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Joint Modules and Internationalisation in Higher Education

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.

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COMPALL-Joint Module: Diversity of participants and models of curricular and local implementation (Concetta Tino / Paula Guimarães / Daniela Frison / Monica Fedeli)

Concetta Tino, Paula Guimarães, Daniela Frison & Monica Fedeli

COMPALL-­Joint Module: Diversity of Participants and Models of Curricular and Local Implementation

Abstract: The chapter provides an insight into the diversity of participants as a target group of the joint module COMPALL. It further outlines possibilities for personalised pathways and a range of options for an implementation of joint modules in local curricula and study programmes.

Introduction: Challenges of joint modules

The debate on the internationalisation of higher education became a serious issue during the 1990s. Internationalisation is to be understood as ‘policies and practices undertaken by academic systems and institutions – and even individuals – to cope with global academic environment (Altbach & Knight, 2007, p. 290). The main motivations for internationalisation were enhancing commercial advantage, promoting knowledge and language acquisition, and developing curricula with an international content. These motivations were strongly connected to globalisation processes (Teichler, 2004). These became more evident in recent decades, involving economic, political, and societal forces pushing twenty-­first-­century higher education towards deeper international involvement. This involvement included the investment in knowledge industries, in which higher education institutions are relevant players, especially in Western countries; the emergence of the knowledge society was supported by several international organisations such as the European Union; the rise of the service sector and the high dependence of societies on highly educated workers for economic growth was noticed (Altbach & Knight, 2007).

Internationalisation has involved an increase in mobility in higher education, which is now a common activity. Universities, still mainly nationally based bodies, can draw on international funding programmes, such as ERASMUS, as important resources for international mobility (Byram & Dervin, 2009). ERASMUS is one of the best-­known funding programmes in the European Union. It was created in 1987, following a first generation of European policies from the 1970s. This first generation of mobility policies was intended to promote←159 | 160→ higher education mobility programmes such as the ones existing in the United States at that time. They aimed at increasing intercultural dialogue and improving foreign languages proficiency. ERASMUS, a ‘trigger to internationalisation of higher education (Teichler, 2009), was conceived as a wide-­scale mobility programme, ensuring equality of opportunities for all students, promoting co-­operation among higher education institutions, strengthening intellectual potential as well as dialogue and interaction among European citizens. In 2006, the Lifelong Learning Programme included ERASMUS, extending the target groups of international mobility to teachers and staff of higher education institutions, research centres, enterprises, counselling services, and organisations designed to enhance knowledge and innovation. This funding programme became an essential pillar for building the European Area of Higher education as part of the Bologna Process (Byram & Dervin, 2009). Today, ERASMUS+ 2014–2020 additionally covers a wide range of educational areas (from higher education to advanced education, vocational education and training, youth and sports, among others). Therefore, it fosters the international dimension of education and training, increasing mobility and promoting co-­operation for innovation and the exchange of good practices. Complementarily, it is intended to improve the use of information and communication technology (ICT), enabling collaborative learning and the building of networks of institutions or individuals (European Union, 2017).

Within ERASMUS+, several actions can be developed. Within intensive programmes, a joint module can be broadly defined as a strategy combining different educational steps and didactic approaches based on shared aims and directed at specific groups of students. Additionally, a joint-­module intensive programme structure must be created and developed by multiple higher education institutions in order to involve a diverse range of academic staff and students coming from various countries and sharing several academic and research traditions. Owing to its characteristics, a joint module involves a high degree of creativity and innovation. The development of a joint programme involving higher education institutions from different countries has become more common but is still a rare phenomenon. Joint modules face several challenges: On the one hand, they face the challenge of implementing joint modules in higher education curricula structures. On the other hand, they face the challenges of diversity in such programmes, which also includes a high diversity of participants (Lattke, 2012). This diversity is not limited to the study level.

This paper analyses the diversity of participants in the Joint Module COMPALL, outlining options for addressing this diversity. On the one hand, the paper←160 | 161→ outlines the design of personalised pathways to accommodate the diversity of participants. On the other hand, it outlines models for the integration of the Joint Module COMPALL, which are implemented at the partner universities of the COMPALL project (cf. Egetenmeyer, in this volume). Finally, the paper reflects on lessons learned from the development and implementation of the Joint Module COMPALL.

