Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rush hour generation

Today I did a presentation together with my colleague Job Bilsen entitled 'e-Learning sustainable?' The presentation was held at the 'Nationaal Opleidingscongres' in Breukelen (NL). We were quite satisfied to have a relatively large audience and I think we managed to have a very lively session. Overall, it was an interesting day, chaired by prof. Robert Jan Simons from the University of Utrecht. One concept which stayed clearly in my mind and which is one of the drivers to write this post right now is the concept of the 'rush hour generation', introduced by Wil Loermans from SNS Reaal. He indicated that the rush hour generation is represented by those who combine a (part-time) job, finding a girl- or boyfriend, having children, going away on far vacations and a lot more activities in as less time as possible. Another buzzword, a variation to Netgeneration, Generation Y? I am not sure, because he did not elaborate on it, but to me a new label was born.

Subsequently, we had an inspiring session with Manon Ruijters from Twyntstra Gudde who succeeded (in my opinion) to have a talk in a very relaxed, informal way. A major part of the time she focused on learning preferences. To illustrate this, she reported from a survey-scan she did among the audience (which was sent out a few weeks before the conference). She defined five types of learner preferences:

  • Looking at the art
  • Participation
  • Knowledge acquisition
  • Exercising
  • Discovery

It appeared that 'Looking at the art' and 'Discovery' were the dominant preferences in the audience. Looking at the art as in 'what works?', learning in real life, how do others do it and can I benefit from it? Discovery as in curiosity, coincidental learning, creativity and selfregulation.

The reason for picking out these two presentations is that they both did an attempt to label a group of learners. The more I hear those kind of labelling, the more I feel resistance, because it tries to put groups of people in a specific category, as if it were a robust part of you as a person. I think the discussion that was going on during the presentation of Manon Ruijters clearly indicates what I mean. Some people had high scores on both 'looking at art' and 'discovery', so what does that make them? There may be some kind of situational preference, that depending on the context you can have a different learning preference.

At the end of the day I attended an interesing session by Nicolet Theunissen from TNO. Among a lot of other interesting things she said, one that is interesting to mention here is that selfregulated learning is evaluated with rather extreme scores. Either the learners like it very much, or they get to some sort of 'learner crisis', they hate it or even become angry because there is too little coaching. For educators the concept of selfregulated learning is sometimes frightening, because it gives them a sense of losing control.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Reflecting on OEB 2008

24 hours after coming home from Berlin it was time to reflect some highlights at Online Educa. Thursday was focused on having my own session on content repositories, together with co-presenters Koos Winnips (soon to be University of Groningen, NL), Leo Højsholt-Poulsen (UNI-C, Denmark) and Pascal Craeye (KlasCement, Belgium). Together with our chair Thomas Fischer (University of Erlangen-Nuremberg) we agreed on a Learning Cafe format. In three introductory presentations (of approx. 10 minutes) we were firstly aiming at setting the scene and secondly at ‘animating’ a lively debate during the following four Interactive Learning Cafe. In these thematic Learning Cafés the following themes were discussed: 1) the potentials, 2) the risks, 3) the desired future and 4) pathways to the desired future of Open Educational Resources and Content Repositories. After a discussion interval of approx. 10 minutes the participants change tables/themes and will be introduced by the table facilitator to the outcomes of the discussions of the previous group. By these means the participants are able to build upon the insights and ideas of the previous group. Learning Cafés are therefore a powerful interactive and joyful method to stimulate the existing wisdom and creativity of participants and to collaboratively create knowledge by avoiding redundancies and repetitions. I was asked to moderate the Learning Café on risks. At first I was a little bit skeptic about the format, and thought that after the second round the creativity would decrease, but I was very wrong about this. Every session was a very lively and inspiring one. Four groups of approximately 15-20 people meant that we got real input from more than 70 people. The five main risks that came up in the Learning Cafés were:
1. Lack of a business model, meaning that there is not a clear perspective on running costs/funding after a project has finished (what about maintenance and support in the long term)
2. Content repository projects are often not integrated into a larger framework
3. Quality issues (is the material that I find good enough / is my material good enough to contribute)
4. How do the materials fit into a didactical approach or curriculum (level + topic)
5. Small sized communities include a risk that only one or two experts will the driver behind the community. If they drop out, the community is dead.

In addition to these five risks we defined some 10 more.
Afterwards we were quite satisfied with the format. The audience explicitly said they liked it and perceived it as very inspiring. What’s also nice is that the results of all Learning Cafés will be summarized and brought together so it can be shared with anyone who is interested. I just submitted my summary to Thomas Fischer.

Next to my own session I joined a session on SecondLife Learning Experiences, a promising title and possibly very relevant for the things we are doing at Stoas right now. Maybe I had too high expectations, but the session was not very inspiring. The first presentation by Jean Miller from Linden Labs was ok. She mentioned some interesting experiments about mixed reality: (1) your own movements can be reflected in movements from your avatar (2) using brain waves to move your avatar around. From a more technical side, she announced ‘behind the firewall SL solutions’ for 2009-Q1. Although not a new announcement, it was good to hear her re-announce it. In addition she also shared two other security issues: islands can be made invisible on the map, and only people you wish to attend can be invited. The two other presentation did not bring very much news. Both included research projects, one on Understanding in-world socialization and learning in groups (Leicester University), the other on life long learning (Institut fur Lern-Innovation). I hoped to hear more about the issue of SL for work-based learners to share work and experiences, but this was scheduled for future research at Leicester.

