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Smart Cities 1.0, 2.0, 3.0. What’s next?

Naamloos 5
Smart City 1.0
A Smart City 1.0 is a town that is maximizing the use of advanced technology as a lever for viability, sustainability, and control. These cities are often criticized because of their technology push and the influential role of large corporates, like IBM and CISCO.
Smart City 2.0
The predicate Smart City 2.0 is appropriate if technological tools explicitly are designed to cope with problems like pollution, sanitation, health and traffic in consultation with their citizens. Unfortunately, participation of citizens in formal decision-making structures and meetings is flawed and appeals to a small minority only.
Smart City 3.0
Meanwhile, a much larger number of citizens is involved in activities like gardening, food processing, improving the attractively of streets and even energy production. These activities, often referred to as commoning or place-making are deploying high-, low- or no-tech solutions. They connect every day collaborative acts with broader goals like social inclusion, democracy, enterprise creation and building social capital. Here, the predicate Smart City 3.0 is in order.

This post is about Smart Cities 3.0.

Until today, no city in the world can justify to be a Smart City 2.0 or 3.0. A limited number of cities might claim the predicate Smart City 1.0. The newly build suburb of Seoul, Songdo, probably is one of them (picture above). Amsterdam and Rotterdam are on their way towards Smart City 2.0. and possibly also towards Smart City 3.0. In both cities a number of collaborative projects are running. The Community Lovers Guide offers well illustrated examples from these and other towns. Some of them are mentioned in this post. According to Tessy Britton, one of the authors, many of these projects operate in isolation, lack support and as a consequence their continuity depends on limited number of forerunners.

The benefits of a platform approach

In theory, a platform approach is a useful tool to initiate, support and link projects, create the roots of a participatory culture and coordinate contacts with external parties. The municipal authorities of West Norwood (South London) were willing to support the exploration of the the feasibility of an approach like this. The platform – named The Open Works – became visible when its  ‘headquarter’ was opened in an empty shop.
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The headquarters of Open Works in West Norwood

Citizens were informed during informal and social meetings and any interested person was welcomed for a cup of tea in the headquarter. Within one year 20 projects have been initiated by groups of citizens and nearly 1000 people have participated more or less frequently.

A very readable and well-illustrated report is disclosing the results.

Key findings

The key findings below refer at the outcomes of the pilot project, but they are supported by experiences in other cases.
1. Building a dense and inclusive participatory ecology is feasible
Many citizens appear to be eager to participate in collaborative initiatives, provided these are activity-based. Inclusiveness is within easy reach if initial projects are chosen properly. For instance, multi-cultural cooking during information markets and festivals.
2. The number of activities has to pass a certain threshold to ignite a participatory culture
Adequate scaling-up of the number and the variety of activities is necessary to prevent isolation of single projects and to fuel the development of a particpatory culture. This threshold is is pretty high: ten percent of the citizens will have to meet three times a week on average. Besides, within a walking distance of fifteen minutes at least five alternative projects to be found.

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3. The desirability of different types of participation

A first type are collaborative activities, focussing at daily needs. The second type are community ventures that might develop into social enterprises. Here a small group of people is offering services for the larger community. A well-known example is The Library of Things, based at sharing of utensils and equipment. In time these activities might create economic value and jobs.

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Pendrecht University (Rotterdam)

4. Projects emerge from needs of citizens
Projects are organized ‘on the flow’. Written plans nor formal approval are necessary and some seed capital is available. Support of the platform (‘the headquarter’) appears of critical value. However the participants stay responsible and do the work, finding supplementary funding included.
5. Revival of community services is within reach
A participatory culture might successfully contribute to the reanimation of dilapidated services, like local stores, a minibus connection with major subway stations, refurbishment of abandoned parcels, crime preventing surveillance and reopening of closed amenities like a former community swimming pool . All based on voluntary work and supported by municipal authorities.
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Men’s sheds (in many cities)

6. Care-taking of vulnerable citizens
Participation of vulnerable citizens in community activities sometimes prevent them becoming homeless, alcoholic, drug-addicted or criminal. Recent research, summarized in the above-mentioned Open Works final report, is confirming Putnam’s conclusion that community activities increase a society’s social capital and contribute to the physical and mental health of the citizens involved.
7. The platform approach has proved to be valuable
The three parttime staff members ignited projects, brought people together, organized meetings, took care of administrative burdens, intermediated with external parties and were able to pay small sums to deal with project expenses. The municipal investment in the platform was €10 per local resident.
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An energy company founded and managed by citizens

8. Municipal administration has to adapt
Cooperation between the city administration and the citizens wil be boosted if the municipality is willing to adapt its involvement to citizen’s activities instead of pulling citizen’s activities into the structures of the municipality. Here too platforms are indispensable intermediaries between the administration and the citizens.

