Interview: Dorthe Hutz-Nierhoff and Lisa Hüther-Pape on the EPICUR Centre for International Teaching & Learning (EPiC TLC) 
The newly established EPICUR Centre for International Teaching & Learning (EPiC TLC) is a virtual platform for teachers and teaching support staff from all EPICUR partner institutions. Dorthe Hutz-Nierhoff (Department of E-Learning) and Lisa Hüther-Pape (Department of University Didactics and Digital Teaching Development) from the University of Freiburg have been working on establishing and opening the EPiC TLC.

If you could describe the EPiC TLC in one sentence, what would it be?

Dorthe: The EPiC TLC serves as an important hub for academic staff from all nine EPICUR partner universities – they can find support, connect to collaborate and further develop competences needed in international teaching and learning environments.

Lisa: The EPiC TLC provides (virtual) space for teaching (support) staff from all EPICUR partners to meet, collaborate, exchange ideas and professionalise their teaching across borders. 

You have been involved in setting up the EPiC TLC for several months now: what have been the biggest challenges during this time, what have been your (personal) highlights?

Lisa: Actually, we developed the idea of a joint centre for teaching development/support during the first EPICUR funding phase as we saw the need for it when the first EPICUR teaching and learning offers were being developed. So it wasn’t just a matter of a few months for us: When such a central service unit was then translated into a task for the second funding period, we were ready to build on our previous experience.

The biggest challenge during this time: Balancing the expectations of the proposal, e.g. in terms of milestones, and juggling the immense workload of such a complex task with only 50% working time. 

My personal highlight has been the productive collaboration and inspiration with the wonderful task team that is behind the EPiC TLC across the Alliance and leading this task together with Dorthe here in Freiburg. 

Dorthe: The biggest challenge for me personally continues to be the gap between our high demands in terms of scope and user experience on the one hand and the limited human resources on the project side on the other. However, given these constraints, I am very pleased with the performance and results of our cross-alliance task team. Thanks to our excellent cooperation, we were able to agree on a wide range of visions, goals and procedures in a very short time, so that the Centre could be officially opened at the end of February with a remarkable turnout and great feedback. 

Teaching and Learning Centres are not an innovation per se, many universities have them. What is special about the EPiC TLC? 

Lisa: In general, the EPiC TLC is unique as a central service unit for all teaching staff and teaching support staff at nine partner universities across Europe. It can enhance the provision of ‘local’ teaching support units, especially in terms of its focus on teaching and learning in an international context. At some of our partner universities, the EPiC TLC can provide opportunities for teaching staff who do not speak the local languages well enough to participate in the offerings of their local TLC (if there is one).  

Dorthe: The EPiC TLC is not intended to duplicate existing support structures and services. Rather, our aim is to respond to the challenges teachers face in relation to the internationalisation of teaching by providing complementary and tailor-made services, whether in the form of cross-alliance exchange opportunities, EPICUR-specific resources or training to foster international teaching skills. In this way, the TLC will also help all existing Teaching Support Units and their staff to cope better with these growing demands.

What is the role of European University Alliances such as EPICUR in setting up such platforms?

Dorthe: European University Alliances play a crucial role in creating platforms for digital teaching and learning in an international context. By connecting different universities from different countries, they enable a rich exchange of educational methods, resources and cultural perspectives. These alliances promote the development of common curricula and innovative learning methods, tailored to the needs of a diverse student body.

In addition, a number of these alliances provide collaborative platforms that facilitate the use of digital technologies and pedagogical approaches that go beyond traditional boundaries. They enable students and faculty to interact virtually, widening access to international education and reducing barriers to mobility. By integrating digital tools and collaborative online environments, learners around the world can participate in innovative and interdisciplinary projects.

Lisa: The pre-established partnership of universities in such an alliance makes it possible to search for experts within a limited group of potential partners. This provides a clearly defined starting point for exploring needs and opportunities. And in our case: With the EPICUR inter-university campus, we already had an existing virtual platform on which to build our central service unit. As we want to provide a service that is easily accessible to all teaching (support) staff across the EPICUR alliance, it is of utmost importance to us that everyone can join with just one click and their regular university login.

What are the next steps?

Lisa: Together with the Task Team, we are currently fine-tuning the EPiC TLC calendar of events. For our professional development offerings, we are developing the “EPICUR international teaching competence framework” (working title) as well as the first training offerings.

Dorthe: The EPiC TLC Task Team is currently working on developing all three areas “Let’s connect”, “Let’s explore” and “Let’s grow”. What does that mean? To further develop and strengthen opportunities for meaningful networking and exchange, an annual events calendar will be established, offering a variety of roundtables, workshops, online conversations and special interest groups. An online guide covering all aspects of EPICURean teaching and learning will soon be made available to academic staff through the EPiC TLC. Last but not least, a modular approach to professionalisation and certification is being developed using a competence-based approach, with the first training courses in Teaching and Learning in Intercultural Contexts, Teaching and Learning in Hybrid Settings and English as a Medium of Instruction. We are very excited about these new opportunities!

Where do you see the EPiC TLC in 5 years time? What are your expectations?

Dorthe: In five years, the EPICUR Centre for International Teaching and Learning (EPiC TLC) could play a leading role in innovation and dissemination of best practices in international education. I expect the Centre to continue to expand its network and to integrate more deeply into the academic communities.

However, the future development and success of the EPiC TLC will largely depend on the sustainability of the Centre’s operations and the institutional links between the EPiC TLC and existing local support structures at the participating universities. A key challenge will be to create a robust, sustainable operating model and to secure ongoing funding and resources to deliver innovative programmes and support over the long term.

Despite these challenges, I am very hopeful that in 5 years’ time the EPiC TLC will have established itself as an international hub promoting interculturality, innovation, inclusion, interdisciplinarity and interaction in higher education.

Lisa: I hope that in 5 years every teacher and every member of the teaching staff at all EPICUR partner universities will have participated at least once in an event, special interest group, training or found a helpful resource through the EPiC TLC. I see great potential in the EPiC TLC to provide easy and enjoyable ways to improve teaching within the EPICUR alliance, inspired by international collaboration.

However, this all depends on whether the management and continued development of the EPiC TLC will be funded beyond 2026 (EPICUR SHAPE-IT Erasmus+ funding).

With the EPiC TLC now open and accessible, all interested parties from teaching and teaching support units are cordially invited to familiarise themselves with the platform, exchange ideas with other interested parties from all over Europe, plan joint teaching events, enter and share resources or get inspired for international university teaching.

Visit the EPiC TLC here by logging in with your university user ID.

If you missed the opening event, you can watch the recording as well as other videos and event materials here. 

Contact EPiC TLC:  

Dorthe Hutz-Nierhoff and Lisa Hüther-Pape:

Pictures: © Nele Koehler