A brief history of the Louvain Learning Lab
The Université catholique de Louvain (UCL) is a pioneer in the study of higher education and in the use of ICTE (information and communication technologies in education) to promote innovation and create added value in the fields of teaching and learning. It has come a long way since it first set out on this route in 1980 and has passed a number of complementary milestones along the way, culminating in the image of the University as we know it today.
1. Start by finding resources for evaluation of teaching
UCL has organised teaching evaluations carried out by students since the early 1980s.
This was an original initiative when it was first introduced and it determined the subsequent course of events. This approach placed students at the centre of a system that was intended to improve the quality of teaching and consequently also of learning. A number of reports (L'évaluation des enseignements, 1991; La pédagogie à l'Université, 1996) mention the need to guide teachers in their development as educators so that these evaluations can be more than simple observations that offer no prospects for improvement.
2. Next, train and offer guidance for teachers with their projects
In 1995 the University Authorities decided to set up the Institute for Higher Education and Technology (IPM), whose initial task was teacher training. It was gradually transformed into a system to provide guidance for teachers with their projects. At that time there was a clear separation between education services and technology services (mainly audiovisual resources), and it was an intuitive step to bring these two aspects together to benefit from the effects of training (in the use of technology) and research (into the impacts of educational approaches on teaching). The ways in which this training was given also shifted away from relatively traditional forms (offering courses) towards forms that matched teachers' needs or demands more closely. It is therefore not surprising that the IPM increasingly began to prioritise active forms of learning (problems, projects, collaborative learning) for students: the curriculum reform in the Faculty of Applied Science with a move to problem-based learning is one significant example of this.
3. Encourage innovation and promote evaluation and sharing of innovations
In the late 1990s UCL created the Educational Development Fund to support pilot projects in higher education. Akin to the procedure for research projects, teachers were invited to submit projects and their relevance, quality and transferability were assessed by a scientific management committee. Funding for these projects (for equipment, development and staff) was therefore assured and, in most cases, the teachers received special guidance from the IPM. This helped to ensure that the insights gained were shared.
4. Make better use of efforts in the areas of research and teaching methodology
Until then, the work done by these teachers, who in some cases became trainers for their peers, had received little institutional recognition. Towards the end of the 2000s, UCL introduced a more balanced system for joint assessment of performance in research and in teaching methodology so that this could be used in decisions on teacher appointments and promotions: the Teaching Development Plan was born.
Today technology has gone digital and the IPM is now known as the Louvain Learning Lab, but efforts to improve the quality of teaching and learning are still its priority in an ever-changing world. In the same spirit of openness to what has now become our digital society, UCL has announced that 2017-2018 will be the year of digital worlds.