The Inter-University Campus

Interview with Thrasyvoulos Tsiatsos , who is leading the implementation of the EPICUR Inter-University Campus. He is Associate Professor in the Department of Informatics of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece in the research area of Internet Technologies in Education.

The EPICUR Inter-University Campus is a digital ecosystem that consists of two main modules: the Virtual Campus Learning Platform (VCLP), and the Virtual University Registrar System (VURS). VCLP (https://learn.epicur.education/) plays the role of a decentralized Learning Management System. VURS is the EPICUR centralised Campus Management System offering four applications for supporting the following groups of users:

Figure 1: EPICUR Inter-University Campus

What are the aims of the EPICUR Inter-University Campus?

The EPICUR Inter-University Campus is a central online gateway for supporting flexible online, physical and hybrid mobilities for students of the alliance. Its primary aim is to fully digitalize the mobility admission, selection and monitoring process by offering a secure, scalable and transparent solution based on free and open-source solutions.

Main objectives of the EPICUR Inter-University Campus are the following:

  • to offer innovative functionality to monitor and recognize mobilities (analytics, gamification),
  • to minimize manual administrative work for supporting mobilities,
  • to be interoperable and scalable in order to support inter-alliance mobilities, other alliances or associated partners.

Taken together, these steps are expected to contribute to significantly boosting EPICUR mobility at the level of the alliance, which was one of the main aspirations of the European Commission when launching the European Universities Initiative.

Who can benefit from the EPICUR Inter-University Campus?

The EPICUR Inter-University Campus is a central platform for:

  • the EPICUR Alliance to offer flexible mobilities and minimize the administrative effort
  • the EPICUR Universities to share courses and recognize effort
  • the Professors to communicate with the EPICUR Students and deliver courses to them
  • the Students to apply for and attend courses
  • the Administrative staff to monitor mobilities …in a harmonized way.

The following figures are presenting the main roles supporting the EPICUR Inter-University Campus (Figure 2) and their interaction with the platform (Figure 3).

Figure 2: Roles in EPICUR Inter-University Campus
Figure 3: Users in EPICUR Inter-University Campus

Anouk Tso, WP2 Leader (UvA) offered the following comments on the first pilot run: “For the team involved in developing the EPICUR Language & Culture pilots the EPICUR VCLP and VURS have become indispensable applications already during this very first test run! Opening up a total of 27 courses hosted by 5 different partner universities to the entire EPICUR student community would have been impossible without the VURS application, which allowed all colleagues to have access to all applications 24/7 and in real time and collaborate on the joint review process. For us, the VURS feels like our online EPICUR secretariat and we can hardly imagine our EPICUR life without it anymore! The same goes for the VCLP, as a gateway to both students and lecturers involved in our courses, it is wonderful to be able to guide members of our community to the EPICUR ‘go-to place’.”

How do you see the digital development of the EPICUR alliance in the near future?

The EPICUR Alliance has already achieved a huge milestone: To create the first digital infrastructure to support virtual mobilities. This milestone has been achieved much earlier than defined in the official workplan. Therefore, we are confident that the EPICUR alliance will be fully supported by digital services like creation of transcripts of records, online Community of Practices.

Who is the team behind the development?

It is a rather big development team working in the context of WP4 (Pave the way for an Inter-University Campus, using a student and staff centered approach). The team consists of the following members:

  • Thrasyvoulos Tsiatsos, WP4 Leader (AUTh), Dimitrios Karpouzos, ΑUTh Project Officer – PMT member (AUTh)
  • Philip Hoyer, VCLP admin (KIT), Franziska Wandelmaier, VCLP admin & KIT admin for LMS connection to VCLP (KIT)
  • Kyriakos Barbounakis, Dimitris Daskopoulos, Yiannis Salmatzidis, VURS development team (AUTh)
  • Dorthe Hutz, VCLP landing page design and admin (ALU-FR)
  • Angeliki Agorogianni, Vasiliki Kalfa, Thanos Koukoulis, AUTh admins for LMS connection to VCLP (AUTh)
  • Adrian Trzoss, Przemek Kaszubski, admins for AMU LMS connection to VCLP (AMU)
  • Marko Glaubitz, Nicole Wöhrle, admins for ALU-FR LMS connection to VCLP (ALU-FR)
  • Claus Rainer Michalek, admin for BOKU LMS connection to VCLP (BOKU)
  • Christophe Debeire, Celine Perves, admins for UNISTRA LMS connection to VCLP (UNISTRA)
  • Bas Toeter, Koen Dekker, admin for UvA LMS connection to VCLP (UvA)
  • Apostolos Papagiannakis, Apostolos Vavalas, AUTh Single-Sign-On (Shibboleth) admins (AUTh)
  • Mikołaj Płaczek, AMU Single-Sign-On (Shibboleth) admins (AMU)
  • Bernd Oberknapp, ALU-FR Single-Sign-On (Shibboleth) admins (ALU-FR)
  • Gregor Weissmann, BOKU Single-Sign-On (Shibboleth) admins (BOKU)
  • Michael Simon, KIT Single-Sign-On (Shibboleth) admins (KIT)

The above team is fully supported by the EPICUR WP2 Leader (Anouk Tso, UvA) and WP3 leaders (Steve Randall and Steffi Klose, ALU-FR). A special acknowledgment goes to Dimitrios Koveos, Vice Rector for Academic and Student Affairs of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTh), for his vision to implement VURS module and his continuous support.

Have you already worked on technical projects with other universities?

Most of the members of our team already had experience working with other universities (not members of this alliance). However, it is the first time working in the context of this alliance. The experience is pretty good!

What are the main challenges in developing such a project?

There were many challenges to develop such a project. An indicative list is the following:

  • to create a secure GDPR compliant solution,
  • to harmonization administrative processes among 8 different universities from 6 different countries (Figure 4),
  • to orchestrate of different Learning management systems,
  • to implement an interoperable solution between VURS and VCLP,
  • to coordinate a rather big team that consists of members with different expertise.
Figure 4: Map of EPICUR Universities

Steven Randall (WP3 leader, ALU-FR)  thoughts on the challenges: “The main challenges including determining appropriate permissions/access and then moving quickly toward integration across an alliance in which each partner uses varying combinations of systems at their home campuses. There is great value in taking the bold step of moving forward with these integration challenges early in the project so that we are ready with a system by the time the pilot phase ends.”

What do you think are the paths for increasing relations between universities in this field?

The first direction is the definition, adoption and digitalization of standardized solutions to interconnect the systems. These solutions should be based, from the technical point of view on free and open-source software. Also, the participation of every university not only in the development team but also in the pilot phase will be beneficial. More specifically at least a critical mass of professors, students and admin staff should participate from every university of the alliance to the pilot phase in order to evaluate the system as well as the process and then to improve the EPICUR Inter-University Campus accordingly.

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