Monday, December 17, 2007

Experiences with the Asus Eee

Not more than a handful
Back in December was the big day: I got my Asus Eee in the post, all the way from Taiwan. It isn't on sale in The Netherlands yet. It really is tiny. I have dropped it in my bag and forgotten it was there. The keyboard is not a problem, it just takes some getting used to. The screen could be bigger, but is quite reasonable for most websites. The storage is not very large, but who cares if you can push in an SD card, which neatly disappears in the slot and can stay in there when you move it about. The webcam is straightforward but works a treat. The Skype has been updated and quite probably should work with the webcam, nobody has skyped me yet, so if there are any volunteers?
Sadly the built in webcam capturing software seems to work, but the outputted video (.ogg format) doesn't make sense, it is far to long and slow.

The big bonus is that it truly works out of the box with its built in Open Source software. If all Linux was this easy a lot more users would be using it. Out of the box you get a browser, a mailclient, messaging software, skype, open office antivirus, video and audioplayer, picture manager, a number of games (some of them educational) and some other things. The drawback is that it does take a little puzzling to get other programs running. For example: I am have trouble getting our university vpn installed. A commercial party has finally decided to offer a computer running on open source software preinstalled. It is certainly easy to get started with.

One of the reasons I have not got round to writing this earlier is that everybody kept grabbing it out of my hands. Especially the kids are great fans. They love it for its small size, all the built in games and Pidgin messenger. it has already featured on Wilfred and Pierre's Blogs and already has found its way to Flickr...

Friday, December 14, 2007

General feelings on the Online Educa Conference in Berlin

I finally have found some time to get to cleaning up my blog and clearing up some old concepts I still had lying around.
To start off, some almost ancient history: My general feelings on the Online Educa conference. To start off, I was a little disappointed: I did not hear a lot of new things and I still feel the concept doesn't work: Four presentations in one session is a lousy concept. Usually 1 is worth while, 1 is a waste of time and two are usually not all that interesting or relevant. It was definitely worth while meeting up with the many Dutch at the conference. As so often I mainly gained inspiration through conversations rather than presentations.

And in an attempt to overlook a few developments and giving each their spot on Gartner's Hype Cycle:
- Podcasting is well and truly over its hype peak
- Web2.0 is here to stay, but it is over its hype peak
- Virtual worlds is running up to its hype peak
- Institutions are becoming more realistic about Services approach
- The general feeling regarding VLEs is 'agnostic'. Believing in one VLE is out of fashion
- Theories and technologies applicable to Informal Learning are still being applied to formal teaching situations (without judging whether they really work).

Friday, November 30, 2007

Virtual Worlds - some valuable findings to take home

Yesterday I visited a session on Virtual Worlds. It did not seem really exciting at the time, but after having had some time to digest, there were some points I would like to jot down for my own memory.
- Sun Microsystems is developing a virtual world which will be called Wonderland.
- Surprisingly Second Life has been used for language learning. I guess that the exchange of language was mainly in text and not the spoken word, but it was not discussed further.
- People are expecting Web2.0 to be followed by Web3D, I am not sure I agree at this point in time...
- They gave the sensible advise: Only use 3D when it really adds value to learning and teaching, otherwise it is a pain. A mix (hybrid model) is much more likely using 3D tools in certain tasks and other tools in others. For example combining the use of and Second life.
- An important step will be adding content and integrating other media in the virtual environment.
It will become truly personal if your avatar's expressions are fed by input from your webcam. This will make avatars a lot more lively and make the virtual world much more real. This feature will surely be available in the future. (With special thanks to inspiration from a business proposal in the Dragon's Den programme on the Beeb.)
- 'Just building a stadium (ed: in a virtual world) is not enough. You have to organise it's use'.
- Perhaps a smaller and more straightforward meeting place than Second Life can be offered by Qwaq.

As a clear example of the use of Second Life they suggested training oil-rig staff on escape routes during emergencies. It certainly seems to extremely suited to this use. Running around on an oil rig with virtual fires all around is a lot safer than in real life.

Moodle in distance ed

Eric Clarke, with a lovely Irish accent, from the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin delivered a session on the use of Moodle (and how much it costs to run). Yes, for all those out there still going after Open Source because it is free: Sorry to disappoint you, but there are enough other costs in keeping a VLE up and running. He gives a lovely description: 'What are we really going on about: is it all about lawsuits and : 'My VLE is bigger than yours' or is about teaching and learning?

The use of Moodle is a great success, but he gave us the warning: do take third party support, network and servers into account (180K euros and that's without the costs of user support.) The problems they are now facing are ironically their heavy reliance on Moodle, and the large amount of materials and tools on offer which confuse students without structure.

Research into a new VLE for the OU

Steven Verjans from the Open University in The Netherlands has been researching their demands for a VLE. Strangely enough this is taking place as they just have starting deploying Blackboard. They find that Blackboard is, however, strongely based on the classroom metafor and not suitable for their teaching. Students don't meet in a classroom in the OU setting and learn independently and self paced.
Quite understandably the OU is not thinking on a short term adoption, but rather thinking three years ahead.
They appear to have a preference for an open source framework approach allowing for webservices. I do get the slight impression at this point the preference is based on technological innovative solution, rather than students' basic demands.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Podcasts, why bother?

In the final session here at Online Educa today I was surprised to see that in the three presentations universities are focussing on pod- and especially vodcasting rather than streaming video. The true benefit in my eyes lies in offering materials which can be listened to or watched on the move. On the other hand, it might be a better target to let students to create streaming material which can be shared.
Some of the speakers had taken this into account. Especially the example from the Geography department (impala)attracted my attention: giving students pod- and voldcasts to take with them on fieldwork seems a very suitable application.
An other advantage is that students can relatively easily contribute materials. This has been used to allow citizens to join in various debates in Europe. And now its time for a drink :-)

E-learning for kids, worldwide learning content for kids

An interesting note at the end of one of the sessions is the e-learning for kids initiative. The aim is to develop courseware for for children aged 5 to 12 years worldwide. This connects nicely with the one laptop per child initiative. Noticeably this does not appear to be webbased but they have chosen to run materials locally.

Thoughts on the broad VLE, from VTE to open groupspace

Conference lunches are a great place to develop ideas. Here at Online Educa Berlin I had a lunch with Robert Jan Simons and Wilfred Rubens and we discussed the demands on a VLE at Utrecht University. My position is that we need a broad solution, as offered at Wageningen University. On the one end a classic VLE for teacher use (I suppose you could even describe it as a Virtual Teaching Environment, a VTE) which offers teachers the control they need to offer instruction. On the other end we need an open groupware environment which will offer students the room to learn, accumulate and share knowledge. Which of these extremes you wish to use depends on the pedaogical model in use in the course. In fact I know courses in which both models are used in the same course but at different points in time. Through api's (webparts building blocks, etc) the classic VTE/VLE and the groupware environment can be connected. Additional external web2.0 tools could also be integrated in this groupware environment which offer connections to the outside world. This is essential in creating an open environment for knowledge sharing.

I held an Asus EEE!

