Guidelines for International Digital Teaching
Since 2016, nine international digital/blended teaching projects have been established in a variety of degree programs at the FernUniversität in Hagen, seven of which have been generously supported by the internal Funding Program for Innovative Teaching (Förderprogramm Innovative Lehre).
Based on these projects, the International Office at the FernUniversität in Hagen, in close collaboration with our dedicated teaching staff, 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 and to address some of the most relevant issues for international digital teaching collaborations.
The FernUniversität is grateful to its committed teaching staff for setting the stage at our university and sharing their expertise and experience in our institutional Community of Practice and on the web. Additionally, we would like to thank our main partners, Open University of Jyväskylä , Universidad Oberta de Catalunya, and Open Universiteit Nederland for establishing a dialogue for joint international digital teaching as well as the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU) for their ongoing support and input.
Please do not hesitate to contact us for further information and support with international cooperation projects and networks.
Finding your collaborators
There are many ways to find partners. Often personal contacts, chance meetings, or encounters in other contexts may serve as your starting point for working together. Stay open-minded.
We recommend the following established pathways:
- Networks from conferences and other activities: identify interested colleagues and find common ground/interests.
- Joint research endeavors such as publications and third-party research applications: work together with colleagues you know from your research projects.
- Get in touch with the International Office: Especially in online and distance education, there are institutional contacts to a wider area of higher education institutions active in distance and online learning that may be helpful to you.
- Find a joint topic that is relevant to all partners, may be based on your research findings, and, in most cases, features an international dimension in its scope.
Making it work as institutions
The following points provide some suggestions for assessing your compatibility as a consortium:
- Goals: International digital teaching does not occur for its own sake. Rather, it can add to the academic quality of a learning unit/module/degree program by integrating more perspectives or a variety of content, as well as exposing students to different teaching and learning practices. Thus, you should reflect on the overarching goals that you as teaching staff aim to achieve - and that you are willing to invest the extra work for.
- „Pilot project“: It is a good idea to start the collaboration with a smaller pilot project to establish personal contacts and develop the cooperation together.
- Resources: This is an uncomfortable issue in the academic world – how much time am I honestly and reliably able to invest in the project? Assess all partners’ resources and schedules. Plan in sufficient time, similar to working on a research project. Is the intended project feasible? Working together internationally is an effort that is time-consuming and requires committing personal resources. It is an enjoyable experience but it requires your personal investment.
- Curricula: Make sure your teaching project is/can be integrated into all partners’ curricula and/or study offerings. Your project needs to be attractive for all partners’ home institutions.
- Size/credit points/workload: Be aware of different sizes of learning units/modules according to ECTS or other forms of credit points; be aware of differences in estimated workload per credit point.
- Academic schedules: Be aware of differing schedules/academic year/semester times at partner institutions.
- Level of students: Discuss the academic level of your students openly (Bachelor vs. Master, but also beyond: at what stage in their studies are your learners and what kind of support do they need?)
Getting to know each other and staying in touch
We would like to bring up a rather neglected aspect of academic work, which we believe needs significant attention: the interpersonal dimension of international cooperation. We have learned that this aspect has a significant, if not decisive, impact on the success of a project and that we all tend to underestimate the time we need to invest in our relationships with our cooperation partners. Acknowledging interpersonal relationships as central to the success of an academic project requires that you consider how you would like to work together.
Here are our suggestions:
- Be aware that you need to invest time and energy in communication with your partner(s) continuously and throughout the whole project. It is always a work in progress. Enjoy the process of developing something together. Create a sense of commitment and reliability for working together. Please consider time spent with your partners as valuable time that needs to be invested in order to make the cooperation work and to work together efficiently.
- Establish personal contact early: Make sure to meet as a consortium at the beginning of the collaboration to personally get to know each other in a 1-2 day meeting. Make sure all participants are available for at least one joint dinner or social event. Work things out together. Do not expect to "sell" an almost ready product to them.
- It does not end with one meeting at the beginning of you cooperation/collaboration: Meet regularly and take your face-to-face meetings seriously.
- The “How” of your cooperation I: Set up a structure with responsibilities and a coordinating role. Define roles and clearly distribute responsibilities among partners; agree on a coordinator but also find a consensus on the responsibilities of coordination. Partners may take turns in the coordinating role.
