Degree of disruption – MOOCs change how people earn degrees

Recently, I heard about an event at a business school, where MOOCs were discussed. The person I spoke with had attended this – closed – event, and mentioned how the experts had come to the conclusion that currently business schools and their degrees (yes, indeed: MBA) were not really threatened by MOOCs, and that no-one was yet giving out MOOC-based degrees. Oh, and no, it certainly wasn’t going to be the higher education world that was going to disrupt this status quo. The disruptions was going to come from the outside. The tone struck me as if they had added something like “in the distant future”.

Well, I couldn’t agree less. Currently, it seems there is still a big gap between the free education offered through MOOCs, and getting a tangible, old-fashioned (and in many cases expensive) diploma, with the right to call yourself MBA, or MSc. or any other hard-earned title. Don’t get me wrong: if you do the work, you deserve to show it off. But, what is already changing, is that MOOCs are becoming part of that work load.
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Use MOOCs to pick the right school

September has just started, and in many countries, that means schools have started, too. For everybody who has the fortune to attend school, that is, but especially for those who are in their final year of secondary education, and are looking ahead to the next step. For many students, and their parents, this year will be about choosing which college or university to go to or apply for.

Picking the right school to go to, is not the easiest task. There are many factors that can play a role: family tradition, vicinity, place in rankings, job perspective, topics offered and so on. Many, if not all of these, are based on the opinion of others about these school. Maybe the parents have attended themselves, so they have a certain experience and inside knowledge, but much can change between their school years, and next year.
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What is really so disruptive about MOOCs?

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are getting quite the attention. Through platforms like Coursera, edX and Iversity, top class academic institutions are delivering their education for free. And they indeed have massive enrollment. So, it’s no wonder that MOOCs have been billed as disruptors of higher education. They’re opening up higher education to the masses.

However, there has been some critiques. Those showing up are mostly the already educated, and only relatively few complete the courses. Another critique is that some MOOCs are simply putting the off-line courses online. But, it’s still early days. MOOC providers – platforms and schools – are still learning how to best utilize this phenomenon.
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What would Baudolino do with social media

Reliquary for the 3 Magi
Reliquary for the skulls of the three Magi in the Kölner Dom

Baudolino, the main character in a book by Umberto Eco, lived in the 12th century; a time in which Europe was in turmoil. A very exciting time. From a modest background, he managed to climb up to become a trusted advisor to the emperor Frederick Barbarossa. One of his main feats in the book, is to legitimize the rule of Barbarossa by creating a relic that proves the connection between the emperor and Jesus. This was a very important accomplishment in these days.

But, Baudolino would not have liked to be seen as a forger of artefacts. In fact, in our current world he would be a political advisor, maybe a spin doctor. His main trade would be to legitimize rulers. He would likely not turn to fabricating relics anymore. With wikipedia and google, it’s easy to find out more about the provenance of such a relic. It would simply not be worth his while. No, he would turn to social media.
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Don’t let your new blog topic run into a dead end: spin it off


As you may have noticed, I started blogging about being a Dad-to-be recently. After a few posts posted on this blog, I felt I had so much more to share about it, that I spun off the Dad-to-be blog to a dedicated site: The Neverending Miracle. Last year, when I was working on my poetry project A Poem Each Day, I did the same. Here are my three reasons for spinning off blogs.

On this blog here, which I’ve been keeping since 2007 after having had several other blogs before that, I try to focus on a few topics. Some posts are inspired by our expat-life: discovering things in the place we live, other by work-related interests such as innovation. Then there are the things I feel are worth sharing: interesting reads, music, observations. So, maybe you could conclude that this blog has a lack of focus. But that’s a way of keeping it on-topic just the same. Just as with the poems, I felt that my Dad-to-be posts were going to be so numerous, that they would drown out the other posts here. Plus: it is such a specific subject, that a dedicating a site to it, seems the best thing to do.

Potential direction
This blog is really my personal blog, and I intend to keep it that way. I share my thoughts here on the topics mentioned above. The poetry blog, as well as the Dad-to-be project are of a slightly different nature. And even though I am running them alone, with only my content on them, they both have/had the potential of growing out to be something else. The best way to facilitate that, is to separate that specific content from the content on this website.

While the first two point are very much ‘sender-oriented’, the main point of posting your thoughts to a blog is that people read it. The third point has much to do with the first, however, more from an ‘receiver’ point of view. The poems I published last year were aimed at and attracting a specific type of audience: those who like to read poetry online. The Dad-to-be blog also has an audience in mind: relatives/friends and those who are also Dads-to-be, or maybe recently became dads, and want to read about how another guy is experiencing all this. In both cases, the audiences are likely to also have a focus, and might be chased away if the blog is to wide-ranging.

So, there you have it: my three reasons for operating several blogs. Do you work in a similar manner? Or the opposite? Let me know in the comments.

