[For further information on the programmes offered by Universidade Aberta see: www.uab.pt/web/guest/english/the-university]
Universidade Aberta (UAb) was founded in 1988, and it is the single public institution of higher education dedicated to distance learning in Portugal. It is geared towards the education of geographically dispersed populations and it has already provided successful training of tertiary level for more than 10 000 students, in 33 countries, in over five continents.
Keeping in mind the spirit of public service, Universidade Aberta is committed to encouraging the appropriation and self-construction of knowledge. Its study programs are carefully designed and both technicians and teachers are provided with specific training.
Universidade Aberta takes on the fundamental mission of training students who, for various reasons, were unable to enter into or continue university studies. Moreover, the university seeks to meet the expectations of those who, having obtained any higher education degree, wish to convert or update it. Thus, by vocation, Universidade Aberta offers educational solutions to target groups of the adult population who have life experience and who often are already engaged in a professional occupation.
To become a student of Universidade Aberta one is required to be 21 years old or over (or alternatively, to be 18 years old and have the statute of student-employee since 16 years of age) and admission is given after successfully completing a specific entrance exam.
Universidade Aberta is outside the national contest network for access to higher education and its undergraduate programs are not subject to specific vacancies numbers (numerus clausus). Besides, Universidade Aberta also provides exams specifically designed to evaluate the capacity of candidates aged 23 years old and over, who wish to enter higher education.
As an example of collaboration between universities and trade unions in order to upgrade the qualifications of public servants (school teachers) and as an appropriate response to the needs of this group, Universidade Aberta's programme "On-the-job Training Course (OTC)" is interesting. The course arises from a collaboration between Universidade Aberta and the Union of Teachers of Lisbon Region (SPGL, Sindicato dos Professores da Grande Lisboa), is recognized by the Ministry of Education and officially credited for professional progression. It is thus a formal learning offer which enables teachers working in basic and secondary levels to obtain a professional certificate of teaching whilst enabling them to continue in employment.
The attainment of this certificate depends on the successful completion of all its curricular units, totalling 40 ECTS.
The course lasts two semesters. The first semester is preceded by an entirely virtual module that lasts 2 weeks.
The course has been running since April 2009. In the first semester, 466 teachers from all over the country enrolled on the course, representing almost 40% of unqualified teachers.
Following the success of the first edition of this Course, a second edition is expected to take place within the next school year in 2009-2010, thus contributing to its reach. By the end of the year, it can be seen that a greater number of teachers are capable of staying in or integrating the teaching career in compliance with the law.
Priority is given to asynchronous communication so that communication and interaction, between tutor and student, students and resources, can take place at the student's convenience.
The course is recognized by the Ministry of Education and officially accredited for professional progression.
The OTC programme is recognised by the Ministry of Education and officially accredited for professional progression for teachers in basic and secondary education.
How the programme is delivered
The Course is provided through distance teaching, in an online environment.
Reasons for success
The Course has fulfilled the need for training teachers in basic and secondary level and fills a void that has existed for several years. Its creation and organisation started with a request made by the Unions of Teachers because, without this training, the progress in the career of these professionals would be compromised.
Factors that have attributed to success include:
Teaching is focused on the student, that is to say the student is responsible for managing his/her learning process;
Teaching is based on flexibility of access to the learning process (content, learning activities, learning group) and designed to allow students the freedom from constraints of time and place
a need for continuous updating of qualifications for teaching professionals
a need for time/space convenience
a need for asynchronous learning
a need for retrieving learning materials asynchronously
This program meets the following needs:
What makes the OTC Programme different and worthy of interest:
Universidade Aberta's pedagogical model is based on e-learning and on the intensive use of new tools for on-line communication.
This model, which promotes the interaction between students and teachers, is centred in the student, as an active individual and builder of his/her own knowledge. It also allows for a greater flexibility in learning, where communication and interaction take place according to the student's possibilities, that is further augmented with the sharing of resources, the sharing of knowledge and through activities with peers.
As part of its lifelong learning direction, Aberta has recognised the importance for upgrading teaching professionals. Indeed they have seen it as necessary to create networks which incorporate IHE, training centres, and pedagogical associations for teachers, who are involved in joint training and research projects.
A specific Lifelong Learning Office (GALV, Gabinete para a Aprendizagem ao Longo da Vida), devoted to lifelong learning was established at the university in 2008 to take care of administrative and research tasks for LLL programmes.
These activities include collecting information on existing needs of potential students, elaborating and scheduling training activities, creating databases for contacts, institutions/entities, etc. All of this contributes to the university's fundament for creating opportunity.
Another key resource within a broader network of resources, is the creation of lifelong learning Regional Centres which include the representatives of several different institutions involved. These Centres establish priorities and coordinate the supply at a regional level. They work as "connection points" in the field between the central and regional services of the University and the local entities, namely municipalities, companies, training centres and schools.
Production and Delivery
Universidade Aberta's pedagogical model is based on e-learning and on the intensive use of new tools for on-line communication. This model, which promotes the interaction between students and teachers, is centred in the student, who is seen as an active, autonomous individual and builder of his/her own knowledge. This learning approach allows for flexibility in learning, where communication and interaction take place according to the student's possibilities, allowing also for the sharing of resources, the active sharing of knowledge and the promotion of activities with peers.
The evaluation of knowledge and skills, centred in continuous evaluation, assumes different forms. In graduation programmes, students have a learning card where they invest throughout the course, preparing e-folios, crediting e-values and sitting for face-to-face tests. In post graduation programmes, evaluation is done in very different forms, using, for instance, portfolios, blogs, projects, essays, problem solving, participation in discussions and reports and tests
One of the most prominent aspects of the value proposition that Universidade Aberta offers its distance learning students is provision of digital literacy skills: since on-line teaching requires specific skills from the students, all its certified programs will include a free preparatory course. Therefore, students are able to acquire the necessary skills before entering the program in which they have enrolled.
In "The On-the-job Training Course (OTC)" priority is given to asynchronous communication so that communication and interaction, between tutor and student, students and resources, can take place at the student's convenience. The course lasts two semesters. The first semester is preceded by an entirely online module that lasts 2 weeks. Further modules are taken that together total 40 ECTS.
Fees charged for the "On-the-job Training Course" include a registration fee of € 90, a tuition fee for each curricular unit of € 120 and € 100 for the certificate. The fees collected from students cover the costs of the course. No government or other external funding is currently available for lifelong learning.
This Example of Implementation is referred to through relevant business model keywords in other parts of this site.