Thursday, November 29, 2007

Getting used to it

The project we are currently running on MOSS2007 is about halfway. Part of the project is to work with MOSS2007 ourselves, the other part is to gather information from site visits in the context of Dutch Higher Education. It's still to early to draw any conclusions, but there is one remarkable issue I'd already like to share with you. This issue comes down to changing one's working process, or one's habits if you like. MOSS2007 provides a lot of functionalitiy and especially advanced users (provided they have the corresponding rights) can make a lot of configuration changes to their environment, without the help of an ICT specialist. Another thing is that using MOSS2007 in the way it's meant to be used (at least I think it is), is that users should get all necessary information from the site, instead of receiving a whole bunch of attachments throught e-mail. If everyone puts down the documents in the Sharepoint site instead of e-mailing it, it would decrease current e-mail traffic a lot. So it's not only getting information from the site, but also putting your own information there. It's a two way interaction. However, in daily practice people have trouble to change their working processes according to the new paradigm. They are very much used to sending e-mails and attaching documents to it. Instead of attaching the files you want to share, you can include a shortcut link if you want to be of help to the receiver of your e-mail. Even better is to let users set an alert on all folders they want to receive notifications in case changes are made. In our experience the alerting function is not 100% reliable, and moreover, you don't know who has set an alert and who has not. So it's not bad to include the link. This way you'll force all group members to go to the Sharepoint site. Some guys have avoidance tactics, by sending you an attachment and ask you to put it on the site for them. Don't do that! You're not a secretary. If you are sure they have contribution rights on the site, ask them to put it on themselves. If possible you may want to instruct them the first time, but the message is that they do it themselves. This is the only way to change the working processes. During our site visits we have seen that institutes who have more years of experience with working with Sharepoint still have trouble to get users on to the 'new' paradigm.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Using Archimate modelling techniques

Last Friday (Oct. 19th) I attended an information session at Surf Foundation, focused on modelling your information architecture by using the Archimate language. (see We are dealing with Archimate in our 3TU working groups in an attempt to describe the relevant business processes that have to be supported in a federative virtual learning and working environment. However, in our group we mainly focus on the top level of the Archimate framework (the business layer). The functional and especially the application layer is beyond our scope.
Well, back to the Surf session we were offered two presentations of tools that claim to support your modelling work in Archimate: Architect by BiZZdesign and ARIS bij IDS Scheer. Although I had some trouble in following the sometimes fast pace of the demo (including all the technical, architectural issues that were considered as prior knowledge) I saw clear differences between the two. Architect gives me the impression that it delivers results that are suitable for further communication (e.g. validation purposes) with stakeholders in your organisation. It delivers flows that can rather easily elaborated. ARIS seems much more complex (although it has an impressive track record in large industries) to handle and to communicate about for non-technical people. One specific weakness in the ARIS presentation is that the current version is not capable to show the designs in Archimate modelling components yet. This will be the case in the next release (to be expected in 2008-Q1).
Personally I was also more attracted to the presentation style of BiZZdesign. Their business proposition as a lean and mean orgaisation with a clear focus is more attractive that a large multinational and more commercial approach. The IDS Scheer presentation was much more of a commercial kind, and I'm not sure whether the listeners were really waiting for this. Several colleagues indicated that Dutch Higher Education is still at the very beginning of working under architecture and were wondering whether ARIS is the right choice. According to IDS this is the right moment to step in, but I never heard an argument why. So far, I believe we made the right choice to work together with BiZZdesign for our 3TU objectives.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Beyond the VLE

Last week I visited the third SURF conference titled 'Beyond the VLE'. Some of the issues brought up were a follow up of the the Personal Learning Environment as presented by Scott Wilson at the second edition of this conference in 2006. An additional issue that was explicitly mentioned in the presentation of Nico Juist (Hogeschool INHOLLAND) is that we should also take into account the technical 'infrastructure' a student already has when he enrolls for a study program. His bag is not only filled with (note)books, but also with virtual things like a MSN, Skype, Google docs, a Hyves profile, and last but not least an impressive 5Gb mail account on e.g. Gmail. However, when a student enrolls we tend to prescribe a whole range of ICT facilities that can or need to be used as a facilitator for his work as a student. But does the student really need it? For example Hogeschool Zuyd made a clear choice in relation to an instant messaging function: students may need it for their group work, and if so, they can organise it by themselves. Many VLE's offer a (most times) limited chat function, but in daily practice students tend to use MSN. They're used to it, and it contains all their relevant contacts. So why bother to offer an instant messaging service? The same rationale may apply for offering an e-mail account. Why? To have an addiotional e-mail address that won't be used (or only for auto-forward purposes) and has a limited mailbox site of 200Mb? The discussion comes down to the fundamental question what we want to facilitate as an organisation. In addition to the PLE paradigm isn't it much more powerful when a student can create his own portal page, including those components ('web parts') that he needs. If for example Netvibes is your default carrier, you can organise a lot of things only by developing the right RSS-feeds for the user. He is responsible what he wants to see, where he wants to see it and how he wants to see it. I'm afraid it will take a real paradigm revolution before educational institutes will go this far. Many things of our current organisation are based on a sense of control: we want to monitor what happens and what students are doing. In a 'free' PLE format we feel that we loose this sense of control. Can we deal with that? Well think about this: there is already a lot of virtual communication and collaboration going on that we don't know about. It's naive to think that all learning and organisation processes happen inside the virtual walls of our institutional systems.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The speed of innovation

In 1997 Philips introduced the first flatscreen plasma television set, Sharp introduced GPS car navigation and Sony showed the first designs of mp3-like players, www was still an acronym for wait-wait-wait. Ten years later we have iPod, broadband internet connections (24/7), sophisticated smartphones, and mini memory cards that can easilty contain 8Gb of data. Ten years ago the University of Twente also introduced it's own e-learning platform TeleTOP (nowadays available from a commercial vendor), which was quite an innovation for that time. However, when we look at the way how the platform is applied today it is not fundamentally different from the way it was used in 1997. The traditional instructional model is supported by an electronic equivalent: planning information, reading materials and powerpoint slides are basically what is being provided by the course sites in TeleTOP. From a more negative point of view, one might even argue that education in general has not dramatically changed over the past 40 years. New educational paradigms are often approached with suspicion. The concept of 'new learning' (het nieuwe leren in Dutch), seems to be contaminated. The pure constructivist view that the learner creates all new knowledge by himself is passed. Some basics/fundamentals need to be developed first, before the learner is able to build new knowledge elements on top of it. The pessimists find arguments that educational innovation is equal to loss of quality. Just recently prof. Rob Martens introduced the concept of positive learning. Especially in this time frame where broadband connections and new media play such a dominant role in daily life it becomes inevitable to think about the educational value of new media. Teleac/NOT - for many years producers of educational media - has recognized this challenge and links to the academic world in order to provide a solid base for their future productions. How do learners process these new media, how can cognitive load be controlled and how does intrinsic motivation play an important role in achieving learning objectives. The world of game based learning also provides perspectives that new media can contribute to an experience in which learning can be fun. It's not likely I think that the development of new learning paradigms will catch up with the development of new technology, but it is at least somewhat odd to stick to old paradigms, while at the same time the outside world has drastically changed.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wikipedia censured?

This morning there was a lot of fuzz on the news because it is assumed that Princess Mabel of Orange-Nassau and/or her husband Prince Friso of Orange Nassau have made changes to a page on Wikipedia. But isn't that the basic idea behind a Wiki? Wikipedia itself provides the following definition: "A wiki is a collaborative website which can be directly edited by anyone with access to it". The philosophy is that because so many people can edit these pages. there will be a sort of self-correction mechanism which eventually will lead to high quality pages. Research has shown that Wikipedia is able to compete with the quality level of a formally published encyclopedia like Encyclopedia Brittanica. Well back to Mabel again, the fuzz is caused because she has changed a page about herself. From a legal point of view there is no hard evidence that she did it herself. The only identification comes from an IP number that relates to the palace she lives in. But is she the only one accessing the internet from there, or are there others too? And what if she did edit the page? If her change is incorrect others will probably re-correct it again (and so it already happened). The thing that worries me in this specific example is that the Dutch royal information service (RVD) wants to make specific pages read-only. What is this?? It's fundamentally against the open source philosophy behind Wikipedia. Who decides what's the truth and what I may read or may not read? The truth according to the RVD or prime minister Balkenende? Or is it because Mabel is controversial, because of her past relationships? Large organisations such as the CIA, the Vatican and the Australian government are also known for making self-serving changes to pages on Wikipedia. Are we at the threshold of a new type of censureship here? What if I would make the change back to Mabels' version? Will I be in the news headlines tomorrow? If you don't want to have pages changed: print a book, put it in 5 layers of plastic wrap, store it in a safe deposit which is guarded next to the royal jewelry in the Tower of London.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The students have arrived!

