Archive for September, 2006

Last chance for EU-softpats – let your MEP know about it!

Saturday, September 30th, 2006

Everything comes to an end, and so it seems for the long battled software patents issue in EU. The European Parliament votes in October (11.-12) about European Patent Litigation Agreement (EPLA), which could open doors wide open for software patents, too. Even if you don’t think that your MEP has an ear for you, think of sending an email telling how you see software patents threat e-learning in Europe.

This e-mail campaign (see wiki)
is continuation for the petition that we asked you to sign last Spring
at http://www.noelearningpatents.info.
Thanks to you, over 500 concerned teachers, learners, parents,
researchers, decision-makers, e-learning practitioners and developers
signed it. The petition was sent
to the Commission among with the consultation questionnaire (see the Patent
Consultation here
).

Little help it did, but at least it served to raise awareness among
e-learning practitioners about how software patents would also effect
the field of e-learning. Then came along Blackboad
with its patent
claims, which was a great demonstration in
practice about the absurdity of how patent law works. Now, the forces
have spoken and the Commission has sided itself with EPLA, which the
Commissionaire outlined to the European Parliament earlier this week.
This, I believe, would take the patent absurdity into a ever higher
level in Europe, too!

The problem that we face now is that after the defeat of the
previous directive on Computer Implemented Innovations, no proper
proposal has materialised to tackle the issues of software patents in
particular. Besides, there is the long dragging issue of EU-wide
patents in general, which waits to be addressed.

The upcoming vote on European Patent Litigation Agreement proposes
to tackle the latter issue. However, many people are afraid that at the
same go it would also bring the European Patent Office’s (EPO) practice
to allow software patents within EU in effect. Namely, EPLA would grant
the establishment of a new European Patent Court who would deal with
patent litigation in EU. Interestingly enough, the judges of this court
would be hand-picked by EPO! Many people think that this stinks; how
could a same body be responsible for granting patents and appointing
judges who litigate them? Where is the neutrality in this!?

So take a minute and write to your MEP about this! Most importantly,
Members in the following parliamentary groups, EPP-ED
and ALDE
, are to target, as they are very favourable for the case.

See more details and hints (names of MEPs, what to say, etc) on the wiki

Learning Environments for Higher Levels of Learning

Sunday, September 24th, 2006

The week in the Future of Learning in a network world unconference has made me to rethink the issue of learning environments: what they are? How they should be? How they emerge or how we may build them?

This is a bit like coming home. Learning environments are anyway what I am interested in.

First thing first: What makes a learning environment? In the Finnish tradition of educational research learning environment means the integrated environment of learning where there are learners, teachers (or whatever you want to call the people facilitating the situation), participants psychological and social context, learning methods and practice as well as physical and digital artefacts and tools in time and space. It can be formal or informal.

As such there is nothing to do with modern technology. You may create a great learning environment just with a bunch of good people under a tree knowing what to do to reach new understanding on some topic. You don’t need books, paper or pen, nor mobiles or computers – just people who want to work together to make sense about their world. Bringing technology to the situation may actually make it un-learning environment that is simply making people stupid. Badly designed chairs and tables, annoying mobile phones and peeping computers make you loose your focus.

Use of technology in learning should always have a meaning in the process. If I don’t see the value of taking notes in the learning environment I shouldn’t do it. Either I shouldn’t promote notes taking with learners, if I as a teacher do not have an idea why it is done in the learning process.

Environments emerge or are made in time and space. In the case of learning the time and space where things are taking place should server the learning process. We come together – virtually or physically – to learn. We try to find the most suitable time and space for this.

Spaces can be open or closed or something between them. Decisions of making your learning environment open or close should be based on analyse which will most server the learning process. If your learners are aiming to have serious knowledge building that is aiming to higher level of learning results you may want to close your group – have some privacy. This is because this kind of learning requires that you also present your naïve hypothesis and bias mental models for your community of learners. You may rather do this when you have around you people who know you and your context, and can for this reason much better understand your thoughts. It also requires that you can trust that the people do not use your thoughts and ideas presented in there against you. You also need people – they can be teachers or your peers – who are seriously interested in to follow your development and scaffold your process of getting to the higher levels of understanding. To reach higher levels of learning you need closed learning environments.