Diversity of participants

The Joint Module COMPALL is designed for masters and doctoral students studying subjects related to adult education and lifelong learning. The joint module is part of a degree programme at each university (see below), from which most students are selected. Participants for the joint module are selected by each partner university based on their academic performance in the field of adult education and lifelong learning and based on suitable English language skills (minimum B2). Despite this common framework, local strategies are implemented to collect students requests and interests and to select the group that will join the Winter School experience.

For example, at the universities of Würzburg and Hamburg, students are invited, first of all, to self-­register for the Winter School through the COMPALL platform. Furthermore, in case there are more registrations than seats, students are selected by the programme coordinators, even though the universities make the effort to include all interested students in the course.

The University of Padova gives priority to first-­year masters students and PhD students, followed by second-­year masters students, due to an internal agreement concerning the programmes of study. Finally, at the University of Florence, students are asked to self-­register through the COMPALL platform and through the ‘Albo ufficiale di Ateneo (university register). Selections are made on the basis of an excellent academic performance and/or practical experience in the field of adult education.

Despite the integration of the module into adult education and lifelong learning programmes, the partner consortium experienced a high level of diversity among participants, which is influenced by a wide variety of factors:

Disciplinary background of students

At the various partner universities, studies in adult education and lifelong learning are situated in very different study structures and disciplines. Whereas some partner universities already have a broad spectrum of adult education offerings←161 | 162→ at the undergraduate level, other partner universities only offer some lectures and modules in adult and continuing education at the masters level. At other universities, it is common to focus on adult education only during doctoral studies. As a consequence, knowledge about discourses and research results in the adult education sector of their home contexts (frequently from a national basis) varies strongly between participants. Diversity is found with regard to

English language skills: students English skills and confidence in writing and talking in English based on their cultural and educational tradition;

on-­campus preparation at partner universities: the structure and organisation of preparation at each home university;

previous participation in the COMPALL Joint Module: students previous enrolment in a former Winter School that allows them to face the experience with more self-­confidence and readiness;

peer experience and learning: the presence of former students allows for implementing peer learning experiences beginning during the on-­campus preparation phase at their own universities;

extent of ECTS recognition: each university awards a different number of ECTS credits, according to local rules and policies;

participants study level of participants: as mentioned before, masters or doctoral level.

Personalised pathways

Owing to the differences between students joining the Joint Module COMPALL in terms of previous disciplinary background, knowledge of lifelong learning and adult education policies, English skills, essay-­writing experience, and so forth, the need of having personalised pathways becomes clear. The establishment of such pathways involves requirements, such as considering the fact that students have different learning biographies which have an impact on the knowledge they will develop and on their performance while preparing themselves for the intensive programme, as well as during the intensive programme and afterwards, when writing the comparative education article.←162 | 163→

Figure 1: Personalised pathways within the Joint Module COMPALL


Source: COMPALL 2017

Joining the Joint Module COMPALL involves three steps. After registering, students are asked to prepare themselves for attending the intensive programme. The preparation phase includes diverse strategies aimed at supporting students. Several universities have developed different preparation pathways, including various steps of learning and discussion. Professors at students home universities, whether joining the COMPALL project or not, guide students in their exploration of topics concerning adult education and lifelong learning. This phase generally starts in September and October of the year prior to the intensive programme. This preparation phase includes watching online tutorials available via the Moodle course of the Joint Module COMPALL and as open educational resources at the project website (COMPALL, 2017). These online tutorials are aimed at promoting on-­campus preparation at students home universities through self-­directed learning tutorials (such as videos asking students to read books, articles, and anthologies and to perform specific tasks). These tutorials prepare students in terms of both content and analysis. There is also an attempt to enhance students English skills by having them watch and listen to videos and read existing materials (PowerPoint slides, articles, anthologies, etc.). This preparation phase is compulsory for masters students but optional for doctoral students. Apart from the work based on the online tutorials, both masters and doctoral students have to prepare a transnational essay of 5–6 pages on one specific issue to be debated←163 | 164→ in small comparative groups during the second week of the intensive programme. This transnational essay is a written document, structured and written according to academic writing criteria, on a specific problem or issue significant for an understanding of adult education and lifelong learning policies. It is also a document that somehow reflects the debate on this specific problem or issue in students home country. This document is used in the second week of the intensive programme in the comparison of national approaches in adult education and lifelong learning.

