Annex A. Guidelines for institutions to support digital education strategy development

Digital education uses digital platforms, resources, and tools to enhance teaching, learning and assessment, and support student success. It underpins communication and connectedness, accessibility and interoperability across departments, faculties, and institutions.

The aim of these guidelines is to provide practical support for Croatian higher education institutions seeking to improve their capacity for digital education. They draw on expert advice and international experience to identify the key elements of quality digital education and provide a systematic process for developing an institution-wide vision for its improvement. They are designed to help institutions to embrace digital innovation, and to maximise its potential for improving teaching and learning.

Without doubt, high quality digital education requires significant investment, and sufficient, sustained funding is critical for success. At the same time, these guidelines emphasise the importance of other factors for the success of digital education, such as technical infrastructure, people, institution policies and practices, leadership and sectoral coherence. Quality digital education should be underpinned by commitments to the alignment and interoperability of systems and processes; to ensuring equity, diversity and inclusivity; to sharing knowledge, understanding and practice, to good governance and a culture of determination to implement sustainable change (Figure A.1).

An institutional strategy for quality digital education should provide a clear roadmap for enhancement, with agreed high-level priorities and indicators of success. The roadmap can inform improvement initiatives and support the deployment of high-quality digital education across all the functional areas of the higher education institution.

Developing a strategy for quality digital education can be challenging. The size of the institution, extent and effectiveness of prior investment and post-COVID fatigue are just some barriers to the process. To be successful, each institution's strategy must reflect its unique culture, context, and priorities. These guidelines promote a well-communicated, collaborative, and consultative approach to strategy development that will ensure input and ownership from the institution's staff, students, and other stakeholders. Developing an associated implementation plan will enable strategic priorities to be translated into transformative actions that support institutional change.

These guidelines outline a stepwise approach to creating an inclusive strategy development process. Each step incorporates questions and considerations intended to stimulate conversation and consensus-building while formulating a whole-of-institution digital education strategy and associated implementation plan. Institutions should identify additional relevant topics for discussion, specific to their circumstances. Sample questions are also provided to stimulate discussion during the strategy development process. However, institutions are encouraged to take the time to identify other important, context-relevant questions.

The guidelines draw heavily on the experiences of the higher education system in Ireland in addressing the improvement of teaching and learning, including in relation to digital education. Ireland is widely recognised as a country pursuing "next practice" in this area, and it has been identified by Croatian authorities as a relevant peer country from which they can learn. The two countries share similar population sizes, have sectoral differentiation within their higher education systems (although with different governance and regulatory models), and are both striving to align with common European higher education norms and standards, such as the European Standards and Guidelines on Quality Assurance. These guidelines have been prepared in collaboration with Dr Terry Maguire, the former head of the Irish National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, considering the experiences and best practices from Ireland's higher education system.

Developing a strategic plan and enabling policy for digital education requires the collective effort of many people. Clear leadership and a consultative process that allows for the contributions of all stakeholders, including staff, students, and the wider community, are essential. These guidelines are designed to support institutional leaders, teaching and learning leaders, champions, innovators, staff, and students to shape their collective vision, and develop an associated strategy and implementation plan for providing quality education within their institution.

It is important that staff at all levels of the institution and their students understand why the strategy is important to them, so that they are motivated to support its development and implementation. Cultural change requires all stakeholders to share a vision for quality digital education within their institution, have a say in shaping the strategy and implementation plan, and understand their role in ensuring its success.

Promoting and implementing each element of high-quality digital education requires concerted strategic efforts on the part of institutions. Strategy development is not linear. It is a cyclical process of continuous improvement identifying key priorities, resourcing the implementation of associated enhancement initiatives, monitoring progress, and advancing towards objectives. The improvement and development cycle can be conceived as a series of steps, as shown in Figure A.2.The final stage of the cycle marks the beginning of a new strategy development for the next strategic period, building on progress and planning for the future.

Each step of the process is discussed in detail in the following sections, including the motivation for including the step, the key topics for consideration, and questions that institution leaders, staff, and students can reflect upon to advance strategic development.

Developing a quality digital education strategy is a time-consuming and resource-intensive process. To ensure successful adoption, the rationale and drivers for the strategy must be communicated in an accessible way to staff, students, and other stakeholders of the institution. Initial discussion should focus on building an ambitious but realistic vision for quality digital education at the end of the strategic period.

Croatia has been undergoing comprehensive reform to its higher education sector in recent years, including important updates to the legal framework governing its higher education system in 2022. Reform of the institutional funding model and the emergence of targeted funding for digitalisation are also creating a new focus on digital higher education, particularly as national authorities and institutions reflect on lessons learned during recent periods of emergency remote instruction.

