Peer production is not only a novel method to produce eLearning content, but it is also an approach to empower a wide variety of professionals to the learning content production. However, the quality management challenge related to this kind of content can undermine the merits of the method.
A number of useful tools and approaches are currently being applied to ensure and improve the quality of peer produced eLearning content. This article introduces QualityScape, a method developed by the European QMPP project, as an important approach in assuring the quality of peer-produced eLearning content. The fundamental finding in our work is that quality is the result of the interplay between peer production of digital content and peer validation processes of digital content. Overall, the key issue in this project is to develop a holistic approach to the peer production, which enables the effective utilization of this unique method of content creation.
In our work we focus on the learning and teaching process, considering evaluation through a pedagogical approach and a media-didactic theory. Therefore, web resources able to support active learning by using various media elements, are considered as quality content. We focus on the learning and teaching process and we approach quality as the potential educational value of content.
One of the main conclusions of our study is that, instead of the adaptation of an un-feasible “universal” quality evaluation model for all domains of interest, due to the huge heterogeneous amount of information on the Internet, it is preferable to use evaluation models per sector (i.e. education, economy, culture, etc.) during the whole content’s life-cycle.
This paper also presents some interesting findings about teachers’ attitudes and media competence based on the outcome of the focus groups.
The results of extensive analysis suggest that organisations in the field of Capacity Building have in general a high interest to obtain a quality label. Mostly, organisations are interested in a tool which supports measuring and improving impact efficiency, helping to ensure the success of eLearning programs and allowing to benchmark with other organisations.
The analysis we present in this article also shows that organisations differ in the diffusion of eLearning within their Capacity Building activities. To incorporate these differences a label with two options has been developed: one for single programs and another one for institutions.
The introduction of qualification of ICT competence in higher education joins in the will that all the students do have this transverse certified competence, both for their successful study and for their future vocational integration. The cultural revolution that represents the qualification at university level and its generalization in "traditional" curricula will be a main theme of this presentation.
Andy Lane: "The benefits of sharing should be to improve the range of resources available so as to allow teachers more time to interact with their students"
Yes there is a tension that I think is largely created by Institutions mostly offering tightly defined programmes of study that have clear titles e.g. Biology or Architecture. While these programmes provide very useful learning experiences that can often be targeted at certain areas of work, the degree of choice in what students can study within the programme is limited as it does make it more manageable for the Institution and is also what is often expected by Professional Bodies. However many students may want to learn about things not covered in that programme, either because it has some relevance to the programme of study but is not included in it or because it offers other learning relevant to their wider aspirations. Open Educational Resources (OERs) can meet some of this need as they offer an alternative view of a topic covered in a programme (many users of MIT’s Open CourseWare are undergraduate students at other Universities who like to compare similar courses at MIT to ones they are taking) or act as enrichment study (we have found that some Open University students are studying units on OpenLearn from very different subject areas to their degree programme as they provide some other personal or professional development e.g. creative writing, learning a language).
Hello Andy, I was wondering if there exists or will exist any quality system for the open learning materials? How will the teachers or independent learners know about the quality and reliability of the material? I ask this because besides MIT and Open University there are surely other entities that offer open content.
Currently the quality of OERs is most often defined by the provider, and Institutions like MIT and the Open University are the guarantors through their normal quality assurance processes. In other cases it is for the users to judge for themselves whether the quality is good. While this may be difficult for an individual to do, the views of large numbers of people using rating schemes like that on the Amazon website for books could provide such a service.
Many people involved in the Open Educational Resources movement are looking at the different ways in which quality could be determined for users, especially resources developed by individuals or groups of people who are not part of an Institutional initiative. Two examples of this are the non-institution-based MERLOT and Connexions collections of OERs. In the former case they are using a traditional peer review mechanism often before publication of the resource (http://taste.merlot.org/peerreviewprocess.html) supplemented by user comments and ratings. In the latter case they have set up different ‘lenses’ (http://cnx.org/news/LensesIntroduced) for the resources to be judged after publication on the site. They have endorsement lenses for material reviewed by an authoritative body, affiliation lenses where content has been created by someone from an institution but not necessarily had it reviewed and members list lenses where registered users can give their views. We are looking at doing similar things for material contributed by others in the LabSpace of OpenLearn.
