Name of the participant and other supporting staff if relevant 

Teaching team: Amalia Creus (Coordinator), Fidel del Castillo, Nati Tomàs (support teachers) Jordi Duran (IT Program Manager) 

Name of the module and discipline, level and  year of study and any useful background info 

 This CERL project is promoted by lecturers in the Information and Communication Sciences Department of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, and counts with the participation of students from four different degrees: a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication, a Master’s in Advertising, a Master’s in Social Media and a Master’s in Corporate Communication. The project is carried out within the framework of the Curricular practices, a subject that students take in the final stage of their training. 

Name of community partner and/or any other supporting partners (public or private sector) 

In the current semester we are working with the following community partners:    










CERL project title(s) 


Can you provide any tangible info – e.g. module descriptor, learning outcomes, assignments, assessment criteria – please copy paste below if yes – NB Get module code 

Anything you want to probe for here based on your knowledge of this participant? 

L’Agència is a CERL project in which students have the opportunity to get involved in developing tasks and projects in the field of communication, carried out in collaboration with community partners.  Collaborative work is the cornerstone of the learning methodologies of L’Agència and evolve the following actors:   

  • Students. They are the driving force of the agency. Students work as a team and they are responsible for the management and correct execution of the products and services commissioned by community partners.  
  • Guides (support teachers): Each team of students works under the guidance of a teacher who is an expert professional in the field of communication. Guides are responsible for supporting the students and coordinating the project development.  
  • Community partners: On the basis of a collaboration agreement, L’Agència offers its services completely free of charge to non-profit making organisations that lack sufficient resources to develop communication products and services.  
  • Coordinators: The coordinators are lecturers in the Information and Communication Sciences Department and members of the UOC Educational Technology team. The Board is ultimately responsible for the coordination of the educational project. 

How was it taught:  

  • number of students  
  • student group work or individual,  
  • how they worked with the partner,  
  • how the project proceeded,  
  • any reflection done with students, 
  • evaluation or formal assessment of their learning,  
  • Could or should we follow up with students? 
  • tech used 
  • Anything else interesting? 

In the current semester, the agency has the participation of 15 students from three different degrees and 9 community partners from the third sector. Students work as a team in an online collaborative environment (Teams)   

Here we share some reflections that emerge from our experience in this CERL project, based on direct observation of the interactions and also from interviews with the agents involved:  

  • Clear and shared guidelines are essential for a satisfactory collaborative relationship: A collaborative relationship between students, university and third sector requires creating action protocols that are clear and that respond to different organisational cultures. They must also be adaptable and flexible within the framework of each specific project. This is a task that requires time and maturation of the relationship, and this is perhaps the most difficult aspect to carry out. All the agents involved have demanded a clearer approach to the responsibilities assumed by each party. Although it is interesting to be able to negotiate it in each case, the existence of a previous protocol can help a more fluid and efficient collaboration.  
  • The selection of social tools that adequately support collaboration between students and non-profit organizations: The relationship that our students have with technology is ‘natural’, pragmatic, and social-oriented. Universities are now welcoming the first generations of students who were born and raised in the digital age. It is a new generation of learners who have grown up along with the development of the Internet and who see digital technologies and social networks as a ‘naturalized’ dimension of their professional and social life. To engage this profile of students in any activity where they are expected to take the lead requires a usable, accessible and non-hierarchical virtual environment (by non-hierarchical we mean an environment where users have high levels of administration permissions). In fact, it is noteworthy that students often tend to resolve questions and problems of a technical nature among their peers, rather than resorting to formal tutorials or technical support services. It is also significant that the diversity of media that students know and use every day makes it easier for them not to remain restricted to established resources and to embrace technological alternatives ‘outside the system’, especially in regard to mobile communication. In that respect, the design of a successful collaboration must consider the inclusion of a decentralized selection of media and technologies, leaving room to incorporate developments in the learning process that occur outside the domain of the formal e-Learning environment.  
  • The importance of rethinking the nature of ‘presence’ and leadership in virtual collaboration: Several authors stress the idea that virtual groups afford a great opportunity to redefine leadership. According to the traditional model, leaders are supposed to offer encouragement, reward and motivation, and reinforce the development of relations inside the group (Ruggieri et al, 2013). Where in face-to-face situations the physical presence is a significant strategy for leaders, virtual collaboration makes it necessary to rethink some aspects of leadership. One of the more remarkable characteristics of this new context is the recognisability of the leader’s status. As Ruggieri and others maintain, in face-to-face interactions leadership indicators involve body language, vocal inflection, eye contact, clothing, etc. However, virtual media forces the leader to adopt other indicators to let followers know that they are in charge. These indicators, as we can observe, include, among others, frequency of interventions, short delays between request and response, and availability to answer questions and help colleagues. The analysis of the projects also showed that effective leadership has much to do with the leader’s ability to influence the emotional climate of the group. Messages of motivation, the capacity to express empathy or interest in the work of others as well as the ability to post messages that drive colleagues to action without generating conflict are almost always more effective than just having knowledge of the subject. In that sense, while the role assumed by teachers and non-profit organizations tends to be recognised as the ‘established authority’ which is in charge of validating and assessing the quality of the work developed, students who emerge as natural leaders among their peers tend to make a substantial difference to the formation and sustainability of a successful team collaboration. 

