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.