I had the pleasure of attending a recent meeting (and dinner) of the advisory board for the ReVica project and wanted to share some of the work and results of that project. I’ll skip over the obvious fact, that the project could have spent a little more time creating a more inviting acronym and get to the accomplishments.
ReVica is a two year project, funded as part of the lifelong learning program of the European Commission. The idea of the project is to conduct inventories of EU and other ‘virtual campus’ projects and to extract best practices, lessons learned etc. The main tool to do this has evolved into a fairly sophisticated wiki at www.virtualcompuses.eu Besides the Wiki (discussed below) the project has produced a number of research papers and a set of newsletters, that I found quite informative
The project has continuously struggled with the very definition of “virtual campus” mostly because the term has morphed over the years since its first use around 1997 and given the international flavor, understandings and translations of the term, virtual anything is hard to tie down. Somehow ‘virtual’ as in ‘not real’ learning or campus, seems to disparage the learning that happens in these online contexts, as opposed to merely differentiating that learning from that takes place in campus classrooms. In any case, the project did do some credible work at defining what they mean by a virtual campus using a boundary approach. They write, a virtual campus has many (but not necessarily all) of the following characteristics:
- It requires at least one per cent of the institutional budget (this is a rule of thumb taken from Activity Based Costing theory that it is pointless to track from the top any initiatives below that level of expenditure).
- The person responsible (as the majority proportion of his/her job) for leading that initiative has a rank and salary at least equivalent to that of a university full professor at Head of Department level, or equivalent rank of administrative or technical staff (usually an Assistant Director) – and ideally that of Dean or full Director.
- There is a specific department to manage and deliver the initiative with a degree of autonomy from mainstream IT, library, pedagogic or quality structures.
- Progress of the initiative is overseen by a Steering Group chaired by one of the most senior managers in the institution (in UK terms, a Pro-Vice Chancellor).
- The initiative is part of the institution’s business plan and is not totally dependent on any particular externally funded project
- There are strategy, planning and operational documents defining the initiative and regularly updated
- The head of the institution (Vice-Chancellor, Rector, President, etc) will from time to time in senior meetings be notified of progress and problems with the initiative
- The head of the institution is able to discuss the initiative in general terms with equivalent heads of other institutions – in the way that he/she would be able to discuss a new library, laboratory or similar large-scale development. ReVica Webpage
Having gotten definitions out of the way, the ReVica project WIKI does an interesting service by overviewing dozens of projects (current and passed) funded by national, corporate and international groups to create, study and research on these ‘new’ forms of formal education. The project also commissioned or found country reports on all the EU nations and ten non EU’s including:
Australia (OECD) – country editor GEO
Brazil – country editor EuroPACE
Canada (OECD) – country editor Matic Media
China – a major player in e-learning – some information and see entities in China
Kenya – country editor ATiT
Mexico (OECD) – country editor ULP
New Zealand (OECD) –
Russia – country editor TKK
South Africa – country editor ATiT –
United States (OECD)
Being an open WIKI, the site welcomes new users to create an account and add details to the various country reports (including a space for countries not already noted above), or for projects not mentioned- or worthy of additional detail or correction. I know from my own efforts at building a Canadian distance Education WIKI at CIDER , that it is easy to setup a WIKI shell, but much harder to fill it with quality content. The resources of the project have allowed it to make a good start at achieving this necessary critical mass. I would urge you to check out the WIKI and I am sure you will find some interesting historical write-ups about projects you may be familiar with already- or better so one’s you haven’t heard of.
The intend of the project is to learn from both our successes and failures, and we do so by reading, copying, editing and improving the works of others. The ReVica wiki is a useful tool in achieving these goals.