Anka Mulder


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Open Education Seminar: Next steps for Open Education

TU Delft started sharing Open Educational resources back in 2007. Now, TU Delft Open Education has matured in such a way that we are ready to take the next step: offering credits for MOOCs.

As I mentioned before, offering credits for MOOCs is a big step for brick and mortar universities.

Currently TU Delft aims at setting up an alliance with several international partners, like the University of Queensland, the University of British Columbia, EPFL, Rice University and Australian National University. Their shared ambition is to recognize and integrate MOOCs in (formal) campus education. This would mean that in the future any student registered at one of the partner universities can take any MOOC offered by these universities and be awarded formal Credits for it.

Please join us at the Open Education Seminar (March 10th, 14:00h, TU Delft campus)! During the Seminar:

  • We will share our vision on the next steps in Open Education, supported by our alliance partners.
  • The opening presentation will be followed by a range of guest speakers who will share their experience and ideas about bringing Open Education closer to formal education, leading to an increase in quality of learning for our students.
  • The Seminar will be closed with a debate, where everyone present can share his or her opinion and vision.

I would like to invite all who are interested to join the seminar. Please register here. Visit the website to learn more about the program and guest speakers.

Will universities be the Uber of Higher Education?

Since the first MOOCs went online three years ago,  there have been many publications about their effects: would MOOCs increase access to higher education to new groups of students or not, would they lead to innovation in education or were they old didactics gone digital, and would MOOCs be the end of the university?

Universities will still be around 10 or 20 years from now, but there are developments we should be aware of. One of them is that digitisation has created enormous possibilities for data brokering and brokers in higher education, a development we are already witnessing in many sectors (see for example: The Uberfication of Everything).

Let’s have a look at the two most often mentioned examples: Uber in the taxi world and AirBnB for hotels. Both companies were set up only a few years ago and they have become very successful. There are some funny things about both of them. They don’t have hotels and don’t own taxis, but they own the data. They also don’t employ hotel workers or taxi drivers (people who work via them are paid per job), but they do employ data specialists. Uber and AirBnB have become the very successful brokers in the taxi and hotel world.

ubersMany people claim  that the hotel or taxi business is very different from higher education. But is that true? Or will higher education have a broker as well and will we – academics, managers, support staff – be its taxi drivers?

Another interesting data broker is LinkedIn. It already has access to tons of information, which we have given to LinkedIn on a voluntary basis. Name, education, professional background and interests, connections, skills and endorsements. It recently bought online learning company Lynda. It has also acquired Bright, which makes algorithms to match jobs and candidates. LinkedIn connects students with universities (LinkedIn helps students find a university), students with jobs (LinkedIn helps students find a job) and universities with alumni (LinkedIn helps university connect with alumni). What if, in the future, it does not connect anybody with your university or mine?

Universities have the content, students and data, so perhaps they needn’t worry. Some people believe that they should and universities should have the ambition to become the broker themselves, not let the Uberfication of higher education happen. But how good, user friendly or fast are universities with big data compared to companies like Amazon or Trip Advisor? From the perspective of professionalism in data management even dating services have a better chance of becoming the broker of higher education than universities do.

If we see the Uberfication of higher edcation as a real possibility, is there something we should or could do about it? One possibility is to develop data expertise ourselves, alone or as universities together: understand how to use our data better, personalise education, professionalise education services, especially online. Or perhaps we should work together with those who are much better at this already. Be realistic about what we do well and what we don’t.

Credits for MOOCs?


This year’s EdX Global Forum (8-10 November in Washington DC) was all about MOOCs and credits. No surprise, as we increasingly receive questions from teachers (“Can I use this my colleague’s MOOC in my course?”) and students (“Can I take this MOOC from university X for credit in my regular campus programme?”). But is was also on the conference agenda because we put it there. TU Delft prepared a discussion document together with ANU in Australia: should we include MOOCs in our campus programmes and if so, how do we do this?