The final session on Dec. 4th (17.30-19.00) was about Gen Y. Especially right after the SL session I hesitated whether I should stay for this one, but I did. And it was good! I was impressed by Ton Zylstra’s keynote on Gen Y. In his blog he indicated four messages he wanted to give to the audience. It is very much linked to the discussion about the non-existence of the Netgeneration. Zylstra adds the perspective that we as a society have created a networked infrastructure (mobile communication, a 24/7 networked environment) which has a major impact on everything we do. We all need to become part of Gen Y not because we are a different species or generation, but because we have to adapt ourselves to the changing world. This sounds a bit like Darwin’s evolution theory: survival of the fittest. But let’s face it, there is really an enormous gap between those who have access to all kind of different information sources and those who haven’t.

Friday morning I mainly stayed around the booth of GiuntiLabs, to discuss in a few consecutive talks some training and marketing & sales issues with the people from Giunti. The meetings were very useful and provide a good starting point to move ahead to intensify further collaboration.

Early afternoon I drove back to the Netherlands with my colleague Egbert vd Winckel, hoping to be in time for a typical Dutch event: ‘Sinterklaasavond’. Children receive gifts in their shoe or we make surprises and write additional poems. The first part of the trip went very well, at 200 km/h we quickly gained one hour on the estimated arrival time which was displayed on the navigation display, but then we got stuck in two traffic jams, one near Bielefeld and a serious one near Dortmund: accident. Traffic came to a complete stop for about 45 minutes. So we lost all the time we gained earlier, we became worried whether we would make it in time for home. Fortunately, the second traffic jam was the last one and we arrived after rush hour in the Netherlands. We gained back a little bit of our lost time, so I was home at 8 PM, the time which was originally estimated at our leave from Berlin…

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Online Educa Berlin, day 1

Today was mainly for the pre-conferences. For me the day did not start too well, as there seemed to be a problem with my registration. That’s not even the worst thing, you only hear about it when you are first in line in a long waiting cue. So I had to move over to another cue where all the problem issues were handled. It turned out to be a simple matter, but it caused me a 30 minutes delay before I could join the pre-conference about building a course in Moodle. The session was presented by Pieter van der Hijden, with the support from my colleague Hans de Zwart. It was good to have an in depth overview on Moodle, especially in a workshop format where there was plenty of time to have some hands on experience. All together it was a long run, the session finished at 6.10 pm. Before I went to the speakers’ reception I had a quick meeting with Carin Martell from Giuntilabs about the training needs of our staff. Time was too short to get into much detail so we settled for another appointment tomorrow morning. At the speakers’ reception I met with my fellow presenters and the chair for tomorrow’s session on content repositories. We have worked out a promising interactive format (Learning Café), but need to have a plan B in case we have more than 100 in the audience. During the reception it was mentioned that OEB2008 has over 2000 participants, so with 15 parallel sessions it may well be that we will have 100 or more people in our session. The reception was sponsored by Blackboard, but the guy who gave a welcome speech on behalf of Blackboard had a hard time to get everybody’s attention. Although it was only 5 minutes, it was a rather commercial talk, so half of the audience wasn’t really listening. Interestingly, he mentioned the University of Twente as one of their promising new Bb sites in 2008.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

On my way to Berlin

This morning I started travelling from 's-Hertogenbosch railwaystation. First I had to go to Deventer where I could catch
catch the ICE train from Amsterdam to Glowny (Poland). On arrival in Deventer I saw that most of the Dutch delegation (organised by SURFFoundation) was
either waiting for the same train or already in it coming from Amsterdam. We had reserved seats so almost the whole delegation was sitting close to each other.
The journey went quite well and I managed to work together with my co-presenter Koos Winnips on our talk for next Thursday. We had to compress it into a 10
minute introduction instead of a 40 min. presentation, but we were quite satisfied with the result. Arrival at the hotel
went quite smoothly. At 7.30 Hans de Zwart and I will go into Berlin to have some dinner, together with some old colleagues of mine from Twente University. Looking
forward to the first activity at OEB: a pre-conference on Moodle.

Monday, December 01, 2008


After two years I decided that my blog was in need of a new look. So, I did a little bit of restyling. I am not done yet, but so far I am quite satisfied about the new look and feel. Today I'm making my final preparations for Online Educa Berlin, which will be starting on Dec. 3th with a number of pre-conferences. On Thursday I will have my own session together with Koos Winnips about Open repositories and why people seem to hesitate to make their contributions. The title draw some attention since the OEB organisation decided to have an interview with Koos and me. The result of this interview is now published on the OEB website. I will be at OEB together with colleagues from Stoas, like Hans de Zwart. In the next couple of days we will try to keep you posted about interesting issues and events that occur during the conference.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Nationaal Onderwijscongres 2008

Yesterday I attended the annual Nationaal Onderwijscongres at the WTC in Rotterdam. Although the conference was also focused on higher education, it was a completely different type of audience compared to the SURF Onderwijsdagen a week ago. Main topics were more about education innovation, future plans, improving study success, quality insurance and less about ICT in education. One of the things I found remarkable is the rather traditional way of setting up a conference: keynotes in the morning, parallel sessions in the afternoon. We also received a large, paper-filled conference map, including all the hand-outs (why not distribute this on a CD?).

