Innovation in Learning: The Essence of Pompeu Fabra University

Ángela Palacios
28/09/16
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Barcelona, Spain

Pompeu Fabra University believes in strong, interactive teaching, and that is why it has partnered with Blackboard Open LMS, the online platform that will enable it to expand its learning and performance strategies.

More than 500 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’s universities. Despite the wide range of higher education institutions, one stands out in particular: Pompeu Fabra (UPF). This public university has been prominent throughout its 25 years of existence due to its academic excellence, teaching strategies, and its world standing in national and international rankings as a top university.

UCF was designated as an International Excellence Campus by the Spanish Ministry of Education in 2010, was rated 17th in the world in the first edition of the Times Higher Education ‘100 under 50’ ranking in 2012, won Spanish university with the best performance rate (89%) in 2014, and was named among the 20 European universities with most projects awarded by the European Research Council in 2015.

Barcelona isn’t attractive just because of its Mediterranean character, its numerous green zones, its streets and cultural activities, but also for its offering in the academic field. Thousands of students from around the world choose Barcelona to gain a valuable and enriching learning experience.

Pompeu Fabra has seven faculties: humanities, health and life sciences, economic and business sciences, political and social sciences, communication, law, and translation and language sciences, and boasts three campuses, Ciutadella, Poblenou, and El Mar.

Manel Jiménez, academic director of UPF’s Center for Learning Innovation, believes that despite it being a relatively young university, the success and prestige it enjoys have been due to knowledge management. “It’s a university with a very high level of research activity, which aims to connect with its teaching staff at all times. Rather than reproduce materials, teachers explain what it is 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 successfully engages in knowledge transfer with companies and industries, applies social responsibility, and is welcoming of foreign students. Also, because it is in great demand by promising students that have achieved high academic scores before and after enrolling.

Technology for Teaching and Learning

The fact that Pompeu Fabra is a young university has meant that its infrastructure is also quite young, or in Jiménez’s words, “It influences how everything flows,” because it is much more flexible and open to change, including virtual learning.

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

The online platform includes specific learning solutions, as dictated by departmental needs. “We work with a tool called Blackboard Collaborate, where the teacher organizes his or her own learning environment in a highly intuitive and extremely easy manner,” explained Jiménez.

There are many other tools used to complement their Blackboard Open LMS, a platform which the university has been using for a long time now, and which has been a key part of teaching processes since it is used to upload class materials and for work groups and forums. UPF is are also heavily involved in distance courses, where they have resorted to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) in order to satisfy student demand effectively.

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

The adoption of new teaching methods and the way in which UPF utilizes technological resources, is part of the reason why Pompeu Fabra is currently the most effective Spanish university, according to the BBVA Foundation and IVIE ranking, since using these tools simplifies learning opportunities and facilitates student-teacher interaction.

In the case of distance courses, the university has a large team of specialists 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 Jimenez, adding that these new tools allow the online component to play a more fundamental role.

UPF has discovered, however, that despite the fact that they university wants to take advantage of Blackboard Open LMS as much as possible, some students still do not fully recognize the capabilities of the platform. “A minority use Blackboard Open LMS tools entirely, but what has happened with the rest of the students is the same as when you buy a new phone – you end up using the camera, messaging and voice call functions only. Later, you realize you can do 1,000 things,” said Jimenez, based on his own user experience.

It’s a matter of exploring Blackboard Open LMS functionalities in much more detail 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 administrative and teaching staff, with a goal of migrating to Blackboard Open LMS at the end of 2016. “Although we like Moodle, we believe that moving to Blackboard Open LMS will make a bigger contribution and 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 on how to exploit it from a teaching perspective and to generate innovation in learning,” stressed Jimenez.

Studies are also being conducted among faculty and students in order to evaluate how Blackboard Open LMS 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 entire university will not be affected.

The migration is set to be completed by the end of this year. The plan is to begin the first semester of 2017 with technology that is much more user friendly for UPF’s community, with stronger pedagogy and more innovation in teaching and the development of learning processes.

 

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

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