Monday, December 15, 2008

Lecturenet service has started


Officially the 'Lecturenet' service will not be starting until the first of January. We had a kick off meeting and had a cake to celebrate. There will be four recording sets available at Utrecht University for recordings. One for Arts and one for Social Sciences. The other two sets are available for all the departments of the university. All departments can request recordings at a fixed rate. Recordings are made by student assistants which are employed by a employment agency. The service is working hard on getting the website online with more information.
So finally a basic service has started, I do wonder how demand will develop.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Scenario 2020: what will the virtual and real learning landscap look like?

In the run up to the Onderwijsdagen I was asked to think along in developing scenarios for the learning landscape in 2020. The resulting four scenarios were presented as a keynote at the Onderwijsdagen. Our group was asked to fill in the situation for an institution directed curriculum and a student owned VLE. It was a bit of a puzzle to match these two conditions but we came up with the following history:
Europe goes through an economic crisis in which Asia comes out as a winner. In the field of knowledge they truly are competetive with European education. This calls for drastic measures. The European education system is forced into a period of harsh competition. European governments rally and decide on a strong standardisation of curricula. A Bachelor degree in Psychology consists of the same modules in every country. To encourage competition and exchange students can choose to take each module wherever they please, they can attend a local university, take a module abroad or follow an online course. They receive coupons for their life of learning. (Naturally this also creates a trade in coupons). All courses are allowed, as long as they are certified. Institutions can employ coaches from a pool of teachers, which also have to be certified.
We took the exchange of standards much further, there will be more than just email and RSS protocols, many more exchange standards will have been agreed upon. There will be standards for the delivery of content, various communication tools and of course testing tools. This will allow students to 'plug' their course into their personal virtual living environment (PVLE) (facebook extended). As soon as they plug in their course the widgets required will be available for the student in their PVLE. In this age of fierce competition these PVLEs are being offered by commercial parties, Monroom is just an exmaple we came up with, but there are many more. Students are not interested in institution VLEs as they are constantly taking modules in different institutions, sometimes even simultaneously.

So this was our view, now all we need is 12 years of patience to see whether we got it right...

A number of students created a video to illustrate what 2020 would look like according to each of the four scenario's. Our video can be found here.
The overview of all scenario's (including the newspapers) can be found here.

Presentation on Weblectures at the Onderwijsdagen preconference

On Tuesday the 11th of November (yes, rather a while ago), I gave a presentation on the Weblectures pilot which ran at Utrecht University in 2007. This was part of a more technically minded preconference on implementing Weblectures. The two more interesting slides in this presentation (compared to previous presentations) are our findings on criteria for a recording system. Reliability proved to be a key criteria for us. One criteria which was notably absent was price of the system. Of course this is of some importance, but we also found out that there were so many more costs involved that this cost was only a small part of the total cost. The other criteria proved to be much more important.
The other interesting slide is the slide regarding organisation. Setting up an organisation for Weblectures requires getting people involved from all corners and departments of your institution. The trick is not to create an unwieldy large consultation body but to keep all the varied partners involved...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

SURFmediacore presentation

Yesterday I attended the surfmediacore presentation. A long name for a soon to be available facility to store video's which can be accessed from a homegrown application using Webservices (REST calls to be precise). SURFnet will soon be calling for pilots to access this service. Institutions can connect with the service if they have a wish which is not a standard facility in Surfmedia.
An interesting meeting and off the cuff I suppose you could think along the following lines as an example of an application you could build:
1. A building block in Blackboard in which a teacher can directly upload a video in Blackboard and it will be directly embedded in the course.
2. Large uploads for the media libraries we have at present in our institutions. Possibly combined as a service with the university library. Drawback is the upload of copyrighted materials (same goes for 1.)
3. Alerting service for teachers. There has been an alerting service for years for researchers showing latest research. What about an alerting service for teachers showing the latest teaching materials which correspond to certain keywords/phrases. This is based on the ideas in the Zoep project. The university library could search the Surfmediacore collection and show the latest relevant video's as part of a larger alerting service. I do wonder whether you really need surfmediacore to do this. Probably the university could also do a harvest using the OAI exchange which is also available on the surfmediacore.

Utrecht University is now in the SURF-federation!

Finally it has been arranged: The Utrecht University authentication is now connected to the SURF-federation. The reason why I am so happy is that we can now advertise SURFmedia in our institution. No need to create an own account for teachers and now finally teachers can easily limit access to their video's: students can access them using their university ID. If you enter the url to the embedded video students are neatly requested to enter their ID. Sadly, if you enter the url of the page describing the video students do not get a clear request.
We are working on a teachers manual and then we can get on with advertising. The main limitation is of course the fact we cannot upload copyrighted materials. A large part of the videos used in classroom settings are copyrighted materials (which can legally be shown in a classroom, but cannot be copied to a streaming server....)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Who owns teaching materials?

