December 10 and 11, 2008
As a contrast to Rome and Dublin, the Stuttgart Meeting of the RS3G was held in a corporate center complex where Unisolution is headquartered.
I planned the trip with the help of Google and Expedia. Checking flights and trains revealed a large variation in options and costs. I ended up buying tickets off a discount site that offered coach seats for about 1/3 the price of what USAir was selling the same seat for on Expedia and USAir’s own website. Flight 700, the red eye leaving Philly was not crowed at all and I took advantage of an upgrade option. That added some costs, but the comfort was well worth it, given the length of ride and the added room. Yet, I did not sleep. I guess the excitement and anticipation put too much adrenalin in my blood. So, I watched a few movies, ate, drank and listened to music.
Flight 700 landed in Frankfurt promptly at 6:30am. The AirBus 330 moved to the gate, but stopped short of it, requiring the portable steps to be moved into position, instead of the auto walkway that usually connects to a large plane under cover. It was spitting rain and snow when we landed, but I did not have to face the elements much. The passengers preceded down the steps into a large bus that shuttled us to the terminal and then on to Customs only facing the elements for a minute. Once in the terminal, we walked to German Customs – which was quick and easy. No forms. Just waited a couple of minutes and was out in a jiff.
My next task was to find where to buy a train ticket to take me to Stuttgart after exiting the secure area of the terminal. I followed the signs for baggage claim; I found the sign for the train station. It felt like a mile, winding past points between terminal1 and terminal2. Once reaching the train station, I proceeded to the first DB Train desk where I purchased a roundtrip ticket from Frankfurt to Stuttgart. I then waited an hour in the DB lounge. It was a bit more upscale than Amtrak, offering free tea and coffee and a very comfortable setting to grab my laptop and connect to t-mobile. But, I could not find any bathrooms, which was strange. The time zone was still not hitting me yet. So, I could still function moving thru my Vista connection options to attach to the network which usually has its moments moving from point to point. Considering I did not speak German, most people I met conversed in English with me. So, asking for help, directions and for information was easy.
The DB Ice Train Itinerary was very helpful. It was in German, but I quickly recognized the train platform was “Gleis” and the Train Number was 591 on Platform 5. I did not know it was taking me only half way, where I had to change train from “Fern” to “Mannheim”. After sitting down, buying a cup of coffee and getting my laptop out to connect to the t-mobile offered on the train, I was lucky the train conductor clipping my ticket said I needed to get off and change trains in two minutes. After packing up quickly, I moved off the train and within minutes boarded the “Mannheim” train to Stuttgart. It took another 20 minutes and we stopped in the Stuttgart Main Train station, which was under renovation without any further incident. The next thing was I had to either take a commuter train to the Pullman Hotel or a Taxi. It was now snowing, and considering I did want to get a more personal perspective of the city, I took a Taxi. The first thing I noticed was I was sitting in a very comfortable leather seat in an immaculate diesel powered Renault. The driver was pleasant and we chatted as we drove up the hills to the Pullman Hotel. He said it was about 10 Kilometers. The roads were wet, and not crowded. By the time we got to the Pullman, the ground was covered by about three inches of snow. I got to the hotel around 11:30am and was restless and tired. The Pullman in Stuttgart is well appointed and very comfortable. Its lobby and bar is on the first floor. And, the restaurant is tucked away on the other side of the open bar. Registration was quick. They gave me a nice room on the 4th floor which had a key ring they weighed about ½ pound with two small keys – one for the door and one for the mini-bar. After checking in, I dumped my stuff off in the room and left the room to find my way to the conference center, where we were to meet for lunch before the Steering Committee meeting.
Stuttgart the City
The city is in a valley and the suburbs surround it rest on the hills around it . Stuttgart is an expanding, cosmopolitan city. Unlike Rome and Dublin, one could not notice the newness and the blended architectures of past and present. It was not defined by water ways or rivers. The streets and roads were designed for drivers, not bikers or pedestrians. Yet, everywhere I turned; there was little, if any litter and a lot of people smoking in designated areas. Many walls and outside walks are plastered with modern graffiti. And, the speed, softness and quiet of the German trains live up to all expectations. Another placard of the past that I noticed was placement of phone booths scattered about. Since many Germans use public transportation, there is a great trust for it and Phone booths can be found just about everywhere. No one asked me for tickets on the commuter train. It appeared on the honor system. And, the long distance trains were not crowded either. Comfortable leather seats, power, and room reflected the German commitment to this mode of transportation.
