Archive for March, 2007

FlashMeeting – the YouTube of videoconferencing?

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

screen01 FlashMeeting   the YouTube of videoconferencing? It must have been in 2004 in Manchester UK when I first time saw a demo of the FlashMeeting. Thank you Friedrich Scheuermann for the invitation and Peter Scott for the demo. FlashMeeting is a videoconference software that works on a Flash player. This means that in 90% of the web browsers you can use it without installing any additional software.

When I saw FlashMeeting the first time I was criticizing it because Flash is not an open standard. This is still true, but today I think using Flash is acceptable in some cases. In the case of videoconferencing using Flash really makes sense.

Now, for more than a year, we have been using FlashMeeting in the European CALIBRATE project. We are mainly using FlashMeeting to coordinate software development of the LeMill with developers in Helsinki, Tallinn, Budapest and Oslo. For LeMill developers we also have a 24/7 IRC channel (#lemill / freenode), mailing lists and a trac website – an enhanced wiki and issue tracking system. FlashMeetings is not replacing any of these tools but is still very important tool in our project communication. Seeing and hearing people are good.

Also related to CALIBRATE project I have been testing FlashMeeting in one online course I am teaching right now. At first we were using the Skype conference call and Skypcast. Both failed. FlashMeeting works and it works well!

FlashMeeting is not a videoconference system in a traditional sense. The one that is speaking is actually always broadcasting her video and audio stream for other participants. All the participants may ask for turns and when you “stop broadcasting” the turn moves automatically for the next in the list. In a teaching and learning setting this works very nicely. There is the risk that your students will expect you (the teacher) to be the only one that is talking. To avoid this I have planned to organize sessions where I have asked already beforehand all the students to prepare a “broadcast” of 5 minutes about some theme. For instance we may read an article and then each student must give a short presentation of the most interesting thoughts in it.

In a way FlashMeeting is doing for videoconferencing what YouTube, Google video and several other video sharing services did for online videos. Videoconferencing and online videos have become acceptable for non-nerds. Both are using Flash.

In a way FlashMeeting is now facing “competition” from Skype and other VoIP systems. In wonder how well FlashMeeting will stand the competition?

I remember that already in Manchester there was some discussion about the possibility of releasing and distributing FlashMeeting server software. I would buy one. This way people could host their own FlashMeetings and stress less the servers of the Open University UK. It would be even better if the FlashMeeting server could be released under Open Source license. I would contribute.

Still, I am very grateful for the Open University UK’s Knowledge Media Institute for providing us with the possibility to use FlashMeeting. Thank you!

Blogs, Wikis and knowledge building – some clarifications and comments

Thursday, March 22nd, 2007

I decided to write another post with comments to the comments we got to the Beyond blogs and wikis: I want better tools for dialogical teaching, learning and research -post. Thank you all!

Leigh: Web feeds (RSS etc.) are good, whatever you are interested in to follow blogs, wikis, discussion forums, image/video sharing sites, etc. Still they do not scaffold or help you to have such dialogue I am looking for. I am not sure if any computer tool of software will do this, but I am dreaming. CSILE, Knowledge Forum, Fle3 and CMapTools are the best candidates of tools to full-fill this need. They are not very good, but at least they are designed for this. Blogs and the culture of blogging do not make very high on this list. Wikis are definitely better than blogs: the wiki talk page is much better discussion forum than blogs and blog comments. Threaded discussion boards and listservs are good but do not scaffold.

Summer: I like your “blog”, too and I am sure it is a good tool for language learning. Actually your “blog” is much more a website / web page than a “blog”. However, I do not see much dialogue in there.

Wilfred: I am claiming that we should understand for what blogs are good for (and also for what they are not good for) in education. We already know for what kind of teaching and learning videos and beamers are good for. Non of these technologies are very good for teaching football, neither for knowledge building. To teach football you, first at all, need a ball. Right?

“Contribute to knowledge building from personal space” is a bit like saying that someone is “contributing to the world peace from their own territory”. With missiles? I am shooting you now from our Flosse Posse space and you may shoot me then in your own blog. icon smile Blogs, Wikis and knowledge building   some clarifications and comments

I fully agree with your third point. If you check my post again I actually wrote: “blogs and wikis are not (very) good tools for knowledge building, progressive inquiry learning or other sophisticated social constructivist learning methods and models.” This doesn’t mean that blogs wouldn’t be useful for some other kind of teaching and learning, just like videos and beamers are good for some things in teaching and learning process. As a handyman you know that you need different tools for different tasks: hammer for making a joint with nails and screwdriver for doing it with screws. So, you need a toolbox with many tools. If you are then asked to make join with nails and you only have a screwdriver in your toolbox, whom do you blame? Not the screwdriver but the one that is providing you with a toolbox without a hammer (after you have tried to do the hammering with the screwdriver). Right?

Gary Knight: I agree threaded discussion boards and listservs are good tools, but could there be even better tools for dialogue? Something that is scaffolding participants to inquiry process, are offering tools to raise new topics for further dialogue, helping participants to pull different threads together, etc.? If you ask me, Moodle forum is probably the best tool for learning discussions, but still it is just a threaded discussion board. I want more!

Chris Harvey: I didn’t claim that Wikipedia is not about conversation. It is. But the conversation is focusing on a very specific task: the aim is to create an encyclopedia, to write encyclopedia articles. The clear vision, focus and the policies based on these are the reasons why Wikipedia is so great. Wikipedia is a not a space for inquiry or original research. Still students (or anyone) are free to discuss about the articles in the talk page and contribute in them.

