Category Archives: Research

Homage to Lord Crowther – 50th anniversary of the UK Open University Foundation

ABSTRACT. On July 23, 1969, the Chancellor Lord Geoffrey Crowther gave the inaugural speech of the UK Open University, renowned for the words starting its four paragraphs: “we are open as to people, as to places, as to methods, as to ideas”, stating a concept of openness which characterized the mission of the Open University and still does so. The concept of this institution has been set since 1963 with another name, “university of the air”, aiming to take advantage of the new technologies in order to allow higher education to reach a wider public, namely adult students. In this paper we focus on the switch that took place from 1963 to 1969 to the new concept, “openness”, that linked the two traditional aspects, “people” and “places”, with the methodological issue, coming in the same years from the curriculum theories. We then discuss how the concept of openness evolved thereafter, with the introduction, in the last 15 years, of the Open Educational Resources and the Massive Open Online Courses.We then report an extract of the transcript of Lord Crowther’s speech, after highlighting its importance in the history of Distance Education.

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Ethics and Politics in the Postmodern Condition

ABSTRACT. In this paper I analyze the postmodern condition with particular reference to the ethical and political spheres. Postmodernism attempts a radical break with all of the major strands of post-Enlightenment thought. For postmodernists as the French Jean-François Lyotard and the Italian Gianni Vattimo, the orthodox Enlightenment “meta-narrative” of progress and the “speculative” narrative of Hegel and Marx have lost their explanatory force. In particular, Lyotard speaks about five large meta-narratives of Western culture: 1) Christianity (understood also in the secularized form which its values have taken into modernity); 2) Enlightenment; 3) Idealism as a “theory of progressive freedom in history”; 4) Marxism, and 5) Capitalism. According to Lyotard, one can consider “the incredulity” towards these meta-narratives (méta-récits or grands récits) as postmodern. He points out that after Auschwitz it is impossible to speak of rationality and progress in Western history: In the twentieth century the Nazi genocide showed that history is not a continuous ethical progress towards the best. From the philosophical point of view the precursor of postmodern atmosphere is Friedrich Nietzsche. This German philosopher elaborated a radically anti-metaphysical thought and proposed an ethic of emancipation. Postmodernists refer to Nietzsche’s thought and theorize ethical-political practices aimed at the emancipation of women and socially weak subjects. Postmodernism’s rejection of “totalizing” theories with universal pretentions is complemented by positive celebration of diversity or “difference” and emphasis on the ethical demands of “the other”: this is, for example, the ethical perspective of Michel Foucault.

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Mutual Benefit – Bringing regional SMEs and universities together through the innovative SHARPEN teaching methodology

ABSTRACT. Presently, many European countries (as well as the Federal State of Saxony/Germany) are facing similar demographic developments that will provoke fundamental changes in the respective labour markets in years to come. This situation will especially affect Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) that are based in rural regions with rapidly increasing numbers of retirees and an equally rapidly shrinking population of young people. The available theoretical approaches of Human Resource Management (HRM) and models are suitable for the conditions in large companies. However, SMEs are not “small” large enterprises, but they have specific characteristics that affect all HRM processes. HR Management varies from one SME to another and depends very much on the regional context. An SME in a metropolitan region needs a different approach to HRM than one in a rural region. The innovative Learning Module that marks the core of the Erasmus project SHARPEN addresses these issues. Students select SMEs in five European rural regions and describe the context of the selected regional SMEs, their internal constraints and, above all, the specific needs of HR Management in these SMEs. On this basis, students apply their theoretical HRM knowledge by modifying HR approaches and models for this selected SME. The innovative teaching methodology of the HR module combines state-of-the-art HR concepts and practical HR work in companies within one learning module. Besides that, the teaching methodology enables regional and cross-cultural cooperation between students, lecturers, SMEs. This is supplemented by learning with up-to-date interactive learning methods, e.g. guided discussions, presentations, teamwork and case study method for students. This paper focuses on the question to what extent this innovative teaching approach can help to solve this HR problem in European SMEs.