Park your car in Düsseldorf, pay with your mobile. Or not.

Get your parkschein here, or pay by SMS

Get your parkschein here, or pay by SMS

Every initiative that aims to reduce the need for me to carry coins around, scores points with me immediately. Especially if it’s about paying for a parking ticket in cities. When I lived in Amsterdam a few years ago (is it really more than five already?), I used Parkline, a service that allows you to pay for parking via SMS. When you are a registered user, you get a card to display behind your windscreen, which is linked to your mobile number and your license plate. If you park your car in an area where you have to pay, you simply send a text to switch paying on, and when you leave you send an SMS to switch it off. You pay per minute, for as long as you have parked. No more worries about being back in time, or finding a fine on your car because you are ten minutes late. Or: finding you only have a Euro coin with you, while all you need is to pay 50 cents, because you only have a short errand to run. Surely, the Parkline service costs a bit in membership (10 Euro registration, and 2,50 per month), but that’s a low fee, and easy to earn back.

Anyway, when I heard that Oberbürgemeister Elbers had launched a pilot for paying for parking via SMS in Düsseldorf last week, I was happy. This sounds like something great, and I had to see and test it for myself. The system is super simple to use: you find a spot to park your car, check at the pay-machine which number you have to use, and send an SMS with your license plate to that number. If you don’t add anything else to the message, you will be registered (and charged) for 1 hour. You can influence that by adding a dot and a number after your license plate. For example ‘.30’ for 30 minutes. You can pay in increments of 15 minutes, with a maximum of the limit of the allowed parking time. In Düsseldorf, as in many cities, you can only park for a limited amount of time in certain areas. The ease of use is almost phenomenal. On top of that, you can also download the app, which works nicely. The amounts get charged to your mobile phone subscription, so I reckon that tourists from other countries won’t be able to use the service.
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Sunday Spotlight foodie edition: Mindful foodie, Maarten kookt and Foodie International

This edition of Sunday Spotlight is dedicated to foodies. There are three I like to mention especially: Mindful Foodie Lesh Karan, old school friend Maarten Lenoble and Elyse Pasquale AKA Foodieinternational.

The Mindful Foodie blog from Lesh Karan is certainly one of my favorites. She likes real food, knows about and maybe even more important: knows how to make delicious meals with it. And that’s exactly what she shares on the blog. Knowledge and recipes. Her blog is certainly worth following, especially if you like recipes with Asian influences.

Maybe a bit more difficult to follow is Maarten’s blog. Not because it’s hard to find, but because he writes in Dutch. He shares his love for good food and cooking by writing about his latest purchases of not only cook books, but also some really cool toys. Eh, utensils. But what really sets him apart from the rest, are his recipes for cooking with children. His own kids are Junior Master Chefs to be, and the recipes are honest, fun and great to make with children. Worth using Google Translate or a dictionary for this one.

Elyse Pasquale is on an exceptional adventure: she travels around the globe and writes about food. I might be just a tiny little bit jealous of her. Obviously she has a blog, on which she shares her adventures, but what I really like is her Instagram account. Amazing pictures of her travels and glorious, glorious food. If you’re not on Instagram, it’s worth doing so just to see what she shares.

What’s Sunday Spotlight?
Sunday Spotlight is my way of saying thanks to those members my online communities who have made an impact, or who I simply love to follow because they share awesome things. It is also a nod to Ana Isabel Canhoto, and the way she interprets the popular #FollowFriday meme on Twitter. I even had the honor of featuring in a FollowFriday post on her blog. How awesome is that?
In every Sunday Spotlight post I will introduce you to one or more very special people. These people have stood out in my social networks, and that’s why I think they are worth following. They might impact your life as well.

Why you need great community managers

Quality Hunters, a successful improvement program thanks to great community management

Quality Hunters, a successful improvement program thanks to great community management

Now that online platforms have established themselves as places where your customers talk about your brand, they have also become important factors for companies to thrive. Whether it is really understanding what your customers want (to buy), increase your innovative power, or enabling customers to complain to you and share their delight with others, online platforms can make or break your company.

And with this, the role of community managers becomes increasingly important. Without talented people who identify issues, challenge (potential) customers to come up with new products or services you can sell to them, and nurture relationships with (dis)satisfied consumers, you will be lost in the ever-growing Tower of Babel that places like Facebook and Twitter have become. Without great community managers, your message will not be heard by the right people. And they will not talk back to you.

Today is Community Manager Appreciation Day, and this is a great day to think about how you have organised community management in you company. For two great examples: follow Meena Kadri and Quality Hunters on Twitter. You’ll get some great insights on what great community management looks like.

Reciprocity, why it works and when it doesn’t

A handwritten poem on a postcard - an acknowledgement for contributions

A handwritten poem on a postcard – an acknowledgement for contributions

If you want to have some success with your social media campaign, reciprocity is a phenomenon you should take into account. At least, if you’re not Nike, Google or Coca Cola. Or Justin Bieber. The basic, age old principle of give and you shall receive is a strong one in social networks, both online and off. It’s what makes them work, and what brings you results. If you handle it with care.

