Apr 30, 2019

Trailblazing technology-enhanced collaborative learning

Teaching & Learning 4 min read

KU Leuven a pioneer in technology-enhanced collaborative learning – copyright ©imec 2019

Pioneering technology-enhanced collaborative learning

EdTech and collaborative learning are two of the most talked about topics in Higher Education, but what is it like being a pioneer and rolling out technology-enhanced collaborative learning in one of the world’s top 100 universities? We asked Ine Windey of KU Leuven this and seven other questions.

Why is this a priority for KU Leuven?

Higher Education is seeing three paradigm shifts:

  • From passive to interactive learning
  • From individual learning to collaborative learning
  • From one learning space to learning spaces in multiple locations

KU Leuven want to pioneer this transformation and use technology to boost interactivity and collaboration, raise engagement levels and improve the success of students.

This is going to become more important as students are not being educated in a way that is consistent with the current context of our society.

How did you approach this?

The Technology-Enhanced Collaborative Learning (TECOL) project was setup three years ago. KU Leuven worked with Barco and Televic Education to setup a number of “living labs” on their Kortrijk campus. These labs were used to pilot collaborative learning environments for a two-year period.

A multi-discipline project team was formed to setup the environments and to assess their impact. The core team included two professors, two IT experts, a researcher, the lead for education in their faculty and Ine (who managed the project, coordinated the research, promoted the project and advised teachers on course redesign).

The successful elements from the Pilot were then included in the rollout to other faculties and the project team has grown to include ambassadors in each faculty, who have proved very helpful in terms of encouraging adoption and identifying specific issues within their faculty.

What have been the benefits?

There has been an improvement in learning outcomes in certain situations, but not for all. It depends on the course and the context. In general, improvements in learning outcomes are only achieved if a course is redesigned or adapted for the new learning space.

Behavioral intentions and user attitudes (from both staff and students) have become more positive. And scores are significantly higher after teachers and students experience the technology.

Adoption has varied however. More conservative faculties tend to have more conservative students and see slower adoption and less impact. There are no hard and fast rules though. A large group of highly active teachers in the Arts faculty drove adoption and initially proved to be more enthusiastic than the students (they caught up quickly though).

The project has made a global impact with requests being received from all over the world for visits to see the labs.

Students in KU Leuven’s “hybrid classroom” – copyright ©imec 2019

What have been the challenges?

Adoption has been a major challenge. On Ine’s campus around 50% of teachers are using the new learning spaces, but not for all their work. Some teachers have only taken small steps, but every year they expand and do more. There are a few teachers who are against the whole idea, but there is a much larger and growing group of believers. Students are helping to spread the message. Once they have been exposed to the new learning spaces on one course, they want to know why they are not available for their other courses.

What have you learned along the way?

Adoption of these new learning spaces can be quite a lot of investment for a teacher. They can’t just come in and start a lecture, they need to re-think the design of their course to make the best use of the space.

The concept has to be sold to the faculties and their members. That’s why Ine organizes regular tours and holds “hands-on” workshops with different faculties. Once people have tried the technology they realize “it is perfectly manageable and not rocket science”, their fears of losing control melt away.

Having a network of ambassadors – teaching assistants in each faculty responsible for the project – has been key to the project’s success. They spread the latest information across their faculty and feedback information on faculty-specific needs and issues to the project team. Their contribution has been extremely valuable.

What advice would you give others?

  1. If you want to deliver change you need to know your users and you have to know what both students and teachers really need
  2. If you are in the change process, include ambassadors within the faculties, people who know the specific needs and issues of their relevant faculty
  3. Give yourself time, success will not come overnight, learn from your successes and failures and take small steps

What will the future hold?

We have only just started seeing the added value of technology in Higher Education. It’s only the “tip of the iceberg”.

Most people teach using methods teachers used 100 years ago and there will be many opportunities for further improvements in the future. AI for instance won’t replace teachers any time soon, but can free them from repetitive exercises and allow the development of more personalized learning trajectories.

What has it been like working on the project?

Rewarding, but challenging – very challenging. KU Leuven started from scratch. Initially, some of the technology was not productized and could break at inconvenient moments.

However, KU Leuven, the staff and the students are seeing the benefits and it has all been very worthwhile.

KU Leuven’s TECOL project is a Barco case study.

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