A great big thank to Gill Chester for allowing me to hold and fiddle about on her Asus EEE. It really is very small, but is astonishing how much fits on the screen and still remains quite legible. The keys take a bit of getting used to, but I can imagine I could get used to it. So all I need is some patience, I hope it will be out in the Netherlands before Christmas. It does not appear to be in the shops here in Germany yet.

Andrew Keen's keynote: is Web2.0 the cult of the amateurs?

Andrew starts off his keynote that there is nothing wrong with technology as such. He argues that the ideas behind the Web2.0 however are a danger to the distribution of wisdom. The wisdom produced in Web2.0 is the wisdom of the crowds. He claims that Google lets users decide what wisdom is. I do certainly not agree on this point: What is shown in Google is certainly not neccessarily wisdom.
He goes on by complaining that Wikipedia entries are just as long on irrelevant subjects as on subjects he finds interesting. This makes me wonder whether I would interested in whatever he finds interesting.
The challenge is how to select which information is correct. Students must be trained in medialiteracy, knowing what is correct in the media. This is not a new call, in fact there are teachers training first year students in this skill.

He argues Harvard professors should be busy publishing on the internet. On the other hand this is already possible, so what is his point...
In his retoric internet is a place with its own dynamics, although technology did not receive this dubious honouw. Though the content on the internet is nothing more than contribution by individuals. Would it not be better to focus on the indivivuals and the social processes between individuals when constructing knowledge?

iKids rather than eKids

The final comments of Patricia Ceysens' keynote were the most interesting. She claims her children will not be eKids but rather iKids.
These iKids have individual needs, however they need to learn in a social context. They want to be interactive. Futhermore they live in a culture of images. They must learn 'Interculturality' as this is a necessity in this age of cultural conflicts. It connected nicely with the ideas on the Net-generation and the Einstein generation.

Hole in the wall in real life

It was quite suitable, after all the buzz on the hole in the wall project, to hear Professor Sugata Mitra speak on technology and the application of ICT in education. After a keynote on the envoy of the minister on implementation of ICT in ed in Ghana, Sugata defended a very different appraoch. Rather than working on teachers and ICT facilities, Sugata argues that children are capable of learning on their own. They are capable of learning the basic ICT skill of browsing the internet. Children may be able to learn a language on their own, if they want to! Children in the south of India even managed to learn Biotechnology, being triggered to learn on their own, rather than being taught. Put these computers in public spaces rather than in the classroom. Children used their networks to extend their learning.
The final hypothesis: Can children complete the schooling on their own! still remains unanswered.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Instructivism vs free learning - the cultural dimension

Walking through the university magazine I ran into a short comment in an article by a researcher just down the hall from me. I was especially amused as this added an extra perspective to instructivism vs. free learning debate which popped up (again) at the Onderwijsdagen.
The researcher in question, Mayo Aziza, is doing research on language learning under children from Turkish or Morrocan parents in the Netherlands.
Her comment is:
"Het Nederlandse onderwijs met zijn sterke gerichtheid op zelf dingen ontdekken werkt voor kinderen met een taalachterstand averechts. Die kinderen hebben behoefte aan instructie, maar dat past niet in onze onderwijsfilosofie."
I would translate this as follows:
"The Dutch education system, with its strong focus on discovering things for themselves has the opposite effect for children with a language deficit. Those children need instruction, but this does not fit in with the principles underlying our education."
To add to the debate I wonder whether we are taking the cultural dimension into consideration when we are thinking about different approaches to teaching and learning. There are people that argue that certain types of knowledge and skills can best be taught through instruction, whereas others are best discovered in a more free setting. I would like to argue for also taking the differing cultural background into account when defending the preferred educational model. There must be researchers out there that have been looking at this aspect in more detail.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Weblectures in university magazine

A while back I was interviewed by the university magazine on the Weblectures project we are running here at Utrecht University. The article is now available in print and online. I was amused to see that the central debate: 'Will students still come to lectures?' was put on the poll. The results at this point in time can be found on the right. I find it quite noticeable that some students easily respond that they will no longer visit lectures, though once confronted with the facility they notice that visiting lectures is actually valuable and a recording does not replace attending the lecture live.

Follow up on Stephen's keynote

The recording of the keynote at the onderwijsdagen is now online and can be found at:

Wilfred Rubens has written a review of this criticism in the elearning site. Paul Kirschner has written a response (both in Dutch). They can be found at:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The SMS wall actually did work!

It took some effort and some perseverence on the part of Pierre, but in the end the SMS wall did work and was put to good use in the debate Wilfred gave on the more ethical questions regarding the use of blogs and wiki's in education. I heard he will be posting about that soon.

Getting the SMS wall to work
Originally uploaded by kgrussell2

Do we need professors?

As a last session at the Onderwijsdagen I went and listened to Jacob van Kokswijk, this session had been arranged by a sponsor. I suppose it was a good resume: examples from other sessions came back: he named new findings regarding the links between short term and long term memory, and subsequent theory on students learning differently. Just as Stephen had done he mentoined the hole in the wall as an example of children learning of their own accord (informal learning).
As an example of people becoming organised in multiple virtual social networks he named the Google Open Social api. This is just an example of how we are all becoming connected and sharing knowledge. By the way: I am not quite sure I wish all my networks to be the same. Certain network sites are for certain goals...

But all this was leading up to the conclusion that teaching is going to have to change. However he offers no proof that old learning works (nor does he name proof for a different position). He has picked up all the news circling the web without wondering how applicable all these findings are. It brought me back to the question: do students want to have their learning taking place in their free-time space? This is a point Antoine van der Beemt questioned in his presentation.

For me the question 'do we need professors' was certainly not answered in this presentation. I believe we do still need some kind of professor even if it is a team leader (as in the example of the Kaos Pilot pedagogy....

Teemu Arina's session on slow pedagogy, an alternative in this age of speed

In his session Teemu argues for room for serendipity adaptability in learning. Teaching should provide students which adapt and adjust their processes. He offers various snippets of information and theories, but does not connect these, but as he explained later: 'Leaves this up to his audience to select the theories they find relevant.'

His session followed a philosophical approach analysing words and their meanings.
'How to cope in this age of information overload?' Marshall MacLuhan claims we can solve this challenge by pattern recognition.
Another point he argues is that in learning we should give room for serendipity: planning everything leaves no room for unintended outcomes. There should be more attention for slow pedagogy, we should concentrate on the learning process rather than the outcome of learning. By focussing on the outcomes we leave too little room for serendipity.

Motivation and engagement as basis for Kaos Pilots

I have just attended an inspiring session by Christer Lidzelius on the Kaos Pilots at the SURF onderwijsdagen. The subtitle is: 'Where creativity and innovation go to school'.
Very noticeable is the that in Kaos Pilots the primary purpose is: social improvement through personal growth. Students are selected for the three year bachelors' course not an academic merit but on passion. Students are assessed in a two day workshop on potential. In these two days they receive lots of direct feedback. 35 students remain.
In the course all learning takes place in projects. Faculty are teamleaders/coaches. Subject matter is based around three themes: Cultural Diversity, Sustainability, Social Leadership: a good leader is capable of making others leaders. The underlying pedagogical models are pretty straightforward. Focus is on the student, the world and values. The use of ICT not a specific role in teaching or learning, it is simply used as a tool in projects. The final project after three years is a project to improve things in society.
All in all I found it a very inspiring session, especially due to its focus on social improvement.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Blogs in education, success stories

Shame it's quiet in this session at the end of the first day of the Onderwijsdagen. In this session Rene Jansen from the UvA describes plenty of examples of application of web2.0 tools in higher ed. Blogs have been used for reflection on learning. This does spurn a discussion on whether you can use a blog for reflection, and can you do this on a public blog?
A nice conclusion from a research by Martin Kloos is that social software individual tools do not offer sufficient features to accomodate a community of practice, though a combination will work.
Two of Rene's students also explain their experiences. They have set up a knowledgecafe to share and grow together by setting up a groupsblog. Blogging was an important tool in developing skills in collecting and aggregating and reflecting on knowledge. 'Publicating-light' as they called it.

