Monday, May 26, 2008

Sweden, Day 10: Bollnäs & Axmar

Blogger is acting funny or is it this computer? I am using the computer of a digitally sophisticated teenager & the browser is badly infected with malware. Never mind: I am very grateful for having such marvellous access to the internet. But I think I will keep this short.

Today was our first official 'working day' in Bollnäs. We didn't work hard. We spent the morning with our Swedish colleagues Åke & Anneli, comparing learning management systems. Anneli uses a platform called theducation. It's hard for me to report much about it since it's a Swedish product & most of the google hits on it are in Swedish. Nevertheless, Anneli showed us what she is doing with it -- she is using it a lot -- so we did get a fairly good look around. It seems to do all of the same basic functions as Moodle. From what I could tell, it is missing some of Moodle's more sophisticated features but has a few of its own. One nice feature is an automatic 'reminder' system: when the student is 3 days late with a critical assignment, theducation sends an email reminder to encourage the student to get the assignment in. It continues to send reminders on a regular basis until 30 days have gone by, at which point the student is withdrawn from the system & the instructor is notified. I'm sure these settings can be modified all over the place. The feature is especially important in Sweden where the student receives government funding as long as he or she is actively studying. Of course, the folks at Komvux must keep track of all this.

Åke then showed us a learning management system that he has designed himself. He uses a system of web pages etc. for content sharing, & then uses First Class for communication. It's a bit primative but certainly meets the needs of him & his students. Actually I've been surprised at how much variety exists in learning management systems here. Perhaps it's yet another expression of that 'try everything' approach that I've seen in other applications. On the one hand, I have wondered why on earth they don't adopt a common platform & benefit from the strength in numbers but on the other hand I've admired the high tolerance for individually configured systems. Sometimes the software seems a bit limiting but when you look at the systems as a whole, some of them provide very effective solutions.

Later, we showed Anneli how we use Moodle & set her up with a classroom on our server. The more the merrier!

In the afternoon, I went for a walk around Bollnäs & had a quick look at the Folkhögskola (Folk High School). I found out that although the Folkhögskola competes a bit with Komvux, for the most part they appeal to different audiences. Komvux is a credit-granting organization appealing more to those with academic or career goals, while the Folkhögskola reaches a more culturally focussed group. The Folkhögskola in Bollnäs specializes in music & attracts students from all over Sweden. I had heard about the Swedish Folkhögskola movement when I was studying adult education at St. F-X so it was very satisfying to meet one in person.

And in the evening we were taken out once again for an incredible meal: this time to the locally-famous seafood restaurant at Axmar. I had baltic herring with lingonberries & mashed potatoes. It was delicious. We were able to watch seabirds on the water & swallows fishing the air for flies just outside our window.

The browser is still acting very strange. After half an hour, I still can't access my work email. What a pity! No more work tonight.

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