Anka Mulder


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Posts tagged mooc

Every child should learn how to code

A few weeks ago one of our lecturers, Felienne Hermans, started a MOOC on programming for children age 8 and older. The MOOC is based on Scratch. It is TU Delft’s first MOOC in Dutch and also the first for this age group. 2.500 Dutch children have enrolled, even though it is the end of their school year and the start of their holidays!

Screenshot of one of the MOOC videos

Screenshot of a video of Felienne

Our MOOC is not not the only initiative to help children to learn how to code.  Apple, for example, offers Swift Playgrounds online, Google teaches children to programme with ‘Bloks’ and there any many other examples. That makes sense, because programming is an important skill for the future. “Jong geleerd, oud gedaan” (something learned at an early age will be easy when one is older), as the Dutch proverb goes.

President Barack Obama, Apple CEO Tim Cook and former European Commisioner Nellie Kroes all said that they believe children have to learn how to programme. Mitch Resnick agrees and in his Ted Talk in 2012 he explains why. Children nowadays are very experienced in interacting with, but less so in expressing themselves with new technologies. It is almost as if they can read, but not write with new technologies.

There are other reasons why knowing how to code is important. Programming is a perfect exercise in logical thinking and problem solving. It also enables you to stay in control of the digital world around you, for example of your privacy. And there are economic reasons. The OECD says that in 2020 digital skills are needed in almost every profession. The World Economic Forum stated that 10 years from now 90% of the world population will be connected to the internet. Our society is rapidly becoming more digitalised. We do our tax forms online, download music and movies, book a table in a restaurant online, learn new things via MOOCs, we chat and Skype. In short, already today digitisation and the Internet have a major impact on our daily lives and that impact will increase exponentially in the future with ‘the internet of things’. Just think of the effect the mobile phone and smart phone have had in the last 10 years. That means that there is a bright future for programmers or anyone who knows how to do it.


Interestingly, coding is not a standard part of the programme of our own students at TU Delft. So many of our TU Delft students may leave university without knowing how to programme. The same is true for students at many other universities, I am sure. I think we should change that and make programming part of the curriculum of every student, certainly at TU Delft. Just like mathematics and physics, programming is a common language for every engineer, a skill they should all have.

Who knows, 10 years from now all these 8+ year old MOOC kids Felienne taught will enter TU Delft. Wouldn’t it be great if our current students can match their programming skills?

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 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.

Universities should move online much faster

Recently I wrote an opinion article in the Dutch newspaper NRC-NEXT with Karl Dittrich, the Chairman of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU).

In our article we say that the recent developments around MOOCs are the start of acceleration in the development of online education. This development is essential for the knowledge economy and Dutch universities should be among the frontrunners.
We advocate the development of a wide range initiatives in online education, targeting new audiences for the Dutch universities, both in the Netherlands and abroad. We have three reasons for this:

  1. Traditional part-time education hasn’t worked in the Netherlands
    Dutch universities have concluded that part-time university education has become unattractive for Life Long Learners. The number of students in this sector fell from 3,080 in 2009 to 1,400 in 2012. This is a worrying development, considering that lifelong learning is becoming increasingly important. In all sectors professionals are expected to keep their expertise and skills up to date. Companies and organizations are increasingly demanding flexible forms of education and customized training for their employees. For organizational and financial reasons, Dutch universities can not offer this. Online education provides a flexible alternative. It better matches the time and pace of learning of the individual learner.
  2. Online education attracts talent to the Netherlands
    Demand for university trained staff in the field of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) in the Netherlands and Europe is high, and supply too low. The Dutch company ASML has 1200 vacancies and recruits an increasing part of its new employees from abroad. Dutch universities have embraced this need for international talent. They have internationalized, offering education in English and receive more and more foreign students. This is a good development for the Dutch economy. The CPB (Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis) has calculated that the economic balance between costs and benefits of the presence of foreign students is positive. This conclusion is not surprising: Australia, the US and the UK have considered  higher education as an export product for many years. By offering education online, our education will become more visible internationally and that will help to attract more students to study/work in the Netherlands. Almost all of our universities score well in the international  rankings. Dutch universities are world leaders in specific areas. Examples are “food” in Wageningen, “healthy aging” in Groningen, “international law” in Leiden and “water” in Delft. The universities of Leiden and Delft strengthen their reputation by offering MOOCs in these areas. This not only improves the reputation of universities, but also of the Netherlands as a knowledge society as a whole.
  3. Online Education improves the quality of education
    New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman wrote that digitization has changed various sectors: we shop online, we book holidays online, the media world has changed and now it is education’s turn. For example, students at the Harvard Business School prefer to follow online basic accounting at Brigham Young University over Harvard’s own classrooms. Why? Because students think the basic accounting education provided by Bringham Young is simply better. Friedman argues that online education will lead to a huge improvement in quality: “When the outstanding becomes so easily accessible, average is over.” And that is something every government, every university, every country should want.

Universities should take steps to create a solid plan for digitization. They can do so partly on the basis of their own plans and ambitions, but it would also be wise to look for joint possibilities.

The initial costs of digitization are high. Digitization requires a specific pedagogical approach and, to be able to offer more tailored education to industry, requires consultation and additional resources.

Our call to the Dutch government is to support a specific approach, in which higher education, business and government give this development additional momentum. The Netherlands has one of the best IT infrastructures in the world, SURFnet, created in collaboration with all the above parties. Why not line up our ambition in the field of online education as well?

© 2011 TU Delft