Thursday, December 21, 2006

Finishing Grassroots 2

Yesterday we had the final meeting with most of the projectmanagers who were involved in the Grassroots projects 2006. In the past year we coached 348 (!) small, innovative projects in the context of Higher Education. The general conclusion is that most projects have delivered quite satisfying results. Instructors were positively surprised by the possibilities that ICT can provide for their subject. Moreover, most of the students reacted positively towards the ICT improvements that were made. Last but not least, most instructors appreciated the personal incentive they received after finishing a sucessful project. At the University of Twente the experience is somewhat different: the personal incentive is not the key motivator. Providing extra time (e.g. by hiring a student-assistent for specific tasks) has much more value.
Grassroots can also be considered as a small taste of an extensive world of possibilities. The risk is that projects will not continue once Grassroots is formally finished (and it will be in a few days). It's good to see, however, that about half of the participating organisations have adopted the Grassroots concept and incorporated it in their plans for 2007 and further. Interesting ideas include:
  • The set up of a so-called buddy system: colleagues who have achieved some experience with ICT can help and motivate a colleague.
  • Creating a pool of ICT student-assistents: students who can help instructors with pratical problems like setting up a beamer, network issues. These students should be able to handle 90% of frequently occurring problems, otherwise educate them.
More information about Grassroots in Higher Education in the Netherlands? Take a look at www.grassroots.nl (in Dutch) and search for projects within Higher Education.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Finishing Grassroots

This month we will conclude the SURF Grassroots project which was run at the University of Twente within the faculty of Science and Technology. Grassroots projects are small innovative projects focused on helping teachers to embed ICT in their education. The interesting thing about Grassroots is that the financial incentive has a personal touch, meaning that the teacher who participates in a project may use the subsidy for personal purposes such as a conference visit or a piece of hardware that can be used within his work. However, when we look back at the Grassroots projects 2006 it is interesting to see that the personal incentive is not a very strong trigger to start a project. Teachers often have great ideas about what they could do with ICT to improve the quality of their subject, but simply don't have enough time to make inquiries about how to do that, what they can use and finally how to implement it. So what we see is that the Grassroots finances are mostly used to pay for teaching assistants and not for something like a study trip. The TA can work on a specific ICT-related assignment, sometimes only for a couple of weeks. The ideas are immediately implemented in the subject that a teacher has to give, which gives an opportunity to get feedback from the students and to make improvements for the next time. This makes the feedback cycle very short: teachers immediately can see whether their approach is succesful or not. In 2007 the Grassroots concept will be taken further within the faculty, as a means to help other teachers to innovate their education. The investment is relatively low, the benefit (and enthousiasm) you gain from it is remarkably high.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Critical Sakai review

My colleague Allard Strijker will give a presentation at the Atlanta Sakai Conference next week. Within the first pilot of Sakai at the University of Twente in the study year 2006/2007 Allard used Sakai within an international master course on knowledge management systems. Together we collected the user experiences which are given from a teacher and student perspective. It's especially interesting to hear about Allard's experiences because he was closely involved with the design and development of TeleTOP, which is currently still the standard virtual learning environment for the University of Twente. Besides being a teacher at the Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, Allard may be considered an expert in the field of e-learning. At this moment I will not give away too much information about the presentation, you should hear it for yourself. But be sure there will be some critical remarks. However, I think we shouldn't react too defensive about that, referring to Chuck Severance's (Executive Director of the Sakai Foundation)statement in Luebeck that the focus should now shift towards the user perspective. This is the only way we can learn from our users and it will help to improve Sakai into a better system. So for those who attend the Atlanta Conference: visit Allard's presentation in the Pedagogy track on Dec. 6th (10.30-11.30 INTL 1). After the presentation you can read more about the details of the evaluation.

Friday, November 17, 2006

3TU Graduate School

Being a member of two working groups (ICT & Education and ELO-Groupware), I participated in the 3TU Graduate School (GS) Day which was held in Utrecht on November 16th. Very near to the famous Dom Church it was good to meet a lot of the members of the several development and project groups in the 3TU GS organisation. Since September 2006 the three Dutch technical universities already offer two master programs within the collaborative 3TU setting: Sustainable Energy Technology and Embedded Systems. The morning program was mostly filled with short presentations by the project groups who worked on several issues of the 3TU GS. It was interesting to hear about the achievements of the other groups, the problems and questions they have encountered and meet the people in person, which you normally see listed in mail headers.


