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:, or

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.

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