During the conference there was a feeling among quite a few participants that giving credits for MOOCs will happen anyway. It has advantages for our students (access to a vast portfolio of interesting courses), teaching staff (enhance the curriculum and share quality education) and universities (sharing and using each other’s expertise and offering that to our own students). But there are many issues to be solved before we can recognise each other’s MOOCs. Most universities don’t accept their own MOOCs in their campus programmes, let alone those of other universities. What are the problems?

Not all MOOCs are suitable
In the past few years MOOCs have been made for a number of reasons and for different audiences. Quite a number are introductory MOOCs or MOOCs for secondary school students. Obviously, these are not suitable parts of regular university programmes. Also, whereas some programmes have quite some space for electives or courses -so perhaps also MOOCs- taken from other universities, other programmes are more strict.

Global credit system?
Interoperability and a global standard neededThere are numerous models for the way in which a curriculum is structured: which entry level is required, which place does a course have in the curriculum (first year, second ..), how long and which level is it, to name a few. These models vary per continent, country, region and often even within a university. This makes it hard to judge if a particular MOOC fits into a regular programme. Some countries, e.g. Australia, and regions, e.g. the EU with its ECTS, already have experience with a credit transfer system. A next step could be to map these models and see if a global credit system can be developed.

Financial systems
Universities worldwide are financed in different ways. Some rely mostly on government funding for their education, others need to cover the cost of education 100% with tuition fees. Some receive a large part of their budget as a lump-sum funding, others are funded per students or per graduated student. All universities have to cover their expenses. MOOC producing universities have invested in their online and MOOC programme. A system of mutual recognition of MOOCs may affect universities in different ways.

Our campus population
The decision on which course can be included in a particular programme often does not lie with the Board, but with the course director, dean, or examination board. So that is also the case for the decision on if and how a MOOC can be included.

Even more important is this: for our staff to accept such a new step one point will be vital and that is quality. Our teachers and programme directors will only consider integrating a MOOC in a regular programme if it is of top quality and produced by a reliable university they know and have worked with before.

The funny thing is that most of these points are not new.
We already have many students in exchange programmes, TU Delft students taking courses at UBC Vancouver, or ANU students at TU Delft. We already experience the difficulties in transferring credits between universities. But recognising MOOCs means that we are potentially talking about large numbers of students. A good reason to solve this now for MOOCs and with a bit of luck, we may also solve the problems that campus exchange students have.

So what is next?
Credits for MOOCs is a difficult issue with many facets. We have to study these thoroughly and perhaps try out some small pilots as a next careful step. A group of universities, including TU Delft and ANU, present at the conference have set up a working group to discuss exactly this: how can we give credits to MOOCs, make use of each other MOOCs and open up a global portfolio to all our students?

MOOC lecturer appointed as Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Professor TU Delft

Professor Arno Smets

Professor Arno Smets

The aim of the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek chairs (AvL) at TU Delft is to promote young, excellent academics to the position of Professor at an early age so that they can develop their academic careers to the fullest possible extent. Nominations are assessed by the Advisory Appointment Committee on three criteria: research, education and organisation.

Historically, the main criterion for an AvL appointment has been the academic status, based on evidence of outstanding achievements in research. As part of the Year of Education this time a candidate was nominated who has not only an outstanding research performance, but a very strong education profile as well, both within and outside the university.

TU Delft has appointed Dr. Arno Smets as Antoni van Leeuwenhoek Professor. Arno is an excellent researcher in the field photo-voltaic material and devices. He is also the lecturer of our most popular MOOC, a MOOC on Solar Energy, with over 120.000 learners. This was one of the first two MOOCs TU Delft launched on the EdX platform. It has had three runs already and has been translated into Arabic. The MOOC has provided Arno’s group with important research data as well. With his drive and enthusiasm Arno has made his MOOC to an international  success. This has given his department an even stronger postion on the world map as one of the world’s important groups for teaching and research on solar energy.

Arno’s work also shows how interlinked research and education are at universities, in developing new ideas, creating new networks, collecting data and of course in academic careers.



