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.