Contributed by

OpenCases: the ETH Zurich case study


OpenCases is a study which is part of the OpenEdu Project. It is a qualitative study consisting of a review of literature on open education and nine in-depth case studies of higher education institutions, a consortium of universities, a private organisation and a national initiative. It analysed the rationale and enabling conditions for involvement in open education, open education activities, strategies, impact, challenges and prospects. The main outcome of this study is evidence that a large number of OER have reached a large group of learners. However, completion rates of MOOCs are low. Accreditation is not formalised and in general its impact on employability is not measured.

In late 2012, and following global debates on MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), ETH Zurich started a two-year open education initiative called TORQUE (“Tiny, Openwith-Restrictions courses focused on Quality and Effectiveness”). ETH’s TORQUEs are open to all members of Swiss universities who have a university account (AAI). However their primary audience is ETH students. In the pilot phase ETH supported the creation of 9 TORQUEs and 3 MOOCs, selected from applications submitted by its staff.

The main objective of TORQUEs was to enhance learning in regular ETH face to courses through the use of MOOC-like learning tools e.g. extensive use of videos, social media interaction and flipped classroom approaches. In the case of TORQUES, and due to their strong link with ETH’s on-campus courses, the number of participants is relatively small. These courses usually have between 300 to 500 students but sometimes the number of students can be as low as 50-100.

In addition to TORQUES, ETH offers several MOOCs on the EdX platform in order to reach a more global audience and increase ETH’s institutional visibility. ETH MOOCs’ were reported to attract between 9,000 and 15,000 participants each. However, as it is typical for this type of courses, only a small percentage of those who enrol are active students (estimated to be around 10-15%) and a smaller percentage of participants (around 5% in the case of ETH) follow the course in full and receive the certificates of completion issued by EdX.

Feedback from ETH teachers and staff concerning the new learning and teaching experience derived from MOOCs and TORQUEs was mixed. The main message from ETH student evaluations is that students do not want traditional lecture recordings. Instead, they want videos which complement traditional teaching, and that are very short, catchy and engaging. Based on students’ feedback it can also be concluded that flipped classroom approaches require high levels of guidance to teaching staff, as staff often lack confidence in the use of new pedagogical approaches. The implementation of new pedagogies should, in the words of interviewees, benefit from “more guidance, more practice examples, more consideration of staff workloads, and more faculty using such approaches”. ETH Zurich is currently conducting a full evaluation of its TORQUE and MOOCs initiatives. The results of this evaluation will inform the future format of TORQUEs and MOOCs at ETH.

The involvement of ETH Zurich in the area of open research predates its TORQUE and MOOCs initiative. It started in 2006 with the signing of the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in Sciences and Humanities. This was followed by the adoption of the Open-Access Policy of the university in July 2008 by ETH’s Executive Board. The Open-Access Policy asks all ETH research staff and post-graduate students to make their research outputs (papers (post-prints), theses etc.) freely available as soon as possible via the open access institutional repository ETH-Collection, provided that there are no legal restrictions. Currently, the ETH Library estimates that there is around 10%-20% of the overall research output of ETH deposited within ETH E-Collection repository.

The TORQUE/MOOC initiatives and Open Access Policy for research outputs are resourced through institutional funding available at ETH Zurich (ETH learning and teaching development fund has an allocation of 2 million CHF (around 1.9 million Euro) per year). This business model is not likely to be changed. ETH funds its institutional learning and teaching innovation fund from the public resources it received from the Swiss Confederation. It was through that fund that the development of TORQUEs and MOOCs was supported.

The most important challenge for ETH Zurich with regards to open education practices seems to be the slow pace of changes in the pedagogical approaches (and the shift in the self-understanding of the role of university lecturers) and in moving from classical lectures to the creation of stimulating learning environments. Teaching with the use of new educational technologies and open educational resources is not “content focused” but “learning focused”, with the teacher using materials developed by others and arranging them into a learning environment. Some interviewees noted that this represents a challenge for many academic staff at the ETH. Regarding research, it still remains a challenge to get researchers from leading research institutions like ETH to want to publish major research results in open access journals, and not in the classical high-impact factor academic journals.

The full document is available online at http://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/bitstream/JRC101533/jrc101533_opencases%20case%20studies%20on%20openness%20in%20education.pdf.

This extract comes from the the OpenCases: Case Studies on Openness in Education document which states that reproduction is authorised provided the source is acknowledged. Source: Souto-Otero, M., Inamorato dos Santos, A., Shields, R., Lažetić, P., Castaño-Muñoz, J., Devaux, A., Oberheidt, S., Punie, Y. (2016) OpenCases: Case Studies on Openness in Education. Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, Joint Research Centre, European Commission. EUR 27937 EN, doi:10.2791/039825