Monday, September 19, 2011

A Chinese-English dictionary for Technology-Enhanced Learning

One result of this year's Summer School Matchmaking Event on Technology-Enhanced Learning: A Chinese-English dictionary for Technology-Enhanced Learning. Take at look if you speak Chinese and let us know what you think.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Our modern skulls house a malleable mind

"Darwin in Mind: New Opportunities for Evolutionary Psychology" is a fascinating article discussing the often heard claim that "our modern skulls house a Stone Age mind". This statement comes from the field of evolutionary psychology, a field with the thesis that "genetic evolution simply could not keep pace fully with the extraordinary rate at which human technology transformed environments.".
The authors assemble an impressive collection of research that quite convincingly indicates that this thesis does not hold. Some extracts:

  • "There have been substantial human genetic changes in the last 50,000 years, with possibly as much as 10% of human genes affected"
  • "Events in the Holocene (the last 10,000 years) ... were a major source of selection on our species, and possibly accelerated human evolution"
  • "If humans exhibit equivalent rates [than seen in other species], then significant genetic evolution would occur over the course of a few hundred years."
  • "Recent trends in developmental psychology and neuroscience have ... stressed the malleability of the human brain, emphasizing how experience tunes and regulates synaptic connectivity, neural circuitry and gene expression in the brain, leading to remarkable plasticity in the brain’s structural and functional organization"
  • "the human brain has too much architectural complexity for it to be plausible that genes specify its wiring in detail; therefore, developmental processes carry much of the burden of establishing neural connections"
  • "there is no evidence for modularity in central systems such as those involved in learning and memory."
  • "... accounts of the evolution of brain and cognition cannot in themselves explain the brain’s underlying working mechanisms"

What I find fascinating about this research is that it highlights the potential of us human. We are not driven and out into a final shape by nature, but carry potential and possibility to develop.

The article is freely available on PLOSBiology.
Darwin in Mind: New Opportunities for Evolutionary Psychology by Johan J. Bolhuis, Gillian R. Brown, Robert C. Richardson, Kevin N. Laland

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Quote from Mencius

Another great quote from a Chinese teacher/philosopher:
"One who believes all of a book would be better off without books."
"尽信书,则不如无书 "
 See one of my earliest blog entries for a similar wise quote from Xun Zi.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Call for Papers: International Workshop on Enabling Successful Self-Regulation in Open Learning Environments (S-ROLE 2011)

Dear readers, please consider contributing to this workshop I am co-organizing: 

International Workshop on Enabling Successful Self-Regulation in Open
Learning Environments (S-ROLE 2011)
8-10 December, 2011, Hong Kong, in conjunction with
ICWL 2011 - International Conference on Web-based Learning

Workshop Submission Deadline: September 11, 2011


This workshop focuses on the design of personal learning environments
and its underlying psychological and pedagogical rational. While a
significant amount of research currently investigates PLEs, in-depth
investigations on how to successfully enable self-regulation in
practice are rare. For instance, most successful PLE usage examples
were driven by digitally literate and self-motivated learners. The
workshop welcomes contributions that elaborate on conditions which are
necessary that a learning environment supports self-regulated learning
and that a learner can use the personal learning environment in a
meaningful way. Furthermore, guidelines and principles should be
elaborated how a learner can compile her own learning environment and
how the compilation can be supported. Case studies from test-beds that
involve "average" learners (e.g., adult learners with limited
opportunities to study and low digital literacy) are particularly

Research questions to be addressed include:
•       Which factors are relevant that a learning environment supports
self-regulated learning?
•       How can a learning environment be personalized to the needs of learners?
•       Which guidelines can be made to support the assembly of a learning
•       Which recommendation strategies and systems can support the assembly
of learning environments?
•       What case studies about self-regulated learning in open and personal
learning environments are available?
•       Which evaluation strategies are possible in the context of learning

The expected duration of the workshop will be a full day.


Workshop papers should have a length of 10 pages and must be formatted
according to the LNCS author guidelines. In order to submit a workshop
paper, please use the workshop submission system installation at

Each workshop paper will be reviewed by 3 reviewers (members of the
Programme Committee). The accepted papers will be published in a
separate volume in Springer Lecture Notes in Computer Science (LNCS)
as a second post-proceeding volume after the meeting.


Milos Kravcik   RWTH Aachen University, Germany
Alexander Nussbaumer    Graz University of Technology, Austria
Carsten Ullrich         Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China

PROGRAMME COMMITTEE (to be confirmed)

available on the website


The full-day workshop format will foster interactive presentations and
constructive work. Workshop papers and demonstrations have to address
at least one of the research questions specified above.

The schedule of the workshop will include sessions for paper
presentation, discussion of the individual papers, plenary discussion
of the workshop topics, and collaborative elaboration of key aspects
raised during the workshop.