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HRM Challenges and Lifelong Learning in SMEs in Western Saxony

ABSTRACT. This paper deals with the specific characteristics of Human Resource Management (HRM) in Small and Medium-sized Enterprises in the region of Western Saxony, Germany. Our research provides a descriptive and explorative analysis of HR processes in the regional Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), their specific challenges and the status of Lifelong Learning (LLL). Thus, new insights and knowledge intended to contribute to research regarding HRM for SMEs were generated. The research results were obtained during the Erasmus+ project SHARPEN during which a collaborative cross-regions survey was conducted in five European countries from 2016-2019. This paper presents a review of the current literature relevant for HRM in (regional) SMEs as well as a discussion of the research results and recommendations for SMEs. It was found that the SMEs situated in Western Germany possess reasonably developed HR structures and processes and that Lifelong Learning initiatives are applied. For the benefit of the economic development of the region, offering ways to intensify the exchange of ideas and best practices as well as adopting theoretical constructs could allow the SMEs to gain new incentives for future projects.

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Segregation, Stereotypes, and STEM

ABSTRACT. Scientific, technical, engineering, and mathematical (STEM) occupations are strongholds of gender segregation in the contemporary United States. While many Americans regard this segregation as natural and inevitable, closer examination reveals a great deal of variability in the gendering of STEM fields across time, space, and demographic groups. This article assesses how different theoretical accounts accord with the available evidence on the gender composition of scientific and technical fields. We find most support for accounts that allow for a dynamic interplay between individual-level traits and the broader sociocultural environments in which they develop. The existing evidence suggests, in particular, that Western cultural stereotypes about the nature of STEM work and STEM workers and about the intrinsic qualities of men and women can be powerful drivers of individual aptitudes, aspirations, and affinities. We offer an illustrative catalog of stereotypes that support women’s STEM-avoidance and men’s STEM-affinity, and we conclude with some thoughts on policy implications.

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The intertextuality in Latin epic poetry

ABSTRACT. This paper analyzes the use of digital resources in the Latin poetry study. The first part will examine the explanation of intertextuality applied in the studies of Latin epic poems, with a specific reading of the epic De Raptu Proserpinae of Claudius Claudianus (c. 370 – c. 404 AD). In the second section, I propose an example of the use of informatic tools for the research of the intertextual literary links between De Raptu Proserpinae and Achilleid of Publius Papinius Statius (1st century AD). The conclusions reflect on the new technologies that today can potentially facilitate the process of codification and representation of the sources of the ancient classical literature.

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The metropolitan question in Italy

ABSTRACT. Starting from the nineties of the twentieth century, in Italy, the first specific tools have been developed to guarantee territorial agreements, in order to deal with the issue of local autonomies and to set the metropolitan areas, by the law 142 of 1990. In 2014, the most recent ‘Delrio’ Reform tried to list the categories of the metropolitan cities in order to build links and balances between central and local authorities. An effort that has gone hand in hand with that made by the European Union in the field of urban development and which found the principles of a collaborative and integrated Community policy in the 2014-20 Cohesion Policy and in the 2016 EU Urban Agenda for the implementation of a transformed metropolitan area, including various urban frames, namely the most marginal ones.

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Homage to Neil Armstrong

50th Anniversary of Apollo 11 Moon Landing

Fifty years ago on July 20th, the American astronaut Neil Armstrong
– b. August 5, 1930, Wapakoneta – d. August 25, 2012, Cincinnati –
was the first man to land on the Moon, along with his colleague Edwin Aldrin.

As he stepped out of the ship, he said with great emotion:

”That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”.

The dream of Icarus came true: a new scientific era had just begun.

The teaching of classical literary subjects – The use of new technologies for distance learning

ABSTRACT. This paper suggests a reflection on the educational potential offered by new technologies applied to the field of modern and classical literature, not only for study and scientific research, but also for academic education. Study and scientific research about humanities have greatly changed their physiognomy in recent years. The use of methodologies, logics and technologies is, in fact, associated with various kinds of media and digital resources. After an initial phase of conservatism, academic teaching of humanistic disciplines has increasingly adopted multimedia and e-learning strategies. I will therefore analyze some multimedia teaching tools for classical subjects as effective means for teaching, which do not simply constitute a transposition of the content, but are used as an equally effective method of transmission of the ancient literary heritage. The conclusion will focus on the heated debate about the relationship between humanistic literary culture and digital culture.