Stephen Downes' keynote... wow

Stephen Downes just gave a very passionate attack on the paper by Kirschner, Sweller and Clark: Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching. He was quite enigmatic that many arguments were not correct. I will not try to repeat his argument here, it is much better to watch the recording which has been made and hopefully will come online soon.
I think it was quite a surprise for many attendees that know Stephen from his blog and his views on sharing knowledge and standards, to hear an entire lecture on his pedagogical views that underlie his attitude to openness and sharing.
Tomorrow Paul Kirschner will be presenting a session (in Dutch) in which he will lead the debate between an advocate for the instructional approach vs. an advocate for the open approach to learning. This may be an interesting or surprising follow up for this keynote.

Preconference on Sharepoint as VLE

I am now attending a preconference at the SURF Onderwijsdagen on the use of Sharepoint in Dutch higher ed. It was very interesting to hear a description of the SHAPE Surf project. What made it really interesting was the embedding of the use of this collaborative environment in an 'action learning pedagogy'. Students were being trained as 'knowledge workers'. It certainly seems to be very suitable for this goal. On the other hand at the HAN courses are virtually unchanged and Sharepoint is used for content delivery. For that goal it seems simply too flexible and messy. So if you are going to change your teaching to a model containing a more active collaborative realistic approach, then Sharepoint should be quite useful.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Twente has also been busy recording lectures

The University of Twente has also been recording lectures. They have written an article in the University Magazine. Again: the same findings. The most amusing comment (one I have also heard here in Utrecht in interviews with students) is the remark that this may mean that other students might not bother attending early lectures. Strangely enough I never manage to speak to these 'other' students ;-)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A pipe for the Onderwijsdagen

Finally got round to reading some of my feeds and it paid off. From Stephen Downes blog I found a reference to just the tool I was looking for: Yahoo/Google pipes. I must give it a try and see if it can be put to use as a feed aggregator for conference reporting. Let's see if I can get all the edubloggers to subscribe...

And it worked! Brilliant stuff. We have now got a pipe combining postings from various bloggers which contain 'onderwijsdagen or owd2007' in the description (the body of the message) or the title. Most RSS feeds do not also send tags in a standard format so filtering by tag or category isn't possible for all postings.

You can find the pipe at:

If you want your blog added, do send me a comment (you may even already be in the list feeds)

WebCT troubles caused by firewall issues

What's new... If there is one recurring issue in implementing ICT tools for education it does seem to be firewalls getting in the way. This seems to have been the case for the WebCT troubles at Utrecht University. This should now have been solved. You can read the article (in Dutch) in the university magazine.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The HvA is also recording lectures...

And yet another article on the success of recording lectures. This is a report (in Dutch) of the findings at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam (Amsterdam Professional University). One thing that struck me is that in the fourth sentence organisational issues are classed before pedagogical issues. This for me does give the impression that the focus is changing on how recorded lectures are being regarded. They are being regarded as less of a pedagogical novelty and much more a facility which can be implemented a lot more broadly (as the TU Delft advertised lately).

Asus Mini notebook: an interesting inbetween

I am a very loyal user of a Palm TX, but it is simply to small for writing and browsing. On the other hand, lugging a notebook about is a pain (for my right shoulder mainly). So I was fascinated to see that Asus is working hard on the Eee notebook. What makes it interesting for me:
- Very portable
- Cheap
- Does the basics when I am on the move (reading and writing emails, checking feeds, writing blog, writing out matters)

Of course it is not a full blown PC. I was interested to see they are planning to drop it in the educational market. If you see what we expect our students to do, it may well be too limited (statistical analysis is one thing it will not (yet) do. On the other hand: if you see what our students want to do it is probably quite suitable: to be connected and share at all times through messenger or videocall through skype, type out basic reports, browse and watch Youtube and connect with iPod.
I think I am going to give it a try when it comes out here in The Netherlands. Many vids ar already available at Youtube. Here's one to give you an idea.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Which VLE for Utrecht?

The latest news scoop is that the advice for the next VLE at Utrecht should be appearing soon (by December). I have heard the buzz going round in The Netherlands that we are having serious problems. I am pleased to say this certainly does not concern Blackboard. We are running this on a local server and it is running extremely satisfactorily. As far as WebCT is concerned, all those interested can read the article in our university magazine.

For me this situation does raise a number of questions as to what is truly important in a tool for the support of teaching and learning. I have noticed that some are engrossed by visions of a myriad of pedagogical models and features. I would like to take a step back and concentrate on the basics: what teachers and students need is a system which is reliable and easy to use. I have heard arguments that all systems should answer to these basic requirements, but I have sadly seen many examples to the contrary. I also feel that the large majority of teaching staff are not looking for a system that will do absolutely everything, but rather a straightforward system that will let them do exactly what they want to do quickly and easily. If we are trying to look for an efficient use of ICT in higher education, this is a very basic place to start.

For now we are waiting on the advice...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Technorati test

I am just testing out the possibility of using the Technorati search service to search all blogs for a specific tag. As I want to do this regularly I have just set up an account. Click to find my Technorati Profile.

A new year running Bb 7.2

It is about time I started keeping up my blog. The new year started almost a month ago and by now work is settling down a little. Fortunately everything went well. This summer we went through an upgrade of Blackboard from 6.3 to 7.2. This went really well. The interface is really the same for the teachers and students and we only ran into one problem: The course list was not editable above the first 25 courses. Thanks to a posting on Patrick Klaassen's blog, that was soon solved. Long live the community of Blackboard admins in the Netherlands.
We are also back on track recording lectures and training students in the use of portfolio's. Life as usual...

Blackboard scholar goes for Social Networking

I just read a Blackboard release regarding Scholar: it has a number of improved features. I am slightly surprised by some of the features as it appears as if they are trying to create a social networking site, rather than a well integrated site to share bookmarks and materials. If this is the way they want to go, I feel it should be much more strongly integrated into Blackboard itself, rather than a separate service elsewhere.
You can find the information at:

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A dog to give you a different perspective on power

We have just bought ourselves a dog. He is from the compound, but does not seem to have suffered too many trauma's. I will not bore all of you with all the details, it seems to be a mix with a lot of Wetterhoun. The one thing that struck me, as a first time dog owner, is the extreme relationship you build up with a dog. A dog requires a strict and straight alpha male boss. In return you receive extreme trust and obedience. Although there are many parallels in human relations the extent in which this holds true surprised me. This is not something I had picked up by just reading a book, but I am picking up by first hand experience.

