Reflections on the Joint Module «Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning»
Edited By Regina Egetenmeyer, Paula Guimaraes and Balázs Németh
This volume places the development of the Joint Module «Comparative Studies in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning» (COMPALL) in the context of international development in higher education and adult education. Based on this framework, the authors discuss the development of the joint module in terms of its institutional and didactical structure as well as participants’ motivation and diversity. The book is divided into three parts: (1) Internationalisation in Higher Education, (2) Internationalisation of Higher Education: The Case of Adult Education, and (3) Internationalisation of Higher Education: The Example of COMPALL.
Activating students in distance education: The integration of e-learning scenarios into short learning programmes (Nils Szuka / Juan J. Garcia Blesa)
Abstract: This article offers a self-reflective account of the ways in which the European Distance Education in Law Network (EDELNet) has tackled the challenge of combining e-learning modules with face-to-face intensive study programmes or Short Learning Programmes in order to enhance the activating and student-centred learning effects of its activities.
The role of distance education in higher education – content is dead!
At a time when quick, cheap, and easy access to almost unlimited content resources is available virtually to anyone in the West, the role of higher education programmes in law, social sciences, and humanities is shifting dramatically. In the past, universities usually acted as a conveyor belt for ready-made knowledge, transporting it from relatively exclusive circles of knowledge production to the mass of students. The goal of the process was generally to secure a more or less accurate reproduction of ideas officially labelled as knowledge. Twenty-first-century democratic societies, however, demand that universities become training centres for autonomous, competent learning for knowledge producers across the whole social spectrum.
This is also true of legal studies. Traditionally structured as an authority-based preparation for social hierarchy (Kennedy, 1983; 1998), the relevance and the legitimacy of legal studies are decreasing today across Europe. The modern lawyer’s identity is trapped in a technocratic spiral of frustration, cynicism, and irrelevance in view of the overwhelming challenges modern democracies are currently facing. Barely transparent, costly, slow, and sometimes hardly effective legal remedies and procedures are pushing millions in Europe to rely on arbitration and mediation rather than on publicly administered justice for the solution of vital social problems. This is not necessarily a negative phenomenon. But it is beyond doubt that one of its main causes is the type of legal education that the operators of the legal system go through and the kind of professional culture that←65 | 66→ it generates among them, making them unable to channel adequately many of the important changes society is demanding.
From this point of view, mainstream, authority-based didactic approaches in law have become obsolete. The view that learning consists of filling the vessel of students’ minds with large amounts of content needs to be combined, if not superseded, with programmes focused on competence and skills training. This shift is not without risk. If the goal of allowing students to become autonomous knowledge producers, and thus more relevant social actors, is to be achieved, the transformation must be accompanied by a strong emphasis on critical thinking and the transfer of learning outcomes.
A different understanding of the potential advantages of distance teaching today is beginning to open new scenarios of improvement for higher education at large. In this context, the adequate combination of student-centred approaches and blended learning scenarios can allow distance universities to bridge the gap in legal education (Gerdy, 2002–04; Grealy, 2015; Hewitt, 2015; O’Neill & McMahon, 2005; White & Crowley, 2015).
Special needs of specific target groups in distance education – the problem of activating students
Campus universities are usually focused on a very limited type of student. Generally, anyone above the age of 21 is considered to be a ‘mature student’ and hence somewhat out of place at a campus university. Students with children, with full time jobs, living in distant or rural areas or just socially removed from the higher education system (due to economic or cultural reasons) need to be given a better chance to get access to good quality higher education that can improve their professional perspectives and their lives in general. Again, distance universities are better suited to fill this gap.
New didactic approaches in distance education enable instructors and students to concentrate face-to-face learning time in short, intensive units that allow for high-quality learning experiences.
Obstacles to internationalisation in legal studies in general and in respect of the target group
Legal education has proven to be especially resistant to internationalisation. Owing to its strong ties to the state sovereignty doctrine, law is still presented in the average classroom as a Cartesian series of almost watertight compartments. This view, however, turns a blind eye on the current European legal reality furthering←66 | 67→ a rigid legal mind and somehow giving students the sense that national law can after all be used at convenience to ignore the implications of European integration.