The learning environment should be build by the learning community. Naturally in this case too there are existing expertises that can be used. It is possible that someone knows what is good for you.

Less is more

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

The “travelling e-learning circus” of New Zealand is on its way. Everybody, except me is shooting pictures and recording video and audio clips like crazy.

I am a kind of free rider in here – also when it comes to the producing media. I do not even have a camera with me, either audio recorder. I like it this way. I also know that there will be good stuff online anyway. Thank you all who are doing this.

But, still I am not interested in to watch 50 photos from a train trip – or even worst from some conference room. One quality picture to remind me about the event is enough. Well, I actually bought 10 post cards from the train and I am going to send them to my family and friends. I am sure they will appreciate them more than the 300 pictures about the event already online. My family and friends (also) have a life and do not have time to watch the pictures.

Audio and video are even more unpleasant. Listen 20 hours of podcasting takes 20 hours. How I am going to make a 5 minutes highlights audios of videos out of all the hours of audio and video recorded in here?

I understand that it makes sense to collect raw material, but as much time is spend to collecting should be used for the editorial work. We are now talking that from all the material we will produce a book with a CD-Rom / DVD. I think this is a great idea. I hope this is the “shared object” and compressed product that also other people may find useful.

Maybe I should start the editorial work already today and start to collect some “quality media”, where quality means that it is interesting, useful or in some other way remarkable. I guess the right place to put this stuff is the FLNW Media page of the conference wiki.

Different forms of collaboration in learning

Tuesday, September 19th, 2006

Some months ago a friend, smau, made a very valuable comment to an earlier post in this blog (look the comments). He wrote a short list of different forms of collaboration. Since then I already used the list in one study report, even that I was not sure how should I make references to a blog comment.

I thought to elaborate the list in here a bit more. For instance it seems to be related to the ways (1) how free/libre/open source software is developed, (2) free/libre/open education organized and (3) how new kind of conferences are arranged. To gain quality software, high-level learning results and valuable conference experience we must move to more advance forms of collaboration.

We may analyze collaboration by looking for what are the objects (some people call them artifacts) worked out, how are the scripts (processes) handled and what is the density of communication in the systems. There are five – well four, as the first one is solo activity – forms of collaboration. I made a table out of the original list.

colla table small Different forms of collaboration in learning

Let’s have a look of these forms of collaboration in software development processes, in educational systems and in a ways of arranging conferences. This is because I am right now in an open conference and we should soon decide what we are trying to do in here.

Whatever is the case – software, education or a conference – the most important thing is to define what is the object of the activity? In software development the object is very concrete, although it is digital. It is the software. In education the object can be whatever from national security, to students and knowledge. In a conference the object can also vary from political propaganda to the aim of innovating something new.

Solo-activity

If you work on software alone, in a solo-activity process, you decide yourself when and how you program your software. You do not share your code or way of working. You do not communicate until your product is ready. Simple.

In a case of a whole educational system, solo activity is rather difficult to arrange. There are too many stakeholders. Some kind of co-ordination seems to be a necessity. Still, I am afraid that there are Ministries of Education who think that they can handle the issue just by themselves. In learning and teaching practice solo activity it is rather common. For instance teacher may ask students to do self-study and to take a full responsibility of the process. The communication is then limited to the test that is taken and to the grade given.

In a conference solo activity would mean that there is only one keynote speaker who will give all the presentations. Funny? Actually this was common in Europe in 1930’s and 1940’s and still takes place in some places. Communication? Lift your hand.

Co-ordinated activity

In a co-ordinated software development you may outsource some parts of the development (often coding) and then just co-ordinate that everybody is doing what they were suppose to do: your script is expected to be followed. The final object (the software) is not shared, as each person working in the project have had his or her own individual objects. The master object – the actual software – is managed by you. There is not need for intensive communication after the work tasks are defined by you. The whole code is not shared and different developers do not necessary even know who is doing what and where.

Co-ordination is probably the most common form of educational systems. The Ministry is keeping monopoly of the objectives and the script. This is done with the detailed national curriculum and lesson plans defining what teachers and students should do in the classrooms. Many attempts to standardize teaching and learning have been done to improve the co-ordination.