Konrad: Interesting discussion you are having there. Thank you for sharing this. I actually think that with blogs (inter-linked together) you may get much stronger sense of community than in CSILE or some other closed online community. The fact that you are in a public space (Internet) with your “group” (sorry for calling it group icon smile Blogs, Wikis and knowledge building   some clarifications and comments , makes the feeling of belonging much stronger.

Like Konrad, I do not claim that blogging doesn’t support learning. We just must understand for what it is good for and use it for that. I am sure Konrad’s PhD thesis will explain this for us.

All I am asking for is that if we have different methods of teaching and learning, we should have different kind of tools. And at the moment we are still missing a good tool for knowledge building.

Beyond blogs and wikis: I want better tools for dialogical teaching, learning and research

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

I have claimed in several occasions that blogs and wikis are not (very) good tools for knowledge building, progressive inquiry learning or other sophisticated social constructivist learning methods and models.

Blogs and wikis are not (very) good tools for knowledge building because they are not designed for that. Using blogs and wikis for knowledge building is a bit like hammering a nail with a screwdriver. You can do it, but it can be very painful.

I noticed this again when trying to follow and participate in the idea exchange in the blogosphere on the Wikiversity and Wikieducator. There was a potentiality and a real need for “knowledge building”. Part of the discussion took place on this blog. The discussion was started by Leigh Blackall. At the moment it is going on in many different locations (can’t collect all the links in here, sorry). For me the discussions simply died because there wasn’t anyway to get it from the blog posts and comments to another level. Even following the comments and point of views end-up to be impossible.

Blogs are personal spaces. For knowledge building you need shared spaces. Blogs are always owned and authored by someone. For knowledge building you need common spaces. Blogs are individual tools. For knowledge building you need collaborative (group) tools.

You may have “group blogs”, make agreement on tags used and aggregate all the posts related to some topic in one place. Still this hardly even happens. Blog technology is only part of the problem. The major problem is the culture of blogging. Blogs are tools for individualism, where “Me myself and I” are the most important things. Social software? – My ….

What about wikis? Wikis are shared and common spaces. They are obviously collaborative tools. The challenge with wikis is the poor support they have for constructive discourse and dialogue. The wiki talk page and threaded discussion forums are as good for knowledge building as any other online forums. Again they are fine for exchanging ideas but do not scaffold participants to have knowledge building.

Also the culture of use of wikis is different than in a knowledge building. With wiki you are building hypermedia, collection of web pages. The focus is primary on the specific artifact(s) you are constructing not in the discussion. In it’s best knowledge building also produces some kind of “crystallization” of the work. In science it is in most cases a study report or an article. In art and design it can be a prototype, mock-up or a product.

In a knowledge building group or community you try to define problems, hypothesis, evidence and conclusions, similar way as in a scientific research process. To do this online you need people who are able to scaffold themselves and each other. A good teacher is able to do this, but could software help people (teachers and students) to do this?

Can the new version (Fle3+2.0) of Fle3 do this? I don’t know, but it is our hypothesis.

Learning and voting

Tuesday, March 13th, 2007

Have you ever seen an online learning system where participants are asked to give votes? In many cases there are votes or rates given for learning content. In an extreme example students are asked to give votes on the best discussion notes posted to some online learning environment.

There has been discussion on having rating system for the learning resources posted to the LeMill community (LeMill is a web community for finding, authoring and sharing learning resources). People say that this will make it easier to find quality learning content from the site.

I have a problem with voting and rating – especially in the case of learning. I think in most cases voting is far too simple way to make decisions on quality (or almost on anything).

We easily think that voting equals to democracy. Is it really that simple? No, I don’t think so. In a good democratic process there is at first discussion and debate on the issues. If there is a need for making decisions on the issues people are free to make proposals from the points presented in the discussion. If there are several competing proposals, we may vote on them. Still, voting should be the ultimate mean to reach the decision. If we may reach consensus we should never vote.

I have a theory why voting and rating is so popular in many online environments. The reason is that programmers are lazy. They want to have easy to implement solutions, and computers just are very good in calculating (or should we say in computing). Programming rating and voting systems are easy to do.

Design of good (and democratic) software for discourse, discussion and debate is much more challenging task. The best computer tools for this are still very primitive: threaded online forums, blogs and wikis.

To enhance (democratic) rational and scientific discussion we need software that makes is easy to present arguments and come-up with conclusions. In a case of science and learning we shouldn’t be afraid if people do not agree. There isn’t need for consensus. Different paradigms living same time should be accepted, but presented openly so that they can be challenged at any point. This is our aim with the Fle3 learning environment (and there will be a new version, soon!) In many other areas of life – organizations, politics, business – you must make decisions. Even in these cases you should vote only if you can’t reach consensus in a discussion. In business the decisions are of course made by those with the right and the responsibility to make decisions.

What about finding quality learning resources? How this should be implemented if not with rating? I would try to develop tools for people to talk about the resources and by helping them to find quality content based on the authors (resources made by X are always good). Especially in a multi-cultural and multi-lingual environment – such as LeMill – this seems to be the only “democratic” way to value content.

Anyway, I am going to vote next Sunday. We are having parliament election. Voting in a representative democracy is another story. I am happy that we have many good candidates. From the online candidate video’s I like the best this one (actually, he is pretty good candidate, too).