Learning and Knowledge Analytics 2011: I Will Participate

Mining Social Networks (The Economist)

Mining Social Networks (The Economist/Andy J. Miller)

George Siemens has written about the upcoming Learning and Knowledge Analytics 2011 course (#lak11). After reading the very interesting draft syllabus I have decided to actively participate. This means you should be seeing reflections about the course in this very blog soon. The dedicated Moodle site for the course asks participants to introduce themselves and write about their course expectations. I have posted the following:

I am a 34 year old guy from Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I work as the “Innovation Manager for Global Learning Technologies” at Shell International (at the headquarters in The Hague). Before this job I was heavily involved with the Moodle project as an e-learning consultant working for the Dutch Moodle Partner (Stoas Learning). Before that I was a teacher at a high school in Amsterdam (I taught PE and project based education).

I love technology and am deeply interested in how it affects society. One of my business cards uses my favourite quote (from Yochai Benkler): “Technology creates feasibility spaces for social practice” (see here for more context). To me, this open course is an example too of a practice enabled by technological possibilities.

My blog can be found at http://blog.hansdezwart.info and you should also find links to my other social networking presences there. I try to blog regularly and what I write on this course is here.

I intend to actively participate in this course. For me this means:

  • Spending time to read and annotate all the course materials during my commute (1.5 hours each way) on my iPad.
  • Writing reflections at least once a week on my blog
  • Doing all the suggested activities and participate actively in the Moodle forums.
  • Try to attend the weekly live Elluminate sessions (if the timezone agrees with my schedule) or at least watch the recordings.

If I manage to the above, then the course will be a success for me. The topic is inherently fascinating to me and I would love to be helped with how learning and knowledge analytics could help my professional practice.

Looking forward to meeting other participants and learning together!

It would be great if some of my readers would also be able to join!

The Future State of Capability Building in Organizations: Inspirations

CC-licenced photo by Flickr user kevindooley

CC-licenced photo by Flickr user kevindooley

I have been involved in organizing a workshop on capability building in organizations hosted on my employer‘s premises (to be held on October 20th). We have tried to get together an interesting group of professionals who will think about the future state of capability building and how to get there. All participants have done a little bit of pre-work by using a single page to answer the following question:

What/who inspires you in your vision/ideas for the future state of capability building in organizations?

Unfortunately I cannot publish the one-pagers (I haven’t asked their permission yet), but I have disaggregated all their input into a list of Delicious links, a YouTube playlist and a GoodReads list (for which your votes are welcome). My input was as follows:

Humanistic design
We don’t understand ourselves well enough. If we did, the world would not be populated with bad design (and everything might look like Disney World). The principles that we use for designing our learning interventions are not derived from a deep understanding of the humand mind and its behavioural tendencies, instead it is often based on simplistic and unscientific methodologies. How can we change this? First, everybody should read Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language. Next, we can look at Hans Monderman (accessible through the book Traffic) to understand the influence of our surroundings on our behaviour. Then we have to try and understand ourselves better by reading Medina’s Brain Rules (or check out the excellent site) and books on evolutionary psychology (maybe start with Pinker’s How the Mind Works). Finally we must never underestimate what we are capable of. Mitra’s Hole in the Wall experiment is a great reminder of this fact.

Learning theory
The mental model that 99% of the people in this world have for how people learn is still informed by an implied behaviourist learning theory. I like contrasting this with George Siemens’ connectivism and Papert’s constructionism (I love this definition). These theories are actually put into practice (the proof of the pudding is in the eating): Siemens and Stephen Downes (prime sense-maker and a must-read in the educational technology world) have been running multiple massive online distributed courses with fascinating results, whereas Papert’s thinking has inspired the work on Sugarlabs (a spinoff of the One Laptop per Child project).

Open and transparent
Through my work for Moodle I have come to deeply appreciate the free software philosophy. Richard Stallman‘s four freedoms are still relevant in this world of tethered appliances. Closely aligned to this thinking is the hacker mentality currently defended by organizations like the Free Software Foundation, the EFF, Xs4all and Bits of Freedom. Some of the open source work is truly inspirational. My favourite example is the Linux based operating system Ubuntu, which was started by Mark Shuttleworth and built on top of the giant Debian project. “Open” thinking is now spilling over into other domains (e.g. open content and open access). One of the core values in this thinking is transparency. I actually see huge potential for this concept as a business strategy.

