15 December, 2010

an ECA certificate on internationalisation

We were the first to hear of it: there are serious plans for a European certificate on internationalisation, to lift national initiatives to the EU level. It is the European Consortium for Accreditation of higher education(ECA) that will be working on this from the start of July 2011.
The news was launched today at the special NVAO seminar about assessment of internationalisation and internationalisation as a distinctive quality.
For my international readers: NVAO (in Dutch: Nederlands-Vlaamse Accreditatieorganisatie) is the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders. It was established by international treaty and it ensures the quality of higher education in the Netherlands and Flanders.
The certificate is seen as a specific "reward" for good and excellent forms of internationalisation and is meant only for the happy few (they called it "the Champions league"). They are not looking for mass certification, we were told by the chairman of the ECA who made the announcement, Rolf Heusser.
The rationale for an ECA certificate was that international projects need a corresponding award. Besides, there is a high demand for such an award coming from the higher education institutions themselves. All this fits well with ECA aims, know-how and philosophy, which is the mutual recognition of accreditation and quality assurance decisions. Other aims of ECA are: mutual learning and disseminating best practices in accreditation as well as providing transparent information on quality and supporting internationalisation of institutions and students.

08 December, 2010

Learning and networking

With the CEV symposium in Brussels just behind me, I’m looking back here at the experience. It was well announced as an event on “Volunteering as a means of empowerment and social inclusion”. The week before we received all the information by mail, among which a list of participants. It’s always interesting to know in advance who will be present at such an occasion. Not to my surprise, I read that I was going to be the only representative from a university , even though we are a university of applied sciences.
Learning and networking: those were my goals. Learning about the great diversity of voluntary activities within Europe and familiarising myself with the landscape of volunteer initiatives but also barriers to voluntary action. And networking in order to get acquainted to a number of European players in the field of volunteering and, secretly, hoping to find some partners to start up a small scale European project, a Grundtvig Learning Partnership.
I am happy to say that many of my expectations have turned out as I'd hoped. Enthusiastic, open and committed people I met, quite a large group from all over Europe (and a few from beyond), all with their own experiences and input. Many of them are members of the European Volunteer Centre and have known each other for quite a while, but the other half of the audience present on the first day was not, CEV director Markus Held established.
On day 1 I particularly liked the dialogue café: a wonderful way of getting to talk to a variety of participants in a short period, with a specific question as the starting point. On day 2 it was the workshops that I enjoyed most. I listened to Anne Sophie van der Bracht who related how young people were involved in activities that support their mental, physical and ethical development in 3 years at a stretch, moving from bronze to silver to gold in the process, each year for them being more difficult than the one before. Volunteering is (only) part of that. Next to that they do sports, study and go on an annual expedition. The overall aim is to teach these 15 to 19 year olds that through dedication and commitment to tasks and by working systematically, they can exceed themselves. It’s an intensive type of youth work performed by the foyer (Jongerenwerking Brussel). As for volunteering, they hope that these youngsters (all from non-Belgian backgrounds) will maintain their voluntary work as a structural thing.
Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) and the role of international partnerships was another workshop that attracted my interest. In the huge organisation that VSO is and based on the wealth of experience they have gained through the years, they have developed their theory of change and demonstrated the potential of volunteering in the improvement of the lives of people experiencing poverty and marginalisation. The Chief Youth Officer at the Kenyan Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports then illustrated their National Youth Volunteer Scheme, established together with VSO.
The final part of day 2 was dedicated to the Brussels declaration on the role of volunteering in the fight against poverty and social exclusion, making a bridge between the themes of the two consecutive European years.

Day 3 was meant as an opportunity to meet volunteers and voluntary organisations in a large tent by way of a continuing fair that will be travelling around Europe in the course of 2011, the European Year of Volunteering.

To end this post , just a few encouraging facts:
• Volunteering improves self-confidence. Over 80 % of English volunteers report that engagement in voluntary work makes them happy and improves their self-esteem.
• Research shows that the unemployed, people coming from minority ethnic groups and unskilled workers are underrepresented in the “volunteering force” of Europe.
• According to a study among job seekers in England, 81% of respondents said that volunteering gave them a chance to learn new skills.
• Almost 75 % of employers prefer to recruit candidates with volunteering in their CV.

21 November, 2010

"afblazen" or calling it off: study trip to Berlin

Practical and fun website if you decide to learn some Dutch !
By coincidence today's Dutch word of the day is "afblazen", in English to call off (a plan). Why a coincidence you may ask.... well, last Friday was supposed to have been the day that a group of our students from the minor Media & Culture departed from Rotterdam en route to Berlin.
However, due to recent developments in Germany, the study trip was cancelled the day before departure. Germany is on heightened alert following a recent announcement that a terrorist attack was being planned for the country. Daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel reported that the United States had told Berlin that between two to four al-Qaeda militants were on their way to Germany and Britain to attempt attacks at the end of November. Among the targets are said to be Germany's popular Christmas markets, scheduled to open in the coming days. Security has been stepped up at airports and train stations across the country.
On the other hand, the German government has urged citizens to remain calm and not to let the recent terror alerts affect their daily lives.
"There is reason for concern, but no reason for hysteria", German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said at a gathering in the northern city of Hamburg.
In these circumstances, what would you have done facing this dilemma: go ahead as planned or cancel the study trip? Feel free to respond !

