Category : Featured

EUNIS workshop on Higher Education IT benchmarking: Nov 13, Barcelona

2015 Workshop on Higher Education IT benchmarking, organised by the EUNIS BencHEIT Task Force: the 13th of November 2015, at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona.

The workshop will be an opportunity for networking, discussion and sharing experiences. BencHEIT is the first initiative that aims at creating a survey that can be meaningful and useful in the whole European higher education sector. In order to reach the important goal of building up a tool to allow the comparison of costs and strategies related to IT activities among different European countries, Bencheit needs your contribution and expertise.

The final agenda, registration and more information here…

If you have any questions, or want to share ideas on topics you would like to discuss with us, please send an email to

Please REGISTER by 30.10.2015

News from the West of the MOOCs!

imagesEducause is starting next week. I will be there and, like any serious participant, I have started to prepare my schedule. Well, as you know, I am interested by anything about MOOCs but using this word, as a keyword did not return one single suggestion! Does it mean that the movement has gone? No more tsunami? Well, that is certainly not true. MOOC is a strange beast, which is hidden in many corners. Let us pope out the game from the wood! An accumulation of new information drives me to come back on an old subject: the appearance of new business models for MOOCs. It is emerging in the United States, and it is beginning to impact the universities. The movement started earlier this year and it is accelerating rapidly.

The consortium of public universities in Arizona, ASU, initiated this important move. It is now possible to achieve the first year degree through a set of EdX MOOCs. Students are not free to choose their own MOOCs but must follow a set of courses depending on the disciplines taught at ASU. Students, who have successfully achieved (and paid) the certifications for all the MOOCs in their list, may submit their results to transform it in an ASU first year grade for 6000$ only, which is cheap by American standards.

The novelty is twofold: getting a real university degree through selected certifications by EdX and also to pay the registration in the university if successful only. The cost of the certifications must be added but the total expense remains quite low compared to that of a conventional registration. For those who do not go to the end and could not turn them into a real degree, the financial loss is acceptable. In a country where the cost of Higher Studies skyrocketed, the guarantee is more than valuable: the success rate in the US is not much better in the US than in Europe.

Second example: Champaign University in Illinois, which offers a complete MBA, following the same model. Adding the cost of given Coursera specializations (Coursera specializations are sets of predefined MOOCs), which remains modest, a payment of $ 20,000 to the university and you may obtain a real diploma. This is really a deal for those who cannot afford the luxury of MBA at $ 60,000 or more!

The MIT is not left behind, which just announced the availability of a “micro master” as a set of EdX MOOCs, corresponding to the first semester of the Master “Supply Chain Management”. If accepted students may then apply to follow the second semester face-to-face for the full diploma.

Closer to home, in Switzerland, EPFL offers comprehensive remote education and training to qualify for a diploma, based on its MOOCs from Coursera and EDX. In France, a few Higher Education Institutions deliver ECTS together with the certications for their MOOCs. However, to my knowledge, these ECTS cannot be used as parts of degrees in other institutions, thus it is of limited interest. I am not aware of what is going on in other European countries and I would be delighted to learn more about.

The signal is very strong: it is now possible, in the US, to obtain a degree, starting with MOOCs; it allows to reduce the cost of Higher Education and the total payment is due in case of success only. Does this will suffice to reduce the cost of education to an acceptable level remains to be proven.

What can be the impact in Europe? Does it will shake up the methods of awarding diplomas?

In many European countries, students and their families do not directly support the real cost of education thus using MOOCs to decrease the fees might not of big interest. But this is not true everywhere, especially in business schools. Moreover, these schools already compete, at an international level, to attract the best students. Thus these institutions may become the first to adopt these new models.

Selective institutions may pay special attention to students having followed some MOOCs prior to their application. They may offer all kind of facilities to these students: grants, exemption for some modules, accelerated studies… This would enable them to master their costs and attract a new audience who would not, otherwise, pay attention at them. They may offer their own MOOCs or a selection of MOOCs assembled together by consortia of institutions. The start-up investment, to build these MOOCs, is significant but remains reasonable if schools regroup around common certifications.

For the universities, with low level of tuition fees and limited financial assets, the impact is less obvious. However, I am convinced that, imagination helping, they will find new ways to use MOOCs for the best. For example, when enrolling students in high demand sectors they may reduce the pressure in the lecture halls, exempting those students who have previously obtained a certification in the same matter. One can also imagine variable geometry curriculums. The new entrants could be offered a curriculum taking into account previously acquired certifications. Those demonstrating higher skills may be offered faster curricula.

MOOCs could quickly become a means for guiding and driving students into the sectors of their choice. A clever use of selected MOOCs may become an intelligent method to adapt the studies to the desires of the students.

