The European Commission has published on 25 September a new Communication “Opening up Education: Innovative teaching and learning for all through new Technologies and Open Educational Resources”, which seeks to set out a European agenda for stimulating high-quality, innovative ways of learning and teaching through new technologies and digital content.
EUA welcomes the Communication as it places emphasis on a broad range of issues that are important for the future of European higher education. The document, which builds on the EC’s recent Communications “European Higher Education in the World”,“Rethinking Education” and the “flagship initiative Digital Agenda”, puts forward a number of actions at both EU and national/institutional level which are presented in the four following sections:
- Open Learning Environments: opportunities to innovate for organisations, teachers and learners
- Open Educational Resources: opportunities to use open knowledge for better quality and access
- Connectivity and Innovation: partnerships for infrastructures, new products and services, and interoperability
- A concerted effort to seize the opportunities of the digital revolution
The Communication calls on educational and training institutions to review their organisational strategies in order to, for example, improve their capacity to adapt, promote innovation and exploit the potential of technologies and digital content. Open learning environments “require the leaders of educational institutions to play an active role by: providing a strategic vision; transforming siloed institutions into connected learning communities and rewarding professionals for innovative teaching approaches”, the Communication notes.
Amongst the actions detailed for member states and institutions are: support for innovative teaching and learning environments and supporting teachers to strengthen their digital competences and creative teaching practices; expanding access to digital tools and resources to bring them closer to the potential users; and exploring validation and recognition instruments to promote more flexible learning pathways and opportunities.
The document also outlines a number of areas where the Commission will provide support/carry out actions, in particular through the future EU programmes for education and research Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020. These include, for example, supporting educational institutions in developing new business and educational models and teachers’ professional development through open online courses; exploring and testing, in cooperation with stakeholders and member states, digital competence frameworks and self-assessment tools for learners, teachers and organisations. The EC will also carry out a “comprehensive exercise of foresight scenarios for education in Europe in 2030” in consultation with actors such as EUA. Finally, the Commission also announced the launch of the Open Education Europa website which aims to enable sharing of free-to-use open educational resources.
EUA broadly welcomes the latest Communication, which it understands as a call to institutions to further pursue the development of innovative ways of learning and teaching in line with their institutional missions. EUA believes that e-learning, and possibly also MOOCs have great potential with regards to the further development of the European Higher Education Area, and that the “open learning” aspect could further catalyse the structural changes already introduced through the Bologna Process, and boost the institutional cooperation developed, for example through EU programmes.
For the “e-agenda” to succeed in higher education, however, governments need to ensure that institutions have sufficient autonomy, and the necessary sustainable funding. Therefore, EUA believes that caution is required with regards to the potential for new technology and open education to alleviate costs, in particular with regards to disadvantaged groups of learners, as has been recently asserted by reports about the use of MOOCs as remedial courses at US institutions.
EUA would like to stress that it will continue, on behalf of its membership, to monitor developments and undertake activities in the area of innovative teaching and learning, including e-learning. For this reason, EUA set up a task force earlier this year that is looking at innovative learning provision including the development of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Following the occasional paper published by EUA in January this year, EUA is co-organising an event on MOOCs with the Academic Cooperation Association in October.
EUA will also be disseminating a new survey to its members and other European higher education institutions on institutional practices related to e-learning. The goal is to map capacities (for e-learning) in European universities and other higher education institutions and assess perceptions regarding its general impact. The results will be used by EUA in European policy debate and also to devise measures for supporting and providing networking opportunities for higher education institutions committed to or interested in the topic.