by Ulrich Bernath
(Presented to the European Conference on "Flexible Responses in Higher, Education" in Brussels, Dec 13 and 14, 1993)
in: Palank/Pronk (Hrsg.), EuroStudyCentres. Beiträge zur Entstehung des European Open University Network. Zeitschrift für Hochschuldidaktik, 18. Jg., Heft 1/1994, S. 93 - 103, siehe auch: http://www.oeghd.or.at/zeitschrift/1994h1/index.html
Describing the development of EuroStudyCentres Ulrich Bernath classifies their objectives into three levels: basic, standard and advanced EuroStudy Centres. Of these the advanced Euro Study Centre is a staffed and technically well-equipped unit facilitating distance education and training with a European dimension and clearly defined responsibilities. He states that at the end of 1993 most of the EuroStudyCentres are still far behind this aspired advanced level. Among the outstanding ones he names the study centres in Belgium and Lower Saxonia/Germany, e.g., the second of which he stresses by giving a detailed report of the Centre for Distance Education at the Carl von Ossietzky University in Oldenburg.
In der Beschreibung der Entwicklung der EuroStudyCentres klassifiziert Ulrich Bernath auf drei Ebenen: Grund-, Standard und fortgeschrittene ESCS. Das fortgeschrittene ESC stellt davon eine mit Personal ausgestattete und gut ausgerüstete Einheit dar, die Fernstudium und Fernlehre in einer europäischen Dimension und mit klar definierten Aufgaben ermöglicht. Er erklärt, daß Ende 1993 die meisten der bestehenden ESCs diesen Bedingungen noch nicht entsprochen hätten. Unter den hervorragenden ESCs führt er die Studienzentren in Belgien und Niedersachsen, Deutschland, an; zweiteres hebt er durch einen detaillierten Bericht über das Fernstudienzentrum an der Carl von Ossietzky Universität in Oldenburg hervor.
The European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU), representing four autonomous distance teaching and open universities in Spain, Gennany, the Netherlands and in the United Kingdom as well as several other national associations and consortia for higher distance education, is on its way to transform into an European Open University Network(1).
This has been clearly proven with the recent conference on "The European Open University Network: Course Delivery, Student Support and Study Ccntres" held in Madrid in February 1993 (2) concurrent to the step taken by western European nations to from their Single Market with the beginning of the year 1993. With this date, national distance teaching institutions entered the European market, and answers on the questions of delivery, student support, and study centres had also to be given in this new context.
1. The Development of the EuroStudyCentres
The national distance teaching and open universities in Europe provide regional or local bases to support their degree-secking students. However, the respective forms of study centres differ. The "Directory of Study Centres in Europe" published by EADTU, compiles a total of more than 800 study centres units all distance teaching member institutions(3).
The realization of concept of networking study centres "as one of EADTU key priorities for open distance learning provisions in Europe"(4) took place already in 1991. The members agreed to establish a platform group on European study centres in order to develop a European-wide base for their inter-state distance teaching offerings and developments. It was challenging to overcome the limitedness of national and regional responsibilities and orientations in higher distance education.
The majority of study centres of national distance teaching or open universities in Europe are centrally administered on behalf of their degrec-seeking students' needs, and the student body is more likely defincd by the national policies in the face of their taxpayers than with respect to European ideals. Nonetheless, the distance teaching and open universities have early realized European dimensions in their undergraduate programmes by promoting course and credit transfer in Europe and by providing trans-national study programmes, leaving open the crucial questions with regard to trans-national student support(5).
With particular importance self-financed areas of non-degree course offerings and European funded joint course developments became a driving force towards European delivery and student support system in open distance learning. The European study centre network emerged from the nominations and contributions of national distance teaching and open universities in 1992/93. The diverse national concepts of study centres became a determining factor for this network.
The mission and the aims for EuroStudyCentres are commonly defined, as:
The objectives are being realized on three defined levels of operation: basic, standard, and advanced EuroStudyCentres. The advanced EuroStudyCentre is a staffed and technically well equipped unit facilitating higher distance education and training with a European dimension. It is responsible for advising, counselling and tutoring distance students and non-degree course participants. It is also involved in international projects including course production and international networking. This performance of the advanced EuroStudyCentre is based on interactive instructional technologies including computer and video-conferencing(7). Most of the existing study centres of EADTU member institutions and some of their nominated EuroStudyCentres are still far behind this aspired advanced level.