Only a week ago I ran into an interesting question which arose for the first time. A member of the teaching staff had left university and removed course materials from his/her Blackboard course. Staff preparing the course site could not find the materials which were in place last year.
We have not got our Learning Objects repository in place yet, otherwise this would have been the perfect place to recover these documents. It does clearly show that a discussion on the intellectual property rights of teaching materials created by teachers is worth while. Actually: the discussion itself is not all the interesting, if a teacher has created materials while being employed by the university, the copyrights belong to the university. I practice however not everybody feels the same way about this and that is why it would be a good idea to raise this discussion.

Read my blog in Dutch

Thanks to a posting by Willem van Valkenburg I now have the Google translate widget on this blog. You can find it in the column on the right, half way down. The translations are reasonable, they sort of make sense. (I wonder how it will translate that sentence.)
This is of course also specially for Ineke who complained about my English at the last Blackboard user group meeting: Ineke, I hope this will help you out :-)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Do Weblectures require a new pedagogy?

I have been rather busy lately, and been away from my blog awhile. It is about time I posted some news. To start with I would like to respond to a discussion back in June which Rino Zandee posted on his blog (and Wilfred Rubens also wrote about) in response to an article in the NRC (and a posting on this blog).
Their position was: Weblectures require a new pedagogy.
I do not agree with them, but I think this is mainly a matter of definition. In the approach we have used at Utrecht University we have started to record lectures according to two models (both of which are called Weblectures):
1. Recording the F2F lecture for the students in the class. This was a very basic approach and has proven valuable. Students value the recordings as they can check part of the lectures, use them for revision and do not miss a lecture if they were ill. For students with several handicaps the recordings are extremely valuable as this allows them to follow the lecture again and improve their notes. For proof of this please read the full report.
Please note that trying to watch a full hour and a half of lecture is extremely boring, students only choose to do this if they really missed the lecture. We have never intended these weblectures as learning objects in their own right. In using this approach you do not need to change the pedagogy of the lecture, although of course a lecture can always be improved. In fact: teachers have improved their teaching by looking at their performance.
2. Creating a learning object specifically for online viewing. This is a completely different approach. An online lecture should be short, concise, rich in illustrations, 20 minutes max, preferably less. At least as important as the lecture is the embedding of this learning object in the learning process. Students do not generally learn by simply offering them information (a hint of a slight euphemism here ;-). They learn through activities in which they are required to apply the information acquired (assignments, discussions, essays and of course the classic exams). If this is your definition of a weblecture then yes: please do change your pedagogy before you stand in front of a camera.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A webbased editor for recorded lectures for teachers

An interesting selling point offered by Echo360. They are now offering their recording boxes. We had one concern when looking at this recording solution. The boxes are thin clients and they require a network connection to the server to operate. In several cases we have had to recordings in spots where there was no network connection present or the firewall ports where not open. This does limit the application of a capture box.
One thing I am intrigued by is the option of allowing teachers to edit their own presentation through a webeditor. This certainly does allow for easier adapting by teaching staff to their pedagogical approach. Editing a recording allows for easily creating reusable learning objects, rather than full lectures. At present our editing has to be done by (busy) audio visual staff. Of course allowing teachers to edit also means administration, giving each teacher access to his/her own recording.
For more information check out their website: http://www.echo360.com/verbatim/

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Presentation at Surfnet on Weblectures

Surfnet has just started a pilot in which institutions of higher education in the Netherlands can participate in evaluating three different systems for recording and broadcasting lectures: Mediasite, Presentations2Go and a solution built on Apple podcast server. I was a little saddened to see that the Apple podcast solution still does not offer true navigable content by slide. The video still is being delivered as picture within picture. I remember a presentation years ago where Apple explained this was possible but nobody had built it. Today I heard that it still isn't quite available yet...

I was asked to give a presentation on our findings regarding Rich Media (is it worthwhile?) and criteria we found important in the choice for a Rich Media system.
You can find my presentation below.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Academic trained teachers in the news

The National news showed an item last Monday on the ALPO (Academic Teacher Training Course Primary Education) which has just started here at Utrecht University. I tried to distill the right snippet using the Virtual Cutting machine and it seemed to work. Theoretically you should be able to watch the snippet below:
However the paramaters start=584&end=721.6 are not being passed through properly. The result is that you do not see the entire news, only a selected amount of time starting at the beginning of the video.

ALPO in NOS Journaal 1 sept 18 uur

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Animation on Surf media

I have finally got round to trying out Surf Media. It does actually seem to work. As a proof here an embedded video (original was Quicktime). The animation is a product created for the Partner Project to illustrate the concept of a Virtual Knowledge Centre. The animation itself is also quite interesting.






