Dissertation Gwen Noteborn
All PhD ceremonies have been postponed because of the corona measures, although soon it will most likely be possible to conduct these online. Gwen Noteborn would sign up for that. Also, because it fits in seamlessly with her thesis about IT innovations in education. And it is a topical matter: her American co-supervisor is confronted with a travel ban. An interview via FaceTime.
All faculties are working furiously to arrange alternative exams (end of March) and to offer virtual tutorial groups. If Noteborn could give one tip, she says via a faltering video connection, she would recommend so-called knowledge clips. She is not just anyone, she won the Maastricht Education Prize twice and had planned to defend her thesis on IT innovations in the curriculum on 1 April.
So, knowledge clips: short videos in which a lecturer explains a theme. Students watch those on their PCs, after which they answer a dozen or so questions so that the lecturer can identify any weak points. These are subsequently dealt with a couple of days later in an online tutorial group. The students already know what’s what, and that is why one hour of education will suffice instead of two. The clips worked really well at the School of Business and Economics; the pass rate for the stumbling block of Finance 1.5 rose by 15 per cent.
They can be recorded in no time at all, says Noteborn. “They don’t need to be slick videos; lecturers can record the clips at their own PCs. Moreover, this form of education is easily taken over if a colleague drops out. Students who are sick can also watch the clips anytime they like from home.”
The knowledge clips are referred to in the thesis Education Revolution, in which Noteborn discusses the innovations with which she has experimented over the past fifteen years – including Second Life and Google Glass. The emphasis is on the emotions experienced by the students with the technology.
But first, what educational revolution is Noteborn referring to? This has to do with the rapid changes in society. “It is not always clear for universities how they should educate students, because nobody knows what a job will look like in ten years’ time, or what competences will be necessary. Public notaries used to draw up cohabitation contracts, now you can download them at the HEMA for 130 euro.”
In the United States, it appears that study programmes match less and less the demands of the labour market. “Partly because of this, many students can’t find jobs and work as baristas or waiters/waitresses. Almost one fifth of the American students will never pay off their student loans.”
What should be done? You must teach students digital skills that will make them more flexible when they practise their professions, says Noteborn. “Lawyers no longer need to know all previous cases off by heart. It is handy, though, if they can make a network analysis, a tool that can be used to visualise connections between previous cases. That way, students can see how cases might relate to each other and which ones are the most relevant to their case. That is an important skill. These days you have to be able to process complex information quickly.”
Previously, Noteborn experimented with Second Life, where SBE students were given a budget to design an attractive, virtual shop. They experienced first-hand what it was like to deal with competitors and came up with shrewd strategies, such as organising a virtual party, in order to market their product.
She also familiarised law students with Google Glass so that they could become better at arguing cases. Students no longer needed to read from paper, because they saw their text projected in their glasses. The advantage is that they can see what is happening in the court at the same time as they are speaking, including how the judge and the opposite party are behaving. Valuable information.
In her thesis, Noteborn deals in greater detail with the emotions and experience that go hand in hand with technology. Not surprisingly, students perform better when they like what they are doing. That was the case with Second Life (students even hung around in the virtual world during the night), but also with Google Glass. Even the latter requires some qualification.
Because students liked to argue a case in that way, and they also felt more self-assured with all the information in their glasses, but they actually performed less well. “It seems as if they became overconfident. Maybe they had also prepared less well. It reminds me of drivers who continue to follow the navigation system, until they end up in a ditch.”
But who still talks about Second Life and Google Glass? Do they still exist? “I have heard that before. For me it is not especially about these two applications, but about the concepts of virtual worlds and wearables. Those are not about to disappear any time soon.”
And the MOOCs? Are the Massive Open Online Courses obsolete? The UM offered one on Problem-Based Learning. According to the management, it was a success but they still pulled the plug on it, because it was too expensive and didn’t fit in with the PBL profile.
“The problem with the MOOCs is that they have a high dropout rate. Many participants already have the specialist knowledge but take the course to freshen up on one or two aspects. As soon as they have done so, they leave and don’t complete the course. You see that more and more leading universities are quitting.”
Rotating beach ball
These days, getting your PhD is not easy. Because of the corona crisis, the Executive Board has postponed all ceremonies. Noteborn would prefer to defend her thesis in front of a full audience, with all her friends and family in her field of vision. But if the measures remain in place for some time, she will be the first to sign up for a virtual ceremony. That wouldn’t be possible for the day scheduled for her PhD on 1 April; that would be too soon. But after that perhaps.
She wouldn’t be an IT researcher if she didn’t have a clear idea of how things should go. She would record her speech beforehand and send it to the opposition members. Then the defence could begin online, in the same setting as a virtual tutorial group. But there are risks involved, she says. “Imagine you are on a roll and suddenly the image freezes, with that beach ball that just keeps rotating… I would become very hot and bothered.”