14 November, 2010

Full of impressions

With the international conference on Ethical Competences in Adult Education coming to an end this week, my head is spinning with all of the impressions I got in the last two days: an enormous variety of people, activities, presentations, visits to schools and other places, discussions, informal chats in between, networking, sampling the typically Romanian dishes and drinks that were kindly offered to us by the many Romanian hosts.
I was impressed with the ambitious training programmes that had been carried out by our Romanian partner, the Galati County House of Educational Staff. They had been using a whole range of methods and materials to train and evaluate adult ethical competences. An afternoon visit to the Botanical Garden and most of all the mindboggling experience in the Planetarium of the Natural Sciences Museum made me feel such a tiny element of the universe.
Heartwarming was the typically Romanian reception at the two schools that we visited. On both occasions we were welcomed with a small bouquet of flowers and some bread dipped in salt. The Costache Negri National College presented us with creative and stimulating learning activities to be discussed in small groups, relating to 3 of the ethical competences, before we got a sumptuous 4 course meal.
The next day, an interesting change of scene: we were taken to the gymnasium school in Independenta, Galati County where we were treated to an enthusiastic demonstration of some typically Romanian dances by children of different ages. It didn’t end there though …. Within minutes after their dances had ended they took the hands of people in the audience and before we knew, we had joined them in their communal dance, a group of around 35 visitors hand in hand with the children! This was undoubtedly the cultural highlight of our visit.
It was apparent that the school had well prepared their pupils for our visit. Each one of us received a colourful handicraft pendant, beautifully painted and decorated, attached to the neatly printed programme of our afternoon visit.
Most of us felt that the school and its pupils had given us a royalty treatment.
All in all, in retrospect it was a superbly organised visit to look back on. Besides, we are well on the road to concluding the project with good results, a common framework on ethical competences in adult education. A draft version is envisaged to be ready at the end of April 2011, when we have our final meeting Yozgat, Turkey.

05 November, 2010

people are the real wealth of nations

That is the final line of a video launched yesterday on the UNDP website, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Human Development Report. People are healthier, wealthier and better educated, according to the 2010 edition of the HDP report.

Most developing countries made dramatic yet often underestimated progress in health, education and basic living standards in recent decades, with many of the poorest countries posting the greatest gains.
Yet patterns of achievement vary greatly, with some countries losing ground since 1970. The 2010 edition of the HD Report documents wide inequalities within and among countries, deep disparities between women and men on a wide range of development indicators, and the prevalence of extreme multidimensional poverty in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
The dominant trend in life expectancy globally is convergence, with average life spans in most poor countries getting increasingly close to those in developed countries. However, in income the pattern remains one of divergence, with most rich countries getting steadily richer, while sustained growth eludes many poor countries.
The Human Development Reports and the HD Indicators challenged purely economic measures of national achievement and helped lay the conceptual foundation for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, calling for consistent global tracking of progress in health, education and overall living standards. “The Human Development Reports have changed the way we see the world,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday. “We have learned that while economic growth is very important, what ultimately matters is using national income to give all people a chance at a longer, healthier and more productive life.” UNDP Administrator Helen Clark added: "While not all trends are positive, there is much that countries can do to improve people’s lives, even in adverse conditions. This requires courageous local leadership as well as the continuing commitment of the international community."
Overall conclusions of the authors: “We see great advances, but changes over the past few decades have by no means been wholly positive. Some countries have suffered serious setbacks, particularly in health, sometimes erasing in a few years the gains accumulated over several decades. Economic growth has been extremely unequal, both in countries experiencing fast growth and in groups benefiting from national progress. And the gaps in human development across the world, while narrowing, remain huge.”
Here is the link to the recent Human Development Reports and its many statistics and indicators, a helpful resource for us in higher education to work on the concept of global citizenship.
Interestingly, the report pinpoints the Netherlands as the most gender-balanced country in the Gender Inequality Index, an index designed to help advance human development progress by objectively measuring the extent and impact of the persistent social disparities between men and women.
Jeni Klugman, the HD Report’s lead author: “Providing girls and women with equal educational opportunities, medical care, legal rights and political representation is not only socially just, but one of the best possible investments in development for all people.”

19 September, 2010

Learning makes you happy, says study

Learning makes you healthy, satisfied and happy and improves social solidarity, according to the first results of the European Lifelong Learning Indicators (ELLI) study.
ELLI is the first European comparative lifelong learning index and as such provides a useful tool for gaining an overview of the situation of lifelong learning across the EU.
The ELLI project was launched by Bertelsmann Stiftung in January 2008 in an effort to make the concept of lifelong learning more understandable and transparent. It is meant as a resource for political decision makers and educational institutions, private industry, academics and journalists, as well as all of Europe’s citizens who want to know more about learning in their own country and the rest of Europe – what it entails, and the impact it has.
ELLI measures learning throughout the different stages of life from ‘cradle to grave’ and across the different learning environments of school, community, work and home life, so even taking into account relevant activities, such as sport, culture, voluntary involvement as well as participation in courses within adult education centres.
The overall results show that the Nordic countries Denmark, Sweden and Finland and, in addition, the Netherlands rank highest. Particularly Denmark and Sweden have been the most successful countries in Europe at implementing the idea of lifelong learning. The top performers are followed by a group of countries that consist of mainly Central European and Anglo-Saxon countries. The next group of countries, which are below the EU average, are from Southern and Eastern Europe and range from the Czech Republic to Poland, with Hungary, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania at the bottom end of the table.
It was especially the preface to the publication that I found inspiring, under the heading: "Learning, lifting the treasure within". Here's a relevant paragraph I'd like to quote: "Lifelong and life-wide learning is about the whole person. It is about allowing every individual to participate in society and making our society more cohesive. Learning enables people to develop to their full potential and to play an active role in their environments. It allows them to try new things and to harness untapped talents. Along with enhancing employment opportunities and professional standing, learning lays the groundwork for fulfillment in life.
Moreover, learning cannot and should not start or end in the classroom or in other educational institutions. We learn on the job, as members of associations or political organizations, in our families, during our leisure time and in our communities as well. In order to make lifelong learning a reality, it is important to embrace and connect all learning stages, types and places and to link this process with the wider spectrum of benefits that flow from it."
In my view, far too often and too long learning has only been associated with teaching and instruction within schools or prescribed learning frameworks. Fortunately, we now see increasing recognition of learning achieved outside the formal curriculum, e.g. also via so-called Recognition of Acquired Competencies procedures. A most welcome development in the right direction, providing easier access to other learning tracks! However, generally speaking there is still insufficient appreciation for informal, experiential or non formal learning overall. Let's hope the ELLI study and its preface will be read widely across Europe.

