The development of e-learning tools has had considerable impact on education and training. However, such tools are not yet used to their full potential for the benefit of education in Europe. Educational institutions should be equipped with the technical infrastructure and software and co-operate between themselves in order to create synergies. Teachers should be aware and know how to apply new electronic means of teaching and communicating with their students. Education ministries must be able to evaluate study periods of e-learning and degrees so obtained. E-learning also offers new opportunities for vocational training, continuing education and in-house company training, and has the potential to be a powerful means of creating open educational resources accessible to all and thereby counteracting a divided knowledge society.
Opening by Jacques Legendre, Senator (France), Chairperson of the committee
Introduction by Axel Fischer, Member of Parliament (Germany), rapporteur of the committee
Brendan Barrett, Head of Media Studio, United Nations University, Tokyo, Japan (live by videoconference)
Per Bergamin, Director, Institute for Research in Open and Distance Learning and e-Learning, Fernfachhochschule, Brig, Switzerland
Alberto Colorni, Professor and Director, Politecnico di Milano, Italy (live by video-conference)
Serge Ravet, Chief Executive, European Institute for e-Learning, Champlost, France
Wojciech Zielinski, Professor and Pro Vice Chancellor, Academy of Humanities and Economics, Łódź, Poland (live by videoconference)
Bernard Dumont, e-learning consultant, Paris, France
Helmut Hoyer, Rector and Professor, Fern-Universität, Hagen, Germany (live via the Internet)
Brenda Gourley, Vice-Chancellor and Professor, Open University, Milton Keynes, UK
Gilly Salmon, Professor of e-learning and learning technologies, University of Leicester, UK
Keith Bain, International Manager, Liberated Learning Consortium, Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Canada
Axel Fischer, Member of Parliament (Germany), rapporteur of the committee
Mr Legendre, Chairperson of the Committee on Culture, Science and Education, welcomed the theme of this teleconference, which combined education with science, two of the committee’s main areas of activity.
Mr Fischer, rapporteur, underlined the potential of e-learning for school and university education as well as for lifelong learning. Technological progress in this field offered new opportunities for both teaching and learning in classrooms and also at distance, as well as for people with disabilities or special needs. It was important to support such e-learning opportunities. In his report, he wished to address the need to encourage the production of e-learning material and evaluation of the quality of e-learning content.
Mr Barrett, speaking by videoconference from Tokyo, explained that the United Nations University (UNU) in Tokyo had been working on e-learning since 1996 with the launch of the Virtual University Initiative. Following the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, the Global Virtual University of UNU had been created with the help of the Norwegian Government. Also in 2002, the UNU Water Virtual Learning Centre in Hamilton, Canada, had started working on water, environment and health issues. These initiatives required creating the Media Studio at UNU in Tokyo in 2003, which co-ordinated work and developed online educational resources. At the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis, UNU committed itself to fostering an open information society. E-learning helped UNU in its collaborative network to develop e-learning capacities and content and to reach students across the globe.
Mr Fischer said that e-learning was used around the world and many universities co-operated virtually. He asked whether the recognition of study periods presented a problem.
Mr Barrett answered that the European Credit Transfer System was working well in Europe and should be used a reference for other parts of the world.
Mr Solonin asked whether e-learning at international level would be limited by language skills.
Mr Barrett answered that the UNU used predominantly English as the language of communication in e-learning programmes. The technical means existed, however, for rapid translation into other languages.
Mr Bergamin said that at the Fernfachhochschule in Brig, Switzerland, e-learning technologies were used for a blended learning scenario, that is, distribution of information, interaction between teachers and students and collaboration between students, both for distance study and face-to-face classes. There were multiple advantages for students and teachers, such as easier information management and sharing of information, continuous contacts and tutoring, and common content production for both teachers and students. At the same time, there were several challenges to overcome, such as lack of IT skills and the differences between everyday use of IT services and e-learning technologies. Lack of standardisation and quality management hindered the further development of e-learning.