During my stay, I traveled through residential areas, retail and office parks. Did not see any heavy industries in the city. Along the train tracks and most roads I passed, houses had red or grey clay ceramic shingles on their roofs – layered on steep angles to avoid deep piling. It reminded me of houses in the North East US, but had deeper inclines. Most of the houses were two stories that had a common look about them. One could see different types of houses and living conditions across the train tracks. House colors were yellow, pink, and tan with some contrast – but most were white. Occasionally I would see a bright yellow or green house in a bunch. Windows were not large. Houses were plastered with stucco. There was a consistency in the dwellings with texture and color and the neighborhoods seen very organized like Levittown – but on hills, if you ever saw that in the United States. As one moves out of the dense areas, the houses begin to separate, have more land and offer distinctions that visibly reflect more independence.
Farms were just plowed for the winter rest. Some had low level greenery like a winter planting of Brussels sprouts. And trees buffered large swaths of land. Factories and storage barns were mostly single story, large running buildings linking industries from the past to the present. Refineries and processing plants followed the tracks of the train. One could easily compare the region to Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. I see so many similarities.
The RS3G Workshop meeting was held in the Stuttgarter Engineering Park GmbH named STEP 2 – a large and growing complex that houses many leading companies in the region and world. Each building had a STEP number. Unisolution’s office is in STEP Engineering Office Park and the workshop was scheduled and held in the conference center in STEP 2. After a short taxi ride from the Pullman Hotel, I found my way up STEP 2, a modern five story office building that was lined with glass. The second floor had a conference center and dining hall able to serve several hundred. Several RS3G attendees met for lunch and had a nice pre-meeting discussing current events and the election in the US.
The STEP Conference Center was a great accommodation. Outside the Loft Room, beverages, coffee and teas were served with buttered German pretzels or coffee cake all during the meetings. So, one would easily have enough carbs to make it through the day.
The Steering Committee Meeting – Day 1
The RS3G Workshop was split into two segments. The first day, initiated a steering committee discussion where we focused on the vision, objective, mission and goals of RS3G. A steering committee was established to foster and channel efforts of the RS3G. Unisolution, Digitary and Kion will have three seats at the table and another two or four members will be selected at large from other European members. The initial goal of the steering committee will be to formalize the structure for future work of RS3G. The discussion about vision, mission and goals was interesting because it reflected how the group is maturing through the workshops and meetings; in determine the purpose of gathering and collaboration. The participant discussion created a draft vision, mission and goal statement which reflects an orientation of implementing specifications created by other standards bodies funded by CEN projects.
CEN is the European Committee for Standardization. CEN is a business facilitator in Europe, removing trade barriers for European industry and consumers. There are over 13,000 documents published by CEN since November 2008 according to the website. The central website publishes the outcomes of workshops and shared documents. One has to go to each member country’s CEN representative to find the national standards specifically.
The scattered and complicated standards space is one of the motivations drawing the RS3G members together. It is not just about the Bologna and Barcelona processes which have created a slew of initiatives and programs across Europe. It is about the challenge of evolving technologies to support the learning enterprise and learner needs.
The stakeholders coming to RS3G are looking to collaborate and share knowledge. The effects of evolving standards and their specifications I think is overwhelming, often freezing one’s thoughts about what to do about them. What is relevant today? Tomorrow? And, how do systems evolve respecting the specifications? Which ones are important? Which ones will change, which ripples into software maintenance and costs that most want to avoid.
The members vary from software companies, institutions. Government agencies, subject matter experts to third party organizations that serve respective interest groups. RS3G is evolving and reflects the participants draw to utilize shared specifications, pilot projects and lessons learned. It could be called a shared observatory. Some of the abbreviations brought up during the discussion could overwhelm anyone, if they did not have a cheat sheet. So, here is my cheat sheet:
RDCEO Reusable Definition of Competency or Educational Objective
CWA CEN Workshop Agreement
IEEE Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.
MOL Learning Object Metadata
LT Learning Technology
IMS IMS Global Learning Consortium, Inc.