What’s next

At first continuation of the Norwood pilot for an additional period of two years was foreseen in view of scaling-up towards a larger territory. The people behind the Norwood case have been looking for a feasible opportunity. And they have found one. Over the next 5 years Participatory City will work with local residents and organisations in the borough Barking and Dagenham to create a new network of 250 projects and 100 businesses. The take-off is just now! See their new website or watch the short documentary below,
In case of success, this municipality might be the first city in the world to claim the predicate Smart City 3.0. Meanwhile other cities are on the same track, to mention only Amsterdam and Rotterdam. We can only hope that these cities learn from the West Norwood pilot and become tough opponents of Participatory City London North. Hopefully, in the near future Smart City 4.0 wil emerge, a city that offers all newly borns equal chances, where inequality is decreasing and where inclusivity is a matter of course.This is the third paper in a series of six, that have been published earlier in The Smart City Hub, a platform for research and opinions with regards to smart cities.
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No democratization of universities without self-government

In February 2015 long smoldering discontent with the administration of the University of Amsterdam erupted in the occupation of its administrative center, the Maagdenhuis.

This discontent has many sources:

  • Considerable cuts in the funding of education and research, partly due to the university’s real estate policy.
  • The position as temporarily employee without tenure prospects of most(!) members of the staff
  • The complicated and fragmented organization, which prevents staff and students having a say in major policy topics, as the relation between research and education.
  • The domination of the university’s policy by principles of efficiency and centralization, which is impairing smaller programs of study.
  • The loss of a feeling of ‘ownership’; staff and students no longer consider their university as a place for academic discourse and critical reflection
Onderwijs - Maagdenhuis bezetting 2015

Maagdenhuisbezetting 2015

The Maagdenhuis has been occupied before, nearly fifty years ago. At that time, staff and students revolted against the hegemonic power of the professors. Then, within two years, parliament ratified a new law, which created councils at university and faculty level. In these councils staff and students had substantial influence. This structure eroded when the harsh political climate in the eighties drove university administrators in hearty embracement of New public management principles.

Fifty years ago, staff and students revolted against the hegemony of the professors; now managerialism is targeted. For many persons who are involved in the ongoing protests, the cure is the same: a significant extension of the legislative power of the councils at university and faculty level. Members of parliament – albeit in opposition’s seats – try to pave the path, as I sincerely hope with success. However it is not enough.

The new legislation in the seventies brought another novelty, the departmental structure. The department – often below faculty level – was meant to be a group of professors and other staff members who were responsible collectively for the education and the research within a certain field, for instance sociology.

Onderwijs - Maagdenhuis bezetting 1969

Maagdenhuisbezetting 1969

In a certain degree the departmental structure represented quite a number of principles of self-government. I guess that I never have seen my colleagues as happy as in those years. At the same time, many of them did not feel much affinity with the discussions in the academic councils[1].

In the nineties, responsibility for education and research was allocated to independent institutions, so called schools. Departments lost their formal power and became capacity groups who lend staff to directors of research and education, losing much of their formal influence. Apart from the brake-down of the relation between education and research, many staff members felt alienated, especially when the compensation in hours they received for their work got worse year after year.

What to do? Rehabilitation of the power of the university and faculty councils is one thing; rehabilitation and strengthening the autonomy of the departments – students included – is something else, which in my view earns priority.

Principles of self-government have been introduced successfully in quite a number of organizations. In the nineties I was involved in a rather successful process of implementation of self-government in my former university. It represents the best that I have accomplished ever professionally and many colleagues regained happiness in their work. There is no best way to implement self-government and all organizations, universities included – have to go through a process of redesign and deliberation.

It is of utmost importance that a university that enters the path of redesigning its governance starts at the bottom-end, probably the department level. The question how to redesign the higher levels (faculty and university) should be raised only after the agreement of a satisfactory solution at the bottom-level. In the end, the result probably is a significant decentralization of power and as a consequence a more light governance structure at faculty and university level.

