Open Education Policy at KU Leuven

Interview with Fred Truyen, Associate professor and head of IT services at the Faculty of Arts, KU Leuven.

Fred TruyenThis interview is part of a series on best practice examples in the area of Open Policy in Higher Education. Practitioners share their experiences on formulating, implementing and integrating Open Policy and Practice at their respective institutions.

In the following interview Fred Truyen shares his experience on open education with us. Special attention is paid to the institutional policy & support and embedding open activities in the university, as well as advice on how open education can be of use in a multi-campus institution. KU Leuven already offers OpenCourseWare for self study and has several professors involved in MOOCs

Interview conducted by Gijs Houwen, Delft University of Technology (TU Delft).

How did you go about the formulation, reception and passage of policy (process)? What did you consider key in this process?

Our advisory council for ICT in Education instigated the current policy. This council is made up out of IT employees and educators, who wrote a policy document about openness in education 4 years ago. We believe education could benefit from openness in the same way as research. It would open up education to peer review in a similar fashion as found in open access, and would also help us in improving our education which takes place on several separate campuses. Approval of this policy has led us to join the Open Education Consortium, and we are also noticing the start of a discussion on open data at our university.

So the institutional support is covered by approval of the policy, now we needed to make this happen in practice. There are several overarching governing bodies within our institution that concern both Education and ICT, which have proven essential for implementing our policy. Eventually all the solutions put in place should be turned into sustainable ICT services. Scalability is an important factor in this; you have to make sure you have the infrastructure in place to match the scale of your campus. In practice this meant a bit slower progress, but leads to a system that supports all of our 80.000 students, with the possibility of offering more e-learning services in the future. Besides that it remains challenging to position these services: are they ICT or Education services? We feel that ICT at the university should focus on our core business: research & education.

In which way do you think accumulating support and forming coalitions both within and outside of the institutions should be addressed?

Our main focus in this has been to get our teaching staff involved. Practical support is vital in this respect. We feel people are willing to support the open education idea, but in the end you still have to offer educators a solution to the problems they encounter while doing so. The ‘problems’ mainly were questions raised by this new ‘open’ mode of thinking: which materials can I publish? Who will own the material? Can I update my published material? How do I develop copyright free materials? We aim to minimise the workload for the professors and have these issues resolved by support staff. In doing so, you can embed this process in the daily work of faculty and give educators a direct return for their efforts. Next to embedding it in the daily workings of faculty it is also important to make sure these new open initiatives align with existing policies and mechanisms within the university as much as possible.

Can you tell me something about the goals and objectives of the specific policy (open as a means to what ends?), and did you identify relevant indicators for measuring these goals?

We have not set ourselves institutional targets to be reached. We have focussed on running pilot projects and on learning from those. Once we feel ready - with the experience from the pilots - we might eventually set ourselves some targets in the next phase. By then I feel we will be better able to set the right targets, based on what we did in our pilot projects. Also, at the moment we do not see this as an urgent matter for our core business, which is on-campus education. However we are very motivated to gain experience and insights, and try out different scenarios.

How do you feel about the national policy on open education in your country? Is there such a policy and/or should there be one?

At the moment we don’t have such a policy in Belgium. Education is the responsibility of the communities in Belgium, as opposed to the Federal state. This means each community is relatively autonomous concerning their education, hence there is no national policy in this respect. The issue has been raised, but a national policy still seems far fetched. However, where it concerns subsidised education the funding agency can of course demand the developed materials to be published open and online.

If you were to evaluate your policy and process right now: what has your policy brought so far, and how has this progress been tracked?

I think we have made a lot of progress but are not completely satisfied yet, especially in terms of our timeline, although we realise that the flexibility to support rapid changes is a rare commodity in a standing organisation. ICT did play an important part in our education already, therefore we knew the complexity of this endeavour and the time needed for implementation. What is an important aim for us is that ICT functions as a management tool for controlling processes in our institution. Our daily operations have to integrate with controllable IT processes. ICT thus is not only a solution to a problem, but also a means to control our assets and operations.

Do you see any urgent challenges Open Education is still to meet? Either at your institution, in Europe or in general

We still seem to be lacking a sustainable business model for open education, I think that is an important challenge that we face. There are some promising prospects though. For example if we can continue the development of MOOCs in such a way that they form a combination of daily institutional processes presented in an ICT facilitated course, the course becomes more easily managed and monitored. For example we can gain more insight in which competencies are developed, costs of the material in relation to achieved learning outcomes and the exit level of students in relation to the study load.

Did you consider a business model for your open education initiative? If so, what is the business model of your open education?

At the moment we do not have a business model in place yet. Open Education, but especially MOOCs do not seem to have a clear business model for universities yet. It might be interesting to grants credits based on MOOCs, but I think pilot projects to explore this option are of most value right now.

It remains vital to integrate open education with our core-business, in fact it is paramount. We have been looking at options for offering online education, but for the time being our basis will remain on-campus education, supported by our open initiatives. OpenCourseWare for example is already supportive of our campus education: we reach regional students and can match them better to a study that suits them, we can prepare our international master students and it improves our overall branding.

Would you maybe like to share any important lessons learned with your colleagues who are in the process of setting up open policies and creating awareness on the topic?

If you are convinced that ‘open’ is the way to go, you must be able to show every stakeholder involved what’s in it for them, in which way they will profit from open education. If you can do this, stakeholders will buy into it and commit themselves. So make sure you have a clear idea on what open can mean for educators, students and the institution, and thus why it is a valid investment. Be prepared for critique and adapt to the needs of your stakeholders. In the process we have identified a lot more stakeholders. A university is not just professors and students anymore. It is also the city, the region, professionals, industry, the public (who finance education) and in fields such as medicine, patients of specialists are also stakeholders.
Open is an important means to engage with this broader group of stakeholders.


EU Lifelong Learning Programme
with the support of the Lifelong Learning Programme of the European Union


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