Posted by & filed under #twitter, familiarity, microblogging, reflection, technology, usefulness, value.

In his most recent (Dutch) blogpost, Theo Bovens - the chairman of the board of the Open University of The Netherlands - notes that he is getting more and more reactions on the fact that he is using Twitter actively. He wonders how he should interpret and use this new channel of communication: "Who needs this, and why?" He is also considering whether he should continue using it. Here's my two-cents worth contribution to his question:

Theo started using Twitter during his heroic opening of the OUNL's 25th academic year, where he completed a marathon across The Netherlands and Flanders and opened the academic year for 25 people in just 36 hours, but has continued using it since then. During the same marathon, Theo acted as an exemplary mobile citizen by uploading photos and writing blogposts in the car on the road. This feat in itself deserves international attention in my view. This is "Teach as you preach" in its purest form.Now what makes Theo's tweets interesting from my perspective as an employee of the OUNL?
  • Firstly, it is interesting to see the different circles that he moves in, politically, economically and regionally. It provides a degree of insight into the workings of the contexts that surround a small - somewhat rebellious and nontraditional - university. It shows what it takes to keep the mission and goals of our university on the agendas of the decision makers at the different levels of gouvernment and funding in The Netherlands and Flanders. In other words, it augments my understanding of the university, its strategy and tactics and as such his tweets are an important professional asset for me, as I contribute to the digital environment of our organisation, and need to take a wide contextual perspective.
  • Secondly, Theo's tweets also cover his more private interests and activities. Now, you may wonder why this should be important for me as an employee. In my view, these tweets add a degree of 'familiarity', which make Theo into a real person, and not just a hierarchical entity. This insight into his personal life helps build a level of trust that surpasses the brief chance face-to-face encounters in the hallways of the University. This does not, however, deduce from the distance that -in my view- needs to remain between an employer and an employee.

This brings me to what I see as the added value of microblogging in a professional knowledge-intensive environment, something I have labelled 'virtual familiarity'. Let me illustrate this with an example. I have been following a number of colleagues from the British Open University on Twitter, such as @mweller, @gconole, @sclater and others. I have briefly met Martin (Weller) and Niall (Sclater) on occasion, but I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Grainne (Conole) in person. Due to the fact that I follow her on Twitter, she has become more than just a colleague who writes good papers and does interesting research; she has become a person whom I have had online communications with (more similar to a real communication than through blogging and commenting), whom I have shared the occasional joke with, etc. When I now meet her at a future conference or workshop, it will be like meeting a close colleague whom I have worked with for years.

This happened to me in June at the ICDE World Conference in Maastricht, when I met Maarten @maasbrenn, a Norwegian colleague that I had been following for some time. It felt like bumping into an old acquaintance, even though we had not formally met before, and we were able to start sharing insights and opinions about the conference immediately. We started our own little backchannel at the conference, and met for coffees in between sessions, just as I did with my OUNL colleagues, and with a similar degree of familiarity.

Now, is it important to be 'virtually familiar' with the people in your professional knowledge network? From my personal perspective, it is extremely important, especially in a context characterised by increasing distance. A large group of students at the Open University have problems with the impersonal and distant aspect of distance learning (note that another group actually appreciates those aspects). In my view, microblogging can help make distance education and knowledge sharing/creation more personal and more social.

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

Just got back from the ICDE2009 conference, or more precisely the 23rd ICDE World Conference on Open Learning and Distance Education including the 2009 EADTU Annual Conference in Maastricht. The conference organisation left much to be desired (embarassed as I am to have to say so as member of the organising institution), but the content of the conference was overall pretty good. I have twittered during the conference, so you can find my thoughts about the sessions I attended. I also tested during one of the plenaries to avoid overloading my followers with tweets they might not be interested in (see previous post).
As we were about 6-7 twitterers at the conference (which had an attendance of about 600 people) we established an unofficial backchannel through the use of the #icde2009 hashtag. I found the use of the backchannel quite interesting, because it added an aspect of interactivity, which was often lacking during the sessions themselves, especially the plenary sessions.

I also made a Slideshare Event page for the conference, where I tried to gather all presentations that were available online. I think conference organisers should encourage participants to publish and share their presentations before or during their presentation (Great example set by Terry Anderson).

Just today @timbuckteeth (Steve Wheeler) pointed out this article on the use of Twitter as a backchannel. I try to embed the article in my blog, so enjoy.