Working smarter
Jay Cross knows how to adapt his personal business models on the basis of what technology can deliver. I love his concept of the unbook and think the way that the Internet Time Alliance is set up should enable him to have a sustainable portfolio lifestyle (see The Age of Unreason by the visionary Charles Handy). The people in the Internet Time Alliance keep amplifying each other and keep on tightening their thinking on Informal Learning, now mainly through their work on The Working Smarter Fieldbook.

Games for learning
We are starting to use games to change our lives. “Game mechanics” are showing up in Silicon Valley startups and will enter mainstream soon too. World Without Oil made me understand that playing a game can truly be a transformational experience and Metal Gear Solid showed me that you can be more engaged with a game than with any other medium. If you are interested to know more I would start by reading Jesse Schell’s wonderful The Art of Game Design, I would keep following Nintendo to be amazed by their creative take on the world and I would follow the work that Jane McConigal is doing.

The web as a driver of change
Yes, I am believer. I see that the web is fundamentally changing the way that people work and live together. Clay Shirky‘s Here Comes Everybody is the best introduction to this new world that I have found so far. Benkler says that “technology creates feasibility spaces for social practice“. Projects like Wikipedia and Kiva would not be feasible without the current technology. Wired magazine is a great way to keep up with these developments and Kevin Kelly (incidentally one of Wired’s cofounders) is my go-to technology philosopher: Out of Control was an amazingly prescient book and I can’t wait for What Technology Wants to appear in my mailbox.

I would of course be interested in the things that I (we?) have missed. Your thoughts?

My Top 10 Tools for Learning 2010

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user yoppy

CC-licensed photo by Flickr user yoppy

For this year’s edition of the Top 100 Tools for Learning (a continuing series started, hosted and curated by JaneDuracell BunnyHart of the Internet Time Alliance) I decided to really reflect on my own Learning Process. I am a knowledge worker and need to learn every single day to be effective in my job. I have agreed with my manager to only do very company-specific formal training. Things like our Leadership development programs or the courses around our project delivery framework are so deeply embedded in our company’s discourse that you miss out if you don’t allow yourself to learn the same vocabulary. All other organised training is unnecessary: I can manage myself and that is the only way in which I can make sure that what I learn is actually relevant for my job.

So what tools do I use to learn?

1. Goodreads in combination with Book Depository
The number one way for me personally to learn is by reading a book. When I started as an Innovation Manager in January I wanted to learn more about innovation as a topic and how you could manage an innovation funnel. I embarked on a mission to find relevant books. Nowadays I usually start at Goodreads, a social network for readers. I like the reviews there more than the ones on Amazon and I love the fact that I can get real recommendations from my friends. Goodreads has an excellent iPhone app making it very easy to keep a tab on your reading habits. I found a bunch of excellent books on innovation (they will get a separate post in a couple of weeks).
My favourite book store to buy these books is Book Depository (please note that this is an affiliate link). They have worldwide free shipping, are about half the price of the book stores in the Netherlands and ship out single books very rapidly.

2. Twitter and its “local” version Yammer
Ever since I got an iPhone I have been a much keener Twitter user (see here and guess when I got the iPhone). I have come to realise that it is a great knowledge management tool. In recent months I have used it to ask direct questions to my followers, I have used it to follow live news events as they unfold, I have searched to get an idea of the Zeitgeist, I have used it to have a dialogue around a book, and I have used it as a note taking tool (e.g. see my notes on the Business-IT fusion book, still available thanks to Twapperkeeper).
Yammer is an enterprise version of Twitter that is slowly taking off in my company. The most compelling thing about it is how it cuts across all organizational boundaries and connects people that can help each other.

3. Google
Google does not need any introduction. It is still my favourite search tool and still many searches start at Google. I have to admit that those searches are often very general (i.e. focused on buying something or on finding a review or a location). If I need structured information I usually default to Wikipedia or Youtube.

4. Google Reader
I have about 300 feeds in Google Reader of which about 50 are in my “first read” category, meaning I follow them religiously. This is the way I keep up with (educational) technology news. What I love about Google Reader is how Google has made a very mature API available allowing people to write their own front-end for it. This means I can access my feeds from a native iPhone app or from the web or from my desktop while keeping the read counts synchronised. Another wonderful thing is that Google indexes and keeps all the feed items once you have added the feeds. This means that you can use it to archive all the tweets with a particular hash tag (Twitter only finds hash tags from the last two weeks or so when you use their search engine). Finally, I have also used Google Reader as a feed aggregator. This Feedburner feed, for example, was created by putting three different feeds in a single Google Reader folder (more about how to do that in a later post).