07 September, 2010

OECD report 2010, education at a glance

Today the annual OECD report appeared, providing us with the current state of affairs in education in all the OECD countries. Pages and pages of numbers and statistics to study and analyse who participates in education, what is spent on it, how education systems operate and what results are achieved. Interesting, but time consuming, so I just had a look at some of the summaries available and picked a selection of conclusions from the report.
For starters, the article on the OECD site attracts anyone's attention with the heading: "Governments should expand tertiary studies to boost jobs and tax revenues" Sounds to me as a most welcome piece of advice. With demand for tertiary courses rising, public resources invested in university education also pay off handsomely by bringing in additional tax revenues. It goes on to say that besides higher tax revenues, social contributions from people with university degrees also make tertiary education a good long-term investment.
Also, adults with higher educational attainment are more likely to participate in formal and/or non-formal education than adults with lower attainment. On average for the OECD, individuals with tertiary education have an advantage in the involvement in educational activities – they are almost three times more likely to be involved in educational activities than those with low levels of education.
Another interesting development is this: "As more and more people look beyond their home countries’ borders for university education, both academic and commercial benefits accrue from attracting foreign students. In 2008, the latest year for which complete figures are available, over 3.3 million tertiary students were enrolled outside their country of citizenship, a 10.7% increase on the previous year. So student mobility is still on the rise !

Sadly, the report also indicates that women in most countries and at most education levels still earn much less than men, potentially discouraging women from making full use of the skills they have learned and hampering economic growth. On average in OECD countries, a woman aged between 35 and 44 with upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education can expect to earn 76% of male earnings. This ratio falls to 74% for those who have not completed an upper secondary education and to 71% for those who have completed a tertiary education. Obviously, we still have a long way to go to achieving equity regarding salaries. I wonder to what extent education can contribute to solving that issue.

25 August, 2010

EDDILI, state of affairs in a nutshell

EDDILI is an international action-research project targeted at adult learning staff (ALS). It is co-funded by the European Commission through the Lifelong Learning Programme under the action Grundtvig Multilateral projects.
During the 2 years of the project life the international partnership aims to develop and introduce the reciprocal maieutic approach (RMA) of Danilo Dolci as an interesting educational approach to be used in the field of training of adult learning staff.
In the past few months EDDILI has been implementing this approach in all the partner countries simultaneously and it’s expected to have a serious impact and enhance the quality of adult learning.
In mid-July an international meeting was held with all 6 partners in Frechen, Germany, with the aim of coordinating the ongoing project activities and plan the next stages and steps. After an initial 5-day international “train the trainers (trainers of ALS)” gathering in Palermo (in January 2010) about the Reciprocal Maieutic Approach, those trainers are now delivering an intensive training course to ALS in their respective countries. The main educational approach used by trainers is the RMA. The course includes on-line modules as well as in-presence modules.
As a final valorisation part of the training course an international seminar will be held in Rotterdam upcoming 26 – 29 September 2010. It’s meant to give a strong European dimension to the training course, but also enable and promote the encounter between adult learning staff from the diverse countries and to develop a network among them.
The next stage is then to create a prototype of a manual focused on the RMA approach as a new and valuable tool in adult education. In the meantime ALS will be putting into practice their new skills and competences in their daily activities with adult learners. The monitoring of their experiences will provide valuable information as regards the impact of the method and further support the final version of the RMA manual. This product is then ready for dissemination at a European level in a number of languages and will establish the reciprocal maieutic approach as an interesting educational approach in adult education in Europe.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This blog post reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained herein.

16 July, 2010

EDDILI European coordination meeting

It was the CJD organisation that was our host for the second European meeting in Frechen, near Cologne / Köln, one of the partners in the EDDILI multilateral Grundtvig project.
CJD, which stands for Christliches Jugenddorfwerk Deutschlands, is Germany’s nationwide organisation for youth, education and social work. They have 8,000 employees at more than 150 sites all over Germany. We were lucky to get a guided tour around the small village (!) and saw many young people at work under supervision in the many various workshops and buildings belonging to the organisation. CJD’s mission is to ensure that every young person is nurtured in line with their particular capabilities and is given a chance. (CJD defines itself in Germany as the “die Chancen-geber”.) Even though we had a full meeting programme (and then I mean really full), we took the time during our lunch break to familiarise ourselves with the organisation and saw how they had created a peaceful and secure environment for the young in which they could develop themselves and prepare for their vocational qualifications at their own pace.
The goal of our get-together was to coordinate our activities and actions for the EDDILI project. Misunderstandings and confusion can easily take over when one works together at a distance on such a complex European project as the EDDILI project. And indeed all participants felt it had been a smart move to organise an extra mid- term meeting to get an overview of what everyone had been working on since the kick off meeting in Palermo in January. Many of our 80 ! deliverables were reviewed and discussed in order to see what had been achieved and to come to a common understanding. And indeed, it’s always surprising to see that one can interpret texts from different perspectives, with the best of intentions.
Finally, at 7.15 pm we closed the door of the seminar room after a long day of talking and going over many details and consequences of the project application. At the end, looking back on what we had accomplished during the day, all of us expressed that although it had been hard work we had worked down to the last item on the agenda in a good and positive atmosphere.
Looking ahead, coming up next is our EDDILI training course and seminar meeting in Rotterdam, end of September, where all the partners together with their adult learning staff will attend a 2-day seminar with a strong European dimension.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This blog post reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained herein.