Education Day 4 November

I my blog earlier this week I mentioned that TU Delft will invest extra in education this year. Step one is the additional investment of 6 million Euro in education. At present we are discussing faculty plans with deans, directors of education and the student council. Step two is the TU Delft Education Day

The TU Delft Education Day will take place on 4 November from 14.00h to 18.30h 2015. Teachers can learn about new possibilities to develop themselves and their education, get inspired on how to further improve their course, find out what really drives students and meet colleagues from all TU Delft faculties. Interested? Watch Rob Mudde’s video message below and  register here.






The Year of Education

[Photo credit CC-BY: ]

[Photo credit CC-BY: ]

At the opening of the academic year on August 31st I declared this academic year the year of education. That may seem odd: universities are about education anyway, aren’t they? But the point is that they are about research too and at research intensive universities it is hard to strike the right balance between education and research.

Research defines the career of  academic staff, not only at our university, but internationally. Global university rankings are dominated by research and hardly take education into account. At the same time, students worldwide aks for good education. That requires a better balance than we have a present. Additionally, many of our academic staff wonder how their contribution to education can be evaluated the same way as their research accomplishments.

This is not only a Dutch issue.  For example, it is also a discussion in the UK, where universities and government talk about the introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework. The Guardian on 7 July states: “The proposed Tef (Teaching Excellence Framework) is often characterised as a Ref (Research Excellence Framework) for teaching. It’s a description that reminds us how much less attention university teaching has received than its showier sibling, university research.”

What will we do at TU Delft? This year we will make some significant investments -not only financial- in education:

  • We will invest an extra 6 million euro per year in education, most of that is meant to recruit more academic staff
  • We will start building our new education centre, PULSE
  • We intend to set up education fellowships and an Institute for Academic Development, where our teaching staff can share ideas. This will be a place for excellence and innovation in higher education, led by one of our TU Delft professors
  • We will introduce the TU Delft Education Day
  • And we will improve the balance between research and education in our career policies. For example, we are working on the creation of education fellowships and a special Anthony van Leeuwenhoek Professor position.

Our university wants to excel at both research and education. So we realise that for now that requires taking additional steps to improve the position of education, not as the sad sibling of research, but as its equal.

Making lifelong learning a success with MOOCs

Advisory Committee on ‘Flexibel hoger onderwijs voor werkenden’ Landelijk netwerk Associate degree 23 september 2013 Patrick Leushuis Ministerie OCW.

The importance of lifelong learning is widely recognised. “The pace and volume of change in just about every major discipline means that lifelong learning is no longer an option, but absolutely essential. However excellent your education was at school, within a few years of entering the workforce, a gap will be opening up between what you need to know, what has recently been discovered, and what you were taught while at school.”, says Andrew Bollington in the OECD Yearbook 2015. So if it is so important, why is it such an unsexy subject?

Some politicians and government officials have called lifelong learning a headache dossier. As in some other countries, the Netherlands have seen a sharp decline in the participation in lifelong learning, notably in at the university level. In 2001, around 2.000 lifelong learners enrolled at a Dutch university for a regular degree programme; 10 years later that was 881! At TU Delft as well, we have few successful examples.

It is hard to pinpoint the exact reason for this decline, but there is clearly a gap between what professionals and their employers are looking for and what universities offer. At TU Delft we have decided to try to close this gap. Based on TU Delft expertise, of course, but offered in a different way: specific content added, flexible, modular, and (partly) online, so that it meets the demands of professionals.