Monday, September 01, 2008

The new strict style?

This morning I attended the introduction lecture for all the students of pedagogical and learning sciences entering the faculty this year. It was extra exciting as the first group of ALPO (Academic teacher training course for primary education) students was present. This course is a first in Dutch Higher education and is a cooperation between the professional (Hogeschool Utrecht) and academic (Universiteit Utrecht) university in Utrecht.

The vice dean did warm all students present about the new 'strictness' which they can expect in their courses. Students are expected to pass enough modules in their first year, plaguerism is a serious offence which will not go unpunished and there is a Dutch language test for all students. This is not compulsory, but is strongly advised. Essays containing several mistakes will be returned ungraded.

And now all the hallways are bustling with firstyear students.

Manual Blackboard Grade Center

Having switched to Blackboard 8 our teaching staff is confronted with the new grade book, now renamed to Grade Center. We have written a quick manual (in Dutch) which can be found here.

Some small observations:
- Uses AJAX technology, and works fine on all platforms. We had slow loading on our (rather old) test server, but this is not a problem on our production server.
- Offers a lot of facilities that teachers do not all need and does confuse a little
- Finally teachers can view and grade the grade list by group(s). This does require creating a 'Custom view' first.
- Does not offer a decent calculated final grade on a score of 1 to 10.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tip for more manuals and instructions


Kelly Sonora was kind enough to send me a link with lots of valuable manuals and instructions for teaching staff using Blackboard. And these are all in English!!

The address of the posting is at:
http://www.smartteaching.org/blog/2008/08/the-ultimate-guide-to-blackboard-100-tips-tutorials/
They certainly have done a great job! I see they are also using the Teams LX building block as a Wiki solution.

Wiki in Blackboard - yet another manual

A well known drawback in most traditional VLE's is the lack of possibilities for structured input by students. One tool which can allow students room to add input in a structured fashion and collaborate on a collection of knowledge is the Wiki.
Sadly Blackboard does not offer this in the core code. Some teachers have requested a Wiki but in first instance it would be best to have a closed wiki for groups of students.
In order to gain some experience we have decided to try out the Teams LX building block offered by Learning Objects. I have ran it through and it seems to be very comprehensive. It allows for private group wikis which will automatically become accesible to the other students in the class after a predefined date. It also allows for commenting and exporting the final product to a public website.
I will be following a number of courses using this Wiki and am very intrigued how students and teachers will respond to this new tool.

The teachers manual (in Dutch) can be found here.
The students manual (in Dutch) can be found here.

Sign up sheets in Blackboard

We are also using the Blackboard Sign-up sheets building block. The teachers manual (in Dutch) can be found here.

The new Peer review module in Blackboard 8

We are now running Blackboard 8 at Utrecht University. On of the great improvements is the Peer Review tool which has been added. It really does seem well thought out and connects well with the practice of Peer reviewing that a number of our teaching staff have adopted. I see a great advantage in the way it can save teachers time in organising the whole process: it enforces deadlines and distributes essays anonymously.
The teachers manual (in Dutch) can be found here.
And the students manual (also in Dutch) can be found here....
If anybody would like the original files, please contact me.

Back from the Queyras


I have just returned from a great holiday hiking in the French Alps, in the Queyras region to be precise. It was great. Amongst other things we hiked to the rifugio Granero and the Rifugio Jervis (both excellent Italian meals), clambered up the Col Selliere, Col Lacroix, Col d'Urine, Col Vieux and some others but finishing off with the peaks: Pic de Foreant and of course the Pain de Sucre. To keep ourselves amused we also did a lovely klettersteig and some very child-friendly rafting.
And now its back to work....

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Another player on the mini laptop market


An add in a local newspaper pointed me at the Acer Aspire One. It is yet another mini notebook. With a weight of under a kilo and 8,9 inch screen it seems quite a nice product. I found a review at cnet. It certainly is a nice price at 299 euros, shame about the trackpad buttons and the weak battery.
I am still happy with my Asus Eee, but the 7 inch screen is still rather small and I am disappointed with the updates Asus has provided for the Xandros operating system. I do hope Acer will do a better job with the Linus Lite OS they are using on the Aspire One. It is interesting that the hardware manufacturers are the ones responsible for supporting open Source operating systems...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Utrecht University has chosen for Blackboard as VLE



It is now (sort of) official: Utrecht University has chosen to use Blackboard as its Virtual Learning Environment. Blackboard is already in use at a number of departments besides WebCT en BSCW.
The decision was prepared by a project group which was asked to compare (the shortlisted options) Sharepoint and Blackboard Next Generation. Important arguments in making a choice where: Blackboard offers all the required functionalities out-of-the-box, whereas using Sharepoint would require a lot of programming and customising. This would not only make it a very expensive option in the short term, but also requires upkeep and adaptations in the longer term. Sharepoint was also considered less suitable due to the steep learning curve for staff. This is related to the fact that it is not purpose-built for teaching and learning and does not fit in the 'classroom metafor'.

