Learning
  5. Personal and Professional Digital Capacity in Teaching and Learning

National Forum Professional Development Framework Domains

This development showcases the foresight of the National Forum and emphasises how important it views its committment to devising and promoting the professional development of all staff who teach in Irish HEI’s. In particular, it recognises the increased hybridisation of roles over the past decade or so in Irish Higher Education. A number of roles outside of the traditonal lecturer role find themselves with the responsibility of teaching, or designing and developing teaching and learning interventions.

An online open-access short course platform for ongoing professional development of all Irish HE staff is a positive, welcome and progressive development from the National Forum and one worth keeping a watchful eye on.