Apereo Foundation Fast Interview with Inge Donkervoort
Apereo Foundation Fast October 2022: Inge Donkervoort
Inge Donkervoort is the director/owner of DLearning, a consulting firm that provides training and advice about everything around online learning. From creating content to learning analytics and everything in between. Inge is also a member of the Apereo Foundation Board of Directors and one of the core members of the Xerte project. She lives in the Netherlands (Europe) and was originally trained as a teacher. After a few years of teaching, she started working as a consultant for the government and in businesses. She became interested in applying software for online communication, collaboration, and online learning with schools, governments, healthcare institutions, and companies. In 2010, she started her own business in online learning, now called DLearning.
DLearning stands for Design Learning, providing consulting services on a range of topics related to online learning such as accessibility, analytics, adaptive learning, personalization, microlearning, and online didactics.
Since 2009 Inge has been involved in Apereo’s Xerte project. For several years, Inge has been working on learning analytics and adaptive learning connected to the Xerte project. Inge was elected to the Apereo Foundation Board of Directors in 2020 and served on the Open Apereo Committee for 2022.
AFF: Inge, thank you for joining us on Apereo Foundation Fast! We are grateful for your time.
ID: Thank you for having me. I always like to talk about Xerte. For us, Apereo is important because it ensures, among other things, that the sustainability of Xerte is guaranteed. I am also of the opinion that if you 'benefit' from something, you should also give something back. My activities for both Xerte and the Apereo Foundation are an example of this.
AFF: Inge, you own your own consulting company DLearning which focuses on open source for education. Tell us your philosophy on open source and why you decided to make it part of your work.
ID: I definitely believe in open source software. I can talk about this for hours.
Within our company, we also have the rule “open source unless it is not available as open source.” Most of the software that we develop ourselves, we also make available as open source. For example, our Learning Analytics Suite and our Student File System. Making it easy for every organization to create effective online or blended learning trajectories is what we like to do.
In addition, there are a large number of advantages to open source software. I'll list a few:
- Open source products are usually developed by a community with a common goal to support and improve the solutions. These (often international) communities are generally better able to introduce concepts and capabilities faster and more effectively than teams working on commercial products.
- The reliability and security of open source is generally good because more eyes from all over the world are looking at it.
- Open source provides greater transparency as you get full visibility into the source material, as well as discussions about what and how the community develops features and addresses issues. There have been many concerns about privacy in recent years, but with open source products, it is clear what data is collected and how it is used.
- Less risk of vendor lock-in. As a user, you are not lured into a product after which it is very difficult to start using something else.
- Based on “a good cause” and less on financial motivation. More focused on making the best, most usable, and ethical product.
Yet, I also realize that open source is not always a perfect solution; nothing is perfect after all. But better than the alternative of closed systems, which offer no guarantees whatsoever. I think open source is the future and ensures a better and more transparent society. And who knows, everything [may] become mandatory open source in the future.
AFF: Inge, could you please give us a brief overview of the Xerte project, what it is and what it does?
ID: Xerte Online Toolkits (XOT) is an open source authoring tool that makes it easy for any content developer to quickly and easily develop media-rich, interactive and engaging online learning modules. All types of media can be added to a module via fill-in screens (forms). This can be alternated with interactive exercises such as hotspot, drag & drop, quizzes, interactive video, etc. Xerte is available in different languages, including Dutch.
Multiple content developers can work together on the same module, creating an efficient and powerful workflow within the teams of developers, experts, and media specialists.
When you are finished you can simply place the module on a website, learning environment or send it via email. Share it via LTI, RSS, SCORM 1.2 and 2004 or with a link. Because Xerte Online Toolkits also support xAPI, the results can be stored and presented in dashboards. A default dashboard is already in Xerte
AFF: How did you become involved in the Xerte project?
ID: When I was still working for another company (before starting my own company) I was looking for an online content creation tool. By searching the internet I came across Xerte. Xerte was developed by the University of Nottingham and was very popular in the UK. To be able to use it in the Netherlands, we (Tom Reijnders now CTO of DLearning) and I started translating it into Dutch. We did that directly in the code. But because the Xerte community was very active, we had to do this multiple times within a year. Every time there were changes we had to adjust everything again. We had enough of that so then we contacted the Xerte Team and traveled to the UK. That's how it started.
AFF: What has kept you engaged with the Xerte community?
ID: Xerte is developing very quickly and is ahead of the market in a number of areas. A lot of people/organizations talk and talk about adaptive learning and learning analytics but Xerte really does it too. That is very exciting to be a part of. In addition, the Xerte team consists of a group of very nice people!
AFF: Could you give us an example of someone in the education field who might benefit from using Xerte and how they might implement it?
ID: Anyone who needs to create online (learning) modules can use Xerte. It is very easy to use and you do not have to code yourself, even the less ICT skilled user can develop beautiful online learning resources. You can make mini websites with it, but also interactive learning modules. It is therefore used by various target groups. Educational organizations, commercial companies, care and non-profits, all benefit from Xerte. The way it is used is also very different. For example, it is used for newsletters, manuals, courses, formative tests, entry-level tests, personal learning paths, etc.
AFF: Your company, DLearning offers a great many workshops about Xerte. Tell us a bit about those offerings and where someone new to the project should get started.
ID: DLearning offers both free and paid workshops. About 10 times a year we hold a free webinar on a topic around Xerte. These topics are also compiled together with the community. It can be about the first steps in Xerte, creating escape rooms, interactive video, and 360-degree pages, adaptive learning, etc. We call these Xerte Talks and everyone can join for free. Here too we stand for “open and transparent.” Of course, we also have to earn a living, so we also offer some more specialized paid workshops. They also take a little longer and then you really go into the situation the participants find themselves in and what they specifically need.
AFF: As an Apereo Foundation Board Member and project leader could you tell us what are some ways that others in the open source or education communities can become more involved in not only the Xerte project but in Apereo’s mission overall?
ID: Just do it and don’t be afraid!
When I became a board member, my goal was to see if the different communities within the Apereo foundation could work together better. They are all very nice software products and together they could be a nice complete eco-learning system.
At the last conference, I showed in my session (from Xerte) how the products can work together. I also thought it was great that the second day of the conference was dedicated to that collaboration (Apereo StackHack). So my advice is to look at what you are interested in, see what Apereo needs and try to combine that. And that doesn't have to be the case with the first contact... it's best to taste the atmosphere first and get acquainted with Apereo first.
When I first started as a board member, I had some difficulties in getting it right. There was something of a language barrier because my “board English’ wasn’t that good and not all the customs in the board were familiar to me. But as I said before, I think that if something doesn't work out, you should also put in the effort to see if you can make it work. Giving up right away is not in my nature. In this case, we eventually created an 'onboarding the board' module together with a number of board members so that it is easy for new board members to get 'up to speed.'
AFF: Looking forward to the next year, what are some exciting initiatives going on at the Xerte project that you’d like folks to know more about?
ID: We have just had a new release with beautiful new functionalities and pages. For the coming year, there are already a number of beautiful new things in the pipeline. For example, we are working on a sidebar in the Xerte Online Toolkits template, sharing entire folders with others and being able to apply interactivities even more flexibly.
AFF: Inge, thank you very much for your time and insights. We appreciate you being with us on Apereo Foundation Fast and for all you do at the Apereo Foundation.
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Release notes for Xerte 3.11
Inge Donkervoort's session about Xerte from Open Apereo 2022