Today is the start of the introduction weeks for our new bachelor students. The main campus road (Drienerlolaan) is blocked with a sort of market with all kinds of activities, music and of course most student societies try to attract new members. There was a long cue of students waiting in front of the main tent. Here they need to register for the introduction program and receive all the necessary information. Some students carry bags, backpacks or even a hard-cover suitcase, indicating that they also have to check in for their sleeping quarters, wherever that may be. Looking back at my own introduction period (which is 24 years ago, gosh I'm getting old...;-) it is an exciting period of adventure. For lots of students it's their first step towards living on their own. No mom or dad to rely on for their daily needs, making your evening dinner, do the laundry, etc. From an ICT perspective they probably have high expectations, assuming that all ICT facilities are prepared to handle their needs. Our University has an IT profile, so it must be well organised you may think. However, students don't know that new software releases or complete new applications are installed in the summer, literally a few weeks before they start. One may really get stressed when things don't go as smoothly as you would like. From experience it is known that there are always unforseen circumstances. This year is no execption to the rule. The instructors will have to prepare their lessons and make their course sites. Will it just be a copy of the previous site again, or will this year bring us a true innovation? In the past years we always succeeded to get everything up and running on time. There is no reason to believe that it won't be that way this year.....-);

Monday, August 20, 2007

Taking a look at MS Sharepoint

In July we have finished our final report on our pilot experience with Sakai and have presented this to our Board of Directors. As predicted we are asked to initiate a follow-up project on MS Sharepoint which is an important factor within the federation of the three technical universities in the Netherlands (3TU). The follow up project cannot be as extensive as the Sakai project, due to time restrictions. This means that it will be more or less a quickscan. One of the consequences is that we cannot organise pilot projects together with our faculties. Instead, we are planning to make some site visits at institutions who already implemented Sharepoint in their educational organisation. In order to keep our stakeholders involved we will invite some teachers and students to join the projectteam during these site visits. Besides the pedagogical/organisational criterium we also want to take a look at the technical features in the sense of web services, interoperability and the use of (open) standards. This must give us insight into the way Sharepoint may be linked into a broader ICT architecture in which it has to work together with other (3TU) applications. Currently, I am writing the project plan. We hope to start in september. The good news is that most of the Sakai team members will also be involved in the follow up project, so we have the same reference background in this matter. The 'bad' news is that we are asked to put all effort into the research of Sharepoint and leave Sakai for the time being. The final decision on which application components will be used to deliver the range of required services will be made in 2008. Will Sakai still be a serious candidate for this purpose? Time will tell.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Back to business

Yesterday was my first working day after a long holiday break of 5 weeks. It's always difficult to get up and running the first day. Not only for my computer which needs to download and install all kinds of updates (and of course needs to restart) but also for yourself. Usually after a first working day I feel exhausted by the end of the afternoon. Yesterday was no exception to the rule. In July I spent quite some time in the south of Spain. Nice apartment, swimmingpool nearby, lots of sunshine and the Spanish atmosphere make it very relaxing to stay there. We always try to adjust ourselves as quickly as possible to the local time schedule of doing things, which basically means that everything happens a couple of hours later and at a lower pace than in the Netherlands. Moreover, during the middle of the afternoon it's rather quiet because of the siesta (or what's left of it). The evenings on the other hand are very lively and it's a great experience to go out at 9,30 pm and find out that all shops are open and that lots of people are out there, thus creating an active shopping scene. At 11.30 pm a lot of parking garages near a city centre show a 'complete' sign. At home most of the streets are abandoned by that time.
For me, the summer holidays are also a period without computers and/or communication with the home base. Although the webmail facilities are convenient enough to read your mail every day, I don't do it as a sort of defense mechanism. On the one hand because I know my out-of-office assistant has informed the sender that I'm away and that a quick answer is not to be expected. On the other hand, in case there would be an (urgent) message that requires any follow up it could spoil your day and the whole relaxing atmosphere. So I usually start reading my mail after I return in the Netherlands, a few days before I get back to work. This way the number of unread messages is acceptable on my first working day, and I have the illusion that I may continue my Spanish holiday pace for a while. This is indeed an illusion.... ;-)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Chatting with your own kids

This title reminds me of a column that was written some years ago by the former CEO of SPC Group, Joost Steins Bisschop as a column to the Dutch Financial Times (Het Financieele Dagblad). The story is that Joost created an account on MSN using a nickname. This name was chosen in such a way that it looked like the MSN identity of a 15-yr old boy. He knew that his daughter was a regular user of MSN and just of curiosity what would happen Joost tried to get into the contactslist of his daughter. He managed to do so, and as a matter of fact they started a chat session. The interesting issue here is that Joost knew he was chatting with his own daughter, but the daughter didn't know her father was on the other end of the line. After a short while he confessed who he was, which was a little bit of an unpleasant surprise. It felt like a sort of intrusion or even betrayal into her personal life, because she had been rather open in her communication with her new 'friend'.
Everytime I am chatting with my own kids it reminds me of this column. The difference is that we know each others identity. Most of the time when I'm working my MSN account is active. Everytime one of my kids gets online I see the popup in my screen. It's a very convenient and efficient way to ask if everything is ok, if a test went ok or just to say what time i'll be home. Takes usually less than one minute and then I'll continue with my work. It's much easier than picking up the phone, dial the number, wait before someone answers (if at all) and have a talk which can easily last a couple of minutes. My kids are also used to these small MSN chats, and they have no problem that their 43-yr old father is listed between their MSN friends of their own age. I think (or should I say hope?) that they feel it's rather cool to have a dad who is using the same digital tools they do.
Oh yes, in case you worry, as far as I know Joost and his daughter did have a good talk about this and everything is ok with them.

Because of the summer holidays, the number of posts will probably be lower in the next couple of weeks.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Final preparations for the Sakai Conference

Today I am making my final preparations for the Sakai conference, that started already with some pre-conference activities (Click on the conference link on: According to my last information there are 385 registrants, which is already beyond expectations. With some last-minute registrants we may well reach a round figure of 400 conference delegates. We have two contributions from the University of Twente. The first one - presented by myself - will be tomorrow late in the afternoon, and will address the Sakai pilot projects we conducted in the past months. The second presentation will be by my colleague Wytze Koopal and will address the Sakai community in the Netherlands. Finally, I have also volunteered to be a convenor at one of the sessions. I've selected a session with an intriguing title, especially within the context of this conference: Why German Universities choose Moodle instead of Sakai.

An alphabetical overview of all conference sessions can be found here

For more impressions about the conference I would like to refer to the Sakai-NL blog at:

You will also find my contributions over there.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

E-mail: the old medium?

Large groups of people still consider e-mail an innovative and effective way of communication. Just send your message, anytime and any place you want, the reader will receive it at a convenient time form him. However, for more and more reasons one can question whether this is true. As a heavy user I can easily receive more than 50 e-mails a day (spam included), after filtering some 25-30 meaningful messages remain in my Inbox. The first problem is to organise these mails and possible attachments. There is a great risk that an e-mail remains in your inbox for a couple of days and attachments may even be unnoticed. In addition to this (even large) attachments are sent and forwarded in a flash decision, without considering the heavy traffic this will cause and the number of diskspace that is involved. It's good to see that instead of attachments more and more people tend to store a file on a shared networkspace and just refer to it by sending a link, or even better knowing that the system will automatically send a nofication when the file is there or when it is updated. This way the sender can put it on the right place, the receivers can open it or download it to their own computer.

