Archive for August, 2006

Ars Electronica 2006 – some edu-tech. stuff around, too

Wednesday, August 30th, 2006

226426694 939cca2eb3 m Ars Electronica 2006 – some edu tech. stuff around, too Ars Electronica festival – an event of electronic and media art – starts tomorrow in Linz, Austria. Most of the events takes place during the coming weekend.

Ars Electronica is, first at all, an arty event with a lot of exhibitions with (silly) “plug and play” art: robotics, flashy lights, and things like that, but also a lot of mobile things (surprise!) and even some edu-tech stuff.

Media Lab Helsinki has been invited to organize the Campus Exhibition for the 2006 festival. Some of the over 40 installations and projects presented are also somehow related to learning. Several of them are also open/free/libre.

Animaatiokone is an easy-to-use, futuristic installation that turns you into a master animator. The custom software makes experiencing clay animation quicker and more fun than ever. All you need to start is a piece of plasticine. Animaatiokone combines technological and user interface innovations into a novel collaborative storytelling tool. Animations are captured one after another, each animator continuing from where the previous one stopped. All animations are presented on the Animaatiokone web site at Difficult to describe, you must come over to Linz and try it out yourself.

QuiQui’s Giant Bounce is an award-winning children’s computer game from the year 2000-2001. The game is controlled through movement and use of voice. The user interface employs a webcam and a microphone to see and hear the children playing the game. This is also difficult to describe, you must download the game or come over to Linz and try it out yourself.

What You Do Is What You Hear! is an interactive, audiovisual installations providing environment for children to play and understand the major properties of sound. There are sound object, where graphical shapes incarnate sound sources that the user can manipulate on the virtual stage by moving his/her hands in front of the screen (one hand each in case of two people playing together). Right – difficult to explain, you must come and try it out yourself or with your children.

In the research groups’ lounge we are presenting some of my group’s projects. We prepared a short video about them. In the lounge we also have a demo of the MobilED audio wiki. You may also take a closer look of the LeMill system for finding, creating and sharing learning resources. Furthermore you can check out the UNESCO Young Digital Creators Educators Kit and the Art, Design and Technology course for Arab States initiated by UNESCO, as well. All these projects are implemented with open/free/libre tools. If in any of the projects there is some software developed, they are always released under open/free/libre license.

Like always, we are happy to meet people. So, if you happen to be in Linz or somewhere close by, come over to visit us. If you’ll get yourself to the main square of Linz, you will find us.

We are also blogging the exhibition and the festival, if you for some reason just can’t make it this time.

Bug report: Group Cognition

Friday, August 25th, 2006

I was browsing Dr. Gerry Stahl’s new book, called Group Cognition – Computer Support for Building Collaborative Knowledge. Pretty bold title – isn’t it? From the title and the size of the book (521 pages) you could expect that there must be something about blogs and wikis and how these tools have been used in collaborative knowledge building. Blogs and wikis are anyway the most commonly used social software of our time. Nope – wiki (swiki) is mentioned once in a subordinate clause, blogs zero times. Blaah.

So what is the book about? Many things. I will discuss here only some points, which I found ..hmm.. interesting.

In 2001-2002 Dr. Stahl use to work in a EU funded research and development project called ITCOLE (Innovative Technology for Collaborative Learning and Knowledge Building). Dr. Stahl was visiting Fraunhofer Society, which was one of the ten ITCOLE project partners. My research group and Media Lab in Helsinki was the coordinator of the ITCOLE project. After the project Dr. Stahl returned to US where he then combined this book out of several articles written in last few years.

How the book describes the ITCOLE project and the main results of it is rather different from that how we see it here in Europe. A good first hand reference of the ITCOLE project and its results is the project brochure, still online.

Firstly, Dr. Stahl do not even mention the Fle3 software as a result of the ITCOLE project. Still according to the project reviewers Fle3 was at least as important result of the project as the Synergeia/BSCL software developed by Dr. Stahl and his colleagues in Fraunhofer. In number of participatory design sessions, which we use to have with teachers during the project, teachers told with a lot of detail why they prefer Fle3 to Synergeia/BSCL. The most common reasons were related to usability – basically to the amount of useless features making Synergeia/BSCL complicate to use. Dr. Stahl did not find participatory design and user stories written by users anyhow meaningful design practice. Interestingly enough Fle3 was according to the original project plan developed as the UI and interaction prototype of the Synergeia/BSCL, but because Dr. Stahl and the other developers in Fraunhofer didn’t like our design their simply refused to implement it.