29 June, 2010

Diversity Icebreaker

Browsing the web for summer schools in the field of social work, I hit upon a new and valuable tool. That is to say: new (and valuable) to me. In fact the concept has been in development since 1998, the tool was validated a number of years later and at the end of 2008 a prize was subsequently awarded for its international breakthrough.
So what am I talking about?
For starters, Diversity Icebreaker is a 42 item questionnaire with 3 dimensions (Red, Blue and Green) that you can score in around 15 minutes and can be used in team development, kick-off seminars, project training, management development programs, change management processes, communication and diversity training.
The website claims: "The test is easy to use and a more positive alternative to Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), TMP and Belbin Team Roles."
And the bonus is, the instrument is available in 19 languages and free of charge ;)
Up to now, within our school of social work we have worked with the concept of Belbin and his team role theory which is often an eye opener for our students when working together.
The difference with Diversity Icebreaker seems to be that the instrument was developed in a more socially constructed way, reflecting interaction patterns more than just personality and self knowledge issues. The real focus appears to be more on social construction processes that take place in and between groups, identifying both actor-observer attributions and prejudices as a natural part of this.
Filling out the questionnaire is only the starting point of it all. The actual focus is on learning about how such concepts are created and how participants’ perceptions of the other are shaped. The value lies in the collective reflection on these perceptions and the group’s ability to choose, revise and develop concepts of the other.
Reviewing the tool like this (based only on the information displayed on the website), I'm convinced that this is definitely a tool to be tried out and applied in our course programmes where much emphasis is on team work, and in year 2 in particular on multidisciplinary team work.
Another idea would be to introduce this tool in the EDDILI project where the RMA approach takes centre stage. It's especially the potential of opening up a dialogue on diversity and diversity processes that makes it worthwhile to apply in one of the RMA training sessions. After all, it makes participants reflect, listen, talk and act.

20 June, 2010

CMV visits Poland

Last April, from the 19th till the 23rd, our year 2 CMV students went on a study trip to Poland, to Jelenia Góra to be precise. Some year 3 and year 4 students joined them on the trip. As we have a bilateral agreement with the local university, Kolegium Karkonosze, we had also arranged a meeting between the Polish and the Dutch students, which was for all involved fun and educational at the same time.
On the one hand a number of cultural and social organisations were visited, such as an arts centre, the cultural centre, an ecological foundation, a day care centre providing art therapy for mentally handicapped people and a police station.
On the other hand, much effort had been put into arranging meetings between Dutch and Polish students where they could get to know each other. In order to let them work together students were split up into mixed sub groups of four to work on a number of assignments, such as interviewing a relative of the students' family.
The Jelenia Gora region, called Silesia, was hit by massive ethnic cleansing after world war II. By interviewing family members students automatically touched upon the topic of migration, a familiar issue for people from Rotterdam.
Last but not least, there was also a cultural programme. The beautiful Grodziec castle (dating back to 1155) was the venue where it all took place. To sample the atmosphere, just have a look at some of the pictures.

On one of the last days, a visit was paid to Wroclaw, the capital of Silesia. Some of the Polish students from Kolegium Karkonosze were willing to be our guides and showed us the museum island, the panorama of the battle of Racławice and the magnificent Rynek, Polish for the Main Square.
There was terrific cooperation on the part of Kolegium Karkonosze and its students. But we also got terrific cooperation from all the organisations we visited. The Poles know what it means to be great hosts and the Dutch were pleasant guests.
We intend to organise this study trip for all our year 2 students on an annual basis. Here some more pictures of the trip that was accompanied by Han Bakker, Hilde Koops and Hans Donders.

29 May, 2010

this is integrity

Values.com | Pass it On Billboards Integrity

Shortly after returning home from the 2nd meeting of our Ethical competence project, I stumbled on the values.com site. Integrity happens to be one of the 20 values we identified at the 1st meeting (see earlier post). This site is such an interesting way of visualising and drawing attention to values, that I just needed to pass it on. Actually, the site encourages everyone to pass it on.
Browsing the site with interest, I was also charmed by the large selection of inspirational quotes, made accessible via tags.
It was this quote by Maya Angelou that sums up the site for me: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Wonderful resource for us, not in the least because of the video materials too.

24 May, 2010

Teaching ethical behaviour ?