In conferences with tens of parallel sessions co-ordinations easily becomes the main task both for the organizers and the participants. As an organizer you try to fit everybody to the program. It is important to give all those who have proposed something to the conference, their 15 minutes, as this guarantees that they will come and pay the conference fee. As a participant you then try to run from one conference room to another and try to find the pearls.

Co-operative activity

Co-operative software development means that you as the leader give the code for all those parties participating in the project. However, you want to define with specification document what will be developed and when. You of course may listen other developers’ opinions and point of views, but you make the decisions. The script is yours. The code is shared. Some communication is needed.

In educational system co-operation can be seen in “national conference” and “public hearings” where the objectives of education in large are discussed. This is a common way for Ministries of Education to gather information and opinions from the society. This requires some communication. Based on this the Ministry may then defining the script – the national curriculum – that will be followed. This way the object is shared but the script defining how we will get to the aims is not.

Co-operative conference? I think many scientific conferences are actually co-operative events. There is single discipline (shared object) and the aim is to co-ordinate research in that field: to fill the possible caps in the research agenda, to define new interesting research problems etc. Still, there is the conference committee who makes a decision what will be presented in it, and this way leads the development of the whole field. There is a need form some communication. Co-operative conferences are good for hard science. In humanities, social sciences and education they are easily a bit fake, as is harder to base the decisions on purely scientific facts.

Collaborative activity

In a collaborative software development both the code (the object) and the script are in some extend shared. You as the leader give access to the code for all those who want to take part in the project. You are also happy to let other people to design the working process (the script). If there is a conflict on the objectives or the script anyone may anytime take the code and start a new project. Often this is happens when some of the partners are not happy with the collaborative activity, but would rather use more co-operative, co-ordinated or even solo process. To manage the situation you need a lot of communication.

In educational system collaboration means shared responsibility of the objectives and the ways of achieving them. I would claim that education in Finland is relying on collaboration. The object is somehow shared idea of highly educated and successful nation with delighted citizens. The high level objectives are defined in the national level (shared object), but schools are asked to write with parents and the surrounding local society (business, etc.) their own school curriculum. All these are then published online. This way the different practices and scripts becomes shared objects that are slowly shaping the shared object. Universities in Finland are all State Universities, but by law defined to be autonomous from the state. What this means is under continuous debate and actually right now a hot topic again.

Instead of collaborative conference we should probably talk about workshop. When there is a shared object (group of people know what they want to do) and willingness to do it together (script is shared) I would ask people just to start working on it and see what comes out of it. This rather requires non-formal meeting with the tools needed to do the job. Then you start to work on it and try to share your visions and ways of working with other as well as possible. In a good workshop there is a lot of communication.

Co-constructive activity

Probably the most successful free/libre/open source software projects have been co-constructive processes. In the co-constructive software development the code is naturally fully shared. Anyone can take it and develop it. The difference to the collaborative software development is the way of seeing the script – the practices of working with the object. In a co-constructive process the ways of working becomes very central issue. The script becomes one of the objects. The amount of work invested to software development environments (ways to share code, mailing lists etc,) is an example of this in a free/libre/open source software development. The object is no more the original object, but also the script and tools used to implement it. You may guess that this asks a lot of communication.

In an educational system co-construction would mean continuous development of the pedagogy by all the stakeholders. Teachers and educators should not only teach but also study and develop pedagogical practices, and share their findings with other stakeholders. Everybody should be interested in and willing to invest time and money to think and develop the pedagogical practices, methods and tools. This way the script could become the object of the activity. Again this requires a lot of communication.

I hope the Future of Learning in a Networked World event will be co-constructive conference. But I am afraid that we are still missing the shared object. Let’s hope it will be there in a couple of days.

BTW: I hope that also the Konfabulaari 2006 will be a co-constructive conference. Any shared objects? icon smile Different forms of collaboration in learning

Finally, I guess anyway in the best sessions there is not only one form of activity, but all different forms taking place in a nice harmony. You need solos, co-ordination, co-operation and collaboration to reach the co-construction.