5. Wikipedia (and Mediawiki)
The scale of Wikipedia is stupefying and the project still does not seem to run out of steam. The Wikimedia organization has just rolled out some enhancements to their Mediawiki software allowing for easier editing. The openness of the project allows for people to build interesting services on top of the project. I love Wikipanion on my iPhone and I have enthusiastically used Pediapress a couple of times to create books from Wikipedia articles. I find Wikipedia very often (not always!) offers a very solid first introduction to a topic and usually has good links to the original articles or official websites.

6. Firefox
Even though I have written earlier that I was a Google Chrome user, I have now switched back and let Mozilla’s Firefox be the “window” through which I access the web. This is mainly due to two reasons. The first being that I am incredibly impressed with the ambitions of Mozilla as an organization. Their strategy for making the web a better place really resonates with me. The other reason is Firefox Sync, allowing me to use my aliased bookmarks and my passwords on multiple computers. I love Sync for its functionality but also for its philosophy: you can also run your own Sync server and do not need to use Mozilla’s and all the sync data is encrypted on the server side, needing a passphrase on the client to get to it.

7. LinkedIn
It took a while before I started to see the true benefits of LinkedIn. A couple of weeks ago I had a couple of questions to ask to people who have experience with implementing SAP Enterprise Learning in large organizations. LinkedIn allowed me to search for and then contact people who have SAP Enterprise Learning in their profile in some way. The very first person that I contacted forwarded me on to a SAP Enterprise Learning discussion group on LinkedIn. I asked a few questions in that forum and had some very good public and private answers to those questions within days. In the past I would only have access to that kind of market information if SAP would have been the broker of this dialogue or if I would buy from analysts like Bersin. LinkedIn creates a lot of transparency in the market place and transparency is a good thing (especially for customers).

8. WordPress (including the WordPress.com network) and FocusWriter
Writing is probably one of the best learning processes out there and writing for other people is even better. WordPress is used to publish this post, while I use a simple cross-platform tool called FocusWriter to give me a completely uncluttered screen with just the words (no menus, window edges or status bars!). WordPress is completely free to use. You can either opt for a free (as in beer) hosted version that you can set up within seconds on http://www.wordpress.com or you can go the free (as in speech) version where you download the application, modify it to your needs and host it where you want. If I was still a teacher now, this would be the one tool that I would let all of my students use as much as possible.

9. Youtube
The quantity of videos posted on Youtube is not comprehensible. It was Rob Hubbard who first showed me how you could use the large amount of great tutorials to great effect. He rightfully thought: Why would I put a lot of effort into developing a course on how to shoot a great video if I can just link to a couple of excellent, well produced, short, free videos that explain all the most important concepts? The most obvious topics to learn about are music (listening to music and learning how to play music) and games (walkthroughs and cheat codes) , but there are already lots of great videos on other topics too.

10. Moodle and the community on Moodle.org
Moodle is slowly slipping to the bottom of my list. In the last few years a lot of my professional development was centred around Moodle and I still owe many of the things I know about educational technology, open source and programming/systems administration to my interactions in the forums at Moodle.org. Two things are the cause for Moodle being less important to my own learning:
1. I now have a job in which I am tasked to try and look ahead and see what is coming in the world of enterprise learning technology. That is a broad field to survey and I have been forced to generalise my knowledge on the topic.
2. I have become increasingly frustrated with the teacher led pedagogical model that all Virtual Learning Environments use. I do believe that VLEs “are dead”: they don’t fully leverage the potential of the net as a connection machine, instead they are usually silos that see themselves as the centre of the learning technology experience and lack capabilities to support a more distributed experience.

Previous versions of my Top 10 list can be found here for 2008 and here for 2009. A big thank you again to Jane for aggregating and freely sharing this hugely valuable resource!

DrupalJam in 7 tweets (Awesöme?!)

Arjen Vrielink and I write a monthly series titled: Parallax. We both agree on a title for the post and on some other arbitrary restrictions to induce our creative process. For this post we agreed to write about DrupalJam 6 by commenting on 7 tweets that have a #drupaljam hashtag. You can read Arjen’s post with the same title here.



