The Bavarian Virtual University (BVU)
The Bavarian Virtual University (BVU) was established in 2000 as a network organisation run by the universities and universities of applied sciences of the Free State of Bavaria. Its primary goal is to improve studying conditions for the growing number of students who require flexibility both in terms of time and place. This flexibility is best offered by virtual teaching and learning environments.
The BVU network currently encompasses 31 member universities with some 360,000 students. Several hundred professors from Bavaria are involved in the BVU either in a teaching capacity or as committee members. With a portfolio of well over 400 courses, the BVU considerably extends the range of offerings made available by the Bavarian universities. The academic year of 2014/2015 saw around 150,000 course enrolments by some 50,000 students; these numbers are expected to rise by about 10% in the current academic year. All BVU courses offer a graded certificate of achievement on completion which can be used as credits in a degree course.
It is expensive to produce attractive web-based courses that fully utilise the didactic advantages of the medium. In order to get the most out of this expenditure, the Free State of Bavaria supports the coordinated and practice-oriented development of courses for use across the universities. The courses offered as part of the BVU programme are generally developed by a member university on the basis of tenders. Applications for funding of a new course must be made jointly by at least two universities. The universities in the consortium provide a binding guarantee that the course will be part of a compulsory module or a compulsory elective module for one of their degree courses and that they will recognise the study results achieved in this course. At the same time these courses must be made available to students from all member universities. They are free of charge to these students; other individuals can use the courses for a fee which is based on fees for guest students. This coordination and cooperation across the whole of Bavaria means that public funds can be used more efficiently than would be the case if each university were to develop its own courses in an uncoordinated way. The BVU supports the systems of the existing universities rather than competing with them. It is not a university in its own right, nor does it offer fully-fledged degree courses or its own certificates, credits etc. The BVU enables member universities to use elements of distance learning and by doing so to offer their students greater flexibility in terms of time and place.
The BVU utilises the existing infrastructure of the member universities wherever possible. The courses are stored on the servers of the universities that offer them, while the course catalogue and enrolment are organised centrally by the BVU Office. A number of different learning management systems (LMS) are employed by the BVU. In order to simplify access to the courses, the BVU assisted its member universities in creating an interoperable identity management system with a single sign-on.
The BVU respects the diverging cultures of the 15 fields of study currently available (in order of enrolment numbers: Law, Medical Science, Business Science and Economics, Key Skills, Teacher Training, Languages, Informations Systems, Social Work, Engineering, Computer Science, Health Care Management, Cultural Studies, Natural Science, Introductory Courses, Social Sciences). The didactic approaches are equally diverse. For this reason, the BVU does not maintain its own media didactics centre but promotes the networking of the institutions already in place at the universities.
The BVU sets great store by interactive teaching and learning, which is why the students are supervised by specially trained tutors. This supervision helps avoid the high drop-out rates that are characteristic of other types of online courses (e.g. MOOCs). More than half of those who start courses also take the final exams. Due to the vital role played by interaction in achieving success in learning, the BVU funds not only the development of courses but also the supervision of the students by tutors and the training of these tutors.
The use of the courses across the universities has worked well: more than half of all enrolments come from universities which did not themselves develop the courses. Equally successful is the use among the different types of higher education institutions. Every year thousands of students from universities of applied sciences take courses from universities and in turn thousands of students from universities take courses offered by universities of applied sciences.
Experience has shown the BVU that blended learning, i.e. the combination of web-based teaching with face-to-face tuition, can be implemented successfully not only on the micro level of the individual course but on the macro level of the degree course. The BVU attaches particular importance to quality management. All courses are evaluated by the students every term. In addition, after it has been held five times, each course is subject to a review by two experts from outside Bavaria in terms of its subject matter, the didactic use of the medium and its technical quality. Any improvements to the courses that are required are funded by the BVU.
For the period of 2000 to 2015 a total of 58.2 million euros was spent on funding the BVU. From 2016 to 2018, a minimum of 6.2 million euros per annum will be available. The major part of these funds has been and will continue to be provided by the Free State of Bavaria. Since 2005 the member universities have paid a fee of one euro per matriculated student and term. The representatives elected to the Programme Committee and the Steering Committee at the BVU General Meeting decide on how the funding should be used. These committees are supported by the BVU Office in Bamberg, which is run by the Managing Director.
The BVU has received accolades for its work on several occasions recently in both national and international studies:
- European Commission Directorate for Education and Training (Ed.): Study on Innovation in Higher Education: Final Report, 2014.
- BMWi (Ed.): Best-Practice-Studie Intelligente Netze – Beispielhafte IKT-Projekte in den Bereichen Bildung, Energie, Gesundheit, Verkehr und Verwaltung, 2013.
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