Spotlight on Hungary

With a multiple award winning e-Learning platform and a strong, integrated set of ICT initiatives, Hungary is a country to watch and learn from.   

The Hungarian Government decided to invest in ICT after a disappointing PISA study showed that they were far behind international standards for providing work-place skills to students.  This lead to several initiatives, the most noteworthy of which is the SULINET Digital Knowledge base – an e-Learning platform which has achieved a wide range of accolades across Europe including:

The design goal was to make high quality learning content available that completely covered the curriculum at all stages of schooling across Hungary.

In 1996, Educatio – a ministry backed agency – developed SULINET with backing from Microsoft.  It now has over 1million learning objects in a wide variety of content types – classroom-ready handouts, diagrams, animations, lecture drafts, films and databases. Crucially, documents can also be edited by teachers to ensure that content remains up to date and relevant.

The user experience starts with a great interface:

From there, specific subject content can be easily located and used:

Collaboration on learning projects is made possible through “presence” and communication tools:

 

HOW DOES SULINET WORK?

Publishers or teachers create the content with a Windows based Learning Object (LO) creator tool, or via a browser, and load it into the National LO Content Management Server.

Whilst other e-Learning systems simply serve up learning objects for users to consume, SULINET enables users to blend learning assets to form sophisticated learning objects. This allows for a much more constructivist approach.

HOW WAS SULINET DEVELOPED?

For the content, there were three different calls:

  • A first call was for school book publishers to take the standard curriculum text books and turn them into interactive and multimedia learning tools.
  • A second call was for cross-curricular modules, newly introduced and any subjects that were not covered by the first call.
  • A third call was for additional teaching materials and media collections. Schools and institutions could contribute with self-made materials or they could open their existing digital content collections.

From September 2006 individual users could upload learning resources to their private users’ sites.

The content types available in the system are:

  • Reusable learning assets: the smallest, independently existing building blocks. These can be texts, pictures, sounds, animations, simulations, movie clips or tasks. They are reusable, because they can be combined with other assets to form unique combinations – learning objects.  
  • Learning objects: these are compiled from the learning asset building blocks, from the highest level subjects down to the lowest level learning units. These include experiments and tasks, for example.
  • Collections: sound, picture, video or test collections sourced from different national archives, such as the Hungarian News Agency (MTI) and the National Audiovisual Archive (NAVA).

The assets, objects and collections are stored in a central database, where they are classified and tagged. Underpinning this is the use of set of international standards – SCORM, IMS, LOM, and Dublin Core.

The system was developed in .NET and key technologies include: SQL (database); SharePoint; Visual Studio.NET

The knowledge base is available for everyone on the http://sdt.SULINET.hu site and its use for nonprofit public educational goals is free of charge.

The challenge now is for the Hungarian Ministry of Education to drive up usage amongst teachers, through teacher training campaigns, roadshows, and marketing activities.

BEYOND SULINET

SULINET is part of an integrated package of ICT initiatives that includes:

Whiteboards

35,000 out of the 62,000 classrooms in Hungary are equipped with interactive whiteboards, projectors and a set of 32 computers. These will come with classroom response systems and voting tools. The feedback of these IWBs showed that 70% of teachers found them very useful when teaching a class. To read more, click here.

Notebook computers

To add to the current stock levels, Intel have started to deploy their Classmate PCs into the market, starting with 3000. A further 2000 netbooks were also made available by the government through the Intelligent Schools Program.

 Teacher training

As part of the Microsoft Innovative Schools Program, 80,000 teachers were trained. The courses ensured that teachers were getting the most out of digital content, electronic administration and tutoring through IM.

Internet access

The quality of internet access in schools continues to improve, and broadband connections are now being pushed into primary schools.

KEY QUESTIONS

Thinking about implementing a SULINET type solution in your country? Here are some points to consider:

Who’s the principle audience – teachers, students, parents?

Who can publish – teachers, students, parents?

What incentives are there to encourage contributions?

How will Quality Assurance work?

What about peer review/rating systems?

Should all contributors be allowed to:

  • Create a SCO
  • Publish a SCO
  • Edit a SCO
  • Keep own created SCO’s by themselves without sharing?

How do you foresee the logical grouping working?

  • National level admin and users
  • District or conglomerate of schools admin and users
  • Individual School admin and users
  • Grade level admins and users (Eg Year 10)
  • Subject level admins and users (Eg Maths)

Who is the legal owner of a SCO – teacher, school, and district?

How do you manage digital rights?

FURTHER INFORMATOIN

  • To read a report about the original goals of SULINET, click here.
  • The next challenge for SULINET is to drive up usage of teachers and students by incorporating social networking into the portal. They have started to make use of forums for students and teachers to come together and discuss.
  • SULINET have also organized a variety of events since it’s conception in 1996, including:
  • SULINET Adventure Tour– competition amongst students involving theoretical and practical exercises.
    SULINETwork- A large conference held annually to update teachers on the latest functions on SDT 
  • To read more about SULINET, click here.
  • To read more on the current policies and programs in Hungarian public education, click here.
  • To review a full Insight report on Hungary click here

Publish to the world – free and fast

A number of people have requested Schooling at the Speed of Thought in Kindle format. “How hard could that be”, I wondered.  The answer – incredibly easy, fast and cheap. With the right tools, and this guide, you too could be publishing quickly and easily. 