Another reason for writing this post comes from a completely different context. I am in more than one way involved in martial arts: Taekwondo. First, being an active taekwondoka, second being involved as a member of the board, responsible for financial and ICT issues. The latter means maintenance of our website, but also the communication to our members. About 75% of our members is younger than 18 years. That's one of the reasons why we tried to shift from paper-based communication to communication via our website and trough e-mail. The rationale is that young people spend a lot of time on MSN, Skype, Habbo. Hyves, etc. communicating with each other, being on-line, the homo zappiens as Wim Veen would say. Most of the time this communication is synchronous however. When we send out newsflashes by e-mail it's asynchronous. It's remarkable how few responses we get. Of course, newsflashes don't necessarily require an answer, but we have the same situation when we send out explicit questions via e-mail, such as who wants to participate in a tournament that takes places a few weeks from now. The e-mail response is less than 10%, so we have to ask them in person, or send out paper-based invitations. Is it because the e-mails aren't read or because it is considered an old medium? It seems not a standard thing to do, to open your Inbox and see if there are any new messages. Maybe it's too much business like to send out e-mail. Synchronous communication provides a social context, you can also chat about some other things if you like to, whereas e-mail is much more to the point. You want your message to be as clear as possible. In a synchronous chat you can make immediate corrections if you think that the other person didn't understand what you were writing. So, the question is whether there is some sort of communication gap between what we (40+) consider effective and efficient communication and what they (-18) like to receive. Should we be more synchronous, mingle on MSN, use Breeze for group conversations? It's an interesting thought, but maybe a little bit too far for the purposes we like to use our mail correspondence for...

Friday, June 01, 2007

University Diplomas

"Obtain a prosperous future, money-earning power and the prestige that comes with having the career position you've always dreamed of. Diplomas from prestigious non-accredited universities based on your present knowledge and life experience".

This is the first paragraph of an advertisement e-mail I received - despite of my spam filter -. It reminds me of a recent discussion on a Dutch national radiostation (Radio 1) about how we are trying to prevent students from plagiarism. Nowadays we have sophisticaed software for plagiarims prevention like Ephorus or Turnitin. These tools can be integrated in our LMS solution. Every paper submitted by our students can be checked in a very short time and we receive a sort of originality report. A percentage score can give you an indication whether a paper is a suspect of plagiarism. The results of the plagiarism software are based on exhaustive searches on billions of pages, databases, e-journals and of course the papers that have been previously submitted.

However, inventive as people are we see other fraud-phenomena arising. For example, companies who offer to write your entire master thesis for 3 fo 4 thousand Euros. They give a sort of non-plagiarism guarantee (maybe even checked with the same software) and claim to have professional writers on a great variety of subjects. Until recently, there was a discussion going on whether Google should display advertisements / search results for these types of companies. Since it was decided that the search results should no longer be displayed, the turnover results of these companies has dropped by over 90%. I was wondering anyway how students who buy their master thesis would do when they have to give their final presentation, or even worse answer in-depth questions about the thesis. They don't have a clue....

For those who are really desparate: they may reply to advertisements such as written in the first paragraph of this post. This advertisement refers to nonaccredited universities, but we have also seen that it's not too difficult to buy an almost genuine diploma of an accredited university in the Netherlands for a couple hundreds of euros. These kind of practices cannot be prevented by plagiarism software. Perhaps we should strive for a central registration system in which all your credits are stored. I am pretty sure that the University of Nijmegen must have some kind of registration on the achievement of my PhD degree, but can anyone else find it? Just type in the social registration number of a person and find out what degrees are officially registered. Of course, there are a lot of (privacy) issues that we have to deal with first, but technically it shouldn't be difficult to realise.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Presentation week

The upcoming week may be considered a presentation-week indeed. In general I like giving presentations for different types of audiences. The challenge for this week is that I have to give four presentations on four different subjects and for different target groups. For the past couple of days I have been thinking about the structure of my presentations and possible powerpoint slides I might re-use. The first one (on Wednesday morning) is a keynote session for an e-learning seminar at ITC. This means giving an overview of the e-learning landscape, identifying trends and trying to formulate a vision where we're heading to in the land of e-learning. The second one (Thursday) is a presenation session for the Digital University project "Integrated Science Education". We will report our results so far for a closed group of (educational) managers. Hopefully they will provide us with feedback on how to take the results of the project further, after it has finished (June 2007). The third presentation is on the same day and includes the pegadogical results of CBUS (Sakai) project for a part of the ITBE management team. Finally, on Friday I'll have some visitor over from the University of Amsterdam. This visit is related to our Wireless Campus project. The Amsterdam delegates would like to hear our experiences, both from a technical and educational perspective. On Friday afternoon I will probably be glad that the weekend has arrived;-).

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Half an empty glass or...

The Campus Blend using Sakai (CBUS) project at the University of Twente is heading towards the end. This month we have to deliver our final reports (5 parts). During the vacation of my colleague Wytze Koopal I have to manage the writing process of three of these reports and also take account of the overall CBUS project management. On May 24 we have to present our reports and the conclusions to representatives of the management team of our service department. As a reader you may think, well in that case they will already know what their conclusion will be, but as a matter of fact it is not as straightforward as we thought it would be. It's not going to be a simple yes or no. Of course there are positive issues that came forward in our pilot projects, but we also heard some serious criticism. It is our (or at least my) ambition to present the results as objective as possible. Obviously, you have to start with presenting your research data as they are, give everyone access to your raw data. One of the difficulties here is that these data have been collected under various circumstances. This makes it easy to come up with alternative explanations. Our research setting was not a strictly controlled laboratory environment, but a realistic field experiment. Taking account of that matter it is still possible to identify some general issues and trends from the data. But we see a rather nuanced perspective. Some issues can be interpreted in favour of Sakai, some not. The major challenge here is to write down the conclusions in such a way that they correspond with your data and still provide enough information for the decision makers. Due to the rather complex data landscape, one can either choose to take the perspective of 'yes, but...', or 'no, unless....'. The data are exactly the same in both cases, and one could easily argue in favour of both perspectives. However, from a psychological perspective it is a major difference if you choose to start from a positive or from a negative mindset. The objective information behind the 'but...' or 'unless...' may be basically the same, but is a very important difference if you start from a 'yes' or a 'no' conclusion. In Dutch (and maybe also in other languages) we have a metaphor for this kind of dilemma: consider the glass half empty or consider it half full. What is it going to be? Finally, it is important to mention that the results are based on the current release of Sakai, but how will it develop in the next year(s)? What are the expectations? When should you start migrating to Sakai, if at all? Is it better to take an incremental approach or follow a big bang scenario? Is it reasonable to expect that current problems will be solved by the time you want to migrate to a campus wide production environment? If the answer to the last question is a 'yes', then it is more likely to take the conclusion from a positive perspective. Became curious? Well, I invite you back to this blog in a couple of weeks.
Click here to find out more about Sakai in the Netherlands?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sakai and/or Sharepoint: The Sequel

There is an interesting discussion going on why Sakai and Sharepoint are currently considered the two mainstreams as possible substitutions for traditional VLE's like Blackboard, TeleTOP. Walter Brand wonders in his comment how Sakai and Sharepoint ended up as apparently two interchangeable options on many short lists. Clearly there isn't much overlap between both products in functionality. What could be the reasons? Sakai doesn't cover the needs of good content management and basically lacks the work flow posibilities. Sharepoint on the other hand has no built in tools that focusses on specific educational areas. Maybe a (more profound) reason for showing up as 'equal' opportunities may be that Sharepoint allows to continue working in the way that people are used to. In the current use of VLE's we still see too much PDF en PPT docs being published as resources in a course site. Clearly, Sharepoint provides interesting additionali functionality to this existing process: versioning, workflow support. It's possible to stay close to the existing way of using a VLE, instead of making a next step towards educational innovation. Using Sakai you are confronted with the question how to implement new pedagogical paradigms: demand driven education instead of supply driven. A Web2.0 approach (equal rights to make contributions) instead of the instructor who is virtually the only one who decides what happens in a course.
I'd like to close this post with two statements:
  • Sakai and Sharepoint are not two interchangeable options. The products can complement each other, rather than subsitute the other.
  • Sharepoint seems to relate closer to the current daily practice of publishing powerpoint slides and PDF-readers (as is done in current VLE's) which makes it an attractive alternative for e.g. Blackboard. In my opinion this will hinder true pedagogical innovation.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sakai and/or Sharepoint