Slight case of Mountain Sickness

Some suffer from home sickness, but I suffer from the opposite. After a great holiday in the Pyrenees it is not always easy to return to your desk and get on with every day life. As a happy reminder this is the definite pinnacle of my hols. A scramble up the Gran Encantat, one of the two peaks which makes up Els Encantats. We didn't make it to the top as the route became rather steep and exposed without decent points to fix a rope. This is the view down between our legs looking down on the lower ridges.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Second life lunch

This is a bit late, but I have been off on holiday and rather busy starting up the new year. So, better late than never, a report on a lunch session on Second Life: What is it and how could you use it in your teaching.... It took place at Utrecht University on the 12th of July.

For me the most interesting question raised was: How can you use Second Life in your education and what are the benefits. I did not really hear a satisfactory answer. I can imagine a virtual world being useful if you wish students to learn matter in which the 3D aspect is important (design, architecture, etc) and the freedom offered to create (impossible) structures.
The social aspect could be valuable but Second Life still appears to be more suited to 1 on 1, or 1 on few meetings. Teaching a large group requires keeping the group together. A humorous anecdote was the example in which a teacher kept walking off to a different place. Students which were not actively following the session would be left standing alone while the rest moved on. Second Life still is a little cumbersome at times and it is not always easy to find your way about.
Writing this I do realise that I am (intentionally) describing the use of a virtual world in teaching rather than learning. Learning is a process which can be a lot less structured, less dictated and will often be much more individual. This is something which could be done in Second Life.
A final remark concerns the number of users in Second Life. The Linden Labs company used to boast a large number (millions) of users in Second Life. In practice the number of regular visitors is a lot less. This only appears to be a few tenthousands, so it is not always as huge a buzz as it appeared to be at first.

Friday, July 13, 2007

In search of a new colleague

My direct colleague has just received a great job offer, so we are now looking for a new colleague at short notice. You can find the job description at: Please note: this is in Dutch as the applicant will also be expected to speak Dutch.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Website Onderwijsdagen is now online

The website for the Onderwijsdagen is now online. The theme is the great tug of war between what is on offer and what really is demanded by teachers and students. There are great new pedagogical models out there describing whole new approaches to learning, but teachers and students are not always ready to adapt these new approaches and roles. And what is true of the beautiful vista's promised by using ict in your education? Is learning still not encouraged by a real life motivating teacher who is an inspiring subject matter expert? These are questions we want to address at this conference for ict in higher education in the Netherlands. We aim to match demand and what's on offer.

You can find the website at: (only in Dutch I'm afraid).

World of Warcraft in a course

Every 8 weeks or so all the coordinators from the different departments at Utrecht University meet up and discuss the latest developments. Today we had Harald Warmelink on a visit (now just started a PhD in Delft). He was studying Multimedia before and attended a course which was taught in the massive multiplayer role playing game World of Warcraft. It was not only in WOW but also about WOW. Marinka Copier (the teacher) required the students to perform all sorts of tasks from simple to complex, from individual to group effort. The final assignment was to research an aspect of World of Warcraft. All the separate chapters have been added together to form a book, which can be found (hidden between other articles) at:

You can view Harald's presentation below:

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Blackboard usergroup meeting: portal the Wageningen example

Last Friday I missed the Blackboard usergroup meeting on portals. One solution was specially relevant for Utrecht: the use of a Sharepoint portal linked to Blackboard for the courses. Reading Willem van Valkenburg's description of their session (in Dutch I'm afraid) I am quite impressed. It sounds well thought out: I think it would be wise to pay Wageningen university a visit.

Twente has issued its Sakai report...

It is now public: the report on the examination whether Sakai could be a viable option for the University of Twente is now public. It can be found at:

There are a number of notable outcomes which are relevant for Utrecht University (which will also have to answer the same question in the coming year.) From the technical perspective it is interesting to note that it has been designed to be integrated in a Service Oriented Architecture, though this will naturally take some effort (as all integrations will). It should support various pedagogical scenario's although I do feel it has been designed for a teacher based style of learning (as most, if not all VLEs are at present). The one issue in Twente at the moment appears to be rooted in the Functional analysis/Educational use. There are still issues regarding usability and user experience which need to be addressed.

A very damp yet enjoyable morris weekend

I have returned (and recovered) from a very fun Morris weekend organised by Fox Morris in Bretforton (of all places). It was my first visit to the Cotswolds, I must say: they are very quaint. It was quite a change to be surrounded by mixed sides almost all dancing Border morris. I have never seen so many Blacked up faces in one spot. Amongst others there were: Foxs morris, Stone the Crows, Exmoor, Pink bunnies 'from a place warmer than here'. It was a shame the weather was rather lousy but otherwise it was very enjoyable.

Here a video compilation of all the various teams in action, and a show of how to rip your pants...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Clustrmap on my blog

As a true geographer I am always intrigued where my visitors are coming from. On Arina Teemu's blog I found the Clustrmap badge, so I simply had to add this to my list of badges.... So now I hope they come from afar ;-)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Getting an other forum into Sakai

Still want to use good old phpBB? It has been ported to Java (and is now called JForum) and can be used in Sakai. It is almost strange to see an very well known interface in a completely different package. Sadly it does not support nested replies but works on a chronological ordering.

LaGuardia Portfolio

LaGuardia are now running a portfolio in another system (based around Blackboard) and were kind enough to come and present their findings at the Sakai user conference.
It was fascinating to hear about their vision on using the ePortfolio as a tool for empowerment for the students in Queens, NYC. They are from a very specific background and this is a tool to turn them into digital authors in a world dominated by white working class authors. It is very clearly a showcase portfolio including written papers and sometimes even reflections on these papers. The visual aspects are very important to give a feeling of ownership. Students are being used as ePortfolio consultants to help each other. In ePortfolio classes students are very satisfied with Critical thinking, collaborative learning, creative writing.
All in all a very inspiring session showing a very interesting application of a portfolio.

LAMS V2 and Sakai

Many interesting new options in LAMS V2, shame James Dalziel couldn't make it in person. One interesting change is the change in approach allowing for a combination of online and offline activities. Reports and materials used in offline activities can be included in the LAMS flow of activities. Export to portfolio is possible: this simply produces a zip package with html report of activities. Branching and conditionality is coming up in V2.1.
Technically: service based architecture which will allow it to work with various VLEs. Gradebook is not integrated yet, but there are looking at it. There is a new more complex option they are looking at: dragging and dropping Sakai tools in the LAMS authoring environment.
They have set up a LAMS community for sharing sequences and rate and comment on each other's sequences.

Learning styles in Sakai and the OCWtool

I just visited a rapid session covering learning styles theory, do have a look at the powerpoint, there are some slides there which argue for recording lectures. (By the way: the session was being recorded with UvA's Mediasite recording set).
Using control theory address the following demands that students have:
- Belonging
- Freedom
- Power
- Fun
Also start them off and show them around the course (interesting point for addressing some of the Camtools issues). Let students help each other.

Referred to Howard Gardner's theory: 8 intelligences.
They (Claremont College) used an authoring tool (Softchalk, not free, is cheap) to create scorm packages which were mediarich and interactive and were imported into Sakai (and could also have been imported into Bb or WebCT). They have also tried Melete.