Mr Colorni, speaking by videoconference from Milan, mentioned that the Milan Polytechnic University had had an e-learning centre since 1996 that had been recognised as one of eight examples of good practice by virtual universities in a study by the European Union in 2004, and at present employed 40 persons with an annual budget of €2 million. E-learning at his university focused on all levels of education, that is, high school, university and lifelong learning. The didactic work comprised tutoring, technical work, editing and design. The latter depended to a large degree on the users, their skills and learning demands. E-learning platforms used by the university were both in-house platforms as well as open-source platforms. Some 400 students were currently enrolled in a three-year online degree course in computer engineering with virtual classes, online evaluations and face-to-face examinations. In addition, 40% of the university’s face-to-face courses had learning material on a specific web platform. The university also offered a mathematics online course for high school students and teachers, which used specific didactic tools and language for a high school environment. This course had been followed by some 4 000 students and 300 teachers over the last four years. The Italian Ministry of Labour commissioned a course for young apprentices entering the job market, which was offered on an open platform and had been designed in co-operation with trade unions and employers. The university also offered a course for young persons in prisons, which had been commissioned by the ministries of justice and public education. Finally, the university was offering, in co-operation with NGOs and foundations, online courses for rural areas in Africa which had been followed so far by some 3 500 persons. These projects all had ad hoc design, specific didactic tools and language, collaborative learning processes, tutoring, monitoring and customer evaluation. The challenges experienced with these projects were, among others, standardisation, continuous quality management and teacher training.
Mr Ravet said that the European Institute for e-Learning in Champlost, France, was trying to incorporate e-learning into everyday life and e-training into everyday work. Work, training and life in general should not be separated. Students were not only consumers but also producers of tools and knowledge. The learning continuum was the greatest benefit of e-learning through immediate access to information (search engines), connecting people (social networks), keeping track of learning content (e-portfolios) and building collective knowledge (wikis). It was important to distinguish learning and teaching. The latter was unfortunately often the focus of e-learning, that is, using new technologies for traditional teaching.
Mr Zielinski, speaking by videoconference from Łódź, said that the Academy of Humanities and Economics in Łódź, Poland, had offered online degree studies since 2002. More than 300 students had already graduated. In addition, open courses were offered as well as blended courses using both face-to-face classes and online learning. Through such online programmes, the university had been able to increase access, achieve greater flexibility of programmes, improve the quality, lower the costs and build up e-learning competencies. The main challenges were the didactic skills of the faculty, the public’s low opinion of e-learning, the sometimes poor quality of Internet infrastructure and, most recently, governmental obstacles. The current Polish Minister for Science and Higher Education wanted to restrict e-learning programmes. The latter approach, together with the low public perception of e-learning, should be addressed at European level, where countries could learn from each other.
Mr Dumont said that he had used learning and teaching technologies for some thirty years and had therefore followed the technological development in this field. He was a private consultant at present. The University of Montpellier 3, France, where he had taught, offered online courses and thus prepared students for an e-learning environment. E-learning was, however, also important for large companies in order to ensure company-wide employee training irrespective of the location. Technological decisions were often taken without due respect for didactic requirements and the technological opportunities were not fully taken into account. At the European level, recognition of e-studies and degrees should be advanced and e-learning should also be supported beyond universities.
Mr Hoyer, speaking by videoconference from Hagen, mentioned that the Fern-Universität in Hagen, Germany, used e-learning technologies in an integrated approach to support teaching, communication, tutoring, evaluation and administration. All e-learning components were part of fully accredited university study programmes. There were many benefits of e-learning, such as meeting the individual needs of students, enhancing communication and information management, and building wider networks including virtual study “abroad”. E-learning programmes required teacher training and standardisation of courses. Student support, the development of study materials and the technical infrastructure were also essential. Continuous quality evaluation was necessary to master these challenges. European recognition of virtual studies should be supported together with the development of national competence centres for e-learning.
Mr Fischer asked about e-learning standards and the university teachers’ experience of it.
Mr Hoyer answered that all courses were accredited and therefore met the high quality standards. He suggested that his university could share its experience with traditional universities that did not offer e-learning.
Mr Bergamin answered that the Fernfachhochschule used technological standards such as ADL (Advanced Distributed Learning). He felt that media literacy was a major challenge for students, teachers and people who had no experience of e-learning.
Mr Ravet answered that common standards were a problem. General commercial standards such as IMS and ZIP should be preferred over internal university standards, which often lagged behind the standards used by students.
Mrs Gourley, in her video message, said that e-learning involved collaborative learning with others online, independent online work as well as learning with information and communication technologies. Over the past ten years, the Open University had developed a virtual learning environment based on the open-source platform “Moodle”. E-learning enabled better interaction of students among themselves and with tutors, either individually or as a collaborative group. Learning would be enhanced through animation, simulation, adaptive assessment and virtual realities, and provide better preparation for collaborative working environments. Students could receive more individualised support and avoid isolation. Teachers could better track student progress. The challenges faced by the university were the larger than expected amount of funds invested in ICT applications and staff development as well as keeping up with the rapid technological development. E-learning could be supported at European level by supporting the sharing of e-learning resources, possibly through open-source initiatives.
