Archive for November, 2006

Is LeMill a platform for school library 2.0?

Thursday, November 23rd, 2006

Yesterday in the EU Information and Society Technologies conference’s Digital Libraries and Technology-enhanced Learning session Birte Christensen-Dalsgraad talked about library 2.0. In the same session Demetrios Sampson presented the latest memes in the field of educational technology.

Jack M. Maness’ paper Library 2.0 Theory: Web 2.0 and Its Implications for Libraries give a good overview on the discussion about the library 2.0 concept. He defines Library 2.0 as “the application of interactive, collaborative, and multi-media web-based technologies to web-based library services and collections”.

LeMill is platform for building “a web community for finding, authoring and sharing learning resources”. LeMill is Open Source, web-based, interactive, collaborative and using multi-media web-based technologies. With LeMill you can create learning resources and keep them and collections of them in order.

In LeMill there are taxonomies (languages, subject areas, and grades) and folksonomies (tags) to organize the resources. The links made automatically between the people and their resources build a network of social recommendations. The possibility to find not only resources, but also descriptions of learning activities and teaching methods, as well as learning and teaching tools ground everything to the core tasks of education. The tips of use works for the same purpose. All this is naturally made by the community members (you may call them users, if you wish) in a wiki way.

I remember that some years ago there was a discussion that the school libraries are shrinking because schools have rather use their money to purchase computers and not books to the libraries. This has been very shortsighted policy, as books are the most robust mobile media devices human kind has ever invented. For this reason I am not saying that the LeMill is the solution, but it can be part of it.

How to build a school library 2.0?

  1. Fight back your budget to buy books in your shelf – they are mobile, often high-quality, and do not crash;
  2. Make out of one of your old PCs a server to run LeMill platform;
  3. Build a community of teachers, parents and pupils on LeMill that will create and share learning materials on it;
  4. Spend part of your budget to have school-wide WLAN;
  5. With the rest of your budget get mobile Linux-based Internet terminals such as Nokia 770 and some thin Linux clients running Edubuntu (or equivalent);
  6. Start to borrow the mobile Internet terminals for your pupils, just the same way as the books are borrowed (I hope you still remember how to do this?)

You are done!

Konfabulaari 2006 – unconference in Helsinki and e-learning in Finland

Tuesday, November 7th, 2006

I must write about this, just because the Flosse Posse is so well represented in the Konfabulaari 2006 – an event taking place this week ath the University of Helsinki.

Konfabulaari is an unconference about the new web in Universities. Under this theme people have proposed session to the event’s wiki-site. At the moment there are following topics:

  • social-web in teaching and learning
  • web 2.0 and modern learning theories
  • social bookmarking and management of references
  • personal learning environments
  • possibilities of micro-formats
  • collaborative outlining
  • wikis in higher education
  • Ristiinvalottamo (this is so beautiful new Finnish word that I really cant translate it, the meaning is something like co-enlighten, or cross-enlighten)
  • Experiences from use of blogs in teaching and learning – will the web 2.0 replace the LMS?
  • LMeill – developing learning materials in a social network
  • Being online celebrity
  • Productive knowledge work

In the light of the themes of the conference it is maybe useful to reflect a bit back the development of e-learning in Finland. At least in the Finnish Universities the researchers, teachers and administrators have same time been very skeptical and analytical but also dynamic when thinking and taking in use ICT in education.

Some months ago I said to Stephen Downs that in Finland we never got e-learing 1.0, but rather have done e-learning 2.0 already from the early 1990’s – right after the web was introduced. Stephen was asking if nobody in Finland never used LMS or developed them, and how we were able to be e-learing 2.0 when the web 2.0 technologies, such as RSS and Ajax, were not yet there?

Of course LMS’s were and are used in Finland, too, but the best practices which also got (and get) most publicity in the Finnish discussion were (and are), most of the time, cases of integrating home pages, newsgroups, IRC, as well as free and open online learning content in a pedagogically firm way. Already in the early 1990’s the best cases were mashups of different Internet tools put together to server learning. Of course it was clumsier than with the current “Web 2.0 tools”. To get announcements of new things you needed some human effort as there were no RSS, and to write your essay online with your friend would require skills of sharing files when you can today use Ajax-based collaborative writing tools. It was more complicate and slower but still possible.

