Archive for July, 2006

Demonstration of Learning Object Templates

Monday, July 31st, 2006

In the Calibrate project, where we are developing LeMill – a system for collaborative authoring of open learning resources – we wrote a paper presenting our design of three online learning object templates. The Demonstration of LO template prototypes -document is in our LeMill development sever. We would love to hear your comments and suggestions.

The resulting learning objects created with these templates are designed for maximum accessibility, interoperability, and versatility. This means that the learning objects created with the templates can be used in various learning scenarios, situations and environments.

flosse lemill diagram Demonstration of Learning Object Templates

At first we present the general design rationale behind the design of the learning object templates. Then we present three templates with contextual scenarios explaining what kind of situations they are designed for. Furthermore we provide template design documents demonstrating the user interface and human computer interaction.

Strong and weak links in a social network

Friday, July 28th, 2006

After being many years very connected with information and communication (ICT) network, I still sometime get surprised by the speed of the network. And now I am not talking about the “bandwidth” only, but the combination of social networks and ICT. Here is an example:

I follow Stephen Downes’ OLDaily. This week I noticed that he is giving a talk in a conference in Bogotá. From his site I couldn’t find a link or any other information about the event. Because I have been in Bogotá several times, know a bunch of edu.tech people in there, and have took part in several conferences in there I was interested in to know what was the conference about.

So, I sent an email to my sister in law in Bogotá. She wrote back to me with a link to the conference’s web site and told that she is going to attend the conference. She also promised to write me a summary of Stephen Downes talk.

Later same day my 2 year old daughter (she also has a blog, but the URL is given only for family and friends) wanted to talk with her grandmother who lives in Bogotá. My partner tried to call her, but she was not at home. However, my sister of law was there and told that Stephen Downes was having a slide saying: “Learning Objects Educational Concept Dies in Finland at 24 – Teemu Leinonen”. Hmm.. I was thinking while having a coffee and relaxed reading sessions in our WLAN garden: “Have I written something like this in some point”?

Later same day my sister in law sent me a summary of the talk – thank you – and also Stephen Downes post his slides and talk in MP3 to his site – thank you, too. I checked the slides and found out that the rant with the reference to me was not actual written by me, but was from an illustration of a blog post by Alan Levine. The image just happens to have my name in it as Alan Levine was making references to my blog post Learning objects – Is the King naked? in his post. I do not mind about this, however I think it is good that people know the story behind the picture, and do not for instance think that I wrote article like this to Washington Post.

I think from the social network perspective the story is pretty interesting. It seems to have a funny combination of strong links (family) with weak links (blogshere) working together. I was at first relying on my family network – the strong links. This is of course very Colombian: my partner, her sister, my daughter, even my partner’s parents were involved. To communicate over the Atlantic we use Skype, video conference, blogs, phones etc. To keep our strong links we need a lot of bandwidth.

The there were the weak links of the blogshere. I have never met Stephen Downes or Alan Levine. We have not even talked on Skype. We have “communicated” only via blogs. We do not need a lot of bandwidth to keep the weak links.

I want to have strong links (family and friends) and weak links (blogshere and professional), and hope that one to become another is difficult. There is also very little space between these two.

You may ask why? I am seriously afraid that the Finnish proverb “in a group stupidity condenses” (Joukossa tyhmyys tiivistyy) is once in a while true in blogshere. I am claming that “groups” are those that are build out of people whose relationship is something between the “strong” and “weak” links. This is not good. Weak links are better than “half strong/weak links”. Uhh..

Memories from the time when the “read and write” and the “pull” web was still young

Wednesday, July 19th, 2006

I just noticed that my blogging activity is pretty seasonal. In July Finland is closed. Almost everybody disappears to their summerhouses and saunas by the lakes. I work during the summer, but as there are no students and very little staff around I seem to have more time to write these small thoughts. Christmas is also good time for me to write to the Flosse Posse. That is the time of my my vacation.

And now back to the topic. Read and write web was not invented in 21st century. Read and write web was invented by Tim Berners-Lee in early 1990’s. The Web has always been read and writes media. Even the first browser was same time both, a web browser and an editor. Being reading and writing media is the core of Web-thinking. If it is not two ways it is no more a Web – it is a channel.

In some earlier posts I have wrote about the power of web-thinking in the context of learning standards and learning objects.

I try not to repeat myself. But I just found some pretty old transparencies (do you kids know what they are?) and notes from a folder in the very top of my bookshelf. They are from the year 1996 when I was giving in-service courses for teachers about the Internet and the Web.