If you wish students to be able to follow the course in their own manner, change the teacher centred design: you can at least offer a tool in which a student can track their progress and add what they have found and used in the way of course materials/tests, etc. perhaps based around the course goals...

Sadly here again bad news about the Sakai interface: it is not easy to navigate and use and non-intuitive. The basic UI is lousy! It does make me wonder what the RSmart interface looks like. Teachers claim: Bb is easiest, WebCT next and Sakai figures at bottom of popularity list...
Interestingly there was also a call for a student based rather than a teacher based VLE.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Evaluation tool in Sakai

The University of Tubingen is using an evaluation tool built by the company Ostrakon. It offers the opportunity to evaluate the data over various courses, teachers, questions etc... This tool offers all the advantages of a separate evaluation tool over various courses. It was interesting because they are working on integrating it in Sakai.
By the way, it was quite a relief to see that a number of the tips for a good evaluation approach are already in use at Utrecht.

Tools in Sakai

Unicon is a commercial partner of Sakai and showed off its new Auto Submit tool. This just goes to show that commercial partners are profitting from the Sakai tools and producing new variations (comparable to the Building Blocks in Bb).
The grade book has been improved on various aspects, one of the interesting options is the option to be able to adjust the standard download of the Grade Book (once off, you need a Java programmer to do it for your institution). More good news in the release 2.5: uploading grades, grading by sections in the course, student view of the grade book and other small improvements.

Sakai and OSP

You can run Sakai and you get OSP for free, but this is not enough to get your students able to enter a portfolio. As an admin you first have to design the forms which need to be used. Bas Kuiper from the UvA gave a presentation on this...
OSP offers the facility of free form or template presentations. When creating an template based protfolio you need to create an XSD form, which can be done using XSDweaver (see earlier post on this blog) do not use spaces in xml element names! You then use the xsd as a basis for a form in Sakai. Get this right before you start, once in use this can be difficult to change. Now you can build the portfolio template, defining which fields you want added to the template. Add a stylesheet.
So you see lots it does require some gobbledeegoock. Think in terms of xsd, xml, xsl, xslt, xalan... This something only the administrator has to worry about, the students get a simple interface.

In simple terms: the students get straightforward forms to fill in and OSP will generate a series of html pages. For more information have a look at:

Sakai user conference, starting up

I am visiting the Sakai User conference which is just around the corner in Amsterdam this year. It is a great opportunity to view what is happening around Sakai. I just visited a session by Cambridge presenting their Camtools. It was a very interesting session though most of their findings where not specific to Sakai but more generally related to the use of a VLE in a teacher training course. One fascinating reflection was offered by a student who claimed to be a digital native: a member of the search generation: 'So what's this breadcrumb bar? I want to search in the whole system rather than first have to understand the hierarchy. I do not want to put my resources in a closed system which I can not access next year.'

I just picked up on the end of a presentation of Syracuse on using Proficiencies in the courses. It was interesting to hear of an institution outside of the Netherlands who is also thinking in these terms ;-) A very valid remark was the question: who should design the Rubrick and how impelling should it be? Or would you rather offer the teacher the freedom to develop their own. Interesting to see that you can link proficiencies to specific activities (e.g. assignment) in a course section.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Onderwijsrepository workshop

I am waiting for a harvest of the Repository of Learning materials into the Lorenet database, so I have some time to spare ;-) I am at a workshop at Surfnet presenting their new repository service. They have chosen to use Fedora as their repository service. They have chosen a really straightforward understandable page to enter all the required metadata. I must say it looks very clear, the descriptions are obvious, this is something I could confront my teachers with. On the other hand: I would rather not confront them with this information... They also offer the option not to include the actual file but only a link to the learning asset. This gives us the opportunity to refer to streaming media files on their server or rich media assets which consist of various types of content combined.
I do believe it would be worth while to offer teaching staff the opportunity to search for learning materials in the VLE and add these to their course with only one click.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Puzzling on for the Onderwijsdagen

I have been asked for the Programme Committee for the Onderwijsdagen. This is the large annual conference for ICT in higher education in The Netherlands, organised by SURF foundation. To give you an idea: this was last year's website: This year the conference will be on the 13th and 14th of November.
I am filling in the tracks: Learning (learning theories in practice at the academic and professional universities in The Netherlands) and Social Software. I am not going to reveal our theme yet though ;-) I was just wondering if somebody has got some good suggestions we can incorporate in the programme...

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Which other Twitters want to be my friend?

A thank you to Wilfred for being my friend ;-)
But seriously, I thought I would try the Twitter badge which shows my friends on Twitter. It really does work and certainly is a lot more interesting than just my own mucking about. The one thing I did notice was that it was a pain to find out just who is on Twitter. Of course I can start inviting everybody, but I just want to find those already on twitter...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Google map on my blog

With thanks to a posting by Pierre, I gave MyMaps a try. It is extreeeeemely simple. It took me about 10 minutes to build a map and to squeeze it onto this blog!
So here it is: a few places of work I am cycling between regularly...

Creative Commons finally on this blog

It took a while bit I have finally got round to reading the fine print and selecting the most suitable licensing for this blog. You will now find a small logo in the column on the right.

Except where otherwise noted, content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License

The background is that all the information on this blog can be shared and used as long as you correctly attribute this to the author. This is an open expression of the more inherent underlying idea regarding social software: it is valuable to share information, in sharing you can set up communities and networks in which everybody can profit. It is no longer the information itself which is important, but rather the skill in building up a network, assessing the value of information and reflecting on information.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Meeting of the Blackboard User Group

Last Friday we had a meeting of the Blackboard user group in Utrecht. To view the programme and the presentations visit:

Other's remarks can be found at:

It was a small gathering the day before the Whitsun long weekend, but never the less quite interesting. It was good to see that there are initiatives out there to get social software into the classroom. They do not necessarily have to be in Blackboard, as this can be a very closed environment as compared to the more open environment which is more suited to more open student of the next generation.

I was slightly disappointed to see Scholar in action, it was not a easy and intuitive as I had hoped, On the other hand, I have given the learning objects building block a try and that was really easy to use and showed results quickly. Shame about the price though...

The final message that did linger was Robert Jan's frogs: this may be an innovation which will require some slow warming up to. It certainly does not seem to be something all teachers are rushing to adopt.

Twitter badge

In case you are wondering what I am doing at every possible moment of the day, you can always watch my Twitter badge, now added in the column on the right....
PS: I don't promise I will keep it up all that regularly, I am just not techy enough for that sort of stuff ;-)
If anybody wants to sign up as my friend I can try out the badge with friends too :-)

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Discussion on 'New Learning'

Yesterday Tumult Debat organised a debate on the latest debatable Dutch hype in Dutch education: the so-called 'Nieuwe Leren' which could be translated as the 'New Learning', which has been the subject of a lot of debate lately in the Dutch media.

Last Saturday the Volkskrant ran an article on the 'New Learning' and one thing which became quite apparent is that it encompasses a collection of different theories and principles.... Robert Jan Simons gave a clear description. This point came up regularly during the debate.