Even in the cases of using LMSs in Finland, there has never been (even implicit) believe that when you build you (standard-based) and packaged course on LMS it will then “teach” your students as such and this way you can have more students on your courses. Ridiculous! In the use of LMSs teachers have always looked for features that are supporting their pedagogical practices. For instance, at the University of Helsinki they have always used web-based computers-supported collaborative work environment, rather than any LMS. Students are subjects, not objects.

To say that meaningful learning online was made possible only when the web 2.0 tools appeared, is a bit like claiming that “traveling” was not possible before the fast trains, such as the TGV.

For me the revolutionary technology is the web – not the web 2.0. Same way in traveling the revolutionary technology was the train – not the TGV. I am not alone with these thoughts. The web is (and has always been) a social media. (Thank you for the links).

Of course it is great if people see “the light” under the brand of “web 2.0”, but still, we should always at first think the process of learning when talking about the tools (web or web 2.0) that are used in it. I am sure we will do this in the Konfabulaari.

Participatory Design and Scenarios in Learning

Friday, November 3rd, 2006

Like all learning, also learning in a networked world can be designed. Design is activity of planning and patterning of actions toward desired and foreseeable end. Design requires problem setting, investigation and problem solving with understanding context and systems where the designed solutions will be taking in use. When we design we may use some design methods.

Our product – learning in a networked world – is extremely complex and multi-dimensional. The “object” is a system with people in their psychological and social context, learning methods and practices, and physical and digital artifact. Furthermore all these are carrying different historical-cultural burden.

With this kind of “object” we must have a design process that relies on active communication in a community of different stakeholders. With the participants we must share our design tasks, defining design constrains and coordination the work towards acceptable solutions. To carry out this kind of work, the design community has proposed use of participatory design and scenario-based design processes.

Participatory design is not a strict discipline, but rather an approach and way of working and thinking. There is not a single definition of participatory design but there are several norms that are respected by the practitioners. These are, for an example:

  • Respect of the people – they are the best experts of their own life and activities. They should be supported to have a voice in the design process.
  • Knowing that the people are the primary course of innovation. The ideas emerge in collaboration with participants wo are representing different stakeholders and backgrounds.
  • Technology is always only one possible solution.
  • Focus on systems. Systems are networks of people, their practices, technologies and artifacts embedded to the actions in a particular context.
  • Spend time with the people.
  • Address problems with the people and affected parties.
  • Be conscious of your own role in the process. Try to be a “reflective practitioner”.

(http://lemill.org/trac/wiki/ParticipatoryDesign)

In a participatory design process we may use scenarios. The scenarios are used to improve the communication among the participants. Scenarios can be used to illustrate and explain design problems, design constrains, and design solutions. Scenario can be presented as a written story, drawing / storyboard, or as an audio or a video.

Already making the scenario requires us to make selection and to focus only on certain aspects. The “ready” scenario can then be used to open up the concepts for discussion among the participants. Making scenarios is an iterative process of tuning the story. With digital tools you may have many and fast iterations.

There are obvious similarities with the participatory design and the paradigms of learning in a networked world. The new ideas of learning are often relying on the social constructivist theory of learning that sees learning as a participation in social processes of knowledge construction. If we design learning according to principles of participatory design we actually are implementing something we want people to do when they are learning in a networked world.

A third practice, with similarities with the participatory design and the new paradigm of learning is the open source / free software development process. In open source development all the users are potential developers. They all havea voice.

We are all hackers: in participatory design, when learning in a networked world, and in an open/free software development.

A typical hacker’s learning process starts out with setting up an interesting problem, working toward a solution by using various sources, then submitting the solution to extensive testing. Learning more about a subject becomes the hacker’s passion.” (http://www.pekkahimanen.org/)