In the past year, we have talked with employers to see how we could meet their education and training needs. We have also experimented with MOOCs and different types of blended and online courses for professionals worldwide. Some examples:

  • MOOC on Data Analysis as a blended corporate course
    The MOOC Data Analysis to the MAX() was offered as an open course on Edx. Together with Capgemini we offered the course in blended way for their employees. Capgemini learners followed the MOOC with other learners, and had three specific evening session with a trainer from the Capgemini Academy on top of that. The last evening session was also attended by our TU Delft lecturer Felienne Hermans, responsible for the MOOC.
  • TU Delft – company co-development of a MOOC on Geology
    Shell has a number of employees who do not have a background in geology, but for whom it would be helpful to have some knowledge of it. At TU Delft we had plans to develop a MOOC on geology, so we put one and one together. Shell gives a financial contribution to enable us to make at the MOOC and it provides some real life examples. This will make the MOOC more interesting for their employees, but also for the rest of the world.
  • Online ProfEd Course on Credit Risk Management with extra company weeks
    The MOOC Credit Risk Management attracted quite some interest from the financial sector. A number of companies inquired if some of their employees could do an advanced course on this topic as well. The model we use here is to offer the first four weeks as a generic course to all these companies. This part of the course will be fully developed by TU Delft. Each company, together with our lecturer, will then create an extra fifth week with company specifics. During the course company students are grouped in private cohorts, so that they can share their specific company insights.
  • Sharing knowledge on the Circular Economy
    As university partner of the  Ellen MacArthur Foundation TU Delft received a grant to create a MOOC about the circular economy. The foundation has corporate members as well. Some of these, Philips, Unilever and Renault, decided to share their knowledge on the subject with us and contribute to our MOOC. To raise awareness about the circular economy within their company, they actively encourage their employees to follow this MOOC.

We are determined to making professional education work. To be successful, we need employers’ help. It is vital that we hear what employers and their staff need and how and where we can contribute. Get in touch with us and let us know!

Education for a better world: more than 100,000 students for Solar Energy

Banner Solar Energy

Banner Solar Energy

In September 2013 TU Delft started its MOOC programme with Solar Energy and Water Treatment as pioneers. One of the main drivers of our MOOC experiment was to reach out to as many interested learners as we could. Also to see how we could help to solve the world’s major challenges, i.e. to provide education for a better world. So after Solar Energy and Water Treatment many MOOCs followed, for example on biotechnology, responsible innovation and water and climate. All were successful: excellent quality and many learners.

Let’s have a closer look at the Solar Energy MOOC. Solar Energy’s first run started in September 2013 with 57,000 students. Almost 3,000 of those received a certificate. The second time it ran was a year later, in September 2014, when it had 28,500 students. 1,300 of that group got a certificate. Because of this succes, Solar Energy will have a third run  in September 2015 and already 7,600 learners have registered.

There has been a worldwide interest in this MOOC, also in regions where English is not widely spoken. So with the support of the Queen Rania Foundation and some of our TU Delft staff, Solar Energy was translated into Arabic. The course will soon be offered on the EdRaak platform to the Arab speaking world. Already more than 7,000 learners have signed up.

The course had an impact on the life of many students. A great example is the story of Andersson Contreras from Colombia, who wants to use the knowledge he acquired from the MOOC to develop a sustainable and stable energy source for  the Wounaan indigenous community in Colombia, who are now dependent on diesel generators.

Finally, the course culminated without committing any error in the exams and assignments so I got a score of 100% and a certificate of EDX of this course. 

After gaining all this knowledge, install my own PV system using mathematical tools provided for that purpose, and economic results of the system were very satisfactory. Now, I have a saving of over 50% of money, a continuous electric fluid and a contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

But there are more successes than these 100.000+ learners and beautiful examples. The MOOC’s professor, Arno Smets, uses his online materials and his MOOC experience in his campus education. Arno has also become an advocate for educational innovation at our university, convincing many colleagues to join. There are many like him: Luuk Rietveld, Jules van Lier, Jacco Hoekstra, Felienne Hermans, Alexander de Haan, Isabelle Arends, Pasquale Cirillo, and many more. Have a look at our website and meet our pioneers.

How to do more and less administration or: the ambidextrous organisation

The changes at universities and in their surroundings have had an effect on the life of academics. But how about the hundreds of people in the support staff at every university? I believe that support services have to strengthen their administrations and become less administrative at the same time.