Science fiction? You should read Laloux’ account of the implementation of self-government in 12 companies and institutions[2]. What nurses, employees of a construction company, teachers and consultants have accomplished, must be feasible in organizations like universities with so many smart people on board[3].

[1] Which was my thing in those days…….

[2] Many ideas about self-government come together in the highly praised best-seller of Frederic Laloux, Reinventing Organizations. Nelson Parker 2014. This book is nominated as the best management book of the 21th century.

[3] The author of this blogpost is a member of the committee ‘Decentralization and democratization’ of the University of Amsterdam. This committee is installed to develop principles for a new governance structure of the university in close connection with the academic community.

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Why universities underachieve

European universities consider the Dublin descriptors as their objectives for about 20 years. Consequently, they claim that upon graduation:

  1. Students are acquainted with the knowledge base of one or more fields of knowledge, research methods included.
  2. Students are able to apply the acquainted knowledge, which means that they can relate concepts and theories with related phenomenon in practice (near transfer)
  3. Students are able to think critical about real problems, making references at proper concepts and theories and – if necessary – by gathering and elaborating empirical data (far transfer)
  4. Students are able to communicate at several levels of complexity about scientific knowledge and its application
  5. Students are increasingly able to master their own learning

Having been a member of evaluation panels for more then 10 years, I must say that programs that have realized these objectives are rare.

Insufficient critical thinking skills

Insufficient critical thinking skills

The first (acquisition of knowledge) and the second (application of knowledge) Dublin descriptor dominate the curriculum. Learning to cope with the other three Dublin descriptors stays behind in most programs. I repeatedly asked representatives of programs under evaluation to explain the meaning of the third Dublin descriptor (critical thinking). Unfortunately, I seldom discovered any vision or strategy with respect to the attainment of this qualification, let alone that students were trained in it. The same applies to the fourth and fifth descriptors. The stepwise acquisition of critical thinking, communication and learning skills require that students participate regularly in collaborative research, tackling real-life problems, resulting in papers, presentations and discussions and thorough feedback.

Onderwijs - Underachieving collegesMy observations coincide with Derek Bok’s – former president of Harvard – critical review of higher education in the US. In his book Our underachieving colleges he has collected ample evidence that universities fall short in educating students as critical thinkers, able to judge deliberately and prepared to deal with diversity within the US and in our globalizing world (Bok, 2008).

Virtually no institution that I have been visiting is able to deliver serious proof of the attainment of the outcomes of their programs. Mostly, the thesis is considered as a proxy, which is questionable. Some institutions asked students to indicate the degree of mastery of the objectives of the program themselves, which is better than doing nothing. Some programs have introduced portfolios, but until now they do not convince as proofs of the attainment of the Dublin descriptors.

Onderwijs - academically adriftMeasurement of educational outcomes is not deployed in the US either. The publishing of the seminal reports of Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa (Arum & Roksa, 2011, 2014) changed the scene. Both authors – employed as professors in US universities – wondered how universities ground their claim that they enable students to think critically, reason analytically, solve problems and communicate clearly. As research to validate this claim is absent, Arum & Roksa deployed the Collegiate Learning Assessment-test (CLA-test). In this test students write a short essay about a real problem. These essays are evaluated from a critical thinking, analytical reasoning, problem solving, and communication skills angle. 2000 freshmen participated in the experiment and repeated the test after 18 month. 45% of the participants did not show any progress. Four years after the second run, a significant part of the original participants participated for the third time and 36% still did not show any significant progress. The authors conclude: Limited or no learning for a large proportion of students characterizes American higher education. The authors also collected data with respect to the average time students spent to their study. In the well-known University of California this appears to be 13 hours, compared with 43 hours for leisure and social activities.

Onderwijs - academically adrift 8The research of Arum and Roksa has been criticized from a methodological point of view. However, it has contributed to a growing awareness that something is terrible wrong in higher education in the US. More in particular if alumni’s debts (more then $1,1 trillion) and unemployment are taken into consideration.

Unfortunately many universities are over-complacent and over-focussed on their ratings, their publications, their enrolments, their patents and endowments. Deep engagement in education, critical evaluation of their programs and determination to realize their objectives stay behind.