At the European level, the Digital Education Action Plan 2021-2027 (European Commission, 2020[1]) is an influential policy. The action plan acknowledges the key enabling factors for effective digital education and presents a vision for enhancing digital teaching and learning at all levels of education. Furthermore, the digitalisation of public services, including education, is viewed both nationally and internationally as an essential element of digital transition.

Successful implementation of a quality digital education strategy requires the institutional strategy to be aligned with national and international policy developments. Staff, students, and other stakeholders should have a clear understanding of how policy changes may drive and influence change within their institutional context. One effective way to promote understanding is to review and summarise relevant legislation and policy in an accessible manner, and to ensure that it is effectively communicated to all stakeholders using various media. A possible title for such a communication could be "A Short Guide for Staff, Students, and Stakeholders: Understanding the Impact of Higher Education Legislation on Our Institution."

Although a vision and strategy for high quality digital education will be informed by the international and national policy landscape, each institution should also consider its own specific drivers and priorities. These may include, for example:

  • financial pressures/considerations;

  • student profile and enrolment trends;

  • staff profile;

  • the ambition of the institution’s leadership;

  • stakeholder partnerships; and

  • competition.

These considerations also need to be discussed, captured, and communicated in an accessible way to support the understanding of staff, students, and other stakeholders.

The most suitable periodicity for a digital education strategy will vary depending on an institution’s context. The chosen periodicity should align with important contextual factors (such as budgetary cycles, legislative amendments, technological advancements, programme and curricular updates, and staff availability) while ensuring that the strategy remains effective and relevant throughout its lifetime.

A short-term horizon may be most appropriate for institutions aiming to quickly adapt to new developments, such as the introduction of new software or changes in regulatory requirements. Institutions seeking to make a more substantial impact on their educational offer through the use of digitalisation, build strategic partnerships or make considerable investments in digital technologies should develop strategies with a mid- or long-term time horizon.

Staff, students and other stakeholders should be provided with information on the strategy development process. They need to be aware of the policy drivers and institutional priorities influencing the strategic development of the institution. They must know the key areas where they need to contribute, and how they can contribute. They need to be involved so they can develop ownership of the strategy, and thus support its implementation and subsequent success.

In higher education institutions, as in other large organisations, staff and students are often inundated with emails and other communications. To support the strategy development process, it is essential to develop a dedicated communication strategy with clear and concise messaging tailored to different audiences. It may also be effective to provide information about the strategy through different communication channels, allowing staff and students to choose the medium that works best for them.

A well-resourced implementation plan should accompany strategic development. It is important to identify and communicate the source and extent of resources required to progress the strategy. Once key priorities have been identified, resource allocation across these priorities and functional areas should be agreed.

The proposed strategic development's ambition will be influenced by the resources available for its implementation. Sustainable funding is necessary to ensure sustainable change, and each institution should identify the sources and levels of funding available to support the development and how it will be sustained during and beyond the current strategic period. Government funding is often ringfenced, with limited flexibility for reallocation. Many Croatian institutions benefit from funding because of involvement in, or leadership of, European projects which provide useful funding streams to support development in local contexts. Opportunities for reallocating funds within existing budgets should also be considered. Regardless of the funding source, it is crucial to label and ringfence funding for supporting the strategic development of quality digital education.

However, funding alone will not guarantee success. Providing quality digital education also requires appropriate human resources to guide the strategy's implementation. Staff allocation and recruitment strategies should reflect the institution's skills needs for achieving its digital education priorities. Workload adaptation and professional development opportunities must be available to support staff in developing their digital competence. Finally, curricular development processes must include opportunities for students to develop their digital competence as they progress through their programme of study.

To achieve strategic objectives, it is essential to foster whole-of-institution collaboration, consultation, and communication. The methods used to establish structures and processes may vary across institutions, but the goal should be to encourage engagement from both the top down and bottom up.

Leadership is neither about formulating a goal nor about defining the exact way to reach it: it is about getting people to pursue it jointly… Something historically difficult in most HEIs. Leadership is about setting the frame for others to come in’ (European University Association, 2022[2])

Successful strategic development for quality digital education will require effective institutional leadership, through both formal and informal structures. Recent research on leadership in higher education institutions concluded that leadership at the institutional level is central to developing ownership and a sense of motivation among staff to engage in enhancement. The research advocates for strategic planning to be based on a powerful sense of transparency and empathy and efficient decision-making processes, facilitated by distributed leadership. It should be recognised that those who are not in an official leadership position can also be drivers of change (European University Association, 2022[2]).