The different requirements to practice law in EU countries, institutional reluctance and lack of resources, understanding, commitment, or expertise in key areas, like language skills or intercultural communication, represent further obstacles. All this makes it a challenge to bring together law students from different EU countries in the same classroom and achieve meaningful results.
Intercultural complexities in international distance education processes
The philosophy of the EDELNet Partnership is based on the idea that ‘internationalisation cannot be based on mobility only. It must also promote the comprehensive and purposeful competence to deal with cultural diversity’ (Bosse, 2010). Consequently, any international learning activity is conceived as an opportunity to help both students and instructors develop their own intercultural competence. For this reason, EDELNet has developed a student-centred blended learning programme in intercultural communication for both students and teachers, including online and face-to-face activities embedded in the regular law learning programme.
The EDELNet Partnership
How an idea took shape
The first contact between the EDELNet partners was built up in the years 2003 and 2004 at meetings of the Law Teachers Association of the United Kingdom and led to a first approach for cooperation in the field of ERASMUS-Intensive Study Programmes in the years 2007/2008. The three partners subsequently organised ten intensive programmes with more than 300 students in the years 2008–2017. Until 2014, these Short Learning Programmes were solely organised for students at the bachelor’s level; since 2015, the partners have organised Short Learning Programmes at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral level.
As a steady and reliable basis for their partnership, all partners can provide a distinguished profile and the expertise of longstanding stakeholders in the higher distance education sector with a high degree of professionalism and possible benefits for the scientific community. All three partners have many years of expertise in distant teaching, especially in modern and highly innovative fields of blended learning in respect of legal education as well as excellent technical facilities and expertise in the implementation of blended learning teaching concepts.←67 | 68→
Structure of the partnership
Within the previously mentioned partnership agreement, the establishment of an executive board and a supervisory board was stipulated. These boards, which meet face-to-face and online on a regular basis, consist of different members of the academic and management staff of the partner universities, including different hierarchical levels, and have different tasks and responsibilities in the academic and administrative management of the partnership. The executive board organises, plans, and monitors the activities, the system of evaluation and quality assurance and, if appropriate, drafts proposals on changes and project applications of the network to be put before the supervisory board. Every year, it presents to the supervisory board a draft for an annual plan of activities and for an annual report that includes the outcome of the quality assurance. The supervisory board oversees the activities of the executive board and appoints the president of that board. Furthermore, the cooperation agreement governs other organisational questions such as copyright issues, use of names, confidentiality, and dispute resolution mechanisms. Regarding dispute resolution, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms are strongly preferred by all partners.
Learning and teaching activities
All partner universities base their overall learning and teaching activities on a ‘blended-learning’ format. ‘Blended learning’ refers to the range of possibilities presented by combining internet and digital media with established classroom forms that require the physical co-presence of teacher and students (Frisen, 2012). As part of their blended learning concepts, all partners use a broad range of these possibilities to meet the challenges and obstacles their diverse student body and its needs impose on them. Due to the analysis in section I of this article, the partners cannot rely on long-term classroom settings, but need to use the format of ‘Short Learning Programmes’. Within these condensed Short Learning Programmes, the partners combine the benefits of classroom meetings with an accurate and well-designed preparatory phase to use the classroom time as profitably as possible.
Within the partnership, Short Learning Programmes are conducted annually for students in all learning cycles. Details about these Short Learning Programmes will be laid down in section III of this article:
• Bachelor of Laws (210 ECTS study programme), conducted in the summer months of each year with around 30 students from the partner universities
• Doctoral School, conducted in the winter months of each year with around 15 students from the partner universities
A central part of the EDELNet Project is innovation and the quality of teaching. Knowledge and experience in online activating education vary among the group of teachers. To prepare the teaching staff of the participating universities for meeting the project goals in this field, all partners agreed to conduct annual courses in the field of student-oriented teaching. Within the project, there are annual face-to-face seminars, each featuring 15 participants and 3 instructors, in which participants work together with experts from the partner universities, learn from experience, wrap up results and, in the following years, hand them over to a new group of professors and the academic learning community at large. The seminars are prepared with course materials structured in accordance with the concept of blended learning. All seminars will be designed to incorporate the latest knowledge about attractive and effective distant teaching.