The decision is notable if you take into account that Utrecht University will be using Sharepoint for the public website, intranet and (in the future) teamspaces.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Article in NRC on Weblectures

It is rather frustrating to write a blog entry on a newspaper article which is not freely available online, In this saturday's NRC (Education and Science supplement) there is an article on recording lectures. In this article you can find references to the Dutch 'entrepeneurs' in this field (TU Delft and Triple-L) and to the findings we published at Utrecht University.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

In Twente VLE team advises Blackboard

The quickscan report on Blackboard as a VLE for Twente university is now pulic and can be found at: http://www.utwente.nl/elo/. It is a very interesting report for the Dutch VLE watchers. After havng looked at Sakai and Sharepoint, both received a very critical quickscan. Neither were considered suitable as a VLE for Twente. And at the end of the process Blackboard popped up as an option, and very interestingly students had an important role in this decision. Based on this quickscan Blackboard has proven to be the best option as a VLE for Twente, though the decision will still have to be made by the university board.
Utrecht will be presenting its advice to the university board very soon, the question will be if they arrive at the same conclusion or advise reconstructing Sharepoint into a VLE....

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Presentation at Biology on Weblectures

Wednesday the 13th of June I was asked to give a presentation on Weblectures at the Biology department. Elly Langewis was kind enough to record the audio during the presentation. Using slideshare I have created a slidecast, you can find it embedded below.
I am very interested in the outcomes of the evaluations after the final exam of the Biology course that has been recorded. In this course both weblectures and audio podcasts were offered. I am very intrigued how students have used these two different solutions and which they preferred.

At the end of the presentation I was not surprised to find that the teachers present were apprehensive. In the past the worry they conveyed was that students would not come to lectures anymore. The evaluations in previous courses quickly dispelled that concern. They found an other worry in its place: Weblectures would prevent students from acquiring the academic skill of sitting still and taking notes in two sittings of three quarters of an hour. This argument was a little strange for me. In evaluations students have answered that they do not make less notes due to Weblectures. As one of the teachers stated: in the old days we had to concentrate for three quarters of an hour, let them learn to do the same... It felt as a slight fear of modern technology and its possibilities. Fortunately slides, overhead sheets, powerpoints and video have already been incorporated into lecture halls, so I do feel that the teachers will need to have the chance to adjust to this new technology and make it their own. A forceful approach does not feel in place in a setting like this one.

Friday, June 06, 2008

One VLE: the preferences from Social Sciences


Here at Utrecht University we are in the process of deciding on one VLE for the university. I have been busy collecting opinions of teachers, students and supporting staff in the previous months. Our findings and some comments students made can be found here.
Some of the most surprising comments: they would rather have clear courses which are easy to navigate, teachers using the same headings for the same matters, don't mix personal with study related matters, the teacher is respected for his expertise: his/her contributions should be clearly distinguished from the contributions of fellow students...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Is creative learning better than competence based learning?

I ran into an interesting announcement of a PhD defense at the University of Tilburg (sorry in Dutch). Paul Denooz decided on a different learning concept than the competence based learning which is so popular in Dutch professional universities. He complains that competence based learning is turning out to be very teacher controlled, students are merely ticking off the skills which the teacher has prescribed. Students are not being creative and they are not being properly prepared for society (although I was under the impression that was exactly what competence based learning was intending to do...)
He has run an experiment for three years in a row using his 'Creative Action Methodology' in which students are encouraged to approach a challenge and use creative thinking. This requires logical and non-logical thinking and being critical of knowledge and reflect on the knowledge acquired.

Slight reflection on my part: It does make me wonder whether the principles of competence based learning are the problem or whether any new methodology for teaching and learning seems to run into the same problem in the end: it is the teacher and the school which has to put it into practice. If a teacher is not willing to offer students the 'learning freedom' required by the methodology, any new approach is bound to fail, certainly in a large scale application...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Presentation of Accordent recording solution


Thursday JNV and GoTelecom were kind enough to organise a presentation of various technical solutions interesting to those recording lectures.
To start with we had a presentation of the Accordent solution for the recording of lectures. It was a pleasant surprise in many respects. I was impressed by the options for recording and editing a presentation. It does work cross platform. Monitoring is possible, though slightly less central to the recording than in the Mediasite box. By the way don't be limited by the fact they offer it in a big box, you can also get a portable box. One aspect that didn't quite seem to satisfy our demands was the possibility to administer and organise large numbers of recordings. As we are already running three recording boxes at present, we must think ahead and make sure we can find all the presentations.

