Marc Dupuis is e-learning programme manager in the Central Administration Office of Leiden University (Universiteit Leiden). From 1997 till 2001, he was director of ICT at the University in the Faculty of Arts. Since 2005 he has been coordinator for a number of European e-learning projects at the institution. His main interests include policy development, strategic planning, and governance.
There is a growing awareness that young students communicate and learn differently, says Marc Dupuis, eLearning programme manager at Leiden University, the Netherlands. By and large, the young students are well versed in basic computer skills, even more so than the average teacher. Even more important than their skills level, is the new students’ behaviour. Characteristics of this include a series of m-words: multi-tasking, multi-media, mobile. The modern student poses a big challenge to the academic world, and questions arise whether and how traditional higher education institutions will be able to face this development.
Founded in 1575, Leiden University is the oldest higher education institution in the Netherlands. Rich in tradition, the University currently harbours more than 15,000 students and 3,000 staff members. The school has traditionally offered face-to-face education and does not intend to change its educational concept drastically. However, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) play an important role in communication between students and staff and among the students themselves, and the University has to react to their changing demands.
Leiden University now has a campus-wide standardised VLE, and experiments with new IT tools concepts and tools have been ongoing since 1999, particularly within faculty projects co-funded by the University. Meanwhile an increasing number of courses are supported by means of IT, but there is also a strong belief that potential uses of IT tools should be considered and explored individually. Communication and information transfer are the primary de facto function of the Blackboard-based virtual learning environment.
Leiden University strongly believes that students are best served with a type of education in which face-to-face interaction between the teacher or researcher and the student comes first. Of course, ICT tools are used to support education in many ways. An important question, however, is to what extent large investments in ICT and more precisely e-learning are justified in terms of efficiency.
Again, a different sense of urgency can be observed with respect to basic facilities on the one hand and advanced features on the other. Most people agree that investments in wireless networks, for example, are justified. There is less consensus, though, on the usefulness of setting up modern facilities like repositories for learning objects, comments Marc Dupuis on recent discussions at Leiden.
Mobile learning is still in its infancy at the institution. In a number of faculties, laptops are used in combination with wireless access to the university network and the Internet. However PDAs, mobile phones, and other Internet-compliant communication devices are not yet used in education. However there is general awareness that mobile learning is becoming increasingly important, particularly as future students are today growing up in a world in which such devices are a normal part of their lives.
The University published its first strategic ICT document in 2003. It was written at a time when infrastructural challenges strongly outnumbered other ambitions. In 2006, the main focus has recently shifted from ICT infrastructure to ICT functionality. A new strategy is currently being formulated for the period from 2007-2010. “We are now confronted with a new type of challenge: How can we make the available computers and tools more useful in education, and how can we measure their effects on the quality of education? Moreover, we have come to realise that ICT should not be seen as an isolated area. Ideally, ICT strategies are integrated in the strategies laid out for education and research as a whole. Today, such full integration is not yet within reach”, says Marc Dupuis, who is actively involved in the development of the strategy. You can attend Marc’s presentation at ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN and share your experiences.