Is the disinclination of academics to use other people's materials an underestimated factor inhibiting the success of sharing initiatives, particularly expensively developed and maintained repositories?
Our research confirms Brian's view that academics are reluctant to re-use other people's materials. What do you see as the key challenges to changing this point of view?
I don’t underestimate this factor but see it as one of changing practices slowly. I believe that academics are not reluctant to use bits of other people’s material in the privacy of the lecture room but are reluctant to use substantive amounts in a more public way, either on an Intranet/Virtual Learning Environment or on the Internet. I say this because I don’t know a fellow academic who does not include a figure or graphic or small quote in slide presentations or handouts which has been published elsewhere. This is standard practice in teaching and writing but has been largely governed by the fair use or fair dealing rules around the use of copyrighted material. However most academics have little idea about the copyright laws in general and so are unsure what they can do and cannot do, even if someone has applied an open licence such as a Creative Commons one (http://creativecommons.org/) to the material. This is even more so if they are putting the material on a website and they have spent many hours developing it and do not want to give it away lightly in the mistaken belief they may make money out of selling such content (few can – even the Open University).
So the legal side does inhibit sharing, but I think that two other cultural practices are even more important. First, most academics teach as individuals. They are not used to working with others in either developing or sharing materials as they may be the only person teaching what they do in their institution and even where there are more of them there are no mechanisms for peer review of teaching in the way there is for research, and few Institutions recognise teaching in the way they do research through promotion and reward schemes. Second, most academics are not used to producing resources to publish on the web and they can worry about how best to do it and then worry whether their work is good enough to expose it to others. New technologies are easing the technical barriers for individuals to produce resources (although it can still be a big issue) but it is still the case that having more than one person developing materials with differing expertise is likely to be more effective.
Finally, there is also the question that many lecturers feel that the materials are not quite what they need for their situation – a point I take up in the next answer. These barriers may sound daunting but then we all had to learn how to use computers and that did not happen overnight.
Dear Andy. I have read about an issue that might be a problem to use and produce OER. It's about the concept that the production of educational material shouldn't (?) be separated from its usage. That is, the material is usually created for a certain context and situation of teaching and learning. However, when there is no connection - the one who makes the material, doesn't know when or how the material will be used / the one who uses the material can't evaluate the relevance and quality of the material without knowing the background - it can cause uncertainty both for production and usage. Do you think this is a relevant problem and is there any solution to it?
In my opinion OER are available to everybody but I do not think they are accessible and exploitable by everybody. The diversity of learning contexts is not taken into account: for example different curricula (or, in the case of higher education, students that come from pre-university education with different curricula) and different learning objectives (matching the learner's needs taking into account his/her knowledge capital). The diversity of the learning cultures is not taken into account: the teaching and learning environment in different countries/school/university systems do not have the same overall objectives and methods. What is your opinion on the current situation of OER concerning these aspects and on possible solutions in the future?
This issue of resources being localised or contextualised to the needs of the user is a common discussion point because societies and cultures do differ in what is expected in their formal education systems. I believe it is necessary to look at the needs of teachers and learners separately.
For teachers, an OER may not be exactly what they want, but with an open licence and appropriate formats they do have the potential to take and adapt that OER for their own situation. The more (good quality) OERs there are, the more choice a teacher will have to be able to put together resources for their class just as they do now in a smaller way when taking images and figures and so on for slide presentations at the moment. Why reinvent the wheel or put together a neat Flash animation or YouTube video clip explaining something if it has already been done? Even better, if someone in India has created a new resource specifically for use in India and you teach in India as well. The benefits of sharing should be to improve the range of resources available so as to allow teachers more time to interact with their students, providing even more of the localisation that way, rather than just lecture to them. It is not about creating a single version of a course, but some building blocks with which to construct multiple versions, including versions in other languages (check out this study unit on OpenLearn that has been translated into Catalan http://labspace.open.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=3173).