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Unaffiliated researchers: a preliminary study

ABSTRACT. This paper aims at exploring the apparently rising trend of unaffiliated researchers. It does so by analyzing a set of scholarly publications where the authors states to be an “independent researcher” in place of the affiliation. Some of the characteristics of this set are explained along with directions on how to expand research on this topic.

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The Power of Images – How mass media can influence the human mind

ABSTRACT. Do the mass media condition and educate their audience with clever manipulation? In the current era of expanding digital technologies, our environment is often dominated by the power of images. Human tragedy in modern society is that our scientific-technological automatisms drive us too far from real and pure authenticity of feelings and emotions of the human being. Images and mass media systems determine passivity in the human mind and they do not develop experience, real motivations, spontaneity, creativity: they are not able to form creative and critical minds. In the sociological theory of Jürgen Habermas, the mass media are seen as being controlled by political and economic forces, which have an interest in manipulating the audience. The first rule for understanding «the human condition is that men live in second hand worlds». They are aware of much more than they have personally experienced and their own experience is always indirect. The quality of their lives is determined by meanings they have received from others. As Wright Mills suggested, we do live in a «second hand world», in which many of the things we know, were learned from others rather than experienced first hand.

This means, quite simply, that more than ever we are dependent on the meanings given us by the mass media and through mass communication.

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Stephen Hawking and a new vision of the Universe

ABSTRACT. It is definitely an arduous challenge to describe in few words a person who has been considered the greatest physicist of nineteenth century. Research focused on the complexity of the Universe, Big Bang and Black Holes Theories, on the age of the Universe, on the Chronology of the Universe, on the hypothesis of Multiverse, the study of galaxy formation and evolution, as well as the cosmological inflation. His diversified activity has contributed to the scientific disclosure of several physical and astronomic theories, which have been presented in an engaging way to the audience. The essential bibliography invites the reader to appreciate the interdisciplinary and international qualities of his collaborations opened to the possibility of existence of other Universes.

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Professor Stephen Hawking: an appreciation by Lord Rees

ABSTRACT. In this paper, the Astronomer Royal and former Master of Trinity College, Lord Martin Rees, pays tribute to Professor Stephan Hawking, reminiscing the significant events of his life. The focal point of the essay is Hawking’s manifestation of willpower and determination in face of the deadly disease he was diagnosed with at the age of 22. Amongst some of the most significant achievements, Rees mentions Stephen’s ‘eureka moment’, namely when he unexpectedly discovered a link between gravity and quantum theory, predicting that black holes would not be completely black, but that they would radiate in a distinctive way. According to Hawking, this radiation is only significant for black holes because they are less massive than stars – and none of these have been found. ‘Hawking radiation’ theory had very deep implications for mathematical physics and one of the main achievements of string theory has been to corroborate his idea.

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A framework for data collection, analysis and evaluation of the relationship between students’ computer interaction and course grades in laboratory courses

Big data is an emerging topic, with huge investments in IT and education worlds. Together with awareness of the knowledge discovery and education improvement progresses, big data concept has come with a growing consciousness. There are several educational data mining analysis methods created, evaluated and presented in the literature in this manner. But, how the educational big data for finding “intelligently” valuable results to benefit students, teachers and administrators will be collected, filtered and handled? In this study, a unique data collection, filtering and evaluation framework for educational data mining was designed, evaluated and presented. In this perspective, an IT infrastructure and process monitoring software for gathering client computers’ data of 3 laboratories in a public high school was developed. Time series big data was collected during 5 months from 62 computers with this back stage working software. After filtering this data with eligible methods, resultant data was evaluated with Pearson’s correlation analysis between students’ rate of interactions with computers and their exam grades on laboratory courses. Results showed that students’ computer interaction and their success in the courses are highly correlated.