Besides looking at Accordent, we also came to have a look at a very different approach to recording lectures. Rather than equiping every hall with an (expensive)recording box, you could also choose to screw in a video conferencing set which supports the sending of content as a separate stream and an other set which supports the sending of content as a separate VGA signal (for example a Lifesize box). Of course the total is more expensive than just a recording box, but it offers more facilities: the lecture hall is also equiped for video conferencing and video-linking to a neighbouring lecture hall. It will also facilitate remote monitoring of the capture.

And in the line of automatic capture we had a look at the Vaddio system. This allows for camera tracking of the speaker, either using presets or using track and trace. I am looking forward to glueing our speakers' portable mikes to a small transmitter which the camera can trace (although there are many other solutions).

So perhaps some interesting links for all those people out there working on the recording of lectures. And perhaps interesting input for a Webstroom community ;-)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Virtual Knowledge Centre, the new VLE for academics


Yesterday I had a very interesting presentation on the state of affairs regarding the PARTNER project which has been set up by Utrecht University Library. They showed me a very amusing video, but I can't find it on the web. I wrote about their start up session with Etienne Wenger years ago...

I was especially interested because it seems to offer a meaningful alternative to competence based learning for academics. In their approach students all are busy becoming members of the academic community. Society demands knowledge workers that can cope with large amounts of information critically. To achieve this goal students are offered a Virtual Knowledge Centre in which they collaborate on constructing knowledge and building products. Alumni remain members of the community and are requested to remain involved. Experts in the field are welcome to join and contribute to the the Knowledge Centre. In my opinion this can be a frail connection, so it will be important to offer them enough in return for their input into the community. The teachers, experts, alumni and fellow students review the products produced by the students.
The project group realises that critical review is an important skill which is required in the learning process and especially in assessment if you use this approach. The presented pedagogical model is intended to be added parallel to the existing curriculum and the existing assessment. This makes it a safe option, but also could be regarded as a non-assessed extra by the students, which could die a slow death just like the portfolio did.
All in all I find it a very interesting approach to a new type of learning which is specifically suitable for an academic education. The technical solution has been built in Sharepoint, which seems ideal because it offers the very important groupware facilities which are so important for creating a community.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Presentation Blackboard 9 - The next generation

Today Emmanuel Clemot, a Solutions Engineer from Blackboard came to Utrecht University to show off their plans for the Blackboard 9 - Next Generation product. We even got a prototype to look at, a short video will be available on the Blackboard website soon.
A few things that struck me:

Process
- First common APIs so both products can start using intermediate tools (community, content, portfolio and outcomes system).
- Then moving features into Blackboard 8 (is already out)
- And finally building a new shell to access either Vista, Learning system or one of the other tools mentioned above...
That really means as an institution you can choose to keep the old VLEs up and running and migrate gradually. I am not quite sure I would want to, but it is possible.

Look and Feel
Slightly more confusing than Blackboard, but not a lot. Teachers will be quite happy, they will recognise the system. The drag and drop looks good, the contextual menus are alright but they do hide options until teachers find them. Fortunately NO annoying Java Applets (they have learnt their lesson).
I had a big laugh about the WebCT view and the Blackboard classic view feature.

Features
What I like (some of its already in Bb 8) is social bookmarking (Scholar) continued, the facebook connection (though for Holland it is only a start), wikis and blog in the code, add a number of mashups, social learning space in community system, personisable pages, course homepage with more than only announcements (should Sakai or some other VLE sue them? ;-).
They claim Content System allows for student collaboration with versioning and comments. We do not use it at present and it made me rather curious.

All in all a good presentation and an interesting option for Utrecht University, certainly because it allows teachers a careful transition.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Final report Weblectures - experiences of one year of recording


The final report is now out and public. In 2007, with funding from the central IT policy department we set out a pilot for the recording and broadcasting of lectures. When I say we, I mean a collaboration of Social Sciences and Arts, the audiovisual department in the centre of town with the audiovisual department at the Uithof campus.
In the course of one year we recorded approximately 250 hours of lectures. We surveyed students from a number of courses, amounting up to over 1400 students.
Their responses were extremely positive: recorded lectures were seen as a valuable addition to attending the lecture in person. Weblectures were viewed a lot, either just after the lecture, or as revision for the final exam.
You can find the surveys and all the responses from the students in this final report. We have also examined the use of Weblectures in education for parttime students; they were offered recordings of the lectures which were given to the students in full time enrollment. This proved to be a well received approach.

We used Apreso/Echo 360 in the year but also tested two other solutions: Mediasite and Presentations2Go. At the end of the report we give an overview over our findings and explain why we have chosen not to continue using Anystream Apreso/Echo 360.