It was actually pretty challenging to explain what are the Internet and the Web for people who did not have any idea about them. To illustrate the Internet we use to play with a plastic thread and pieces of cardboard with a little whole in the middle. The thread was connecting all the teachers in the classroom to each other. This way they were able to act like “web servers” and send the pieces of cardboard (TCP/ IP packages) to each other whenever there came a request from a “web browser” – another teachers somewhere in the network.

The idea of the web I use to explain with this transparency. It is in Finnish. Anywaym the idea was to show the differences between the Web and a fax machine.

fax web Memories from the time when the “read and write” and the “pull” web was still young

According to the slide: with a fax the writer and the sender of the page (Actor A) believes that the receiver (Actor B) is interested in the content of the page.

In the case of the Web the writer (Actor A) makes a page and believes that someone of the 30-50 million other people in the Web is maybe interested in the page. Then the Actor B “finds” the page or hears about it from some other channel. Then she “orders” the page. When getting the page she can be interested in it or not. Sound like a “pull web” for me.

I love the Web – the old school Web. icon smile Memories from the time when the “read and write” and the “pull” web was still young

By the way. Tim Berners-Lee is today worried about the Internet neutrality and writes: “When I invented the Web, I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission.” Did I already told you that the old school is a good school?

Power laws of innovation in education

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006

John Thackara presents the power laws of innovation. I will hang out the “Thackara’s laws” to the wall of my research group’s working space.

I am sure the world would be much better place if the people working with “educational systems”, “learning/teaching/educational technologies”, “computer supported collaborative learning” and “knowledge management” – for an example – would remember these laws:


Power Law 1: Don’t think “new product” – think social value.

Power Law 2: Think social value before “tech”.

Power Law 3: Enable human agency. Design people into situations, not out of them.

Power Law 4: Use, not own. Possession is old paradigm.

Power Law 5: Think P2P, not point-to-mass.

Power Law 6: Don’t think faster, think closer.

Power Law 7: Don’t start from zero. Re-mix what’s already out there.

Power Law 8: Connect the big and the small.

Power Law 9: Think whole systems (and new business models, too).

Power Law 10: Think open systems, not closed ones.

(Source: Power Laws Of Innovation by John Thackara at the Doors of Perception)

This makes me think are we following these in our projects? Often we do, though it is sometimes very hard.

Law 1: Even in the field of learning and education “selling” the social value is often more difficult than selling a new product. I must admit that sometimes we have sold a new product for the financers. However, in the sale pitch we always emphasise the “social value” of the product. icon smile Power laws of innovation in education So, I guess we anyway always at first think the “social value” and only then “the product” – I hope.

Law 2: Even if you are able to think the social value before “tech” many people, of whom some can be close stakeholders in your project, are not. So, again sometimes you must think also the “tech”, as that is what number of people wants you to talk about. Anyway, again I would claim that we always think the social value before “tech”. Huh!

Law 3: Presence of human agency in the field of learning and education should be pretty obvious. I think we are following this law relatively well. It is hard to imaging us designing something – a product, service or process – without the people (in our case often teachers and students). However, I know that there are many learning technology projects that are almost by purpose designing people out of the situation, because it makes it easier for them.

Law 4: We use all possible free/libre/open source development tools and existing platform to design our own products, services and processes. Our outputs are difficult to own exclusively by anyone. The GPL used in our projects takes care of this matter.

Law 5: I would claim that peer-to-peer (P2P) thinking has been in our group’s way of thinking since the beginning in 1997. Since then we have been using the famous quotation from Lev Vygotsky: “All higher [mental] functions originate as actual relations between human individuals”. Vygotsky’s idea of zone of proximal development is an early conceptualization of seeing the value of P2P in learning. However, when we think about P2P in learning we should remember that to learn we need more advanced peers to work with, and respectively we also need less advanced peers to work with.

Law 6: I probably would need a bit more explanation to fully understand this. But I know that we definitely are not “fast thinkers”. We started to develop the Fle3 learning environment in 1997, and I think in a couple of years it will be usable – at least the way we think it should be used. To be honest it is usable, but it could be better, and there are many things we would like to develop. Not to change but develop. Maybe this represents “thinking close”. At least it is not “thinking fast”.

