E-learning experiences in the NETIS project



E­learning experiences in the NETIS project


Dr István Bessenyei, University of West Hungary, istvanbess@yahoo.de Zsolt Tóth, University of West Hungary, zstoth75@gmail.com

Sopron, 2007 autumn

Publication of this report is supported by:

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the informa­tion contained therein




In the first half of the academic year of 2007/2008 we tested the NETIS project teaching material on a group of 14 students of the faculty of Economics in the University of West Hungary (Nyugat­Magyarországi Egye­tem). Instruction was delivered in the form of blended learning. The two lessons of instruction per week were held in the well­equipped IT laboratory. The students worked within the Moodle learning management sys­tem. We selected four out of 13 chapters of the teaching material as we decided that more than this in a pe­riod of half a semester would be too much to handle. (The selected themes were technology, networks, e­administration, e­learning).

What were the main objectives of the experiment?

                Organising learning into a network, i.e. students studying from each other.

                The creation of an e­portfolio and knowledge map which would enable us to mutually exploit one another’s tacit and explicit knowledge.

                Testing creative project tasks with Internet support.


The article summarizes the theoretical presuppositions of the experiment, the tools employed and the diffi­culties that came up during its implementation.

 [header=Networks, communication overload and knowledge map]

Networks, communication overload and knowledge map

A characteristic feature of traditional teaching in industrial societies is the hierarchical distribution of knowl­edge. The model form of this is the non­interactive conventional lecture with a top to bottom transmission of information. In the framework of traditional seminars discussion and communication takes place within a restricted temporal and spatial framework. The limited circulation of printed books make it necessary for pro­fessors to hold a lecture based on their own course books (or to imply read them out) and the students try to note down what they hear just as students did in the Middle Ages. In the framework of traditional seminars discussion and communication takes place within a restricted temporal and spatial framework.

The new communicational tools expand these limitations. Technology in the information society enables the organisation of persons, knowledge warehouses and institutions into networks. With the help of Web2­based technology the teacher and students are able to keep in constant contact with each other with no temporal or spatial hin­drance. The teacher can be reached anywhere by electronic mail. The teaching material (and even teachers’ lectures) can be accessed and commented on from any Internet workstation in the world – as can the stu­dents’ work posted on the Internet. The students can independently upload the knowledge material and can easily store their tasks and comments in a learning environment.

However, this opportunity also gives rise to new problems. One of these is information overload. In network learning essays, exercises and requests for support can be forwarded quickly and efficiently by electronic mail. However, if the teacher remains the only source of knowledge and the only tutor, sooner or later he/she will be lost amidst the overwhelming amount of electronically stored texts, exercises and messages.

Thus, a contradiction arises, namely that if network education is used in the traditional system of centralised knowledge distribution with every student turning to the teacher with their questions and everything else, and the teacher checking every step of the knowledge acquisition process, this will in the short term lead to an unmanageable overload of information.

The methods of traditionally centralised knowledge distribution and the opportunities afforded by the net­work are thus difficult to reconcile. The network virtually forces learning from one another, i.e. decentralised knowledge distribution. In this system students have to learn from each other and ask for help from other tutors. Following this path frees the teacher from information overload. However, this method is only possi­ble if we know what kind of experience, knowledge and competence the other network partners have, since armed with such facts we can decide whom to turn to with what questions. This can be facilitated by the explora­tion, storage and presentation of personal knowledge, which necessitates the creation of personal e­portfolios and knowledge maps.

Hence, a whole new series of questions arose:

                Do the students have the knowledge (informal, tacit, experiential) that fits in with the themes of the course?

                Do the students need to adjust to the course or does the course have to be adjusted to their preliminary knowledge?

                How can students learn from one another (and indeed how can they be taught), if personal knowledge is not represented? Does the present organisational framework have the potential for such intensive work to be done so that individual competence­portfolios and knowledge maps enabling students to use each other as sources of knowledge could be created?



                How is it possible to create the opportunity for the teachers and students of other traditional universities to be integrated into the co­operative knowledge production afforded by network learning?

                How does the role of the teacher change in such an operational method?

                Is this teaching method suitable for preparing students to meet the rigidly designed exam requirements?