Links:
- Project website
- The final report (in Dutch)

Back from the Ardeche


As most readers wil have noticed, it has been very, very quiet on my blog during the past few months. There are a number of reasons for this. For one: I moved house back in February. Although it was only a short move and there was not a lot that needed doing to the house, it still took up a lot of my time (and still does).
At work I have been very busy in a number of projects, some of the final reports are now appearing, but in other projects I am still very busy. To give you an idea:
- Recording lectures for students with a handicap
- Recording lectures: report over 2007
- Use of blackboard at Utrecht University
- Automated archiving of teaching materials in Blackboard
- One VLE/portfolio and assessment/evaluation tool for Utrecht University (trying to find out the point of view from the Social Sciences faculty)
- Archiving students thesis's in a library archive
- etc...

And you must also relax every now and then, so we spent a week in the Ardeche with some fellow potholers. Although I did not do a lot a caving I did my first canyon and had a great time. We went for a few walks around Vallon Pont d'Arc. Walking part of a GR we bumped into this sign which goes to prove that it can be a lot busier in summer ;-)

Roger Scruton in Utrecht on higher and lower art

Thursday the 15th of May Roger Scruton gave a lecture on higher and lower art at the Academy building in the centre of Utrecht. It was organised by studium generale.
I attended the lecture with two friends from my reading group. It was great to see Scruton in real life. Years back we read his book 'Modern Philosophy' and it was great to see him in action and hear more about his background and ideas.
Roger Scruton

Central to his ideas is in my opinion the preposition that there are a set of traditional morals and values everybody should aspire to. These morals are strongly rooted in the Christian tradition, with two central pillars: sacrifice and irony. Under irony he classes a broad concept: being able to stand back and view ones attitudes and behaviour with the view of the outsider. As an example he gave the story from the new testament: those who are without sin, throw the first stone.

The reason I am writing about him in this blog, is that he posed a number of very traditional ideas about teaching and learning. Teaching should be available to those that have the intelligence, a pupil is a black box that should be filled with knowledge, the teacher is holder of knowledge and should be respected. He did not support teaching models in which the student should collect information or learn independently. In his set of values a teacher is central to learning.

Truly understanding art requires being taught the information required to fully appreciate the story behind a work of art. Children should be taught to appreciate high art. Strangely enough he could not define what high art was, other than: what has proven to have survived the test of time. On the other hand: what the majority of people appreciate at present does certainly not have to be high art, it often is not. Relativism does not get his support.
Looking back on his lecture my general impression was that his view of the world is looking backward into a small scale, quaint countryside with traditional values. The community is very important. I have trouble applying his ideas to a global society in which various cultures have different morals, information is not strictly bound to persons and groups of people are packed together in geographical space.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Research into recording lectures for students with disabilities


From September till November 2007 we recorded all the lectures in the first year Psychology course. One of the goals was to find out whether this facility would be valuable to the 23 students with disabilities taking this course (out of a total of 570 students). The disabilities were varied ranging between Dyslexia, Migraine, Hyperactivity or chronic fatige.
We collected data by conducting a written survey among all students and interviewing 15 of the students with a disability.
The results were very positive. All the students in the course were pleased with the facility. The students with disabilities could be split into two categories: the first was students having problem concentrating and taking notes during the lectures (e.g. Dyslexia, concentration disorder). They were very pleased to be able to watch the lectures again to write or improve their notes. The other category of students were students that weren't able to attend the lectures and could watch them at home in their own time. This also gave them the peace of mind that if they did have to miss a lecture due to their disability they could still watch what was discussed.
Follow these links for the summary and the full report (both in Dutch I am afraid).

Lecture on Internationalising education


At the annual 'Onderwijsparade' at Utrecht University (back on the 3rd of March) the organisers had invited Marijk van der Wende (CHEPS and VU) to talk about Internationalising Education. You can read an account (in Dutch) at the UU website.
At present Dutch government is focussing strongly on improving international cooperation at all the universities and all the universities are of course following suit. However, for many institutions it would be wise to sit back and first define the goal(s) of the internationalising efforts. Are you out to generate more income through foreign students, are you out to share knowledge and research or are you trying to attract and bind excellent students and researchers from around the globe?
The four approaches she defined were:
- mutual understanding (university as an institute of education)
- skilled migration (university as an employer)
- capacity building (socially engaged university)
- revenue generating (higher ed as an export product)
It was an inspiring lecture, it is a shame the slides aren't on the internet somewhere....

