Nov 25, 2010

Global student presentations - a unique source of knowledge about online students

This is a translation by Nicolas Lemarchand of an interview that was written by Torhild Slåtto and published in NVL

In the NKI learning environment, there are over 12,500 students, at least as many as any of the largest four State colleges in Norway. Students have been wandering around in virtual hallways for decades - now they don't need to be lonely anymore. They have a face on the internal network. Furthermore - they can choose who gets access to their profile: just themselves and NKI, fellow students, or all Internet-users. Until now more than 1,600 published their profiles on the net. And this figure is growing day by day, becoming a vast source of knowledge about who are these invisible students?

 Morten Flate Paulsen is a professor of online education

NKI's student-management system offers "automatic" presentation to new students registering in, with an invitation to fill in personal details.Half of the 12,000 students have added their own information, picture and basic presentation. This is a clear signal that students want to tell who they are. Still, some want to remain anonymous, but the majority decided to come out.

Morten Flate Paulsen is a familiar face in the field of online education, as one of very few professors in the discipline. He is head of development at NKI Nettstudier, and his presentation is available at: in NKI's global catalog. Here are his comments one the new online directory:

- I think the student presentations are a very interesting source of knowledge about your students, what they study,  their interests and qualifications, and often also obstacles they have had to overcome to succeed in the program. It may be reading and writing problems, bad school experiences, or illness. Many have fought a hard battle - and won.

More individualized feedback

- It is exciting to read touching presentations, but what benefit do they have?

- For NKI, it is a source for improving its education methods. Many teachers use student presentations actively. By reading what students write about themselves, the teachers are able to provide them with better individualized feedback. Moreover, the presentation shows which other courses the student may have taken earlier, and teacher comments can relate to it.

- Is it useful for the student herself?

- Concretely, it turns out that a good presentation provides greater opportunity for learning partners. Those who present themselves openly, will facilitate contact with other students, and thus greater opportunity for collaboration with others, which in turn can affect the learning situation and results. More and more people are using the presentation as a CV.

- Does it affect learning and the results positive?

- I have a strong gut feeling that presentation affects student learning in a positive direction, but I have no documentation on it. Student presentations are a way to tell others that "I am a student, I have the following plan, and here is my completion deadline. And thus serves as a "self-set binding agreement", which is great for the motivation of the student, but also for her/his peers.

Paulsen is excited about the student presentations. He has read very many of them and perceives the enormous human resource potential they represent, and how the studies will help them to develop in their personal life.

- It is inspiring to see students' presentations. I'm really proud and happy that we have achieved this. We will definitely keep moving in this direction. It's like a snowball that keeps on growing - and everyone benefits from it.

Recent research topics

The student presentation material is actually an interesting research object.The global presentation is open-source, and available online. One of the pre-settings in the NKI system is that student's profile are archived, and students will get details  about their earlier studies and reports on new courses. A random selection of ten student shows that they do not stop after the first course, but go on to carry with several courses!

- Isn't there a danger that students may provide too much personal information, and that global student presentations may be compromised in an unwanted way?

- This is obviously something we have considered. We do not give out number and street address, and not clickable email address in the global presentation. We also have a feature where it can be reported on "inappropriate content". The experience so far is that students are skilled at presenting themselves without providing too much private information. We have so far not had any reports of inappropriate content.


In distance learning and online education, the learning environment has traditionally been drawn as a triangle with the student - teacher - content. Morten has expanded this triangle to something he calls the didactic tetrahedron. He adds on a corner, and gets the following four parts: student - teacher - teaching materials - society. "Society" is the learning community among students. He explains:

- Learning Community has evolved over time to become an increasingly important element in the learning environment so that these four elements constitute a didactic tetrahedron. By openness of students in between, there is much to gain. The learning environment expands and the students can learn from each other, as a useful addition to teaching aids and online teacher as mentor throughout the program.

All the 1600 global presentations are available at, and a short video illustrating the presentations are available at


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