Arum, Richard, & Roksa, Jospina. (2011). Academically adrift: Limited learning on college campuses Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Arum, Richard, & Roksa, Jospina. (2014). Aspiring adults adrift: Tentative transitions of college graduates Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Bok, Derek. (2008). Our underachieving colleges. A candid look at how much students learn and what they should be learning more. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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Higher education in US is ready for disruption

Changes in higher education in the US are worth looking at, because they will turn up worldwide in due course [1]. Higher education in the US is ready for disruption[2]: During the past 30 years, fees have increased 538%, which is 4 1/2 times more than average. Until recently, the earnings of alumni allowed them to repay their loans. The past five years saw a dramatic change in their prospects. As a consequence, debt has quadrupled in 10 years to $1,1 trillion now.

At the same time, employers complain about alumni’s lack of skills. According to Gallup[3] 95% agreed with the statement Graduates are woefully underprepared. 40% of all vacant jobs cannot be realized.

distance educationThe number of students who combine study and work is almost 50%. These students prefer programs that are beneficial for their careers and utilize their work experience. They do not fall for the charms of campus life but feel attracted by the flexibility of distance learning.

The problems mentioned above are not new. However, higher education institutions, fearing disruptive innovators, seem more willingly than ever to act.

Higher education policy has always cherished three aims: affordability, accessibility and quality but failed in realizing these aims simultaneously. Exactly this happens right now. Educause, together with Next Generation Learning Challenges launched a call inviting institutions to co-develop bachelor and master programs with fees that do not exceed $5000 a year[4]. Many institutions hurried to redesign their educational offerings, the most prestigious universities of the US among them.

Solutions for the problems and challenges mentioned so far come from four different directions: competency-based learning, flexibility, e-learning and specialization.

Competency-based learning

One of the first institutions that offered competency-based learning in the US is the Western Governors University (WGU) [5]. Its courses of study are based on specified competences and they are preceded by a pre-assessment. This is screening students’ deficiencies resulting in a dedicated offering of materials[6].

New culture of learningImproving the alignment between education and labour market has many other implications. In their book ‘A New culture of learning’ Douglas Thomas and John Seeley Brown introduce entrepreneurial students. They assemble their own curriculum by taking courses from several universities. In addition, they opt for intensive skill trainings like DevBootcamp, Hackbright en General Assembly[7]. The Apollo Education group has developed the program ‘Balloon’ for this kind of students. It offers 15.000 courses, grouped by learning objectives, level, price and type of education. Many universities facilitate this explorative behavior of students and a variety of experiments are set in place[8].

Organizations like Degreed and the Mozilla Open Badge Platform are able to validate students’ extra-curricular activities. They map students’ competences and also how these competences relate to existing grades and diplomas[9].

One of the most fascinating ideas is Stanford’s imaginary Open Loop University. It will enable students to interrupt their program of study with two years of extra-curricular activities that have potential relevance for the core-curriculum, like work, externships, voluntary activities and studying abroad[10].

Open Loop2Competency-based learning, combined with personalization will dismiss the notion of fixed seat-time. This is weighting the workload of a course by the number of class hours. It will even go beyond the system of credit-points that express nominal study load. What counts is the mastery of competencies irrespective of time and effort to realize these.

Flexibility

Flexibility is connected with competency-based learning. Focussing on mastery of specific competencies, students are free in the choice of course materials. Tutors or consultants are available to help them selecting the most appropriate ones[11].

FlexibilityThe Western Governors University allows student to start a course of studies nearly each day of the year and to take as much time as they need. Students pay $6000 per year, an amount of money that allows them taking as many courses of study as they want.

e-Learning

e-Learning is seamlessly connected with competency-based learning, and is enabling flexibility and affordability at once. In fact we envisage a second e-learning revolution. The beginning of the 21th century gave birth to the first Internet universities. Though, their programmes were technology-pushed, their supervision was unsatisfactory, they were too expensive and above all, their status was low. Now 15 years later the landscape has changed dramatically.

The initiative came from the well-established universities, like MIT, Harvard and Stanford. They started with Open Educational Resources, useful for teachers in the first place. Then MOOCs showed-up, valuable learning materials, though without credits. But change is ahead. MOOCs become integrated in regular education of both high-end and low-end educational institutions. Most of the first mentioned ones opt for blended-learning. For instance, Harvard is considering one year online learning, resulting in the selection of an elite group of students who will be on campus for two years, followed by a combination of work and study[12].

Availability onlineMIT believes ‘modularization’ will be the solution and plans to disaggregate courses in small packages, which can be combined. MOOCs provided by EdX will help students acquire the basics. In addition, they visit learning villages. Here practicals and other group activities take place[13]. The same applies to Duke University, in cooperation with Coursera.

