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.
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