This week I submitted a post to because the topic of the post is more relevant there. So please click on the link to read it. You are kindly invited to comment on this post.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Starting on

Well, I finally made a start on I was aware about it for quite a while and the advantage of having your own bookmarks available on any internet PC in the world seems obvious. The second advantage is that you can share your bookmarks with others and you can see who else has bookmarked the same URL (the social bookmarking aspect). But, as in all tasks you want to do, it's mostly just a matter of time and/or setting priorities. You have to sit down for a while, think about the tags you want to use and whether or not you like to bundle them into meaningful categories. It's important to take some time for this, which makes it easy to find your URLs once you have created a considerable list. I have made a start now with about 40 URLs, which is not very much yet, since I know of people who already have collected some 1000+ URLs. Of course, they have been using quite some time and try to add one or two new URLs every day. If I can keep that up for the rest of 2007 I could probably achieve a number of 500 URLs. For the time being it's just good to know to have a set of well used favorites online when the summer vacation will start in a few months from now.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Education day

Today I am preparing a presentation for the 1st day (actually it's an afternoon) of education at our Faculty of Science and Technology, which will be held tomorrow in the Horst building of the University of Twente. The education day is organised for all teachers, mentors, instructors who are involved in the primary process of education. It's a moment of reflection and information exchange about a specific educational theme. The main theme of tomorrow is the use of ICT in Education. After a word of welcome by the dean Alfred Bliek and an overview presentation by former ITBE colleague Jan van der Veen, the rest of the afternoon will consist of two mainstreams: Best practices of ict in education within the Faculty of Science and Technology and the use of (ICT) materials within the so-called SkillsLab. "The Skillslab is a learning environment in which the authentic professional environment is simulated and fits the demands for training of diverse students (e.g. technical medicine and nursing students but also professionals of all healthcare disciplines). It supports the regular study program in the development and maintaining of skills, the planning and preparation of complex interventions. It is not only a learning environment but also a research facility in which equipment and intervention modalities can be developed and evaluated" ( My presentation will be presented as a best practice on the use of Maple TA (mathematic testing software) within the advanced technology course Introduction to Engineering I (I2E1). I am giving this presentation in my role as a project manager of the Digital University project Integrated Science Education. It was intended that Gijs Krijnen would give the presentation himself, but unfortunately he will not be in Twente this afternoon. Besides a general introduction on I2E1 I will focus on the use of diagnostic testing by means of Maple TA. One of the objectives was to 'force' students in a working mode, because they could take several Maple TA tests during a period of 4 weeks. It was possible to achieve a limited amount of bonus points that could be used to upgrade the final test score. The evaluation showed that 70% of the students (n=82) completed at least 1 Maple TA test, 45% of the students achieved a score on all Maple TA tests. Within the group of students who achieved Maple TA scores (and potential bonus points) it showed that 48% passed the final test. Without the bonus points only 31% would have passed the test. Besides activating the students, Maple TA is also considered a environment that is able to form a bridge between the math and physics domain. By exercising mathematical concepts (e.g. differentiation), it becomes easier to apply these in a physics context (e.g. Newton's Law). Although further improvements can be made, Gijs Krijnen considers Maple TA as a useful tool to improve I2E1. It's very likely that Maple TA will also be embedded I2E1 during the academic year 2007-2008. Perhaps the education day will create an enlarged interest within the faculty.

Friday, March 30, 2007


On March 27th I participated in the 4th Innovatium Conference. This was the last time that the conference was organised by the Digital University, the Dutch Higher Education consortium that will formally end by July 1st. I also visited the 2nd and 3rd edition of Innovatium, which can surely be characterized as a series of conferences being held in inspiring and creative environments. Remember the conferences in Evoluon (Eindhoven) and the Rabo City Theatre (Hengelo)? This time the conference was hosted by Passenger Terminal Amsterdam, right next to the water. It was possible for delegates to take short boat tours during the lunch break.
The number of delegates was rather high (over 500) which creates a sort of mixed feeling. On the one hand there is the large number of people joining a lot of interesting presentations and workshops. On the other hand there was the perception that the DU will formally end, and the question what will happen with all of the nice products and the collaborative networks that have been established. The workshops I visited in the morning were completely full and there were lively discussions going on. After lunch it was my turn to stay at the Sakai booth of the SURF Special Interest Group. I was scheduled for only 45 minutes and had several interesting conversations with people passing the booth. As a result of those talks I spent a lot more time around the booth than foreseen, but I was still in time to join the plenary end session by Norbert Verbraak. When something comes to an end, there is time to look back. Six years of Digital University, a lot of very interesting projects and products. I heard some people saying that the nice thing of the DU was, that a lot of projects were going on in which people actively worked together on the delivery of innovative educational products. Of course not all projects were succesful, but the majority of the projects did achieve good results and deliverables. The inheritance of the DU is now being integrated into SURF Foundation. Some of the DU program managers also found a new job at SURF. But the big question is how to proceed from here. SURF Foundation is perceived as a different type of organisation than the DU. Will DU products be used in the future or will they 'disappear' in the archives of SURF?
In my opinion there is also a great personal asset that should not be forgotten. Thanks to the many DU projects and the roles one may have had, there was a context in which you really could collaborate with colleagues in the field of higher education. So 6 years of DU has also brought us a strong higher education community. This was demonstrated at the end in which a group of about 100 delegates was invited to a formal closure dinner. During on of the speeches Michiel van Geloven mentioned that about 80% sent a positive reply to the dinner invitation within 48 hours which implies a lot of appreciation for what the DU has brought us in six years.

Friday, March 23, 2007


Haiku is a mode of Japanese poetry, the late 19th century revision by Masaoka Shiki of the older hokku, the opening verse of a linked verse form, haikai no renga.
Haiku usually combine two (or rarely, three) different phrases, with a distinct grammatical break (kireji). These elements of the older hokku are considered by many to be essential to haiku as well, although they are not always included by modern writers of Japanese "free-form haiku" and of non-Japanese haiku. Japanese haiku are typically written as a single line, while English language haiku are traditionally separated into three lines (source: Wikipedia).

The digital world is sometime called as being soulless -- a charge that is borne out by on-screen error messages like "abort/retry/fail?" and "404 -- file not found."

It's already been a few years ago that there was a modest attempt at change: an error message in the form of a haiku poem. Readers were invited to submit up to three error messages written as haiku poems. The haiku is a three-line poem in the 5/7/5 form (first line 5 syllables, second line 7, third line 5). One of my personal favorites is the next one, submitted by Peter Rothman:

Windows NT crashed.
I am the Blue Screen of Death.
No one hears your screams.

Probably not a Microsoft fan;-)

More Haiku error messages? Click here:

You want to see some pictures?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Math Online

Today I delivered a project plan for our board of directors which is focused on repairing knowledge and skill deficiencies in Mathmatics when students are admitted to our university: a considerable amount of students fail the math entrance test which has to be taken at the beginning of the academic year.

The plan is written in close collaboration with colleagues from ITBE, ELAN and the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science. The main objective of the plan is how to use existing (on-line) materials in a blended learning approach. A first analysis on primarily Dutch projects shows that there is already a lot of ready-to-use content (tutorials, readers, exercices, assessments) available in the math domain. In some cases these materials are available for (almost) free, so why develop new materials if a lot can be re-used? It's much more interesting to think about the pedagogical way these materials can be offered to the students. Moreover, it can save a lot of time in order to achieve some quick wins.