A whole-of-institution approach to strategy development and implementation requires that mechanisms be put in place to foster active collaboration across all functional areas of the institution. All staff (senior management, academic, technical and professional), and students should have opportunities to collaborate and contribute to the strategy consultation process.

A positive way of ensuring a whole of institution approach is to identify an institutional lead to drive the consultation and subsequent development of the strategy. The institutional lead should be supported by an identified strategy partner from each functional area of the institution, including diverse student representation. The workload model of the lead and strategy partners need to ensure allocation of time to engage in discussion and planning in relation to the strategy consultation and development. The lead and strategy partners together can form a whole-of-institution Quality Digital Education Strategy Development Group. In bigger institutions this Strategy Development Group may benefit from having an administrative resource to schedule meetings and capture decisions and action points. Its main remit should be to:

  • lead the strategy development process;

  • agree the definition of terms to be used, and the values that underpin the strategy;

  • provide a discussion forum for sharing of practice, ideas and approaches;

  • consider institutional-level data and evidence and agree what it means for the strategy;

  • scope and develop consultation processes, and build consensus on key priorities;

  • identify and agree indicators of success and positive impact;

  • agree the level and allocation of resources;

  • compile an institutional level implementation plan to implement the key priorities; and

  • monitor and review progress.

Each strategy partner works within their own functional area, consulting with staff and students and other stakeholders, as appropriate, to take stock of what is working well within their context. They should identify areas for development, build consensus on the priorities within their own context to be considered for incorporation in the strategy, and develop an implementation plan for their own functional area to support the institution in achieving its key priorities.

Many different and often overlapping definitions of terms are used in association with high-quality digital education, including:

  • e-learning;

  • online learning;

  • distance learning;

  • blended learning;

  • hybrid learning;

  • hyflex learning;

  • technology enhanced learning;

  • active learning; and

  • technology enabled assessment.

The strategy development process should start from a discussion of the terms that will be used in the strategy and ensure there is a shared understanding of their exact definitions in the context of the institution.

Shared understanding can also be driven by widespread sharing of data and evidence. Using data effectively to inform decision making is essential to developing quality digital education, but it is also one of the biggest challenges. The organisational structure of higher education institutions, comprising individual faculties, schools or departments, leads to data being siloed and frequently inaccessible at institution level. To support evidence-based decision making there is a need to identify the range of data sets (both qualitative and quantitative) currently collected across the whole institution. These data should be collated to inform discussion and decision making.

Prior to strategy development, the institution should take stock of the current provision of quality digital education. Current practices, approaches and policies that are working well and might inform future development should be identified. International trends in quality digital education can also be considered to ensure the currency of the strategy in the wider education context.

This stage of the strategy development process provides the institution with an opportunity to identify successes to build on as well as areas requiring further development. This is an essential stage of the process as it sets the starting point for strategic development. The process needs to be structured at an institutional level to ensure all the functional areas of the institution can inform the strategy. The Strategy Development Group (see Step 3) should scope the consultation process by developing a core set of questions to be addressed by each functional area. Functional areas should be free to interpret the questions in their own context and add further context-specific questions if appropriate.

Decisions around what constitutes quality digital education should be evidence-based and informed by feedback, participation, and involvement from various stakeholders, including students. Discipline-led academic research and research into teaching and learning practice should also be considered in the decision-making process.

Where possible, decision making should also be informed by qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the impact of teaching and learning approaches at programme, module and/or sessional level. Evidence sources could include learning analytics, student feedback focus groups, student evaluations of teaching, module feedback, staff peer review of curriculum design and peer observation of teaching.

The fundamental question for the stocktaking process is what aspects of quality digital education provision currently work well and what areas require development. The list of topics below can function as prompts to aid discussion. Topic discussion guides and additional questions for consideration have been included later in these guidelines to provide supplementary guidance for stocktaking and the strategic development process. The extent to which these aspects of quality digital education are currently developed, and the strategic priority allocated to each topic in different institutional contexts, will vary.

  • academic integrity and assessment literacy (Topic 1);

  • active learning using digital technologies (Topic 2);

  • development of staff and student digital competence (Topic 3);

  • digital infrastructure (Topic 4);

  • attitudes towards use of technology to enhance teaching, learning and assessment (Topic 5);

  • the design of learning spaces (Topic 6);

  • digital technologies within a more agile curriculum and programme design (Topic 7);

  • processes in place to share good practice, innovation and resources (Topic 8);

  • designing student-centred, inclusive learning experiences (Topic 9); and

  • other topics relevant to institutional context or contexts of discipline or functional unit.

