In the beginning of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit countries around the globe with great impact, causing a devastating effect in the economy and in society at large. The restrictions that were imposed to limit mobility and ensure physical distancing between people, affected all types of activities including teaching.
In Europe, many Higher Education Institutions (HEI) had to develop fast institutional responses to the COVID-19 crisis, initially tackling logistical issues and ensuring the necessary technological provision in order to replace face-to-face classes by synchronous distance learning, while it was not possible to resume the traditional teaching modality.
This rapid digital transformation of HEI, driven by a global health emergency, soon became an opportunity to boost a technology-enhanced approach to learning and teaching with the same level of excellence and effectiveness in virtual settings as in the traditional context.
As a result, many HEI began training their faculty for the use of digital technologies to ensure online distance education or blended models that integrate both traditional face-to-face instructional time and computer-mediated activities. At the same time, they invested on the modernization of their own infrastructure, as it became clear that these skills and resources will be essential for leading universities of the 21st-century to succeed and for students to thrive in a competitive and fast-changing world.
Hence, NOVA University Lisbon, the Autonomous University of Madrid, and the University of Rome Tor Vergata constituted a consortium that will be financed by the European Commission during the first two years of operations.
This Consortium will reward the best blended-learning courses in each of the three universities, in different areas of knowledge, and the efforts of their faculty to respond to the COVID-19 challenge of distance education, through the creation of an International Blended Learning Award (hereinafter also referred to as “BLA”), which shall be governed by the dispositions contained in this regulation.
The most innovative aspect of this initiative is that all three partner HEI are committed to jointly offering the awarded courses, thus allowing for a true virtual mobility based on a shared international catalogue of blended learning courses that will be available to students of the HEI of the Consortium and their partners.
The dimension of the Consortium and the standards of excellence of the three European universities involved provide the perfect test-bed for the implementation of quality innovation models applied to education.