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.