In this transnational essay, information and evidence are presented, analysed, and applied to a particular problem or issue. This problem or issue has previously been identified as a subtopic to which the group work is devoted. This transnational essay has to be a response to the general questions, drawing on the defined contexts and categories of comparison provided previously by the intensive programme. It has to follow the structure identified by the participant guide for writing the transnational essay: students must include a cover page, a summary, a table of contents, an introduction, some chapters, conclusions, references, and an appendix. For this transnational essay, masters students can be expected to need more guidance than doctoral students. For the purpose of writing this transnational essay, the Moodle course of the Joint Module COMPALL provides self-­directed guidance materials. Additionally, students may receive guidance from the moderators of the comparative groups under development during the second week of the intensive programme. Experienced doctoral students may also give additional guidance to students.

Attending the intensive programme in face-­to-­face sessions during two weeks in February each year is the second phase of the Joint Module COMPALL. In the first week, students are asked to join classroom sessions directed at debating lifelong learning strategies in Europe. In addition, students discuss issues concerning adult education and lifelong learning policies, make field visits, and debate relevant matters with guest speakers. This first week includes classes aiming at debating transnational issues such as European education policies and analytical models to be used in these discussions. Students are joined by scholars and stakeholders in adult education and lifelong learning as well as providers of adult and continuing education in Germany. Apart from that, reflection is the preferred pedagogic strategy for combining theory and practice based on the observations made during the field visits and the input from guest speakers. Finally, students are invited to join a role play on adult education and lifelong learning policies.

In the second week, students join small groups on specific topics related to the transnational essays they wrote during the preparation phase. The aim of these←164 | 165→ groups involves comparing lifelong learning and adult education policies. For achieving comparison, this second week includes discussion on how to compare and what to compare when considering adult education and lifelong learning policies. Afterwards, students work in small groups based on their previously written transnational essays. The transnational essay is presented by students during the second week in their respective comparative groups. It is discussed by comparative group professors and other colleagues in order to further prepare the authors for writing a comparative scientific article on a specific topic to be published after peer review.

Students attendance of the intensive programme, the second step of the joint module methodology, is quite different from the first step. It is intended to encourage debates on lifelong learning strategies in Europe and to foster comparison between the different countries represented. This group work is directed at finding similarities and differences between adult education and lifelong learning policies. Each student analyses these similarities and differences as well as the contextual and historical dimensions that justify comparison. During this second week, students are asked to prepare a poster presentation for all students attending the intensive programme. They use the posters to present the content of the discussions held and the results of comparing national educational and learning policies.

The two face-­to-­face weeks are attended by masters and doctoral students. These are different students in terms of the level of higher education they attend. However, the face-­to-­face weeks follow a similar path for both groups of students, even if the evaluations by professors supervising the first week or by those supervising the comparative group work may identify differences in the quality of discussion and comprehension of the problems and issues debated. During these two weeks, students are asked to attend lectures, complete tasks, and develop various activities, regardless of whether they are masters or doctoral students.

The third step is the post-­campus phase. This phase is optional. It consists of preparing a comparative paper to be submitted and published. Students are organised into smaller groups for writing a comparative paper. Guided by comparative group moderators, the writing involves comparisons of different adult education and lifelong learning policies, according to a specific topic raised in the second week of the intensive programme. The academic papers are to be published in an edited volume.

Therefore, the aim of the third phase of the intensive programme is to write research papers be presented to academic journals or books. It is specifically directed at doctoral students. This phase happens in the months following the face-­to-­face phase of the intensive programme. The papers to be written are comparative re←165 | 166→search papers that follow general academic criteria. These papers are informed by the transnational essays written by the doctoral students, the debates and tasks completed during the face-­to-­face phase, and by further readings, writings, and guidelines provided by the professors supervising the writing of each of these papers.