Learners who directly study an OER, on the other hand, may have to accept that it has been developed for a different setting to the one they are in, and get what they can from it as supplementary study for their formal studies or as a non-formal learning opportunity as I explained earlier. OERs are there for self-study, so there is no teacher to help contextualise it, but in OpenLearn you can always post questions to other learners who may respond and help you out with any difficulties you have. It is also the case that the degree of contextualisation varies greatly with the subject being studied. For many science topics there is a more stable body of knowledge while for other subjects, such as law, there are more limited similarities between jurisdictions.
Hello, Andy, in my opinion exploitation of OERs offered at The Open University in the United Kingdom is really not connected with the problem of "the sophisticated learner with very good access to the internet". However, it is another kind of sophistication -- learners should be experienced in English. Because many of my students at Poznan University of Technology (http://www.put.poznan.pl/en) can read English texts, I'm going to encourage them to use the your OERs during the e-course “Metody i techniki kształcenia na odległość” (http://www.geocities.com/eklezjastka/ester1.html). Luckily, some of those PUT students and especially my future students at The European Career College (http://www.kde.edu.pl/page.php/2/0/show/1/) will write on Open University forums. Do you believe in the value of such international cooperation in the exploitation of your OERs?
Yes I do believe that there is value from international cooperation and exploitation of our OERs and of other peoples’ OERs. We do want people to use them whether that is done formally or very informally. We already have several international projects that we have given space to in the Collaboration Zone of LabSpace (http://labspace.open.ac.uk/course/filter.php?grouping=topic&detail=20&order=date) and we know of many others using our materials, all of whom we are in contact with to know what they are doing and what value it has to them. Since the ethos of OERs is about sharing we also belong to the Open CourseWare Consortium (http://ocwconsortium.org/) and are participating in a funded project called MORIL (Multiligual Open Resources for Independent Learning) that involves several members of the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (http://www.eadtu.nl/). Through these and other ventures we are researching and evaluating OER use in as many areas as possible so as to understand better all the issues that have been raised in the questions here. Some initial findings were reported at the OpenLearn2007 Conference we recently hosted (http://kn.open.ac.uk/workspace.cfm?wpid=7979)
The open contents initiative is a very good movement and I hope that people benefit from it. My concern is if the developing countries can gain from it too. Do you think the open material can help the developing countries in improving their conditions for teaching and learning? Can you name any specific projects about this? Are there any results so far?
Many developing countries have realised the potential of OERs (on top of Open Source Software) for reforming their education systems. Just before writing this I learned about the official launch of the Vietnam OpenCourseWare website at http://www.vocw.edu.vn with the aspiration to make OCW/OER features rich, accessible, and reusable at no cost for Vietnamese faculty members, students and self-learners. There is also plenty of OER work happening through the Commonwealth of Learning such as with WikiEducator (http://www.col.org/colweb/site/pid/4051) while here at the Open University we contribute to some specific projects in Africa such as the TESSA programme (http://www.tessaprogramme.org/). Many of the same issues I have discussed above apply to developing countries but the challenges are often greater because the physical and virtual infrastructure for education is not very good. It has been calculated that to have as great a proportion of the population go to University in developing countries as do in developed countries would require a new university being built every day for many years to come. OERs are not a complete solution by any means but meeting this scale of challenge is unlikely to succeed without them. The early results from these various initiatives are encouraging but reforming educational systems takes many years and substantive investment of time and effort as will be evident if you read up about the ones I have mentioned above.
Ulf-Daniel Ehlers: "E-learning seems to create a situation whereby quality considerations become unavoidable"
Do you think e-learning quality measures are equivalent to face-to-face learning measures; are they both competing on an equal basis? Or we are asking e-learning to go through a process in which conventional learning would never have succeeded?
Thursday, 9 November 2006
I totally agree with your point that there should be quality commitment in both face-to-face education and e-education. I also think that it makes no sense to develop quality standards/guidelines only for e-learning.
However, I have noted that e-learning is often leading to educational scenarios that reach new target groups, which are often remote, even crossing borders into other countries. Such an acceleration in terms of access might require special quality consideration; what do you think?