My own presentation was quite satisfying. Based the pre-registration I expected 22 participants in my session. However, at starting time it became about 50, so the lecture room was rather crowded. Perhaps my presentation title (HE Student 2020) attracted a lot of people, I am not sure. Beforehand all presenters were instructed to built in a sense of reflection, so I choose not to give a science fiction like presentation, but to stay rather close to things that are possible right now and are happening in the near future. I tried to sketch some ICT trends, which I think was useful for this specific target audience.

One of the highlights of the conference was the presentation entitled ‘Teach the brain to study’, by Prof. Jelle Jolles from Maastricht University. In a clear way he elaborated on the relation between education and cognitive neuroscience. We know some things about cognitive processes, but not what’s happening in education and why it’s happening that way. The other way around is also true. By showing several pictures of MRI scans Jolles argued that learning leads to less brain activity to perform a certain task. Someone who is learning to read shows much more brain activity than a skilled reader. Moreover, adult readers are able to activate different parts of the brain simultaneously which provides evidence that multitasking, or should I say multichannel information processing is possible. When we are driving a car we are able to steer, to shift gears, to listen to the radio, to talk with a passenger at the same time.

An interesting part of his presentation was about the maturational changes of the brain from childhood to adult ages. In this perspective learning is not only about stimulating the right connections between braincells, but also about disconnecting links that are not efficient. As an instructor (and as parent) we have the ability to feed and guide the development of relevant connections, so they can become information highways that are able to perform high speed information processing requests. A general misunderstanding is that the maturation of the brain is finished around 18. Well, this is not the case. Research shows that the maturation process continues until the age of 30. Moreover, we see a differential development process in the sense that some parts of the brain mature earlier than other parts. Especially the ability to make judgments, taking multiperspectives into consideration, emotional and motivational skills develop further until the age of 30. This means that in the phase of higher education (appr. 18-22 years) we have to realize that the brain is still in the phase of adolescence. Psychosocial maturation is not completed yet. However, we have the possibility to stimulate the maturation process. We need to use as much information channels as possible: not only talking to the student, but also providing a hands-on experience. We need to support, guide and inspire and use the opportunity that young adolescents – in general – have an interest in technical novelties. The social networking sites, or a presence in a virtual world provide an additional way to work on these psychosocial skills. More information can be found on:

And finally, the education innovation award 2008 went to Dick de Wolf (Hogeschool Utrecht) and Theo Wubbels (Universiteit Utrecht) for their joint effort to establish a pedagogical curriculum that leads to two bachelor degrees: a pedagogical agree for becoming a teacher in primary education AND a university bachelor degree in educational science. After three video presentations and an additional interview with the nominees, the audience was invited to vote for the best education innovation. The result was very clear: 77% in favor of de Wolf and Wubbels. More information about their joint efforts can be found here (in Dutch).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

SURF Onderwijsdagen - 3

Another interesting presentation on day 1 was by Pieter van der Hijden. Although not very new, it was nice to see an organised overview of all steps that need to be taken during the implementation of a VLE. A crucial turning point is when the bottom up initiaves (enthousiastic instructors who started using e.g. with Moodle in their daily work environment) need to be transferred into a top down organsation. This means that organisation processes, support, workflow need to be (re)organised in order to use the VLE on the level of an entire organisation.
Van der Hijden indicated some advantages and disadvantages of the top down approach:
  • Management commitment
  • Finance
  • Common infrastructure
  • Professional support organisation
  • Slow implementation process
  • Needs to compete with other policy issues
  • Potential lack of support by workforce

According to van der Hijden organisations tend to emphasize maintentance and organisation issues, instead of education. This is an important threat for acceptance. In order to deal with this he presented the so called TACTEC approach, consisting of the following steps:
  1. Identify your main stakeholders (max. 7)
  2. Allocate roles
  3. Current situation
  4. Required situation
  5. Scenario's
  6. Cross check (are there any interdependencies?)

According to me we see an analogy with an enterprise architecture approach: you need to clarify what the business processes are in relation with your main actors. Then there is the analysis of IST (current) and SOLL (required).

Day 1 started with an opening keynote entitled 11-11-2020. This title made me curious, also because it did not show who the presenter would be. Well it was not a traditional presentation in the sense that Marc Dupuis from the University of Leiden did four interviews with two people, who gave their vision on how education will look like in 2020. In summary they described the following scenario's:
  • the airport
  • the warehouse
  • the fair trade
  • the supermarket

The scenario's were categorized on two axes: (1) from supply driven VLE to demand driven VLE and (2) from supply driven curriculum to demand driven curriculum.
We saw some science-fiction like impressions, interactive holograms, implanted chips and that kind of stuff, but I also noticed a slightly negative expectation. For example, the student who tried to select course packages in the warehouse whas confronted with several messages that his selection did not meet the 'standards', so the final result was that he did not find what he wanted. After the presentations the participants were asked to vote (rise your yellow card) for the scenario they liked most. Most votes were counted for the warehouse and the supermarket metaphore. To me the differences between the two were not very clear. Basing myself only on the presentations I voted for the "supermarket" which appeared to be in the quadrant of supply driven VLE x student centred curriculum. This is rather strange, since I don't believe in a supply driven VLE in the perspective of 2020. According to the quadrants I should have voted for 'the fair trade scenario', but somehow the presenters did not succeed to present this as an attractive metaphore, or maybe it was just too far away from a realistic scenario.