Within the total of about 50 EuroStudyCentres at the end of 1993 one can differentiate three major groups:
(i) EuroStudyCentres of four autonomous distance teaching and open universities
(ii) EuroStudyCentres at conventional universities
(iii) EuroStudyCentres of associations or consortia of universities and other institutions or private organizations engaged in distance higher education.
It can be noticed that EuroStudyCentres at conventional universities play an excellent role in the process of the formation of a EuroStudyCentres Network in Europe. EuroStudyCentres at conventional universities distinguish themselves by multifunctional and flexible applications of higher distance teaching offerings and developments.
Those which are actually outstanding are part of state-wide networks, i.e. in Belgium and in Lower Saxony/Germany. The Centre for Open Higher Education, StOHO, acts as a consortium of Flemish universittes and other institutions in higher education in Flanders and Brussels. The centres for distance cducation at Lower Saxony universities in Hildesheim, Lüneburg and Oldenburg are co-operating with a central sectretariat to co-ordinate their state-wide developments in distance higher education. Both systems exist on the basis of agreements with one of the distance teaching or open universities in the Netherlands and in North Rhine-Westphalia/Germany. They are regional agents primarily for other than their own distance teaching offerings and they are mediators for traditional class-room and off-site distance teaching methods.
For obvious reasons these centres at conventional universities can be taken seriously as a model for further European developments in higher education, distance teaching, open learning, and training. Similarities to the already mentioned can be seen to other national networks of conventional universities with their study centres in Austria, Ireland, and in Scandinavia. To go deeper into detail of one of the examples, the Centre for Distance Education of Carl von Ossietzky University in Oldenburg, shall be outlined in the following.
2. The Centre for Distance Education at Carl von Ossietzky University in Oldenburg
2.1. The History of the Centre at University of Oldenburg in Lower Saxony/ Germany
Lower Saxony is one of the states in the Federal Republic of Germany which are educational authorities. Lower Saxony has realized its own concept to promote distance higher education already in the late seventies and created the so-called "Lower Saxony Model for Distance Education at Universities"(8).
Coincidentally with the establishment of the North Rhine-Westphalian distance teaching university, the FernUniversität, in 1975 the issue was raised in Lower Saxony whether to provide regional advice and support for degree-seeking distance students of the nation-wide offering FernUniversität. As a result of a state-funded demonstration project, Lower Saxony established already in 1978 regional centres for distance cducation at three universities: at Hildesheim, Lüneburg, and Oldenburg, In addition a central secretariat for distance education ("Zentrale Arbeitsstelle für Fernstudium") was established in Hildesheim in order to maintain the collaboration of the three university centres for distance education and serve and consult all other state universities in Lower Saxony.
This infrastructure was designed to ensure advice to and support for Lower Saxony students of the FernUniversität as well as to enable varlous kinds of participation in the development and adaption of distance teaching offerings including those of the home universities. Thus emerged a new challenge for conventional universities and their centres for distance education, serving not only their own faculty and students but also - and this was the major task from the very beginning - students of other universities such as the FernUniversität, which offers distance courses and programmes to students outside their own state boundaries. The structure of the Centre at Oldenburg University has been developed during the past fifteen years(9).
Its development brings into focus two major areas of responsibilities:
First, there is advice and student support offered by the Centre, and second there ist the task of participation in distance education developments by our faculty and adjoining regional institutions of higher education. The state is legally obliged to fund the first mentioned area of responlibilities. The second area, the development of our home university's offerings in distance teaching is self-financed, on principle, yet.
2.2. The Responsibilty for Advice and Student Support
Advising and supporting students of the FernUniversität became clearly the main tasks of the centres in Lower Saxony in the first years of their existence. The Center for Distance Education at the University of Oldenburg is responsible for its practice with respect to an agreement on co-operation with the FernUniversität. Nonetheless the Center in Oldenburg was much more oriented to cope the British Open University's well developed regional and local system of counselling and tutoring and thus differed in part significantly from the practice at the FernUniversität(10).