In addition, we often quote the “burning glass” metaphor, meaning that, where e-learning is introduced, it functions like a “burning glass”. It immediately highlights where educational processes are not thoroughly planned and implemented, and where quality has not been ensured. Where face-to-face processes can still be carried out – even in bad quality conditions – e-learning is just not working any more because of the immediate reliance on student participation. E-learning seems to create a situation whereby quality considerations become unavoidable.
I agree with you: Quality should not be mode-specific! I think we need specific quality models for all modes – and I would like to know if you agree with me when I say that, where e-learning comes into play, quality becomes particularly unavoidable (this is, of course, not to say that it is not important otherwise).
Dr Ehlers, In the case of adult learning and lifelong learning, the motive is a system of sharing information and ideas with a view to promoting action. How would you define quality in this field?
Dr Susan Sharma
Friday, 1 December 2006
SusanSharma (rest of the world)
This field seems to be a prototypical case of what we call “quality as a negotiation process”. Quality development in education requires the participation of all stakeholders; they have to come together to set out the priorities and work together to organise learning opportunities that address these.
For the design of high quality learning environments, this view has some consequences. Learning environments – a term used here in the broader sense, referring to the sum of all processes constituting the learning opportunity, including all resources and persons forming part of it – have to be designed in a way that enables learners to express their demands and preferences as part of the construction process. Only then can learners bring in their experience, backgrounds and demands, thus enabling providers to design learning environments in such a way to enable active learning, problem solving and competence development orientated towards the learners’ individual needs. The assurance of quality, reached exclusively through predefined, static frameworks (e.g. standard evaluation questionnaires) often does not pay sufficient attention to this particular need for co-production in educational settings (cf. Baijnath/Singh 2001, Freesen 2002). From this perspective, it is important that the development of quality strategies takes into account an active negotiation process as a specific condition of quality development and supports it proactively. Quality management concepts therefore have to include a negotiation component. This requires an extended understanding of process-orientated quality development models, and requires competence development and staff professionalisation components within quality strategies.
I would like to ask if there is a quality label or something similar for different e-learning providers. There are lot of e-learning course providers, but is there any guarantee of the quality of the studies, and how this can be found out? Thank you in advance.
Tuesday, 24 October 2006
The European Foundation for Quality is an excellent partner for these kinds of question. In fact, we are just initiating dialogue throughout Europe to bring together different quality seal providers, also including the National Finnish Quality Mark. For a more substantial overview, visit www.qualityfoundation.org and download the working documents on this subject.
My experience is that, when considering quality issues rated in different services and platforms, the main focus is on the various features implemented in the systems in comparison to the technological state-of-the art. My question is, if EQUEL also considers subjects such as accessibility issues (for people with disabilities, and for people with no broadband access), how they are rated in comparison to the technological point of view? Juergen Huellen (Germany)
Thursday, 9 November 2006
Ii know of a project called eAccess that addresses issues like that; have a look at the project website. It is a project on which a colleague of mine is working. EFQUEL is an open environment that does not exclude any topic from the quality debate. We have working groups on different subjects: www.qualityfoundation.org
I agree very much with your comments about quality. It cannot be reduced to processes and structures and the stakeholders involved in the learning process have to be professional. May experience is that it is even necessary to create a quality culture in the organisation and specific skills for professional quality development in learners/clients, teachers/providers, and also all those who are involved in the educative process (management, administration, etc.). All stakeholders involved in the learning process must have a clear and shared concept of e-learning and its quality. What do you think? Is this an important issue in the actual quality evaluation of e-learning programmes?
Thursday, 9 November 2006
luislobo (rest of the world)
I think this aspect cannot be stressed enough; thank you!
1. Co-production: involvement of all stakeholders
Classical service theory conceptualises the interactive relationship between the actors of people-orientated services with the “production” and “consumption” categories (cf. Gross/ Badura 1977). It is argued that education is a symbolically mediated productive-active interaction and production process. This process involves learners together with other actors (other learners, teachers, etc.). It therefore has to be conceptualised in the form of “pro-sumption” rather than a production-consumption relationship (cf. Martens/Prosser 1998). The targets of educational services are therefore conceptualised as active “co-producers” and not as passive receptors.