What did your students learn or how will they benefit? 

The main strengths of this CERL project for students are:  

  • Working on real projects increases motivation (of students and teachers) 
  • The social dimension of the project also increases motivation 
  • Focus on specific professional skills (autonomy, leadership, problem-solving, team-work, decision-making) 
  • Enhancing creativity through collaboration 

What do you think the benefit was to the partner? Do they have any feedback from the partner? 

  • Partners clearly benefit from concrete communication products and services that they need and are developed by students. 
  • They also benefit to the extent that they have access to a space for discussion with communication experts. 
  • They participate in a training project and make their entity known in the university community. 

How could/will you improve your CERL teaching practice next time? 

  • Defining and explaining more clearly the individual and group evaluation criteria. 
  • Collecting written feedback from community partners. 

Any challenges and how you overcame them 

Some of the main challenges of this CERL project are:  

  • Course preparation management is highly time-consuming  
  • The methodology better suited to small groups of students 
  • Collaborative dynamics requires a culture change   

The process of adaptation of all the players to the L’Agència environment entails the need to construct and experiment with new forms of interaction between people and teams. In this sense, one of the challenges associated with the implementation of this e-practices model is the transformation of the relations between the students and the teaching staff. It is worth remembering that the dynamics that are generated in a traditional virtual classroom (UOC campus classroom) are generally based on a two-way lecturer–student work structure, where the latter usually receives clear and stable instructions about tasks to be performed, execution processes and submission deadlines. This form of relation is usually a constant in the creation of work habits and in the configuration of the educational relations between the two groups.    

However, the methodology of L’Agència involved a significant change in work dynamics and consequently a major transformation in the roles that teachers and students had to take on. Specifically, we went from flows of knowledge focused on the lecturer-student binomial to a type of network organization where students and guides constitute a work team, sharing responsibility for carrying out the tasks entrusted to the agency.    

We should stress that the collaborative work dynamics implemented in L’Agència requires both groups to shake off deep-seated habits, as rarely during the degree course does the opportunity arise to get involved in the performance of tasks as a team. Added to this, a need identified is that of having more informative and formative instruments that help both tutors and students to get involved in the collaboration dynamics and to know the various possibilities offered by the tools included in the environment. Consequently, an initial improvement proposal resulting from this first phase of the pilot trial is the design of strategies that promotes better adaptation to the work methodology proposed (eg a welcome plan that includes a more complete tutorials package and a more detailed explanation of the work dynamics and the internal communication channels of the agency). 

  Another important feature of the project can be seen in working for a real client, not linked to the university. This leads to greater motivation both for the teaching staff and, in particular, for students. But it also requires a dizzying leap from the prefabricated security of the academic setting to the responsibility of taking part in an activity where success or failure will have an effect beyond the classroom. Thus, UOCom follows the path of a prior training experience in the field of corporate communication (Lalueza & Estanyol, 2012) in which, though on a smaller scale, this connection to a real professional setting was already proposed. Finally, it should be pointed out that from the perspective of shared responsibilities between people and teams, the network work structure generates significant challenges with regard to the construction of instruments that allow the assessment of the acquisition of skills at an individual level. It is expected that after completion of the pilot trial and the process to assess its results, we will be able to continue to make progress in this direction. 

Advice you would give to someone starting a CERL project with students? 

  • Explain very clearly to the students and the teaching team the changes involved in relation to a traditional class dynamic. 
  • Clearly agree on times and responsibilities with all actors involved. 
  • Let the students lead and feel like protagonists of the experience.