                Is the Hungarian university system of today ready to embrace this kind of an intensive tuition tailored to the individual?

                What does the “knowledge” which must be transferred actually mean?

                While teaching methods are closely tied to the curricula, the present curricula do not support experimental projects. How can this contradiction be resolved?

 [header=Didactic experiences of network learning]


Didactic experiences of network learning

If we take co­operative, network learning seriously and also take it seriously that students use each other as a source of information (and we involve the experts of other universities in tutoring), a professional compe­tence­portfolio system facilitating well­documented and generally accessible sources of information needs to be set up. This necessitates a well­constructed internal knowledge­management base and that other universi­ties be part of the knowledge network (in a technical sense too). Such logistics require that every participant has an individual (professional) knowledge map and competence­portfolio.

Again, several questions arise:

                What should be included in the knowledge maps?

                How can knowledge intended to be used by others be understood and recorded?

                How should we go about self­exploration through which tacit knowledge and informal experiences acquired in everyday life, can come to the surface and be made explicit?

                How can we articulate this and give it form?


With the help of narrative knowledge management it is possible to reveal the tacit knowledge of individuals and organisations through an analysis of narratives. The students’ introduction of themselves were the first such narratives. A whole storehouse of life experience was revealed during these narratives. The success stories built into these narratives provided help in formulating the speaker’s tacit, experiential knowledge.1

The function of the database­management function (WIKI) built into Moodle provided help in the prepara­tion of an e­portfolio, for which the following short list of possible themes was proposed:

                Learning biography;

                learning style;

                completed tests, exercises;

                selected sources of study;


                success stories;

                family background;

                participation in real and virtual social networks;

                work experience;

                experience abroad;

                knowledge map.


The competence­portfolio table planned through joint work served the goal of guiding students in the prepa­ration of their own individual knowledge map, thus providing a source of knowledge, which is more system­

1 “The narrative is a central mechanism that mediates social knowledge. The narrative forms a bridge between tacit and explicit knowledge. It renders the expression of social knowledge possible as well as its use in learning without the constraint of preliminary assessment. Institutions are most effectively able to preserve their respective stories if they provide the opportunity for these to be published. Archiving systems similar to databases, digital teaching sytems and videocams are more effective if they facililitate the recording and description of narratives.” (Linde, 2001)

atical and easier to document than biographical narratives. The following table contains an auxiliary tool re­ferred to above.

1st Table: Competence catalogue We supplied the particular competence­requirements (learning objectives) of the chapters in a separate list. The students were able to give marks for each item of the competence­list at the beginning and end of the course, which allowed them to follow the development of their knowledge.

The first figure shows the self­assessment system of Moodle.

1st Figure: The self­assessment questionnaire illustrated by an example from the chapter entitled Network

Chapter 4: Social networks, network society NETIS­networks­questionnaires­self­assessment (to assess the acquisition of objectives) Question in connection with the chapter “Network” Self­assessment questions (The results will also be sent to you in an Excel file during the semester.) Complete the questionnaire at the beginning and end of the semester. Compare the results. I am able to … (1: not at all, 5: excellently)

                define the notion of network society.

                identify the essential economic and social changes relating to networks.

                identify the most important authors of network analysis.

                identify, describe the characteristics of the social network used.

                participate in the “Small World Project”.

                analyse the Moodle learning environment as a knowledge­exchange network.

 [header="Creative projects"]


“Creative projects”

In every instance Internet supported tasks were assigned to the competences that were to be mastered. We designed these project­type tasks in such a way that their completion would lead to the acquisition of the de­sired competence. In theory, the students were able to select those tasks to complete which (revealed with the help of the competence catalogue) could compensate for their gaps in knowledge. All of these elements of the integrated learning environment (competence catalogue, project ideas, information, opportunities for self­evaluation and communication) enable participants to develop that particular competence that they were the most motivated to achieve based on their personal drive. Toolbars containing checklists, tables, flowcharts and methodology guides, as well as accessible lists of online and printed literature were provided for the pro­jects.

Exploiting the opportunities provided by the Internet and Moodle, we organised search, knowledge manage­ment and database development projects. The chapters contain self­fill­in multiple choice test questions and traditional revision questions.