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Towards a domain model for integrating competence frameworks into learning platforms

Since adoption of the Europe-wide university-reform called Bologna Process, each accredited study path, module, or course has to be provided with a summary of the conveyed competences. Until now, this additional information had little effect on the comparability of learning content, because competences are usually described in form of free text. This leaves too much room for interpretation and misunderstandings. Standardized, machine-readable taxonomies are promising alternatives, especially in combination with so-called Competence Frameworks (CFs). In this article, we introduce the Competence Based Learning Model (CBLM). Its development starts with a specific solution for the European e-Competence Framework (e-CF)  and arrives to the creation of a generalized e-CF-independent version. The resulting CBLM is the basis for our two prototypical implementations – an extension for the learning platform Ecosystem Portal (EP) and a plugin for the Learning Management System (LMS) Moodle which extends its CBE-functionality introduced with release v3.1. A short summary and an outlook on future development conclude this article which succeeds our conference paper presented at the IX International GUIDE Conference.

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1616-2016 Four hundred years that may reveal more surprises

The Tempest of William Shakespeare deserves special attention. It opens a special view of the Elizabethan age and it can act as a bridge between the magic of the real World and the powers of the human mind. This play has been differently interpreted; however, an original analysis can be developed. An analysis that takes into proper account the possible influence of Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno on the English poet he met just a short while before writing the play.

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The impact of perception and presence on emotional reactions. A review of research in virtual reality

ABSTRACT. Virtual reality (VR) has made its way into mainstream psychological research in the last two decades. This technology, with its unique ability to simulate complex, real situations and contexts, offers researchers unprecedented opportunities to investigate human behavior in well controlled designs in the laboratory. One application of VR is the investigation of pathological processes in mental disorders. Research on the processes underlying threat perception, fear, and exposure therapy has shed light on more general aspects of the relation between perception and emotion. Being by its nature virtual, i.e., simulation of reality, VR strongly relies on the adequate selection of specific perceptual cues to activate emotions. Emotional experiences in turn are related to presence, another important concept in VR, which describes the user’s sense of being in a VR environment. We summarizes current research into perception of fear cues, emotion, and presence, aiming at the identification of the most relevant aspects of emotional experience in VR and their mutual relations. A special focus lies on a series of recent experiments designed to test the relative contribution of perception and conceptual information on fear in VR. This strand of research capitalizes on the dissociation between perception (bottom–up input) and conceptual information (top-down input) that is possible in VR. Recent research has highlighted the mutual influence of presence and fear in VR, but has also traced the limits of our current understanding of this relationship. An interoceptive attribution model of presence is suggested as a first step toward an integrative framework for emotion research in VR.

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The synergy between manipulative and digital artefacts in a mathematics teaching activity: a co-disciplinary perspective

ABSTRACT. This paper presents a teaching experiment aiming at constructing the meaning of axial symmetry through the mediation of a “duo of artefacts”, made up by a digital artefact and a manipulative one. The meaning of the term “mediation” is described and used from a dual perspective, joining General Didactics and Mathematics Education. Herein, we describe an interactive book, created in a Dynamic Geometry Environment and a teaching sequence, based on the use of such a digital artefact, combined with a manipulative one. The main potential of the interactive book is based on the possibility to drag geometric objects and observe the effects of the dragging. The sequence has been experimented with a 4th grade class and the activities have been videotaped and analysed. Results have been analysed through the cited dual perspective and reveal how the mediation of the duo of artefacts can foster the construction of the mathematical meaning. In this paper we show how the digital artefact, acting in synergy with the manipulative artefact, seems to exploit the potential of the sequence in terms of embodied involvement of the pupils in their cognitive process.