2. Quality culture
Quality literacy is a concept that is very much related to the philosophy of total quality management. Within this approach, quality is seen as a continuous improvement process, involving all stakeholders in the process of permanent assessment and quality improvement. For this aim, one element is of key importance: the introduction and development of a quality culture in an organisation. This has two dimensions: First, a managerial dimension, which is rather technocratic in nature and deals with implementing tools and instruments to measure, evaluate, enhance and ensure quality. This is usually facilitated though a top-down process. Second, a dimension of quality commitment focuses on an individual level. It relates to the individual commitment to strive for quality, using tools and instruments for quality development, but first and foremost it also focuses on changing attitudes, values and developing new skills and competencies in order to enable permanent quality improvement. Individual abilities, attitudes and values add up to a collective level, which in turn leads to a quality competent organisation. This dimension relates to a bottom-up process.
Dear Dr Ehlers, did we come up with any result regarding the Quality Standards in ONLINE Education? I don’t think anybody has yet agreed on the concept of “Quality Standards of ONLINE Learning”. I will continue to contribute more on the subject. What was the result of your surveys? By the way, I have been involved in e-learning for 15 years and I am a great believer in it; however, to date, I have not yet seen ONE GOOD ONLINE course to my liking. I hope your work will change the situation.
Best regards, Muvaffak GOZAYDIN, Turkey
Friday, 10 November 2006
Our latest survey on the “Use and Distribution of quality strategies in European E-learning” is published in www.qualityfoundation.org
The paper introduces the guiding principles of the bLO system that provided the guidelines for the development of the tools. This system includes three main tools, two of which were fully developed, and a complement to improve the applicability of the method. It includes a profiling tool based on the LOM, the benchmarking indicator system, and proposes a competence map as a mechanism for continuous improvement. Additionally, a weighting system for efficiency and effectiveness was developed as a complement to the indicators matrix.
The bLO was applied in two different contexts. To test the applicability of this method, three modules on a Master Course in Construction were used. The information provided by this test was important to improve the tools, in particular the indicators system. Later, the bLO method was used as an evaluation tool for some of the outcomes of the European Project entitled “E3: Electronically Enhanced Education in Engineering”. This project aimed to develop LOs that were exchanged and evaluated among the international partners.
Finally, the paper introduces several areas for future work, aiming at improving the system and integrating it with other systems.
This paper was adapted from one originally presented and published at the EDEN CONFERENCE 2004.
The awards were validated by a jury composed by eLearning experts around Europe on basis of the guiding criteria of the EFQUEL eQuality Maturity Model. The EFQUEL eQuality Maturity Model has been designed in order to provide an inclusive framework for self-assessment of organisations that are willing to measure how advanced they are in the use of ICT to support the quality improvement of learning processes within their organizations. “We received many good entries presenting very well documented concepts for quality improvement in E-Learning for the award and it was a tight decision” Ulf-Daniel Ehlers, Vice-President of the EFQUEL observed. “There seems to be a sound understanding for the concept of eQuality throughout Europe already.”
The winner in the EFQUEL eQuality Award in the category Providers of eQuality solutions and services Chaîne éditoriale process an editing tool developed by ICS (Ingénierie des Contenus et Savoirs, Université de Technologie de Compiègne) represented by Manuel Majada and Stéphane Crozat. In the opinion of the jury: “This documentation tool is an excellent approach to eQuality and a key component of the learning process. Chaîne éditoriale process is therefore a very useful initiative to support quality of learning”.
The winner in the category eQuality users and implementers is the E-Learning-Center of the University of Zurich, represented by Schewa Mandel, “The Quality management in e-learning initiative of the University of Zurich is a very robust tool for project monitoring, self evaluation and strategic controlling. This approach will certainly improve and increase the quality of eLearning projects and courses”, concluded the Jury.
The objective of the EFQUEL eQuality Award is to provide a framework for the use of digital technologies in the management of quality assurance processes, making the quality process an organic part of organisational learning activities. It aims at providing recognition to the providers of eQuality solutions and systems as well as to organisations implementing eQuality systems
The nominated finalists of the EFQUEL Equality Award are:
Providers of eQuality solutions and services
- Chaîne éditoriale Process - Manuel Majada/ Stéphane Crozat from the University Technologie de Compiègne.
