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).

1 comment:

wrubens said...

Hi Stanley,

Thanks for the wrap-up. So no Adobe Connect, Ustream and back channels at this conference ;-)
I saw that you are still talking about the net-generation. I guess I haven't convinced you yet, at the OWD.