International Cooperations, Projects, and Events
European Universities Discuss Digital Exams
COVID-19 has made the need for digital and alternative types of exams clear for all higher education institutions. Assessment of students’ academic performance through exams has become a particular area of focus, in which a wide variety of new formats are currently being developed and discussed. Because distance learning universities are especially sought-after in this context and their diverse student bodies have similar needs for flexibility, the FernUniversität invited its partner institutions Open University of Jyväskylä, Universidad Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) and Open Universiteit Nederland to take part in a series of roundtable discussions.
High Priority of Proctoring
“Proctoring is a high-priority topic at the FernUniversität at the moment,” reported Dr. Andreas Kempka from the FernUniversität’s Coordinating Office for e-Learning and Educational Technology (eKOO). Along with staff from the FernUniversität’s Center for Media and IT (ZMI), the International Office, and the Chief Digital Officer, Kempka participated in the dialogue. “Overall there have been a lot of pilot projects in this area with different providers, although the legal frameworks for exams and data protection law, as well as the capacities of the systems involved, represent the biggest challenges on a European level.”
In addition to developing new digital exam formats, online proctoring represents another important strategy for digitalizing examinations. With proctoring, types of assessments that have historically been easily scalable, such as written exams, can still be carried out under fair conditions from a distance. “In the Faculty of Psychology, we had already begun a pilot program for computer-supported exams in the regional centers at the beginning of 2020, before we were faced with new challenges due to corona,” said Prof. Dr. Stefan Stürmer, Dean of the Faculty of Psychology. “In Jyväskylä and at the Open Universiteit this model has already been successfully implemented in many centers for some time, including in cooperation with traditional in-person universities.”
The UOC has developed a system that makes it possible to organize and hold oral final exams while maintaining appropriate data protection. “With our app, we can already carry out a large number of exams digitally,” explained Sergi Martinez and Laura Castillo from the UOC’s eLearn Center.
Regular Meetings Planned
Beyond technical and legal questions, alternative formats such as open book exams and continuous assessment, which evaluates students’ progress throughout the course, will be discussed. All participants agreed that the first two meetings are only the beginning of the exchange, which was initiated by the FernUniversität’s International Office.
“In 2021, we will engage in regular dialogue, because we only profit from the experiences of our partners and we can make progress together,” commented Markku Närhi, Head of IT at the University of Jyväskylä. How to organize digital, secure, and resilient systems of assessment will be a major topic in the next years.
The partners will also participate in the European working group on eAssessment, which is currently being formed in the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU). “We urgently need a Europe-wide solution and consistent implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation,” declared Prof. Jose Janssen of the Open Universiteit. This can only be achieved in dialogue between distance learning universities and policymakers on a European level.
International Virtual Academic Collaboration
The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) is funding four international teaching projects at the FernUniversität in Hagen as part of its International Virtual Academic Collaboration (IVAC) funding program.
With a total of four funded projects, the FernUniversität is the best-represented German higher education institution in the program. The participating faculties include the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (Chair of Instructional Technology and Media and Chair of History and Presence of Pre-Modern Europe), the Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science (Chair of Parallelism and VLSI) and the Faculty of Law. The projects take a variety of approaches to international collaboration, including blended international mobility, collaboration in a virtual lab, and joint creation of educational products.
The IVAC funding program was created to promote virtual mobility and collaboration in order to address the challenges of the pandemic and to ensure an international dimension in blended study programs. This gives students the opportunity to gain intercultural experience without going abroad, while the participating chairs have the chance to strengthen their cooperations with international partner universities. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) will sponsor the IVAC program with a total of 5.5 million euro through the end of 2021.
Distributed Security Laboratory (DiSel): In a practical laboratory course on network security, students complete assignments in international groups using a decentralized virtual machine. They receive automated feedback through an AI-based assistance system developed by the Open Universiteit and the FernUniversität in Hagen.
Virtual Mobility in Educational Sciences: In collaboration with the Open Universiteit and the University of Jyväskylä, students in the master’s program in eEducation will be offered a Virtual Mobility Track, in which students will collaborate on project-based assignments in international teams.