DrupalJam 6 was held in Amsterdam on March 19th 2010. I have never really used Drupal, but as a project it has many similarities to Moodle and that makes it interesting to me. Just like Moodle it was started by a single very sociable person with a vision, just like Moodle it is a PHP application and just like Moodle it is the de facto mindshare (if not market) leader in its field. All the similarities make looking at the differences even more interesting. Moodle has commercialised through a decentralised network of Moodle partners, whereas Drupal has chosen a venture capital backed route with Acquia.Martin Dougiamas has decided to commercialise the Moodle trademark through a decentralised network of Moodle partners, whereas Dries Buytaert has chosen a venture capital backed route by creating a company specialising in Drupal services: Acquia, allowing other companies to (often freely) license the Drupal trademark too. (Text deleted and added after a comment by Bert Boerland, thanks!) The DrupalJam was more product focused (in the sense of software focused) than your standard Moodlemoot. This makes sense: DrupalJam visitors only share the fact that they use Drupal (the contents of their site can be about anything) whereas Moodlemoot visitors usually also share a passion for education.

Let’s cut to the chase: During the DrupalJam I kept monitoring the #drupaljam hashtag using Tweetie 2. I then favourited every tweet that I thought was interesting and could be used for this post. Out of the twenty or so favourites I selected these 7 to share with you.

1. tkeppens: Het zou fantastisch zijn de #drupaljam sessies na de conf als screencast te kunnen zien. Drukke agenda laat niet toe er te zijn. : – ( #drupal
A quick translation: “It would be fantastic if #drupaljam sessions would be viewable as a screencast after the conf. Busy agenda doesn’t permit me to attend”. Technology is now at a stage where even for a non-commercial event, this should be feasible. Presentation capturing is something that I have been exploring in my role as Innovation Manager for Learning Technologies recently and it is a market with fast maturing products. I have looked at Presentations 2Go and am also very interested in Echo 360‘s offering (see here for a more complete list of options I explored). I believe it is good practice to separate the video of the speaker from the video of the speaker’s laptop. Does anybody know what is the easiest way of organising this on the cheap for conferences like the DrupalJam or a Moodlemoot?

2. ellishettinga: 2 werelden komen samen, #drupaljam in de Microsoft-/Sogetizaal, Microsoft als hoofdsponsor? Gezellig.
Translation: “2 worlds come together, #drupaljam in de Microsoft-/Sogetihall, Microsoft as the main sponsor? Convivial.” I have a distaste for giving rooms names of sponsors and have tweeted about that before:

Corporate Sponsorship

Corporate Sponsorship

However the fact that it is Microsoft sponsoring an open source event is pretty new to me and apparently something we should be getting used to.

3. ijansch: #drupaljam dangerous question in opening. ‘how many women are here’ is so eighties… Make them feel normal, not special.
Women in technology is a pretty contentious topic. Ada Lovelace day has just passed and could be seen as a symptom of more ground needing to be covered. DrupalJam did not have a lot of women attending. As nooble wrote: Op #drupaljam met 2^8 mannen en 2^2 vrouwen (“At #drupaljam with 2^8 men and 2^2 women”). I agree with ijansch that the organiser did a terrible job in the way that they brought this to the attention of the complete audience. Instead they should have asked themselves why this is the case and how it can be changed for the next event. I’ve recently listened to two podcasts that discuss women in technology as a (sub)topic: FreeBDSgirl and Fernanda Weiden both on Floss Weekly. Another interesting project to stay in touch with is Women & Mozilla. Open source projects should never forget that there are also many other diversity and inclusiveness lenses to take into account outside of gender.

4. ijansch: Would be nice if #drupaljam was on http://joind.in for talk ratings
It is always nice to learn about a new web service through a tweet. I checked out Joind.in and have decided to register for an account and try and use it at the next conference I am organising (Moodlemoot on May 26th). Joind.in allows you to add tracks and talks to your event and then provide an easy link to a summary, slides on Slideshare and a way to score and comment on the talk. They have an iPhone app and an open API (so other apps should be on their way). The only thing that might be a problem is that it doesn’t seem to allow for localisation: the whole site is in English, making Dutch summaries stand out a bit.

5. ekes: apache solr stats #drupal understand what people look for on your site. Genius. @robertDouglass #drupaljam
The first tweet that has any relation to Drupal. Apache Solr is an interesting Apache project that sits on top of the Lucene search engine library. It is a very fully featured and fast search platform with things like faceted search out of the box. There is a Drupal project that integrates Solr with Drupal, bringing very rich search functionality to any Drupal website. Good stuff!

6. askibinski: Just learned about the ‘Levensthein distance’. A way to compare similarities between strings. #drupaljam
This tweet had me whipping out my phone to do a Wikipedia search (I use the excellent and free Wikipanion app for that) on Levensthein distance. It is a way to see how similar two strings of text are measured by their edit distance: how many steps do you need to transform one string into another. I have no idea why this concept came up during DrupalJam (I wasn’t at the talk), but I do now have another trivia under my belt.

