Digitals tools offer professors countless ways to enrich their teaching, but if teaching staff aren’t given proper training and support these tools can languish unused. But this isn’t a problem at Europe’s most innovative university, where the latest pedagogy and e-learning research meets technological expertise in the form of a top quality digital learning environment that is easy to use.
“At KU Leuven, technology is not a goal in itself, but a means to come to better learning, better assessment, and better internationalisation,” says Piet Desmet, Vice Rector for Educational Technology. Key to this approach is the KU Leuven Learning Lab, the university’s education expertise network. This group of academics, IT staff, and education policy experts are responsible for developing and maintaining the university’s growing digital learning ecosystem, as well as providing training and support to the professors who use it.
At the heart of this ecosystem is Toledo, the university’s online learning environment which is used by all KU Leuven professors and courses. The platform includes a variety of tools for all class types. The university has dedicated educational support staff in each faculty to help professors choose which tools are right for their class and make sure they get training to master them. Toledo also includes some home-grown tools that were specially designed by the university for the university.
“We made our own exam system for example for on campus online exams. We know that exams can be a strange and stressful situation, so we made a system with a good dashboard for professors and a safe and simple interface for students,” explains Leen Van Rentergem, Head of Facilities for Education, Research, Communication and Collaboration.
The Learning Lab also supports professors who want to innovate and bring new technologies to their learning environments. “I think that we have a really good environment for professors at KU Leuven. On one hand, we offer them a very well equipped general toolset, on the other hand, if they want to do something new, we also have an environment for this,” adds Leen.
Because KU Leuven has such a strong tradition of e-learning, they were able to smoothly and quickly transition to online education during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We know why we digitise education at KU Leuven and it has nothing to do with corona,” says Piet. “Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic added extra motivation, but we had already been active in this field for years. The building blocks were in place, but we had to intensify them during corona since technology enhanced learning spaces became something completely different and much larger,” says Piet.
The work of Learning Lab was instrumental when it came time to transition this semester to hybrid learning. Leen and her team worked hard updating auditorium infrastructure and making training videos to ensure that no matter what auditorium a professor was teaching in, they would be able to get their digital lectures up and running in two to three minutes.
Support services are a key component of the KU Leuven Learning Lab and a huge asset to the university’s professors. “If you come to our university as an academic, you can be reassured that you're at an institution that is leading at the Flemish level in going digital and that you will also get maximum support. This is part of the DNA of the university,” says Piet.
The KU Leuven Learning Lab offers exciting career opportunities for education technologists. Those interested in IT can experiment with innovative technologies that aren’t available in industry and follow their creativity. Education researchers can leverage the Learning Lab’s technical expertise to bring about advances on and off line education. For those interested in education policy, KU Leuven Learning Lab allows them to put their research into practice at one of the world’s top universities.
“What we do here has an enormous impact, says Anneleen Cosemans, Head of the Educational Development Unit. “You have to be creative to combine what is feasible with what is innovative and what will contribute to quality education at KU Leuven. You're paving the way for a new kind of education and that’s very exciting.”
Do you want to join Piet, Leen, and Anneleen in developing a new kind of education at one of the world’s top universities? You can find all vacancies for academic staff and management & professionals at KU Leuven here, as well as Dutch vacancies here.
Header image © KU Leuven – Rob Stevens
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