The presentation of ‘my’ ICT&E group focused on the results that have been achieved in the past year, but also tried to give a realistic perspective for the future learning environment for the 3TU GS. Our main problem was that the development groups primarily focused on the development and organisation of their curriculum. Therefore, the ambitions with regard to an advanced ICT-based instructional design (face-to-face, distance education, campus blend, etc.) were rather modest. The problem for the ICT&E group was that it was not very clear what was needed and when it was needed to facilitate the 3TU curriculum. The danger of this situation (and a known pitfall!) is that the discussion narrows down to all kinds of interesting and nice working tools (the bottom up method). People may even experiment how these tools can be used within their course or project. Before you know there is a complete chaos of ICT tools, which cannot be managed from an ICT perspective. For fast prototyping it is not a problem to do some experiments, just to see how things might work, but these prototypes have to be thrown away as soon as the experiment has finished. This perspective, however, is not very attractive for instructors. Only few have an intrinsic motivation and interest to participate in this type of innovative experiments. The majority likes to use proven technology, which is easy to use, is serviced and maintained and –most importantly- which helps them to organise their work in a more efficient way.

The ICT&E group argued that we should first take a step back and look at the problem from a 3TU ICT Architecture. First, take the business process (the education process starting from subscription till becoming an alumnus) as a starting point, then define the information process (which functions do you need, required integration processes) and finally the technical process (which tools, operating system, one integrated system (e.g. Blackboard or TeleTOP) or a smart and coherent combination of technical components, thus creating a sort of personal learning environment). It is important to broaden the discussion by looking at the architecture as a digital learning and working environment (DLWE), and not solely as the classic virtual learning environment (VLE) such as Blackboard, WebCT or TeleTOP. The purpose of an integrated information architecture is much broader than the classic VLE. Moreover, it is stressed that we should look at it by taking account of open standards and interoperability issues. Even if the 3TU will not achieve a common DLWE (both from a short or long term perspective), the open standard approach will guarantee a second best scenario that components can work together. The information process which is required to support a student’s learning process should not be hindered by technical barriers. Even if the underlying systems are different, the front-end interface for the end-user may still be one coherent environment.

An important outcome of the 3TU GS day (in my view) is that the ambition level (with regard to ICT&E) of the board of directors seems to be more in line now with the realistic context in which the project group has worked so far. The follow up work (starting from business processes and mapping these on a functional architecture design) is already in a preparation stage. The next 3TU GS day (one year from now?) will demonstrate how far we succeeded in the achievement of a common / shared 3TU-DLWE.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Open Innovation

On November 14th and 15th the SURF Onderwijsdagen took place in the Jaarbeurs buildings in Utrecht. First, I joined the keynote opening by Emile Aarts of Philips Research. An interesting and stimulating talk which was closed by a statement that eagerness is a better predictor for learning success than brightness (or smartness). For a more extensive impression (in Dutch) of this keynote take a look at Wilfred Rubens' weblog.
As a sort of follow up of my last contribution to my weblog I visited the Open Innovation track. The first presentation was by Thea Derks from the Free University of Brussels. She was talking about the implementation of the open source learning environment Dokeos (based on Claroline). It was implementated under the name of Point Carre, which would refer to the educational concept that the VUB would like to communicate: it's a central learning point where everything comes together. Before Dokeos was implemented the VUB used Blackboard. Dependencies (licensing and support agreements), lack of integration with other systems in combination with interesting open source developments made the VUB look beyond the world of Bb. Dokeos was implemented in the educational context of competence-based and flexible learning. Moreover, the VUB uses a blended learning concept (comparable to the model the University of Twente is using). Important demands for the new ELO were:

  • Users should have more or less the same appreciation level for the functionality of Dokeos;
  • Dokeos Company offers support, consultancy and hosting services;
  • Collaboration in the Flanders region (especially Ghent University).
After the pilot phase Point Carre was implemented within one semester (2004-2005). First-year students started on the new environment right away. For other cohorts there was a timeframe of 6 months to migrate from Bb to Point Carre. Point Carre was launched at the VUB on the Day of Educational Innovation. It's important that there was a migration tool that helped instructors to migrate their courses from Bb to Point Carre. Instructors were able to do the migration by themselves. Furthermore, there was a great offering of manuals, helpdesk and a FAQ page. The usability level of Dokeos is considered high. It's performance is stable and users like it. Compared to Bb the learning path function and the Wiki are considered as interesting new functions. Thea pointed out that the choice for open source didn't mean that the total costs were reduced. The VUB negotiated that the license costs could be re-allocated for further development of Point Carre. This way it was possible to develop tailor made links to other systems (e.g. curriculum information, a reservation system, peer assessment tool). So basically the message is: get more for the same money. Future developments are also focused on strenghtening the possibilities for collaboration. The current community is mostly build in Belgium. Just recently there is a Dokeos representative in the Netherlands. Take a look at: www.dokeos-nederland.nl, www.dokeos.com or www.osc.vub.be.

One of the other interesting talks I heard was by prof. Fred Mulder from the Dutch Open University. He claims that the Lisbon issue of lifelong learning still has no high priority within the academic world. One of the most promising developments in this field can be found in several initiatives focused on Open Courseware. MIT already showed in 2001 the potential of this paradigm by putting all their learning materials (lectures) on the web, for free. The Dutch Open University will take this one step further in the so-called OpenER project.
The aim of OpenER is to increase the participation level of adults in higher education, this way creating more opportunities for lifelong learning. The Dutch OU has also initiated a European project in this field, together with nine partner universities throughout Europe, supported by the Hewlett Foundation. An important remark - to which I fully agree - is that open educational resources should go beyond content. It's also about dialogue, communication, collaboration and establishing learning communities. In his SURF keynote speech in 2005 Prof. Martin Valcke (University of Ghent, B) stressed that the strongest benefit from e-learning is found in situations where collaboration and communication are major ingredients. In these kind of settings students are forced to work actively with the resources which are provided, thus incorporating new knowledge in their cognitive schemata. Open ER will deliver it's first results around this time of the year. Also take a look at OpenLearn from the British Open University and the European Moril project (EADTU).
In his conclusions Fred Mulder mentioned that in a comparable way as Wikipedia one might think about a establishing a concept such as Wikiversity, based on two important aspects: high quality academic content in combination with collaborative learning projects.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The power of knowledge sharing

Five or six years ago I visited LearnTec in Karlsruhe. There is still one presentation that comes to my mind when I reflect on what was being presented over there. It was a presentation about the power of knowledge sharing as a key factor in future competition. Basically the presentator argued that a key factor for successful entrepreneurship is the ability to share knowledge instead of keeping it to yourself. The paradigm is no longer 'the power of knowledge' but the power of knowledge sharing.
Looking at the current situation in educational organisations there is still a lot of hesitation (or even resistance) towards sharing knowledge with others (colleagues or not). This is probably one of the major problems why collaborative content projects have so much trouble in letting people make contributions. But why? MIT already gave access to a lot of learning content years ago. Working together and providing feedback can help the originator of the content to improve it to a next version, hopefully a better version. Wikipedia shows that shared contributions can lead to quality content. The networked organisation and more specifically the networked employee has (virtual) access to a lot of knowledge and experiences compared to those who act in an isolated way. This external knowledge can often help or speed up your own process of knowledge achievement. In a more confronting way I would like to argue that most content is developed during working time, which makes it rather strange that people attach a sort of personal copyright to things they have created. A lot of organisations even state that all content/products that are being produced are automatically owned by the employer and not the employee. Sometimes even for things you create outside working hours. For the latter situation I believe there is a difference between work related productions and things you produce in a completely different context. In my situation it seems clear that content I produce for the website of my Taekwondo school does not belong to the university I work for.

Of course there are clear exceptions that can be used to argue against the free sharing of knowledge and content. For example, when you're working on getting a patent on a certain product it is obvious that you don't want your confident information to be on the internet. Another example is a research paper that is expected to be a major breakthrough in your line of expertise.

As a concluding statement I believe the default paradigm should shift from "closed unless" to "open unless".