In our project plan we distinguish three types of student admission:
  1. those who enter from the highest grade of secondary education (VWO)
  2. those who enter from higher vocational education (pre-master)
  3. those who enter from an international insitute
We have proposed to set focus on the first target group, because that's the largest group and there is already a lot available that can be offered to them. Besides deploying the online materials (also in the highest grades of secondary education) it is especially important to coach their teachers and to create a collaborative setting instead of pointing the finger to someone and saying that he or she is doing something "wrong".

We now have to wait until the meeting with the board (next friday). An interesting aspect is that the plan is delivered together with a corresponding Wiki site. So, a lot of resources and links that are mentioned in the document can also be viewed in an interactive way.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Second Life for education

A few days ago it was on the radio that Randstad (a Dutch job agency) is establishing a virtual office in Second Life. When you think about this it's really fascinating. Large banking companies (e.g. ABN Amro) and also IT companies (Tam Tam from Delft) have their virtual offices. But what's the purpose? Why do you want to be on Second Life as a company? Randstad claims e.g. that it can help people to prepare their job interviews. Create your very own Avatar and go to Randstad to see whether there is a suitable job for you. When you decide you want to apply for the job you can arrange for a job interview with a virtual employee from Randstad. The claim is that it will help you when you have to go to a job interview in the real world. That's an interesting claim, because a virtual interview can be hardly compared to an interview in real life. What about the 80% of non-verbal communication? You can probably write down all kinds of answers as your contribution to the job interview, but how will you behave when you are in a real interview situation. Will there be stress, will you look the other way when answering a question, instead of looking someone in the eye? It's kind of different when sitting in the quit surroundings of your home, where you can think in a clear and sensible way about the answers you want to give. Moreover, your Avatar can be much more attractive than yourself. I've created an Avatar myself and it's easy to give it any look you would like, of course far away from your own look: I was surprised how many athletic young men were running around in Second Life. This may give more confidence than you would have in real life.

Another interesting aspect is that you can actually invest money in Second Life. You can buy so called Linden dollars from your real American dollars. The exchange rate is about L$270 to one US Dollar (Wikipedia, March 7, 2007). Residents can create new goods and services, and buy and sell them in the Second Life virtual world. It's possible to buy land and build a house on it. I recently read an article in which the author suddenly became aware that he was looking into a house where someone was reading a book. He felt uncomfortable about it, feeling a voyeur, as if he was really looking into someone's home. Well if you ask me, why sit in a Second Life house to read a book??

Second Life has also emerged as one of the cutting-edge virtual classrooms for major colleges and universities, including Harvard, Pepperdine, Ball State, New York University and Delft University of Technology. Second Life fosters a welcoming atmosphere for administrators to host lectures and projects online, selling more than 100 islands for educational purposes, according to a New York Times article. The article quoted Rebecca Nesson, an instructor at Harvard who brought her Legal Studies class to Second Life in the second half of 2006. "Normally, no matter how good a distance-learning class is, an inherent distance does still exist between you and your students," she says. "Second Life has really bridged that gap. There is just more unofficial time that we spend together outside of the typical class session." Joe Sanchez, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin evaluated the use of Second Life in education in an interactive qualitative analysis, finding that once students overcome the technical and interface difficulties with Second Life, they "indicate a preference to social learning activites and find it enjoyable to interact with other avatars while learning in this space". At the University of Twente we are currently thinking about organizing (virtual) summerschools for students who want to enhance their knowledge and skills in math. Should we also bring this to Second Life (apart from the question what possibilites you have to deploy existing assignments with mathematical formulas, etc.)? I think it's interesting enough to take a closer look at. Being present at Second Life may be(come) an important unique selling point if you want to attract new students.

There is one major worry though. A Dutch professor in economic psychology stated that the Second Life economy is much more vulnerable than the economy in the real world. Companies are present on Second Life for economic, commercial reasons. They make investments and expect to gain any form of profit in the future (in money or otherwise). When they find out that their commercial objectives are not fullfilled there is a great risk that they will shut down their virtual office again, which may initiate a chain reaction.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Time management

Working hard and achieving many results are two different things. The idea of a busy employee, with lots of activities, running from one thing to another sounds rather familiar, doesn’t it? He or she is always busy, but the question is whether this person actually achieves results. First think, then act is the right way for an efficient use of available time. By making choices it is possible to choose whether a task should be done by yourself, by someone else or not at all.

There is an important difference between important and urgent matters. Something that is important doesn’t need to be urgent and something that’s urgent doesn’t have to be important. Before starting a task it’s a good strategy to consider what type of task it is. It can save a lot of time to choose the most efficient way of dealing with the task. The main question is to ask yourself whether the task is important and/or urgent. Depending on the two answers, this may lead to a different type of follow up:
  1. Important – Yes / Urgent – Yes : do it yourself
  2. Important – Yes / Urgent – No: plan the task, if possible ask someone else to do it
  3. Important – No / Urgent –Yes: ask someone else
  4. Important – No / Urgent – No: consider no doing the task at all (unless you have spare time)

A project manager can provide additional value to choose the right strategy, especially in case of type 1 and type 2 tasks. According to the Pareto principle 20% of the work can deliver 80% of the results, meaning that 80% of the time is lost for all kinds of trivial aspects. When you have chosen the right task strategy it is important to create the right working conditions:

Calendar: clearly make use of a calendar. What’s possible, what’s not. Reserve time for unexpected things, time for preparation, travel time, make your personal planning. When you use shared calendars in your organisation, this is even more important. Others can see that your time is set to ‘busy’, so the risk that new appointments or acitivities will be planned for you is diminished.
Planning: try to be honest about the amount of time you need for a task. Take this into account, take care of some extra time and set your priorities. Don’t underestimate this.
Phone: if possible, re-direct your calls to a secretary, don’t make longlasting phonecalls yourself and set time frames on which you’re not available
E-mail: when e-mail drops in (e.g., showing itself by a small pop-up), do not react immediately. Before you know there is another task on your table that needs to be done. This is especially bad if it is a type 1 task. When you have to concentrate on a task, shut down the e-mail and check it again after a while. An interesting filter is to create a rule to move all cc: mails to a separate folder. I have never seen Cc-mails that included type 1 or type 2 tasks. The effect on your Inbox is amazing.
Open door: beware the open door principle. Off course this creates a nice, social and open work environment, but everyone can drop in at any time, also when it’s not convenient for you. For some tasks, don’t hesitate to shut the door (as if you were in a private meeting).
Virtual office: Even better (but that depends on the work you’re doing and the HRM policy) work at home every now and then. When you have a fast broadband connection, e-mail, VPN, mobile phone, collaborative environments, and a webcam as standard facilities, it’s just a second, virtual office, only with a limited risk on disturbances. A lot of people won’t even notice, expect those who work in your immediate environment. I think it’s a pretty good estimate to say that about 50% of my work e-mails are sent from my home office. On the one hand because I work at home one day a week, on the other hand because I deal with part of my e-mails in the evening because I often leave the office at 4 PM to avoid (part) of the traffic jam. All non-urgent mails can be handled in the quiet surroundings of my home office.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


A couple of days ago my son showed me a site called RadioBlogClub. You may also want to look at my personal blog page. Read the post called "Armin van Buuren". Besides an easy way of searching trough an enormous amount of music and embed it as an object into your own webpage, you can also click the title of the song to get a sort of RadioBlog station. It brings you to a list of songs that is selected, not only the song you choose, but also a bunch of related songs/artists. The songs that are listed in the RadioBlog are played subsequently. A nice feature is the fade-out/fade-in function if you happen to change to another song while the previous one is still playing. Interested in downloading mp3's from RadioBlogSpot to your own computer? Just take a look here. A full web application, no installation required. I have tried the procedure and it really works easy.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Testing Sakai 2.3.1

