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Understanding OCW Economics: Willem Van Valkenburg of the Delft University of Technology and Demand-Driven Open Education

Jul 07, 2011

The Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands is one of the world's premier technology and scientific universities. With a long history of e-learning, Delft has recently also become a leader in OpenCourseWare (OCW). Study.com's Education Insider spoke with Willem van Valkenburg, part of the Delft e-learning team, about the future of online learning and open education at the university.

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By Megan Driscoll

Willem van Valkenburg of the Delft University of Technology

Willem van Valkenburg received his master's degree from the Delft University of Technology. Mr. Valkenburg wrote his thesis on the implementation of e-learning systems within corporate environments, focusing on bridging the gap between end users and the information communication technologies (ICT) themselves. He returned to Delft in 2003 as an e-learning consultant.

Study.com: What does your position at Delft entail?

Willem van Valkenburg: For the last six years, my main responsibility was our LMS Blackboard, which has grown from a single server to a mission-critical system with a support organization around it.

In addition to the Blackboard work, I also had time to pursue new innovative projects. In 2005 we launched a university-wide weblog system, in 2007 we launched our OpenCourseWare website and last year we started our mobile app, iTU Delft.

Starting this month, I'm handing over my Blackboard work to a colleague and I will be focusing on OpenCourseWare. I'm the project leader of the TU Delft OpenCourseWare program, and since May I have been the assistant to Anka Mulder (Director of Education at Delft) in her position as President of the OpenCourseWare Consortium.

As an e-learning consultant I'm involved in the innovation in ICT and education at the university, as well as showing our work to the world. The OpenCourseWare project is paving the road toward a Delft Online University.

Study.com: To what extent do the university's traditional e-learning and OCW programs overlap? Does one draw resources from the other? Do many OCW users become regular e-learning students at TU Delft?

WV: We started out with the premise that the material we use for our own students should be good enough for the rest of the world. So we just made a copy of the Blackboard course and published it on our OCW site.

We are now moving on with OpenCourseWare, changing the courses to better suit the visitors of our website. That means we're tailoring the courses for self-studying and dividing them into clear modules. These modifications will be looped back to our LMS. Eventually, I would like to see the Blackboard course only linking to our OCW course for static educational content, while Blackboard serves as a virtual learning environment, offering services to support (self-)guided learning.

In a recent user survey the university conducted, we found that 43% of our visitors came to the website to gather information about studying at Delft University of Technology, but we don't have exact numbers on how many of them eventually started studying on campus.

We also don't offer complete online programs yet. That's one of the new things we are looking into. We'd like to offer an online master's degree program based on our OpenCourseWare content, but with additional services that students pay for.

Study.com: TU Delft is an internationally renowned technical university. Do you think that the university's specific educational focus has made it more well-suited to e-learning initiatives than a typical institution? In what ways?

WV: Delft is a traditional brick-and-mortar university with a focus on research. With the start of OpenCourseWare we got a lot more attention for education, which had a positive effect on the quality of our educational resources. This made the way for the new initiatives we are setting up around online education.

Study.com: You recently attended the 2011 OpenCourseWare Consortium conference. Did you encounter anything at the conference that you think will influence your work with e-learning and open education at TU Delft?

WV: The last OpenCourseWare Consortium conference was a very good one. During the conference there was a very positive atmosphere that made everyone enthusiastic. One of the things I encountered that I really liked is OpenStudy, an organization that is creating a worldwide study group. We are working on implementing this on our own site.

One of the main themes during the conference was the change in OCW from supply-driven to demand-driven. This means not just publishing your content, but also looking at what people can do with it.

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  • Computer and Information Support Services, Other
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  • Robotics and Artificial Intelligence

Something that really changed my work is the election of TU Delft's Director of Education Anka Mulder as President of the consortium. I really enjoy supporting her in her new role as president.

Study.com: As the international makeup of the OCWC shows, both e-learning in general and digital open education initiatives seem to be leading to the globalization of education. How do you see your work at TU Delft in relation to other pioneering institutions around the world, such as MIT, and in what ways do you think that a more international field will benefit higher education?

WV: Joining the OpenCourseWare Consortium gave us access to a network of educational leaders and institutions around the world. It's an honor to be part of this.

I feel that when we share our knowledge with the world, everyone benefits. In the words of Thomas Friedman, it will flatten our world. Universities should be aware that they no longer are the sole supplier of knowledge. Nowadays you can find almost anything on the Internet.

As a Dutch institution, we are making the switch to a truly international university. All of our master's degree programs are in English and already 30% of our students are from abroad. The limitations we have are mostly physical, such as housing and the size of the classrooms. With our online programs we can circumvent these limitations and further grow as an international university.

Study.com: Along with many other technologies, e-learning is a rapidly evolving field. Which new developments do you think will turn out to be the most important and useful educational tools?

WV: One of the big new developments, next to open education, is mobile. Mobile technology can leverage the gap in knowledge, especially in developing countries where they don't have an infrastructure.

Providing learning content via a mobile phone can educate a lot of people and can help them to gain the knowledge they need to get a job. It also better suits the 'learning on demand' that more and more students expect. As a university, we have to prepare for this development.

Study.com: How do you envision the future of e-learning at TU Delft? In what ways do you think that the development of OCW at the university will influence its main e-learning program?

WV: OpenCourseWare is leading the university into the new century and leveling the path to our online programs. We will always have on-campus programs, but even these will someday be blended with online.

Eventually we won't talk about open education, it just will be education...on a global scale?

Study.com: Finally, I'd like to offer you the opportunity to share anything you'd like about your work with e-learning and open education at TU Delft.

WV: It is a great opportunity and challenge to change our education to prepare the university for the future.

Don't miss The Education Insider's interview with Anka Mulder, Director of Education at Delft and newly-elected President of the OpenCourseWare Consortium.

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