Article originally published on E-Learn Magazine on Nov 11, 2017 – Click here for the Spanish version
With specialized educational programs implemented through digital platforms, Universidad Virtual de Estudios Superiores (UNIVES) is consolidating its position as one of the best online education universities in Mexico.
UNIVES dates back to 1994, when the first computer training school was founded in Guadalajara, the capital city of Mexico’s Jalisco state. Initially, the idea was to offer courses on Microsoft Office and the computer processing language of the day.
After a period of much success, the university identified a new market need, resulting in UNIVES becoming an institution focused on providing training for the Education sector, producing specialized courses for teachers.
This need coincided with a period in 2013 when Mexico’s federal government was promoting an education reform designed to guarantee that all students would have access to fair, quality training. One of the main objectives is that within 20 years, education across Mexico will be fully bilingual.
In order to meet these requirements, UNIVES adopted an innovative education model that sets out to boost teachers’ skills in two main areas. First, in the use of English as a second language, enabling them to teach all subjects in English. And secondly, in the development of technical skills that will enable them to work with online platforms and also transfer that knowledge in schools.
The education reform, promoted by Mexico’s former president Enrique Peña Nieto, also established that the best way to identify areas for teacher improvement was through performance evaluations. These evaluations not only serve as a reference point for teachers to improve in their profession but also have an impact on consistency, promotion and recognition processes within the education sector.
The excellent work achieved by UNIVES with this process led to the introduction of certificate courses accompanied by teacher evaluations. In fact, the university is the first in Mexico to have an education reform accompaniment program called Programa para el Acompañamiento de la Reforma Educativa (PROARE), consisting of courses designed according to profiles, parameters and indicators, established by the Instituto Nacional para la Evaluación de la Educación – INEE (National Education Evaluation Institute), which helps teachers and other staff members to conduct the evaluation successfully.
Being UNIVES the best teacher training school in Mexico in terms of its high-quality, innovative online training, the institution has introduced methods that not only keep student satisfaction rates high but have also made UNIVES one of the government’s main partners in the implementation of the education reform.
The Formula for Success
Daniel Castellanos Reynoso is founder and president of UNIVES. For more than 20 years, he has championed projects within the institution with the aim of training the country’s teachers under fair and equitable opportunities for all. And in order to fulfill the requirements of the education reform, to support them while completing requirements to improve their teaching credentials as stipulated in education reform laws. He shared with Blackboard the different strategies that have been introduced to help teachers stay current within the education market.
1. Fully Online Education
“UNIVES has always been linked to technology and teacher training. This allows us to be at the forefront when it comes to the changes that are taking place as a result of Mexico’s education reform—we were founded with an online/virtual DNA,” says Castellanos. “All the educational programs that UNIVES offers are 100% online. We have no face-to-face courses,” he adds.
This means that access to education is more equal for everyone, insofar as it is available to anyone who has an internet connection, whether via a mobile device or computer. “One of the advantages of online education is that it is fair. In other words, people can access education even in the remotest parts of the country,” points out UNIVES’ founder.
Another advantage of distance education is that it can reach a large number of teachers. “It is worth emphasizing that this has only been possible due to the online education model,” says Castellanos. “There are one and a half million teachers to be trained,” he adds, “and if the training were to be given face-to-face, the country would not have sufficient funds to train everyone. Committing to online training has thus allowed Mexico’s federal government to take the bold step of providing all teachers with an education.”
2. Placing the Teacher at the Center of All Innovations
The quality of teaching practices is one of the most important factors in how students learn. Improving education in Mexican schools, in accordance with the education reform, thus implies improving the work teachers do in the classroom.
All programs at UNIVES have been designed around the skills and competencies teachers need to possess. “The aim is to train them over the next three years. They are going to be evaluated, and the results of the evaluations will show some as under-performing, others performing, and the remaining as outstanding. For each of these three evaluation levels we offer courses that have been designed to reinforce their skills and ensure they pass the necessary test, and in the case of teachers whose results are poor, to raise their level to outstanding. As for those who are already outstanding, we have an entire area with continuing education, with master’s and doctorate degrees that enable them to continue growing,” affirms Castellanos.
3. Continuous Upgrading and Innovation of Academic Programs
UNIVES’ main objective is to always be at the forefront of the education field in terms of innovation and to be distinguished for training teachers and guiding them as they develop technological and student-oriented skills. Due to this—and Jalisco State’s Secretary of Innovation, Science and Technology, Jaime Reyes Robles’ strong conviction that universities that fail to take their academic programs online over the next five years will likely disappear— Jalisco’s Ministry of Education encouraged UNIVES to update its programs in four innovative subjects: Artificial Intelligence, Big Data Management, Cloud Storage Management, and Cyber Security.
The aim is to provide qualified professionals for technology companies in Jalisco, a state similar to Silicon Valley in the U.S., as most of Mexico’s technology industry is based there. In fact, there are around 634 technology companies, of which 50 have said to have around 2,000 job vacancies for engineers, which they haven’t been able to fill due to current technology programs failing to provide engineers with the necessary skills.
“The absence of these competencies even forced Jalisco’s state government to open a public digital university for content development, and at the same time, to choose UNIVES as the artificial intelligence content developer. We are delivering this course as part of an alliance with Intel, and in the case of Big Data, we are also working with IBM’s Watson,” states Castellanos.
4. Learn by Doing
UNIVES supports the theory that students learn more through projects and experiences. Therefore, instead of students having to present a thesis in order to graduate, UNIVES has promoted graduation ‘through involvement in the educational practice.’ “This means that we give them the opportunity, as part of their qualification projects, to develop some type of educational content and once the development has been approved, to upload that content and experience it from the perspective of the end user, as facilitators, tutors, and content creators, so they can see the impact of technology use in education,” explains Castellanos.
How to Boost Initiatives With Blackboard Tools
UNIVES always aims to have the best technology and tools, with the purpose of creating a well-structured online learning environment that will guarantee students a superior experience. In accordance, the following tools are used:
- Blackboard Open LMS: Moodle was used initially, however, given the vast teacher participation, UNIVES switched over to Blackboard Open LMS. The robust platform allows for classes to be delivered entirely online from Monday to Friday, allowing students to easily connect and interact with the course content anywhere, anytime.
- Blackboard Collaborate: Work done by students during the week generates a task which, when uploaded onto the platform, automatically generates the option to work real time with their teacher on a Saturday. During the session, the teacher reinforces content using supporting technological content developed through group sessions and collaborative activities, virtual classroom management, and simulators.
- Personalized Learning Designer (PLD): UNIVES uses this tool to customize student experiences and send them motivating or encouraging messages, and invite them to complete pending tasks and projects. “The idea is that students feel they are being supported at all times,” says Castellanos.
A Step Towards the Future
UNIVES is constantly transforming in order to ensure that it remains at the forefront of education technology and to position itself internationally as the best-known online university due to the relevance of its educational model. To this end, it plans to expand its training programs in 2018, and introduce degrees in Business Management and Innovation, Digital Marketing, Criminology, Gastronomy, and Nursing.
“We are developing some very interesting contents,” says Castellanos. “For example, we are working on a body language and lie detection program for the police sector. Using this online course, police will be able to detect whether individuals being detained or interviewed are telling the truth from their gestures and body language.”
UNIVES is a great example of all that can be achieved through education if technological tools are used effectively, and above all, how to provide all individuals with fair, high-quality training. Other countries can look to replicate UNIVES’ model in order to achieve inclusiveness and higher development initiatives.
Photos: AFP David Valdovinos.