LIP Learner Information Package
CEF Common European Framework
JISC Joint Information Systems Committee, UK
CETIS Centre for Educational Technology Interoperability Standards, UK
PESC Post Secondary Education Standards Council
SIF Student Interoperability Framework
HR_XML Human ResourceISO Information Technology Standards
W3C World Wide Web Consortium
ICT Information and Communications Technologies Standard Boards
EUROPASS European Framework for Skills, Competencies and Qualifications
ECET European Commission Education and Training
ECTS European Credit Transfer System
EQF European Qualifications Framework
NARIC National Academic Recognition Information Centres
ECVET European Credit System for Vocational Education and TrainingDS Diploma Supplement
EUNIS European University Information Systems
EAIE European Association for International Education
Erasmus Mundus is a co-operation and mobility programme in the field of higher education which promotes the European Union as a worldwide centre of excellence in learning. Its goal is to support 3,000,000 mobile learners by 2010.
Grundtvig is a programme that focuses on the teaching and study needs of those in adult education and alternative education streams, as well as the institutions and organizations delivering these services. Supporting lifelong learning and mobility in this way also tackles Europe’s ageing population problem.
The evening of the 10th was reserved for a social event at the Restaurant Neuer Ochsen, Schwabenplatz 3, Stuttgart Vaihingen:http://www.neuerochsen.de/
We met at 8:00pm at the Schwaben Brau, an historical brewery visited by King of Württemberg in the early 1900’s. The Restaurant offered Swabian traditional cuisine. We had a few pints of German beer and the food was absolutely delicious. The main entrée was Schwaben String, a 15zarter Zwiebelrostbraten an schwäbisdelicate sliced onion roast with a mushroom gravy called Swabian Maultäschle in Zwiebelschmälze mMaultäschle in Zwiebelschmälze with knusprigen Bratkartoffelcrispy fried potatoes.
Relying on pure fumes at that point given the lack of sleep, I walked back to the Pullman with Simone Ravaioli in the snow around 11:30pm.
The RS3G Workshop – Day 2
The second day was more focused on presentations by participants and updates on some of the work member countries implementing EUROPASS and the Diploma Supplement.
Simone Ravaioli opened the workgroup by summary the efforts in Dublin and Rome. Then, he proceeded to summarize the agenda for the December 11th meeting.
• MLO-AD: update by Mark Stubbs from the UK reviewed the MLO project progress, a reference architecture model for defining and capturing learning outcomes. This effort was linked to the CDM – Course Description Model which was successfully launched last year in the UK.
• European Learner Mobility : update by Cleo Sgouropoulou from Greece. The Diploma Supplement components were reviewed and the progress converting it to XML use.
• EuroAFI project proposal: update by Uni Stuttgart covered the integration delivery system employed to send electronic documents and payloads through a publish and subscribe model.
• CETIS Achievement Information Working Group – Diploma Supplement and Transcript structure and sharing protocols by Scott Wilson was reviewed.
The effort and presentations will be posted on the RS3G Wiki found at:
More information can be obtained by contacting one of the three RS3G Steering Committee members:
Manuel Dietz, unisolution, Germany
email@example.com+49 711 2535 9160
Jonathan Dempsey, Digitary, Ireland
firstname.lastname@example.org+353 87 8515508
Simone Ravaioli, Kion, Italy
email@example.com+39 051 6111411
This was my third trip to the RS3G meeting. The Stuttgart meeting, in my view, reflects the growing sentiment of European stakeholders interested in working thru the implications of electronic data exchange between applications and systems supporting the Bologna and Barcelona processes. Most, I think are waiting for the creation of data exchange standards to follow. Primarily because educational organizations are usually risk averse in technology adoption, even though they create so many of the inventions. As an industry, we are creators of heuristic models - the ingredients that fuel departmentalization and specialization.
The challenge is similar everywhere I go. There is a risk inherent in waiting for the clear direction in the evolution of standards that will impact academic and administrative processes. And, there is a risk inherent applying efforts on specification that may never gain adoption and consensus (BETA vs. VHS). We all fear wasted efforts or taking the wrong path. Thus, the reason to draw together is to sift through all the chatter and noise and find common areas to work on, lessoning the risk of picking the premature areas to apply efforts on, and offering a means demonstrating how working together could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The RS3G is seeking a rationale to exist at the same time it is addressing the needs of “implementers” who have nowhere to turn but to find others in the same boat. So, it is that continual self-evaluation that makes the group tentative, yet appealing to its participants. It is an interest group assembled to do something about the stress created by the future unknown of where things are headed. The strides made politically and economically across the European continent are challenging existing enterprises. But, like the Euro, competencies is the new currency. Will it reduce the barriers when crossing geographic borders? Will it fuel the economic growth with a flexible and educated workforce empowered to find self-fulfillment and financial return on their educational investment?
