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.