Use of Blackboard at Utrecht University


We have analysed the logs of the Blackboard server over the past few years and this gives an interesting insight into the use of the VLE. The results (in Dutch I am afraid) are reasonably comparable to outcomes of research at other universities. An interesting note is the fact that all courses at Social Sciences have been supported by Blackboard for a number of years now. That accounts for the early growth.
We have also tried to gain some insight in the use of different tools using the log data. Interestingly the use of discussion boards really has grown and is still growing. This doesn´t give an immediate answer as to how they are used as they are used for general FAQs, debating, collaboration, file sharing, etc.
All in all the results nicely mirror the use of Blackboard as a tool use to support all F2F learning, with the odd exploit into blended learning. The outcomes come at a great time as we are in the middle of an process to make a decision on a future single VLE for Utrecht University.

Workshop designing a Knowledge portal


Last Thursday the 8th Renee Filius asked me to help me out in a workshop. I did and it was great fun. I do enjoy getting people inspired and watching ideas rub off and start to live a life of their own. The challenge was to redesign a website (vraag Sofie) for personel advisors and experts on social security employed at universities in The Netherlands. The idea was to facilitate the exchange of information and knowledge through a portal. The challenge is to find a way in which the audience can and will easily participate. There are plenty of technical solutions, but are the users ready to rewrite each other's texts in a wiki for instance?

The photo's are out there on Flickr and if you look carefully you will notice I took them using my new Sony Ericsson mobile which has a quite reasonable lens and chip.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Innovatium,

Yesterday was my first visit to the Innovatium conference, here some very quick notes of my general impressions. The presentations came mainly from the field of professional universities in The Netherlands. The examples were often quite practical, some were more interesting for me than others. Again quite noticeable is the focus these institutions have on competences.
Sharepoint is a popular solution as a virtual learning (and working) environment. The professional universities are applying this system to address various problems (teamwork, sharing knowledge, presenting a curriculum portfolio which can serve for the accreditation of the courses, etc). Surfgroepen is regarded as a valuable tool because it is so open and can be opened up to external parties, whereas institution systems often have much more limited access. This for example will allow related companies to have access to a teamsite which plays a role in the learning process. A comment which reappeared in several sessions and in the hallways is the large amount of facilities on offer in sharepoint, this can lead to a confusing teamsite/workspace.
The last session I visited was given by Gijsbert Erkens from Educational studies at Utrecht University. Although I have helped him out in his course I never got round to really hearing what his intentions were in adding more and more learning ojects to his course module. The result is a large, varied and attractive collection of materials. Interestingly enough students appreciate the large collection of learning objects but they still have their primary attention directed at the summaries offered of the compulsory reading. He has also created snippets of the lecture recordings. These form an interesting application of this facility.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The first news regarding Bb next generation 9.0

On Willem van Valkenburg's blog I ran into the very first news regarding the long awaited next generation product presented by Blackboard. This was posted on a blog maintained by the Midland User group. Blackboard 9.0 is what was code named Omni and is the product that is supposed to satisfy Blackboard and WebCT customers. This is all very preliminary and I wonder if Blackboard aporves the fact that an institution has been leaking information, they can be rather secretive.
The release has been planned for January 2009. As far as features are concerned, this is what the Midland User Group lists on their blog:
[start quote]

New user interface - sections that can be dragged and ddropped around on the page, different pane for editing and viewing.

Engagement
* bought a communications company, so looking at provision of bulk SMS, email and voice messages through Bb
* page shown with wiki and chat in one area - very much the look of learning objects!
* iGoogle integration
* facebook integration
* RSS

Assessment
* instructor and student dashboard - shows you what is new, who is late, who has submitted work,
* assignment tool redesigned to match more clearly to learning outcomes, can deploy rubrics for marking
* portfolio - new system taking best of all three available systems, launch later than Bb 9.0

Openness
* APIs opened up
* enable multiple platforms to run together - moodle and sakai can be added seemlessly (single sign on) and with access to course documents across both
* iPhone interface, other mobile devices in planning

[end quote]
All in all quite interesting although it doesn't quite feel like a next generation VLE to me. It probably is a next generation product for the Blackboard company though. A few thoughts:
- I hope the drag and drop isn't relying on Java applets running on the client, we saw what issues that gave in WebCT Vista.
- iGoogle is nice, facebook is not all that interesting for the Dutch students, linking to Moodle and Sakai is surprising, mobile support was inevitable, otherwise not a lot of surprises.
One of the major things that does not make it a next generation VLE is the lack of the support of learning in a community through groupwork,sharing materials, openness to outsiders (becoming a member of a worldwide (scientific) community). There are a few items there but it will take a little more. On the other hand it will also take more to change the way teachers teach....

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Implementing a new VLE as a motor for change???