Universities were set up as teaching institutions initially. In the last century, when many companies dismantled their R&D centres, research moved to universities and became a strong second second pillar of a university. Nowadays, universities have gained yet another function and are also seen as important drivers of regional economic growth and innovation, transferring knowledge to business, attracting talent and companies.

So universities acquired more roles. They also got more students. When student numbers grew, so did government spending on higher education, and governments placed a stronger focus on transparency, efficiency and accountability. For universities and their staff, this meant more administrative duties, accounting for how they spent their money, organised quality assurance, dealt with ethics and integrity, etc. Universities administrations grew and professionalized as a consequence.

Other recent developments included growing competition over research funding, management of research projects, the introduction of online education, technology transfer between universities and business, and innovation in pedagogy.

These changes have had different effects on the work of support staff. To help a university with its innovation process is something completely different than running an efficient and accountable administration with operational excellence. The first type of organisation rocks the boat, the other operates a ship steady as she goes. Both types require different skills and cultures.

This is sometimes described as ambidexterity, i.e. being both left and right handed. Organisational ambidexterity refers to an organisation that is adaptable and able to cope with tomorrow’s changing demands and at the same time is able to manage the day to day business efficiently.

For a long time, university support services have focused on the latter. They became more efficient and perfected their administrative excellence. Harmonisation, centralisation and lean management were key words. Such organisations did not embrace experimentation, creativity or flexibility. The fact is, however, that universities need support services that do this as well as being efficient.

It is easy to go from one type of organisation (the operational and efficient one, focused on accountability) to the other (the flexible organisation that services innovation). But the real challenge is to be both.

So what does this look like in practice? It is an HR department with a 100% accurate salary administration and bespoke talent recruitment services. Or IT that makes sure that the Wifi always works, and that is also involved in new developments around online education and MOOCs. An international office that deals with thousands of student applications efficiently, and is also able to help that one student whose visa documents got lost. In short, a reliable administration that helps the university to comply, and that agile at the same time.

This may not sound too difficult, but it is good to know that in real life less than 1% of all people are ambidextrous.


Women in academia

Some years ago, a dean told me that gender policies would not make a difference, as “women have different ambitions then men”. Up to that point, gender issues had not really interested me and I am still no expert in the matter. But that remark made me realise that action was perhaps necessary after all. Because mixed teams are nicer to work in and of course universities should attract all talent, male and female, and change does not happen automatically.

Last Monday, the Erasmus University Rotterdam, TU Delft and Leiden University organised a session on women in science. Around 100 people were present, many of them with more expertise in gender issues than me, including my colleagues Simone Buitendijk from Leiden and Paulien van der Meer Mohr from Rotterdam. Nevertheless, I was asked to say something about gender in the EU Horizon 2020 programme and women at TU Delft.

Gender has been included as one of the criteria in Horizon 2020. The goal is to create gender balance in Horizon 2020 research teams, the decision making teams that decide which project proposal will be funded and in the content of the proposals, i.e. in all parts of the research cycle. So no ticking boxes, but real stuff.

Women are underrepresented in higher positions in academia. That is especially the case in science and engineering. At TU Delft, 26% of our students are women, 28% of our PhD candidates, and only 10% of our associate professors. We make progress (9% of our full professors are women; 10 years ago that was 4%), but slowly. Still, I do have hope that this will change. In education there is already a gender balance in programmes such as Life Science and Technology, Industrial Design, Architecture and Mathematics. The same is true for research areas like Water Management. We have female deans and directors. TU Delft’s “Fellowship” recruitment programme for women academics has attracted talents from around the globe. And most importantly: culture is changing. Recruiting talented women is normal and on the agenda of every faculty now.

So what makes the difference or who? Policies, targets, actions and perseverance. I also know that one person played an especially important role at TU Delft: Nynke Jansen, HR director until 2013. By showing the necessity and evidence, setting targets and defining the practical steps to get there: a world class university that is open to all talent.



© 2011 TU Delft