Last but not least I did a presentation together with Oscar Vonder from Learning Valley in which we argued that a service oriented approach (integrating applications through services) is the way to create a comprehensive, but also sustainable environment for the end user. The full presentation can be found on slideshare. Any comments or questions are welcome.

SURF Onderwijsdagen - 2

I promised to get back to you with some more impressions about the SURF Onderwijsdagen 2008. On day 1 I joined a very interesting presentation by Willem-Jan Renger from Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht. He had the disadvantage of being the closing session of the day, before the reception and dinner. Nevertheless, he did an amazing job. A very lively, humoristic way of presentation. I was attracted by the title: "designing education for the netgeneration: the gaming mindset". During the first part of his presentation Renger argued that we shouldn't look at the "netgeneration" in the strict sense of the word. There is more and more debate going on whether we can talk about a generation (in terms of age) at all. It's about new literacy, or digital literacy if you like. However, this is not necessary age-related. The digital divide is present across generations, but also across different social classes. Youngsters who are not in a position where there parents can afford having a computer, PS3, Wii, iPhone, iPod, etc. can also be on the 'wrong' side of the digital divide.
Henry Jenkins published a whitepaper about models and frameworks for new media literacy. It's important to acknowledge the media skills.
But what about the gaming mindset for education? Renger thinks a lot of people have a narrow, biased view on the role of games. It's only fun, you can't learn from it, or in some occasions is even considered 'bad'. When using gamedesign for education it's important to consider the end goals you want to achieve. An interesting remark was that you can even have analogous education, but still use game principles in your design. It's about lean forward, taking control as a learner. You need to design the behavior of the 'player', what can he do, which rules are available, how do you create a challenge? The main issue is to create a challenge that is not too difficult, nor too easy.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

SURF Onderwijsdagen 2008 - 1

Just two hours at home after joining the SURF Onderwijsdagen 2008. The closing keynote by Gordon Freedman (vice president educational strategy at Blackboard) was a little bit disappointing. The good thing was that he did not get into the Bb Next Generation plans, which would be quite strange in this setting (already mentioned by Wilfred Rubens in his blog). Freedman's talk was about education innovation, which should be the key issue for the next couple of years. "Let's put technology aside". Strange to hear someone say this who claims to have an install base of 3000 organisations in 70 countries using Blackboard. Is this to prevent them from looking at other VLE's in the meantime? It's hardly news to say that we should think about education innovation. This should always be the basic drive, shouldn't it? Well maybe this is a difference between the European approach and the US approach. After analyzing which educational processes should be facilitated, one gets to the required functionality and finally to one or more applications that are able to deliver this. Taking the ongoing process of ICT development into consideration it would be a pity to neglect potential new ICT solutions. You could miss a lot.
One of the highlights today was the session by Wilfred Rubens about the non existing net-generation. It was interesting to see how he handled a multichannel approach: face to face presentation, streaming video, powerpoint and a backchannel (also displayed by a beamer) through which participants (sometimes at other locations) could make contributions. This was a strong demonstration of a (temporary) NET-community. There were also other backchannels, like the Twitter feeds that went around and which were used by participants to have short Twitter discussions during the presentation. The conclusion of the session was that it's not relevant whether or not the net generation exists. ICT is there and we can use it, independent of age. It's important to deal with the information skills, plagiarism aspects and digital literacy if we want to use ICT. There are many reasons to use ICT, and for a personalised environment it's a prerequisite. So far for now. Further impressions will be in a next post.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

SURF Onderwijsdagen 2008

Today and tomorrow I will be joining the "SURF Onderwijsdagen 2008" in Utrecht. I am curious about the keynote for today, which has the title of "11-11-2020". Tomorrow I will have my own presentation, together with Oscar Vonder from Learningvalley. We need to finalize some details today, but the presentation is more or less ready. Besides visiting the conference it is always a good annual opportunity to meet all the colleagues working in the same field. I've seen a lot of familiar names on the participants list. So let's go. I'll try to keep you updated by more blog posts and of course using Twitter.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Election time!