- Peer & ICT Organization (PICO) - Paolo Lippi/ Giacomo Gensin from SAGO Spa.
- Self- study course for the technical Swedish - Maria Katajamäki/ Anu Telkkinen from Promentor Solutions Ltd.
Users and implementers of eQuality solutions
- Quality Management in e-Learning - Schewa Mandel from the ELearning-Center, University of Zurich, Switzerland.
- EFMD CEL – Accreditation for Technology Enhanced Learning - Jim Herbolich/ Matthew Wood from European Foundation for Management Development.
- Quality management strategy in FODEPAL project - Santiago Gonzalez/ Luis Lobo Guerra from Fodepal Fao-Aeci.
All finalists and the winners will publish their projects and initiatives in the European E-Learning Quality Portal: www.qualityfoundation.org over the following weeks.
Dr. Ulf-Daniel Ehlers, firstname.lastname@example.org Tel. + 49 (0)201-183-4403
European Foundation for Quality in eLearning, University of Duisburg-Essen
From research, three concepts can be utilised and combined to form a new, comprehensive concept of quality development:
1. Quality development has to lead to better learning. This viewpoint can be called education-orientated quality development and emphasises that quality development has to take into account the learners’ situation. Learners’ preferences are analysed to show that they cover a multitude of factors and preference profiles. This suggests that quality approaches have to be highly flexible and allow for individualised quality.
2. Quality development, however, has to take into account not only the learners’ needs; it is a process in which the interests and requirements of the eLearning stakeholders have to be considered as a whole and combined to form a comprehensive concept. Quality in this respect is seen as a relation between the demands and needs of a stakeholder group and the actual delivery of eLearning. In order to shape this relationship in the best possible way, a negotiation process is necessary, involving all stakeholders and integrating their preferences and situations against the background of the given economical and organisational situation. These negotiation processes occur in different positions of the learning environment. We suggest utilising process models such as the ISO Reference Model.
3. The third part of the concept is concerned with the question of how existing concepts, approaches and strategies can be used for quality development. A decision cycle is being suggested that makes it possible to find a suitable quality approach for a given context. However, to decide which quality approach is suitable, to choose from a set of possible strategies, and to adapt those strategies to the specific situational context, certain competencies are necessary. For these competencies, we developed the concept of quality literacy. It covers competencies such as knowledge of quality development, experiences in using particular instruments, modification skills and the ability to thoroughly analyse one’s own situation and needs.
Nicolas Balacheff: "There is a growing understanding of the role and needs of teachers and institutions, of the place of knowledge in the design, and of the implementation and deployment of ICT"
Continuity! I think that the main challenge for the EC’s technology-enhanced learning (TEL) research policy—but it might not only be the case of TEL—is ensuring a continuity of its policy that will be directly in line with the “sustainability” challenge that the Commission offered to the new FP6 instruments. It is clear that if the policy doesn’t have a long-lasting vision of the development of the field, researchers - because of their need for financial support - will just try to surf the wave of the always-changing priorities. As I suggested somewhere else, it will stimulate the development of the Acadustry, a chimera of industry and academia that will indeed be sterile. On the contrary, a policy informed by a long-lasting vision of what I deem necessary for the development of the European research area will be a strong and productive support to research. Ahead of that, academic research and R&D have the responsibility for developing a research domain that is both scientifically robust and productive.
Among the priorities I see for us, is the responsibility to organise the fight against reinventing the wheel and developing technologies that are all-but-forgotten soon after their development by PhD students or projects. A stable EC policy would be a real incentive to make this effort. In particular, the challenge will be less a question of seeing the future twenty years ahead, but rather one of understanding what we know, where the current problems and barriers are, and in which areas we can make real breakthroughs. I would like to suggest that if we engage this direction, we will be more efficient in supporting the development of SMEs in the field, offering real solutions to them, and methods to issues they have to face now, in today’s market.