The post-­campus strategies include activities to value, share, and disseminate the intensive programme experiences, for example through peer tutoring activities after the intensive programme or through strategies to integrate the results of the Joint Module COMPALL in the local curriculum and dissemination actions. The University of Würzburg devotes specific attention to this phase. After the intensive programme, participants are asked to elaborate the results of their group work in a paper of about 10–15 pages. A former participant of the intensive programme presents his or her experiences to future participants in one of the preparatory sessions. Students can contact that former participant for advice and guidance.

After attending the Joint Module COMPALL, the doctoral students are made aware of other international study possibilities and get the opportunity to report their experiences to other doctoral students during their colloquia.

Curricular implementation of the Joint Module COMPALL

The implementation and local recognition of the Joint Module COMPALL are influenced by local situations. In fact, it had to be adapted to the characteristics of each specific context, defined by universities purposes, policies, and constraints, as well as meso-­level factors. Therefore, even if there has been a high level of sharing among partners in the process of defining and implementing the Joint Module COMPALL, there are various levels of integration into local curricula, resulting in varying degrees of ECTS recognition at each university partner.

As shown in Table 1, there are four main models of integration within the COMPALL consortium and four related ways of awarding ECTS credits for the various local degree programmes:

1. Modular integration into masters studies in education: this mode of integration is realised when the Joint Module COMPALL is part of the local study courses;

2. Recognition as part of qualification programmes at the doctoral level (e.g. in graduate schools): For doctoral students, no ECTS recognition is possible, but the programme is included in the doctoral learning path;

3. Issuing of extracurricular certificates, which represent evidence of in-­depth studies of international adult education and which students can receive next to their regular studies (e.g. International Adult Education at the University of Würzburg);←166 | 167→

4. Opportunity for exchange students, who do not have to follow local curricula that closely, and for whom the intensive programme provides additional value as part of their international studies.

Table 1: Modular integration of the Joint Module into local curricula

University partners

Courses of study






First year of masters degree course: Bildungswissenschaft (Education); it is realised in the module of Bildungmanagement (Educational management)





First and second year of masters degree course: Bildungs-­und Erziehungswissenschaft (Education) realised in the module of Theoretical and methodological approaches to research in adult education/further education: Project learning


University of



First and second year of masters degree in Adult Education. Lifelong Learning and Pedagogical Science of the University of Florence; students can ask for recognition of the Joint Module


University of Padua


Part of the masters degree course in Management of Educational Services and Lifelong Education.

It includes two different courses:

i) Development and management of educational services;

ii) Adult and continuing education


University of Pécs


The Joint Module is part of the new curriculum of the masters programme in Andragogy/Adult education


Source: Authors own

At all university partners, the Joint Module COMPALL includes the preparatory phase and the intensive programme organised every year in Würzburg, but the information summarised in Table 1 shows both the different levels of recognition of the Joint Module COMPALL (owing to the diverse characteristics of local and national contexts and policies) and the fact that doctoral studies are not organised in terms of ECTS at any partner university.

At the University of Pécs in Hungary, Joint Module credits were recognised by the M.A. programmes in Adult Education and the M.A. in Human Resources Counselling for the 2016 academic year. In the 2017 academic year, a new aca←167 | 168→demic curriculum was established, in which the Joint Module COMPALL is recognised by the M.A. programme in Andragogy/AE. In addition, the COMPALL Joint Module is integrated as a subject addressing adult learning and education research. This shows that the Joint Module COMPALL also has to adapt to regular changes within the masters programmes at the partner universities.

The different levels of Joint Module COMPALL recognition are connected to grading criteria when masters students gain ECTS and have to show a grade. But there are several participants who do not target a formal recognition within their studies. Their priority is developing their English language and essay-­writing skills, being part of on international experience, and learning about comparative methodology. These are the really important aspects of the learning experience for all participants.

The most important and common grading criteria are related to the preparation of the transnational essay and the presentation of the results of their pre-­campus work. In addition to these grading criteria, the universities of Hamburg and Würzburg also consider the subsequent and compulsory delivery of a 10–15-page paper about the results of students comparative group work, including some reflections that emerged during and after the intensive programme phase.

The case of University of Florence deserves special attention because it awards 12 ECTS credits, showing how the Joint Module COMPALL is relevant to the students who choose to participate. It represents a specific unit of analysis (see the box below).