Forgotten Histories – International Medieval Learning: In a combination of online and in-person teaching, participating master’s students and doctoral candidates at the partner universities will create videos of historical locations with commentary, which will be shared with other students and used as the basis for collaborative assignments over the course of the semester.
EDELNet+ PhD Training in Research Methods and Skills: The existing network EDELNET (European Distance Education in Law Network) will be expanded with three new partners: the University of Bologna, the University of Wroclaw, and the University of Miskolc. The goal of the project is to develop a joint hybrid training program for interdisciplinary legal research methods and skills for early-career researchers.
Scholars at Risk
Whether through war or political pressure, research and scholarship are threatened in many countries. The Scholars at Risk (SAR) network has worked to protect scholars who are threatened or persecuted in their home countries since its founding in 1999. Since October 2019, the FernUniversität in Hagen is a member of the network of over 500 academic and research institutions in 41 countries.
With its membership in the organization, the FernUniversität expresses its support for the fundamental value of academic freedom and its solidarity with at-risk scholars worldwide. Its membership offers the FernUniversität a variety of ways to get involved, ranging from participation in relevant conferences and workshops to lecture series to hosting scholars who are in danger or who have fled persecution.
As a member of SAR the FernUniversität is automatically a part of the organization’s German section. The main contact institution for the section is the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Bonn. Among the assistance that SAR provides is mediating placements for endangered scholars at host institutions as well as threat assessments for the Philipp Schwartz Initiative. Via this initiative, higher education and research institutions in Germany receive the means to host at-risk researchers for 24 months with a fully-funded fellowship.
Drawing on its unique strengths as a distance-learning university, the FernUniversität also offers the option of a remote affiliation for at-risk scholars who are not able to travel, whether due to official restrictions, travel bans, or factors related to the current COVID-19 crisis. With the help of a hosting chair, at-risk scholars who are remotely affiliated with the FernUniversität may:
- Register a guest account for the FernUniversität’s online services and access the library’s online resources
- Publish academic work in affiliation with the FernUniversität
- Network and exchange ideas with researchers at the FernUniversität and develop new contacts in the academic world
If you would like to know more about remote affiliations or other ways to support at-risk scholars, the FernUniversität’s International Office is happy to offer information, advising, and support.
External Funding Options
Phone: +49 2331 987-2478
FernUniversität Follows French President's Initiative
In his Sorbonne speech in September 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron recommended founding at least 20 European Universities by 2024. These European Universities will consist of a network of universities from multiple European countries which work together across national and disciplinary borders in order to address the social challenges and skills shortages facing Europe. In addition, they should serve as sites for pedagogical innovation and excellent research.
The FernUniversität has responded to French President Emmanuel Macron’s call and has become a partner in the OpenEU European Universities Initiative. In the European Universities Initiative’s second call for proposals, the FernUniversität in Hagen has joined its partner distance-learning university in Catalonia, the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) in its OpenEU application.
This positions distance learning universities as universities of the future in the context of lifelong learning, flexibility and accessibility. In addition to the FernUniversität, the seven partners include the Open Universiteit Nederland, the Open University UK, the Open University of Jyväskylä (associated), Anadolu University (Turkey), the Open University of Cyprus, and Hellenic Open University. The network includes more than 1.5 million students and is the first pan-European association of open universities. The term “open” refers to the model of digital/blended learning for a diverse student body, in the sense of creating equal opportunities (“widening participation”). The results of the call are expected in June 2020.
The application and further opportunities for collaboration were discussed in a network meeting with the UOC and the Open University of Jyväskylä at the end of February in Jyväskylä, Finland. “In addition to the EUI application, we are planning measures to support our staff, including a job shadowing initiative and a teaching unit on international cooperations as part of our eTeaching certificate,” reported Prof. Uwe Elsholz, Vice-President for Continuing Education, Knowledge Transfer and International Affairs. “We are intensifying our cooperation with the UOC and the Open University of Jyväskylä,” added Dr. Ingrid Thaler, coordinator of the International Office. “In particular, these universities are ideal partners for international teaching projects in the context of the Funding Program for Innovative Teaching. The International Office is happy to facilitate contact.”
Funding Program for Innovative Teaching
The FernUniversität's internal Funding Program for Innovative Teaching was developed as part of the University Development Plan 2020 to promote forward-looking approaches to teaching and learning.