“It was your responsibility!”, just a random remark I picked up during our European Grundtvig project meeting in Palermo, when something went wrong. Just one of the many comments that we often hear people make when they want to remind others of particular expectations that they had as regards the performance of a task that was not carried out satisfactorily or as expected. Somehow we all have our own (implicit) standards and norms. However, only when something goes wrong or turns out a failure , suggestions, remarks, hints but also outright criticism are expressed that point to a code of conduct that was hidden from sight before the incident took place.
Such incidents often give rise to discussions, debate or (preferably) dialogue, but can potentially lead to frictions. They alert us to the fact that one’s own perspectives and values may differ from others. Now suppose we could identify and establish universal (and perhaps even perennial) values, would conflicts then be erased from today’s world? Or is it naive to expect that a universally adopted code of ethical conduct will prevent any future friction?
Even though I usually have a positive (perhaps sometimes idealistic) view on life, there is no doubt in my mind that in the practical application of such a universal code of conduct multiple decisions and choices can be made in similar contexts.
Still, if we then decide that identifying common ethical values or formulating a common ethical code of conduct is a hopeless task, I feel we would be missing an ideal opportunity of sharing views and harvesting the benefits of finding common ground on an important issue such as ethical behaviour. No matter what the outcome will be, all people involved in this collective exploration of coming to a joint code of ethical behaviour will benefit. It will provide them with a variety of perspectives, clarify different approaches and increase understanding of their own points of views in relation to others. After all, the actions of individuals are largely shaped by social experience.
As someone working in education the ensuing question for me is: can we teach ethical behaviour and if so, how ? Wasn’t it Socrates who said: “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.” and similarly Galielo Galilei : “You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself." Then there is also Plutarch who said: “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited." It is this approach to educating people, combined with serious dialogue that should be the way to encouraging students to express ethical behaviour and which will continue to be valuable in times of change and globalisation.
Why am I reflecting on this? I’m after all not a lecturer in ethics; I’m just an interested layman in ethical issues who started collecting resources on ethics on the web via the delicious bookmarking site (click here for a direct link), when we were on the point of submitting an application for a European (LLLP) learning partnership about ethical competences. Ethics is one of the courses all students take in the school of social work, so I felt we could benefit from sharing views and focussing on this issue in a European project with partners from various countries.
In our first meeting in Vilnius (see my earlier blog post) we identified 20 ethical values, here’s a visualisation of them, thanks to wordle.

All these have now been worked out in a joint format, a framework identifying aspects like knowledge, skills, attitudes, potential instruments, pedagogical issues etc. Following that, at the 2nd project meeting in Palermo we tried to come to a common understanding of all these issues. However, all the steps we've taken so far have still been very much theoretically oriented and unfortunately, much of the meeting time was spent on presenting theoretical foundations of ethical values and competences and ways of categorising them.
The real challenge will be to put it all into practice by designing and implementing appropriate tools to use in educational settings. This will be the focus of our 3rd meeting in Romania in November. We expect to share experiences in the educational/pedagogical approach and discuss how each partner, in their own context, applied a diversity of instruments for a limited number of the identified ethical values. Let's hope that this upcoming meeting will have a more interactive working mode than the one I've just come back from. It's to a great extent the European project meetings that are favourable to exchanges, discussions and dialogue and where participants in a learning partnership can familiarise themselves with a wide variety of European views in a way that is unparallelled.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This blog post reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained herein.

10 May, 2010

LEVEL5, at a glance

In the beautiful and peaceful setting of Alden Biesen castle, Belgium, a European conference took place on the validation of informal learning. It was announced as a practical and active conference bringing together practitioners and educational experts from a variety of European countries. And indeed, after some keynotes and an overview of some informal learning projects, the afternoon was fully dedicated to getting to grips with the LEVEL5 system, an instrument meant to validate informal or non-formal learning.
Just 2 weeks prior to this meeting I had attended a seminar session where a speaker had pressed an urgent message on his audience: to sustain good practices it's of vital importance to demonstrate to your funders or sponsors that the projects you have run have been worthwhile, in the sense that the beneficiaries can be shown to have made progress in one way or another. And exactly that had in the past often proved to be a bottleneck. At the end of a project many people show enthusiasm , new innovative approaches are tried out and tested to the satisfaction of many, but in the end, as the projects have been funded with temporary money, good practices in the social domain die a slow death as the impact is not or inadequately demonstrated via a survey, research or any other validating tool to assess success.
LEVEL5 is a welcome development, in that it could substantiate exactly that: this approach can establish competence development of (adult) learners in informal and non formal learning contexts.

Learning results can be displayed and (via a 3-dimensional web-based cube) visualised in 3 different dimensions, namely cognitive, activity related and affective competences (sometimes referred to as Head, Hand and Heart).
Two dimensional charts are also available to display the learning results which were recorded after a learning project. This truly appears to be a promising development from which many adult learners and adult learning providers may benefit.
More detailed information about LEVEL5, including some screenshots of the software, is available via the REVEAL community website.

30 April, 2010

orange, in the eye of the beholder

The day that everything colours orange, Queens's day.
It's the day after .... yesterday the international class had its so-called graduation ceremony in the grand board room of our Museumpark location. After all the hard work on the final assignments and presentations, it was time to relax and enjoy the final get together and to receive the certificates and savour the goodbye lunch at Dudok. Cameras kept flashing,loads of pictures were taken, again and again students and lecturers were called to pose in front of cameras which were lined up for the photographers.
It turned out to be an emotional moment too, as many realised that it was not only the course that had come to an end; it also meant that the time had come for departures back home. With the ash clouds having lifted and air traffic back into its regular business, there would be no reason forcing them to stay any longer, however much they would have liked too.
A small number of students is staying on, prolonging their studies with one or two months. Those are the ones who must have had the opportunity to see the Netherlands colouring orange today. Here's just a small selection of the orange madness hitting NL on April 30th.

Queen's day impressions from Jane Traveller on Vimeo.