Recognizing and publicizing the need to bridge language, models of comparability and methods of assessment have great promise to support democratic values of fairness and equality. Yet, it unveils the harder issues of transparency, wrought with aging linkages reinforcing institutional centric behaviors and needs. How do institutions and state systems co-exist? How is funding going to evolve? These will obviously impact the rate of adoption and standardization of any community developed specification.
The difficulty of creating data exchange specifications and their resulting adoption is thick with concerns and issues spanning Stakeholders, which is often felt as friction to progress because we are all so unique. Waiting or even ignoring the implication of data exchange specifications is a strategy taken by many companies and institutions. Pushing for adoption of joint specifications and technology can offer competitive advantages through collaboration and tighter integration of systems – because there is no I in Team. These are two sides of the same mirror.
Funded by society in pursuit of economic development and commerce, education is central to the European Union’s strategy to grow in world substance and competiveness. It is so similar to the initiatives behind workforce development in the States. On the other hand, developing learning and process “standards” across institutions of higher education can also be seen as an oxymoron. Higher education has been an environment where one learns from experimentation, reflection and revealing differences often fueled by individualism and independence. Calls for standardization is like an atom smasher, where we try and smash the molecules of a medium into its standard parts, to see if the power emitted will energize our economy, not disrupt it.
How we reflect our differences and the bias assessed from them, is at the root of why the call for standards is often seen as a means to level the playing field. Interchangeability and interoperability describe the benefits of adoption. The fear and uncertainty revealed on the surface by such calls for standards, prolongs proprietary and isolated approaches – because that is how organizations resist naturally. They appeal to their customer’s experience and their differentiation – which is central to their brand and marketing.
How do we educate a workforce and impact the lives of citizenry to support democratic ideals and economic development fueled by group discovery that impacts the self? How do we respect the autonomy of institutions and the faculty who enrich the learner’s experience, when we try and level the playing field? Do we teach to the standard, or do we go beyond and help learners achieve more than the average? These are general questions that bounce around in my head.
The conflict and confluence of recognizing there are complex undercurrents to the “standards” river, sheltering the banks of sand and stone (“policies and practices”) from the waves of change (“political”). Our pre-conceived notions of location, language and learning are impacted by socialized bias (trust) that have impeded the ability to assess and focus on the qualifications and competencies sought by industry and are the outcomes often questioned when crossing borders. Certification of credentials, authenticity of them, and the discerning content that reflects objective measures and descriptions is a major effort spread across many groups and organizations as noted in my cheat sheet. The RS3G group is trying to cope with the merits, drivers and efforts in navigating the complexity, experiences and future endeavors connecting the dots to help where appropriate.
Visiting Unisolution’s Office
I did not get much time to visit and site see given the short trip. But, after the meeting on Thursday evening, I did visit with Manuel and Stephen in their office. They are expanding their business and moving to larger quarters in the newly finished and expanded part of the complex. One could see, they were squished into their office setting, sharing spaces and utilizing every nook and cranny they could. Unisolution is focused on learner mobility, much like AcademyOne is focused on college transfer in the States. They have maps of Germany, Spain, England and France plastered on the walls. Some had the push pin markings of their institutional users, but were not large enough to hold all the push pins by scale. Larger maps with the whole continent showed the borders of States and the legacy of geographical regions long dominated by social changes accustomed to periodic movements of order, from chaos.
Manuel and Stephane both have sons a few weeks apart in age. Both boys attend a full day nursery school together a few minutes from their complex. I did not meet Manuel’s son. But, Stephane’s son did come into the office. His name was Elliot and was rambunctious after getting out of school. Elliot is almost 2. He looked comfortable running, around the office beneath the adults talking about the education market in Europe and the differences with the United States.
Another tidbit was that Stephane was originally from France, while Manuel grew up in Germany and attended institutions inside and outside of Germany. Both were products of the European Learner Mobility initiatives and gained their understanding of the processes from their personal experiences.
