JOINT EUROPEAN PROJECTS
University of Zagreb
University Computing Centre
At the beginning of 21st century Croatian universities, as universities all over the world, are faced with new challenges: how to maintain traditional values of university education and how to synergize them with new kind of knowledge and skills, demanded by students and their future employers. Quality issue of university education is at the top of priority list of university management. At the same time higher education is characterized today by significant physical resource constraints and growing class sizes. At last, but not the least, knowledge and education today is definitely global phenomena and university development strategies should consider that fact very seriously.
University management should respond to these new challenges by applying new technologies to the existing academic activities because:
• new technologies can offer new opportunities for teaching and learning and improve existing teaching and learning methods;
• these technologies are becoming increasingly available and part of students' everyday life, bringing social pressure to university staff to adopt them in their teaching process;
• they make teaching and learning more efficient, especially in the cases of physically dislocated faculties within an integrated university;
• they are the driving force but also basic prerequisites for modern lifelong learning and continuous education programs, offered by university and consumed by citizens of information society;
• they offer better quality control mechanisms for:
o creation and delivery of course content;
o online teaching activities;
o student progress;
• they are likely to be adopted as standard part of higher education practice.
E-learning technologies offer many functional benefits, like time and location shifting, flexible sequencing, widen access and increasing diversity of university programs, access to limited or traditionally unavailable resources, improved communication between participants in education and better student interaction. E-learning technologies, when appropriately used and supported, can significantly enhance and broaden ways students learn, by introducing: active learning, collaborative learning, teamwork, project work etc. From university management perspective, e-learning technologies encourage consideration of important topics like standardization and modernization of educational processes or quality measurement and monitoring.
The potential benefits of implementation of new information and communication technologies including e-learning is recognized by the University of Zagreb development strategy "Breakthrough 2001", as well as by University of Rijeka strategic program on "e-University". Coming to current situation in Croatia, we can find out that the existing networking infrastructure at Croatian universities is at the state-of-the-art level. Average number of Internet-connected PCs per student and IT literacy level in higher education institutions in Croatia seams to be satisfactory. There are some successful pilot project in the field of e-learning and even some outstanding achievements. Despite all these facts, the overall level of efficient usage of new technologies in the educational context - e-learning technologies in particular, is unsatisfactory. The adoption curve of e-learning is still in early adopters' domain, waiting to be pushed through critical point to the majority adoption phase.
There is no doubt that some systematic measures should be developed and implemented to foster usage of new information and communication technologies and e-learning in higher education in Croatia.
• there is need to improve quality and availability of university education in Croatia; more precisely there is need to make process of education more effective, more appropriate to needs of students and future employers, to make resolute steps towards enabling lifelong education, by giving new kind of learning and working skills to students, there is need to increase diversity of university programs and diversity of delivery forms of education and to face the challenge of internationalization and globalization of education market;
• information and communication technology offers many functional benefits and opportunities for improvement of teaching and learning, but there is need to find appropriate/best way to use technology, especially e-learning methodology and tools, in concrete, particular situation in Croatia and to adopt European experience and practice and to incorporate them into strategic documents, policy and deployment plan for e-learning in Croatia; the real need and at same time the challenge for these documents is coming from the need to perform the revolution in education process by using the technology, but not just o change the education because of technology itself;
• there is need to establish specialized e-learning units at Croatian universities to deploy accepted policy and coordinate and support (methodologically and technically) e-learning projects; sustainability of such units and stability of services they provide would be necessary guarantee to majority of departments and teachers to join e-learning community.