18 April, 2010

organise a work field visit

Two small groups of students were asked to organise a morning or afternoon work field visit for the international students. Chance would have it that both chose Humanitas on the same day, but at two different locations.
Humanitas is a large social work foundation, operating at a national and local level. The Rotterdam branch is one of the largest in the country and from their head office on Pieter de Hoochweg they run quite a few social programmes.
It may have been the YES-culture of Humanitas that made these visits possible, as students had in fact little time to find and approach social work organisations in their respective boroughs. Unfortunately, not much English language information is available about Humanitas, which considers itself above all as a Dutch organisation meant for Rotterdam people. However, this page explains the basic principles and refers to the YES-culture as one of the core values of Humanitas.
It could also have been the many worthwhile programmes that Humanitas Rotterdam runs in many of its boroughs that prompted the students to visit Humanitas.
New Perspectives is one example, a project that aims at providing new perspectives for young people (aged 12 to 24) who are at risk of slipping into criminal activities. One group had chosen to take the international students to hear and talk about this project in Noord. The other group had decided on the Humanitas head office to hear from a communications officer an overview of the many projects Humanitas is involved in and the way they work with experienced volunteers in a project such as Home-start. Both visits were informative and gave a good picture of how social work is done via Humanitas and its network in Rotterdam.
But it was the actual meeting between the international social work students and the Dutch students that made all the difference.
In many ways the International Class is very much an international affair. They are a separate group attending lectures and lessons in English without mixing with Dutch students in class. As this is quite an intensive programme, special efforts have to be made to organise moments where they can meet Dutch students. Previous groups of international students had mentioned a few times during evaluation sessions at the very end that they would have preferred more encounters with Dutch students. Apart from the MUN and the occasional get-togethers , having students organise work field visits has appeared to be another stimulating experience to mingle, with benefits and fun on both sides, see for yourself:

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26 March, 2010

a cordial welcome at Pluspunt

Yesterday we went on another workfield visit with the international students from social work and what a wonderful visit it became!
Everything had been arranged from the start by a CMV student on an internship there. This was the amazing result of a positive answer to a tentative question from my side: are you willing to receive some international students studying here at our university? and tell them how your internship organisation operates.
All the people at Pluspunt had really done their best to turn the visit into a valuable experience by also inviting some volunteers to talk to us. After Marian had presented a general overview of Pluspunt and the projects they had put in place these last few years, Liesbeth gave an illustration of the way they work in a project with triggers to get communication among the participants going (see visuals).
Then volunteer Magda described in detail how she led participants to take part in a game called the WAVE and Piet demonstrated his storyteller's skills by treating us to a true story that had taken place at the end of the 19th century.
The story that fascinated me most was the one we heard from Magda about how she had become a volunteer for Pluspunt, a truly inspiring story for many, especially when I have our CMV students in mind. Participation, and working on participation issues, is such a central theme within the CMV study programme that collecting stories from people like Magda are bound to give students beneficial insights.
Pluspunt is an organisation that can best be described as an expertise centre for seniors and participation. However, non-Dutch people will easily miss the dual meaning of the word "pluspunt", which is on the one hand an (information and support) point for 55 + people but also translates into "advantage", stressing the fact that being older has its benefits (balancing some of the more negative associations that people often have when it comes to seniors).
And when it was time to say goodbye we even got a friendly surprise in the shape of a packet of chocolate Easter eggs, a cordial end to a heartwarming visit !

Visit to Pluspunt Rotterdam from Jane Traveller on Vimeo.

19 March, 2010

an international flavour to the MUN this year

The 4th Model United Nations in a row is just behind us and again it was a lively educational activity. Model United Nations is a worldwide educational effort to introduce students to the activities of the United Nations through a simulated environment of meetings in which participants take on the roles of country representatives to the UN committees.
This year we had a more social work oriented resolution on the agenda, namely DREAM centres. But an even bigger difference was the fact that for the first time ever we had international students joining the CMV students in the MUN delegations.
As it is in this current semester that we run an international class within our university, we made a switch with another conference and moved the dates from June to March in order to create the opportunity to invite the international students to our UN simulation. And as it turned out, it was again much fun but this time more true to life due to the diversity among the students.
After a short introduction about MUN procedures and an introductory talk about the purpose and ways of lobbying, the student delegates took up the tips as ducks to water. It was especially the Iraqi delegate that got the award for being best at this, we heard at the end of the session.
Other countries that got special attention (and were pleasantly surprised by that) were Poland for being the best team and Kenya for having the best content input in the debate: examples of stimulating additions to the MUN concept that were suggested by our secretary general and policy advisor.
We were fortunate again to have Mirjam de Bruin chairing the session as secretary general together with Maria Ibrahim Hassan as policy advisor: a team that skilfully led the 55 or so students during this conference to experience the workings and decision-making process of the United Nations. The driving factor for choosing to have a MUN for us is that through role-playing in one of the UN organs (in our case the Third Committee, Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs) participants gain a multilateral view of world affairs and develop their public speaking and debating skills, even though it puts a heavy demand on their English language skills.
All in all we can look back on yet another gratifying MUN experience. Here's a visual impression of that experience.

28 February, 2010

CLIL course in retrospect

Using languages to learn and learning to use languages” : it all sounded so promising and intriguing and right up my street ! So how did the overall experience turn out to be a disappointing one?

