In 2014, co_LAB was part of a successful funding application to form an EU Erasmus+ Strategic Partnership in Higher Education. The consortium of 10 universities from across Europe were awarded €450,000 and will present an opportunity to develop a European network of researchers exploring forms of digital scholarship. Staff from the University of Lincoln will be collaborating with the following universities:
- Hochschule Magdeburg-Stendal, FH (Germany)
- Tampere University of Applied Sciences, TAMK (Finland)
- Tampereen Yliopisto, UTA (Finland)
- University of Aalborg (Denmark)
- Fachhochschule Potsdam (Germany)
- Suleyman Demirel University, Faculty of Education (Turkey)
- Univerza V Ljubljani (Slovenia)
- Lapland University of Applied Sciences (Finland)
- International University of Applied Sciences, CVJM-Hochschule (Germany)
The project, entitled OnCreate, is focussed on the exchange, implementation and evaluation of processual and contextual knowledge of online collaborative courses, with focus on creation and innovation. By the term “Creative Online Collaboration Processes” we refer to those activities which aim to solve in a group problems that do not have standard solutions, mediated through web-based tools. Typically, such problems require interdisciplinary, lateral thinking, social empathy and extensive ideation with the aim of mutual inspiration. The processes applied are often nonlinear and rely on multimodal means of synchronous and asynchronous communication, with a special focus on visual tools. The highly interdisciplinary “Design Thinking” (as defined by Stanford University’s d.school) will serve as a common design process reference throughout the project.
Study programmes following ‘blended-learning’ or even pure online approaches are becoming increasingly popular in higher education. Two main drivers for this development are increasing international cooperations among universities and with industry partners and the special requirements of students in continuing education programmes. But even regular courses use online platforms to establish a permanent point of exchange beyond the weekly course meetings. Yet in a time, where the use of eLearning platforms, Google Drive and Skype feels commonplace, the abundance of available tools conceals the scarcity of processual knowledge to use them, especially compared to the richness of methods we use to apply in physical teaching and collaboration. In physical rooms, we are used to create spaces and processes to ideally support ideation and creation processes (e.g. Doorley & Witthoft (2012) Make Space – How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration, Wiley). This project seeks to create virtual spaces for creative learning in a similar manner, addressing frequent problems we encounter in online collaboration:
- How do we increase the frequency and intensity of synchronous and asynchronous collaboration?
- How can we utter constructive reviews openly in an emotionally restricted environment without risking serious and discouraging misunderstandings?
- How do we communicate ideas visually and in realtime?
- How can we communicate visual, auditive and haptic qualities through a remote digital interface?
- How can we improve the perception of presence and the feeling of sociability to increase student commitment?
The project is divided in three main phases. The partners will spend the first six months to compile best practises from both within and outside the consortium, to agree on a common course schedule for the following project phase and to define initial approaches for prospective evaluation of courses. The second phase will last about two years, implementing, evaluating and improving online collaborative courses in at least four iterations. In the final six months of the project, the courses will continue, but the project resources will be concentrated mainly on documentation and dissemination activities. In particular, the project will follow these objectives:
- Collect best-practice examples among partners and outside the consortium.
- Compile, apply and continuously improve a common evaluation framework for quality assurance (QA) and quality enhancement (QE) of creative online collaboration courses and environments. Reflecting the consortium’s core expertises, the partners will develop a unique interdisciplinary approach between higher education didactics and user experience research.
- Compile a common course schedule with at least 4 cooperatively offered online collaborative courses between project partners per year. Additionally partners will apply the results of OnCreate to a number of their internal courses. These courses will be subject to continuous evaluation and improvement in at least 4 iterations. The conducting/teaching of the courses as such will not be funded by the project.
- Create layouts/guidelines of virtual collaboration environments and respective implementation guidelines targeted at different problem areas and stages in the creation process.
- Hold two public one-day workshops attached to existing conferences.
- Contribute project results to existing open educational repositories and cross-link these repositories on the OnCreate project web-page.
- Hold web-based seminars and workshops to pilot the consortium’s research into online collaboration spaces and methods.