Kaleidoscope has already shaped elements to support the EU efforts to set a productive TEL research area; a good example of this is the Kaleidoscope virtual doctoral school. Soon the Kaleidoscope open archive initiative will demonstrate the capacity of researchers to share and document their production properly and at an international level. However there are difficulties that come from the fragmentation of TEL on a regional basis. The obstacle raised by this fragmentation is quite difficult to overcome because the research needs are not expressed in the same way by all the European nations and the needs are not shared; learning is not yet a global market. This has an impact on the relations with users and SMEs, whose markets are in general quite local and specific. However by setting up European research teams on concrete and precise topics, Kaleidoscope has initiated a movement to build a European research force with a sustainable scientific agenda. Moreover, while building the network, a fragmentation of the research field itself appeared. We are now reducing it, though, with initiatives like the convergence workshop to be held next December to bridge research on collaborative, mobile, and inquiry learning.
What do you consider at this stage to be the most important research revelations in the field of technology-enhanced learning? What can learners expect from the future?
The inertia of knowledge building in the learning sciences is far more important than in other domains. I don’t expect “revelations” but rather a growing awareness of the complexity and the nature of what we are working on. I expect the development of frameworks and methodologies that will allow us to understand where we are, what our results are, and what our priorities should be. We are already beyond the technology push and learner-centred design; there is a growing understanding of the role and needs of teachers and institutions, of the place of knowledge in the design, and of the implementation and deployment of ICT.
The learners can expect from the future more personalised, more reactive learning environments: learning environments more integrated into the global educational system in and out of schools, formal or informal. But my discourse here is too general and common. Actually, everything has been said about the expected evolution of the learning environment in general. We now have to be more specific and say what we can expect for general education and universities, for learning at the workplace and at home, in a museum, or on the playground. Because we understand the needs better, learners should expect more relevant and specific learning environments.
They should also expect learning environments that are more coherent or inline with the assessment and accreditation procedures in schools, universities, or at the workplace. There is an “evaluation divide” that has to be addressed; this is not a “revelation” but one of the key challenges we have to take up. As you can see, this not only addresses the learner, but also the teachers, the trainers, and the institutions.
How do you react to the criticism sometimes made of researchers generally that they tend to research topics which are of interest to them and which they find important rather than the topics that society as a whole expects and needs them to research?
This is a normal tension that exists everywhere, and which may exist forever, I’m afraid. The more you progress, the more you understand your ignorance, and you see that the problems you’ve been considering may have been badly formulated, which in turn means the more you will develop research that may be less self-explanatory for the so-called society. I say “so-called” because it may well be the case that the market and the users, the policy makers and the parents, do not have the same view on what the priorities are and what the focus of research should be. It is not even clear that they can effectively articulate research problems, just as academics may have difficulty in envisioning the application of what they are doing. Nobody is really right, nobody is really wrong in that matter. We need a better understanding of each other, better respect of each other’s responsibilities and competencies.
Let me give an example: Researchers have invented dynamic geometry that the society didn’t ask for but is now using widely, whereas society is asking for technology to enhance the learning of maths that researchers seems unable to provide! Maybe this demonstrates the misunderstanding. The difficulty in learning mathematics is a problem that is too vaguely formulated. On the other hand, even if dynamic geometry has had an impact, it hasn’t provided a definitive solution for the learning of geometry, although it has improved its teaching.
We need a place where both are able to interact and understand each other better. We need a kind of gateway among the academic world, the users, and industry. It is a challenge that Kaleidoscope has taken up together with specialists in the dissemination and transfer of technology, who should be able to act as facilitators in building the needed linguistic, conceptual, and political bridges.
How can the TEL research community supported by Kaleidoscope avoid the dangers of constantly "re-inventing the wheel", i.e. how is it possible to record and make current and previous research activities and findings available on a very wide scale for the next generation of researchers?
In my opinion, the best instrument we could employ for this purpose is currently a documented open archive, in line with the current Open Archive Initiative. Such an archive will provide a central and sustainable repository on the model of the well-known ArXiv, which is heavily used by researchers in physics, mathematics, and computer-science.
To develop such an archive, we will need to agree on metadata at a scientific level and hence on the definitions and concepts that lie behind it. It will make the current scientific results and resources available to PhD students, researchers, and projects. Moreover, we must consider that an open archive is multilingual, raising in a very concrete way the question of the epistemological diversity in our field in Europe and beyond. We thus also have to support the development of better mutual understanding and awareness of the differences that prevent us from fully sharing our production today. This should also apply to software and digital resources, indeed combining the standardization efforts that are already being engaged in at a technological level.
