Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New job at Surf

A blog entry for all the people out there that hadn't heard yet, or that don't follow my tweets. Starting the first of February I will be leaving Utrecht University and starting a new job at SURF foundation. Half of my time I will be a community manager for the SURFshare projects, ensuring that the information and experiences learned in the projects are exchanged amongst the projects and brought to all those interested, mainly in the field of higher education in the Netherlands.
If you haven't heard about SURFshare: it is an initiative to improve the access to scientific knowledge making use of IT facilities. Examples are projects in the field of Open Access publishing, Virtual spaces for researchers to collaborate in or projects that aim to improve the accessibility of research results from professional universities in the Netherlands.
The other half of my job I will be the community manager for the Knowledge Exchange. This is a collaboration between JISC (UK), DEFF (Denmark), DFG (Germany) and SURF (Netherlands) aims at making 'a layer of scholarly and scientific content openly available on the Internet'. One of my tasks will be to try and channel and exchange experiences learned in the various working groups that are working on one of many topics.

Utrecht is getting a VLTE=ELDO

A just read the brand new strategic plan for the IT facilities here at Utrecht University. After all these years we are actually getting a Virtual Learning and Teaching Environment (in Dutch an ELDO: Electronische Leer- en Doceeromgeving). I had trouble suppressing a small chuckle. Haven't we always had a VLTE? Haven't we been using WebCT and Blackboard as just that? The teacher-centreredness of both systems has always meant they have been used mainly as a teaching tool. Student learning usually takes place elsewhere.
Does this mean we are making a strategic choice of putting the teacher in the centre of the learning process? No, I don't think this is necessarily the case, in the general strategic plan of Utrecht University this is not mentioned.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Website Lecturenet is now online

Not only is the Lecturenet service now up and running, the website for the service is now also online. It can be found at: www.lecturenet.nl.
(There also will be a university url available soon...)
The website is only available in Dutch and isn't quite finished but aims to provide links to pedagogical advice on the use of Weblectures and also links to various reports on implementing Weblectures.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Feasibility study: automatically archiving and sharing learning objects from Blackboard

Last year I set up a pilot study with the University Library here at Utrecht University. Courses in Blackboard are normally only accessible to the teacher of the course and the students. After a few years they get cleared up. Any archives are not accessible to anybody other than the system admin. This means teachers cannot see each other's materials and learn from each other.
In a previous project (the KIP project) we discoverd teachers were not interested in adding metadata to improve the 'findability' of archived materials. So this time we decided on a different approach:
- We created archives of a number of courses using the Blackboard interface (this can be done in batch)
- These archives are ZIP files consisting of XML files describing the course, files, links and XML files descrbing these files and links.
- The library wrote a script which analysed these XML files, stored certain files and retrieved the associated metadata from the XML.
- The files and links were saved in DSpace in a separate repository.
- A search interface was written so that teachers could search in the repository.

Once this was built I performed a test with six teachers at Social Sciences with various attitudes to computers and the sharing of knowledge. The results can be found in the following pdf document (in Dutch I am afraid).

Who should have access to your teaching materials
A number of interesting findings arose. In general teachers were quite pleased to have this facility. They were not out to copy other teacher's materials but would like to be able to see what other teachers are teaching in their courses. There were not all that enthousiastic about sharing their materials with the whole world. They would like to know what others are doing with their materials.
On the technical side: It is technically possible. The Blackboard IMS packages contain a lot of information, not enough to fill all Dublin core fields, but it certainly is a good start.
This facility is not yet in production (other projects took priority) but it could be taken into production without too much work. All the difficult work has been done.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

How many student theses public?

In the past year I have been responsible for a organising a system to archive all the students' master theses here at Social Sciences, Utrecht University. The university library programmed a very practical web interface which acts as a front end to the rather more complex interface of the repository itself. I must say I am very pleased with the system they came up with.
The challenge was to think up a procedure which would comply with all the checks the management required (had to be a real student, truly graduated, and indeed his/her real thesis). At the same time the teaching staff did not want to have spend any time on the process at all. This resulted in the workflow described here. (in Dutch I am afraid)
From June onwards the system was taken into production and a large number (587) theses were submitted. These were not all of the theses. We missed a number of the theses of students which had been handed in before the 1st of June. I also expect that the late adoption meant that a lot of teachers did not submit the theses they had received earlier on in the year. We still managed to collect 77% of all the theses. For a first attempt I am not certainly not dissatisfied, the coverage should go up in the coming years though.
I was very interested how many students would choose to make their thesis public and how many would choose to keep theirs private. 69.5% chose to make their thesis public. The main reason not to make it publically available was that they wished to submit the thesis as an article in a scientific journal and in many cases publishers will not accept it if it has been made public on an earlier date. Some students also indicated that they wish to continue in the field of research and do not want to others to take over their ideas... In fact even some abstracts were not made public for this very reason.
The report on the implementation can be found here (in Dutch too I am afraid).