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.