Enhancing the quality of distance learning at Western Balkan higher education institutions

Tempus logo University of Kragujevac

Project Coordinator

University of Kragujevac, Serbia
Jovana Cvijića bb, Kragujevac


Contact person:
Dr Danijela Milošević
University of Kragujevac
Technical Faculty Čačak
Svetog Save 65, 32000 Čačak,

phone:(+381) 32 302-714
mail: danijela.milosevic@ftn.kg.ac.rs


Project description

Considering the joint support given by the Ministries of Education, National Councils for higher education and Accreditation Commissions from Serbia, Montenegro and FYRM, as well as the readiness of the university institutions from all three beneficiary countries, the major assumptions for improving the quality of distance learning study programs and e-Learning courses at the national system levels are established.
The synergy of Western Balkan higher institutions and their national HE public authorities with significant help from carefully selected EU partners will bring up the quality of DL studies on a system level which would bring significant benefits to all prospective students of the WB region.
The aim of the project is to improve, develop and implement accreditation standards, guidelines and procedures for quality assurance (QA) of distance education study programs at national system levels in WB countries. Those standards will assimilate the quality of distance learning courses offered by higher education institutions in Western Balkan countries and will be harmonized according to EU practices and police. Developed standards would be incorporated into existing legal and sublegal acts at the national levels and at the HE institutional levels. New regulations would help solving the problems that Accreditation Commissions are faced with in the process of quality assurance of DL study programs at Higher Education. The project will define DL programme accreditation procedures and that way it will prevent overloading of the Accreditation Commissions or prolonged process of accreditation study programs of this type. At the higher education institutional level in WB countries a common framework for defining quality assurance and for distance learning within higher education institutions, consistent with the European policies and trends will be established.
The implications of distance learning to higher educations in Western Balkan countries could be perceived in improved quality of learning material developed at reasonable cost, openness of teaching process, rethinking pedagogy for active learning and collaboration, and more possibility for student support. These issues potentially promise a lot, but quality teaching is labor-intensive and needs defining a set of standards for establishing distance teaching with consistent quality.

Since the "Strategy for the Development of Information Society” in all three countries (Serbia, Montenegro and FYRM) anticipate e-learning, the need for established national accreditation standards for DL study programs in that field is essential. In this way, the major goals from the Strategy concerning development of e-Education would be addressed in the wide region of Western Balkan.
This project is building-up on cooperation amongst the some of WB consortium members in the framework of Tempus JEP-41016-2006 where DL study program MSc in e-Learning is successfully developed and implemented at University of Kragujevac. Project will be put into practice by involvement of academic staff from beneficiary universities from Western Balkans and members of appropriate national Ministries of Education, National Councils for Higher Education and Commissions for Accreditation. The joint effort of such numerous and qualitative consortium members associated with high-quality EU partner institutions should guarantee the admirable and long lasting results. European academic partners University of Macerata (Italy), University Paul-Cezzane (France) and University Primorska (Slovenia) will have a major role in transferring good practices from their national accreditation and quality assurance system to Western Balkan partner countries. Their help will be extremely important in defining DL teaching methodology at WB institutions, development of handbooks for quality assurance, policy for implementing and managing QA in DL, and finally helping on improvement of accreditation standards for DL study programs in all three partner countries.

The involvement of well-known consortium partner EFQUEL (European Foundation for Quality in eLearning) is of crucial importance, since EFQUEL is devoted to developing new Quality approaches for emerging eLearning issues. As learning pedagogies and technologies constantly evolve at an ever-increasing rate, quality approaches need to be adapted or sometimes reconceived to support them. In past years, EFQUEL has addressed such lacunae in the areas of Technology use in Higher Education - UNIQUe (The Quality Label for the use of ICT in Higher Education). A project EU partner, University of Macerata has accredited for UNIQUe quality label, so project stakeholders will have the opportunity to gather knowledge and experiences from both sides.

Since, the project is aimed to have a wide impact on the national accreditation systems in WB, at the very beginning, project consortium will explore current work and results on QA for DL, main initiatives and projects by ENQA (European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education), EADTU (European Association of Distance Teaching Universities), and many others. Besides, analysis and comparing of the exit policy level documents at the institutional and national level used for accreditation of DL study programs in EU HE will be made. This work shall be done by project group formed of academy staff from each PC and representatives of HE public authorities (members of Accreditation committees and National Councils for HE) by joint visit to EU partners and scheduled meetings with relevant EU accreditation agencies, likely ENQA member agencies.

With a help of EU university partners and EFQUEL organization we shall work on establishing the framework for improving DL quality assurance and eLearning methodology on HE institutional level in WB PCs. It will consider all the processes and activities implied in DL life-cycle, from design to delivery and evaluation (therefore QA for content, delivery and support services, and evaluation/assessment procedures). The framework will include the draft of a potential accreditation process for DL in WB. Trough this work, partners and students in Serbia, Montenegro and FYRM will get the highly important knowledge on DL methodology for implementation in their everyday DL teaching and learning process.

Upon obtaining the solid background, the efforts would be directed towards creation of a set of documents necessary for the improvement and development of regulations for DL in HE at the regional, national and university levels in WP PCs. Especially, the standards for accreditations of DL in HE will be considered. Also the improvement of the existing university regulatory, documents and procedures to include specific reference to DL option in study programmes will be proposed. The final goal is to define a common and sustainable policy for DL in WB region providing a reasonable environment for development joint DL curricula in future.

As a precondition for sustainability of planned project results, a comprehensive training for relevant members of HE public and education authorities involved in DL from each beneficiary country will be provided. Training activities are aimed for all stakeholders to get acquainted with necessary knowledge for improving the quality of DL in beneficiary countries. We plan to train bodies and staff who would act as assessors and trainers for distance learning.

Taking into account the variety of project partners and stakeholders, we decided to establish two bodies to support Quality Control and Monitoring and Management process:

• Regional Coordinating Team (RCT) consisting of one representative from each beneficiary institution from Serbia, Montenegro and FYRM
• Project Management Board (PMB) consisting of contact persons from each consortium member institution

Quality Control and Monitoring (QCM) of project activities and results will be realized continuously throughout the whole duration of the project and evaluated at several levels. RCT will be responsible for monitoring workplan realization and internal QCM of project activities and results by peer reviews among partner institutions. RCT will also be responsible for preventing the time lag in project activities and taking immediate actions in the form of consultations or reporting to PMB.

External quality control and monitoring of the main project results will be assessed by external experts from three EU partner universities by comparing project outcomes with existing EU counterparts, based on the EU standards and taking into account the specificity of WB HE institutions. External evaluators will also take into account intermediate reports by RCT and analysis of evaluation survey by HE public authorities.
PMB will coordinate the work of RCT, and RCT will be reporting to PMB after each meeting (twice a year). Especially if any problem arrives, RCT will report immediately to PMB for overcoming the problem. RCT will have a crucial role in the implementation of project activities and joint work of members of all three beneficiary countries are of a great importance for achieving final project outcomes. The role of RCT is to coordinate all activities between partners in Serbia, Montenegro and FYRM, provide internal quality control. The very important role of RCT is to ensure collaboration with national Ministries, Councils for HE and Accreditation commissions in order to provide successful project results.

The project phases and their respective tasks slightly overlap in time. This is necessary, given the nature of the tasks and given the fact that three partner countries are involved and much specificity can appear. Taking into account that project results are important to be achieved, PMB and RCT with help from HE public authorities will find solutions to overcome any specificity due to national or regional issues