More than just passing notes in class? The Twitter-enabled backchannel More than just passing notes in class? The Twitter-enabled backchannel Tony Draft study of the Twitter-enabled backchannel at academic conferences.

Posted by & filed under community, distance, ipo, learning, mod2.0, OU, OUNL, platform, social.

Tony Hirst wrote a blog post about the British Open University's new initiative to foster a sense of community amongst its stakeholders, an initiative called Platform.
Platform screendump

Platform is a Drupal-based community site that brings together News, Blogs, Forums, Study-related Issues and some more informal stuff like games, competitions, etc. After the info, some comments - off the top of my head:
  • Platform is open for anyone to join - you needn't be a student, staff member or alumnus to register. This is positive, because it allows others to get a bit of a feel for what's going on On-campus.
  • The standard open blogging function in Drupal has been switched off for registered users, thus limiting the interaction possibilities. Users can, however, submit content to the site or participate in forum discussions, but both types of user-content are moderated by site supervisors. This has the effect that the site feels very much like a student bar, where the institution sets the rules and hands out the drinks, and users are only allowed to choose at which table they want to sit..
  • The added value of registering on the site is that you can rate, tag and comment on stuff that appears on the site. These user actions are not pre-moderated (they appear immediately after posting them), but they are probably scanned by the site supervisors anyway. This adds a nice touch, but - to stay within the metaphor.
  • Currently, the link with the institution's virtual learning environment is non-existing, nor is there a clear link to the institutional website. As such, the community site feels a bit like an 'in-between' place to be. And not really integrated to form a 'single user-experience'.
In short, Platform is a promising initiative that is quite relevant in the light of my own work. For instance:
  • In allowing rating, annotation and tagging - RAT, for short - Platform has achieved one of the goals of the OUNL's goals in setting up new user-centered services.We also want to offer rating, annotation and tagging of items. We are not entirely certain of which items we want to open up to user feedback. The OU-UK has chosen to allow feedback on 'safe' items on the platform, and not items on their institutional homepage or in the virtual learning environment.
  • Our ideas of integrating the community aspects of the OUNL in an integrated personal workplace would bring together the formal and informal communication related to the student/stakeholder in one single place. We intend to minimise the barrier between the learning environment and the community environment, which will hopefully enhance the user experience of the OUNL as an integrated campus.
  • Finally, our idea of the personal workplace for all stakeholders starts from the main assumption that the user is in charge, and not the institution. We will be offering different information and interaction services in an integrated environment, but the user will be in control.
It would be interesting to be kept up-to-date on the usage of Platform, the success criteria that the OU has set itself and the future plans. Anybody?

Posted by & filed under friendsof the earth, mobilising, viral campaign, web2.0.

As a dedicated environmentalist, I hope that actions such as The Big Ask (UK - BE) may help to wake (especially our Belgian) politicians up, and get them to act.
Can you imagine that no politician was willing to participate in a radio debate this morning to answer some of Nic Balthazar's questions, while they spent hours debating the non-endorsement of three French-speaking mayors in Brussels? Setting priorities straight?

Why does this message appear in a blog about educational technology?
  1. The Obama campaign illustrated the power of viral campaigns on the Web to mobilise voters. I wonder whether education might benefit from this mobilising potential?
  2. Can the use of web technology support more environmentally-friendly education? Is distance education a sustainable alternative?
  3. CELSTEC - my department at the OUNL, formerly known as OTEC - is performing an experiment on distance working. For instance, can the use of technology prevent me from having to drive 130 km every day to work - and still allow me to get the same results in my work?
But most of all, because I strongly support the initiative, and want to contribute to it through my blog.

Posted by & filed under flock, review, social web browser, Web 2.0.

Flock logo
Thanks to Henry, I got (re-)acquainted with Flock, the social web browser. I installed it yesterday, and played around with it a bit. Here are some thoughts.

People browser
I linked the "Friend feeds" from my social networks to it (Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace), so now I get automatic updates of all my friends updates'. I am missing LinkedIn, but also the more local networks, such as Netlog or Hyves, and there does not seem to be a way to add people feeds from non-supported services (yet).


Media browser
Next, I added the my Flickr, Picasa and YouTube accounts, and all the media feeds from these sources are centralised in a media bar at the top (or bottom) of the browser. This means any channels you subscribe to, or new additions from your friends. And you can view media either by opening the media bar, or as a widget on your startup screen.