The prestigious Georgia Tech University is moving into another direction in cooperation with Udacy, another supplier of MOOCs[14]. Together they offer a $7000 master program in Information science that results in the same grade as its $40.000 equivalent on the campus. The university feels that the difference in target groups will prevent cannibalization of the expensive programme by the cheap one. The free courses of Udacy are available too but without additional assignments and credits.

Specialization

Specialization is another strategy to survive. Institutions like WGU are able to offer an affordable programme because they renounce the development of learning materials of its own.

Learning materials like MOOCs are developed by well-known universities and distributed by companies like Udacy, Edx and Coursera. Publishers, like Pearson are developing and delivering e-learning programs too. Google plans with MOOCs.org to become the YouTube for MOOCs.

Many universities in general and community colleges in particular will survive as campus universities only if they deprioritize research and cease competing with Harvard or other high-end institutions. Their niche is training for the local or regional labour market in tight collaboration with local or regional companies.

Lastly, institutions like the Pacific Gas & Electric Power Pathways and the Clemson University International Centre for Automotive Research opt for topical specialization in order to educate dedicated labour force.

The higher education landscape will change fast. Students will build unique portfolio’s combining a diversity of resources. Specialized institutions will validate their competences and probably even reward them. Sometimes, these grades will match with existing programs  However, the most distinguishing students will prefer unique profiles that might not be academically recognized but that will be priceless for employers. Guess who is better off!

[1] Comprehensive essay about the development of higher education in the US. It inspired me to write this blogpost. http://dupress.com/articles/reimagining-higher-education/?id=us:2sm:3tw:dup758:eng:fed:111914:du_press:sxswedu

[2] See the publications of Clayton Christensen and colleagues. After ‘The innovator’s dilemma'(1997) and ‘Disrupting College: How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary'(2011) http://goo.gl/ogr5r is ‘Hire Education: Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce Revolution’ (2014) a description of ongoing desruptions: http://www.christenseninstitute.org/publications/hire/

[3] See: https://chronicle.com/article/The-Employment-Mismatch/137625/#id=overview

[4] Overview of winning initiatives. http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/NG1233.pdf

[5] See: http://3jrru23si058xyg03oiyzu9p.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/The-engine-behind-WGU.pdf

[6] See https://www.edsurge.com/dreambox-learning

[7] See http://devbootcamp.com

[8] In particular, universities try to improving labor marked-oriented skills of students in cooperation with companies and other organizations.

[9] See: https://degreed.com/about

[10] See: http://natalie-whearley-a9si.squarespace.com/open-loop-university

[11] Short video about Flexpath: http://youtu.be/A4GMc71RGHg

[12] interview with director Edx Anant Agarwal https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/11/25/massachusetts-institute-technology-names-edx-key-component-educational-strategy

[13] See: http://web.mit.edu/future-report/TaskForceOnFutureOfMITEducation_PrelimReport.pdf

[14] Massive (but not open): The motives behind the new online program of Georgia Tech: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/05/14/georgia-tech-and-udacity-roll-out-massive-new-low-cost-degree-program

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e-Learning: Boost to education in developing countries

Distance education is the principle way for developing countries to cope with the fast growing educational needs of their population. Worldwide from 2000 until 2010, the number of students in higher education has increased from 100 to 150 million. Primary and secondary education is challenged even more[1].

In the long run, acceptance of distance education requires the application of quality standards likewise in f2f and distance education. Worldwide agreement prevails that the quality of education is better if it promotes:

  1. Active learning
  2. Frequent and timely interaction between students and teacher
  3. Co-operation between students
  4. Personalization

These standards have in common a high degree of interactivity between students, teachers, resources, and the outside world. In developed countries distance education can comply with these standards: The availability of IT-support in particular enables a high degree of interactivity.

At first sight the potential contribution of IT-support to high quality distance education is beyond reach in many parts of the world. Capacity for implementation of IT appears to be inversely proportional to the perceived needs. However, new opportunities come from an unexpected direction: In developing countries the use of mobile technology as a substitute for computers is booming.

The availability of mobile phones in developing countries is increasing apace. In 2000 the mobile access in Africa was 1%. Now 60% of the total population (1,1 bln) is in easy access of a mobile phone. Many mobile phones offer Internet connection, albeit slow. Consequently in Nigeria 42% of the population has some form of Internet access.