Thursday, November 02, 2006

About deliverables

This week can be considered a week of deliverables. The first one is related to the Integrated science project which is run within the Digital University consortium. The team developed an instructional design document including a practical guide for instructors to transform their education according to the integrated design principles we defined in the project. The deliverable was accepted by the program management of the Digital University and is also considered a worthwhile contribution to share with others. Therefore it will be mentioned in the next DU newsletter and the document (in Dutch) will be available as a download.
The second deliverable is the finishing of an evaluation project on the use of laptops within courses of the faculty Science and Technology. The evaluation was held amongst 154 first year students of the academic year 2005-2006. Although the number of laptop-based courses should further increase, the students in general did appreciate the way that the use of laptops was embedded in a didactical way. This year the number of students using laptops at the Campus has further increased. The notebook service center is supporting around 2000 students who acquired their laptop via the university. In addition to that there are also hundreds of students who have laptops which are maintained by themselves. This increase in laptop users has caused that the number of wireless access points will be doubled in certain areas in order to guarantee an acceptable performance.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

50th anniversary mobile cellphone

Today seems to be the 50th birthday of the mobile cellphone. Of course the first cellphone can hardly be called a cellphone according to our current definitions or specifications. The first cellphone (by Ericsson) used to carry some 40kg of heavy weight. It must have been some suitcase that can be carried around and be placed in a car. The few cellphone users in those days were found amongst about 100 docters and lawyers around Stockholm and Gotenborg in Sweden. On the one hand because their jobs required to have a mobile communication channel, on the other hand because the mobile phone could only be afforded by the rich and wealthy. Due to the heavy weigh a car was required. Of course there were no GSM networks in those days. Ericsson launched the so called MTA (Mobile Telephony A) in october 1956 which may be considered an ancestor of the GSM network (AFT-4) that was launched in 1994.
I remember early pictures of mobile cellphones, a fine and wealthy looking young guy placing an enormous 'bag' on the hood of his car (a large and probably quite expensive BMW). On a timescale of 50 years it seems only a short period since I started using my first mobile phone. It must have been 1994 or so, quite a big device (a Siemens), with a battery that could be empty within just a few minutes. I was one of the first at my work carrying a mobile phone. I remember colleagues who thought of it as a ridiculous item: "are you that important that people must be able to reach you 24/7?". The early use of my mobile phone was mainly related to calls indicating that the train was delayed or that I was stuck in a traffic jam. It became easy letting people know that you were going to be late. It was appreciated by those who were expecting you for an appointment. Only one or two years later it was almost considered rude if a person did not contact you in case of a delay. Of course we had no SMS, MMS, WAP in those days, not to speak of inbuilt VGA camera's, WiFi, Bluetooth, Mobile Internet, and only a handful of ringtones. Still it was quite satisfactory to have a cellphone, given the state of technology at that time. Today the mobile cellphone (you can hardly consider it a phone in the strict meaning of the word anymore) it has become part of our daily life. In the Netherlands there are more cellphone contracts than inhabitants. It's sure that the number of functions will further increase in the following 50 years. It's already amazing to see all the new technological developments that are currently going on in the far east and which will (partly) reach the consumer in one or two years from now. If you live in South Korea, it is an everyday reality to have always-on superfast Internet -- broadband -- both in your cell phone and in your home. So picking up your cellphone to watch your favorite TV show is already there. Why still have a stand alone DVD player in your car?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Back to work again

Last week I had a short holiday break. After working to my (junk) e-mail I have my orientation again on the issues that are at stake in the near future. This week we are expecting to have the first evaluation results from our Sakai pilot projects. Furthermore, I have to finish a report on the use of laptops within the education of our faculty TNW. The first results look promising: students are moderately positive about the way intructors have embedded the use of laptops in their education. Some improvements can be made, however, such as increasing the number of courses where a laptop is required (on the other hand: watch the possible risks on RSI!). Furthermore, some buildings require a better and slower WLAN performance and the number of 220V points are too low in some lecture rooms. A final important goal this week is a meeting with my DU projectmanager about the Integrated Science project. The first course is running right this moment according to the new didactical concept. However, we foresee some problems with the implementation in other courses.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Asynchronous transition