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How Virtualization, Decentralization and Network Building Change the Manufacturing Landscape: An Industry 4.0 Perspective

ABSTRACT. The German manufacturing industry has to withstand an increasing global competition on product quality and production costs. As labor costs are high, several industries have suffered severely under the relocation of production facilities towards aspiring countries, which have managed to close the productivity and quality gap substantially. Established manufacturing companies have recognized that customers are not willing to pay large price premiums for incremental quality improvements. As a consequence, many companies from the German manufacturing industry adjust their production focusing on customized products and fast time to market. Leveraging the advantages of novel production strategies such as Agile Manufacturing and Mass Customization, manufacturing companies transform into integrated networks, in which companies unite their core competencies. Hereby, virtualization of the process and supply-chain ensures smooth inter-company operations providing real-time access to relevant product and production information for all participating entities. Boundaries of companies deteriorate, as autonomous systems exchange data, gained by embedded systems throughout the entire value chain. By including Cyber-Physical-Systems, advanced communication between machines is tantamount to their dialogue with humans. The increasing utilization of information and communication technology allows digital engineering of products and production processes alike. Modular simulation and modeling techniques allow decentralized units to flexibly alter products and thereby enable rapid product innovation. The present article describes the developments of Industry 4.0 within the literature and reviews the associated research streams. Hereby, we analyze eight scientific journals with regards to the following research fields: Individualized production, end-to-end engineering in a virtual process chain and production networks. We employ cluster analysis to assign sub-topics into the respective research field. To assess the practical implications, we conducted face-to-face interviews with managers from the industry as well as from the consulting business using a structured interview guideline. The results reveal reasons for the adaption and refusal of Industry 4.0 practices from a managerial point of view. Our findings contribute to the upcoming research stream of Industry 4.0 and support decision makers to assess their need for transformation towards Industry 4.0 practices.

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Meeting Industry 4.0 training needs: e-learning sets out the way to move forward

ABSTRACT. Industry 4.0 is an expression that more frequently than others like industry of the future, digital industry, advanced manufacturing and so forth, is used to indicate a series of rapid technological transformations in the design, production and distribution of systems and products. The term, initially referred only to the manufacturing sector, has been progressively extended to the digital revolution which is involving all domains and that is entailing a rapid change of job requirements and skills. As a consequence, new professions are arising but existing jobs are also going through a modification in the skill sets required to perform them. The demands on employees will increase because processes become more complex, interconnected and digital. Currently and in the future, lifelong learning, the ability to think interdisciplinary as well as the development of IT competences will be basic requirements of employees in order to ensure the employability of working people, not only in technology-oriented careers (Richert, Behrens, Jeschke, 2016). Moreover, disruptive changes to business models are producing and will have a profound impact on the employment landscape over the coming years. In such a rapidly evolving employment scenario, the ability to anticipate and prepare for future skills requirements, job content and the aggregate effect on employment is increasingly critical for businesses, governments and individuals in order to fully seize the opportunities presented by these trends (World Economic Forum, The Future of Jobs, 2016). Education has to adapt to the changed conditions and should probably re-think the current model of pedagogy aligning it with the potential of digitization. The use of new didactic methods and the exploitation of multimedia and technological solutions such as virtual laboratories, video-based learning, augmented reality

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New teaching paradigms in the new machine age revolution

ABSTRACT. Make students be able to deeply understand topics, to create their own knowledge-creative system, to develop creativity and lateral thinking: those are the target of the education of the future, in the so called New Machine Age. In fact, new skills are demanded by the jobs of the future. According to World Economic Forum, top skills in 2020 will include Creativity, Critical thinking, Emotional intelligence and cognitive Flexibility. How can we build these skills? A possible answer should be the metacognitive approach. Using a metacognitive approach means to teach students how they can find their own strategy, gaining personal control over academic outcomes. It means also, for students, to understand how their mind just works, how they can learn, how they can set the right targets and measure results in a dynamic assessment system. Using a metacognitive approach in distance education means also make students able to follow their own cognitive system, passions and motivation, finding their well-suited learning tools. Any problems or difficulties on learning (even dyslexia or dyscalculia) can be solved without a personalized learning route, just because there are infinite learning paths any student can choose. Any student has her/his own learning system and can find autonomously the right, personalized teaching method. Motivation is the key point of the model. Teacher should motivate students and help learners to understand their own capabilities and how metacognitive system works, also in a distance learning system. This paper analyzes the future new needs in terms of job (soft) skills. Then, following the literature about metacognitive approaches, will delineate a new paradigm of inclusive and self-regulation based teaching for Universities, focused on distance education, advanced tools and new approaches, showing result of an application of these ideas into economics courses.