Additionally, since EDELNet is not a temporary, isolated project, the partners were aware that their academic activities not only require cross-cultural cooperation. They also knew that the exchange is not only between different types of knowledge but also between different cultures, that is, between ‘different and incommensurable universes of meaning’. In order to meet the challenge imposed by this, the partners train their teaching and management staff in the intercultural aspects that affect communication in both their scientific and their administrative roles. Thus, there are annual face-to-face staff training activities with preparatory materials.
As a solid groundwork for all further activities and as high-quality outputs, scientists of all partners are to develop various blended-learning course materials to be used by students and teaching staff in all learning cycles. These course materials comprise the following topics:
• Legal English eCourse I
• Legal English eCourse II
• Intercultural Communication eCourse
• Doctrinal Legal Research Materials
• Research Design and Management Materials
• Academic Attitude and Ethics Materials
• Interdisciplinary Legal Research Materials
• Research Methods in International Law Materials
Short Learning Programmes of the EDELNet and the integration of e-Learning scenarios
Purpose and scope of Short Learning Programmes: the EDELNet LL.B. and LL.M Summer Schools
The use of Short Learning Programmes within the EDELNet partnership varies significantly from the doctoral level to the master’s and bachelor’s levels. While on the doctorate level, Short Learning Programmes are utilised as an enhancing complement to a larger online programme, the master- and bachelor-level Short Learning Programmes represent the main component of the EDELNet cooperation at these two levels. This means that the main learning experience is intended to happen during the face-to-face activity. The goal, therefore, is to apply this tool to key transversal elements of the regular curriculum of all participating institutions, making sure that students can later connect that experience to a significant part of the rest of the programme at their home institutions. Consequently, the online courses offered at these levels are a complement to the face-to-face activity rather than the other way around. Yet the use of the online courses in these scenarios has proven to be of great importance.
Advantages of the introduction of e-learning scenarios in Short Learning Programmes
By introducing e-learning scenarios into Short Learning Programmes, the project can benefit students and teachers in several fields:
• In the first instance, the actual contact time used in face-to face-meetings can be reduced. Short Learning Programmes, which are prepared with e-learning scenarios, allow students to gain professional experiences in a foreign language with an intercultural background in short periods without any loss of quality. Students with limited possibilities of living abroad for longer terms can prepare themselves online, so the actual face-to-face times can be reduced.
• Students and teachers gain additional ICT competences by using e-learning scenarios and applications. They learn from the opportunities, challenges, and obstacles that e-learning scenarios provide for students and teachers.
• The use of e-learning scenarios gives room for the inclusion of disadvantaged students in transnational learning processes. E-learning scenarios enable students from abroad, students on parental leave, or disabled students to take part in the international learning experience.←70 | 71→
• The possible workload and thus the awardable ECTS credits for students can be enhanced without the need for inserting unrealistic resources, neither by the students nor by the teaching staff.
• The use of e-learning scenarios in Short Learning Programmes fosters the possibility for teachers to experiment with modern and didactical approaches and modern ICT technology.
The LL.B. Summer School
The LL.B. Summer School was the nucleus of the EDELNet Project, held annually since 2008 and boasting more than 300 alumni by 2017. The Summer School started as a pure face-to-face activity; the only surrounding activity was the provision of textbooks about the basics of each participating country’s legal system. The partners eventually shifted contents to the ICT-based preparation period and surrounded a shortened one-week face-to-face phase with virtual classroom activities to prepare the actual classes. Altogether, the LL.B. Summer School partners can award up to 10 ECTS credits to the participating students. As a result, the LL.B. Summer School now runs through three phases:
a) Phase I: Specialised preparation
aa) Legal reading: Introduction to law
To gain a basic understanding of supranational legal principles, all participating students are asked to read and prepare some chapters of the book Introduction to Law edited by Jaap Hage and Bram Akkermans. This book is ‘special in the sense that it introduces students to law in general and not to the law of one specific jurisdiction’ (Hage & Akkermans, 2014, p. 1). With this approach, the book meets the demands of the project, which aims not just at enhancing students’ knowledge of their own legal system but to foster their understanding of supranational legal interrelations.