This week I spent quite some time on 3TU issues. The federation of the three Dutch technical universities (3TU) will be formally established on April 1st, 2007. One of the jobs that needs to be done is providing e-learning facilities for 3TU students and instructors. The 3TU Graduate School already launched two master programs (Embedded Systems and Sustainable Energy Technology) in September 2006. For the short term the students and instructors can logon to their own virtual learning environment (VLE; TeleTOP, Blackboard or StudyWeb) and to the VLE of the other two institutes. However, this will not be a sustainable solution. The University of Twente is seriously looking into Sakai - as you may know -, as a possible subsitution for TeleTOP. The two other TU's have quite another time frame for reconsidering their VLE, if at all. This is the first type of asynchronous transition, which makes it difficult to define a common 3TU VLE. Moreover, it is not clear whether they will make the same choices as Twente will make. A possible solution might be found in the definition of a common functional architecture in terms of a set of services. The components fulfilling these services may differ between universities. A second type of asynchronous transition can be seen between the 3TU entities that work on different aspects of the fedaration process. The (board) of the 3TU Graduate School has already some high expectations about pilots for the new 3TU VLE. However, the development groups that are involved in the master programs are not in a big hurry and want to start easily, e.g. by starting with lectures in streaming video format. Sharing content and collaborative working accross institutes is not an issue yet, but may develop slowly during the current academic year. The VLE projectgroup will proceed anyway, looking into more detail into the possibility of setting up a common framework in which a set of services will be defined. When the question is there (and it will be), we hope to be ready to provide an adequate solution.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Integrated Science Education (ISE)

Since the beginning of 2006 I am the projectmanager of a DU project called Integrated Science Education (ISE). The basis idea is to integrate (or incorporate if you like) mathematics content in science courses. It is a major problem that students in a course on Quantummechanics for example have big problems in applying the correct mathematical concepts. The preceding Calculus I course does not look forward into possible contexts in which the mathematical concepts can be applied. The other way round the Quantummechnanics course doesn't look back in order to incorporate the abstract mathematical concepts into the cognitive schemes of a student. In the didactical model we strongly stress that explicit feedback to previous mathematical concepts is needed in order to incorporate them. It is more that just mentioning that the concept has been addressed earlier. Students should be confronted again with exercises and assignments, so they have to be actively involved in understanding and applying the relevant concept(s). The point is that transfer between the two domains is a big problemn. The project is a so-called transition project focused on integrating (abstract) math into science courses. Moreover, we are trying to include applications like Maple, Maple TA, and Simulink that can provide a natural 'bridge' between the two domains. At this moment we are close to finishing the instructional design. In two weeks the first course (Engineering for Advanced Technology) that is changed according to the principles of ISE will run at the University of Twente. Next courses will start in january 2007. Other partners in this project are the University of Amsterdam and Saxion University. The first evaluation results are expected by the end of November. Obviously, these results will determine whether the ISE model will be adopted in other curricula or even other institutions.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Marom Ayoubi on D66 candidate list


I am proud to announce that on September the 30th my wife Marom Ayoubi was chosen by the members of D66 to be on the final candidate list for the National elections to be held on November 22nd this year. D66 (the Dutch social-liberal party Democraten 66) is a member party of the European Liberal Democratic Reform party (ELDR) and the Liberal International (LI). The candidate list has a fixed part of 25 national candidates and a part of 5 candidates who are known for their regional work and acitivities. Marom will be in the regional part of the list, which means that she will be listed on the candidate lists in 6 of 19 election districts. These will be mostly in the south of the Netherlands. Marom has a background in education and pedagogy, which will be two of her key drivers within the election campaign.

Friday, September 29, 2006

"Voorbij de grenzen van de ELO II"

Yesterday, sep 28th I visited this conference ("Beyond the boundaries of the Electronic Learning Environment") which was held for the second time in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Starting with almost 200 attendees, the morning part of the conference was provided by three distinguished, international speakers starting with Chuck Severance, Executive Director of the Sakai Foundation. For me this was the second time in three weeks that I attended a presentation of Chuck. This one was quite different from the one in Luebeck. Chuck provided a general overview of Sakai and the vision behind the community. He gave us a very clear perspective on how to position Sakai as a teaching, learning research and most of all collaboration tool. In that perspective Sakai is more related to Lotus Notes or Sharepoint that to the typical VLE's like Blackboard or Moodle which are designed from a traditional teaching perspective.
Although already familiar it was good to hear about the way the development community works. First, there is someone having an idea and contributes that to the community. Secondly, one or more developers in the community may decide to develop a provisional version of the tool. The third and most exiting part is probably the decision whether or not it should be implemented in a next production release. The decision on this is not a matter of getting a lot of votes, but on experiences from people who used it in their daily practice. If they like, it's stable and the QA tests have proved to be succesfull, the component might included in the next production release.
One of the attendees asked Chuck's opinion about the Blackboard patent in the US. Chuck made it very clear (and I strongly agree on that), that this patent is rather ridiculous. It's like having a patent on 'sunrise', in this specific case saying that there is a distinctive role between instructors and learners. It's a big question whether the patent will hold in court. In a worst case scenario you may be confronted with a payment for the patent, maybe $ 5000 a year, but it doesn't matter if you use Sakai or another LMS. So his strong advice is: proceed with what you are doing and what you believe in is right.