Since a few days we have migrated our testserver at the University of Twente to Sakai release 2.3.1. Interesting new features such as rWiki, Blogs (in a course or projectsite), a linktool and a podcast function have to be tested. Moreover, we have to test whether existing functionality from previous releases is still there and operational. I like the test so far. No major failures and the new features are interesting. I especially like the podcast function, with an inbuilt RSS feed, so you can put the feed in any feedreader such as Netvibes and create overviews of feeds from different course or project sites in your personal netvibes page.
The testing procedure should lead to a decision (Feb 22nd, 2007) whether or not we will migrate our production server from 2.2.0 to 2.3.1. I think it is a good thing to do, provided that backup measures are taken properly, so you can re-migrate in case of a crash. This way we will collect valuable evaluation data about the way a migration process may take place. Despite the fact that we are still in a pilot phase (no-warranties given) it's obvious that you will loose a lot of goodwill from your pilot partners, in case they would loose their work so far. It's hardly imaginable that you can convince them to built their site again.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

University of Aberdeen

Today we had a delegation of the University of Aberdeen, being a guest of the University Twente Innovation Lab. Their main interest was in the entrepreneurial activities that our university exploits both in research as in education. Within the visiting program I was asked to present something about the Wireless Campus and the consequences for organisation and education. In general I always like to tell something about my work to visitors from outside the university. Dissemination is an important part of my work I believe.
Beforehand, I was not very well aware of the expectations that the delegation would have. Of course it's possible to identify entrepreneurial aspects in the Wireless Campus project (starting from the building of the infrastructure) to the way we organise our project-based education, often with private companies being important stakeholders in a project. I was the last presentation in the program, which is always a challenge. It turned out to be a very interesting session, highly interactive. It was nice to see that the Wireless Campus of the University of Twente is still a great example of innovation.

Friday, February 09, 2007


This week about 170.000 children in the 8th grade of primary school took the so-called CITO test. It's a 3-day nation-wide assessment that is used to determine what level of secondary education the child can attend after the summer vacation. Every year there is a lot of discussion on the predictive value of the CITO test. That's probably why additional tests and the advice of the primary school is also taken into account when choosing a school for secondary education. About 20% of the primary schools already have chosen to do another type of final assessment.
One of the major criticisms is that everything seems to depend on these 3 days. If a child feels sick or suffers from stress (it can be a stressful experience) his score may be significantly lower than in a normal non-stressful situation. The CITO test is just a snapshot within a period of several years. An alternative test (the NIVO test) claims to take account of this problem by taking smaller tests during the whole year. This way the scores are assumed to be much more balanced, thus being a better predictor of a child's ability to perform. Another criticism that can be identified is that a relatively low CITO-score can be compensated by motivation, but also the other way around: a high score is no guarantee for success.
Personally, I have three experiences why I doubt the predictive value of the CITO test. The first experience is that I went to secondary school (pre-academic level; VWO in Dutch) having the lowest CITO score of a group of 5 peers who went to the same school. My 4 peers all dropped out, changed to lower levels of secondary education, the first one already after 6 months! I was the only one who finished the VWO level and achieved my degree. My second experience is at the University of Nijmegen. During my 1st bachelor year in psychology one of the instructors was interested to know how many of my cohort had achieved a high CITO score. The result was rather dramatic: according to the CITO test about 50% was tested for a lower level. The third experience is with my own son, who took the test 2 years ago. He achieved a score of 541 which is 3 points below the entrance level at some secondary schools at pre-academic level. Taking a closer look at his score profile, I noticed that he had a relatively low score on math, which considerably influenced his overall score. Strange, because in the past three years he used to score straight A's on math. Why not on this one CITO test day, I wondered? An additional talk between his teacher and the secondary school (a Gymnasium) he wanted to attend was needed, because normally they use the strict policy that an entrance score of 544 is required. Well, he was accepted under the condition that he could not fail his first year, otherwise he would have to move to another school. My son is halfway 2nd grade now and he is doing fine. His test scores are quite well and he is 'on schedule' to go to the 3rd grade after this summer. He's doing as least as well as some of his classmates who achieved the maximum 550 for their CITO test.
To conclude this post, the CITO score is just one predictor in a series of many other ones. The relative weight and stress that is put on these three days in February is rather silly. Primary schools are keeping track records for years, which seems much more reliable to me than the rather coincidental score on three days in a whole year. Why not spread out the CITO test over the 8th grade (e.g., one day in october, december and february)? A completely other consquence is that the 8th grade children are virtually free, starting today until the first week of september when they start their career in secondary school. Of course, they have to attend their schools the next couple of months until the end of June, but everything is already set. In the first week of March they receive their score, one or two weeks later they subscribe to the school they will attend after the summer. For some children it will be tough to start studying again after a 7-month period of freewheeling.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Last week was a busy week. A lot of external (whole day) meetings to which I had an active contribution. This makes your schedule very tight. First because there is little preparation time, second because you have no time to work out the results of the meetings. Starting Jan. 30th we had a Sakai information session at the University of Twente (UT). About 30 colleagues attended the meeting and were interested in the latest developments of the Sakai project. On the same day I attended a workshop on the future ICT Architecture for the UT. The contents of the workshops was not very surprising, but seems in line with other initiaves such as 3TU (see below). On Jan. 31th I went to Utrecht to a SURF Sakai SIG meeting. It was interesting to see how enthousiastic commercial partners like MemoTrainer, Portfolio4U and LOI are involved in the Sakai community. The minutes of this meeting can be found here. Feb. 1th I had to go to Utrecht again, to lead a projectmeeting of the Integrated Science Projectteam (Digital University). The importance of this meeting was rather high, because of an upcoming meeting with the DU program manager. The Feb. 1 meeting was organised to determine how far the several workpackages have proceeded. Since the last plenary meeting in June, I only had bilateral contacts with the involved project members. The June meeting was a sort of starting point for the realisation work that had to be done. I can say that I was rather relieved at the end of the day. Two of five workpackages are more or last finished. The other three were in progress, but within the time frame that was foreseen. The only worry was to get in time all the administrative details (hours spent on the project). It's nice to see that some people indeed have submitted their hours, as we 'speak'. Feb. 2th for the third consecutive day to Utrecht (it has also advantages not to live in Twente...) for a 3TU ICT workshop. I had to present to project idea that was formed within the project group on the federative digital learning and working environment for the 3TU. The project idea is based on setting up a functional services architecture first, before looking at information sources and applications. So, in ICT terms, the business layer gets first (the primary process), then we'll proceed to the next layer. It was nice to see how the project idea perfectly fits within a more generic approach of a 3TU Architecture that is being developed in another working group. This week is rather 'normal'. I hope to find the time to work out all the issues I have been dealing with in the last few days.

