(text drawn from section 1.6 of Guidelines for Site Visits)
ECTE site visits, in accordance with ESG regulations, ‘normally’ take place as physical visits to the geographical location of the institution and entail face-to-face engagement of the VET, institutional staff, students, stakeholders, etc. There are however unusual cases and contexts where such physical visits are not possible, or not the first choice of the ECTE. In these cases, it is not uncommon practice to conduct a ‘site’ visit that is either entirely online or that uses a hybrid approach. During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, for example, the ENQA, EQAR and many European agencies agreed that online site visits were acceptable. Institutions should also be aware that legal considerations on the national level may restrict the validity of a purely online based review.
An ECTE site visit can therefore be:
- Entirely physical, as it is normally in accordance with ESG regulation: the VET panel travels to the geographical location of the institution.
- Entirely online: the VET panel operates from their own locations and does not travel to the geographical location.
- Hybrid in terms of phases: for example, the institutional site visit is entirely physical, and the programme site visit is entirely online.
- Hybrid in terms of the team: for example, some of the VET members travel to the geographical location and others participate online.
The following procedures and guidelines apply to visits that are entirely online and to the online components of hybrid visits. For brevity’s sake, the procedures below will refer to ‘online’ visits.
Procedures for online visits
- The proposal of an online site visit is to be made by the ECTE Council that makes the final decision in regards. For an online visit to take place, all parties involved must be in agreement (the ECTE Council, the QAC and RS, the VET panel and the institution).
- The VET panel must undergo specific ECTE training on conducting online site visits. Hosting institutions are also encouraged to take the ICETE Academy nanocourse Online Site Visits.
- The VET Leader and the Review Secretary produce a detailed agenda for the online site visit that is agreed to by the VET and the receiving institution.
- The institution will be invoiced for the cost of the visit of an online review (no travel and accommodation expenses are envisioned).
Guidelines for online site visits
- Online site visits undergo the same procedures, good practices and criteria that are outlined for normal site visits.
- Online site visits examine the same standards and guidelines for accreditation and accompanying evidence that are seen in normal site visits.
- Online site visits will normally rely heavily on video conferencing, but they can also take advantage of other tools to consider evidence (e.g. videos, photographs, virtual tours, etc).
- The video conferencing platform must be easily accessible to all participants, easy to use, free of cost to the institution and verified for security and privacy.
- Institutions ensure appropriate bandwidth and secure connectivity for the duration of the online site visit.
- Online site visits require a more detailed preparation of the visit and its scheduling by the VET panel leader, the Review Secretary and the institution.
- Online site visits demand more careful distribution of tasks among the VET panel.
- Online site visits require attention to timing. This normally means, for example, no more than 4 hours of meetings during a day, interspersed with breaks and VET panel rounds. Online video conferencing sessions should not last more than 1 hour. It requires more days to complete the visit than the usual 3-4 days.
- Online site visits have special consideration to the pressures that the medium and the circumstances may place on staff, students and stakeholders involved.
- During the online site visit, the VET panel should have at least one informal session every day to exchange expertise and explore consensus around the outcomes of the site visit.
- Confidentiality should be guarded, and the proceedings should not be recorded;
- Institutions should commit to providing extra documentation as the Review Secretary and the VET Leader request it.
- An online site visit can focus more on compliance than on enhancement, and an effort must be made to also include the latter.