Seminar for HERE “Learning outcomes and student-centered learning” (17-19.04.2016, Tallinn)

Event title: Seminar for HERE “Learning outcomes and student-centered learning”
Period: April, 17-19, 2016
Host: University of Tallinn (TLU)

Participant from Ukraine:
Stavytskyy Andriy, Associate Professor, PhD in Economics, ECTS Coordinator, Taras Shevchenko university of Kyiv, Higher Education Reform Expert – Ukraine.
Programme and documents: 

Key information:
The seminar at the University of Tallinn (Estonia) provided an insight into strategies and goals, governance and management, structures, processes and activities of a particular university, and dealt with a specific topic, such as mobility, internationalisation, quality assurance etc. Seminar was planned highly interactive, allowing participants to meet and discuss urgent problems with the staff and students of the host university, as well as with other stakeholders such as government/ministry officials, higher education agencies and employers.

The event focused on learning outcomes and student-centred learning, putting such objectives:

• What learning outcomes and student-centred learning are?
• How have they been developed and implemented in different disciplines?
• How have they challenged and changed the institutions and their members?
• The role and collaboration with external stakeholders (employers, industry, partner institutions).

• The interplay of institution and higher education system (roles of the Ministry, rectors’ conference, national quality assurance agency and the national qualifications framework).
The event gave participants an insight into institutional practice on learning outcomes and student-centred learning. Some issues regarding the interaction of university, higher education system and external stakeholders were considered. The event addressed practitioners at all levels of experience and knowledge of the issue, but also was relevant to colleagues with no immediate experience of learning outcomes and student-centred learning (university leadership, ministries, QA agencies) who needed a better understanding of the shift to learning outcomes and student-centred learning and its impact on the institution and the higher education system.

Over 50 participants from Eastern Europe, Baltic countries, Middle-East countries were invited to the seminar. It should be noted that before the event a special pre-survey was proposed to all participants. It helped to clarify difficulties in understanding modern stage of centered-learning system in different countries.
Each country was represented by one or two persons that helped to make acquaintance with them much easier.
Description of the seminar:
The first day of the event was devoted to discussing the institutional approach for the design, implementation and support of learning outcomes and student-centered approach. It turned out that in the pre-survey, only 5% of participants indicated that student-centered approach is widely used at their universities, which is obviously a major obstacle to its further implementation and comprehensive analysis. So, it is vital to spread the best practices among universities, to discuss how the community perceives the university student-centered learning that challenges stand in the way of its implementation.

The example of Jordan proved that the attitude to students must be significantly altered. Nowadays students can find knowledge everywhere: Internet, books, communicating with people, so only transferring knowledge loses its feasibility. Above all it’s more important how a student can use new knowledge and skills, how quickly he can apply them in practice. For this reason, assessment of learning outcomes in the exam is very subjective, correct assessment should consist of a continuous process throughout the semester. It was also noted that the whole process of transition to student-centered learning should be directed by the so-called shared leadership as bottom-up method does not work, and the top-down method leads to a significant formalization of the process. The author concluded that it was necessary to convert the three university pillars (teaching, research, service) on the other three (education, innovation, shared leadership).
An interesting proposal was presented to rank the results according to three training purposes (technical proficiency, professional growth, management skills). Accordingly, in the matrix of the curriculum each learning outcome may be fulfilled with the main goal (X) and auxiliary goals (Y):

Accordingly, each learning outcome correlates with the discipline in three ways: if the discipline strongly influences the achievement of learning outcomes, the attitude in the matrix is (H)igh, if not too much – M(edium), in other cases, L(ow).

Much attention was paid to using active verbs in determining learning outcomes, but in general it resembles Bloom’s Taxonomy. It was also emphasized that the right forming of learning outcomes creates a common language for all stakeholders among countries that helps to ensure that curriculum and learning environment are streamlined.
The example of Georgia showed that there were certain problems in demonstrating learning outcomes (LO) after graduation. This is due to different understanding of LO by teachers, students, employers, the complexity of measuring learning outcomes, employers’ reluctance to deal with them, to find a common language with universities. As a result, there was an interesting discussion whether an approach based on learning outcomes leads to higher employability of students. It was noted that there was no scientific study with proved empirical evidence that students with a student-centered approach in teaching, with good described competences get better jobs or a higher level of employment. Obviously, such a study should be done soon to be sure of the need to continue implementing student-centered learning.

The next example illustrates the introduction of new technology at Tallinn University. The main aim was to change mind-set in the university. This approach was introduced top-down, due to the small size of establishment (only 8861 students) and its novelty (founded in 2005). However, this change has led to a paradigm shift in learning, teaching, assessment, approaches to solving urgent problems. In particular, the university administration has changed the directive style of management to coordination and support, academic staff has become much more interested in development and self-development. This contributed to confirmation of study programs, their content, the introduction of clear criteria for assessment of learning outcomes. In particular, the main focus has shifted to what students are learning instead of what teachers are teaching. The need for continuous refinement of annual learning outcomes based on feedback of employers and questioning students was mentioned. However, this mechanism is not effective unless teacher work is stimulated and motivated, if an evaluation of its work is based on science, but not on teaching results. Consequently, it is important to develop mechanisms to assess exactly teaching activity of the university.

The representative of the engineering graduates said that under current conditions it is necessary to introduce the technology “less teaching – more individual learning.” In practice, this means that the number of contact hours cannot exceed 40% of the volume of credits, and in case of an online course – 20%. Thus all the required study courses should be online page in Moodle.
The representative of the medical profession said that the reduction of contact hours must be compensated by the role of practice. Students of medical specialities in Estonia have the internship in the university clinic.

For creative specialities it was decided to reduce the number of examination subjects, replacing them in the discipline with final tests, because the main purpose of the teacher is to check acquired learning outcomes, but not to provide assessment.
The problems of implementation the new approach were presented. In particular, many teachers did not agree to change their course considering that it is unique. But the feedback of the students led to appropriate changes.

Unfortunately, students are not always so active, they often do not distinguish between the types of training and are not interested in this deal because they do not see the benefit for them in future.
Further work was arranged in groups and was devoted to discussion with colleagues the strong and weak points, challenges and best practices of student-centered learning in different countries.
During the second day certain changes in the work of the Ministry of Education of Estonia were presented. The main focus was on transparency and publicity activity, Ministry developed an information system for online monitoring of all schools in the country. There were established centers of Excellence for teacher training, retraining of teachers held nearly in all schools. Practices of creation private schools with a new philosophy of training and assessment of pupils were also presented.

Another issue was the introduction of digital technology in education. In Tallinn University information system eDidacticum was implemented, it includes online courses, support forums of disciplines, discussions of students. It applies not only to deepen students’ knowledge, but also for distance learning students, part-engaged students and long-life-learners.
The experience of the National Agency for Quality in Estonia was also presented, but Ukrainian HERE team is thoroughly familiar with it. In the end of seminar, all issues were summarized, it was stressed on necessity of using Virtual Community for the work of experts between events.

Conclusions and recommendations for Ukraine:
1. To consider the feasibility of ranking objectives and learning outcomes in study programmes following the example of Jordan.
2. To recommend Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine to increase transparency especially for secondary education following the example of Estonia.
3. To conduct research on the impact of student-centered learning for employability.
4. To activate work with Virtual Community to discuss urgent problems of higher education among countries.
5. To apply more sessions to work in small-sized groups (10 people), which is required for exchange of experience between all participants, while carrying out similar activities in Ukraine.

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