Monday, May 26, 2008

Is creative learning better than competence based learning?

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

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

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Presentation of Accordent recording solution

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Virtual Knowledge Centre, the new VLE for academics

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

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

Monday, May 19, 2008

Presentation Blackboard 9 - The next generation

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Final report Weblectures - experiences of one year of recording

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

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

- Project website
- The final report (in Dutch)

Back from the Ardeche

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

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

Roger Scruton in Utrecht on higher and lower art

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Research into recording lectures for students with disabilities

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

Lecture on Internationalising education

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

Use of Blackboard at Utrecht University

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

Workshop designing a Knowledge portal

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

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