Which were the typical tasks and creative projects of the course that could be used for every chapter? 2

1. Glossary development

The students look into whether there are expressions in the text of the chapter which they cannot under­stand. These are placed in the glossary (lexicon) of the given chapter. If they are not able to find a suitable definition, they then use the Internet to find explanations that help them to understand the expression. These are stored in the glossary of each chapter. Thus, by the end of the semester a glossary is developed through collective work, which helps with individual problems of understanding.

2. Analysis of Internet forums

The students select an Internet forum suitable for the topics of the chapter and analyse it in regard to what kind of information exchange is taking place in them. Possible questions:

                Information flow (centralised vs. decentralised diffusion of information).

                Content of information (alternatively: their position on the data, information, knowledge/master knowledge scale – relative to the level of the question posed).

                The degree of information­spread/proliferation spontaneity/organisation.

                The relevance of the information to the set objective.

                The degree to which the credibility of the information can be validated.


2 Every chapter also contained chapter­specific tasks.

The students organise a type of information exchange forum in which their own collection of links, parts of texts and book titles connected to the chapter can be stored, and these can be exchanged and commented on by them. They organise debates on the Internet forum on selected problems from the chapter.

3. E­portfolio

The students make their own e­portfolios with the assistance of Moodle’s WIKI function. The e­portfolio facilitates network, co­operative learning. One of the important points when creating the e­portfolio must be that when a given piece of information is provided it must help the other participants of the network to un­derstand the tacit knowledge and knowledge source the portfolio’s maker offers.

4. Learning diary (blog)

The students can comment on their own learning experiences in Moodle’s blog. The suggestions, ideas and difficulties they express provide help in the ongoing development of the course.

5. Essay on personal experiences

In an essay (a short, informal study, a report on events, or a diary) the students describe their personal experi­ences of the changes brought about by the information society.

[header=The issue of assessment] 

The issue of assessment

It is well known that traditional exams assess knowledge and its uniform presence but they also serve as a differentiating variable when distributing rewards (scholarship, accommodation in dormitories, medals of dis­tinction, jobs).

In traditional learning the input (learning time and learning algorithm) is uniform, while the output (the ex­amination results achieved) differs as it is dependent upon individual performance. If output regulation is ap­plied, learning routes, algorhythms and learning time differ according to the individual, but – in an ideal situa­tion – output is uniform or at least approaches being uniform. Thus, the traditional examination as a tool for assessment is theoretically not even necessary because in the case of network, self­organised learning it is of much greater importance to ensure that variable learning routes and flexible time frames are provided and that all the conditions for self­organised study are available. The technical background for self­organised learning was provided. However, the assessment procedures of our course were at sharp variance with today’s organisation of learning at universities, which requires formal and uniform assessment that can be expressed in marks.

Due to its nature, assessment in the form of short texts about each student’s work would have been best suited to our course. However, the marks had to be entered into the lecture books. In the end, the work done in the semester was evaluated on the basis of the level of the students’ participation in collective work, the main elements of which were the following:

                making one’s own knowledge map;

                completing a set number of tasks in the integrated course management programme;

                keeping a search log;

                participation in compiling the lexicon containing the subject’s basic terms

                writing an essay


The average of the individually evaluated five types of tasks was the actual mark entered into the students’ lecture books.

[header=Contradictions, obstacles] 

Contradictions, obstacles

1. Knowledge maps and individual learning routes

What difficulties were encountered when using the knowledge map? Drawing up the knowledge map entailed collaborative elements built on using each other’s experiences but it did not serve as a genuinely mutual and professional knowledge base. Since the exploration of tacit knowledge, the recognition of everyday experi­ences as knowledge, and the analytical definition of knowledge levels were very time consuming, there was not enough time and energy left to motivate and organise a real exchange. The economics students who were inexperienced in the types of tasks the e­learning course expected them to perform, for example in rendering their everyday and “tacit” ­i.e. non­structured – knowledge explicit and explaining this. The formulation of experiential knowledge in the form of organised concepts proved difficult and required the use of special methodology.