Discussion and debate in a Strategy Development Group should build consensus on the agreed vision for quality education at the institution and identify the high-level or key priorities and indicators of success to be incorporated into the strategy.

Sustainable cultural change is a slow, incremental process that needs to be driven by achievable targets. The key priorities selected for inclusion in the digital education strategy need to be achievable, with the resources allocated, within the agreed timeframe. Institutions, therefore, must balance ambition with pragmatism in their final choice of the key priorities to be included in the strategy. The potential policy impact of the chosen key priorities must also be considered and captured so policy changes can be progressed in tandem with the implementation of the strategy.

Any strategy development must include consideration of who will be delivering, and who will benefit from, the strategy. Students and staff are not homogenous groups, yet we often talk about them as if they were. As possible strategic priorities are discussed, it is essential that they are considered through the lenses of different teacher and student profiles. Quality digital education will be interpreted differently by students and teaching staff depending on their specific characteristics and histories, field of education or research, study intensity, level of study, or the mode of delivery of the education programmes in which they are involved.

More generally, people across the organisation will hold different perspectives regarding quality digital education. Priorities for a part-time teacher will be different than those of a research-focused academic, a librarian or a financial assistant. Developing quality digital education provision requires a team-based approach involving teachers, students, education technologists, instructional designers and IT specialists to ensure pedagogical approaches and associated digital infrastructure support the development of digital capability and capacity across the institution.

The different viewpoints and perspectives to be considered in the Croatian context should be identified. These perspectives could incorporate different student or staff characteristics and demographics, for example people with disabilities, people with family/parental/caring responsibilities, people with work commitments, people living far away from the campus; people at a technological or socio-economic disadvantage, people with limited exposure to the language of instruction, people from ethnic minorities or people from an under-represented group in higher education. The use of different perspectives will help to ensure that the strategic priorities identified are applicable and relevant to a wide range of individual contexts and will support the institution in its consideration of the impact of quality digital education policies, practices and actions on all staff and students.

Each functional area needs to adopt the institution-level key strategic priorities to its context and identify how it will help support the achievement of these priorities using the resources allocated. The functional area develops an implementation plan, aligned with the overall priorities identified in Step 5.

All staff, students and other stakeholders across all functional areas (including teaching, research, ICT, operational management and administration) have a role to play in helping an institution achieve the priorities outlined in its strategy.

Partners must ensure key priorities and indicators of success are communicated widely within their functional areas. They must facilitate opportunities for collaboration and discussion, identify and agree transformative actions to which they will commit, and support the institution in meeting and achieving its key priorities. It is important to clarify resource allocation to each functional area and the phasing of funding before the development of their context specific implementation plan.

Each implementation plan should be shared across the functional area and with the Strategy Development Group, who will compile the implementation plans for all functional areas into a holistic strategy and implementation plan.

The consolidated institution implementation plan can be used to monitor and review progress against key priorities. The agreed strategy and its implementation plan should be launched and widely communicated within the institution and across the higher education sector.

As discussed in Step 6, once each functional area has agreed their context-specific implementation plan, the functional area partners should share and discuss the plan with the Strategy Development Group. All the shared implementation plans should be compiled into a consolidated implementation plan, and a communication strategy for its launch should be designed and implemented.

Governance of review and monitoring processes should also be agreed to ensure oversight of progress against key priorities. Appropriate action should be taken to ensure all key priorities are met at the end of the strategic period, focusing on the impact approaches and associated indicators identified and agreed during the strategy development process.

Measuring impact associated with teaching and learning enhancement can be difficult. A narrow metrics-driven approach (for example, indicators based on test scores of students) results in a focus only on what can be objectively measured – often failing to capture other valuable, but less tangible, impacts. The long-term impact created through the investment of funding, time and effort in enhancement may not be recognised or understood, with significant ‘value for money’ going unnoticed as a result. This should be acknowledged in the strategy, while at the same time striving to identify all possible indicators of progress or challenges arising from the strategy implementation.

Capturing and communicating the success of the strategy is central to ensuring staff, students and other stakeholders have a sense of achievement and ownership. During implementation, institutions should begin to identify resources for the next strategic period to continue the cycle of improvement.

If the strategy development process has been positive and inclusive, all staff, students and other stakeholders will feel a sense of ownership of the strategy and be engaged in ensuring its success. Their commitment to the implementation of the strategy and their contribution to its successful implementation should be recognised on a regular basis. Institutions should be proactive in communicating and celebrating success at all levels within the institution.