As partners and managing directors, Manuel and Stephane rely on each other as they stress to grow their enterprise and overcome the challenges of building sales, gaining adoption in the higher education market, and manage their staff as they extend their move on and move in applications across French, German, Spanish and Italian institutions. They share an office where their desks face each other.
Stephane and his significant other and son in toe, on a snowy Thursday night took me downtown for dinner and a little site seeing. While Stephane visited Philadelphia in 2008, my wife and I hosted one evening at my house where they could meet my family (my two kids) and experience a traditional American meal. Then, the next day, I met them down in Philly and I took them on walking tour around the Philly Art Museum area and along the Benjamin Parkway. We shared lunch in the Reading market, splitting hoggies and cheese steaks, a Philadelphia tradition influenced by a European blend of bread, meat and cheeses – which I am sure parts come from Germany.
So, Stephane offered to reciprocate the experience taking me thru the Stuttgart city center, as we moved toward the Christmas Market after dark. He drove us downtown in his Renault, a small and comfortable car I wish I could get in the US. The Christmas city of Stuttgart invites you to the most beautiful Christmas market, known in German as the Stuttgarter Weihnachtsmarkt. Everywhere the Christmas light decorations sparkle, the smell of cinnamon and vanilla, bratwurst and mulled wine are in the air and Christmas music sounds from everywhere. Thousands of people were drinking hot spicy mulled wine out of small mugs or steins.
The festively illuminated city center - with a medieval flair due to the Old Castle, the towers of the Collegiate Church and the grand Baroque castle - forms the wonderful backdrop of the Stuttgart Christmas Festival. The architecture reflects the Moorish influence I think. We walked by the ice skating rink which was well lit where skaters synchronized with the holiday music. The dramatic 18th century New Castle and the 10th century Old Castle through rows of colorful Medieval houses to the imposing, Gothic St. Eberhart's Cathedral was a pleasure visiting on the snowy night.
After walking briskly through the snowy elements, we searched for a restaurant in the nearby neighborhood. We ended up at an Italian Restaurant after trying several traditional German restaurants that were too busy. Stephane told me that Stuttgart has a large Italian community and when the world cup of soccer played between the French and Italians, he was out numbered 200 to 1 in the stands. After a nice meal, we drove back to my hotel and we said our goodbyes.
My Trip Home
Waking up at 6:30am on a few hours of sleep was not too hard. I used my GSM phone and set the alarm to ring, jolting me from bed with plenty of time to have a hearty breakfast and time to map out my reversal home. This time, instead of taking a taxi back down the hills, I decided to take the commuter line. I checked out of the hotel and proceeded to the train platforms nearby. I purchased a ticket from the vending machine for zone 1. And, proceeded to take the first train from platform 2 the wrong way. Noticing the mistake as the train zoomed by the stations on the map, I jumped off after three stations and reversed course. I had plenty of time. The train downtown took about 20 minutes and I exited. Initially, I did not notice one has to push a button to open the doors. I was lucky someone trying to get on the train pushed it for me. Another small mistake that could have been costly.
After getting to the City Center train station, I approached the DB Lounge and asked the reception desk for the train platform number. I was informed it was #9 and not the #16 printed on my itinerary. After waiting about 30 minutes, I preceded to the platform #9 and walked around waiting. Then, I noticed another white DB train two platforms over and the sign digital sign over the #9 platform with the phrase that looked like my train was moved to track #7. So, after taking a wild guess, I jumped over to the other track and quickly asked one of the conductors standing outside. Lucky I did it quick, because within minutes the train started out of the stations. The ride to Frankfurt was uneventful. Took a little more than an hour. I got off at Frankfurt and took a shuttle bus to terminal 2, then walked to terminal 1. Got to the US Air counter and checked in. Then on to customs which seemed like a mile down the way. Then, I crammed into the waiting area for boarding flight 701 back to Philadelphia. A little after 12PM, the flight attendant announced boarding for families needing help. After a few minutes, she quickly said boarding Zones 1-3. Instead of giving each Zone their own timeframe, she skipped and the mad rush began. It took about 15 minutes to squish though the sardine crowd trying to board the plane.
Well, that is the end of the story. The flight landed on time. Proceeded through customs and on to my car. My world travel to Germany was over and I was ready for my bed by 7:30pm.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Third Meeting RS3G, Stuttgart Germany
December 10 and 11, 2008