- The “How” of your cooperation II: academic hierarchies. Various academic ranks will be involved in the cooperation. Often, these ranks are not communicated explicitly to partners but implicitly assumed. Be diplomatic but also open when discussing responsibilities in the partnership, also in terms of expectations for differing workloads and decision-making.
- Differing work practices: Deadlines and individual commitment of teaching staff. Discuss openly how you work with deadlines and submitting your input. Find some consensus for working together. Keep in mind local/cultural practices and interpretations and make sure you talk about each partner’s expectations openly.
- Offer support for new and young colleagues: Support young and incoming colleagues and make sure to introduce them to the project and the people. Do not bring in new staff who have not been properly introduced into the cooperation and the current stage of the cooperation.
- Keep in mind and address cultural differences in student expectations both from teaching staff and students.
Before you start teaching, being clear about central aspects will help you, your collaboration partner, and most of all your students. We suggest that you consider these aspects when you prepare your course or activity:
- Formats: What formats for content delivery are possible/available for the consortium? What are the educational models of the partners? Blended? Online?
- Learning management system (LMS): Different LMSs are used in institutions, so evaluating which features you need in your course will help you decide for one LMS over another. Also take into consideration the (in)compatibility of platforms. The FernUniversität has an Open Moodle platform which is at your and your partners’ disposal.
- Learning activities: According to your teaching and learning goals for the course or joint activity, do you want your students to work together in synchronous or asynchronous formats?
- Tools: Educational technology helps set your teaching in motion and there are a range of tools you can use. The FernUniversität’s Center for Media and IT provides a handy educational technology tool classification , covering the tools available at the FernUniversität which can also be used in international collaboration. However, take into account issues of technological / technical compatibility that can arise between partner institutions – ranging from application of tools to regulations on how student data is processed. If you need further information, do not hesitate to contact the eKoo team at ekoo
- Season schools: Do you want to focus on or incorporate short face-to-face sessions?
- Teaching approach: In order to share work and responsibility and offer students a well-structured learning experience, consider your teaching approach: Do you want to design your teaching unit collaboratively? Or will each partner deliver separate learning units?
- Student groups: Organize international mixed groups from all partners, so that students have the opportunity to practice working in intercultural teams and learn from each other.
- Student support: How do you support/tutor your students? And how can you adapt student support systems to different class sizes and study levels? Consider using subtitles for your multimedia products (e.g. recorded lectures, tutorials) to accommodate students who might appreciate subtitles at times to follow the content more easily.
- Evaluation: Jointly consider how you evaluate and assess your students’ performance.
Getting in touch with the International Office
The International Office at the FernUniversität is your facilitator for making things happen at your institution and with your partners. It provides institutional backup and support. It acts as a liaison for both international partners and our own FernUniversität staff by establishing contacts internally and externally. While international research is based on individual research interests, international teaching depends much more on the partners’ institutional frameworks (curricula regulations, assessment practices etc.), which determine the scope of what is feasible.
Here is a list of services our International Office offers to you:
- Moderating your cooperation: Our International Office staff is happy to support you by moderating your strategic meetings, especially in the early stages of setting up your consortium.
- Our staff is able to assess the institutional implications and frameworks as well as the necessary institutional support (also from other units at the FernUniversität) at various stages in your international teaching project. We also function as the contact persons for your partners’ central units/International Office.
- Contacts and network: The International Office is responsible for institutional contacts and networks. Please ask for support with international contacts and networks.
- Get feedback on how to raise the visibility of your project internally and externally.
- Financial resources: ask about funding opportunities.
- Institutional support: ask for support from university management.
- Additional support: Do not hesitate to circulate ideas and get feedback/support, also for third-party funding applications.
- Support with cooperation agreement, also including at what stage of your cooperation they may become necessary.
- Contact with the FernUniversität's Community of Practice – exchanging perspectives and learning from colleagues helps to generate new ideas and can be used as peer to peer advising.
- Collaboration with the press and marketing departments on available marketing channels for your project.
Considering the context
Here are some additional ideas to support your international teaching project with institutional accompanying measures:
- Guest lectureships/visiting professorships, possibly in combination with research activities.
- Contract positions in Germany: possibility of supporting your partners via Honorarverträge (contract positions/contract fee).
- If necessary, suggest language training for students of your institution as an accompanying measure.
- Suggest language training for teaching staff. It is always a good idea to polish your language skills, no matter how proficient you are, especially in academic writing and teaching.