Secondly, also the “negotiation by voting” -feature of the Synergeia/BSCL, described in the book, got a pretty clear “no thanks” in the ITCOLE project, both from the teachers and the pedagogical researchers. Some of the expert teachers said that the feature could even harm the knowledge building, because the actual aim in the process is to reach mutual understanding. Some people were also referring to democratic process where voting is normally carried out only if consensus is not reached by other means. You may guess that we did not implement this feature to Fle3.

Thirdly, the progressive inquiry learning model was obviously one – if not – the most important results of the ITCOLE project. Since then the model has been discussed and used in hundreds of European schools. For some reason Dr. Stahl forgets to mention it when describing the ITCOLE project.

Related to the above points I would like to point out one quotation from the book that is simply misleading. This is a kind of minor thing, but still important:

“The BSCL version of the software has now been integrated as an option of the popular BSCW collaboration system and is being used in many European classrooms.”

Hmm.. Well, my humble estimation is that the Synergeia/BSCL is today used in less than 10 European classrooms.

Cheap ideas: Social Digi-box, GPS-Google Maps and documentary movie

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

If I remember correct design theoretician Victor Papanek writes in his groundbreaking book Design for the Real World that “I feel that ideas are plentiful and cheap” (1971). Papanek was not only a designers and design theoretician. He was an educator. In all his works he seems to emphasize practice and practicing. We all are creative if we just have a change to practice our creativity – have time, space and community to be creative. Simple, isn’t it.

Mikko Ahonen writes that in Finland sauna is a competitive edge because it is a space for open-ended discussions, free association, pondering and wild ideas. My Norwegian friend, who studied in Finland for a while, says that Norwegian students come-up just as stupid ideas as Finns. The difference is that the next days Finns start to implement them – already when still having a hangover.

Last week I went sailing for a couple of days with a friend of mine. My friend is one of these multiprocessing people who always have ten different kind of projects going on. He actually works in a pretty nice post in the Government, but his daily job seems to be for him a kind of “inevitable thing” one just must do. To generate new ideas and projects is simply very rewarding for him. Still, I am sure he is doing his daily job very well, too.

So, we were sailing. Sailing is a bit like going to sauna. There is a plenty of time to meditate, to associate and to chat. Also coming up with some wild ideas helps to entertain you and your company when the weather is bad and all you have to drink is a lousy instant coffee. Also in sauna presenting stupid ideas helps you to stand the fact that you are naked and drinking watery beer.

So, we were chatting and we came up with some idea.

Social Digi-box is digital TV receiver for satellite, terrestrial and/or cable television with integrated instant messaging (IM) software. While watching TV channels you can see if any of your friends are same time in front of their TV or logged in the Social Digi-box’s website. With your contacts you can send instant messages and start group chats. You may also join to the chat rooms of some TV-channel and TV-programs. In a later version there will be voice over IP. How this is done? You need a Digi-box with an embedded Linux, which will run the IM software based on Jabber – the open IM platform. Then you need Ethernet or Wlan to connect the Digi-box in your broadband Internet and USB for a keyboard. You are done!

GPS with Google Maps / Google Earth, works so that you can upload your GPS data in a software which will then show you the route you took, or the route your friend took. This was so obvious idea that of course it was already done by someone. See the GPS Visualizer. Still I wonder why it is no a bigger thing. Maybe GPS users are not that online people or maybe the manufacturers are not marketing this kind of services for some reason. Someone should also redesign the site.

The third ideas was an idea of a documentary movie where two men, brothers travel to the Russian side of the Karelia to find their family’s silver cutlery that was left behind by their grandmother when the Winter War started in 1939. For more than 60 years the grandmother has told the story of the silver that was buried next to the well. It’s going to be a bit like a documentary version of another Finnish movie made in 1960’s.

You are free to use these ideas whatever way you want. If they’ll make you very wealthy one day – remember me then. To do the documentary movie you must contact me. Don’t ask why. icon smile Cheap ideas: Social Digi box, GPS Google Maps and documentary movie

A showcase demonstration on the absurdity of software patents

Friday, August 4th, 2006

This week’s buzz has been the press release by Blackboard Inc. that announced, well, that Blackboard actually has invented e-learning or at least, the virtual learning environments. S.Downes gives a good run down on the blog postings on the issue out there.

Like many have noted and protested against, there is plethora of cases of prior-art on what Blackboard Inc. claims to have invented, and what the US. Patent authority has granted them.

