On 19-21 September 2022, members from Albanian universities travelled to Rome for a staff observation visit organised by the VALEU-X project.

The observation visit targeted Albanian staff members participating in the VALEU-X project. Participants were the staff members of the Albanian partner university; the winning group of students who participated in the International VCL and up to 2 participants per European partner university. The total number of effective incoming participants was 30, of which 26 from the Albanian partner universities and 4 from the EU partner universities. All partners were represented at the event.

The observation visit provided participants with information about the functioning and activities of the UNIMED network, with a specific focus on internationalisation and internationalisation at home of higher education. It was also an occasion for the partners to reflect on IaH at institutional and national level in Albania. The visit revolved around these objectives:

  • learn about digital transformation and learning innovation initiatives implemented by some of the UNIMED members and partners;
  • share participants’ experiences on VCL;
  • reflect on long term strategies for IaH in Albanian universities

On Day 1, the Observation Visit was introduced by Cristina Stefanelli, UNIMED, who welcomed all participants to Rome and presented the organisation of the days. She stressed the great diversity of the attendees, for their position in the institution as well as for their backgrounds, as an element of richness for the visit. Also Mattis Altmann, VALEU-X project manager, TU Dresden, welcomed the participants, and underlined the importance of being all onsite as an occasion for new ideas, sharing inputs for the future, exchange and reflection. First on stage to present the UNIMED experience was Marcello Scalisi, UNIMED Director. He presented UNIMED, its scope of action, the main activities and initiatives, as well as the main partnerships. Then, Cristina Stefanelli and Martina Zipoli, UNIMED, presented the projects on virtual exchanges and learning innovation where UNIMED is currently involved.

After a quick break in the beautiful location of the Botanical Garden in Rome, it was time for the winning students team to present their project to the audience, as they won the international VCL contest. Speaking at the visit were Paula Sambale and Sophie Cool from TU Dresden together with Mishela Rapo from EPOKA, representing the whole team. Apart from their winning idea, they underlined the pros and cons of their experience. Among the benefits of the international virtual collaborative learning experience: learning how to use the tools; organisational skills; team building; managerial skills; language skills; motivation and self-confidence. The International VCL can be considered as a true international experience, confirmed by the students, where you can learn about different cultures, living reality, different learning styles and different ways of doing things.

Partners then engaged in an open discussion on the future potential of VCL. How to mainstream? How to apply the method to a large number of students? Suggestions were made by all participants. The day continued after the lunch break with the presentation of Mattis Altmann on Virtual Collaborative Learning in a nutshell. That perfectly introduced the workshop: VCL experiences and ideas, moderated by himself and Martina Zipoli, UNIMED. Partners were asked to prepare a short presentation about their Virtual Collaborative Learning experiences and internationalisation at home ideas on how to integrate VCL in the teaching practice and at institutional level. After each presentation, questions followed and the discussion was highly engaging. Partners also expressed the willingness to start with a VCL initiative in Albania, between the VALEU-X institutions, and advocating with policy-makers to change the current regulations, to promote an innovative approach to teaching and learning.

The second day of the Observation Visit foresaw the visit to the International Telematic University UNINETTUNO. The group was welcomed by Nicola Paravati, Head of International Affairs, who introduced the university, its history, its faculties and its international dimension. During the visit, much time was dedicated to the explanation of the pedagogical approach used by the academics, which includes not only delivering lectures online, but the use of interactive rooms, forums, virtual spaces for collaboration, flipped classrooms and more. The student is not a self-learner, rather s/he is fully engaged in a virtual environment and must prove dedication, competences and commitment to fulfil tasks and assignments. The visit was also the occasion for Albanian partners to know how the university is mainstreaming internationalisation at home and implementing virtual mobility initiatives. At the end of the various interventions, the Rector Prof. Maria Amata Garito, greeted the Albanian participants.

The third and last day of the Observation Visit in Rome was hosted by IULM, the University Institute of Modern Languages. Day 3 started with the presentation of the FAO eLearning Academy by Cristina Petracchi. The FAO elearning Academy offers over 500 multilingual e-learning courses, free of charge, as a global public good, and is the result of a collaborative effort involving over 300 partners throughout the world. Along with the presentation of what the Academy does, the presentation focused on how the collaboration between different organisations takes place and on the instructionl design as the result of the collaborative effort between different specialists. Moreover, participants were highly interested in the system of accreditation of courses. The FAO elearning Academy is adopting the Digital Badges Certification System, to certify the acquisition of competencies, in order to progress talents within organisations and increase employment opportunities.

As a second session of the day, participants have been involved in a workshop on Didactical Design Patterns, guided by Mattis Altmann. Participants were asked to design one or more patterns, in relation to a VCL project. They were split into working groups; in each working group there were representatives of students, academic staff, administrative staff and leadership. The groups worked on the patterns and presented the results to the audience, through the voice of a rapporteur. Finally, to close the day, participants worked again in groups to develop recommendations for the implementation of virtual collaborative learning as a teaching method at the university. Therefore, based on the experience over the 3 years working together, Partners started the discussion on which recommendations to share with different target groups: academic staff, administrative staff, decision-makers at institutional level and external policy-makers or organisations. The results of the discussion are the starting point for the development of a legacy document of the VALEU-X project.

The Report of the Observation Visit to UNIMED can be consulted here.