Lluís Pastor: "At the UOC we want students to be passionate about learning"
The UOC believes in time as a motor of change, with 24/7 immersion in learning, in any environment and where students and their activity are the centre.
Lluís Pastor, Director of the UOC eLearn Center
Lluís, how do you assess your 18 months at the head of the eLearn Center?
The first 18 months running the eLearn Center (hereafter, eLC) have been stimulating. With the mission given to us by the UOC and endorsed by the Governing Council, it has been a period in which we have had to introduce many changes that will take place in our university in the coming years.
How would you define the eLC?
The eLC is the UOC's centre of innovation and research in e-learning. It is a centre of innovation in online learning that is fundamental for us and is an internal and external centre of attraction for talent in e-learning research.
The eLC's mission is to lead the change in the education model. How are you doing this?
The UOC has a successful model, which in 1994 placed us as one of the most interesting and exceptional universities in the world. And not only this but also as one of the leading universities, as the professionals who set up the UOC saw a future that no one else envisaged at the time, which has given us an advantage for two decades.
Leading change means retaining all the strong points of our model and facing another 10 or 20 years in the world of learning but with a substantial difference. When the UOC was conceived in 1994, the world of learning was not a world of great change, and now at the eLC we know that in the next 20 years the world of learning will be one of great disruptions, modifications and transformations.
Is the UOC part of this educational transformation?
Undoubtedly. It is a challenge we have taken on for the coming decades. We are part of the change taking place in the education of adults - people who train while working or have a family, whether in the framework of business and/or universities - and also of the new generations who have grown up with the Internet and have profiles radically different from those who have studied over the last five decades.
The eLC's vision is to make the UOC a world reference in online learning. Do you think the UOC is a leader in e-learning today?
The UOC is certainly a leading university in online learning. It has been since the creation of the University in 1994 as it is based on a differentiating and successful model compared with other universities. But this does not mean that the changes that have taken place very slowly over the last few decades will uniformly accelerate over the coming years. So the UOC pays close attention to what is happening in the world and the knowledge of its professors in order to manage a change that once again will put us right at the forefront of online learning.
The eLC works in two main directions: educational innovation and research. Let's start with innovation: what educational innovation projects are you working on?
In terms of innovation what we are very clear about, as I was saying, is that we have a successful model: the model that says that the student is the centre. It is a model that makes us radically different from many other education centres and universities. Lots of people are also starting to say this too, but saying it is not doing it. It is part of the UOC's DNA.
All our innovation projects are carried out with this focus: the students are the centre. They manage their own learning and we have to help them to learn throughout their lives and do so in a way that is wholly compatible with their professional, family, personal and/or social activities.
In terms of the projects, we place special emphasis on time as the most important element for online learning. The time students can devote to study is the fundamental element that makes learning a success or forces them to drop out as they cannot combine it with their daily routine. For this reason, time is the motor of change of our projects and we consider both real time (the time professors use to design the courses so that students can do them with enough time, limited but feasible) and perceived time (the time perceived by students when undertaking an assignment). In other words, it is easier to do what you most enjoy. We want students to be passionate about learning.
Is the Quadrivia project an example of the importance the UOC attaches to time?
Absolutely. Another important issue about Quadrivia is that learning does not only happen in the classroom, driven by a knowledgeable person with a group of people listening. We want learning to happen everywhere. People who want to learn do so at any time of the day, because you never know where learning will occur.
Quadrivia is a game based on the logic of Trivial Pursuit (which we called Quadrivia because the Trivium were the basic studies of Antiquity and the Quadrivium were the advanced studies). It is a game of questions and answers for advanced level students: university students – bachelor's degree, post-graduate and master's degree students. It has 30,000 questions (any Trivial Pursuit has 4,000 or 5,000; 30,000 is an extraordinary number of questions) aimed at the different UOC faculties and that allows students to play against themselves, learning in all those “dead” moments – waiting for a bus, walking along the street, when they have nothing to do – and also by competing with others, which is more entertaining, and means that people can also have this kind of social challenge when learning.
Does entertainment play an important role when learning?
In this respect we conceive learning systems that ensure that the time perceived by our students is a more exciting time, less of a burden, but that, in contrast, they learn as much or more than they would learn with other more boring formats.
Time, 24/7 immersion and enthusiasm are key aspects at the UOC. How do you implement learning?
We implement learning around activities: activities that can show what the student knows and that are challenging and show the skills learnt.
Can you give us an example of an activity?
Coming from the world of communication, for example, it no longer interests us so much to do an exam on the basic elements of journalism but rather from the first day to ask students to write a press release. Writing a press release obliges students to learn and acquire a set of skills that become challenges for them and will be necessary and useful in their professional life.
So far you have talked about innovation. In terms of research, how can the UOC be disruptive?
We want our research centre to respond to the strategic needs of the University and for it not to be an element that works in parallel according to the interests of the researchers. And in connection with this, what we also want is for our research centre to raise the visibility and profile of researchers who, at the UOC, are working on e-learning issues. We want to have this fusion of external and internal talent working for projects that support the UOC's strategy.
Tell us about a research project you have set up.
I would emphasize the BIP project that seeks to advise, support and help our professors in the promotion, through academic publication, of research projects on e-learning issues. In this way, we enhance the work of our professors and raise the profile of the research we are conducting in house, some of which is very interesting.
Does the future of the eLC in terms of research involve being an e-learning benchmark at a world level?
When we redesigned the eLC's mission this is what we said: that we wanted to be an e-learning research benchmark at a world level. And this set us a goal, which is not easy to achieve but does show us a path. In order to be an e-learning benchmark in the world, the eLC and the UOC must have the best thinkers and professionals, fully dedicated to the research work that the UOC wants to conduct. Attracting the best possible talent to help us with the goal, both internal – from the UOC – and external.
In this respect, how is the eLC positioning itself internationally?
We are not so concerned with how the eLC is positioning itself internationally but how we help the UOC position itself as a benchmark university in the field of e-learning in the world. So the eLC becomes a lever. Everything we are doing from the point of view of change and of internal innovation – like everything we are doing to attract talent, to promote international research projects – is designed so that, in a few years, the UOC not only has the good image it enjoys now but has an even better image and is more at the forefront of the changes in the world of learning.
Finally, how do you see the UOC in the medium and long term?
Imagining it when President Ferraté imagined it in 1994 was a great achievement because there was no concept like the UOC. What we now find is that imagining how the UOC might be in the future is also worthwhile as today there are many initiatives undertaken in the light of the UOC or of other educational projects that also compete with the UOC to try to make it better. And not only this, but in the next few years the world of education will be one of the great revolutions of change. Imagining how the UOC should be over the next 10 or 20 years is very complicated. What I am sure about is that we have to be an exceptional university; we have to distinguish ourselves with our learning models so that when people think about the UOC they think clearly about a way of learning they do not find anywhere else.