Monday, January 29, 2007

History of ICT in Education

During the past two weeks I have spent some time in reading an interesting and worthwile book (in Dutch) by dr. Marcel Mirande, the former director of the Digital University. The Digital University (DU) used to be a consortium of 9 higher education institutes in the Netherlands. The focus of DU projects was on innovation and the use of ICT. Since Jan. 2007 the DU has been incorporated into SURF.
Mirande provides us with an interesting overview on the use of technology in education. Technology is always evolving, but only few examples have shown that technology indeed leads to a new form of education. Does it depend on the technology or do we have unrealistic expectations when a new technology arrives? The author takes us on a historic tour, starting in 1925 with the first learning machine invented by a psychologist called Sidney Pressey. Pressey was working on standardisation of tests, built several machines and did a lot of attempts to achieve acceptance for his learning machines. However, in the 30's nobody was really interested. In the early 60's the learning machines became more and more accepted. The sad thing for Pressey though was that his younger rival Skinner received all the credits. I think this is a typical example of how technology may be ahead of it's time: the technical possibilities are great, but there is no immediate need for it in education, or it takes to much effort to implement it.
The 80's can be considered the years of the rise of computer assisted instruction: i.e., not on a terminal connected to a mainframe, but on a microcomputer! This brings on a very vivid memory to myself, since this is about the period I started working with computers. I created a lot of research data files and - consecutively- a lot of SPSS-analyses on the IBM mainframe at the University of Nijmegen. Colleagues were working on one of the first IBM Personal Computer. It must have been 1985 before I started working on an IBM PC. It was the first one in the department of experimental psychology with an internal harddisk of 20Mb. Wow, that was huge! As a part of my PhD research I programmed an application in Turbo Pascal for the purpose of analysis and remedial teaching of motoric aspects of handwriting. Looking back at this and other applications the 4-E model by Betty Collis provides an excellent predictor for success: Ease of use, Effectiveness, Environment, Engagement.
In the subsequent chapters of his book Mirande takes us to the early years of the internet as we know it at this moment. Starting with Mosaic in 1993 as the first graphical internet browser. In those days I worked at OTEC at the Dutch Open University and I still remember the victory we felt when one of our programmers succeeded to run Mosaic and showed that to us. However, there was hardly any interesting content to be found. It's incredibable how the penetration of internet has grown since then: from about 7% in 1997 until well over 90% at this very moment. The internet has now become a standard tool, as much as a calculator or a television. A lot of TV commercials only mention a URL if you want to contact a vendor, whereas a few years ago the commercial also mentioned a phone number. A serious concern though is that the internet has also created new gaps: between wealthy and poor, between well educated and poorly educated, and between the young and elderly.
It was in the beginning of the internet burst that the University of Twente started their work on the development of one of the first e-learning platforms: TeleTOP, which is nowadays our campus wide e-learning facility. TeleTOP was designed from an educational background, which explains it's success and acceptance. It fulfils the needs of our instructors. Blackboard achieved a remarkable success in the global e-learning market, probably because it related so closely to the existing instructional design principles: It was not necessary to implement large changes in instructional design. Bb became an additional means to publish information (announcements, learning materials).
At the end of the 90's there was a mid-size Dutch company called SPC. They developed prototypes of an e-learning environment which was based on a communication design. MSN-like features (select your own buddies en see who's online), commenting on each other by using digital postings and the use of a discussion forum were interesting new features. Two-way interaction was the key design principle. A little bit analogous to Pressey the commercial people and consultants did a lot of presentations for prospects and during fairtrades. We organised seminars with over 100 participants, but still we did not get any further than some small pilot projects, except for one large and successful project within a Dutch financial institute. The company moved away from this market, and did not survive the economical crisis that started in 2001. Looking at the current approach of e-learning in which communication and collaborative functions are key issues, the ideas we had 8 years ago were not so bad after all. Pedagogical concepts like peer-to-peer learning, communities of practice provide a framework in which this kind of e-learning technology can fit. Blackboard has trouble in following this shift towards a two-way approach of learning. Sharepoint, It's learning, Sakai (although very different) are just a few examples that explicitly address this new way of looking at education.
Moreover, E-learning is evolving towards more wireless broadband access of rich media information and by using mobile devices. Again, we must watch out not to be too far ahead of what educators need. As Mirande concludes the penetration of the learning machine is inevitable and will further increase. It also forces educators to rethink their way of organising a curriculum, subjects and the instructional design they want to apply.

For personal reasons Marcel Mirande retired a few months before the DU was incorporated into SURF. I'd like to congratulate him on the publication of this book and I wish him the very best for the future.

Mirande, M. (2006). De onstuitbare opkomst van de leermachine: Over de precaire verhouding tussen technologie en onderwijs in de periode 1925-2005. Assen: Van Gorcum.

Monday, January 22, 2007

> 100.000 connections

Wow, that sounds huge, doesn't it? Those who followed my blog a little bit - and at least some of my colleagues - may have noticed I have developed a big interest in several aspects of social software. Virtual communities are established within a very short period of time. It must have been a few months ago since I started my profile on Hyves and on In both cases I was invited first. Hyves by a guy I didn't know at all, but he wanted to start a Hyves group for all people carrying the last name of Portier. Well, why not I thought and I joined the group. I joined Linkedin because of an old contact I used to work with - although in separate companies. There is an interesting difference between the two: Hyves is much more on social contacts, sharing media (pictures, video, building your own page (some of those are really ugly ...)) whereas LinkedIn has a professional background: it's about sharing professional networks, finding career opportunities or possibilities to cooperate with one another. Hyves defines your contacts as 'Friends', LinkedIn as 'Connections'. Personally I believe you only have a few real friends. It's hard to consider someone a friend, you sometimes haven't even met personally. Talking about 'connections' is on the other end of the continuum. It has a sort of clinical, business-like approach of looking at how people connect. I get associations with semantic networking.
Looking at the contacts I have gathered so far there is only little overlap between my contacts on LinkedIn (42 at the moment) and on Hyves (31). My Hyves contacts are much more in terms of people I personally know or have a personal connection to, on LinkedIn I have contacts with people I only met one time, but that meeting was enought to discover the mutual benefit of linking our networks to each other. It's sometimes surprising to discover shared connections: you find out that you know the same person, but you didn't know that from each other. LinkedIn may be helpful to get introduced to persons you don't have direct connections with. It's easy to find out who is in your 2nd level network in LinkedIn. Well, in that case I have more than 1500 useful connections right now. I have a little problem with the 3rd level network (> 100.000 connections in my case!) : you know someone who can introduce you to a person in his/her network, but that person needs to introduce you further to someone else in his network. I wonder why he would do that? The 2nd level person doesn't know me, so why introduce me to one of his contacts? I my opinion it's just a nice figure to see, but it has no real meaning to me. I don't want to know the 4th or even 5th level (I'm sure LinkedIn is able to calculate this for you). Before you know, you 'know' all people on the planet (or at least the ones who have a LinkedIn profile).
Despite this critical reflection it's a very interesting and valuable experience to find out how these social software applications work and what the benefit is or could be. Personally I believe you should not only read about it, but work with it for yourself and see what's going on. You might also want to try, Second Life or create an account in online games such as Habbo, Runescape or World of Warcraft. There you can also meet friends (real ones and just virtual friends). Runescape and Habbo support Wim Veen's statement (see my previous posting) of the gift economy. Kids have no problem to give away a set of armour to a new kid on the block, although they did a lot of effort to get it themselves. In a more extreme sense I know examples of kids who just give away their account (level 74) and start all over again. Analogous to Hyves or LinkedIn you have a list of friends, with whom you share things. In this case it doesn't matter if it's a 2nd, 3rd, 4th or whatever level connection. There seems to be a basic willingness to collaborate and share.

Friday, January 19, 2007

YouTube revisited

Just a short post this time. It surprised me how quickly related issues came up in the past two weeks. I wondered about the legal and privacy issues that might be involed here, and indeed there have been some recent cases in which YouTube had to remove certain video files. The embedded video object in my posting of Jan 3, has now been removed from YouTube. The first message says: 'this video is no longer available'. When you click trough to YouTube you'll see a text banner saying 'This video has been removed due to terms of use violation'. A second case refers to the famous soccer player Ronaldo (Real Madrid) who wanted a video to be removed because of violation of his privacy. Although YouTube tried to refer to their terms of use in which solely the end-user has responsibility for checking all legal and privacy issues that might be involved, this did not hold in court. The provider of the infrastructure (YouTube in this case) has at least a shared responsibility and should pro-actively check on the video materials that are published. The Ronaldo video had to be removed at once. If not, they have to pay a considerable amount of money for each day the video would still be available from YouTube. Interesting case, because I think it's difficult to prevent that another user will upload the video again.

Best practices VLE

Last week (Jan. 11th) I visited the seminar Best Practices VLE at SURFdiensten in Houten (NL). The seminar was organised by It’s learning for representatives in Higher Education. The main reason for visiting the seminar was that the program incorporated at least two presentations focusing on a service-oriented approach, which enables the integration of It's leaning with Sharepoint 2007. This seemed to be relevant to hear more about in the context of our very own Sakai project.
The full presentations can be downloaded from a webpage at It's learning.

In general I was wondering why SURFdiensten offers a platform to a - as a matter of fact two - commercial software vendors: It’s learning en Microsoft. Of course everyone is free to organise meetings and presentation seminars, but should SURFdiensten organise an excellent channel into the higher education market? Why not Netschool, Blackboard or TeleTOP (just to mention some other providers). Is it a matter of influencing the market?
Anyway, It's learning seems to have chosen the momentum quite well. The Blackboard market is not as strong as it used to be and Sharepoint is more and more claiming to be a platform that can solve virtually any problem. Organisations are making new choices, some already made a next step and did choose for It's learning instead of Blackboard. Listening to the two final presentations (by Berg and Kuijpers), the integration between It's learning and Sharepoint 2007 seems to be the 'Best of Both Worlds' solution. It looked quite good (at least the screendumps did), but in my opinion It’s learning can be subsituted by any other platform that is able to communicate through webservices with one or more Sharepoint webparts. Simply stated: it should also be possible to integrate a Sakai service with a Sharepoint webpart.