The advancements in state-wide advice and support for Lower Saxony students of the FernUniversität made possible by the Lower Saxony government y reasonably funding three central university units since 1978 enabled the establishment of distinct concepts. The Centre for Distance Education at Oldenburg University represents meanwhile one of those. It interrelates measures to prepare applicants and support degree-seeking students with demand-oriented tutorials in small groups of students. It takes into consideration regional realities in a large and rural countryside around Oldenburg University and in the state of Lower Saxony(11).
Different forms of co-operations and networks ensure an effective and strengthened application of the concept (12). The perception of responsibillties in providing guidance to degree-seeking students of the FernUniversität in their various subject areas by the University of Oldenburg and its Centre for Distance Education created new expertice and proficiency. It was a matter of importance to develop, test, and establish forms of advice and student support suitable to the academic environment.
The Centre's own evaluation consisted of surveys on the impact of geographic distance between the student and her or his study centre(13) on non-degree associate students(14) and on students, who leave the distance study system and are referred to "drop-outs"(15). The development of competence in the fields of advice and student support for degree-seeking distance students led to remarkable spin-offs in the predominantly conventional university environment since the early eighties. Favorable experiences for the transfer and application of knowledge in self-made distance teaching projects, in demonstration projects, feasibility studies as well as smaller research projects became an area of reponsibility itself.
2.3. The Integration of Different Teaching Modes at Oldenburg University
Advising and tutoring degree-seeking students of the FernUniversität, developed and realized at a conventional university, raises the interesting question of what really happens when different modes and "cultures" of higher education meet and confront each other in a university like the one in Oldenburg. It brings up less spectacular events but the every-day task of integrating distance and conventional teaching in their most various forms. For example: Faculty in some cases mentors in a supplementary, part-time role, engaged in supporting distance students in their subject areas. Faculty thus rethink their teaching methods and concepts about higher education. They are also recognizing face to face learning needs and preferences of distance students.
Distance students take additional advantage of services of the University of Oldenburg such as the computer lab and the library. They integrate themselves into lectures, seminars and classes at University of Oldenburg. Some also apply as associate students. More advanced forms of integration embrace arrangements of degree-seeking students of both universities to combine the different modes in a successive process due to changed preferences. They may first study at a distance and then apply at the conventional university or vice versa.
According to the legal realities, registration at a conventional university makes it possible to combine their studies with distance teaching programmes at the FernUniversität. This "combination"-mode applies to part-time as well as to full-time degree students. All this occurs to considerable extent based on individual preferences and decisions, favoured by a Center of Distance Education at University of Oldenburg considering the integration of distance and class-room teaching as its challenging dual or multi-mode strategy.
2.4. The Responsibility for Distance Teaching Developments
While participating in distance teaching developments the Centre
for Distance Education at Oldenburg University consistently took
up the distance teaching offerings by the FernUniversität
and by other external distance teaching institutions in Germany
and abroad. There are five fields of practice which are linked
to the experlences with external distance teaching offerings and
their application and adaptation in the Centre's region during
the past 15 years and which warrant mentioning:
The above mentioned examples of different forms of integrating distance and class-room teaching in degree programmes and in higher continuing education are reported to and discussed in their respective committees of the University of Oldenburg, including the Academic Senate, departments, and faculty involved.
The increasing incorporation of distance teaching attempts at the University of Oldenburg and the co-ordinating function by the Center for Distance Education makes it possible for both individuals and the institution to further programme developments in distance education at the University of Oldenburg. The Center became the programme-managing unit in three remarkable cases:
In all three examples developmental efforts were made in conjunction with local regional, national and international partners of various institutions of higher educaion, and they were funded by different sources.
The distance continuing education and retooling course for nurses on "Psychological Health Promotion" transmitted by a network of eight universities in Germany with more than 40 experts (faculty and teaching professionals) involved during the academic year 1993/94 as the example for a dual-mode approach to course development operated cost efficiently as well as for satisfactory co-ordination of the programme at the national level based on co-operation between a still growing number of conventional universities.