Feed reader
Next, I exported all my Netvibes feeds to an OPML file, and imported it into Flock. Of course, this is an offline feedreader - as opposed to Netvibes - but it is nice to have all these functions combined in one tool. Moreover, it allows me to read all new feeds in one single page (a feature that Netvibes does not support yet).

Blog editor
A very neat feature is the platform-independent blog editor (which I am using while writing this post). Flock allows you to add your weblog accounts, and then provides a simple editor for writing a post. When you are finished writing a post, you can choose which blog to post it to. However, when I tried to actually publish the post, nothing happened.

A bonus is that it automatically uploads any illustrations or images to your online photo account (in my case on Flickr).

All in all, a very positive experience, if some of the minor flaws are fixed.

Posted by & filed under ipo, m-learning, mobile, mod2.0, OUNL.

In the framework of the OUNL project on new educational services, Henry (co-project leader) and I have started to buy some mobile devices to try and experience issues with mobile learning. Within the project we have a track on technology and trend watch, namely. The first device was delivered to us on Monday, the HTC Touch Diamond smart phone, with a Vodafone voice and data price plan, including mobile broadband.

It's a very nice-looking and slick device with quite some functionality (running on Windows Mobile 6.1), but the interface reacts in a very slow way, which often leads to unwanted results.

It took about 3 hours to get started with the device. We have mainly looked at its connectivity.
  • Wifi at the office is problematic. It keeps asking for my credentials, even after I have selected "remember password" innumerable times. Maybe I am too far away from the access point? Henry does not seem to have the problem 4 offices down the hall.
  • Wifi at home is very easy.
  • 3G mobile data was not functioning. Turned out that the Access Point was, instead of the pre-installed Thanks to the ICT support staff for the solution.
  • Active Sync was not as straightforward as indicated in the manual. Already had to un- and re-install the application on my laptop. Now it seems to work again, except for the direct sync with Exchange server at the office. Probably a security issue.
I already installed two applications:
  • Mobipocket reader was a piece of cake, as it started from the laptop version of the application. I did not have to actively download anything, just had to get the HTC to sync with Mobipocket reader, and that took care of the install for me. Neat!
  • Skype for Windows Mobile. I first tried to install from the laptop, but I got the message to shutdown all other apps, which I didn't want to do, so I downloaded the .cab-version and installed it from the device itself. We tested Skype on the HTC, but found the connection quality not very satisfactory. On a wifi connection, there was quite some delay. On the 3G Mobile connection, the sound was distorted and the conversation frequently interrupted.
  • Want to try an app such as FlashMeeting, one of these days.
More updates to follow ...

Posted by & filed under Uncategorized.

My main task - since a couple of months - has been to manage a strategic OUNL project that aims at designing, developing and prototyping technical support services for lifelong learning in the Dutch-speaking market. The OUNL is positioning itself more and more as the Lifelong Learning University of the Netherlands, and a number of initiatives have been started to achieve this aim.
The main scenario we foresee for the future is that people will want to have support for
  • constantly updating their competences,
  • upgrading their competences (new job demands, new position), or
  • acquiring new competences (different career path, different job).
Today I stumbled across a European report that gives support for this claim: Cedefop: Future skills need in Europe. The report summary states:

Between 2006 and 2015, Europe will gain 12.5 million additional jobs at the highest qualification level and 9.5 million at the medium level (especially vocational qualifications). But jobs for workers with low qualifications will decline by 8.5 million. Even jobs for unskilled manual workers are demanding more qualifications, while skilled manual workers will increasingly need medium-level qualifications.

This has serious implications for employment. A shrinking population implies a continuing need to replace workers, even in declining sectors and occupations. But with skill requirements increasing dramatically, the new workers will need higher qualifications to perform “the same job”.

A discussion meeting with some external stakeholders from the Limburg region last week supported the case for the OUNL. These organisations are actually "begging" for an independent and reputed institution such as the OUNL to assist them in assessing and developing the competences and qualifications of the regional workforce, especially with regard to workforce mobility.
There is a clear need in society for a lifelong learning infrastructure, but it seems to me that the initiatives are still rather fragmented, and that educational institutions are trying to pick up the challenge, but are not ready for it yet.