But, first of all you have to understand the results that you want to achieve. Sure, getting followers and likes can be easy, but is that what you really want. In my poetry project, for example, the result I want is that people will buy the poetry book I am going to publish. The followers on the blog, the likes and comments on the poems are all contributing to that. If I manage to publish poems good enough for people to like and if I manage to engage with this audience in such a manner that I keep them interested enough to want to buy the book.

What will not work? Well, getting people to like or comment on the poems out of the sentiment of just giving back what I gave to them. Commenting on, liking and sharing work from others can make them want to push the like button on my website once. But if it’s only that once, and only because I clicked a button on their blog, it’s not going to help me sell an extra copy of my book. The same goes for these ‘follow-me-and-I-follow-you-back’ tweeters. Those are connections that will not bring you results. The value of that connection will not go deeper than one extra follower. The trick is converting that follower into a potential buyer of your product, service, or, in my case, book.

So, you have to identify those that really take an interest in your campaign. Thsoe are the people that share your campaign with their friends without you asking for it, and participate in the conversation. Give feedback. Those people you need to cherish and strengthen your ties with. You can do that by acknowledging their contributions, maybe give them a small present. As an example: in my poetry project, I sent out some handwritten poems on postcards to people that really made a difference.

You can also strengthen ties by finding common interests other than your campaign, and work with that. The key thing is: be authentic in giving. It’s always directly very clear when someone just tries to get you to return the favor, so that they can show a higher retweet, follow or like count. And it’s not that hard, it just takes some sincere effort. But, that sincere effort will bring you not only a higher chance to achieve the results you want, it can also bring you the satisfaction of discovering new friends, new content and contributing to the success or work of others.

Learning languages with @Duolingo – a review

Partial screen shot of Duolingo

Partial screen shot of Duolingo

As our move to Germany is coming closer, I started to practice my German language skills again. I do speak the language, and understanding it is quite easy for a Dutchman, but some exercise is needed to become fluent. Apart from reading online news, and watching news videos, I’ve started the German language course on Duolingo.

Learning a language on Duolingo is free. The offer is slightly limited, as now you can only learn French, German, Spanish and Portuguese if you speak English, and English if you speak Spanish or Portuguese. But, for me, it’s perfect.

Starting is made very easy: you sign up, fill out a bit of your profile, select a language and start lesson 1. Even though I had German in school, speak a language that is closely related and do understand and speak German, I decided to start with the basics. A good way of repeating and getting to know the Duolingo platform.

The lesson structure is great. You learn new words, how to use them and also how to write and speak them. There’s audio, and even a record-function to let you practice speaking. After completing a lesson, you unlock the next one. For each lesson you get points, and bonus points if you make less than four mistakes. So there’s also a bit of gamification.

If you think you can skip the basics, you can skip to a test that unlocks the first levels, and lets you start at a later point in the course. If you pass that test, that is.

Obvioulsy, there are many options online to learn a language. My choice for Duolingo was not based on extensive research, but on the story behind it. The founder of Duolingo is the same guy that is behind the great innovation of reCAPTCHA. You know, that bit of internet-software that makes you fill out a ‘distorted sequence of characters’ on web forms. Originally, you could pass the I’m-not-a-robot-test by correctly typing one word, but with reCAPTCHA you had to do two. One clearly legible, the other not so much. You probably know that by doing so, you help to perfect software that is able to read scanned documents. The less legible words of reCAPTCHA are scanned words that are found to be unrecognisable by computers. The idea is that if you get many people to say which word it is, the one most mentioned is likely to be it. This same principle applies to Duolingo. The lessons are free, if you also help with translating sentences from the language you’re learning into English. Many translations, that are then rated by many people, will teach machines to translate one language to another (in my case of learning German: help translate German into English). Unfortunately, this is also the weak point of Duolingo.

Because of the limited offer of languages, I estimate that most users will choose English as their starting language. However, I also think that many users probably do speak English, but not at a sufficient level to do and rate translations. As an example of this, one translation I found that was already ‘accepted’ was the standard closing of letters. In German that is ‘Mit freundlichen Grüße’. From what I’ve seen of the English language, the correct version of that would be ‘With kind regards’. However, the accepted version on Duolingo was the more literal translation ‘With friendly regards’. Word-by-word it might seem like a correct translation, and it is rated like that by the crowd of Duolingo users, but I think it is not. Considering the fact that these translations will be used in translation software available on the web, this slightly worries me.

On the other hand, there are always nitpickers like me who will suggest an edit to that translation. So if enough people use Duolingo, we can all together make automated translations better.

Now, I’m off to my next German lesson.

Mit freundlichen Grüße!