Celebrating areas where the strategy has been successfully implemented creates momentum and motivation for the next strategic period and reinforces continued commitment to enhancement of quality digital education provision. Collective reflection on the strategy development and implementation process – and the experience gained – can be a starting point for a new cycle of strategic development.

Academic integrity is fundamental to ensuring trust and confidence in higher education systems and has emerged as key concern in relation to technology enabled assessment. Higher education institutions need to share an understanding of academic integrity and must develop policies and procedures to protect and reinforce it. Staff and students must be actively supported in their understanding of what actions and behaviours constitute ‘academic integrity’ and ‘academic misconduct;’ and be made aware of their individual responsibilities.

The pandemic restrictions meant that mainstream approaches to assessment such as in-person invigilated examinations had to be rethought, forcing higher education staff and stakeholders to consider possibilities for alternative assessment. This period has stimulated wider reflection on the purpose of assessment and the essential learning outcomes students need to achieve and demonstrate. Such discussions are a starting point for building increased assessment literacy capabilities in staff and students, and efforts should be made at institution level to maintain the momentum of progress after the end of the crisis period.

For institutions intending to make greater use of technology-enabled or technology-enhanced assessments (including remote assessments), reflection and discussion could also be focused on the potential to redesign teaching, learning and assessment processes to ensure that challenges related to academic integrity cannot arise. These processes could include, for example, greater emphasis on project-based learning, and replacing exams with evaluations based on presentations and discussions with students. Current trends in assessment include a move towards focusing on outcomes and providing authentic student assessment opportunities linked to the world of work. The increasing diversity of students also requires a greater focus on culturally responsive assessment. Students need more complex learning opportunities and more holistic, interdisciplinary assessments if they are to be equipped to tackle real world “wicked problems” (O’Neill and Padden, 2021[3]; Pineda and Winkler, 2021[4]).

Any review of assessment practices must consider programme level assessment, assessment workload and assessment bundling. It should consider how assessment is used ‘for’ learning and ‘as’ learning, as well as ‘of’ learning. Challenges to changes in assessment include the need to involve external examiners, regulators and professional bodies. These stakeholders need to be part of a redesign process that includes staff and students as partners.

Student-centred learning incorporates a commitment to active learning, which “represents a range of strategies that engage learners in “meaningful activities” and require learners to think about what they are doing.  Essentially, anything that gets students interacting with each other and engaging with the lecture’”  (Hattie and Zierer, 2017[5]).

Active learning is an approach which can be used regardless of whether teaching and learning are occurring synchronously or asynchronously. Virtual meeting technologies and cloud-based collaboration software enable lecturers to engage students using screen sharing, breakout rooms, polling, hold-and-share whiteboards, and collaborative document development.

Quality digital education requires that digital technologies are used effectively to enhance teaching, learning and assessment. Teachers and learners must have the knowledge, skills, capability and confidence to engage with a range of technologies to support their respective approaches to teaching and learning. Institutions must be aware of the digital competence of both staff and students and should make provision for continuous development in a systematic way. There should be a range of potential professional development opportunities available in both formal and non-formal settings.

Teaching and learning is fundamental to higher education and its value needs to be consistently appreciated by a range of stakeholders (funders, staff, students, employers, wider community) and within the institution. It should be central to strategic development and an embedded part of the institutional culture. Higher education institutions can demonstrate the value they place on teaching and learning through a range of mechanisms including, for example:

  • staff professional development;

  • investment in people;

  • career pathways which recognise and reward excellence in teaching;

  • teaching awards;

  • policy frameworks promoting teaching excellence; and

  • research into teaching and learning.

These initiatives should aim to collectively create a connected and consistently supportive landscape, sending a strong message to staff, students and the wider community about the value of teaching and learning within the institution (Coton, 2021[6]).

Although there has been significant investment in digital infrastructure in most higher education institutions over the last decades, progress in many has been slow. Most higher education institutions have made some progress towards harnessing the potential of new technologies to support access to, management of, and provision of, a range of modes of learning within their institution. At the same time, the pandemic shone a light on often-antiquated digital infrastructure and user interfaces, and the poorly integrated digital systems available to staff and students.

