Archive for February, 2007

Wikiversity, Wikieducator and politics?

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

I thought to post this as another comment to the longish list of comments in the Leigh Blackall’s blog post about Wikiversity and Wikieducator.

First at all, I highly appreciate Wayne’s, Brent’s and Leigh’s work and hope that this post is not considered as any kind of personal attack against them. I know that we have a similar thinking on many topic in the field, and hope that we will have fruitful cooperation in future.

Like Leigh, I also hope that Wikiversity and Wikieducator could join forces. I know, that in practice this is not very likely to happen, but we may dream. Both projects are based on the same idea of using wiki (Mediawiki) to facilitate collaborative authoring of free learning content. As I wrote already, in my comment, I am not sure at all if wiki is a good platform for this. However, it is an interesting hypothesis and should be tried out. Because of this I really admire both projects.

Still, I prefer Wikiversity basically because it is run by an international, non-governmental, non-profit and non-political organization, the WikiMedia foundation. By its nature and tradition – compare to Wikipedia – Wikiversity is a multi-lingual and multi-cultural project. You can’t say the same about the organization behind the Wikieducator, even that they do a lot of good things, too.

Wayne wrote: “Wikieducator does not have a political agenda – it is a website to facilitate collaborative authoring of free content. It was set up by the Commonwealth of Learning as a space for the 53 member countries of the Commonwealth to work collaboratively on learning for development. We welcome participation from anywhere in the world. English – by virtue of the Commonwealth is a common language in these countries and WikiEducator does not pretend to be anything it isn’t.

Commonwealth is an international governmental organization. Governments are political. Whatever Wikieducator would like to be non-political, it is not. The language policy – use of English – is a concrete example of the political agenda behind the Wikieducator. In the 53 member countries of the Commonwealth there are hundreds of local languages. I think that to meet the needs of the member states the Wikieducator should, first at all, emphasize development of free learning content in local languages.

I also find the development of “a free version of the entire curriculum by 2015” (Wayne) pretty scary. Is the aim to have a single curriculum for all the 53 Commonwealth member states or for the whole World? This development is very different from the decentralization of curriculum planning taking place in many wealthy nations. In number of European countries (e.g. Finland), schools are asked to plan their own curriculum, in cooperation with teachers, students, parents, local business and local Government (btw: some of them are using wikis for this). The national curriculums are becoming just checklists for the local communities to make their own curriculum based on the local needs. I wonder why Commonwealth would like to standardize the curriculums of its member states? In who’s interest is this?

In sociology of education there is a set of questions one should always ask when looking for educational systems. The questions are: Who is educating Whom? On What, Why and How?

In the case of Wikiversity it is easy to answer these questions. The members of the Wikiversity are educating each other on topics they are interested in and want to learn about. They have found collaborative learning as the most suitable method to do this. This suits me, too. In the case of Wikieducator one should also ask who, to whom, what, why and how?

Disclaimer: My research group is developing LeMill.net. We share several objectives with the Wikiversity and the Wikieducator projects. LeMill is a web community (and open source software platform) for finding, authoring and sharing open and free learning resources. LeMill is developed in an European CALIBRATE project. Our aims are primary “scientific”, totally non-political and non-profit. We are experimenting how the optimal platform for collaborative development of free learning resources could be.

Deschooling society with free phone calls – Skype on your mobile phone

Tuesday, February 13th, 2007

For some weeks now I have been playing with Nokia N93.

Nokia n93 1 Deschooling society with free phone calls   Skype on your mobile phone

For people asking what is that (it is a pretty funky looking piece), I keep on telling that it is a DVD-quality video camera with 3.2 mega-pixels, Carl Zeiss optics, and 3x optical zoom. In addition to the video camera there is WLAN, bluetooth and several other networks, and ahh.. yes you can make phone calls with it, too.

There are a plenty of free software for these. Some of them are potentially interesting from educational, teaching and learning perspectives. For instance:

Free phone calls are coming. I just downloaded and installed Fring. It’s a software for using Skype, Google Talk and MSN messenger from your phone. Now I can make Skype calls, also Skype out calls and use the chat from the mobile phone very much the same way as with the Skype software running on my laptop. The technical implementation of the Fring is actually pretty interesting hack / mashup.

So, basically I am no more paying anything when calling from my mobile phone(* to people with Skype on their computers, or when calling for those friends who also have Fring on their mobile devices. Naturally, to use the Fring I must be in a reach of WiFi – free Wifi, even better. I have (free) Wifi access at home, in my office, in the library, in my friends’ homes and in my favourit corner bar. The network of FON-hotspots is growing fast. This means that 90% of the time I can make free phone calls with Fring to Skype or very low-cost Fring /Skype out calls to ordinary phones, right from my mobile phone. If there isn’t free WiFi around I can use the 3G network to do the Fring/Skype or Fring/Skype out calls. This still becomes much cheaper than making “an ordinary phone call”.

What this could mean for teaching and learning? One idea: Like Skype, also Fring is telling the availability of the people in the contact list. The list tells if the person is willing to take calls at that moment. This would make it possible to build a social networks that could “empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them” (Ivan Illich 1971 Deschooling Society).

In the mobile deschooled society (or company) you could just add in your Skype profile on what topics you consider yourself to be knowledgeable or skillful enough to teach and give advice about for other people. Then when taking a train or bus (with Wifi) from your office back to home you could set in your Fring/Skype that people may now call you and ask about the topics. After the first contact is made between the “teacher” and the “student” they could agree on how to organize the further teaching, learning and tutoring if needed. They could also agree if there will be some exchange of services or money involved. In the case of companies, those who are helping their colleagues should be rewarded.

Of course we could do the same with a website / intranet, but the benefit of doing this with mobile phones is the fact that mobile phones are always with us. Majority of people do not spend most of their time on front of computers, but majority of people (in developed world) have always their mobile phones in their pocket. Free or very low-cost phone calls would lower the threshold of using the system: if the person you are calling to is not a good “teacher” or you do not get along, you just say thank you, hang-up and call next in the list.

Disclaimer 1: No, I do not think that this kind of system could replace schools, colleagues, universities or even company training programs. No, I am not that naive. What I believe is that this kind of network – whatever build in a national level or in a company level – could empower people/employees to be more innovative, smarter and perform better. I rather think this in the long tradition of “vapaa sivistystyö”, which (badly) translates to something like “libre adult education”.

Disclaimer 2: I got the N93 from Nokia related to research I am doing for them. Nobody asked me to write anything about it, but you know …

*) In Nokia they don’t want to call the N-series phones anymore “phones” but multimedia computers. Because the term “multimedia computer” reminds me of the 1980’s PCs with sound card I rather keep on calling them “mobile phones” or “mobile devices”. The N-serie devices actually are much more than “multimedia computers”. I also wonder who really wants to have or use a “computer” these days? Aren’t they difficult to use and crashing all the time?

Learning with FLOSS server platform and mobile phones

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Using mobile phone in teaching and learning (at least experimenting with them) is not news anymore. I hope, having an open source server system designed to be a “read/write, listen/record, watch/capture&share” -platform for learning purposes is news. MobilED project is doing this.

There is now available a long paper about the project, the server platform and the first pilots carried out with teachers and pupils in two South African schools. The paper was presented at the MLearn 2006 conference. You may download the paper and the slides of the presentations as PDF.

Ford, M.; Leinonen, T. (2006): MobilED – A Mobile Tools & Services Platform for Formal & Informal Learning. Full paper at the mLearn 2006 conference. October 2006. Banff, Alberta, Canada.
> Article in PDF (512k)
> Slides in PDF (973k)