Other materials, like video records and large corpora — like those of learning trails—must be shared in the same way. This will take some time since it is very unlikely that such a movement will find its cruising speed very quickly. We must be willing and patient! We must be supported by a stable policy with a long-lasting vision.
Are researchers the best people to lobby policy-makers, and if not, then who should provide the interface between those carrying out front-line research and those responsible for policy making in the same field?
First, here as elsewhere, the researchers need mediators in order to communicate with policy makers. Who can to do that is not clear; the answer might lie in people who are closer to specialised dissemination or to R&D. But there is a difficulty specific to TEL that you may not find in every field. Because people have been educated in schools and have often had the experience of being parents of students and pupils, they feel that they have knowledge about learning that they can claim with the same authority as researchers. This is a very interesting phenomenon, and it constitutes one of the more important barriers in communication between researchers and society, especially policy makers. Look, either researchers express their results in terms not directly understandable and that are seen as jargon, or they express them in everyday language and it is seen as truism…
There is a need to build a communication channel. In my opinion a medium like the eLearning Europa web site or a conference like Online Educa Berlin can contribute - and actually are contributing to this effort. How could it be more systematic? A solution might be by ensuring that all PhD students are trained in general communication, dissemination strategies, and science popularization. This should be part of a modern researcher’s training. By the way, in big ICT companies, the researchers are not in direct contact with the market: the R&D engineers and possibly marketing people are between them and the users or consumers. Why should academia make the economy of this interface? If a research group cannot afford that, it may be possible for a larger organisation like Kaleidoscope to provide this interface, this “gateway” among academia, the society, and industry.
Kaleidoscope is offering support to PhD and Master’s students through the Virtual Doctoral Schools. What are the barriers to implementing a successful Virtual Doctoral School in Europe in the field of TEL, e.g. national differences regarding supervision practice, etc.?
We have just started a systematic exploration of the commonalities and differences, of the obstacles and of the facilitating conditions for the full establishment of such a school. The fact is that we should probably anticipate difficulty in reaching a consensus about the way PhDs are trained and also about the content of their training. What could constitute a course at this level? At what point are the scientific contents shared enough so that they can be considered as a common reference? The building of a TEL doctoral school is not only a pedagogical enterprise and an institutional partnership, it is really a scientific construction whose result will have an impact far beyond the PhD training.
I see this as a convenient back door to the shaping of the scientific foundation of TEL research. Moreover, this common reference must be flexible and open to rapid evolution; a virtual doctoral school should provide resources that the supervisors and students are able to adapt to their needs and view of PhD studies.
Kaleidoscope is developing an infrastructure at a PhD level; Prolearn is developing an infrastructure at a Master’s level. This is interesting and suggests that a common effort should be made in the near future to bridge the two networks and to reach an even more integrated policy for the development of TEL research. Indeed, there are stimulating and interesting challenges for the coming 7th framework programme. I hope the European Commission will take it up with us in a spirit of continuity in view of the huge effort we have all made up to now in search of robust and sustainable integration of the field.
About Dr. Nicolas Balacheff
Dr. Nicolas Balacheff is Directeur de Recherche (senior scientist) at the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). He also serves as Director of the Leibniz Laboratory in Grenoble, France, a multidisciplinary laboratory in computer science and discrete mathematics, with 100 researchers. In addition, he is the present scientific manager of Kaleidoscope, the European Network of Excellence on technology-enhanced learning.
Kaleidoscope is the European research network shaping the scientific evolution of technology enhanced learning. It integrates the leading research teams in the field, who work collaboratively across educational, computer and social sciences to transform the quality and reach of the learning experience. Kaleidoscope fosters innovation and creativity through the development of new technologies, methodologies and concepts, defining the challenges and solutions for interdisciplinary research.
Kaleidoscope’s goal is to inform knowledge transfer between education, industry, and the wider society. Through its scientific programme, Kaleidoscope is helping to build a dynamic knowledge-based economy for Europe, engaging with social, economic and political stakeholders at all levels.