A great initiative called “History of virtual learning environments” has started in Wikipedia that currently is collecting and documenting our e-learning history in a form of cases of prior-art in the area of virtual learning environments. This will be an indispensable source of information, sort of poor man’s portfolio of counter arguments, whenever it comes to a patent litigation in court over this given issue. Which, it seems, could be anticipated; it sounds like Blackboard is giving some indication that it might be using its 30-global-patents-and-patents-pending-portfolio aggressively (from the FAQ:

“My institution doesn’t use a Blackboard system but uses a competitor’s course management system. How are we affected?”
Answer: Evaluating patents can be complex and because we don’t know the specifics of how your system works, we would encourage you to consult with your CMS provider for answers.”

Just imagine all the CMS providers freaking out on this! Another story is whether anyone can afford opposing this patent in court, as potential targets might be open source initiatives like Moodle, Sakai, etc. and the educational institutions using them. However, like Mr. Attwell notes: let’s hope that big companies will take care of the fight: SAP apparently has pending e-learning patents, too. icon wink A showcase demonstration on the absurdity of software patents

Moreover, the saga continues to other countries and continents where Blackboard Inc. has deposit patent claims for the same patent. To be precise, we here at the EU-land have also had our share of attention: the European Patent Office’s database has a record of a pending claim on “EP1192615: Software Patent: Internet-based education support system and methods”.

How will that effect on our life is still in the mist. It is a known fact that the EU is still giving a priority to strengthen Intellectual Property Rights, but where do software patents stand on that seem pretty cryptic to a common citizen.

After the last Public Consultation and public hearing on future patent policy in Europe in July, it seems that the two DGs in the European Commission can’t find a common message to sent out, whereas the European patent litigation agreement (EPLA) is being set up all without the Commission’s involvement by the the European Patent Convention (EPC).

Hey, little things count: we started collecting names on the petition to raise awareness against possible e-learning patents in Europe last Spring. This was to flag our concerns to people who were preparing the Public Consultation and public hearing on future patent policy in EU.

Keep discussing about this issue and ask your colleagues and friends to sign the petition online! It’s good to show to our policy-makers and corporate folks that there are many people who do not want to be part of the software patent hell, but just get on with our work.

The petition to sign:
header short flosse A showcase demonstration on the absurdity of software patents


LeMill 0.6 Released: Remixing learning materials

Thursday, August 3rd, 2006

logo content LeMill 0.6 Released: Remixing learning materialsI am happy to report that version 0.6 of LeMill – a web community and engine for finding, authoring and sharing open/free/libre learning resources – has been released. LeMill is Open Source and Free Software.

What is there for you?

  1. If you feel comfortable to install server software and host websites you may download LeMill engine from the download page and try it on your own. Then you can report us bugs. If you happen to be Zope/Plone/Python developer you may take part in the project taking place in Trac system. From there you will find tickets, documentation and of course the source code.
  2. If you are more a person who rather just take things in use, you may try LeMill on our This is a “LeMill service” hosted by us. It is still LeMill Preview but we do our best to take good care of your data.
  3. If you at first just want to know a bit more what is LeMill really about, you may have a look of the LeMill Preview FAQ or the little learning material called Learning Objects and LeMill.

Especially for those who already have checked out some earlier versions of LeMill, I would like to point out one new feature. Now when you add new content to LeMill you may create learning material with templates. You may choose from two templates: (1) Multimedia pages – text with images, audio and video elements; or (2) Presentation – a web page with your slides, comments, and possible audio. You may upload you multimedia elements and slides to the template or search elements from the pieces that are already uploaded to LeMill.

To test the presentation template I decided to use a presentation of my friend Teemu Arina. I never record my presentations, but he does. So, I borrowed his audio and slides and made a version of it to LeMill. When uploading and downloading the stuff I was thinking, maybe I should remix the audio and the slides. I could have record my comments between Arina’s talk, and also add some “better” slides to the version in LeMill. Anyway I do not agree with everything in his talk – it’s a good talk, but still icon smile LeMill 0.6 Released: Remixing learning materials . The remixing would have been relative easy thing to do with a standard PC. Well, it was late and I was tired. Maybe you will do it?

So, please play around with LeMill. For the existing members of the we must admit that when updating the server we lost your portraits. We are really sorry. icon sad LeMill 0.6 Released: Remixing learning materials On the other hand that was only data we lost, so I think we did pretty well anyway. Please, upload your portraits again to Thanks!

I think I must present some acknowledgements. We are thankful for the developers of the following free/open source software and project, from which we have learned and borrowed a lot: Mediawiki, WordPress, Plone, Connexions / Rhaptos, EduCommons, KEWL.NextGen, and Ariadne. LeMill is developed in a EU IST funded CALIBRATE project.