We arrived as a diverse group from at least 9 different European countries and from different educational settings. All of the 10 Comenius group members and Valencian participants had come with hopes and expectations to learn, some a little unsure of what to expect, others having already had some exposure to CLIL ideas and practices.
I turned out to be the only participant from higher education. This was something I had sort of anticipated when I selected the course from the Grundtvig training database as it fell under Comenius. This would still be interesting for me however, I’d been assured by the course organiser, when I asked for advice: CLIL was definitely also appropriate in higher education. Yet it took 5 days to hear in the final session from the course leader that in fact CLIL was not really a thing for higher education, in contrast to primary and secondary schools.
On the plus side, what I took away from the course was better insights in the different educational settings from the other participants (esp. the Spanish), in other words a wider understanding of (lifelong) learning in Europe. The wonderful cooperative work in the mixed groups, the passion with which most participants spoke about education, the intercultural / international experience, the creative ideas that came up by free association of all present, the insightful presentations of the primary and secondary school teachers that shared their hands-on experiences with us, the Favara school visit: these were all positive and stimulating aspects in the course.
I often learn best when I actively participate and contribute, I try to be constructive to make a course a success and I share what I know, because I realise time and again that there is so much you get in return. That worked best when we got the assignment to design a model and apply the 4 C model (communication, culture, content and cognition) to work out the theme of Global Citizenship.
On the whole, the course group assignments were not bad. However, the feedback on them was: after reporting back or presenting results of the group work, the course leader often quickly went on to press a message on us that had already been in his mind before anyone said anything and then steered us into another direction. The same thing happened when a participant answered a question: a superficial response, hardly any real, content based dialogue in getting to grips with some of the real CLIL issues. That's why a feeling of being ignored arose. Others started complaining in the breaks about the lack of input and materials.
Outright critical were the participants who had seen our course leader working on his computer and replying to mails during the sessions, even when participants were presenting their CLIL lesson plans e.g.
It was interesting for me to see that some had decided to be as indifferent as our course leader and started working on their everyday tasks as well or playing games on a notebook, as a sign of silent protest. This kind of passive resistance was a cultural lesson to me from Greece. Another one was the hesitation on the part of the Spanish participants to voice their opinions when some Comenius group participants invited them to express their views on the course and its contents at the end of the day.
The Valencian Board of Education, the Conselleria d’ Educació Generalitat Valenciana, is an important governmental organisation with a lot of power. In order not to jeopardise their careers or to face future negative measures the Valencian participants refrained from openly commenting on the way the 5 day course was run.
As for the 5 day programme, it had undergone some changes by the time we got our folders at the start of the week. In itself that’s not a problem. However, the actual programme was definitely a downgraded version of the provisional one, having deleted 2 speakers / CLIL experts. Not only that, but the course facilitator didn’t really adhere to the updated programme either. We never had the review of the day for example.
Anticipating a final evaluation on the last day we were dumbstruck (again) by seeing the course end without reviewing it and / or discussing our individual experiences and learning results. We did get a compliment however! We’d been the most active and best CLIL group so far. Now why didn’t that produce any smiles on our faces, hmm? Was there an evaluative questionnaire then??? No chance.
And then there was the issue of the course costs… another intensively debated issue in our Comenius group. No one really understood why the rate for accommodation costs had been set at the price of 650 euros when hotel accommodation (incl. 5 breakfasts) was only 275 euros and lunches around 75 euros all in all. Our morning coffee with delicacies (and possibly other catering provisions) can hardly have amounted to 300 euros per person. In a discussion with the two people in charge, these costs could not satisfactorily be accounted for on the spot.
To sum it up: CLIL is an interesting, promising, innovative educational approach, well worth exploring and implementing. However, if you decide to take a State-of the-Art CLIL course, just make sure (or hope and pray) that it is not the pompous David Marsh who is the course facilitator. Here's the result of the photos I took.
This course has been funded with support from the European Commission.
This blog post reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

21 February, 2010

On my way, some reflections

The day that our Dutch cabinet fell over the issue of the NATO mission to Afghanistan, was the day I flew out to Valencia. Months earlier I had applied for a grant from Europees Platform to finance a professional development course under the title of State of the Art CLIL. A term I didn´t know before but which stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning. This (Comenius) course took my interest as it focuses on the issue of how to teach and learn about particular subjects in a language that is not your native language.
A number of years before I had experimented with an international module (taught in English)for a few years in a row about trends and perspectives in culture & society. The approach was quite innovative in the way that our students attended an 8 week course in English, were provided with only English language study materials and articles and moreover, had to take turns in chairing the different sessions themselves (in pairs). Supportive materials in how to handle these tasks were provided and my role became one of coaching / tutoring the students to make sure they kept on the right track and tackled the subject matter in depth.
With each group that I coached at the time, it was fascinating to see how the proficient English speakers and the more communicative students dominated the first sessions.
In the breaks that we took I always tried to stimulate the more silent students and coax them gently into more active participation in the discussions that were taking place in class. It wasn´t as if they had nothing to say, it appeared.....
After some probing I found out that many of the silent students had been told (by their teachers of English at secondary school) that they were failures as far as English was concerned.
Once I´d found that out, I adapted my strategy a little. During the initial introductory session led by me, I specifically addressed this issue and asked them to support each other in expressing their views. I also recommended bringing along dictionaries to class and encouraged them to consult them whenever they felt they lacked the vocabulary to express themselves. These proved to be successful strategies, as I saw more and more students joining the discussions and just doing their best in using the English that they knew AND developing their English language skills !
Another barrier I identified was this: the students in the chair often tried to open up debates by asking open questions but got frustrated from time to time when there was little response. Gradually I found out that this was mainly due to two factors: one was the occasional, complicated phrasing of the question. It was often simply too difficult to start discussing immediately. Another cause was the length of the question and the time to ¨absorb¨ the question, which prevented students from responding.
Realising this, I sometimes decided to intervene to clarify the questions put to the group and pointed out the importance of asking clear questions to facilitate interesting dialogues on the issues that were raised and to take some time before inviting anybody to respond.
By doing this, I became aware that students were also learning things at a different level; they saw that the clearer you communicate yourself, the more you stimulate the group to join and contribute. And the better you involve a group, the more valuable the experience and the discussions become. Two beneficial side effects I would never have imagined before I started out with these sessions. Fascinating !
So when I saw what CLIl entailed, I felt straight away that this would be a very welcome professional development step for me.
Writing this on my way to Valencia I hope to contribute some of these experiences to the CLIL course tomorrow or any of the coming days.

