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2 June 2006 / erikduval

advanced e-learning in Berlin

The advanced e-learning symposium in Berlin is a nice event on what is currently happening in this nice city, with a few international contributors.

Serge Goldstein talked about the situation in Princeton, not so different from what we do in Leuven: blended approaches, no sticks – only carrots, automatically created course sites. Much in line with what I think we should do and somewhat in a Web2.0 style, they have integrated library services into Blackboard. As Serge mentions, it is much harder to convince the libraries to change their system, and it works better to try and link the system into the learning environment. Princeton actively supports digitization of movies and those are widely used as well. According to Serge, this is the more transforming part of what they do – which left me a bit puzzled. He concluded with the following issues:

  • open source is a straw man: someone always pays, either on the license or on programmers (Princeton spends $100.000 a year on Blackboard and Stanford spends $4 miljon a year on Sakai) and 99% of users never look at source code
  • universities should take a strong stance in support of “fair use” in order to deal with copyright and laws must allow new business models to arise
  • longevity is an issue as versions and “standards” keep changing
  • indifference with faculty and students is a big problem, also because it is difficult to see the difference that technology makes!

By and large, I agree with the first two items Serge Goldstein mentioned. On the indifference part, this needs further discussion, because if this is perceived as making no difference by students and staff, then why the heck are we doing this?!

Rolf Schulmeister followed with a presention about the “myth of the USA”. He analyzed the statistics about on-line learning in the USA. Basically, the reported large numbers of enrollments in online courses need to be put in perspective: most of these relate to very few courses and the use of technology remains isolated, also in the USA. The focus of the presentation then shifted to comments about the introduction of the bachelor-master approach in Europe. Rolf seems quite concerned that this boils down to a simple import of the American educational system and that our students will become consumers of video – a clear reference to the use of video in Princeton talked about before. A major concern seems to be that we now have more part-time students, or students who are first and foremost part of the workforce. This makes it difficult to maintain some of the quality features of the “traditional” European academic approach. Students will no longer have the freedom to experience a rich academic life, where they can also learn about philosophy and other subjects, rather than go through a series of mandatory modules and projects… I think that his concern about how we are putting maybe too great demands on our students deserves some discussion: when I was a student, this was basically a period between childhood and being a responsible adult, where most of your time was spent on “being young”. Maybe we need to make sure we maintain some of that idea, though I wonder why that should be reserved to the already privileged class of university students…

Nicolas Apostolopoulos had some technical issues to start the presentation, which triggered the usual (and pertinent!) remarks about technology that promises to make life easier and then only makes things more difficult. I’m not sure whether it was intended as a reference to the “humane interface“, but Nicolas talked about humane applications, that are not just a collection of media bits, but also support the social interactions around them. A specific project of that kind is “Neue Statistik“, which seems to be a pretty comprehensive environment on statistics. He then went on to present the FUEL project, which uses Blackboard as an LMS and NPS as a CMS. The idea is to gradually increase the technology enhancements, to move from traditional over blended to online learning.

Note: The two latter presentations were a bit harder for me, as I’m not that fluent in German. I hope I still got the essence right.

BTW, there is a live video feed of the symposium available: you can hear me talk tomorrow at the start of the day, if you’re interested…


One Comment

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  1. Erik / Jun 6 2006 4:57 pm

    Debora Weber-Wulff blogged about the event (and my presentation) at – enjoy!

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