Further information:

Monday, July 25, 2011

Learning Object Repositories: Requirements from the Practice

Maybe I'm having the wrong expectations about Learning Objects / Educational Resources. I started working on that topic more than 10 years ago, and the first 8 years as a researcher investigating what you can do with them, under "optimal" conditions. Recently, I "switched" sides and wanted to use them from a teacher's perspective, but what I find is to 99% not useful at all. Let me explain.
From 2000 to 2007 I worked in the ActiveMath group where we investigated reuse of learning objects, basically what you can do with fine-grained LOs, self-containing, paragraph long, properly annotated with metadata (such as dependencies, difficulty level, type). If you have plenty of those, amazing things become possible, such as automatic courseware generation. The drawback is obviously that such resources are expensive to author, different viewpoints on the metadata, etc. But if you get over such problems within a project, it opens up a lot of possibilities.
Now, since about two years, besides doing research in technology-enhanced learning, I started to teach French in the distant university of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. In these few years as a teacher I learned a lot about what you can expect from students and teachers in real life (pdf). In my teaching I face a problem that I also encounter as a language learner (of Chinese). I have a book I need to follow when I teach. So what I am looking for are not complete units, but rather individual content items to supplement my teaching. Additional exercises, activities. I experienced this from my own language learning: very quickly you know the texts and exercises from the text book by heart. So, in order to continue to practice, I need more exercises, specifically training a concept from the target language. A lot of such activities are out there, readily available as Web pages.
But to be honest, for my course, I did not find many helpful resource in repositories (actually I don't remember finding a single one). I searched through a lot of repositories, but for this task, none of them was helpful. Most often, the search functions are too general. Try it for yourself: go to your favorite repository and try to find a resource for absolute beginners in French that trains "articles".
In contrast, very helpful were link lists, like this le point du fle. There, I can search very quickly for activities training the target language concept.

Am I expecting something wrong? I want a search for a domain (French) the proficiency level (beginners), and a domain concept (articles). That doesn't seem to be to difficult metadata, doesn't it? I'm currently writing a little script that generates this metadata automatically.
What is your view on this? Is this a too specialized use case? Did I miss the right repository? Do I need to change my way of searching?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Encouraging Collaboration between Chinese and Western Students in a Matchmaking Event on Technology-Enhanced Learning

Last week my lab,  the e-learning lab of Shanghai Jiao Tong University hosted the Chinese-European Summer School Matchmaking Event on Technology Enhanced Learning, in cooperation with the European Network of Excellence Stellar.
Find a report on the event at the e-learning lab site, including the slides of our invited experts:
Organizing such an international event (12 Chinese students, 6 "Western" students, mostly from Europe) was quite a learning experience. Our Chinese students were a bit shy, due to differences in command of English and research experience, but nevertheless, in the end, the group work was excellent.
Here is a list of things that really helped to bring our students together and improve interactivity and collaboration:

  • Shared rooms. Having one Chinese and one Western student in one room is an excellent ice breaker. We could see how these "pairs" stuck together during the first days.
  • Multicultural groups. Before the event, we assigned the students in groups (2 Chinese + 1 Western student). Each group was responsible to lead the discussion of the expert talks (including introduction to the speaker and leading the discussion (which means to prepare questions about the talk)). We changed groups after two days to bring a different mix of students together. 
  • Counteract passivity/shyness. In our groups, Chinese students tended to have the Western students present the outcomes. Very easy to avoid such behavior: select the student to present just before the presentation itself. This forces everybody to contribute and be aware of the outcomes, since there is the "danger" of becoming the presenter.
  • Collect the outcomes of groupwork before the presentations. After each groupwork, we had a presentation session. To avoid that the groups continue to work on their presentations while the other groups are presenting, simply collect the outcomes (ppt, txt, whatever) from all groups before the presentations and be very clear about the fact that you will not accept any revision. I had to do this once, and afterward it was not problem anymore.
  • Make the students use templates. In our sessions (especially the students' introductions) we had the problems that some students talked much longer than the assigned 5 minutes. To circumvent this, create a slide template in which the slides change automatically after 1 minute.
  • Made the students explain their social activities. Our Western students wanted to have a drink in the evening, our Chinese students wanted to go to KTV. Do you know what KTV is? Neither did the Chinese students know what having a drink means. KTV means Karaoke, "having a drink" does NOT mean you have to drink lots of beer, a coke or orange juice is also okay. Once this was clarified, our students had a great time together in the evening.
  • Mix experts and students during meals. Chinese students tend to sit at a table separate from the experts. Don't let that happen. Let the Chinese students sit first, then the experts, even if this means that a few people have to change seats. 

We did not succeed in receiving criticism from our Chinese participant. The Western students don't have much of a problem of stating what they liked/did not like. Our Chinese students praised the workshop, but didn't talk about problems. Maybe an anonymous questionnaire would work, or maybe I just have to become better in reading between the lines.
All in all, it was a really successful event. The students achieved what we hoped for: they interacted, learned from each other and became friends. Even tears were flowing the day they had to say good-bye to each other.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Value creation in networks and communities

Very interesting document by Etienne Wenger, Beverly Trayner and Maarten de Laat on what kind values of created in networks and communities and how to assess them: Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: a conceptual framework.
From Section 4 onward they list cycles of value creation in networks and communities:
  • Immediate value, such as a good tip provided by a colleague. Activities and interactions can produce value in and of themselves. They can be fun and inspiring.
  • Potential value: Knowledge capital
    • Personal assets (human capital)
    • Relationships and connections
    • Resources
    • Collective intangible assets (reputational capital).
    • Transformed ability to learn
  • Applied value: Changes in practice
  • Realized value: Performance improvement
  • Reframing value: Redefining success
They also "suggest a series of questions to investigate as a way to reflect on the value that communities and networking produce" and provide a set of templates for this task.