Monday 9 may 2022
Jerre: ‘Hey, Ivan! I saw that you moved here from Brazil. What made you come to the Netherlands?’
Ivan: ‘Well, my wife and I had pretty good jobs in Brazil, but at one point we asked ourselves: “Is this it?” We’ve always wanted to explore the world and live abroad, and we decided that it was time. We considered many different places, but my wife was offered a PhD position in Eindhoven, so we landed up in the Netherlands. And I’m glad we did.’
Jerre: ‘You’re not homesick for Brazil, then?’
Ivan: ‘Not at all. Sure, I miss my family and friends. But I truly feel like I’m Dutch at heart. When we first got here, we took the train from Schiphol to Eindhoven. I remember looking out the window and being mesmerized by the sights. Then I learned about the Dutch directness and the fact that you can go everywhere by bike, and I didn’t want to leave anymore. When my wife finished her PhD, we once again had the opportunity to move to another country. But if I can’t commute by bike, I don’t want to go. Haha.’
Jerre: ‘Haha, that is a very Dutch mentality. Now, you had a video production company in Brazil, right? So how did you end up getting the position of LMS specialist?’
Ivan: ‘Back when I still had my video production business, I made several videos for a client who was doing E-learning and online marketing. He knew that I’m computer savvy, so he asked me if I could set up a Learning Management System for him. I said: “Sure, why not, I’ll give it a try.” Being involved in all production and technical aspects of his company, inspired me to start my own company in e-Learning with a friend. We did that for about 4 years, and gained a lot of experience from it.
Soon after we decided to close that business, I came across a vacancy here at ITC, for e-Learning specialists. They wanted someone to help with the transition from Blackboard to Canvas. When I looked at the job description, I realised that I’d already been doing all these things for my company. I applied, and the rest is history. I currently do less technical support and more software development, projects, and supervision tasks, among many other things.’
Jerre: ‘Let’s take a step back for a second. You helped develop a platform, The Living Textbook. Can you tell me something about your specific contribution to this?’
Ivan: ‘For my company, I did a lot of data tracking for online marketing purposes. I knew that user interaction data can be useful in many ways. That’s why I suggested to investigate the server logs of Living Textbook’s webserver. The Living Textbook visualizes theoretical concepts and their relationships by using maps, to make learning easier.
The results were very positive, and we implemented a proper Analytics tool into the platform. Now we can very closely analyse the so-called learning path that students follow, and to what extent it deviates from the learning path that teachers propose. We can see, for example, how often they’re going back to previous concepts. Or whether they’re skipping any, and if so, which ones.
Using that data, we can improve both the system as well as education. Let’s say that a lot of students clicked on a certain concept that wasn’t originally included in our learning paths, then that might mean that we should include it. Or when students keep following different orders, we can consider reshuffling.’
Jerre: ‘Do you ever worry that people feel this violates their privacy?’
Ivan: ‘No, because we’re tracking visitors for different reasons than, say, Google or Facebook do. We track them because we want to learn from them. To improve our content so that we can make learning quicker and easier for our students. By agreeing to be tracked, visitors are contributing to better education. For themselves and for future students.’
Jerre: ‘Okay, that’s fair. Speaking of openness of information: open academia seems to be a recurring theme in your publications. Why is this so important to you?’
Ivan: ‘Simply put, I don’t see the point in having publishers. I think we could easily do without them. Fifty years ago, we needed them. But nowadays, they’re just middlemen. What bothers me is that publishers complicate making academic knowledge public. Here at UT, people come up with the most amazing things. Why shouldn’t more people have access to this?’
Jerre: ‘So, if I understand correctly, you want to build a bridge between academia and the outside world?’
Ivan: ‘That’s exactly what I’m trying to do. It’s also why I started a YouTube channel for ITC, called GeoHero. We cover Geoscience topics, following the template of Computerphile. Have you ever heard of that?’
Jerre: ‘Of course! That’s the channel for everything computer science.’
Ivan: ‘It is, and it’s connected to the University of Nottingham. While watching their videos, I realised that we could make informative videos like these at ITC as well. It’s very simple to produce. Just one camera, one single topic, and an expert. That allows us to publish weekly. At the same time, for the audience it’s a relatively accessible way of learning things, without having any background knowledge.
Aside from open education and science communication, GeoHero also tries to play a role in student recruitment. We’ve been in touch with the producer of Computerphile, who told us that students arriving at their faculty often mention their channel as the deciding factor in choosing to study there.’
Jerre: ‘That’s amazing. Final question: why do you want to do all of this for UT in particular? I’m sure there are many other universities that would like to have someone like you on board. Especially since the pandemic.’
Ivan: ‘Because I’m surrounded by highly intelligent people who are working towards the same honourable goals, and I love to be a part of that. Someone once told me: “if you’re the smartest person at the table, you’re at the wrong table.”
Whenever I meet a colleague, they’re always eager to share their expertise or work experiences. I often end up learning something new. Plus, they’re always nice people, too. I think it’s because of the informal and friendly culture that we have, which makes it very easy to approach someone.’
Jerre: ‘As a teaching assistant, I’m always looking for ways to improve my education. So I’m very happy to have you here!’