In the debate Paul Kirschner and Monique Boekaerts gave their views on a number of principles of instruction and learning design which where clear and not very debatable. The listeners however where often from schools and clearly had ideas rooted in practice. Some were clear advocates whereas others clearly preffered a traditional style of teaching. If there was one thing that could be learnt from the debate it is that:
  1. New learning is really New teaching
  2. Learning theory is not a direct instruction on how to teach
  3. There is not one clear instruction how you should teach a bunch of students as they differ (where have I heard that before).
  4. The underlying principles may be brilliant, but if you don't do it well (invest money) it will not work as well as promised.
Perhaps the most charming view was the historic view offered by Maarten van Rossem in his closing speech. The interest in new learning can be viewed from the trend in society towards individualisation since the end 19th century. This has sprouted a number of learning theories which started back in the early 1900s with the Montessori tradition. 'Nieuwe Leren' as a principle in which students are given more responsibility for their own learning is just another of these learning theories.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Blackboard Usergroup meeting in Utrecht

On friday the 25th of May we (Studion Support) will be hosting the next meeting of the Dutch Blackboard Usergroup. This meeting will be directed at 'Blackboard and Web2.0' or better still: 'Blackboard and Education2.0'. After a broad introduction in the Net-gen student and what Web2.0 is, we will be looking at various possibilities of using Web2.0 tools in conjunction with Blackboard.

Of course we will be looking at the first tool in the Blackboard Beyond Initiative (Scholar) but will also be looking at other tools (blogs especially) which other institutions in the Netherlands have been experimenting with.

For more information (including the programme and information on how to register) please visit:

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Rights on recordings

I just found a webpage with some interesting answer to FAQs regarding rights for the recording of lecturers and the use of other fragments in your own recordings. It is a page in Dutch maintained by Surf DiReCt.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Article on the Next Generation VLE now definite

It is now finally official: My article on 'The New Generation VLE' has now been made public. This article is based on the findings at the Educause conference in Dallas Texas, last October. The main message is that there are the first beginnings of a new generation of VLE's. They can be characterised by the fact that they are no longer a 'walled garden' dominated by the teacher, but rather a more open environment in which students and teachers can work together with persons, materials and other webservices outside of the classroom or even institution. And of course the VLE can be approached through various devices and allows for modern delivery of media.

Various vendors and institutions are working towards this solution, but none of them are there yet. There are promising developments in the field of Open Source and commercial parties (Blackboard especially) and the adoption of a Service Oriented Architecture could also be very helpful in working towards an integrated VLE with all these functionalities.

The article can be found on the WIKI at:

I am sorry to say that the article is only available in Dutch at present. I am afraid that I will not find time to translate it in the near future. If anybody does require an English translation, please let me know.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Internationalising our education - use of video

We had a seminar on Internationalising our education at Utrecht University last Thursday. It was great to see the efforts being made at the WUN (World Wide Universities Network) and Penn State. We still have a long way to go...

Together with Lex Hermans I gave a presentation on the use of video in distance education both for a-synchronous and synchronous learning. The slideshare is included below.

David Pilsbury also pointed out the Research channel, a collection of high quality videos covering some serious subject matter. This would require a tad more investment than the simple recordings we have being doing of late and would also require some serious commitment at all levels in the university. Great for your public relations though...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Blackboard and Vista

A quick note for my own use, sorry guys ;-) As we had noticed Microsoft Vista and Blackboard do not always work together well. See Willem van Valkenburg's blog for a list of problems acknowledged by Blackboard.

Attending recorded lectures

An article on the Dutch Edusite pointed out that students still attend lectures when they are recorded, although the (notorious) law students do not always comply ;-)

Leidse student laat opgenomen college soms schieten

This is something we must give a try: we are going to record lectures and evaluate attendance anyway. We must see if under comparable circumstances law students show different behaviour to other students...

Friday, April 06, 2007

Presenting away for Weblectures

Yes, I know it is getting a bit boring: this blog is getting filled up with the weblectures project. I suppose this is only a correct representation on how I am spending my working hours at present...
The project is now really underway. The buzz is obviously spreading at Utrecht University. I have given presentations for the ICT in ed representatives of all the faculties and for the Heads of Education at Social Sciences. The university board visited Social Sciences and requested a presentation, so that is what I delivered. You will find the presentation here (long live Slideshare). If the embedded presentation won't load visit

Next week there will be a seminar on internationalising our education and we will be present of course ;-).
It is very interesting to see the interest expressed by different departments within the university. It is also interesting to see the differences in motivation. Chemistry wanted to give some part time students a chance to watch lectures, Social Sciences' Graduate School is collaborating in a distance learning programme and they are creating short lectures specifically for this purpose in our studio. Maths wants to document lectures so students can view whenever they want, at any point in their studies, Studium Generale offers public lectures which they want to be accessible to a wider audience, students are bugging teachers to have their lectures recorded so they can revise before exams, and so on....

Kick off meeting project group Weblectures

We had a kick off meeting for the project group (and a few other interested staff members) of the Weblectures project. Although the project started back in January it was good to take the time to stand back and look at what everybody had accomplished in only a short time. I am extremely chuffed to see how far we have come! Of course we are not there yet and it isn't perfect but we definitely out on the road recording. (A careful estimate is 30 lectures recorded to date).

For more information on the project visit soon to be moved to

Sakai SIG meeting, Oracle gives its views

Last Wednesday the 4th of April we had a meeting of the SAKAI Special interest group at SURF in Utrecht. I couldn't attend the whole meeting but I was glad I could at least listen to the presentation given by Peter Bavinck of Oracle. He gave Oracle's plans on their Academic Enterprise Initiative. This is (my interpretation) an iniative to create a SOA framework which will cooperate with the Sakai framework and which can easily exchange information (for example from the Peoplesoft SIS).

See the blog and website.

Sometimes the smallest titbits of information can be extremely useful. I had been mucking about with the portfolio in Sakai but was stumped by the request for .xsd schema's. In the meeting someone tipped the xsd weaver. It seems brilliant, create your own forms online, save them locally and then add them to Sakai. (I haven't tried the last step out yet, but the rest works!).

The Hogeschool Utrecht is looking for a replacement for their Cascade system. Taking a quick look at their design I was surprised to see that they had not yet looked into LAMS, as they are looking for a system to deliver case based learning through a series of learning activities. And this can be integrated into all sorts of VLEs (not just Sakai ;-)

Blackboard User group meeting on Building Blocks

I attended a very interesting meeting on Blackboard Building Blocks organised by the Dutch Blackboard usergroup. It was held Thursday the 29th of March (yes I have some catching up to do:-).

What struck me most was the amount of initiative being put into the development of Building Blocks. If you see what various institutions are creating it is great. Some building blocks are large and very complex and require separate databases (there is even a 'Setter Getter': a building block which collects the settings you need when updating your building block.) One specific example is the Blackboard Management System which has been created by ROC Midden Nederland and Leiden University (also proudly presented at the Nice conference).