On the new surfspace site I ran into an interesting article in the University of Twente magazine (sorry, it is in Dutch). In this article Pl√łn Verhagen and Petra Fisser contest the very frequently stated causal relationship: New VLE > Improved pedagogy.
I can't agree more: if you wish to change teaching, change the teaching and don't expect teaching to change simply by implementing a new tool. Of course if you do wish to change the teaching one aspect of the change process is making sure that the necessary tools are available and in working order. However, do not start with the tools and expect the rest to change automatically.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Oh dear, not more plaguerism...

Yesterday in a meeting of the directors of education at the faculty I heard a worrying complaint. We are trying to educate students in correct citation and not taking other's work and presenting this as you own. One of the aspects of this measure is the use of a tool to detect plaguerism. Sadly the complaint was uttered that too many cases of plaguerism where being detected and especially the follow up on each case was taking up time and resources. Nobody argued that we should stop checking for plaguerism, on the contrary. The sad fact is that students are still copying off the internet (without citing the source), and perhaps worse still: are entering other students' papers from previous years...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Just some new Open Source VLE names

And for all those out there looking at the broadest possible approach to a learning environment, and are into open source: I just heard about Zarafa (a linux based collaboration environment which will work together with Outlook and MS Exchange).
Taking it from the other side some clever people have built some extra features into the really popular Content Management System Joomla to turn it into a Learning environment. Although there are many out there that simply state: why bother if you have Moodle which does it all anyway.
PS: This company also offers a Sharepoint 2007 LMS, why do I feel that all sorts of lines are coming together ;-)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

More experiences using the Asus Eee

double screen use of VGA output

I have now gained some more experience on the use of my Asus Eee. It really does work a treat. I especially appreciate the VGA out, with its accompanying software. This allows you to go up to 1600 by 1280 pixels and will clearly show you which of the screens you are sending the signal to. (Beats banging on the Fn F5 combination and waiting for the beamer to pick up the signal).

I have also got the Utrecht University VPN working. I have not used the Cisco VPN client but installed VPNC. It took some puzzling and if I can find the time I might write it all down. If anybody is having troubles, do contact me.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Various solutions for recording lectures

As I have noticed there are a lot of people out there wanting to start recording lectures, but not quite sure where to start a few suggestions for tools for creating rich media presentations, Please note: these are presentations combining streaming video with html so the student can navigate through the presentation by choosing slides in the presentation.
Please note: this is a very personal view of a number of products. I cannot claim to be complete or completely informed. If anybody has any suggestions or corrections please do send a comment. This is based on the Dutch market for ICT in higher ed, in other countries there might well be other optoins.
A good place to start is Microsoft Producer: the software is free, most institutions will have a laptop and a digital video camera lying about. It is a very time consuming process but a great to get teachers and students to warm to the idea. You can even use the Surfnet Videotheek to stream the .wmv video produced.
If you intend to take the recording and broadcasting more seriously there are plenty of companies out on the market offering solutions. Expensive but very comprehensive is the Mediasite solution. Other solutions on offer are Apreso/Echo360, Accordent (no experience with it yet, should see a trial on Wednesday) Tegrity (no experience with that either) and Presentations2Go. Presentations2go is a Dutch product developed by Wageningen University, but now for sale. An interesting aspect of the presentations2go solution is the pricing model, the server software is expensive whereas the software for the recording sets is cheap. This encourages the use of more recording sets.
Googling about I ran into an Open Source solution for recording lectures. I have no idea how it works, but the pricing certainly is very competitive. It is called ePresence. If anybody has any experience using it I am certainly intrigued.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Recording lectures in 2008

Front of Mediasite recorder

In the year 2008 we intend to continue recording lectures at Utrecht University. The central IT policy department has offered funding to keep us going together with two faculties. This will keep the Weblectures project available. We have evaluated the experiences of students and teachers who used this facility. They were all very positive, most comments were about the reliability of the service: students get used to it and expect it work every time. If we wish to ensure a decent service which will work throughout the university a larger scale approach is required. Our main effort will be focussed on writing a plan to set up a structural service in 2009. We will be offering a final report on the Weblectures website.
On the technical side of things we will be not be using Apreso Classroom in 2008. We have decided to try out the mediasite mobile recorders in combination with the Mediasite EX server software through the Dutch reseller Mediamission. Apreso has proven to be a great solution to get us started and gain some experiences with the required hardware for recording lectures. The limitations which proved decisive for us where the lack of monitoring of the incoming signals, the fact that the hardware was not portable and the fact that editing is not possible at all. For a lot more money Mediasite does also offer some other facilities, e.g. live broadcasting. I will keep you posted on our experiences. We have already made our first recordings with the recording sets and are hard at work on getting the server up and running.

Cold dip to start off the new year

Just clearing up some old news: I started off the new year on a fresh start: we took a dip in the North Sea... With a great big thank you to the life savers at 's Gravenzande which make this possible every year. Follow this link to get to the photo's.