Law 7: Remixing is what we do all the time. We have never started any project from zero. On the other hand I am afraid that sometimes we have not choose the right “samples” for remixing and have failed. Remixing is art – you can’t just do it and be a master. We are still learning.

Law 8: I think we do this, too. In the LeMill – Learning Mill we are trying to connect number of big media (e.g. BBC, Yahoo) companies’ open content with locally hosted material repositories. The local repository can be in the schools’ server room (or in my bed room) with content made by teachers and pupils of the school. When someone at the school is in a need of some open content (that is not already in the school’s server) she may consult for instance Flickr image database or some other source of open content to get some pieces. I could give a similar kind of example from our MobilED project or from the UNESCO projects.

Law 9: We do our best to think the whole system. The business model issue is more difficult when you anyway work primary for academia. We of course think sustainability issues. We would love to see that our products, services and processes would have a life of their own also outside the lab. Sometimes they do.

Law 10: Open systems good. Closed systems bad: Whatever the system is a society, educational system, innovation system or operating system. No doubt about this. icon smile Power laws of innovation in education

New Kind of Conferences

Tuesday, July 11th, 2006

There is a growing trend to organize events that are breaking the established and rather rigid form of conferences. People are tired, both to listen and to give presentations with slides in a dark conference room(s). Also, only very few of us are really good speakers with charisma and interesting things to show.

I guess the reason why we need different kind of events is related to new (social) technology. With Internet we may very well just read, listen and watch presentations online. There is no more reason to travel to other side of the world to do this. In most of the cases I am just happy to get the book of proceedings, especially if it is online. Even better if the papers are just published in one of the Open Access Journals.

This has opened the request and possibility to organize different kind of events. It looks that people want to get together to do something productive: to share experiences and ideas and to come-up with new ideas. This requires different kind of arrangements and practices. These new ways of working in a conference or meeting are not necessary that new at all, but are now fashionable among tech. people.

I’ll list here some of my favourite events, which go under the category of “new kind of conferences”.

The Future of Learning in a Network World. This looks – at least on the website – a real “killer event” (sorry for the poor expression) organized by Leigh Blackall. I would love to organize a similar kind of “travelling open space conference” (of course with Leigh, as it is his concept) in Europe. Anyone else interested in?

Doors of Perception is probably the oldest (and the greatest) of the new kind of conferences. Actually they have stopped to call themselves a conference. They nowadays call themselves encounter. I am personally very thankful for the Doors. The Doors and the network around the conference have been critical for me in the process of finding my professional identity as a designer/researcher. Some of the topics brought up in the first Doors conferences in the early 1990’s and in the mid 1990’s were also behind the founding of the Media Lab UIAH in Helsinki, where I currently work.

Conferences and events organized by the Arki research group of the Media Lab UIAH are always worth of participating. They have made number of “design experiments” to find out new forms and concepts to arrange interesting and useful gatherings that are using new media in a meaningful ways. The Media Lab 10-years seminar with panels and pop-corn launch for follow-up discussions with those who were interested in to continue the discussion, worked out very well. In several events – e.g. in the Media Lab 10-years and in the Good, bad irrelevant conference – they have used the TV-studio of the University to shot with several cameras all the panel discussions and presentations. The live editors of then videos have then wrote metadata to the time stamps, to make out of the video material meaningful clips that can then be searched and reorganized online by the users. In one event they gave for all the panel speakers a pile of papers that were speech balloons on which the speakers where then writing their main keywords and showing them while saying their comment. The keywords where then used as tags pointing to that part in the video. BTW: The Arki group also produced the great video of Larry Lessig’s talk in Helsinki in May 2004.

Last autumn I took part in the Nokia Community Involvement Stakeholders Days. Actually the event was rather “traditional” series of presentations with discussion. But, what was very nice in there was the way they used media to document the event. All the sessions were shot with two cameras, a group of business students were writing notes about the discussions and a professional photographer was shooting everything. Well-written memos of the sessions were then given for all the participants during the breaks. You took part in the morning sessions and when coming back from the lunch they gave you notes with pictures from the morning session. Some weeks afterwards they sent a DVD for all the participants with videos of all the sessions.

Aula events are nice, even that the format of them have often been rather traditional. But just for organizing free and open events with very high profile speakers and for getting people from different fields together to talk about technology in a large context, Aula should be rewarded with some kind of innovation award (we have number of them in Finland).

Both, the first and the third (I missed the second) Readme festival have made me feel good. No more to say – you must experience them.

Feel free to comment and add links to great events of yours.