So, if you are interested in doing likewise either for yourself or as a project with students, read on…

First some quick background info… Amazon Kindle is an e-book publishing platform that allows authors to publish directly from the Kindle Store on Amazon. The Kindle platform consists of devices (Wireless/3G enabled ebook-readers); applications for PC, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Mac, Blackberry, and Android-based devices; and an ebook store with books, magazines and public domain content. In theory, practically anyone can take a Word document and push it to the Amazon site for anyone else to download – either free or paid for. OK, there’s a bit more to it than that, but not a lot.

The business model is simple – you write, design and produce your publication, upload it to the Kindle Direct Publishing platform using your regular Amazon credentials, and providing poeple buy what you are selling, eventually – and I stress eventually – you get a cheque through the post. Amazon give you either 35% or 70% royalty – which is taxable of course. Read the “getting paid” section here before getting too excited.

So, assuming that your aim is to deliver your wisdom to the massess, rather than to purchase a castle in Tuscany, just follow these simple steps to publishing stardom.

1. Get the right tools

Microsoft Office Pro 2010

MobiPocket Creator 4.2 (free)

Kindle Reader for PC (free)

2. Build your publication

Word 2010 is indispensable for both professional quality print and ebook publishing. Use the left-hand navigation bar to structure, draft and refine your text. Keep your style-sheet simple, and avoid multiple layered bullets.

3. Add illustrations

Use PowerPoint 2010 for creating professional publishing-quality images. Create your tables in PowerPoint, save them as JPEG files and insert them into your Word document.

4. Convert to Kindle ebook format

For small publications – especially if they don’t have tables and illustrations  – you can upload diretcly to the Kindle Direct Publishing platform. However, I found it better to follow these steps:

i) Save the Word 2010 file as a Word 97-2003 format

ii) Import into MobiPocket Creator (‘Import’ then ‘Build’)

iii) Test with Kindle Reader for PC and refine the Word document until you are happy with the format and layout

5. Upload the “Kindle Content” file to Kindle Direct Publishing

Watch this video to see how to do this part – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMpiKDzNNO4

You will have to wait up to 3 days for the nice people at Amazon to review the content before its published.

And that’s pretty much it.

Key tips and reminders:

1. Don’t try to upload big files with lots of tables, pics and complex formatting directly to Kindle Direct Publishing. Build and test on your PC first.

2. Tables are tricky, and the more you have the trickier it gets, so build the tables in PowerPoint first, and export as JPEGs and then import these as pictures into Word.

3. MobiPocket Creator strips out blank lines, so use the Styles in Word to set “above” and “below” paragraph spaces (eg 6pt or 12pt above and below).

Lastly, its worth pointing out that all of the interior for the paperback version of Schooling at the Speed of Thought was done in Microsoft Office Pro 2010. The “galley” was sent to the printers in Word 2010 format, and the formating and layout options now within Word 2010 make it perfect for taking a book through from conception to the bookshelf. The only other software that was used was Visio for some of the more complex diagrams, and Adobe InDesign was used for the cover.

Connecting printed pages to web content

Wouldn’t it be great if a student browsing through a book could point their mobile phone at a printed page and get relevant web content immediately? That’s exaclty what Microsoft Tag allows users to do.  Star School – a South African based publisher – allows leaners to scan a printed tag with a mobile phone camera, and this automatically opens the phone browser to the relevant “media” object – hosted in the Star School LMS. This complements the learning experience by playing a video, animation, audio …etc. Thanks to my colleague Ammar Al-Attiyat for picking up on this one. Get more details about Microsoft Tag and try it yourself here –  http://tag.microsoft.com (Picture courtesy of Star School).

New Reading Experiences For Windows Users

Blio – a free of charge e-reader software platform – is now available for Windows users. Blio provides a highly interactive, graphical experience with superb typography, illustrations and colour. It has an integrated bookstore and Blio plans to have over a million titles.

Books are stored and displayed in a library…

Screenshot of Blio

Pages can be turned using a finger on touch enabled devices, or using the mouse on regular PCs.

Users can insert highlights, notes, videos, and web pages.

A wide variety of reading options, including tilting the book in 3d, are available.

An inbuilt reader allows text to be read to the user.

Altogether an excellent reading experience, especially when using larger monitors.

Download Blio with sample books here: http://www.blio.com/

Want to be a Martian?

Help map Mars with this cloud based collaborative environment – http://beamartian.jpl.nasa.gov Built on Silverlight+ASP.NET running on Azure, Beamartian has hundreds of thousands of images from NASA missions to Mars. Add to that a wealth of Mars related content and tools make this site a must for children with an interest in space.

On the subject of NASA, a new NASA Windows 7 theme is now being featured on the Windows 7 personalization gallery website. The Spacescapes theme offers wonderful images of galaxies, dying stars and more. Its available here.