Although we had some creative tasks that included elements such as learning from each other, the practical use of the competence­catalogues, and the application of these were rather ad hoc and rare. For example, it was not possible to motivate the students to comment on one another’s solutions to tasks. (However, stu­dents who were more experienced in searching the Internet and using Moodle successfully helped the begin­ners and it all developed in a spontaneous way.)

Another plan that proved to be an illusion was that the students would follow individual learning routes based on their individual knowledge maps. Although the students did fill in the self­assessment tests, we did not use the results of these to explore ramified learning routes with several stages. A completely different kind of logistics and a different organisational form would have been necessary for this, which could not be realised within the framework of our project. The study of individual knowledge maps and the organisation of each student’s learning route could not be carried out in just one semester.

2. The regulatory system

Institutional regulatory systems are generally slow to follow changes. Hyperlearning cannot be squeezed into the traditional temporal, spatial and legal frameworks of linear education. In network teaching the contents and methods must be adjusted to the prior represented knowledge and it must make individual learning routes possible. The traditional regulatory prescriptions for classroom teaching are not suitable for this since differ­ent didactics and working methods are needed for e­learning. This represents a continuous obstacle and source of conflict.

On the other hand, switching over to e­learning is an innovation that in the short term requires a big invest­ment both intellectually and materially: new professional competences are needed, and the compilation of a curriculum system, its testing and the training of teachers require a great deal of time and money. Further­more, the workload for teachers may increase significantly. Put somewhat simply: in the first phase of intro­ducing e­learning teachers would have to work three times as much for the same salary.

3. Theory vs. Practice

On a theoretical level e­learning has been splendidly engineered. Almost everything has been written about it that can possibly be said at the level of theoretical abstractions and didactic speculations. Countless analyses exploring the potential organisational and didactic consequences as well as the (mostly enthusiastic and optimistic) prospects of e­learning have been written. Yet, we are really just making the first steps in the innovative institutionalisation and practical testing of e­learning. So far there is little useful practice that is built on consistent didactic principles, and feedback on concrete experiences is lacking. Because of this we were only able to rely on the few reports specifically written about Hungarian projects.

4. The barrier to creative debates

The traditional world of learning uses the language of the conceptual system of modernity. In debates on e­learning many conflicts are caused by the debating parties using different conceptual sets, and because of this the opportunity for understanding and a common approach are limited. For the same reason the preparation of governmental strategic plans is also made more difficult.

2nd Table: Various concepts of education/learning


Concepts of a closed, hierarchical educational environment – the conceptual system of the industrial society
The concepts of an open, cooperative educational environment – the conceptual system of the information society
Instructionist theory of learning
Constructionist theory of learning
Central curriculum (the “curriculum law”
Flexible competence­portfolios as learning objectives
Linear curriculum
Modular organisation
Information background environment on the Net
Frontal classroom environment
Cooperative classroom environment
Project­based learning
Communicating knowledge “from above”
Collective search for knowledge, consultation in knowledge management, self­organised learning
Centralised distribution of information
Parallel processing of information
Tutor, moderator, consultant, coach, network organiser
Collective knowledge management, hyperlearning
Definition knowledge
Information management, search, documentation, communication knowledge
Grades, marks
Individual, but collectively compiled competence­portfolios, knowledge maps
Examinations, state examinations, reports
Competence­portfolios jointly completed by the teacher and the student
Examinations period
Self­assessment, joint assessment of the route leading to a desired outcome
Uniform written tests for everybody
Free­style essays, individually selected tests, creative project tasks
Formally and informally acquired competences in the e­portfolio




                     Barabási, Albert László (2002): Linked. The New Science of Networks (Perseue, Cambridge, MA ,http://sohodojo.com/ribs/linked­networks.html 08.01.2008, accessed: 8. January 2008)

                     Bessenyei, István (2008): Teaching and Learning in the Information Society (in: Róbert Pinter (ed): The Infor­mation Society. Gondolat – Új mandátum, Budapest)

Linde, Charlotte (2001): Narrative and social tacit knowledge (in: Journal of Knowledge Management, 5/2, pp. 160­


83733, accessed: 8 January 2008)

Nyíri, Kristóf (1997): Open and Distance Learning in the Information Society (http://www.eurodl.org/materials/contrib/1997/eden97/nyiri.html, accessed: 8 January 2008) 


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