The MOOCs revolution is also perhaps there: a means to direct and guide students at the beginning of their journey in Higher Education and allow them to choose their own way.

Submit a paper to TNC16 – Building the Internet of People

EUNIS has for a long time had a strategic partnership with GEANT. Each year the two organisations interchange presenters at each others annual conferences. The call for papers to TNC has now opened and can be found at the TNC website.

Submit a proposal (single presentation or full session) for TNC16. The theme of TNC16 is ‘Building the Internet of People’. The conference will be held from 12-16 June 2016 in Prague, Czech Republic, organised by GÉANT and hosted by the Czech National Research and Education Network (CESNET).

Deadline for submission (presentation abstracts and session proposals) is 30 November 2015

The death of the amphitheater

amphiAsserting that it could be replaced by videos distributed via the Web seems to have condemned lecturing from the chair together with the amphitheater. Being pushed in the forefront by the MOOC movement, videos would close all lecture halls, students would become active in their learning. In short it would revolutionize teaching and send the traditional university in the dungeon. Moreover, it would make big savings by recovering these spaces and allowing one single teacher, the best one if possible, to teach worldwide via the Internet. A dream for those considering the university as any capitalist enterprise: investment and productivity gain!

Yet it is not so simple. Is the amphitheater really dead, watching videos will really replace it? And more generally can technology solve all the troubles of teaching and learning in the 21st century?

It is fashionable to illustrate conferences with images of the old times, showing students asleep in front of a distinguished professor delivering his course from the pulpit, meaning that “nothing has changed “. I could not resist illustrating this blog with a very well known picture. Look at it carefully. The teacher is reading his notes, not caring at all about his students. Some sleep, some read another book – today they would watch their tablets and computers.

My experience is much more nuanced. I was lucky, as a student and as a teacher in Science, to work in small amphitheaters; however I recognize that, even in the presence of a few dozen people, a one-way discourse may be rather boring. The university of Oxford, also, which has an exceptional tradition of providing to each student a personal tutor, who follows him/her continuously, see amphitheaters being deserted. This phenomenon is widespread in all Western countries.

Does this mean that courses delivered from the chair in the amphitheater are obsolete and should vanish?

Curiously some students resist: when we set up, in 2007 in my university, live broadcast lectures so that the students whom we could not accommodate in one theater only, could follow their courses from home, the rumor ran that we would suppress the lecture and deliver only videos. The Dean had to come down in the amphitheater to overturn this rumor. Yet this teaching was quite grotesque: the capacity of the hall is limited to 500 students and we enrolled more than 2000 in that course so that we had to establish a rotation of groups so that everyone could attend periodically some of the lectures. Students were worried about the disappearance of the face-to-face time and the amphitheater was always packed, when, at the same time, a thousand of those from the other groups, followed from a distance, mostly in real time! The same attitude was noted at EPFL, in Lausanne, a pioneer in Europe in the use of MOOCs. They have suppress a number of parallel courses in the first year of study and many students gather in their beautiful Rolex center, to watch the videos of their courses instead of the past amphitheater presentation. However some do not appreciate this new way of delivering knowledge. EPFL officials are not convinced that they will never suppress all first year amphitheaters.

So the good old amphitheater is not dead. Imaginative teachers have sought ways to make it more lively and students more active. Among the most innovative ideas, the use of clickers individual boxes or smartphones. The course is divided into short sequences of about 15 minutes and, in between, the teacher asks questions and makes the participants vote with their device. Responses are anonymous, so no risk of feeling ridiculous in front of their comrades; it’s fun because the questions are short, simple in appearance and it regularly breaks the rhythm. The pedagogy becomes active. One may build interactive scenarios where students must work together with their neighbors, then confirm or change their previous vote and invent many other activities. Students engage in a real active thinking: this shows that flipped pedagogy can be used in the traditional amphitheater. For those objecting that not all students possess smartphones and that providing clickers is expensive, there is a cheaper way: students can vote by showing one of four different colored circles printed on a piece of paper. An app, on an Android smartphone allows the teacher to count the votes photographing the audience.

Does this mean that video is unnecessary, at least for students on campus? Absolutely not! Our experience, shared by many colleagues, is that recording a course improves the quality of learning. Students no longer frantically take notes. They know that if their notes are incomplete, they can always come back later to the video. They listen better and the teachers earn a lot of freedom because he can afford additional illustrations, knowing that all students can pick them up in online videos.

Confrontation of ideas in face-to-face exchanges remains an important dimension in education. Technology is a big opportunity to transform the pedagogy but does not improve teaching and learning by itself. What is important is how it is used. The same applies to the old approach and I strongly believe that they have go together in the future.