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Modern technologies and distance learning in science didactics

The availability of online video and increasing student access to technology has paved the way for “flipped classroom” models. In such a model, traditional teaching methods are inverted and instruction and lessons are delivered online outside of class moving homework into the classroom. (…) Many instructors have pointed out as well the benefits of a model called “peer instruction” and essentially based on an interactive learning principle, developed by Harvard Professor Eric Mazur in the early 1990s and used in the beginning to improve learning in introductory undergraduate physics classes at Harvard University. (…) In the present article, such modern teaching methods and their possible application to distance learning scientific courses will be discussed, emphasizing how the interplay between the two could allow distance learning teaching to close the gap with respect to traditional didactics, as well as possibly permitting to surpass its limits.

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New challenges to promote a deeper interaction between e‐learning and research: Practical approach and virtual lab to provide an overview of what really happens in a laboratory of radiobiology

With the aim to illustrate to the students what really happens in a radiobiology’s laboratory, a virtual lab was created.

Through an interactive simulation of both X-ray generator and mouse models, the students can expand their knowledge about the biological effects induced by ionizing radiation using new pedagogical and technological strategies.

The realized multimedia product has also been inserted as a case study to promote a deeper interaction between e-learning and research.

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Teaching, researching and learning in a technology‐based environment

This paper analyses the relationship between teaching, researching and learning in the current wired-society.

Nowadays the technology of online communications is having an impact on the way people access to information and culture. Hence, we will show how education industry can take advantage of this “network society”, to tackle ancient problems, and then to build a better course design and to share knowledge more efficiently.

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A powerful learning object based on Multiple Answer Test

One of the principal, and still unsolved, problems for the worldwide university system is the high drop-out rate that is observed especially for STEM courses. The causes of this trend are various but many of them are directly related to the sense of abandon felt by students especially during first years. This trend can be inverted providing a set of self-assessment activities to organize students personal study-method and to transmit them a proper self-government. In this context, we realized a self-assessment activity for Physics courses based on Multiple Answers Questionnaire. (…)

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Smart University: the sustainable vector of knowledge

The term smart has been increasingly used to refer to a process of rethinking and modernization in different areas and contexts, covering the use of innovative technology solutions, sharing networks and data, and access to goods and services. That’s all feasible thanks to multi-stakeholder participation at different levels, and access through the use of ICT. (…)

This work, by considering a smart society unavoidably aimed to sustainability, particularly highlights the close link between smart university and sustainability.

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A technological enhanced self-assessment activity to reduce university drop-out

Passage from secondary school to university can be difficult for our students if they are not properly followed by instructors. To curtail the high university drop-out rate detected in various countries, a set of self-assessment activities must be devised by teachers to furnish students an important help in organizing their personal study-method and to gain a proper self-government.

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Trends in distance education research: A content analysis of journals 2009-2013

This study intends to explore the current trends in the field of distance education research during the period of 2009-2013. The trends were identified by an extensive review of seven peer reviewed scholarly journals: The American Journal of Distance Education (AJDE), Distance Education (DE), The European Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning (EURODL), The Journal of Distance Education (JDE), The Journal of Online Learning and Technology (JOLT), Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning (OL) and The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning (IRRODL). A total of 861 research articles was reviewed. (…)

Article first published in “International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning IRRODL”, V. 16 (2015), n. 1 as open access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Distribution License 4.0 (//

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Learning innovation: a framework for transformation

Learning with and through technological enhancements operates in a landscape unrecognizable only a few years ago. Focusing on Higher Education, this article shows how to capture and model complex strategic processes that will move the potential of online and blended learning in universities to new stages of development. It offers the example of a four quadrant model created as a framework for an online and blended learning innovation strategy, and its successful implementation in practice.

Article first published in “Eurodl”, V. (2014), n. 2
Reprinted with permission.

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