Afrikaans meisje beltThe number of M-learning applications is also growing fast. For instance, mobile phones are used to increase language proficiency and as tools for education in mathematics. A large number of (small) companies is developing content, gratefully using the abundant worldwide offer of Open Educational Resources. Several applications enable students to listen to Wikipedia content[2]

Mobile connectivity and other connected Lo-Tech applications are enabling emerging countries to cope with the four above mentioned quality standards .

Active learning

Active learning is based on a balanced delivery of content and assignments requiring students to apply the content in their own workplace or in cases. Among others, the African Virtual University distributes videotapes and CD’s with lectures. These lectures could be accompanied by assignments in students’ home environment. CD’s have one major advantage over ratio and television; they can be used during periods when electricity is available! Mobile technology is enabling interactivity. Quite a number of experiments have taken place with tutorials where students receive automated feedback by mobile telephones. Mobile phones are also in use for the delivery of short instruction and material of a limited size.

Frequent contacts between students and teacher

One of the best applications of M-learning is the submission by students of results of their assignment by mobile telephone. Mostly, the messages of students will be gathered in a mailbox and teachers can edit their commentary in messages for different group of students, based upon common mistakes or failures[3]. Feedback to students is possible also in educative radio broadcasts. In order to prepare feedback, teachers must listen to a selection of the submitted answers.

Co-operation between students

Collaboration between students from different places benefits highly from the use of mobile phones. In particular, if students work together in order to create knowledge by solving problems. Communicate by forum, mail of phone is improved significantly by the opportunity to have incidental meetings in study centers every now and the. The African Virtual University has invested in the creation of study centers, although its number stays behind significantly the growing demand.

Personalization

The African Virtual University is developing a ‘digital library’ in which students will find manuals, study books and relevant articles. The number of computers and printers still is limited and therefore benefit for students is restricted. Equally promising is an application for mobile phones that allows students to search in Wikipedia and subsequently to listen to the content (‘audio wikipedia’). This application complies with the oral tradition in many African countries.

Three conclusions can be drawn. It will take decades before the availability of computers in emerging countries compares with that of rich countries, also because of the necessity to have a reliable supply of electricity and enough expertise to maintain the network. In the meantime mobile learning will be a substitute, especially in combination radio, television and CD’s and an accessible network of study centres. In the third place a distance learning infra structure has to be developed that is characterized by an adequate mix of faculty (course developers, tutors and supporting staff) and that develops adequate didactic solutions to deploy the growing Lo-Tech infrastructure.

[1] Altbach, P., Reisberg, L., & Rumbley, L. (2009). Trends in Global Higher Education: Tracking an Academic Revolution; A Report Prepared for the UNESCO 2009 World Conference on Higher Education. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

[2] See a comprehensive overview by Saga Briggs: How Educators Around The World Are Implementing Mobile Learning http://shar.es/1Xbbay

[3] Visser, L., & West, P. (2005). The promise of M-learning for distance education in South Africa and other developing nations. In Y. L. Visser, L. Visser, M. Simonson & R. Amirault (Eds.), Trends and issues in distance education: international perspectives (pp. 111-129). Greenwich, Connecticut: Information Age Publishing.

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My inspiration

I decided to start writing a blog only recently. The first question was about choosing a topic: innovation, regional development, quality of higher education, corporate social responsibility, just to mention a few ideas that came up. Did these topics have something in common? This question inspired me to have a short period of introspection[1].

Value free science

Protest meeting in Nijmegen 1969

Protest meeting in Nijmegen 1969

In the sixties, I studied human geography at Radboud University in Nijmegen and it took not very long before I got involved in the students’ movement. In one of my first pamphlets I excited myself about value free science, which I renamed into valueless science. We propagated some kind of ‘advocacy science’ in service of oppressed people. When the oppressed, whoever they were did not show any interest in our engagement, fellow students started to read Marx or travelled into exotic places to free their minds. I felt that it was time to quit the ‘movement’.

Education again prejudice

Education was my new passion. Teaching is the way to a better society; you only have to wait long enough. After a short career as a secondary school teacher, I moved into university and wrote a PhD thesis about the contribution of primary education in fighting prejudice. In this post cold war period most children saw Americans as the good guys and Russians as the bad ones. We – the Dutch – of course were considered as the best.