On the other hand this made me wonder why these extensive features are not included in the core code of Blackboard. I am pleased to see that Blackboard attended the meeting and I hope they will take the wishes of the Dutch e-learning market into account. This does pose questions as to who ownes the ideas and the code, would it not be fair to reward/gratify the developers that spent so much time developing the building block.
The Dutch situation:
We are at times decentralised, hence the BMS, have large courses (500 plus students) which we subdivide into groups (requires extensive group management and group grading) and we do a lot of Collaborative Learning in our courses. These are just a few differences which make the features available in Blackboard insufficient at times.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A day at home with the Net-generation

I was supposed to attend a meeting of the CWIS group today, but life can take a different unexpected turn. My son caught a tummy bug so I spent the day at home, playing Triominos and other games and giving Second Life a go... So I ended up working with the netgeneration after al, but not quite in the manner I expected . I hope all the attendees had a great time and I really missed the meeting :-( I must look around on some blogs to see how they got on...

Monday, March 12, 2007

8 days a week, ironing is a chore

Last Thursday was the annual symposium organised by IVLOS at Utrecht University. The theme was 8 days a week, how students and staff can manage to do learning and teaching in the amount of time that seems available for this task. I am pleased to see that the IVLOS has picked up on this (see article by Robert Jan Simons on Edusite). As far as students are concerned the picture is pretty obvious: Students in the Netherlands are trying to combine studying (approximately a meagre 20 hours a week) with all sorts of jobs to add to their grant and support their lifestyle.

Inez Groen gave a presentation (again) on the Einstein Generation. The story did not contain much new information, but it was interesting to hear it again and to add it unto experiences I had gained lately. One interesting aspect was the attitude the new generation of students has regarding university. University is now commonly called school. Spoilt as they are with all the wealth they have been surrounded with they are used to having many choices available. They will choose the easy choice, they expect to be involved and engrossed in the study they have chosen for. (Please note: this does not necessarily mean they are lazy!) They expect good teaching. The teacher should certainly be a subject matter expert, otherwise they might as well spend their time on the internet where you can find almost anything.

And IT is extremely boring, it is a tool not unlike an iron. You plug it in and it works. This does not mean you should not use IT, it means you should only use it if it makes sense, IT for IT's sake is only fascinating for digital immigrants, duh!

Staff on the other hand are suffering from the demand for a more involved style of teaching. In many cases this has been translated into giving the students many more assignments. Sadly this means teachers have an awful lot more checking of papers to get through. There was a session specially directed at this problem which I certainly enjoyed. What about letting students doing the teaching in turn. They are the ones that are setting up the presentation, organising excersises and getting the students involved. It seemed to work really well. It brought back happy memories from a class I attended using the same formula. It was definitely the most interesting and involving module I followed during my masters'.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Repository on offer...

Surfnet and Kennisnet are two organisations supporting respectively lower and higher ed in The Netherlands. They organised a meeting in which they offered a new repository facility for schools or colleges that might be interested. Moqub has also written about this meeting.
First of all I think it is a very good initiative. It offers schools a chance to try out a new technology they do not yet support. This also has been offered by Surfnet in the past (Breeze for videoconferencing) or JISC (Turnitin for plaguerism detection).
For Utrecht University the offer is less relevant as we are already running DSpace as a repository. Our challenge is to get learning materials into DSpace...

A wiki elsewhere...

When thinking about a new generation VLE, it became clear that are different roads that can be travelled to attain this goal. Typical for early adopters is to go out on the web and find a tool that does it for you, and there are a lot of them around.
I was shown the wiki which was set up by the Burr and Barton academy in the free wikispaces environment. Quite amusing to have a look around and to read their ear training assignments.
In fact I once, long ago, gave two honors students a space in wikispace to write a public essay. It can be found at I must give it a read.

The great advantage of using external facilitues is you can choose just the one you want at no cost. The great disadvantage is that they are not imbedded in your technical and administrative infrastructure. Think about backups and account administration for example...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Apreso recording set is now on wheels!

Our AV guys were not very happy lugging the Apreso recording PC around so they screwed together this very straightforward but practical solution. In fact the screwing was very literal! But the result is a quick and easy set up that can be rolled about and set up in hardly any time at all! The timing function makes it even more practical: they can set the timer, walk away and pick it up when its done!
It is not exactly the way the set up was intended to be used but it works a treat.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dappit graph

With thanks to Moqub for her posting :-) I have no idea what these three values stand for, so I will follow them for a while and see how they develop...

Monday, February 12, 2007

Swedes on a visit

Last Thursday we had a group of Swedes on a visit to Utrecht University. They were on a trip from the NSHU. Renée Filius and I organised a round table and we discussed a number of propositions on ict in education. We did not disagree on many points though. One major difference between Sweden and the Netherlands appears to be their experience in distance learning. Another difference is their focus on getting everybody involved in education. This is something which has received a lot less attention in the Netherlands of late, though I hope the new government will focus more funding on this. So not just life long learning, but learning for everybody.

After the round table we listened to some comparisons on student participation in decision making and forming the curriculum in higher ed. I was very impressed by the amount of attention that is directed at this.

Apreso recording set in use

This is a photo of the Apreso recording set in use. It is hidden away in the booth behind the Theatron lecture hall (the largest lecture hall we have seating 500 students). It has already been put to good use as in its maiden week of recording. It has already recorded six! lectures.
The audio visual staff are very happy with its ease of use. Recording is very straight forward.

We have not got round to publishing yet, but this has nothing to do with the Apreso set up, but is simply related to local firewall settings...

We are already thinking ahead as we are getting a number of requests for recordings. What can we record and what can't we manage? What are the priorities? How can we turn this temporary set up into something more portable if we are going to have to lug it around?

Monday, February 05, 2007

A pictorial representation of the Next generation VLE

So following up on my last post: what should the next generation VLE look like?

To give you a clue I have added a pictorial representation of the next generation VLE.

In my opinion it should offer engaging visual content and interaction on matters which interest the net-generation student (for example climate change). It should allow networks to be formed between students, teachers, but also outsiders e.g. professionals, experts and students from around the world. It should be open ended and allow interaction with all sorts of tools like blogs, image and video repositories, social bookmarking (hence the tagcloud) , blogs, (lifelong) portfolios and profile sites and many, many more. These tools can be incorporated using webservices (and RSS feeds are included as an example). All this should be delivered not only on a computer but on all sorts of mobile devices...

If you feel I have left anything out please let me know!

A pictorial representation of an old generation VLE

When writing my chapter on the next generation VLE I felt the need to collect all the information I had amassed into an image/schema. This is the first image I built:

It is a pictorial representation of the older generation VLE. This is a stereotype, in fact most VLE's are already much more modern than this representation would suggest.They are strongly text based. The teacher controls what happens in the VLE, interaction is mainly the teacher telling the students what to do, there is no room for interaction between students unless the teacher decides it might be necessary. The VLE is a closed environment and offers no real interaction with the outside world. Simply getting a guest lecturer into the system is quite a job...
And all this is built to be delivered on a computer, and nothing else....

Monday, January 22, 2007

Ruppert building, the aftermath

The Ruppert Building at Utrecht University was severly damaged during the storm last Thursday. A building crane was blown over and wrecked a classroom and a number of offices. This means at least some classrooms will be unavailable for the time being. As a lot of teaching takes place in this building this means new locations have to be found at very short notice. I have a lot of respect for the people redoing the schedules at short notice.