I am probably not the only person on the planet to address the American elections today ;-). Looking at the results of different polls and surveys in the Netherlands there seems to be an overwhelming support for Barrack Obama to win today's elections. I've never witnessed such a devistating gap between two candidates before, but let's not claim the victory before this day is over. Last Sunday, Felippe Massa also thought he was going to be the World Champion Formula 1, until Lewis Hamilton caught up with Timo Glock in the very last lap and became the youngest F1 world champion ever....
Today, the interesting issue for me is what will be the benefit for education when (or should I say 'if') Obama wins the elections. On his site there is an overview on all educational issues he stands for. Also take a look at his technology issues. No need to repeat that here, but I would like to point out some of his issues. In my opinion he is setting clear goals that (higher) education should be achievable and affordable for everyone. He believes in the openness of the internet and a connected, communications infrastructure. Moreover, we need to prepare our children for a 21st century economy. Well you might ask whether the term 'prepare' is right. It's more like coaching I think, because the teens of this time - in general - are 'technology enabled'. We have more trouble in catching up with them, instead of the other way around. However, what we could contribute to, as a parent, is on critical reflection: ask yourself what information you have found, what's the source and value of this information, are there any risks involved? We can also create a belief that they have to process the information they find: just copy&paste any content and then submitting it as 'your work' won't create a large learning effect.
Anyway, I think Obama stands for creating a right, modern context in which the so-called NetGeneration will be enabled to develop themselves in the best possible way and be interconnected with eachother. A democratic vision in which every member can contribute (isn't that the underlying principle of Wiki's?) and has a freedom of choice, meets the demands of the current networked user.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Capturing the Captcha

A CAPTCHA or Captcha (IPA: /ˈkæptʃə/) is a type of challenge-response test used in computing to ensure that the response is not generated by a computer (Source: Wikipedia). During my search for new, interesting technology based learning solutions it's often needed to create an account to take a closer look. In most cases I need to confirm that I am real human by entering a Captcha. However, spammers already found possibilities to crack the Captcha coding and create usernames by a robot (e.g. at Live Hotmail). This is probably one of the reasons why Captcha's are increasingly difficult to read. The ultimate consequence is that the human reader cannot identify the characters he needs to enter. Only this week I had two experiences in creating test accounts in which a Captcha confirmation was included. Both times I was not able to read the Captcha code the first time right. It took me three times before the Captcha code I entered was right. Is this just my subjective impression, do I need glasses, or is this something that other also encounter?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Reflecting on the financial crisis

I just submitted my conference presentation for NOC 2008, so I thought I take a moment to reflect on some remarkable issues in the financial crisis. Although I don't experience any personal damage yet, it all looks quite distressing if you would only look and listen to all the news flashes. Nowadays, it should be quite easy to select a number of RSS feeds in order to get you into a deep mental depression. For someone who is really working in the financial business, I can imagine that it must be quite depressing to see how things drop down for days in a row. The thing that happen seem to go beyond their span of control. On the other hand, I sometimes get the impression that the 'panic of the crowds' is the only leading driver for everything that is going on. I wonder if there is really any reflection, or is it just blindly following the crowds in a sort of belief that this will get you into a save place where you can wait until the crisis is over. Another factor I noticed is the role of the media. Listening to radio interviews I sometimes get the impression that it is not interesting enough to make a report on companies that are doing relatively well. The tone of voice also contributes to how news items are perceived by the public. For example, the 6% decrease of the Nikei index on Oct. 28 was considered "dramatic" and "historical". One day later, the 6.4 % increase was mentioned only a "light recovery". If I would only have read the header, I would think about an increase of 1 or 2% maybe, but not 6.4! This is not helpful to create a more positive context in which structural recovery of the damage can be established. It's not a coincidence that the possibilities for short selling have been restricted.

The financial crisis has already infected some real 'economies', such as the automotive and hospitality industries. A rather unexpected thing is that - so far, so good - the ICT business is not mentioned very much (read a Dutch review on this by Irma Borst). In the 2001 crisis we got the full blow. But what about this time? Will we remain in the periphery of this financial hurricane? Cutting costs on training and education is one of the things that are always a risk, unless there is a clear business case that supports the idea that the benefit will be larger than the costs. Especially for the e-Learning business the definition of clear business cases may become essential drivers for investments in the near future.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Microsoft as a virus distributor?

Reading today's newspaper I noticed a small article about Chinese computer users who are angry with Microsoft. What's new you might think? Well the case is that Microsoft has developed a Windows Genuine Advantage application that is automatically installed through Windows updates. The program detects whether or not you have a legal version of the Windows OS. If not, the user gets a black wallpaper every hour, during 45 days. You may change it to a wallpaper you like more, but it will be replaced by the black wallpaper in the next hour. This type of computer behavior reminds me of a typical, rather innocent category of computer viruses. It's Microsoft's way to strive against illegal use of their OS. On the one hand they may be right to protect their legal rights, on the other hand it is questionable whether they have the right to infect millions of computer users this way. It seems like taking the law into their own hands, instead of sending out legal claims. Trying to imagine how this would be in a more physical metaphor I can think of a situation that a manufacturer would come into my house to shut down my cd player, so I cannot play copies of CD's anymore. How would that look like? You cannot pop into somebody's home and do things that you believe are right, it would be considered trespassing. Is the Microsoft example a case of digital trespassing?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Sakai re-visited

