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…

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