Quality education provision requires an integrated student management system which supports student success and meets the needs and expectations of today’s students who have grown up with technology. The growing emphasis on upskilling, reskilling and lifelong learning means digital systems need to be able to flexibly accommodate different types of learner enrolments (or, indeed, multiple registrations) and to be interoperable with other institutions’ systems. Digital systems should enable seamless accumulation of student credits and recognition throughout their lifelong learning journey. Developments in infrastructure also need to anticipate and provide for the potential impact that emerging technologies and contextual events could have on current infrastructure and practice.

Decisions regarding infrastructure should not be the sole responsibility of the IT department, but should involve other stakeholders, e.g. those with teaching and learning expertise, education developers, technologists, student support, administrative staff and students. Specific guidelines for institutions related to the development of digital infrastructure have been developed as part of this project and are presented in Annex B of this report.

In Croatia and elsewhere, the pandemic accelerated the use of technology to access and assess learning and required the implementation of alternative teaching strategies. Croatia also experienced serious earthquakes in 2020 which damaged infrastructure and reinforced the crisis mode in teaching and learning. The innovations that began in 2020 in Croatia were conducted in far from ideal conditions, and, in the desire to return to normality, there may be a tendency to “overcorrect” and revert to pre-pandemic modes, abandoning all the measures taken during the emergency period.

In strategic discussions, institutions should seek to separate the benefits and adverse effects of the greater use of digitalisation during the emergency period and assess to what extent the adverse effects were observed as a result of being deployed in a crisis mode (as opposed to being carefully planned and rolled out in a systematic manner). It is important to remember that, despite the tendency to refer to the recent crisis period as a period of “experimentation” with digital technologies, substantial evidence already existed prior to the pandemic about technology-enhanced learning. There are many successful case studies and examples of good practice from which institution staff and stakeholders can learn (National Forum, 2021[7]).

Staff should understand the benefits and challenges of using digital tools in teaching, learning and assessment. Quality digital education may require a rethinking of the types of learning expertise required within the institution, such as learning technologists, who offer different skills than IT specialists or traditional teaching academics. Reflecting together on integrating new skill sets and roles into the organisation will help guide discussion about new strategies for quality digital education.

How and where students learn has implications for how institutions plan the use of the physical campus. Various trends and contextual changes, including a greater use of digital technologies, should stimulate a reimagining of physical and digital spaces and the expansion of the concept of the campus to encompass both physical and digital elements. In a review process in Ireland, staff identified the need for smaller spaces to support interactions online and conversations between people; quiet spaces for lecturers to teach online or to record lectures, collaborative spaces for small groups, and optimal use of Virtual Learning Environments (National Forum, 2021[8]). Similar conclusions were drawn by institution staff in Croatia who were interviewed by the OECD review team during the current project (see Chapters 3 and 5 of this report).

Students also need appropriate spaces to learn individually or in small groups or project teams, to collaborate online and use laboratories for their learning and exploration. Students also increasingly seek to use their own digital devices to access learning and collaborate both on and off the physical campus. The design of learning spaces, therefore, needs to be tightly intertwined with planning processes related to digital infrastructure.

Changing demographics and evolving modes of participation in higher education, coupled with technological change, create an imperative for agile approaches to curriculum design. Strategies for quality digital education should aim to incorporate features of an agile curriculum. Table A.1 presents some important features of an agile curriculum design.

Digital technologies can play an integral role in developing more agile programmes and curricula. For example, the use of virtual space can support regular interactions with the professional world, while regular collection of data and feedback is also likely to be facilitated using digital tools. Furthermore, the proliferation of digital educational content offers new opportunities for curation and the reuse of high-quality materials to support learning goals.

Supporting open education principles, practices and policies facilitates access to education and resources for students and staff. It also fosters innovative pedagogies and assessment practices, inclusivity, and equity. Open Education Resources (OER) are teaching, learning and research materials making use of appropriate tools, such as open licensing, to permit their free reuse, continuous improvement, and repurposing by others (UNESCO, n.d.[10]).

New approaches, resources and innovations in teaching learning and assessment can be created or co-created by staff and students to facilitate learning in active ways. Staff can adapt and building on shared resources and further share these adaptions to support others across the wider sector.

Student Centred Learning has been characterised as students having choice in how and what they learn. It is defined by the European Students’ Union as “both a mindset and a culture characterised by innovative methods of teaching which aim to promote learning in communication with teachers and learners, and which take students seriously as active participants in their own learning, fostering transferable skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking and reflective thinking.(European Students Union, 2015[11]).

Students’ perspectives are not always deeply integrated into conversations about teaching and learning, even when they ostensibly have a “seat at the table.” The Irish National Student Engagement Programme distinguishes between student voice, student engagement and student partnership.

