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.