• Facilitate research to improve our continuing and campus education
  • Act as innovation hub for education

In the past year, we have been taking the lead in several innovative, multi-stakeholder projects and initiatives, in particular with a focus on new digital educational formats and credentials, including the development of educational training communities and networks to support future employability in key sectors, such as the energy transition. Below is a brief overview of the most salient projects and developments.

Digital credentials on the Blockchain

As a member of the Digital Credentials Consortium, an MIT initiative of 12 affiliated universities, we have successfully completed a first pilot to deliver digital credentials via a blockchain in collaboration with Accredify, a provider in Singapore. This was Accredify's first collaboration with a European university, and our work included ensuring that specific attention was paid to European privacy regulations (GDPR). Following on from this, in early 2022 we expect the development of a Digital Credential Wallet whereby learner can store their credentials in an open-source mobile application.

National Micro-credentials project

Under the Dutch National Acceleration Plan, we participate in the Micro-credentials Framework Pilot whereby over 30 higher education institutions seek to develop a standardised way to certify smaller and stackable higher education units (between 3 and 30 ECTS). The pilot started on 1 October and will last until December 2023. It aims to create a system delivering Micro-credentials of recognised value and which is in line with European developments. The work includes procedures, quality assurance, and legal aspects and focuses in the first instance on the target group of professionals. By participating in this project, the Extension School contributes to flexibilisation in education and remains at the forefront of innovation in LLL – providing input to the framework for the pilot and beyond.

PortCityFutures blog

Innovation manifests in many ways, including as part of course design – for example in the MOOC (Re)Imagining Port Cities that makes use of a novel type of assessment. During the course, tasks are designed to help participants apply what they learn to a port city of their choice and over the weeks the materials they create and collect build up into a portfolio. Learners use their portfolio to reflect on their port city’s common spaces, its people, how it has changed in time, and on the integration of port and city, the connection between water and land. At the end of the course, they combine all this work into a final written piece for publication in the PortCityFutures blog. In this way, what is already a lovely and very hands-on, apply-what-you-learn exercise, increases its value as an authentic piece of assessment, whereby learners share their case studies beyond the confines of the course, and join the broader community working on port city territories. Some examples: • City-port/port-city: The half-cities of Brussels and the production of urban space by Loukia Batsi • The Port of Catania: Livability between Containers and Culture by Maria Racioppi • Port Everglades: Port without a city? by Barbara Waelkens PortCityFutures is an initiative by TU Delft, the Leiden University, and the Erasmus University Rotterdam to collaborate with partners internationally and investigate the socio-spatial conditions, use, and design of port city territories. It focuses on the study and design of areas where port and city activities occur simultaneously and sometimes conflict.

DigiTel Pro training program

Following the successful EMBED project on blended learning, this is an Erasmus+ funded project comprising nine partners from six countries. DigiTeL Pro stands for ‘Professional Development for Digital Teaching and Learning’ and aims to prepare lecturers and support staff to design and deliver their courses in different post-pandemic scenarios. We took the lead in creating a comprehensive online training program for the blended scenario (i.e. a deliberate combination of online and offline learning activities). The training is expected to launch in March 2022 and will give lecturers a host of resources, best practices, tools, and learning theories that they can directly apply to their campus course design, structure, and content. The project will be implemented jointly by the Extension School and the ESA Teaching & Learning Services department.

Added flexibility with Vocareum

One of the tools introduced in 2021 to improve the learning experience was Vocareum. Implemented within the Observation Theory Estimating the Unknown MOOC, it helped increase the flexibility of how activities can be connected with the course content and of how they can be graded. The tool offers a cloud-based platform (Python programming) that primarily allows the hosting and deploying of Jupyter Notebooks for multiple users in an educational context. Key capabilities of the platform include grading automation, plagiarism detection, providing code feedback, team projects, and peer reviews.

Educational research activities

Educational research is a key factor in shaping the education we provide: we incorporate the latest academic findings in the subject area of our courses whilst developing courses and programs using insights from the latest educational research. In 2021, the Extension School worked on defining its research targets for the coming years, in particular with the aim to maintain and further strengthen our position as innovators in education and to act as a field lab where educators, education professionals, and researchers can carry out innovative projects. To this end, we look to collaborate with big consortia as well as with single internal or external research groups. The research agenda, which will be finalised in 2022, includes topics such as learning networks, credentials, digital assessment, and open education. It will help us focus on relevant initiatives and find good synergies for new collaborations, which will in turn give us applicable insights to improve the quality of education for both our online learners and our campus students.

As online education generates massive amounts of data on a great variety of subjects, from demographic information, and course evaluation surveys to information on the duration of video watching and (even) single mouse clicks, researchers are very interested in using this data. Thus, we regularly receive requests for collaborations, for example from the leading Centre for Learning Analytics Monash (CoLAM) in Australia. To evaluate and execute the numerous requests and proposals more efficiently, in 2021 we also reviewed and devised a more robust research process.

To give an example of our research activities, during the year we provided data from five of our MOOCs to TU Delft researchers – that is, data from over 59,000 learners, which was analysed to gather insights on topics such as learners’ engagement, satisfaction, and forum activity. One such analysis resulted in a conference paper and presentation at the SEFI 49th Annual Conference in Berlin (Germany); we expect additional publication(s) from other projects. Amongst the researchers we worked with, Ali Soleymani is a PhD student at the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Center for Education and Learning (LDE-CEL) and involved in the NWO-funded TransAct project. Using our data for an analysis of participants’ interactions on existing platforms, such as edX, Soleymani is investigating how social learning can happen in professional learning networks.

The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Aerospace Structures and Materials MOOC

The authors of the research paper presented at the SEFI 49th Annual Conference found a large increase in enrolments by aviation and aerospace professionals for the MOOC run that started in March 2020, at the time of the first Covid-19 measurements in the Netherlands, compared to the enrolment numbers for the 2019 pre-Covid-19 run.

In addition, findings showed that learners in the later run were more engaged, interested, and intrinsically motivated; potentially as the pandemic gave them a little bit more time to truly engage. Furthermore, results can be used to adjust the course learning design to better suit learners' needs going forward.

Extension School for Continuing Education

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