  • Student voice is the act of students sharing their individual and collective experiences within the learning community, expressed in formal and informal conversations.

  • Student engagement is a process by which students and staff seek to work together to shape decision-making in higher education, building individual and collective capacity and knowledge to navigate institutional structures and cultures.

  • Student partnership is the practice that both drives forward and emerges from meaningful student engagement. It recognises the need to re-balance power dynamics in higher education and seeks to enable a culture of change through collaboration, reciprocity and shared responsibility between staff and students (National Student Engagement Programme, 2021[12]).

Some institutions have processes in place that give students a voice, but do not provide opportunities to shape the decision making in the institution.

The Rome Communique (European Higher Education Area, 2020[13]) advocates for making student centred learning a reality, calling on higher education institutions to ensure education provision meets the needs of an increasingly diverse student population. Student-centred learning is a key aspect of the Bologna alignment process for degree structure and programme design, which advocates for students to be active participants in their learning and progression pathways. National indicators relating to student-centred learning must be reported from 2024 onwards (Bologna Follow-up group 4, 2022[14]).

Creating a learning environment which is fully inclusive of a diverse student population is a complex undertaking and should be pursued according to best available practices. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an example of a comprehensive framework designed to improve the learning experience of all students. It aims to create a culture of engagement in the increasingly diverse higher education landscape. UDL encompasses a set of principles and guidelines which together aim to develop expert learners, using a variety of teaching methods to lower barriers to learning and give all learners equal opportunities to succeed. The approach is underpinned by research in the field of neuroscience. Through using the UDL framework or similar evidence-based approaches, institutions can work to create more flexible and inclusive methods of teaching, assessment and service provision for students.

Finally, student-centred design needs to focus on non-classroom activities such as extracurricular activities and social networking. Non-classroom activities have an essential role to play in developing a sense of belonging and community and ensuring students can readily access administration services and academic staff. It therefore requires dedicated collaborative planning (National Forum, 2021[8]).

Developing high-quality digital education is a national priority for Croatia, as evidenced by the e-Universities project (CARNET, 2022[15]) and all its higher education institutions will be impacted by national developments. Where possible, it is prudent to collaborate with other institutions to learn from each other and share perspectives and developments. This is both good practice and time efficient, and helps create, develop and deepen the national higher education community. Furthermore, inter-institution collaboration provides an opportunity to make best use of the limited funding available.

When institutions and other stakeholders do collaborate effectively, they provide a powerful voice to inform national policy development and identify the level and allocation of national funding. For example, a first step in the Croatian context could be to organise an inter-institutional seminar bringing interested individuals together to discuss and summarise what national and international policies mean for the staff, students, and other institutional stakeholders in higher education in Croatia. The output from this seminar could then be shared more widely to form a starting point for further strategic planning and actions.

Case studies below from Ireland and Portugal highlight the value of collaboration and the positive outcomes that can result. In 2021 fifteen partners, from a range of stakeholders across the Irish Higher Education sector came together, facilitated by the Irish National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, to agree the next steps for teaching and learning in a post-Covid world. The output of this collaboration subsequently informed national policy and funding allocation (see Case Study 1).

The Portuguese Universities of Minho and Aveiro developed a strategic partnership to strengthen efforts to transform their institutional cultures regarding learning and teaching. Their aim was to scale up the impact of single-institutional initiatives and achieve their vision of nurturing a multi-institutional community through peer learning (see Case Study 2).

In March 2021, fifteen partners from a range of stakeholders across the Irish higher education sector agreed to work together to answer a common, persistent, and urgent question: what have we learned from the COVID-19 experience and what does it mean for the future of teaching and learning in Irish higher education? The partners in the project (entitled “Next Steps for Teaching and Learning; Moving Forward Together”) worked in their own settings to answer this question for themselves. They subsequently shared and discussed their findings to answer this question collaboratively for the sector.

The “Next Steps” project was unprecedented in Ireland in terms of the scale of, and approach to, collaboration. All partners submitted evidence-based findings from new or previous research about the experience of teaching, learning, assessing, and working through the pandemic. Project partners combined and analysed their respective findings to formulate high-level key messages, consider them in a wider context and make recommendations. They proposed a principles-based approach to stimulate further discussion and identify next steps. Their collective key findings were: (National Forum, 2021[8])

  • Positive change in teaching & learning can only occur within an enabling culture across both institutions and the wider sector.

  • A deliberate emphasis on equity, diversity, and inclusion must be preserved and further developed within teaching & learning so that staff and students can succeed and thrive.

  • Community and well-being are essential both for students and staff.