The funding program has already had three successfull calls for proposals since 2016, which focused on the strategic development areas of internationalization, digitalization, and the structure of study programs. With a total funding volume of 2 million euro to date, numerous projects have been successfully initiated and carried out.
In order to create new space for innovation, in 2020, there will be two more calls which are open to projects on any topic.The deadline for the first call is May 15, and the second is October 15.
The FernUniversität in Hagen considers international digital teaching and learning, in the form of virtual mobility, to be a cornerstone of its academic positioning. As a supplement or alternative to physical mobility, students at the FernUniversität have the opportunity to experience international university life and collaborate with students from other countries through virtual mobility. For students whose personal or professional situations do not allow for physical stay abroad, virtual mobility represents an opportunity to broaden their perspectives in a virtual setting.
Since 2016, a number of international digital/blended teaching projects have been established in a variety of degree programs at the FernUniversität in Hagen, seven of which were generously supported by the internal Funding Program for Innovative Teaching.
On the basis of these projects, the FernUniversität's International Office has compiled a set of guidelines to provide information and support for teaching staff interested in setting up a joint digital or blended learning unit with international partners. For more information about and support with international teaching collaborations at the FernUniversität, please do not hesitate to contact the International Office.
The FernUniversität’s annual International Day is an important forum for internal exchange about the progress of internationalization activities in teaching and learning, research, training the next generation of scholars and knowledge transfer at the FernUniversität.
On November 3, 2020 the FernUniversität's International Day took place in digital form for the first time. The format of the event reflected its main topics: digital internationalization and virtual mobility.
With around 40 participants, the digital debut was a resounding success. The attendees took part in a lively discussion on topics such as finding and working together with international partners, the scope of international teaching projects in terms of ECTS credits, language courses, and the impact of the pandemic on digital international projects.
New developments relating to internationalization at the FernUniversität were presented and team members of the international projects offered one another support by sharing their experiences and tips — there was a great deal of interest in continuing this discussion in an internal Community of Practice. Interested parties are warmly invited to attend the next meeting on February 8, 2021 – save the date!
Kateryna Holubinka from the Chair of Instructional Technology & Media offered special thanks to the head of the international office for her dedication: “Ingrid Thaler and her team have greatly supported our international cooperation project on Instructional Design, helping tremendously with the DAAD application. It is great luck for our project to have such a fairy godmother.”
A full video of the event is available on our German-language site.
The 2019 International Day demonstrated the diversity of approaches to internationalization at the FernUniversität.
The presentations at the event included overviews of the wide variety of international projects and activities at each of the FernUniversität's five faculties, information about opportunities for FernUniversität staff to gain international experience through programs such as Erasmus+ Staff Weeks and job shadowing, and an introduction to the International Office's newly-published guidelines for international digital teaching projects, which draw on the experiences of FernUniversität teaching staff to provide support for new teaching projects and partnerships.
A topic of special interest was the FernUniversität's recent entry into the global network Scholars at Risk, an association of over 500 academic and research institutions in 41 countries which provides support and solidarity to scholars whose academic freedom is threatened in their home countries. As a special international guest, the Turkish researcher Elif Sandal Önal reported on the situation of scholars who are critical of the government in her homeland. Önal herself currently lives in Bielefeld, Germany. The Turkish government confiscated her passport after she signed the Academics for Peace petition along with hundreds of other scholars in 2016.
Erasmus+ Staff Week
The FernUniversität regularly hosts Erasmus+ Staff Weeks, which connect staff from higher education institutions across Europe to discuss current topics in higher education.
Please note that in light of the current situation relating to the coronavirus (COVID-19), the FernUniversität has decided in the interest of the health and safety of our participants to postpone all events on campus for this year, including the Erasmus+ Staff Week. We are currently in the process of determining an alternate date for 2021, and will provide more information as soon as this has been finalized. We hope that despite this change you still have the interest and time to participate in our Staff Week in Hagen next year.
The FernUniversität's 2018 Staff Week focused on the topic of Designing and Developing Learning in Distance Education and included exchange on best practices in distance education and presentations on the future of distance learning.