Virtual Campuses Still Shows a Low Development Level
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During recent years, universities have become increasingly interested in the evaluation of the services they offer. This objective is somewhat elusive because benchmarking efforts usually focus on a concept as intangible as is that of quality. A comparative approach is usually put into practice to analyse different institutions. The objective is to catch that slippery soap-bar concept of quality putting it into indicators.
A European-funded project called Benchmarking of Virtual Campuses (BENVIC) coordinated by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya evaluated virtual universities with specific tools and methodology. Six institutions had been targeted in the second Report produced by Benvic. The six are: University Politehnica of Bucharest, Bucharest, Romania; Dirección General de Ordenación Educativa, Gobierno de La Rioja, Logroño Spain; Novosibirsk State Pedagogical University, Novosibirsk, Russia; Universidade do Porto, Porto, Portugal; ICON Italian Culture on the Net, Pisa, Italy; IPAK Institute for Symbolic Analysis and development of Information Technologies, Valenje, Slovenia.
The BENVIC benchmarking approach combines three types of indicator
Structural indicators assess what are sometimes termed "enablers". Enablers are essentially the resources available to the virtual campus to enable it to carry out its mission and objectives. They include: institutional and human competences; technology platforms and tools; and governance and management structure.
Practice indicators evaluate the ways in which the virtual campus utilises its resources. They assess the work practices and processes of the virtual campus. They focus on: the business strategy of the organisation; its targeting and access policies; and its pedagogic approach.
Performance indicators assess the results of the interaction between work practices and enablers. They focus on outcomes and impacts, such as: learning outcomes; cost-benefits; and technical effectiveness.
The results of the BENVIC Project, summarised in the Report arrive at the conclusion that there is a relatively high level of implementation of Learning Delivery Services in all six institutions analysed across the ten measurements used (from the availability of services supporting pedagogical communication among students and staff to the incorporation of systems for collecting student's usage data and feedback). But the six organisations showed a low level of Learning Development Structures and practices, except for subjects such as Course Design and delivery Guidelines, or authoring tools and support for content developers.
In conclusion, the Report finds a considerable variation in the level of implementation by the participating organisations across each of the benchmarking indicators. The data suggest that most Virtual Campuses are at a relatively low stage of development. If the six virtual campuses are relatively highly developed in terms of Learning Delivery and Technical Capabilities, they are under-developed in Evaluation systems and services, and in services and practices to promote Accessibility. The diffusion of these indicators as a common base of evaluation for all European virtual campuses will be a key element for further evaluations to be conducted at the European level.