  • Decision-making and leadership can be shared effectively across the whole institutional community.

  • The ethos of student engagement and partnership are highly valued in Irish higher education. An explicit strategic focus will enable further embedding of the ethos into policies, processes, and practice.

  • Teaching & learning experiences for students and staff are diversifying and evolving. Learning environments are transforming to enable mixed modes of learning and participation.

  • The world of work is digitally infused and requires a commitment to lifelong learning.

The report of the project was launched in 2021 by the Irish Minister of Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. Its findings informed the allocation of ring-fenced public funding for higher education teaching and learning for 2022 and 2023 (National Forum, 2022[16]).

After some years of successful bilateral collaborations on co-construction of teaching enhancement initiatives, the Portuguese Universities of Minho and Aveiro entered a strategic partnership with the goal of transforming teaching and learning in their respective institutions. They organised a retreat (Docencia+) in June 2019 to bring together teachers from each institution to implement innovative approaches to their chosen pedagogy projects (Universidade de Aveiro, n.d.[17]). This first retreat brought together more than 30 teachers from each project and was so successful that the universities organised 3 additional retreats, with participation increasing each time, stimulating the formation of networks and a practice community.

The success of the Docencia+ initiative led to enquiries from staff in other institutions wanting to participate. The strategic partners envisioned the development of an online inter-institutional conference on pedagogical development (Jornadas Interinstitucionais de Desenvolvimento Pedagógico), as a means of expanding innovative practice in teaching development to other institutions and diversifying the portfolios of teacher training programs available nationally (Aveiro, n.d.[18]). The movement has grown substantially since the first edition in 2020, and more and more institutions are expressing an interest in getting involved. Nine universities engaged in the first session held in September 2020, and by the time of the sixth session, just 18 months later, 17 higher education institutions including public and private universities and polytechnic institutes, took part (The Educationalist, 2021[19]). Institutions in Portugal have thus been able to create a space within the higher education system to focus on teaching and learning, through bottom-up collaborative processes.

Table A.2 outlines additional case studies and recently developed resources from Ireland that may be inspiring to Croatian institutions setting out on journeys of collaborative strategic development related to digital education. Ireland is a peer country identified by Croatia as being of interest and relevance for this project and has invested in developing institutional capacity for collaborative teaching and learning projects over the past decade.


[18] Aveiro, U. (n.d.), Jornadas Interinstitucionais de Desenvolvimento Pedagógico,

[14] Bologna Follow-up group 4 (2022), BFUG WG on Learning and Teaching 2021-2024, discussion paper, (accessed on January 06 2023).

[15] CARNET (2022), e-Universities: Preparation status and investment activities, CARNet.

[6] Coton, F. (2021), VIT&L Week Opening Event Keynote, National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, Ireland, (accessed January 06 2023).

[1] European Commission (2020), Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027) | Education and Training, (accessed on 9 November 2020).

[13] European Higher Education Area (2020), Rome Ministerial Communiqué AnnexIII, (accessed on January 06 2023).

[11] European Students Union (2015), Overview On Student-Centred Learning In Higher Education In Europe, Research Study, (accessed on January 06 2023).

[2] European University Association (2022), A report from the Leadership and Organisation for Teaching and Learning at European Universities, (LOTUS) project., (accessed on December 20 2022).

[5] Hattie, J. and K. Zierer (2017), 10 Mindframes for visible learning: Teaching for success., Routledge.,

[16] National Forum (2022), €6.4m Funding Allocation to Drive Teaching and Learning Innovation and Enhancement Across the Higher Education Sector,

[7] National Forum (2021), Key themes in online and blended learning,2010-2020,,

[9] National Forum (2021), National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning: Towards a National Understanding of the Agile Curriculum, (accessed on January 06 2023).

[8] National Forum (2021), Next Steps for Teaching and Learning: Moving Forward Together,

[12] National Student Engagement Programme (2021), Steps to Partnership A Framework for Authentic Student Engagement in Decision-Making, (accessed on January 06 2023).

[3] O’Neill, G. and L. Padden (2021), “Diversifying assessment methods: Barriers, benefits and enablers”,, Vol. 59/4, pp. 398-409,

[4] Pineda, K. and C. Winkler (2021), “Trends in Assessment: Ideas, Opportunities, and Issues for Higher Education”,, pp. 1-3,

[19] The Educationalist (2021), One for all, and all for one: A nationwide vision of inter-institutional faculty development,

[10] UNESCO (n.d.), Open Educational Resources,

[17] Universidade de Aveiro (n.d.), Docencia+,

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