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During the lifetime of the Re.ViCa project one of the outcomes has been a categorization of Virtual Campus; this is closely allied to the inventory work we are doing. We have also been calling this a taxonomy and it generated quite some discussion from the start of the project. We therefore created this page to gather all the information on categorization/taxonomy that we have developed arising from Re.ViCa partner work and also systems and approaches identified both in the project writing stage and from the input provided on this topic during our first Key Meetings with the Re.ViCa International Advisory Committee.

Current categorisation

This page describes the current (as of June 2009) approach to categories of virtual campus initiatives.

There are six axes of categorisation of a virtual campus programme/initiative and a seventh that we do not use (yet).

  1. UNESCO categorisation of initiative
  2. Political level of initiative
  3. Existence of initiative
  4. Internal scale of initiative
  5. Academic level of initiative
  6. Distance education initiatives

UNESCO categorisation of initiative

We aim to classify each virtual campus as one of the following four types derived from the UNESCO categorisation:

  1. Newly created institution
  2. Evolution of existing institution
  3. Consortium
  4. Private provider

We also distinguish the special category of

such as the charitable or religious university foundations in many countries.

Political level of initiative

For any initiative which lies above the level of one or a few institutions, we consider whether it is a:

  1. National initiative - from one country or a region, state or province within that country
  2. Multinational initiative - from a few countries acting together
  3. International initiative - from a supranational body such as the EU, World Bank or UNESCO

Existence of initiative

A number of initiatives do not now exist. For these we distinguish between

  1. Ceased e-Learning Initiative (CELI) - one which came to a planned end
  2. Failed e-Learning Initiative (FELI) - one which went bankrupt or had to be closed

Internal scale of initiative

We have a four level scale;

  1. Notable E-Learning Initiative (NELI)
  2. Major E-Learning Initiative (MELI)
  3. Giant E-Learning Initiative (GELI)

There is an indication given of the scale of these in terms of benchmark measures but what is more important is to give an informal sense of the scale.

Academic level of initiative

We classify this as

  1. School - these are not covered in the current Re.ViCa wiki
  2. College
  3. University college
  4. University

It is often quite difficult to distinguish between some of these levels.

Distance education initiatives

A few of the initiatives focus on distance education. For these we note if the institution is an:

  1. Open university

Size and status of institution

At present we do not categorise on these axes since there is as yet no evidence that they are relevant to e-learning initiatives.

As listed by Re.ViCa

We decided to use the models described by UNESCO Virtual University project as a starting point to create the Theoretical categorization of the Re.ViCa Virtual campus inventory.

UNESCO: Virtual Universities emerging Models

As the higher education community has moved to adopt ICT to support the teaching and learning function and as an international marketplace appears to be taking shape, a variety of institutional models has begun to emerge. Various classifications have been proposed, but for the purpose of this study, the focus was placed on four main institutional types:

Source: http://www.unesco.org/iiep/virtualuniversity/home.php#models

ArrowTL.gif ArrowTR.gif
Newly Created Institutions Evolution of Existing Institutions
Consortium Commercial Enterprise
ArrowBL.gif ArrowBR.gif

A natural taxonomy of institutions

To select the case studies for the in depth research of the project we started to create a natural taxonomy of institutions: As listed on the Case studies page A natural taxonomy of institutions is thus:

  1. Large research-led traditional university - e.g. K.U.Leuven (Belgium), University of Edinburgh (Scotland), etc
  2. Small research-led traditional university - e.g. University of Bangor (Wales)
  3. Large teaching-led new university - e.g. Middlesex University (England)
  4. Small teaching-led new university - e.g. Canterbury Christ Church University (England)
  5. Distance teaching providers (state) - e.g. Arab Open University
  6. Distance teaching providers (private) - e.g. Hibernia College (Ireland)

As listed by the IAC

As discussed during our key meeting in Lisbon with the International Advisory Committee

Working Group 1 (notes taken by Anna-Kaarina Kairamo) Discussed themes

  1. National – international different category, because of different laws
  2. Granularity in categorisation essential
  3. Some criteria which can be used are
    • legal existence
    • money
    • single /multiple
    • traditional / blended / distance, sector
  4. Criteria suggested are on different level or dimensions (academic single institution, vocational are organizational criteria, distance teaching is about the method)
  5. What is HE? What is Re.Vica framework?
  6. Categorisation is always subjective, prefer merely dimensions instead of categories, cases can positioned within the dimensions
  7. 1 Case in category problematic, 2 min so that comparison can be made
  8. Frame factors (context) important
  9. Cultural approach (different academic cultures of the disciplines) should be included in the criteria, curture and structure are intertwined
  10. Focus on question HOW to build virtual campus instead of searching answer for question WHAT use inductive method instead of deductive
  11. Instead of taxonomy profile of the VCs can be used (pict. 2 below)

Useful resource: Trainer’s and Professional’s Guide to Quality in Open and Distance Learning

Picture 1:

AKK taxonomy-type-of-thinking.jpg

Picture 2:

AKK profile-mapping.jpg

Working Group 2 (notes taken by Theo Bastiaens) TB mindmap 2.jpg

Working Group 3 (notes taken by Ilse Op de Beeck) The discussion that took place in group 3 on the topic of a Taxonomy revolved around the idea of plotting ‘Virtual Campus’ along the lines of certain dimensions, and then to identify where there are clusters. This can form basis on which a taxonomy can be build. It will also allow institutions to compare themselves with each other.