Culture-critical thinking

In my eyes, scientific concepts and theories were powerful tools to free common sense thinking from prejudice. I tried to implement this view in geography education, which meant a radical change. For many years, geography education had been based upon knowledge of facts. I invented the ‘culture critical model’: Our environment can be conceptualized with four different approaches: physical-biological, economical, social and cultural. Each approach is one-sided and children have to learn to construct images of reality based upon tension between two or more approaches.

University education under attack

The conviction that education must be more than the acquisition of knoledge, opened a new battlefield, namely academic teaching itself. As a student, I had spent most of my time with remote learning. My wife and I listened to taped summaries of books all day and subsequently the professors honoured our proficiency. In my view, the lecture was the symbol of bad education. Later, the Board of our university appointed me as educational director of a new faculty in order to prove that things can be done better.

From problem-based to project learning

lifelong learning1I was challenged and twelve hectic years followed. Everybody who is searching in Google with ‘large-scale educational innovation’, ‘low budget’ and ‘massive enrolment of students’ will only find one hit, namely: “Do not”. That was no option and after the implementation of problem-based learning, we developed a ‘hybrid’ model that combined problem-based, project-based and traditional education (Van den Bosch & Kieft, 2001). We managed to implement this system in the bachelor program of the seven educational programs in the Nijmegen School of Management. Thanks to this approach, students learned how to analyse and to solve policy problems with insights from several scientific disciplines.

Active students count

I do not promote one single type of education anymore. The quality of higher education depends from whether students learn to relate theory and practice. Educational programs might arrive at this aim in several ways. Sometimes even a lecture is helpful. As a member of peer evaluation teams, I frequently visit faculties and I can only observe that most faculties share this vision. However, they bother with its implementation.

Scientific research

In 2001, I was appointed as dean of the Faculty of management of the Dutch Open University. My colleagues and I had to improve the quality of research, in which we succeeded. Nevertheless, I started to worry about the direction into which scientific research is moving. Most research is lacking societal relevance. Publishing has become a career instrument for staff. Universities will be marginalized in the long run if they continue like that. I tried to implement ‘mode 2’ research, which proved to be a partial success.

Back to geography

A couple of years ago, I decided to take more time for research myself. The ‘learning region’ appeared to be a challenging theme, because of the involvement of geography, educational science and business administration, the three field of science that I got acquainted with during my career. The relations between institutions of higher education and companies have my first interest. Universities differ with respect to their willingness to play an active role in regional development. I try to find out whether this has to do with differences in their vision at science.

Applied research

van de venStokes_Critics of ‘engaged scholarship’ use to confuse engaged research with applied research. Two publications have convinced me that this view is wrong. In the first place Donald Stokes’ book  “Pasteur’s Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation” (1997). This book makes clear that research could be ‘engaged’ and ‘fundamental’ at the same time. The second book “Engagedscholarship; a guide for organizational and social research” is written by

Andrew van de Ven (2007). Each student and scholar ought to read this book. It demonstrates that societal engagement results in better research!

Valorisation

Nowadays, universities have a mouthful of valorisation of knowledge. This is a first step, albeit small. Many scientists believe that thinking about the application of their research is only starting after the research has been finished. Van de Ven rejects this view. In his words: “”Who is asking the wrong questions, must not be surprised when nobody cares for the answers.” Stakeholder commitment from the beginning of a research project is a prerequisite for successful valorisation. During this dialogue, the right questions are raised and sources of data that were closed before are opened.

When all parts fit together

After my short introspection, I knew what is engaging me. The clumsy rejection of value free science, the application of scientific knowledge to fight prejudice, the connection of theory and practice in education by realistic problems, the interest in the role of universities in regional development, the aversion of the perverse effects of the ‘publish or perish’ mechanism in universities and the approval of Van de Ven’s ‘engaged scholarship have the same root, namely the mission to commit science in service of a better society. I hope my blog will contribute to some extend.

Stokes, D. E. (1997). Pasteurs Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation: Brookings Institution Press.

Van de Ven, A. H. (2007). Engaged scholarship; a guide for organizational and social research. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Van den Bosch, H. M. J., & Kieft, M. (2001). The hybrid curriculum; the acquisition of academic competencies in the university curriculum. In W. Gijselaers (Ed.), Educational innovation in economics and business administration, part VII. (pp. 41-56). Dordrecht: Kluwer, Academic Press.


[1] Posted in Dutch the 5th of January 2013

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