Despite the relevance of each case it is obvious that the mentioned experlmental activities are not in the core areas of the universities. However, they are well representing areas, which are highly recommended to be in the spectrum of offerings of universities(25). The Federal Science Advisory Board in Germany emphasizes, that such programmes be offered in a distance teaching mode to match student's or participant's demands(26).
2.5. The Organizational Development of the Centre for Distance Education at University of Oldenburg
With regard to the above mentioned two large task areas of the Centre for Distance Education one must now consider the internal resources and the organizational structure of this central unit within the University of Oldenburg. The Centre for Distance Education was dedicated to a multifunctional and co-ordinating role in distance higher education from the very beginning. With the development the Centre has established about 40 positions in the mentioned areas of responsibility. They are put into three levels: In between the general managing direction and the administrative and secretarial staff are employed academic personnel of different kinds: Academic Co-ordinators, part-time Mentors, and temporary project related qualified employees.
The new position of Academic Co-ordinators was created with the organizational development. Their responsibilites are developed out the fields of mentoring/tutoring and counselling. They are recruiting and directing part-time mentors in their subect areas. They are also engaged in advising, educational counselling and mentoring distance students. Last but not least they are participating in the development of programmes, experimental projects, trial runs and evaluations.
The Academic Co-ordinators at the Center for Distance Education
at University of Oldenburg are functioning in three subject areas,
The structure is more likely dedicated for a comprehensive strategy in distance education offerings at University of Oldenburg than a more specialized one in single faculty or discipline responsibillties. The above mentioned concept of the three coordinated subject areas is a tried model and describes a basic structure. The factual organizational development proceeded step by step, periodically tied to feasibility studies and demonstration projects, and thus was also able to test itself. Although this basis is not yet sufficiently supported by the government of Lower Saxony due to budget curtailments, it is a promising expression of an evidently forward looking concept previously based on a guiding political decision for distance teaching developments at conventional universities.
3. An Appropriate Model of a Central Unit at Conventional Universities to Promote Open and Distance Learning with an European Dimension
The Federal Science Advisory Board in Germany recently published its recommendation for future developments in higher distance cducation in Gerrnany. It pleads among others for the establishment of centres for distance cducation at universities as a compelling consequence of regional and deccntral orientations in distance education(27). The Science Advisory Board recommends with reference to the special German situation co-operative models for central distance teaching institutions and universities. Once again it emphasizes the role of centers for distance education at conventional universities in order to give the necessery organizational and administrative support to the colleges, departments and faculty willing to engage in distance education programmes(28).
If one now takes the achievements of the Centre at the University of Oldenburg, as the described example, the performance appears to give a satisfactorily answer to the question of adequate structures of central units for distance education at conventional universities(29). The Science Advisory Board recognizes also the necessity of "appropriate" organizational structures for centers for distance education to participate in further developments in distance education. It does, of course, not state the amount of expenditures to establish such units.
Once again, with the experience of the Centre for Distance Education at University of Oldenburg and its achieved level of development, plus additionally polished for its new role as an advanced EuroStudyCentre, one necessarily reaches a total of annual budget requirements of about ECU 500.000 related to the level of income in western European institutions in higher education(30).
From this it can be concluded:
Study centres are recognized obligatory to provide higher open and distance learning in national as well as in European networks. The increasing variety of open and distance learning offerings in the European Single Market requires new and appropriate infrastructures which seem to be created in EuroStudyCentres by member institutions of the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities. Apparently a group of EuroStudyCentres at conventional universities is in favour to develop the advanced model of a EuroStudyCentre facilitating distance higher education and training with a European dimension, including advice, counselling and tutoring, and participating in international course developments and interactive networks.
EuroStudyCentres of conventional universities i.e. in Flanders/Belgium, and Lower Saxony/Germany are already flexible applications of distance teaching offerings as regional agents for various distance teaching universities. With their qualified co-ordinating staff they ensure advice and support to distance students primarily of autonomous open and distance teaching universities. And they are also centres of distance teaching developments as well as centres to promote dual-mode strategies in their conventional universities.
The multifunctional mission and the experience multi-lateral co-operation of such central units for distance education at conventional universities and their co-ordinating staff seem to be the keys for advanced collaboration in the European Open University Network and for furthering the integration of open and distance teaching and conventional teaching modes.
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