A brief presentation of the case of the University of Florence

This box is devoted to the way the Joint Module COMPALL is integrated into the curricula of the University of Florence, because the processes of promotion, participation/selection, pre-­campus preparation, post-­campus experience, evaluation, and recognition of the Joint Module COMPALL are quite substantial.

i) The process of promotion requires that the Joint Module COMPALL is presented on the website of the Department of Education and Psychology starting in August each year; then during the classes Methodology of research, Adult education, Pedagogy of educational and social policies, and Laboratory of educational project management, during which some feedback by former participants is provided.

This first process is also supported by the Albo ufficiale of the university, a public register of competitive bursaries or scholarships, which also provides useful information on the COMPALL scholarship for students. The purpose is to comply with academic rules, according to which all scholarships must be awarded in a public and transparent manner.←168 | 169→

ii) The second process refers to the selection criteria for the participation in intensive programme. Among those criteria for students who choose to attend the pre-­campus preparation phase and the intensive programme in Würzburg is that they must be enrolled in the first or second year of the masters degree in Adult education. In addition, students must be attending or have attended the classes Methodology of research in education and Adult education. The participation requires that students apply for the intensive programme scholarship both via the Winter School website and via the Albo ufficiale di Ateneo.

The possibility to participate in the whole project depends on some specific selection criteria such as: a) students ability to write a paper of quality for presentation during the Winter School; b) good or excellent academic performance; c) knowledge of or practical experience in adult education; d) at least B1-level English language skills; e) strong motivation.

iii) The selection process leads students to the third important phase of pre-­campus preparation, realised through scheduled meetings. This phase is generally common at all university partners, but at the University of Florence, the explicit focus is both on essay writing, with proper attention devoted to the theoretical framework of comparative studies, and on the soft skills needed for the group work activities.

iv) The evaluation phase is another relevant aspect at the University of Florence, because students have to write a paper of at least 30 pages in English about their Winter School experience. The paper assessment criteria are related to the level of accuracy and the use of scientific terms, as well as the structure of the paper. The grading criteria of the whole experience also include students regular and active participation in the on-­campus preparation activities.

v) During the post-­campus phase, students are asked to write a 10-page paper about the Winter School experience; it includes a description of their motivation for participating; a presentation of the Winter School experience including a comparison of their expectations, learning outcomes, and future perspectives. The purpose of this paper is to show the level of improvement in students English language, writing, and analytical skills.

To receive 12 ECTS credits for the Joint Module COMPALL for their local curricula, Florence students must complete the entire process: from pre-­campus preparation to the post-­intensive programme experience, including all the tasks presented in the previous paragraphs.←169 | 170→


One of the most important aims of European policies is to support the internationalisation process and to promote dialogue and co-­operation among higher education institutions, as required by the necessity of young peoples mobility, and enforced by globalisation and innovation. The COMPALL consortium has attempted to face that challenge, requiring all partners to be able to share their expertise, their knowledge, and to create new knowledge, questioning their teaching and didactics, their traditions, identifying their strengths and their weaknesses, and implementing a strong process of peer-­learning among them. The output of this process is the development and the implementation of a common joint module involving students with different educational and cultural backgrounds to take part in the intensive programme in Würzburg as a place of learning and peer-­learning.

The success of the COMPALL consortium can be identified in the possibility to mitigate the differences between the various teaching, didactical, and cultural perspectives by bridging them through the Joint Module COMPALL while at the same time respecting personal and local traditions and being aware of the constraints of contexts and policies.

Another important result has been the commitment registered among partners to advocate for some changes in their local contexts and to obtain increasing ECTS recognition as part of their local degree programmes.

In conclusion, the aspects outlined above are the most important lessons learned from the whole project, because the implementation of shared knowledge (Joint Module COMPALL), built on the responsibility, commitment, availability of understanding contexts, cultures, policies, the willingness of learning and exchanging expertise, welcoming the diversity of participants, and thinking about the relevance of a personalised learning pathway, need to be interpreted as the possibility to connect the differences, to find out a common language, and a common ground on which higher education institutions can build the process of co-­operation, innovation, and exchange good practices.


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