The UOC has participated in the European project CIRCLET, coordinated by the Queen's University of Belfast (photo: Patrick Perkins / unsplash.com)
Rubén Permuy Iglesias
After three years, the UOC completes this European project to foster more socially engaged research and teaching
The European CIRCLET project's starting aim was to provide universities with tools and methodologies to encourage engagement with the community and the local environment. It involved the participation of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) and has now come to an end after three years. The results of the initiative include a Guide for Lecturers, so that they can embed community engagement in curricula. An online international postgraduate programme has also been established for teachers to rethink their educational programmes and incorporate community engagement, and a guide to support the creation of learning circles has been created.
In 2019, the European Commission approved a proposal for universities to work on social problems and challenges in participatory research and training with co-creation methodologies. That led to the creation of CIRCLET, a European project coordinated by the Queen's University Belfast, and involving the UOC, which aimed to train university teaching staff in adapting programmes so that they provide opportunities for students to undertake community engaged research and learning.
The universities involved in CIRCLET have worked together over the past three years to establish recommendations, action plans and learning tools that facilitate community engagement within the higher education system.
The project has also organized regular events to enable university teaching staff to share their knowledge and learning, and to explore new methods and solutions for closer collaboration with the local community. CIRCLET has compiled some successful case studies in this area in a collection that is available to the academic community.
In the words of Nadja Gmelch, director of the Open Knowledge unit and the CIRCLET coordinator at the UOC, the project made it possible to "bring together and create synergies which produced concrete results through learning circles". In turn, Soledad Morales, a researcher and member of the Faculty of Economics and Business and one of the leaders of the project at the UOC, rates the experience positively, and hopes that the co-creation work done by the project will enable "new teaching staff and social institutions to become involved in the near future".
"We want to apply what we've learned in the coming semesters, in order to give students added social value in their work, enable them to carry out a real and feasible project, as well as learning about relationships and communication with institutions that have unresolved needs," said Lluc Massaguer, a researcher and member of the Faculty of Information and Communication Sciences, and a participant in one of the learning circles that was organized as part of CIRCLET.
Last June, the UOC hosted the project's final conference to raise awareness of the tools created, and to take stock and share the learning achieved over the three years of the project with the teaching staff of various European universities.
The event was a space for learning and reflecting on the importance of working with social institutions through Community Engaged Research and Learning (CERL) communities. The team that worked on the project explained that "this innovative approach gives students the opportunity to participate in research, learn from a project based on real needs, and contribute solutions to their surrounding environment".
The objective of the event was to share and provide inspiration for the redesign of programmes of study and to learn about and understand the experiences of using the CERL methodology applied to various disciplines at the other institutions involved in the project, including Queen's University Belfast, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, the Corvinus University of Budapest and Technological University Dublin.
The CIRCLET project received funding from the European Commission's Erasmus+ programme (grant agreement 2017-3351/001-001) and supported the European Union's aim of promoting socially responsible science that is open to all citizens.
This study supports Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) 4, Quality Education.
The UOC's research and innovation (R&I) is helping overcome pressing challenges faced by global societies in the 21st century, by studying interactions between technology and human & social sciences with a specific focus on the network society, e-learning and e-health.
The UOC's research is conducted by over 500 researchers and 51 research groups distributed between the university's seven faculties, the E-learning Research programme, and two research centres: the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3) and the eHealth Center (eHC).
The United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and open knowledge serve as strategic pillars for the UOC's teaching, research and innovation. More information: research.uoc.edu