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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Parallel sessions - stocktaking (session 'higher education')

I attended the 'higher education' parallel session... Rather a strange experience: the focus was much more on life long learning than it was on conventional higher education students.

The opening words of wisdom of the session were made by the chairman - Peter Scott, Open University. He stated that the hallucinating fast changes in technology only make the excruciatingly slow change in higher educating more frustrating.
(During the session, one of the speakers joked that changing a school is like moving a cemetary - it's a lot of hard work without much help from inside).

*. Tapio Varis, University of Tamere

We have to move beyond the technology, is the main idea of this talk. The solution is not more technology, or better technology, or more teacher training, but to rethink our management, organisation, delivery methods, target audiences...

He made a rather nice reference to a Russion university, where technology-students are also forced to study literature and poetry...

He gave the beautiful anecdote of Socrates who was very sceptical towards 'technology', i.e. 'writing'. Socrates stated that writing would irreversibly damage the educational process: it would be detrimental to student memory, would be very chaotic (who could manage written content? how can you control who writes what and where?). Change is always complicated.

The technology which we face now in higher education forces us back to our roots: discussion with the learners, interaction between content, teacher and student, dialogue and discussion for learning... Things we all did since the middle age universities but which were abolished with our mass-educational process. Maybe elearning is not so new after all.

*. Rob Koper, Open University of the Netherlands, "European lifelong learning networks".

In order for lifelong learning to take off at a significant scale, institutes for higher education have to improve their implementation of competency-based curricula and education. The current implementation differs from one institute to another (sometimes even within departments of the same institute!). This means that student mobility is complicated, and that life long managing of one's competencies is virtually impossible.

He also focused on the usability issue: current elearning or collaboration platforms suffer from horrible usability problems. Often, only teachers are asked how they want their virtual learning environment shaped, which results in environments which are very learner-unfriendly. Technologically, we still have a long way to go.
(which - of course - contrasts rather nicely with the previous speaker who claimed that technology is not the problem).

One striking example he mentioned was how many e-learning professionals use a virtual collaboration environment for their knowledge management and building... We all use e-mail (and, in some cases, blogs), but the virtual learning environments we want for our education, even we find rather complex and unfriendly.

A final issue he touched, is interoperability. While standards such as SCORM (complicated!) are finally starting to be a 'standard', the main problem lies in the semantic meaning of the content. How will we manage (share/export) our eportfolio's, curricula, competencies... Only technical standards exist, with no (or few) semantic or educational meaning.

*. Joergen Bang, Inst. of Information and Media Studies, "Lifelong Open & Flexible Learning".

The new hype is blended learning: complementing our (good) classroom teaching with novel technologies. However, this means that we are bypassing many of the marvellous promises that elearning was meant to achieve... Anytime-anywhere, just-in-time training, reaching new (off-campus) students, and not 'doing the same we are used to do but now with a computer'.

He mentioned the striking differences and parallels between the US and Europe. In the US, there is more focus on for-profit elearning (University of Phoenix as the most beautiful and successful example), while in Europe there is more focus on e-inclusion and the promise for reaching new target groups.
However, dramatic failures for e-universities occur both in the US (New York Online University) and in Europe (UKeU).
We clearly need to focus on better pedagogy and better technology, and stress the student's view of learning.

But, in the end, we all speak of collaboration, sharing, global campuses and consortia, yet we observe that all institutes remain competitors which makes the practical implementation rather difficult.


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