My career at the University of Twente is now exactly 10 days behind me - it was a nice "say goodbye" reception by the way - and I shifted to 6th gear in working for Stoas Learning. The past few days I contributed to a proposal for an enterprise learning solution based on Sakai. Last Wednesday we had an intensive 5-hour information session with representatives from our potential customer. Besides taking a close look at Sakai, they were also very interested in the way Stoas may act as a partner organisation, making the implementation of Sakai a success. Yesterday and today I have been working on the contents of a proposal together with some colleagues at Stoas. In the meantime several additional questions popped up, which also need to be addressed in our offer. It was a deja vu to re-visit familiar webpages like confluence, collab and jira, and to take a closer look how Sakai 2.5.3 has developed, compared to the last version (2.3) I have worked with. Some new tools in combination with GUI skins and didactical templates for deployment of Sakai sites (both developed at Stoas), gave a promising perspective. Of course we have to wait if our proposal will be accepted, but if so, it will probably mean quite some Sakai-related work for us.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


One of the things I do in my spare time is the maintenance of a few websites such as In a technical sense it's a rather straightforward site, basically some .css, .js and a bunch of .html files, that can be easily adapted by using e.g. FrontPage. Up until a few years ago I used WS FTP for uploading new files to the server, a rather straightforward easy to use FTP application. Nothing fancy, but quite reliable. After that I moved to SmartFTP. The nice thing about SmartFTP is the functionality to open different FTP servers at the same time. You can switch between them just by clicking on tabs. It was not a big problem to use SmartFTP for free, as an educational license. However, at certain moments it was necessary to do a re-install the program. Not a big problem you might say, but the removal of a previous version was never 100% complete as some entries remain in your Start menu. Recently SmartFTP launched their 3.0 version of the program, but also introduced license restrictions. After 10 years they are no longer able to provide SmartFTP as a free service. I managed to download a trial version, which would expire in 1 day... Well, 1 day is enough to make the most urgent uploads to the website, but it became very clear that I should look for an alternative. I already heard about FireFTP, a free FTP add-on to your Mozilla Firefox browser. It's a relatively small add-on and promises to give you easy and intuitive access to your FTP server. What I like about it is (1) that it loads very quickly and (2) it simply opens another tab in your active Firefox browser. Compared to SmartFTP, which is a separate application, loading FireFTP saves you a lot of time. In one half of the screen you can see the contents of your local computer, in the other half the contents of your FTP server. Just as in SmartFTP it's very easy to select the files you need to upload. After uploading your files, simply switch to another tab to see the result on your live website. So far it works great: it does all the things I expect it to do.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Making the next step

As mentioned in one of my previous posts my career is moving ahead to the next step: senior consultant e-learning at Stoas Learning in Wageningen (NL). September will be a sort of transfer period in which I start working for Stoas, but I also have to finish some work at the University of Twente. The main issue that has to be worked on in Twente is the writing of an implementation plan for Blackboard. As you may have read elsewhere ( the university has decided to choose for Blackboard as their next VLE. This means that TeleTOP will be phased out in the next couple of years. The writing of an implementation plan is not as easy as it seems. It's not only setting up the infrastructure, but also a support organisation and the training of end users. Moreover, it's an interesting issue for the University of Twente to collaborate closely with the colleagues from the Technical University of Delft. They already have a lot of experience with Blackboard in their organisation and are also actively involved in the Bb user group in the Netherlands. The collaboration with Delft is also interesting from the perspective of integrating Blackboard with OSIRIS, the new student information system for both universities. Well, the challenge is to deliver a 1.0 version of the implementation plan by the end of september. In the meantime I started working for Stoas. At first for two days a week, but it will build up rather quickly towards the end of september. Obviously a lot of impressions and meeting new colleagues. It felt great so far, and as I understand there won't be a big problem in finding challenges that need to be worked on at Stoas..;-) I'll keep you posted.

Friday, July 18, 2008

World Mind Map

A few days ago I was invited by a friend to contribute to a new thing he developed together with a colleague. It's called World Mind Map ( The idea is relatively simple. I think most of you know the concept of mind mapping: using associations to relate a set of concept to one another. Often succesfully applied in brainstorming sessions. The additional value of Word Mind Map (as I understand it) is that you can immediately relate to associations that others have already made (and which are stored in the WoMiMa database). So I registered for a user account and made a first try-out. The very first word I entered immediately displayed a mindmap of all the concepts that appear to be related to that word. I was surprised. At this moment the mindmap that appeared is rather clear. I wonder what will happen after a few thousand members have entered their associations. Will there still be a clear overview? Sometimes I noticed that some of the words were displayed on top of each other which makes it difficult to read. The founders claim that this new concept can be a powerful way to make a map of your business and it's context. At this moment it's only in Dutch, but there are plans to make translations (or should I say associations) to other languages as well. For example the word 'computer' is the same in Dutch as it is in English. Well, if you became curious, just take a look and see what happens.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Give way to math education