7. bramveen: Maybe the speaker should remove his chewing gum #drupaljam
Every open source project seems to have a least one “rock star” and Morten Heide self-named “King of Denmark” was the rock star of the day. Morten loves umlauts, the name of his company is “geek Röyale“, and his two favourite words are “awesöme” and “shit”.

Morten's Cöntact form

Morten's Cöntact form

Morten is a web designer and was giving the final talk of the day, speaking about the new way of doing themes in the as yet unreleased Drupal 7. The only problem with the talk was that Morten was chewing gum while talking. That and the rest of his behaviour turned the talk into more of a show about Morten then a talk about Drupal theming. Afterwards Mortendk showed some remorse on Twitter: #drupaljam next time im gonna drop The gum it was an #epicfail hope ppl got The awesome shit in drupal 7 anyways. I would say: Keep the gum, the world needs more completely self-involved rock stars…

Book Review: Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques

Just over a year ago I reviewed four Moodle books published by Packt Publishing. Since then, a lot of new Moodle titles have been added to their catalogue. Richard Dias, Marketing Research Executive at Packt, has kindly sent me a copy of one of these new titles for review: Moodle 1.9 Teaching Techniques by William Rice and Susan Smith Nash, first published in January 2010.

William Rice has already published a couple of books with Packt. This book seems to be an effort by Susan Smith Nash to  build on an earlier version of the book by Rice. She adds some learning theory and instructional design essentials to the earlier text.

The fact that this is an update of a much older book, doesn’t work very well. Let me share some examples of where it goes wrong:

  • Chapter 2 used to be called “Forum Solutions”, now it has been retitled to “Instructional Material”. This is weird: Moodle’s core functionality and strongest pedagogical tool is first introduced as a way to clearly display course information and structure. Then on page 25 there is a paragraph titled “Creating a Separate Group for Each Student”. The context from the earlier book (you might want to do this to create private conversations with students) is omitted, making it a confusing set of pages.
  • Chapter 4 has a section that explains how you can exclude quiz grades from a particular quiz in the grade book. The screenshots and explanations are taken from an earlier version of Moodle and do not relate to Moodle 1.9. Moodle 1.9 has a completely different grade book (and has been released since March 2008). It is unforgivable for a book that is published in 2010 to get this wrong. I don’t understand how the reviewer missed this. Hopefully a corrected version will be published as an erratum.
  • The introduction to the book explains that  a basic level of Moodle understanding is assumed for the reader as it wants to focus on learning theory. However it then spends more than 5 (of its 193) pages on explaining what an IP address is and how it can be used to restrict access to a quiz. It gets the Linux part on how to see your IP address wrong (another one for the errata).

The book doesn’t really make optimal use of the new and advanced functionality that Moodle 1.9 has on offer. Two examples:

  • The concept of “groups” is used in the book in some descriptions of course activities (although not enough to call for its own spot in the index), but the concept of “groupings” isn’t mentioned anywhere. If I were to teach a course with Moodle tomorrow, I would definitely use this functionality as it allows you to be much more flexible in your course design.
  • Ever since Moodle 1.7 it has been possible to play with roles and capabilities in Moodle. That functionality is relatively hard to understand and needed some maturation. It is much more usable now in Moodle 1.9. This functionality is only used once in the book (during the discussion on forums) and isn’t explained well enough to my taste.

Does the book have some valuable things to offer? It is not all bad:

  • Some of the introductions to learning concepts are theories are good starting points for further exploration. For example, I liked the reference to Bruner’s “scaffolding” concept and spent some time reading the Wikipedia article on instructional scaffolding.
  • The pages on basic chat etiquette and wiki etiquette are quite useful. They describe rules you can agree on with your students to make the online learning process more pleasurable.
  • The ways of using the choice activity have been slightly expanded compared to the earlier version of the book.
  • The last chapter has a nice example of a capstone project assignment that you could adapt for your own teaching. To use the workshop module as the basis for this project assignment is a bit risky, as I would not recommend anybody to use the workshop module in its current state (Moodle 2.0 should solve that problem).

All in all I would not recommend anybody to get this book. If you have 30 euros to spend on a Moodle book (this book isn’t cheap!) choose one of the ones I recommend here. If you have a basic understanding of Moodle and are looking for generalised teaching techniques for online courses you are much better served by Gilly Salmon‘s work on e-moderation (see E-moderating and E-tivities).

Hopefully I can be more enthusiastic about the next Packt title I get to review…