The presentation of Sarah Porter (JISC) on the e-Framework did not include very much new information for me. Although it was good to hear (and in accordance with a shift of attention within the Sakai community) that services are more and more considered from the USER DOMAIN. Mapping the user provides information on how to design necessary services.

The third interesting keynote was by Scott Wilson (CETIS) on the personal learning environment (PLE). Another acronym after ELO, ILE, VLE, LMS, CAI, ITS, etc... ? I like the idea very much and believe PLE is indeed a next step forward, relating to the Web 2.0 generation in which the web has become a read-write environment in which the user can actually influence what's happening for him/her. Formal and informal learning are being combined, long lasting communities of practice (before and after the course someone is taking) and using shared goals to forge a social identity are key issues in the PLE approach. Important to note is that a PLE is personally constructed, it is not a box you provide. It's about tailoring the infrastructure so it will be supportive for you.
Interesting links to visit:
I also joined Scott's afternoon workshop on PLE. One of the questions was about the role of the teacher in a PLE. What strategies can a teacher take, because you cannot be sure what students actually see within there PLE. One of the solutions could be that a students gives two or three things that can be tracked (e.g. by RSS) as proof of achieving a certain competence. It's clear that the variety of information sources becomes much bigger, which makes it a big challenge to deal with in your role as a teacher.
Another, more fundamental issue is how to determine that person x indeed achieved learning objective y? Promoting open access is one thing, but what is the real incorporation into cognitive schemata of the learner if information can be collected in a very easy, open way. Copy-pasting a nice piece of work is not difficult, but do they actually learn? What's the transfer to other parts of the curriculum or further in time: to the outside world.

A workshop that strongly connects to the PLE was the workshop about ELGG. It was the first time I heard about it. It is based on a model of a distributed global learning environment. ELGG may take information from different underlying systems and bring it together in one coherent environment for the user. Interesting features are:
  • Personal and community blogging
  • Tagging
  • Private and public communities
  • Podcasting
  • Social Networking
  • Learner defined spaces
  • Personal and community file storage

Friday, September 22, 2006

Meeting deadlines

This week was more or less about meeting deadlines. First I visited the "Haal meer uit de DU" conference for which I had to prepare a poster session. Moreover, I also had to deliver an instructional design document for the DU-project Integrated Science Education. This project is conducted by a consortium in which Twente University, the University of Amsterdam and Saxion are participating. I spent quite some hours on writing the document which will be discussed by a review committee next tuesday. So far, I have the impression that I managed to find a compromise between the insights that were shared within our team sessions earlier this year. Among other issues, the discussion was focused on whether the 4C-ID model (van Merrienboer) would be usable within our project. In the academic context there is still a lot of hesitation towards competence based learning models, although it's slightly changing nowadays. There is the impression that everything will be about skills and the learning of (abstract) knowledge will be neglected. I think this impression is not correct. Especially 4C-ID is flexible enough to incorporate the knowledge component. Tuesday the team will discuss the document with the review committee. The interesting question is: will they agree with our basic approach or do we need to make fundamental changes before we can continue with the project? You'll read more about it next week.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

"Haal meer uit de DU"

On september 19th I visited the conference of the Digital University (a consortium of dutch universities and institutes for higher vocational education). The Dutch title "Haal meer uit de DU" means that the focus is to share products and experiences that have been achieved in the past year in a broad range of collaborative projects.