After a long period of writing a coherent development programme, together with the department of applied mathematics, we finally received a 'go' on a series of four projects in the field of math education. The past years have painfully shown that a lot of students have trouble with their math subjects like Calculus. Although in most cases they achieved reasonably well scores in their final exams in secondary education, the math entrance test at the very beginning of their university career is often a great disappointment. Another issue that comes up during the curriculum is that students who have enrolled into a to a science curriculum also have to take some obligatory math courses. One of the questions they ask themselves is: "do we really need this?", i.e. there seems to be no clear relation between what is learnt in the math courses and what they will need in the further parts of their science curriculum. The math is given on a much more abstract level than they are used to, which makes it difficult to imagine how it can be applied in the context of their major curriculum. As a result some students tend to develop a negative attitude towards math and postpone taking exams in these math courses, sometimes until the very end of their bachelor program.
One of the projects in the new development programme aims at developing context-specific cases. However, this will be addressed in a much more integrated way in the sense that the abstract math theory will be part of a face-to-face introduction. The cases will be presented right after this introduction causing that students do have to apply their fresh knowledge in a context that relates to their main curriculum. So, a student in construction technology receives a different case than a student in chemical technology, although in both cases they may follow a course called 'Calculus I' for example. Besides an expected improvement in transfer of knowledge, we hope to find a spin-off effect in the sense that students may develop a more positive attitude towards math subjects, and possibly spend more time on the subject. And as we know from previous projects and research: spending more time on a subject is positively related to the results that will be achieved. The projects will be started during the summer. The first products (cases) should be available already in september 2008.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Back in blog-business

It has been quite a while since my last post. A number of reasons - which I will not bother you with - caused that I simply didn't have the time to maintain my blog. Hopefully this will change from now on. This week two important things came up, which made me decide that I should pick up blogging again. The first thing is that I will move to the next step in my career. As of september 2008 I will leave the University of Twente and start working as a senior consultant e-learning at Stoas Learning. A lot of interesting challenges over there in both the business as well as in the educational market. I am well aware of the fact that a commercial environment is completely different, but from previous job positions I think I know what choice I am making right now.

The second thing is the university board has made a final decision for the next VLE at the University of Twente (see for more information, partly in English). For outsiders it may seem rather surprising that the board made a decision for Blackboard. Well maybe it is. If you asked me four months agon what it would be, then I would have said 'probably SharePoint'. However, our SharePoint reports listed a lot of critical remarks and risks that need to be addressed in case a VLE will be based on MS SharePoint. Moreover, a united group of students wrote an open letter to the board of directors in which they criticize the possible choice of a Microsoft solution. Although Blackboard (6.3) was not considered 'good enough' in 2005 the board asked the project team to take a good look at Blackboard 8 and see how the newest release would meet the main decision criteria. Thanks to the close collaboration with our colleagues from the University of Delft we managed to conduct another quickscan within a very tight time schedule. Besides the fact that basic Bb functionality will be sufficient for the majority of our instructors and students, a great advantage is that we can collaborate with 'Delft' on the integration with OSIRIS (the new student information system for Delft and Twente). I think it's good that a choice has been made, it's time to move ahead to the next step. In my final weeks at the University I will be closely involved in the development of an implementation plan.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Do open source learning solutions really stand a chance?

This evening I was reading the blog of Andreas Wittke who brings up an interesting and the same time somewhat worrying perspective. I think he is quite right in his analysis that higher education institutes have a sort of default procedure when they consider changing to another VLE. Basically the process starts with setting up an extensive list of requirements, followed by a request for proposal (to which companies can subscribe). After the companies have provided their information a small number is invited to make a commercial offer. This whole procedure has to be done according to strict European rules (and takes part mostly behind closed doors). Basically this is what happened in the decision making process of buying a new student information system (SIS) at the University of Twente. For open source communities it is much more difficult to make a bid and offer their proposition in this kind of procedures. The Sakai board tried to enter the Dutch High Education market in 2007, e.g. by setting up a meeting with members from the boards of directors and not to forget by organizing one of the Sakai World Conferences in Amsterdam. It was not a great success in the sense that only a few institutes went along with Sakai. The criteria that Andreas Wittke mentions sound very familiar. Annual turnover is one of them. Companies fall out of the buying procedure, just because their annual turnover is too low. This makes it impossible to compete for small or relatively young companies, which don't have a very good track record. And what about market share? Microsoft claims to have a 95% market share, but this can also be part of their sales strategy in order to keep up a high score on this criterium. An analysis earlier this week at the University of Twente shows that 27% of our VLE users use Firefox as a browser, which is surprisingly close to the share mentioned by Wittke. Perhaps we may set our hopes to our government. The Dutch parliament is nowadays very critical about the sales procedures on software applications. The recent disasters in large governmental ICT projects will make this even worse. A few weeks ago the government stated that in case of equality of software applications (I wonder how they will measure equality...), governmental institutes (which then also applies to higher education institutes) should choose for open standards and open source. Among a lot of other issues we did mention this in our final evaluation report on MS SharePoint. It seems that Google Sites might be(come) an interesting alternative. Our board of directors has to make up their minds on what to do with our current VLE TeleTOP. But what will it be? Take the 'easy' way and go for a migration project with a big and reliable multinational? Or maybe not... Whatever the choice, I think it is time to make a choice, any choice. After three years of doing research, running pilots, analysing where the real problems are, it is not done to postpone the decision again. The first group of students who gave their input on what needs to be improved (system integration!) are moving quickly towards their bachelor or master degree. So they won't benefit anyway...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Another fine for Microsoft