Mrs Salmon, in her video message, presented the e-learning research activities of the University of Leicester in co-operation with other universities under the Media Zoo project. Several research activities were accessible through a picture of a zoo on their university website, which included student groups using different ICT tools for different research objectives such as developing online pedagogical tools.
Mr Bain, in his video message, referred to the speech recognition technology of the Liberated Learning Consortium of IBM and several universities worldwide. The consortium had pioneered a speech recognition application that automatically transcribed speech, displayed it as readable text in real time, and created web accessible multimedia notes. In traditional classroom environments, this technology could assist students with disabilities as well as students lacking language skills.
Mr Fischer thanked all participants for their valuable contributions, which would be taken into account in his report to be prepared by January 2008.
The full texts are available on the Assembly’s conference website at http://assembly.coe.int/conferences.
Reporting committee: Committee on Culture, Science and Education.
Draft recommendation unanimously adopted by the committee on 22 January 2008.
Members of the committee: Mrs Anne Brasseur (Chairperson), Baroness Hooper, Mr Detlef Dzembritzki, Mr Mehmet Tekelioğlu (Vice-Chairpersons), Mr Remigijus Ačas, Mr Kornél Almássy, Mrs Aneliya Atanasova, Mr Lokman Ayva, Mrs Donka Banović, Mr Rony Bargetze, Mr Walter Bartoš, Mr Radu Mircea Berceanu, Mr Levan Berdzenishvili, Mrs Oksana Bilozir (alternate: Mrs Olha Herasym’yuk), Mrs Guðfinna Bjarnadóttir, Mrs Ana Blatnik, Mrs Maria Luisia Boccia, Mrs Margherita Boniver, Mr Ivan Brajović, Mr Vlad Cubreacov, Mrs Lena Dabkowska-Cichocka, Mr Ivica Dačić, Mr Joseph Debono Grech, Mr Ferdinand Devinsky, Mr Daniel Ducarme (alternate: Mr Hendrik Daems), Mrs Åse Gunhild Woie Duesund, Mrs Anke Eymer, Mr Relu Fenechiu, Mrs Blanca FernándezCapel, Mrs María Emelina Fernández Soriano (alternate: Mr Iñaki Txueka), Mr Axel Fischer, Mr José Freire Antunes (alternate: Mr José Luis Arnaut), Mrs Ruth Genner (alternate: Mrs Doris Fiala), Mr Ioannis Giannellis-Theodosiadis, Mr Ştefan Glǎvan, Mr Vladimir Grachev (alternate: Mr Igor Chernyshenko), Mr Raffi Hovannisian, Mr Rafael Huseynov, Mr Fazail ibrahimli, Mr Mogens Jensen, Mr Morgan Johansson, Mrs Liana Kanelli (alternate: Mrs Rodoula Zissi), Mr Jan Kaźmierczak (alternate: Mr Dariusz Lipiński), Mrs Cecilia Keaveney, Mr Ali Rashid Khalil (alternate: Mr Donato Mosella), Mr Serhii Kivalov, Mr József Kozma, Mr Jean-Pierre Kucheida, Mr Ertuğrul Kumcuoğlu, Mr Markku Laukkanen, Mr Jacques Legendre (alternate: Mr Philippe Nachbar), Mr Yves Leterme, Mr van der Linden, Mrs Jagoda Majska-Martinčević, Mrs Milica Marković, Mrs Muriel Marland-Militello (alternate: Mr Alain Cousin), Mr Andrew McIntosh (alternate: Baroness Knight of Collingtree), Mr Ivan Melnikov, Mrs Maria Manuela Melo, Mrs Assunta Meloni, Mr Paskal Milo, Mrs Christine Muttonen (alternate: Mr Albrecht Konečný), Mrs Miroslava Němcová, Mr Edward O’Hara, Mr Kent Olsson, Mr Andrey Pantev, Mrs Antigoni Papadopoulos, Mr Azis Pollozhani, Mrs Majda Potrata, Mrs Anta Rugāte, Lord Russell-Johnston (alternate: Mr Robert Walter), Mr Indrek Saar, Mr André Schneider (alternate: Mr Frédéric Reiss) Mrs Albertina Soliani, Mr Yury Solonin (alternate: Mr Anatoliy Korobeynikov), Mr Christophe Spiliotis-Saquet, Mrs Doris Stump, Mr Valeriy Sudarenkov, Mr Petro Symonenko, Mr Klaas de Vries, Mr Piotr Wach, Mr Wolfgang Wodarg, N… (alternate: Mrs Rosario Velasco García).
NB: The names of those members present at the meeting are printed in bold.