18 February, 2010

2 social work field visits

Today we visited the Rotterdam Youth Information Point (JIP in Dutch) to hear in what way they provide information to young people. But more interestingly, we learned what information it is that young people are looking for when they approach JIP. The international students could listen to a staff member telling them about young people's specific issues, such as debt, homelessness, sex issues etc. As we were just a small group of 5 there was plenty of opportunity for interaction and for asking questions. All in all, we got a pretty good idea of JIP and the way it operates for young people in Rotterdam. After an hour or so it was time to move on to the next location.
A visit had been arranged at Herenplaats, a gallery with a difference !
Again we were warmly welcomed by some one from the staff who told us but most of all demonstrated to us what beautiful works of outsider art are produced there. We could have a look at all the workshops and even see a number of artists at work when we arrived. Two of them took the time to show us their work and we had some interesting communication with them. It was fascinating to hear that one of the artists present had recently visited New York to open an exhibition of his work there. More generally speaking, much of the outsider art produced at Schiedamse Vest travels outside the Netherlands and vice versa the Herenplaats gallery exhibits work from international artists as well. It was interesting to see and hear that going international can definitely work and is on the increase in this branch. The English version of the website is significant in that respect.
When you have a look at some of the works of art, it's hard to understand that people with an intellectual disability are not admitted to the regular art academies. Herenplaats does a wonderful job in offering them art training.
And then on my way back to Museumpark I was taken by surprise by an Andy Warhol slogan displayed on a wall at Witte de With street putting the visit in its right perspective: "in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes". Well, at Herenplaats these special artists have found the right spot for their talent development.

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08 February, 2010

Welcome international students

Today was the kick off for the international class. Although not all the students had arrived in Rotterdam yet, it was still quite a full group. A great variety of countries was represented, making the international class more international than ever. Students had come all the way from Ireland, Finland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Turkey and England.
After a morning session with some introduction there was an informal lunch followed by a tour through the Museumpark location, accompanied by a number of Dutch international "buddies" from the teacher training college for primary education.

After introducing the "golden rules" drawn up by last year's students and a short introduction of Rotterdam University it was time to call it a day. After all, there's only so much you can take in on a first day full of new impressions and people. Here's a quick look:

Welcome meeting at Museumpark from Jane Traveller on Vimeo.

05 February, 2010

Sharing is multiplying

A super experience, you share a powerpoint on slideshare and the site points you to related presentations. I had seen it before, clicked on some, saw some interesting things, but today I was taken by surprise.
This is what I came across:

Spot on ! In our search for international perspectives on social work and international literature this is a fortunate find surprisingly presented by slideshare technology. A big thank you !

02 February, 2010

Library services !

Today was earmarked as one of the so-called professionalisation days with all the lecturers of our CMV study programme. One part of the day was announced as media library training. A good initiative as libraries have been developing themselves more and more into an information hub, a development that has escaped the attention of many.
One of the librarians showed us many of the services and opportunities that the library at Museumpark offers to students and lecturers. Especially one new and wonderful initiative is the subscription to a few databanks full of international journals and articles on all kinds of social topics, such as Jstore, but also the Directory of Open Access Journals.
In the past I had already been to a presentation of Library Press Display, an online paper databank covering news from all over the world, an enormously rich resource.
Since our international policy plan outlines our intention to include an international perspective in a substantial number of modules and make more intensive use of international literature, this easy access to a wealth of international information is most welcome.

25 January, 2010

A kick off meeting in Palermo

Sitting in the sun, overlooking Mondello bay, with the murmuring water nearby, I’m (pen) writing the first draft of this blog post. A day of relaxation, dearly needed to “recuperate” after yesterday’s full meeting day. "Full" meaning first of all, full of information to absorb and process, and secondly, a full day's work, ending at 5.30 pm.
A new European project brought me to Palermo, Italy for the kick off meeting together with two of my CMV colleagues Hans and Eveline.
On Saturday January 23rd, at the Centre for Creative Development (CSC), Centro Danilo Dolci (where we were actually offered the real Italian “dolci” !) all the European partner organisations convened. We were also joined by two delegates from the Swiss Adult Learning Information Centre and later on by our external evaluator from the University of Palermo. We gathered to walk through all the details of the work ahead of us for the coming 24 months’ run of the project. Actually a little less, as we have lost some time over being accepted by the EU commission as a replacement for a Greek partner who dropped out, just when the project was about to start.
To educate is to make possible the discovery of life, EDDILI for short, is a multilateral Grundtvig project within the Lifelong Learning Programme framework of the EU. Some of the project objectives are: to share the reciprocal maieutic approach, a methodology developed by Danilo Dolci), to support adult learning staff to learn transversal knowledge, skills and attitudes through the use of the methodology and to increase the quality of adult learning.
Looking back on the first day, my head is full of impressions. Of the trainers and other coordinators involved, of the potential of the reciprocal maieutic approach method, of the opportunities to train adult learning staff, of the possible results and impact on our own CMV study programme and our students. But also of the positive working atmosphere with all the people of CSC and CESIE, the two Italian organizations that organised this kick off meeting, and the other project partners from Cyprus, Germany, Spain and Switzerland. And not to be forgotten our external evaluator who interestingly pointed out to us that Facebook could also be a good medium of collaboration and dissemination, especially when creating a network for the adult learning staff.
All in all, a wonderful starting day to the project !
Back home in the cold, minus 5 degrees, I'm uploading my pictures to flickr.com to add a visual dimension to this post.

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This blog post reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained herein.