Yesterday EC commissioner Kroes anounced yet another fine for Microsoft, this time for an amount of € 899 million. This is the highest fine so far and sums up to a total of € 1.7 billion. The reasons for this third fine are basically the same. The EC ordered Microsoft to provide technical information on their server software products in order to enable other companies to develop applications that can run smoothly on the MS platform. However, according to Brussels Microsoft is asking way too much money for this information. Just recently, Microsoft announced to be more collaborative. Technical information on their main server products would be made available for free. The EC was not impressed, since Microsoft did not show any collaborative attitude so far. Brussels is still also looking into complaints of producers of other web browsers like Opera and Firefox. It is very well possible that these complaints may lead to another fine.
The EC announcement comes at a moment that we are finalizing our Quickscan SharePoint final reports (deliverables are due on Feb 29th). One of the issues we are addressing, is that a choice for SharePoint automatically sets course towards vendor lockin, especially on the server and maintenance side of the product. It is suggested that e.g. Firefox end-users can also take advantage of full functionality of MS Sharepoint (MOSS2007), this is not the case, however. For some functionality it's possible to install a Firefox plugin, but this does not provide an equivalent solution compared to IE users. During the site visits it was suggested that Microsoft showed a tendency towards more openness, thus providing better opportunities for interoperability. However, the news as summarized in the first paragraph does not give very much faith that substantial strategy changes indeed can be expected in the near future. Our conclusion to this point is rather straightforward: if you want the optimal SharePoint solution, it means you have to move to a MS infrastructure.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Preliminary conclusions

Earlier this week we held our information session on the Quickscan Sharepoint project, which is running towards it's end. Sir Bakx (Information manager at the University of Twente) was invited to give a brief opening session. He presented a brief historical overview about relevant previous projects and about related projects (such as the implementation of a new student information system) that have to deliver their results in the spring of 2008. The university board will then have to decide how to move on to the next phase. One of the main questions obviously will be what will be the future of our current VLE: TeleTOP.
After Sir's opening speech I presented an overview of the site visits we have made at Dutch Higher Education institutes: INHOLLAND, Wageningen University, Hogeschool Arnhem Nijmegen and Technical University Eindhoven. The final reports will be available on Feb. 29th, 2008. The summary report will also contain a separate summary in English. Some preliminary conclusions will be addressed here. First, MS Sharepoint (MOSS2007) includes a lot of functionality, but you need to invest a lot in tailoring it to your needs. Sharepoint by itself is not a classic VLE such as TeleTOP or Blackboard. However, the site visits have shown (and also a pilot at our own university) that you can build your own lists and views on data in order to build a VLE-like interface. Advanced MOSS users can achieve a lot without the need to develop software code in C#. A second major issue is that you need serious investment in change management. Training of end users is one thing, but you also need to achieve acceptance for the new environment. The third point that can be mentioned - and which relates back to one of our first projects - is the possibility to integrate with other systems. The site visits and our own technical research show that a choice for MOSS2007 would be in line with a service oriented approach. The ICT department at the Technical University Eindhoven has high expectations that a MOSS based solution will be able to communicate with an Enterprise Service Bus. On the one hand to communicate with other TU/e systems, on the other hand to be able to community with the outside world, more specifically the 3TU Federation. Two technical issue that are of major concern is performance and upgrading. All sites that have started with SP2003 indicate that performance is a critical factor. You need to monitor the performance and decide for upgrades on your servers. The other one is that you may encounter serious problems when upgrading from SP2003 to MOSS2007. Tailor made adaptations may be lost or may have become a standard function in MOSS2007.
The fourth point is related to the strength of the community. This was also a major criterium in the Sakai project we have conducted in 2007. The impression so far is that the sites we have visited have run their projects by themselves, sometimes supported by external consultants and/or developers. However, there was hardly any exchange of resources or collaboration in the sense that e.g. webparts have been developed in a joint project. The Dutch Special Interest Group so far is just a platform where information and experiences are shared, but is not a joint development group. The interesting question is whether there would be enough support for a virtual 'institute' in which participating institutes can only join if they provide let's say at least 1 fulltime developer or consultant.
You may find some pictures of the information session on Flickr.
You may also be interested in the minutes of this meeting (only in Dutch). Here you can also find our powerpoint presentation.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


First of all I'd like to start with wishing you a very happy and succesfull 2008. From an ICT in education perspective I truly hope the new year will bring some solutions we have been waiting for so long. In the 3TU consortium we have a big challenge to meet in which the process architecture (designed in Archimate) needs to be mapped on (non) available application components in the three institutes. Will we truly make steps in interoperability and data exchange so 3TU students can look into their required information files, at all locations? Will they be able to manage their own study process, supported by an integrated study planning system? It's inevitable that the 3TU's need to make choices in order to make this happen. A second major challenge is today's official start of the new Student & Education Service Centre at the University of Twente. The service department (ITBE) in which information technology, library and the educational department were combined is now completely closed. Former ITBE units are now implemented in different shared service centres. Of course, a lot needs to be done before things will run smoothly in the new organisation: new departments, new procedures, clear internal and external communication, and last but not least new colleagues are just some of the issues we have to deal with. A new start provides new chances, 2008 is the year to prove it!