bb) Legal English I
In accordance with the transnational approach of EDELNet, both distant and face-to-face learning activities are offered to all students in English. In order to ensure active participation and effective learning, the face-to-face phase of all Short Learning Programmes is preceded by a Legal English e-course that prepares students for participation in meetings and discussions. Firstly, the course covers the grammar structures of legal English. Secondly, the course familiarises participants with the main vocabulary for the concepts of constitutional law, criminal law, and←71 | 72→ private law that will be addressed in the e-learning preparations for the Summer School. Mastering these Legal English grammar structures and vocabulary enables participants to effectively interact and communicate with their foreign peers in formal and informal interaction.
cc) Intercultural Communication e-course
As mentioned earlier, all participants – students and teaching staff – need basic intercultural communication skills to be able to benefit from the transnational setting of all learning and teaching activities. Therefore, all participants are asked to take part in the project’s Intercultural Communication e-course. This highly innovative intellectual e-course consists of materials on the application of intercultural communication structures. The e-course was developed together with academics based at the Faculty of Psychology at FernUniversität in Hagen. The e-course serves as a basis for achieving one of the project goals: the development of an interculturally sensitive work community of law students and instructors trained in interdisciplinary thinking.
dd) Preparation of case studies
The case studies, as explained in the next section, deal with the fictional state of Transdanubia. In one part of the programme, students have to participate in a parliamentary debate in the fictional state. In preparatory group work, several groups of students have to discuss via virtual means the standing rules of the fictional parliament, that is, rules concerning speaking times, voting rules, and so forth. The proposals drafted by the different groups via virtual classrooms are discussed in the face-to-face meeting and then adopted by a majority of students. By introducing an ICT-based group work format, students discuss with each other, get to know each other, and work together before meeting in person for the first time. As a secondary effect, the case study produces a set of rules that students have discussed and adopted themselves. From a pedagogical point of view, therefore, they have taken an active part in the learning process.
b) Phase II: Face-to-face meeting
aa) Wrap-up sessions for Legal English I and Intercultural Communication
As a first step towards transporting all learning outcomes of the preparatory phase to the face-to-face phase, students are provided with wrap-up sessions concerning the e-courses. In these wrap-up sessions, all students have the possibility to ask questions and make first use of the things they have learned. The knowledge gained in the e-courses is sustained and consolidated by the wrap-up.←72 | 73→
bb) Role plays ‘Transdanubia’
Since all teachers are engaged in the idea of activating learning processes – that is, processes where students take an active part in their education, as opposed to passively absorbing lectures – the LL.B. Summer School uses case studies and role plays to give students an active part in their own learning process. With this setting, the programme aims at opening up students’ minds for the challenges and opportunities of transnational legal collaboration and at giving diverse student groups the chance to discuss legal problems and their implications in an international framework. For that purpose, after some short input by members of the teaching staff, students work on three case studies dealing with the fictional state of ‘Transdanubia’. The idea for this state was developed by Prof Dr Huub Spoormans of the OU NL. All case studies use the learning platform Moodle for organising group work and distributing materials and results.
The fictional state of Transdanubia is a landlocked republic in Central Europe, which until 1989 was part of the socialist bloc. In recent years, the state moved towards full membership in the European Union and is now a full member of the Council of Europe. In the first case study, students get some additional information on the population, the economy, and other aspects of Transdanubia and are asked by the country’s Ministry of the Interior to give advice regarding the basic outline of a possible constitution. Students are split up into groups to discuss the possible reform of Transdanubia’s constitution. Each group is expected to come up with proposals on the electoral system, the executive system, judicial review, the protection of basic rights, and minority protection. During these discussions, students get a broad overview of the possibilities that different constitutions provide. They learn not to take everything they know for granted and discuss ways to enhance the quality of their own constitutions’ provisions.