Besides having my own poster presentation on the project "Integrated Science Education" I visited two workshops and two plenary sessions. In my opinion the workshops were highly inspiring. The first one I joined was about Web 2.0. In summary it gave a good overview of using social software (wiki, blog, social bookmarking and social networking) in an educational context. Some conclusions were that a group blog is more suited to support learning than a blog which is maintained by one or two people. Group reflection is the central issue.
Wiki's provide a common feeling of working together on a result. It can be confronting on the one hand (others may change or delete your contribution), but everyone is invited to contribute. Everyone can be engaged on an equal basis.
Unfortunately the session itself was not very interactive (only presentation and a few short questions).

The other workshop I visited was mainly given by students who were involved in the instructional design process of a part of the curriculum. Based on their own experiences they worked together with the teachers, trying to improve courses for future student groups. Both students and teacher were enthousiastic about this interesting approach.

The plenary sessions (keynote by Marinus Dekkers and a panel discussion at the end) were not very inspiring to me. I did not hear many new insights, and especially the acoustics in the lecture hall were not very good to keep track of the panel discussion. The discussion itself was also rather vague. My overall impression (which was shared by some people I talked at the conference) is that it is very much about competence based learning, i.e., a focus on vocational education. However, within the (Dutch) university context this is not (yet) the mainstream of their didactical approach.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Lisbon objectives at stake in the Netherlands?

The main objective of the Lisbon agenda is to achieve a EU as 'the most dynamic and competitive knowledge based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion, and respect for the environment'. This process should be concluded by 2010. The question is, however, will me manage? Former Dutch prime-minister Kok questioned the achievement of the Lisbon agenda during a speech he gave in 2004. We were already behind schedule. On a government level the issue of becoming a knowledge based economy is a key issue in the politics of D66. In the past four years they have succeeded to claim extra funding for (higher) education. We are two months away from new elections. The forecast at this moment tells that D66 may be reduced to one representative in the house of parliament. It's not likely that they will become part of the new Dutch cabinet, which brings up the question to what extent the Lisbon agenda will remain on the agenda. In their election programs other parties also claim to increase investments in education, but the question is whether or not this will be the case once they have been elected. We may prevent this from happening or at least try to reduce the negative impact by electing D66, hoping that they will stay strong enough to keep asking attention for the knowledge based economy.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Are we becoming NET geners?

One of the claims about the (future) NET generation (see the work by e.g. Oblinger, Veen, Prensky) is that these youngsters are perfectly capable of using a large set of ICT tools (e.g., smartphone, laptop, mp3 player, PS2) in a multichannel fashion. At the university where I work it can be observed that more and more students have their own laptop, which they use during the time that the teacher is giving his lecture. Do they perform learning related acitivties? Well certainly not the whole time, basing myself on the number of MSN and Skype conversations that could be observed. The conference I visited last week showed a remarkable number of laptop users during the conference presentations. I was able to make several observations about what people were actually doing: writing software code and sending e-mail were the two acitivities I noticed most. Indeed, I saw one guy taking notes about the presentation! Were the others not listening, or not interested then? At least one guy was still able to pose a relevant question, even while he produced some lines of software code in the very last minutes before. So the interesting question is: are we (30+ generation) learning to become NET geners too? It seems that we are learning quickly. Nevertheless, from a cultural perspective it's still a strange phenomenon that most of your listeners look at their computer screen instead of looking at you. You don't get the non-verbal feedback about whether they understand, agree or disagree to what you are saying.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Kicking off a new week

Well, we're at the start of a new interesting week. Last week I visited an interesting conference in L├╝beck (Germany) about which I created a posting in the Sakai-NL weblog. This week will probably be focused on revitalizing another large project I am running as a projectmanager. This project is about Integrated Science Education. We have to deliver the description of a didactical approach how to integrate mathematics content with content from science subjects. Moreover, it should not only be a theoretical elaboration about the pro's and con's of this approach, but also a practical guide for teachers which they can use in their daily work.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Welcome

Hi,
Welcome to this new blog. I already observed for a while what a blog is, how people use it and what would be the use for me. Well, one of the things I sometimes think about is writing a sort of column. These can be about something I encountered during my work or about something I heard in the news. The blog can be an ideal environment to share this with others and get reflections on it. The biggest challenge for me is probably to find the time to write postings on a regular base. So, time will learn I guess.