There is an interesting repercussion: all of a sudden recording lectures could be a great asset in tackling the shortage of classrooms. A number of teachers have already approached with requests. We will have to see what is feasible at this short notice though, as we don't even have the recording sets up and running...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Two starting periods at universities

An interesting item was in the Dutch papers. They are running the first experiments allowing students to also take their final exams in January rather than only in May as is the case at present. It seems like a great idea for the students in their final year at secondary school as they can pace their learning better.
On the other hand it does set a challenge for Dutch higher ed in the long run. This means perhaps offering some or all Bachelor modules twice annually. This is going to tax the teaching staff and the organisation further. It may on the other hand also imply a greater demand for reusing learning materials and teaching activities. Of course you can also be snobby and decide you are such a popular course that you will only offer your course once annually. Students will simply wait and gain some real life experience before starting your course.

Training teachers

In the Blackboard meeting we also discussed the training of teachers using Blackboard (although the findings were not strictly related to Blacboard. Willibrord Huisman gave a good presentation

on their experiences in training teachers. A number of things were quite recognizable and also worth repeating here.
  • Just putting stuff on the web doesn' t work (naturally ;-)
  • When a teacher comes with a question it is normally in the middle of a course and not in the design stage. This means that is not really worth pointing out the fact they should have thought of it earlier. You can better find some sort of solution to help them out.
  • What is the primary background a teacher will use when starting to teach? Their own experiences as a student! This is rather like raising children. How you raise your children will always be based on your own upbringing, in one way or the other. This does pose the question how long it will take for the new teachers to adopt a new pedagogy for a new generation of students...
  • Is there such a thing as Digital Pedagogy? In practice this is usually a phrase that is coined from later going backwards. From use in practice looking back on the design process. This was his opinion at least. I think he may be right in practice. I personally do not believe in a digital pedagogy even if you work in the correct order. It is very important to take digital opportunities into account when designing your course, but in the end it is humans taking your course with their specific learning styles. I argue that this even holds true if you are designing a course for the net-generation. Of course they will learn differently and be able to use digital tools much more effectively in their learning.
  • Willibrord had made some very entertaining fact sheets and as a visual learning I was very charmed by the drawings. The drawing pictured here is describing the use of a discussion board as depating tool. I can advise you to have a look at the fact sheet (it is in Dutch).

Using Blackboard - let's manual together..

Yesterday there was a meeting of the Dutch Blackboard usergroup. Are large number of institutions are preparing on the switch to Bb 7.x. Everybody is wondering how much work it will be to rewrite all their manuals. An initiative has been started to share manuals. Although everybody does have their own procedures (especially login) and their own mix of building blocks, there is a lot of material which should be easy to exchange. I wonder how this will work in practice.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

It's learning seminar

Last Thursday I attended a seminar on the norwegian VLE It's learning. All in all it was not extremely exciting. The most inspiring part was the talk by Wim Veen on the net-generation students. I hadn't heard one of his talks for a while and it was interesting to see that his homo zappiens had been incorporated into a lot more developments (for example the net-generation students). The ideas set out by a number of trend watchers are coming together. He also incorporated ideas on networked learning and the gift economy. Although some of the concepts sound idealistic, it does give the feeling that society and therefore learners are changing. Strangely enough learners are becoming more social and Dutch higher ed is becoming more competitive.

It's learning seems interesting as a VLE, but I do not know a lot about it. I must give it a try so at least if a say something about it, it will be grounded in truth ;-) My colleague Jos Jaspers is planning to give it a try, so I will definitely hear him out.
I was intrigued by the fact they are offering it's learning through the mobile phone. They are also incorporating a blog facility. Social Software is entering the VLE domain :-)

The presentations on It's learning were not all that exciting, it does appear to be a VLE like many others, although the incorporation of a portfolio in the system is certainly a bonus for the Dutch market. I missed the final demonstration of a link with Sharepoint which is an interesting facility a large number of Dutch institutions will be looking for with their respective VLE's.
One thing I did find very noticeable was the hosting model they offer. In principle they advise you to use their hosting. I can imagine this to be a good idea. At least this saves you a lot of hassle and you are always up to date and patched. Of course there are also disadvantages (stuck to their code, dependant on connections, data is elsewhere). I must note that you can also run a local installation if that is what you prefer.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

I've been tagged

Wilfred Rubens has been kind enough to tag me... This means I will now write five things that would otherwise not appear on my blog and continue the by tagging five other bloggers. OK, so here we go...

  1. When I was young I used to play Judo, but it wasn't quite my sport. I was more of a defensive player than the aggressive kind, it took me rugby to discover the charm of offensive action.

  2. At secondary school I also took an exam in music. One part of the exam was performing various pieces of music on stage. Not long ago I ran into a really old photo on the web... You can find it here.

  3. I spent a number of summers picking tomatoes as a job, it was fun but dirty work. Up tot this day, I still prefer buying tomatoes without a stalk, because then I won't be confronted with the pugnant smell.

  4. I do not really have a social science background, it is just that I did not want to limit myself to hard science alone. However I did seriously enjoy the minor Physical Geography I took during my studies, and it came to great use on a field trip to Scotland with a bunch a students.

  5. The latest album I got for Christmas is an old classic: Goo by Sonic Youth, I have played it a lot (when the kids weren't around) and it brings back happy memories.

So, that actually was not that easy. I noticed that I share a lot on my blog so most information can be found there after all.

This tagging is an interesting project and seems a celebration of the TIME award given to all bloggers and other web users that contribute rather than just consume on the web.

Just a note on the side: The starters of this project are claiming they want to follow the progress of a meme, a unit of cultural entity. I just looked up Meme in Wikipedia and I am not quite sure if the project itself really is a Meme. It is certainly not an entity in itself, and blogging is merely a tool available to replicate a Meme. So what is a Meme? One example that springs to my mind are the lonely girl videos on YouTube. They really have gone round and are now receiving responses and satirical reactions...

So now it is time to select a number of bloggers to continue this project. I will now invite:

Gerard Dummer, Moqub, Patrick Klaassen, and Willem van Valkenburg

Good luck...

Recording Lectures at Utrecht University

The last weeks before Christmas were an exciting time. I was busy writing an application for funding for a pilot for the recording of lectures at Utrecht University. And I can now announce the good news: The application has been accepted and we can now start up the project. We have chosen the following approach:

  • Utrecht University has lectures at two locations: the town centre and the out of town campus. Two recording sets will be available: one for each location.

  • Only one playback set will be set up. This may seem obvious to some, but others that know Utrecht University will understand the significance of this fact.

  • This is a pilot for one year. This will give us the chance to gain some more experience not only with the software, but more importantly on the effects this has on learning and teaching.

  • We have chosen to try out the Apreso Classroom solution for a year. We are very intrigued how it will work out. It appears to be a fairly straightforward solution with good connections to both Blackboard and WebCT.

For all those interested in our findings: it will be a while before we have a set up and running, so please bear with us...

Starting the new year in cold style

After a very busy year at work, I decided it was time for personal matters and what better time to start, than on New Year's day. So we drove down to 's-Gravenzande and joined the 'Nieuwjaarsduik' (New Year's dive) which was organised there. It was great fun and a great way to kick start your body into the new year. Actually the waiting was colder than the dive itself.
I must give thanks to the organising committee. It was organised well and it was not too busy, so it was also safe and enjoyable for the kids :-)
For more photographs visit: