Archive for May, 2007

No one ever got fired for buying LMS

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

I finally read the Wisdom of Crowds – Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few by James Surowicki. I picked up from the book the saying “no one ever got fired for buying IBM”. For some reason I have ran into this sentence in several texts lately.

Surowicki is using the saying when writing about “herding” and “imitation” of the many. People seem to end-up to some same decisions because everybody else is taking the same decision.

I have earlier claimed (update 23.12.2008: a link to the to PDF of the article) that the LMS hype was a result of the same phenomena. The thinking was: because, everybody is having Learning Management Systems, we must have one, too. In some time, if you wanted to play safe (and keep your job) you just compared different LMSs and then purchased one.

An interesting point Surowicki is making, is the observation that “groups (I would use the term crowds) are better at deciding between possible solutions to problems than they are at coming up with them”. So, crowds are not good at defining problems or even to invent possible solutions. Crowds are good at choosing from a selection of predefined solutions.

So, what went wrong with the LMS? Maybe there were not many solutions available, and obviously the problem was not well defined. Crowds where choosing from a few available solutions (each of them about the same) without even knowing what was the problem they were suppose to solve. Lemmings?

In the Finnish speaking crowd, people seems to have take in use the term “swarm intelligence” (parviäly) when they talk about the ideas Surowicki is also talking about. Words makes a difference. Actually to use the Finnish term “wisdom” (viisaus) next to the word “crowds” would be silly – something young children may do. In school you learn that “swarm” (parvi) is the group of birds leaving in autumn and coming back in spring. You learn that they are note “wise”, but still able to find they way.

You also learn that wisdom is something you may gain with time. Old people, like Väinämöinen, can be wise. Lemminkäinen and Joukahainen are not wise, neither Aino, Vellamo or even Louhi. They are not wise, but they all (maybe not Louhi) may become a bit more like Väinämöinen, one day.

Back to the topic: Now we know that crowds are not good at setting problems. How could we teach, guide or help people to learn to ask good questions? When there are good questions it is much easier to come-up with good solutions.

To work with real problems and solutions you need close peer-groups. You must feel free and comfortable to ask naïve and hard questions So, from whom to do you ask these questions? With whom do you come up with possible solutions to the problems?

(1) From your mother and father, from your best teachers, your close friends;


(2) from the feeds in your PLE and the blogosphere?

To put it in the fashionable terms of “networks” you basically ask (good) questions from and with the people with whom you have strong links. In his theory of social ties, Granovetters (1973) gives the following factors for strength of a tie: amount of time spent, emotional intensity, intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal service associated with the tie.

By the way, guess from whom did my partner (and I) get the Surowicki’s book as a present two years ago? My father.

Can Social help in finding resources?

Friday, May 11th, 2007

In the field of e-learning we often talk about Communities of Practice (CoP) and networks of users, but do we really leverage on them in practical terms? There are plenty a resource available on the Web, both in terms of digital learning content and human resources (e.g. other learners, experts, tutors) that can be used to facilitate teaching and learning tasks. The remaining challenge is to match the need with what is out there – a potentially overwhelming variety of choices.

Social information retrieval (SIR) refers to a family of techniques that assist users in obtaining information to meet their needs by harnessing the knowledge or experience of other users. Examples of SIR techniques include sharing of queries, collaborative filtering, social network analysis, social navigation, social bookmarking and the use of subjective relevance judgements such as tags, annotations, ratings and evaluations.

If you’ve been busy with thinking of the above mentioned issues, check this workshop out! It’s the first ever workshop on Social Information Retrieval for Technology-Enhanced Learning, the complete call can be found from here:

As we can’t solve all the problems at one go, this workshop focuses on one part of the process, namely on the retrieval of useful resources, either learning resources or human resources. The tag line could be as P.Morville said “We use people to find content. We use content to find people.”

Take that a step further and think of using digital traces to find people, and also leaving digital traces so that you can be found by other people. In this workshop we are interested in both; recommenders and social navigation systems for retrieving resources to enhance learning and teaching.

Feel free to involve yourself, submit a contribution, blog about this, social bookmark the call (tag sirtel07) and talk about this to your pals! Save This Page in your!

Maybe see you in Crete in Spetember!

Conversations on Networking, Education, Communities, and Technology

Thursday, May 10th, 2007

Are you interested in these themes? I bet you are.

A world wide community of practice of teachers and educators are organizing free online conference with the above topic. Take a look of the conference website.

The invited speakers (or keynotes, as they are called) includes:

The dates are: Friday May 18th, Saturday May 19th and Sunday May 20th.

The even is free but you should register yourself by creating an account to the site. In the website(s) everything is a bit chaotic but that is the price of “do it yourself” and voluntarism (something I highly appreciate).

Check the schedule where you will also find what kind of software you will need to join the online sessions. Organizers of each session are using a bit different tools.

Also, have a look of the abstracts of the invited speakers. Interesting stuff. Here is what I am going to talk about:

Beyond blogs and wikis: What about getting together and building some meaning?

When thinking about new technology in teaching and learning we should more often ask the question what is important for most people? According to radical design thinker Victor Papanek, people really need such things as: peace, clear air and water, housing, food, clothing, transport, freedom and equality, dignity, participation of making goals for society and one self, activity with meaning, children and knowledge that the children have everything they really need and will have children of their own. From the Papanek’s list we may consider “activity with meaning” as a synonym of good learning and teaching.

Brazilian educator Paulo Freire made a difference between “banking education” and “problem- posing education”. In the first someone is trying to tell people what they should do and how, when the later one is asking people to define problems in their everyday life and join with other people to solve them. Problem-posing education does not only require dialogue among the people, but teaching of each other, co- investigation and joint responsibility of the process.

According to David Bohn dialogue aims to reach a shared meaning, which is the glue that holds people and societies together.

In my talk I am asking how well so called Web 2.0 and social software are supporting human activity with meaning, problem-posing education and real dialogue. Can we go beyond blogs, wikis, PLE’s and “buddy lists”?

Mobiles, micro content and personal learning environment

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007

In June I am going to the Microlearning conference in Innsbruck. I promised to give a talk with the title “Emerging Microcontent Environments”. First I thought to talk mainly about the MobilED project, but after rethinking the theme of the conference I decided to talk about the following things, too, at least, maybe …

For some months now I have been a bit hooked to Jaiku. It is the first (3G) mobile application I am using almost daily. Jaiku is a service for sharing presence updated with your contacts on your mobile and the Web. With your Jaiku mobile client you post things like what are you thinking, doing, where are you, where you are going, are you busy or not etc. A lot of this data Jaiku is able to grab automatically from your mobile phone. The mobile client then shows you this information about your contacts if they are Jaiku users, too. Furthermore you may add feeds in your Jaiku web page (see my Jaiku web page). I am sure they are working on to provide the feeds also in to the mobile client. All in all Jaiku is simple, elegant, and very attractive.

Another mobile application I am nowadays using a lot is Widsets. It’s a library of (and a service to create) mini-applications (widgets) for your mobile using RSS feeds. The feeds are simply pushing information from the web on your mobile phone. In addition to this there are more complicate “mobile web 2.0 widgets”, which you can create with the Widsets tools. My favorite is the Wikipedia widget. You may search and will get the article nicely rendered and scaled for your mobile phone screen. Can’t wait to get a mobile widgets for other Wikimedia projects: Wiktionary and Wikibooks, at least.

Think about it! You really may have a huge library and your personalized news services (RSS-feeds) right in your pocket. With you, always.

Another nice thing with the Widsets is that it works with WIFI, if you happen to have one in your mobile phone. For Jaiku you must, at least now, use the 3G network. No idea why is this.

Like always I started to think how these mobile web 2.0 applications could and should be used in learning. Most obvious answer is that they are making the “personal learning environment” mobile and real. Maybe they are, but potentially they may offer even more.

Actually I am pretty critical about the concept of PLE. I am critical about it because it doesn’t put in a center community, but emphasizes content. I also do not like the idea of bringing “personal things” to learning. I think meaning making requires groups, communities and societies living in some historical time and space. It asks for social contracts, trust and long-standing commitments. Personal things should be kept personal.

Mobile phones are social tools. Well, they are, first at all phones: you call someone, you talk with someone. This is important from the pont of view what kind of user culture you may build on top of the “phone feature”. With mobile phone in the center there are your friends and family – those people with whom you have strong links. With mobile phone you are, at first, in touch with those who care about your wellbeing. These people are also interested in your learning. They know that if you are doing well in terms of knowledge and skills you will do well in everything else, too. In your mobile phone contact list you have people you share a lot – much more than with the people in your online contacts. If you don’t believe me check your email contact list and your mobile phone contact list and you will see the difference.

How the strong links in mobile systems could be then used in learning?

I don’t know yet. Let’s think about this in Innsbruck.