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EQANIE Conference on Learning Outcomes held in Vienna on February 17 and 18, 2011

Feb 24 2011
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"Learning Outcomes must be lived"

The first day of the conference was dedicated to learning outcomes and their benefits for quality enhancement in informatics higher education. In his welcome address, the Vice-Rector of the University of Vienna, Prof Arthur Mettinger,  and Professor Wolfgang Klas, Dean of the Faculty of Computer Science, underlined provided some insights in the institution’s approach to and understanding of quality and the close link of the quality notion to the research-focus of the University of Vienna.

The first keynote was held by Michael Hoffmann, Vice-President of the European Association for Education in Electrical and Information Engineering (EAEEIE) and as an expert for quality assessment involved in various projects and functions accross the German and European Informatics Community.

Prof Hoffmann first pointed out that the Bologna process as it was introduced by the politicians in 1999 lacked a profound analysis of the problems to be solved and therefore introduced even more problems. He then gave a more differentiated view on the learning process and explained the terms “knowledge”, skills and competences with reference to Bloom’s taxonomy. He finally introduced the concept of programme profiles as a more appropriate description of a qualification.
Second keynote speaker was Professor Áine Hyland, the Former Vice-President of the University College Cork who is still strongly engaged in the activities by of the European Universities' Association (EUA) related to quality enhancement and evaluation.

Prof. Hyland gave an overview of different definitions of learning outcomes and underlined the increasing importance of LO by quoting resolutions of Bologna follow-up conferences over the years. She gave very practical advices on how to formulate LOs by also aligning them with the different levels of knowledge according to Bloom. She presented convincing arguments from her personal experience as a professor for the benefit of using LO in designing courses.

In the panel discussion that followed the keynotes, two new speakers joined in. Prof Renate Motschnig, Head of the Computer Science Didactics and Learning Research Center at the Faculty of Computer Science at the University of Vienna, brought in a didactic view that was thoroughly fed by year-long research on continuous improvement of teaching. Martin Burmester from the University of Hamburg represented the students' view on the role of learning outcomes in informatics higher education. His insights are particularly based on his activities as auditor with the German Student Accreditation Pool.

Major conclusions drawn by panelists and audience on the first conference day were:

  • LO must not exist in documents only, they must be “lived”.
  • Assessment methods need to be adjusted to the intended LO. Written exams are in many cases inappropriate.
  • Defining LO is neither a pure top-down nor a pure bottom-up process. We need both and have to make sure that the “ends” meet by using an iterative process.
  • Involvement of industry as a stakeholder is important, but there is a risk for a “short-sighted” demand from industry by focussing on short-term needs.
  • Make distinction between intended LOs, assessed LOs, and achieved LOs
  • The relative value of teaching compared to research has to be increased
  • The notion of academic freedom is not only the freedom of professors to teach what they want, but also means the freedom of students to choose courses within a (subject) area. Both sides of academic freedom are in some way limited by LOs
  • The years to come will bring increased globalization, increased mobility, increased exchange. As a result, some of the national peculiarities will disappear. But there will still be a wide diversity of institutions and programmes concerning educational profiles and target groups.

Exchange of ideas between 20 different countries

On the second day of the conference, the participants could choose between three parallel workshops: Workshop 1 provided training on the use of learning outcomes. Findings that were new and interesting to each individual participant were elaborated in small group exercises moderated by Renate Motschnig.

Workshop 2 concentrated on the presentation and discussion of LO assessment methods implemented at individual institutions. It was chaired by Tony Cowling, University of Sheffield.

Workshop 3 provided a forum for exchange on good practices of quality management tools presented by the representatives of higher education institutions all over the European Higher Education Area. It was chaired by Christoph Heumann, University of Hamburg.

The presentations held in Workshop 1 and 2 were based on paper proposals reviewed by the Conference Programme Committee. All contributions to the conference are available in the Conference Proceedings

The social highlight of the event was a dinner reception in the Senate Chamber of the historical Vienna town hall. The reception was opened by Barbara Novak, Member of the Parliament of Vienna, and the Vice-Rector of the University of Vienna, Prof. Artur Mettinger.

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