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 (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.