Recently I went on a staff exchange to Germany at Potsdam and Hamburg Universities via the Macquarie International 2017 Staff Exchange program. I applied to go as I was interested to see how colleagues were grappling with, and finding solutions to, elearning challenges. Were there pedagogies that they were having success with? Were there innovative uses of educational technologies that I wasn’t aware of? I was hoping to answer these questions and more. My exchange did give me a greater appreciation of elearning challenges and solutions and provided me with some interesting ideas to explore back here at Macquarie University.
The exchange program
The exchange program provides both professional and academic staff with opportunities to develop their ideas through interactions with staff in overseas universities. There is a range of partner universities available within the program. The visit is for up to 2 weeks but can be varied. The application process consists of outlining the objectives and proposed activities of the visit to the university and how this will support the aims of the exchange program. These include promoting knowledge and understanding, developing joint initiatives in teaching and research and benchmarking against good practice.
My first university visit was to the University of Potsdam (UP). I was fortunate to have Alexander Henning Knoth showing me around. Alex is responsible for Online International Learning. He was instrumental in lining up people both academics and professional staff that were involved in elearning initiatives of the university. During my stay at UP Alex was always professional and friendly. He was keen as I was to make this a valuable exchange for both universities.
Potsdam is about 15 minutes South West from Berlin by train. UP is a small university with three campuses spread throughout Potsdam. It was established in 1991 and currently has approximately 20,000 students.
One of the initiatives that I was introduced to was Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL). COIL is a framework developed by State University New York, for collaboration and development of joint units and programs between universities. UP is using COIL to help with its digitalisation goals to embed elearning throughout the university, Alex referred to the term “Internationalization through digitalization”. UP had developed its own take on COIL, they developed OIL.UP. Essentially their model is less structured and more opportunistic than COIL. They have two models of OIL.UP. The first I euphemistically call “dip toes in water” where there are a low risk and investment approach, where UP and the international partner engage in a one-off student engagement activity such as a seminar. The second is a fully integrated unit, designed from the ground-up to be jointly developed and delivered by both. There are approximately 10 units per session completed using OIL.UP. There is an even split between the two models. One of the challenges with COIL was to coordinate sessions with international partners as they can have different study periods. Currently, there are only two Australian universities involved with COIL, they are Griffith and RMIT. Perhaps Macquarie should become the third?
I spoke to David Prickett an English teacher that used COIL methodology for his English students in a writing course. He jointly developed a unit with a teacher in the US with students studying debating. Students from both universities had to interact and present their work to each other. They had their own assessments, however, the assessments were designed in such a way that they were relevant to both student cohorts. David said that it was a good cross-cultural experience for his students as it challenged stereotypes. One of the issues in the unit was the synchronous nature of the weekly communications. Students found this onerous, and may not do it as often next time around.
I met Frederic Matthe and Florian Fischer from the teaching and learning unit. They showed me a Moodle course that they developed as a diagnostic tool for students that want to study nutritional science. The students upon completing a survey are presented with tailored feedback indicating what their weaknesses are and where they may need to improve to successfully study nutritional science. This is a highly customised approach, developed from a grant from the EU. The idea behind it is that students can self-assess whether they have the right skills and personality traits to successfully study nutritional science at UP. They are looking to develop this for Law too.
Maren Schulze took me on a tour of the new personalized online learning environment for students, Campus.UP. Students can create workspaces for collaborative work, create individual pages, store and share documents, as well as accessing all university services from one location. It’s an attempt to create a one-stop-shop for students when they are interacting with the digital environment at UP.
I had seen and met so many interesting people and been presented with some engaging ideas. Sadly my time at Potsdam was up. I was now headed to Hamburg University.
Read part 2 of the series about an amazing student support program called PIASTA, an innovative joint unit between Macquarie and Hamburg called International Law plus and more: eLearning in Germany Through The Eyes Of A Macquarie University Learning Designer (Part 2)