Some highlights I heard from the other presenters? Prof. Wim Veen (known from the concept of Homo Zappiens) reflected on the meaning of social networking for education. Web 2.0, the read-write web or any other categoryname for applications such as Hyves, Flickr, etc. make it very easy to share information with others. Learning has become a process of externalisation instead of internalisation. Sharing information (also by means of this blog for example) forces you to rethink and reflect on what you want to share. Externalisation may provide you with feedback to be used for improving yourself. At this moment one might speak of a remarkable gift economy (look at the way Wikipedia has been established and how the improvement process goes). Sharing of knowledge has become the leading paradigm.
The consequence for the materials which are shared is that these become more and more raw media components: small units, but flexible to integrate with the right tools. Availability of well integrated ICT, peers and feedback processes, but also available support are considered important prerequisites for Homo Zappiens.
Other presentations focused (Halleen, NTNU Trondheim) on the so far traditional use of a VLE (distribution of ppt and word files), which makes a VLE rather expensive. Publication of large PDF's is not done and focus should be set to rich media and mobile learning. Both Prison (Erasmus MC) and Tarenskeen (HU) include student orientation as the main learning paradigm, which explains their choice to use It's learning instead of Blackboard, which is primarily instructor driven. The remarkable thing in both presentations is that It's learning is used in relatively small part of the organisation, whereas e.g. Erasmus University still uses Blackboard as their default VLE. At HU It's learning is restricted to the faculty of computer sciences. The other parts of HU use Bb and/or Sharepoint. A recent achievement by the board to reduce the number of VLE-like applications in favour of only Bb or Sharepoint was blocked by students (about 110). They wrote a petition in favour of keeping It's learning. HU now focuses on the integration between Sharepoint and It's learning, which will further weaken the position of Bb.

I think it's good to see that organisations (now) recognize that Sharepoint is not a one size fitts all solution. On the one hand, it has very good functions for document sharing, workflow management and it can support collaborative work. On the other hand there is a lack of essential functions which would make it a real VLE. Think for example about the process of development, deployment and submission of assignments.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


I promised to keep you updated about my YouTube experiment. Through I found a freeware application called SUPER. This was a release from June 2005 (v1.791). I looked a little bit further and found the newest release on eRightsoft. This is called v2007.bld21 (dated Jan 4, 2007). The links on this page behave a little bit odd, so it took a while before I got to a page where I found four download links on the very bottom part of the page. First, I tried to download the installation file, but this did not work. So, I tried to run the installation file directly from the webpage. The installation itself was quite simple. This brought me to the final test. SUPER turned out to be a simple, straighforward tool. Only one screen, no menu's, no flashy user interface. Simply drag and drop the FLV source file into the entry field and then select what you want to do. There is whole list of possible output containers of which I tried mp4. The conversion to mp4 went very easy and you can indeed convert full FLV files to mp4. An interesting option is that you can also create MP3's if you're only interested in the audio stream of a YouTube video. It all works quite easy. There are a few issues that are not very well developed within SUPER. It's possible to play the last rendered file, but I could not find a button to stop the file once it was playing. So, I closed the whole application. A second issue is that you have to search where your output file is saved. I could not find a function to define your own output folder. It turned out that my output file was saved in C:\Program Files\eRightSoft\SUPER\OutPut. (! path may be different if you choose to install SUPER elsewhere !).
In summary, you need three steps to download from YouTube and to play files on a local or mobile device such as an iPod or Pocket PC:
1. Paste the URL of your favorite YouTube video on the Javimoya page.
2. Convert the FLV file to any format you like using SUPER.
3. Copy your output file to the device you want.
If you only want to keep FLV files and use an FLV player on your local computer, then you should install the FLV player from the Javimoya page instead of step 2 and 3.
Have fun.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Downloading from YouTube

During the weekend I did some further research into the download possibilities of YouTube video content. As the father of two teenage kids the challenge was if we could get a YouTube video on a Pocket PC or iPod. Our first step was to find out if YouTube videos can be downloaded. This was not very difficult to find. There is an easy to use webpage on which you can simply enter the URL which is provided by YouTube. The selected video will be downloaded as a Flash Video file (FLV format). To play the file on your local computer it requires a Flash videoplayer, which can also be downloaded and installed from the same webpage.
The next step would be to install a converter which can create e.g. mp4 or avi output-videofiles from an FLV inputfile. I've tried a free demo version of Replay Converter which enables you to make 90sec. conversions. The full version of the program costs $29,95. The quality of the output file can be selected, but of course the filesize grows quickly when you require a high quality video. The mp4 output can be played with Windows Media Player and simply synchronized with a Pocket Pc running Windows Mobile. So the end of the experiment was that we were able to play a YouTube video on a Pocket PC. The mp4 also runs on iTunes, which makes it simple to Synchronize it with an iPod. A quick search on shows a lot of FLV converters. However, only very few of them are available as freeware. Next thing to do is to try one of these programs. I'll let you know what I found out, next time I write on my weblog.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


In the past holiday weeks I took some time to take a more detailed look into YouTube. I already heard about the concept of a real two-way broadcasting experience, since you can upload your own video materials and thus create your own tube. Although, when in London be aware that the Tube has a completely different meaning, viz. the London subway system. It's really amazing how much materials can be found, varying from all kinds of home made videos, and both old and very recent concert registrations. The nice thing is that YouTube provides you with the literal code to embed a preferred video object into your webpage:

A world of easy accessible possibilities can be imagined. You can easily enrich a written conference report with live video fragments of presentations that you have attended, provide your students with your video materials, ask them to upload materials as a part of their assignments or share your holiday videos with friends and familiy even before you are back home. There is one thing that you have to take for granted, which is the sometimes very poor quality of the material. On the other hand you may find very unique materials, e.g. a lot of concerts which were never broadcasted on television are now freely accessible. At the risk of spoiling all the fun, I wondered about the legal issues that are involved here. What about copyrights and other kinds of legal warnings you can see when starting a DVD movie. You cannot simply distribute materials all over the world. But what's the issue here? It's not a P2P service such as KaZaa or LimeWire. As a private person you do not download or share a part of your diskspace (thus making yourself part of an illegal distribution network). The provider at risk seems to be YouTube, but when you read the Terms of Use it states that "YouTube expressly disclaims any and all liability in connection with User Submissions". The question is, however, how many people read these kinds of terms and upload materials that violate proprietary and/or public rights.

A new year, a new blogger!

It has been quiet period in the past two weeks, of course related to the Christmas holidays. First of all I wish all readers of my blog a very happy and prosperous new year and hope all your wishes may come true. Although I already heard about it last December, the first challenge was to migrate to the new version of Blogger. Migrating (or upgrading if you like) always gives some excitement. Will it work, will I loose my information or even worse, the complete blog? What about this new Google account, I didn't have so far? Well, as you are able to witness while reading this posting, the migration was a success. Just a few clear steps and the migration went on quite smoothly, it just took a few minutes and so far, so good. Of course, I need to learn about the new functions, but that will come in the near future.
Why upgrade this quickly you might ask? Why not wait and see if any serious problems occur with other bloggers. Well the reason was simple and necessary at the same time. Being a co-author of a teamblog I needed to upgrade my existing blogger account, because the teamblog was migrated just this morning. I could not contribute anymore, unless I migrated my account too. While performing the migration process, I noticed that the blogs that I own myself were migrated at the same time. I must say, that's rather convenient, because all my blog data are now migrated to the new blogger in one process. So, the first achievement of 2007 is a success! The next is to get an overview of all the mails and the things that were going on when I left the office two weeks ago. It's for sure now that this is a much bigger challenge than the blogger migration I just described.