Monthly Archives: March 2009

Video lectures from the best


Academic Earth offers an aggregation of video lectures from some of the World’s leading universities, including MIT, Berkley, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton. It covers a wide range of subjects and will increase outreach of top scholars to the interested public.

My hope would be that also European and perhaps Austral-Asian universities could make this a truly global learning space.

Oh, and I should also mention some other services like Hulu for academic lectures (US only), iTunes U, and now, freshly launched: YouTube/edu.

Forthcoming EU ICT TEL call 5


I’ve just been to the information day organised by the TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) unit of the European Commission. A new call for project proposals will be published by the beginning of summer, most probably July, with a deadline of November 2009.

What has changed in the strategy of the EU towards TEL?

Firstly, the jargon. S&T (science and technology) seems to be the new R&D (research and development).

Secondly, it’s the return of the teacher! After some years where the t-word had been a sort of taboo not to be mentioned in public, it is finally back. Self-directed learning is still mentioned but has definitely lost on emphasis.

Finally, there is a clear message: “get real”! The path leads away from blue-sky hypothetical and speculative research. S&T needs to be applied and evidence-based.

Serious gaming is on the cards, but the word ‘serious’ was stressed very much. The Commission’s understanding of this is: games that support predefined learning outcomes, which can be evidenced.

I am reasonably satisfied with this approach, as I have long argued that hype-based TEL is not leading to sustainable and effective results. Let’s hope this is the end of the “guinea-pig” generation of learners who were bounced between new emerging technologies without anyone understanding properly what they are good for and what they are not good for.

Some 49m euros are available for the call. This sounds much, but in reality isn’t much more than 7-9 projects, of which there are 2 IPs (Integrated Projects) swallowing up some 27m euros, the rest goes into STREPS, NoE, and CSA.

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PS: Are you interested in a partnership with the Centre for Learning Science and Technologies (CELSTEC) at the Open University of the Netherlands? Please get in touch!

No ubiquity for mobile learning


Mobile learning has nothing to do with the type of mobile device you are using as is often misunderstood. It does not matter whether you use a laptop, notebook, blackberry, mobile phone, iPhone or other gadget. Instead, mobile learning is all about connectivity and access.

Basically, you are only as mobile as your data provider and your wallet allow you to be. Here is one major difference between the US and Europe. US services are geared towards use across an entire continent! You can travel from Alabama to Alaska and use the same data provider at the same cost. Not so in good old fragmented Europe. I live within a stone throw from two neighbouring countries, Germany and Belgium, and regularly cross the border. This border has physically disappeared, but virtually it is more present than ever. Geolocation services like Google Latitude are prohibitively expensive to use abroad.

Sadly, the big WiFi revolution has not happened yet either. Due to the activities of some nutters, computer magazines and experts warn people that only fools leave their wireless LAN unprotected and open. There is no room for the generous donor of bandwidth to the public. There were some feable attempts of public authorities to provide city-wide free and open access to the public, but they are disappearing fast. Oulu in Finland is a positive example, as is the airport of Vienna. However, instead of more and wider open access spreading across the country we find that everything is locked up or blocked by commercial WiFi squatters.

This is not the environment we need for ubiquitous mobile learning or working. Access needs to become affordable and public everywhere!

How effective is collaborative learning?


Colleagues here at the Open University of the Netherlands are investigating what makes collaborative learning effective. It has become clear that in some learning conditions individuals perform better than groups. The question that pops up from this is, when and under which circumstances is collaborative learning of greater benefit than individual learning.

The hypothesis is that, based on Cognitive Load Theory, group learning becomes more effective with increased complexity of the task. CLT suggests that multiple processors (brains) work better on complex task than single chips. It would take an individual brain longer to digest multiple information items than under parallel processing conditions in a group. The experimental setting, interestingly, also takes a certain ‘cost’ factor into account that occurs in groups: communication between members, loss of information, difference in understanding etc. These are difficult to bring into an equation, and, as we all experienced at some point in our life, one rotten apple can bring the group down.

So far so good. One thing to watch, though, is that there is a distinction to be made between problem solving and learning. What we want to measure in terms of efficiency is individual learning. This includes two major aspects: retention and transferability!

To go beyond problem solving (from which people no doubt learn), what should be investigated is how an individual will perform in a comparable situation after they learnt as individuals or in a group. One would expect that after I solved a problem for the first time (either individually or in a group) I would be able to solve the same problem faster the next time. This transfer of applying knowledge and skills can be measured by the increase in ease and speed. To prove effectiveness of collaborative learning, it would need to be shown that an individual performs the full task better/faster after they learnt in a group compared to when they learnt alone.

Here’s the setting:

Step one: Task A (?) is given to individual students and groups

first step: group performance

Step two: Task A+ is given to all students individually (or Task A after some time again)
step 2: individual performance

Step three: Who has learnt best, the group members or the solo learner???

Google: Punishable by success


Federal regulatory action against Google inc. is becoming more likely as time moves on and the search provider continues to be a business success story. It looks like Google itself is considering this possibility already.

No doubt, the data giant has empowered and inspired people and companies alike in the past, produced a whole lot of creative and simple-to-use solutions, which we were all ready to sign up to and use, especially since they were free to the end consumer. Still, more and more, a bitter aftertaste was left behind, because of course there is no such thing as a free lunch! Users returned data about their searches, shopping, and general online behaviour to Google, giving them snowballing market power, not only over their competitors but also over their customers (businesses mostly, but also end consumers).

Eric Clemons wrote an interesting article on what an anti-trust case against Google would look like. I enjoyed the argumentation entertained in the article and found it enlightening how monopoly power works differently dependent on the relative position of the service provider to the company-customer relationship.

What I find limited is that an anti-trust case would *only* look at the economic impact and abuse of power in the market as long as it is measurable in money. In my view this is too restrictive to what the monopoly of Google really is about: information and data flow. If someone controls the information flow of this world, clearly, they create dependencies that are out of the hands of the users (who are actually the creators of this information). This is too much power for any one company or even a democratically elected government.