In the second case study, students are put in the position of members of parliament of the state of Transdanubia. They discuss, and in the end maybe decide on, a draft bill the government introduces to parliament. The draft bill deals with controversial proposals on the media infrastructure and the composition of the constitutional court of Transdanubia, showing similarities to recent developments in a Central European state. The fictional parliament consists of 300 members (each Summer School student represents 10 votes in the house). The majority of votes needed to pass the law is 160 (or 16 students). The seats in parliament are divided along three political parties: the Party of the People (governing party) with 140 members (14 students), the Democratic Party (opposition) with 110 members (11 students), and the Independent Party with 50 members (5 students). The students conduct their discussions under their own regulations, which they agreed on based on their preparatory work. In the end, they vote on the draft←73 | 74→ bill. With this case study, students on the one hand learn to organise discussion processes and on the other hand reflect on the topics set in this case study from their own and the intercultural point of view.
The third case study deals with a possible ‘Traxit’, that is, the exit of the state of Transdanubia, now a member of the European Union, from the EU. After getting input from the Central European, Spanish, and Greek perspectives (the latter as an example of a disadvantaged state), students discuss the implications and dangers of member states leaving the European Union.
c) Phase III: Post-processing
In the post-processing of the Short Learning Programmes, the different participating countries have the possibility of asking students to complete an assignment to wrap up the programme and to justify the awarding of further ECTS credits. The German FernUniversität Hagen, for example, asks students for a written assignment of up to 10 pages. Including this assignment, the workload of FernUniversität Hagen students amounts to 300 hours for the whole SLP in all three phases; therefore, 10 ECTS credits may be awarded.
The LL.M. Summer School
The master-level summer school lasts five days and follows a similar logic as the undergraduate programme. During the preparatory phase, students get basic information on key aspects of the face-to-face programme that brings them closer to each other in terms of their background knowledge as well as their linguistic and intercultural communication skills. The programme itself revolves around a moot court where students are the main players.
a) Phase I: Specialised preparation
The preparatory phase takes two months and consists of a series of online courses and meetings accompanied by permanent support from both instructors and administrative staff.
aa) Legal reading: Moot court materials
A mandatory online course has been developed to provide students with knowledge about national and international contract law. Since the moot case deals with the international sale of goods, the basic concepts of this topic are presented, accompanied by basic references in this field. This course has an online environment where students can contact the instructors or their fellow students at all times to get clarifications or further information they might need.←74 | 75→
bb) Legal English II
Participants must complete an advanced legal English course before they may attend the LL.M. Summer School. Part of the course focuses on advocacy skills; the rest is devoted to the writing skills necessary for court proceedings. LL.M. students are also allowed to take the basic legal English I e-course.
cc) Intercultural Communication e-course
A mandatory basic e-course on intercultural competence is also offered to the LL.M. Summer School students. This course is the same as the one offered to undergraduate students.
b) Phase II: Face-to-face programme
aa) Wrap up sessions for Legal English II and Intercultural Communication
The online courses on advanced legal English and intercultural competence are coupled with one face-to-face unit each. These sessions aim to reinforce the learning process by dealing with the practical application of the targeted skills. Simulations, teamwork, and individual coaching are included in these sessions.
bb) Moot Court
The moot court allows students to experience the real work of a lawyer by confronting a rather ordinary case of arbitration with international elements. In the morning of the first day, right after being split into plaintiff and defendant teams, students are presented with the moot case they will have to process together in order to stand before the moot court at the end of the activity. To prepare for the case, they can consult with the team of instructors regarding subject-matter issues, procedure, or court rhetoric.
c) Phase III: Post-processing
Once the moot court is concluded, students receive both group and individual feedback from the instructors involved in the activity. Feedback on their performance in the other activities of the face-to-face programme, like Legal English or Intercultural Communication, is provided immediately upon completion of these units.
After all face-to-face learning and networking activities are finished, students are invited to participate in a written evaluation of the programme, which is complemented by a face-to-face feedback discussion on the programme. This feedback is later analysed by the managing board of the partnership; the results are used to introduce improvements every year.←75 | 76→
After several years of trial-and-error learning, the experience gathered in the EDELNet programme has been overwhelmingly positive. Most students evaluate their experience as very positive and share a clear view that it helps them achieve their learning goals and improve their chances of successfully completing their studies.
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