Innovation in Learning: Pompeu Fabra University

Ángela Palacios
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Barcelona, Spain

Pompeu Fabra University believes in strong, interactive teaching, and that is why it started working with Moodlerooms, the LMS that  enables it to expand the institution’s learning and performance strategies.

More than five hundred years of university history has made Barcelona a pioneer in the field of education, thanks to the top-ranking undergraduate and postgraduate courses offered by the Catalonian capital city’s universities. Despite the wide range of universities, one in particular has stood out in the world of education, namely Pompeu Fabra (UPF), a public university that has been noted throughout the 25 years it has been in existence for its academic excellence, its teaching strategies and the position it has won for itself in national and international rankings as one of the best in the world: Campus International Excellence, according to the Ministry of Education (2010); 17th in the world in the first edition of the Times Higher Education ‘100 under 50’ ranking (2012); the Spanish university with the best performance rate – 89% (2014); and one of the 20 European universities with most projects awarded by the European Research Council (2015).

Barcelona isn’t attractive just because of its Mediterranean character, its numerous green zones, its streets and its cultural activities, but also for what it offers in the academic field. Thousands of students from all over the world go there for a valuable and enriching learning experience.

Manel Jiménez, Academic Director of the UPF Center for Learning Innovation, believes that despite it being a relatively young university, the success and prestige it enjoys have been due to knowledge administration. “It’s a university with a very high level of research activity, and it aims all the time to connect to the teaching staff. Rather than reproduce materials, teachers explain what it is that they are researching.”

View from park güell to Barcelona, Spain.
View from Park Güell to Barcelona, Spain.

UPF has succeeded in differentiating itself from Spain’s major universities by viewing research as a support for innovation. UPF transfers knowledge with companies and industries, applies social responsibility and being open to foreigners, and because it is in great demand by students, who are considered to be important UPF talents by dint of their having gained the best qualifications before they entered the university and also while they were studying there.

Technology for teaching and learning

The fact that Pompeu Fabra is a young university has meant that its structures are basically young, too, or in the words of Jiménez, “it influences how everything flows,” because it is much more flexible and open to change, including to virtual learning.

The university currently has a Center for Teaching Innovation, which promotes initiatives and plans to help teachers in pedagogical matters. This makes it easier for technology to be introduced in the classroom and speeds up learning processes.

The learning platform is made of specific learning products, as departmental needs dictate. “We work with a tool called Collaborate, where the teacher organizes his own learning environment in a highly intuitive and extremely easy manner”, explained Jiménez.

There are many other tools used to complement their transverse LMS, Moodle, a platform they have been using now for a long time and has been a key part of teaching processes, since it is used for uploading class material and for work groups and forums. They are also heavily involved in the subject of distance classes, where they have recourse to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) so they can deal with various students at the same time.

This change in teaching methods and the way they utilize technological resources is part of the reason why Pompeu Fabra is currently the most productive Spanish university, according to the BBVA Foundation and IVIE ranking, since using these tools simplifies learning opportunities and makes interaction with the teacher easier.

Although we like Moodle, we believe that moving to Moodlerooms will make a bigger contribution and that it will be much more versatile.

In the case of distance courses, the university has a large team of technicians to coordinate activities. “What we aim for now is to have some classes online and others that are face-to-face, with the virtual ones being more important and the face-to-face ones for general debate,” explained Manel, who added that these new tools allow the online component to play a more fundamental role.

However, UPF has discovered that despite the fact that they want to take advantage of Moodle as much as possible, some students still do not fully recognize the capabilities of the platform. “A minority use Moodle tools entirely, but what has happened with the rest is the same as when you buy a new phone: you end up using the camera, messaging and calls. Later you realize you can do a thousand things”, said Manel, based on his user experience.

It’s a matter of exploring the properties of Moodle much more and familiarizing themselves with its structure, design, and how to organize the tools. That is why UPF is conducting a series of trials with students and the administrative and teaching staff, with a goal of migrating to Moodlerooms at the end of this year. “Although we like Moodle, we believe that moving to Moodlerooms will make a bigger contribution and that it will be much more versatile. At the same time, we are introducing training courses, although not in how to use the technical tools, but rather in how to exploit it from the teaching perspective and to generate innovation in learning,” stressed Manel.

They are also conducting studies with both teachers and students to evaluate how Moodlerooms is being adopted in their academic activities. This is being done by the department, aiming to gradually implement the LMS, so that if a problem arises, the whole university will not be affected.

The migration intends to be complete by the end of this year and that the first semester of 2017 will begin with technology that is much more ‘friendly’ for the UPF community with a stronger pedagogy and more innovation in teaching and the development of learning processes.

Pompeu Fabra University has seven faculties: humanities, health and life sciences, economic and business sciences, political and social sciences, communication, law, and translation and interpreting. Its campus is divided into three: Ciutadella, Poblenou, and El Mar.


* Manel Jiménez, Academic Director of the UPF Center for Learning Innovation.

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