Here is a list of possible dimensions that could be used:

Full academic driven (research oriented driven) Fully labour market driven
Single Partnership
Small scale (< 100 students) Large scale (> 100.000 students)
Local International
Monolingual Multilingual
Fully online Deeply blended
Non profit orientation For profit orientation
Mono-programme (# programmes, # of subjects) Multi-programme
Central decision making Decentralised decision making
Highly funded Non funded
Objectivist Constructivist
Distribution Cooperation
(who produces the programme)

As listed by other authors or project reports

Towards a Virtual Campus Observatory for Latin America By Paul Bacsich, 2001 (Extract)


Virtuality in a university is in my view a matter of degree, not kind. At the EdMedia workshop in Summer 1996 in Boston I proposed “five dimensions of virtuality”, and to these five I more recently added a sixth (at Online Educa 96):

  1. To what extent are students not physically present on campus?
  2. To what extent are staff used in non-conventional modes and contracts? (Part-timers, consultants, teleworkers, etc.)
  3. To what extent is computer and network support out-sourced?
  4. To what extent has physical infrastructure begun to be reduced?
  5. To what extent has the legal and institutional strength been reduced? (By use of devolution, consortia, ad-hoc collaborations, etc.)
  6. To what extent has the degree structure begun to dissolve into ever-smaller modules studied in an ever more flexible pattern?


This is a fascinating subject, but one on which it is hard to get good information unless one is an “insider” to the organisation in question. The section below draws on material from the author, Robin Mason [2001] and Terry Anderson (Anderson and Downes [2000]), all of whom have significant experience working in several different organisations and advising several others

Types of Virtual University I detect three distinct abstract types of Virtual University:

  1. A “green fields”, that is, “new build” university which is virtual from the start. In their era, the “mega universities” (Daniel, 1996) might have been so described. More recently in the European theatre, the UK University for Industry is the best known example, provided one takes a wide enough definition of “university” since its courses are on the whole sub-degree courses oriented to industry.
  2. A virtual university consortium. This is where a number of universities get together in a more or less tight organisational framework to put a “skin” of virtuality around all of them. The European Commission has directly or indirectly fostered several of these, as have national funding agencies including in the UK. The UK e-University is the latest example.
  3. A “skin” on a conventional university (campus-based or distance learning-based), like the rind on an orange. This is what I call the Virtual Campus model – a centrally directed online learning initiative. There are at least 100 North American examples, and many more in other parts of the world including in the UK.
  4. Virtual Universities run by non-university organisations (private providers).

Prof. Robin Mason's Classificiation (2001)

As an alternative viewpoint, Mason (in a paper dated 2001 but written some years previously) proposes 6 models, but admits that some blur into each other. Note that some models apply to single institutions, or almost require these, as well as to consortia.

  1. Brokerage – “a new organisation set up to provide courses for the life-long learning sector, but using the teaching and course resources of existing institutions”, with a “very small number of permanent staff”. Her examples: OLA (Australia), Ufi, Jones.
  2. Partnership – “agreements among existing universities”. Her example: OU partnerships.
  3. Umbrella – “existing organisations pull together… under the aegis of a slim superstructure”. Her examples include the Scottish University of Highlands and Islands (UHI) and Western Governors University in the mid-west US; but there are several more examples including UniRede in Brazil – see www.unirede.br
  4. Greenfield – “setting up an entirely new organisation”. Her examples include new small open universities (such as TechBC) and Magellan University.
  5. Network – “where existing universities and education providers collaborate in a variety of combinations” with “no central driver of the programme”. Her example is the VIRTUE project of EuroPACE.
  6. Dual-mode – “teaching the same courses both face-to-face and off-campus”. Her examples include University of Southern Queensland, Penn State, Wisconsin and Phoenix; but there are many many more.

BENVIC - Benchmarking of Virtual Campuses

The dimensions

A virtual campus may typologically be described in a multi-dimensional matrix, of which the dimensions are:

  • The institutional basis and mission
  • The scope of the offer
  • The deployed activities
  • The scale of the partnership
  • The partnership organisation
  • The audiences
  • The used teaching/learning scenarios

Sabine Seufert, E-Learning Business Models. Strategies, Success Factors and Best Practice Examples

Among innovative E-Learning business models, one may distinguish between

  • the Alma Mater Multimedialis, which describes a "traditional university" in the transformation process focusing on implementing the new learning paradigm,

and several models offering new ways of delivering education, which include

  • Virtual Universities
  • University Networks
  • Corporate Universities
  • Education Providers
  • Education Consortiums

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