Archive for November, 2007 – the best municipal “edu portal” in Finland

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

I made today a very short online tour to some of the education portals provided by the Finnish municipalities. I didn’t check them all. Actually there are more than 400 municipalities in Finland, running thousands of schools and educational institutions with hundreds of thousands of teachers and students.

I didn’t look for school web sites, but the web sites about education provided by the municipalities.

Most of the municipalities do not have “educational portals” (“a web portal is a site that functions as a point of access to information on the World Wide Web” – from Wikipedia). I didn’t find a single “personal portal” provided by the municipalities for their employee or citizen (“a personal portal is a site on the World Wide Web that typically provides personalized capabilities to its visitors” – from Wikipedia).

It looks that the municipalities do not really – at least in public (they may have some Intranet-services) – provide any web access points for their teachers or students.

What did I found?

I found web sites where the municipalities are presenting their educational administration and educational offering. These sites are primary targeted for the officers and bureaucrat of the municipality, and secondary for citizens (parents). They are providing very little help for teachers and students working and studying in the schools.

However, I found one good site that is primary targeted for teachers and their students, but it is also useful for parents and anyone interested in education in that municipality. It is the by the City of Vantaa.(*

The is basically a blog powered by b2 evolution.

The main blog in the main page have the official news for the schools. As the platform is a multi-user blog service, I assume also teachers (and students) may have their own blogs in the server.

In the side bar there are links to Tools (työkalut): teacher’s home directors (file service), web mail, student administration and course registration system and to five online collaboration / learning management systems: Fronter, Dicole Mimerdesk, Fle3, Moodle, and Dokeos.

After the tools section there are two more sections of links: Intranet-services: open positions/jobs, booking audio visual equipments, and Intranet news; and Basic Information: Schools in Vantaa, holidays, school meal menus etc. This information is presented in the general site of the City.

Below some points why I think is a good municipal edu portal.

  • The news is a blog – you can follow the news with a RSS reader and syndicate them e.g. in your own school web site or in your “personal home page”.
  • Teachers and students will find the online learning tools from a single address: The site can be made also the home page of the browsers in the schools.
  • The tools offered are diverse: one teacher is maybe happy to use Moodle in her courses when some other teacher wants to use Fle3 (designed for progressive inquiry and knowledge building) or just a blog or wiki ( great tools for guiding your students online.
  • When all the tools are made visible in the site, teachers may get to know them just by themselves. It opens up them to ask: What are these? How they work? How can I use them in my own work? Why the city is offering these tools for my students and me?
  • The web site communicates for teachers, students, parents and the general public that the City is interested in to advance and develop online services for its schools. It does it much better than any committee report in the generic web site.

Even that the “Not Invented Here” syndrome is a national disease in Finland I hope other municipalities will look for and learn from them. If not in Finland, at least abroad.

*) I do not have any interests to showcase Vantaa. I went to school in Tampere and live in Helsinki. To be honest for me Vantaa has been “the airport town” (sorry about this). Today it is a bit more for me – almost a “dynamic education town”, thanks for the icon smile – the best municipal “edu portal” in Finland

Wikimedia is changing the world?

Monday, November 26th, 2007

You all must have seen in the top of the Wikipedia pages the red link saying: “donate now”, and the tag line “You can help Wikipedia change the world!”

As a critical person you are probably thinking: “hmm… these people are not too humble” or “do they seriously think that they are changing the world?”

I think Wikipedia and the Wikimedia project are changing the world – slowely, to the right direction. They are “making the Internet not suck”. This is very important when more and more people are joining the Internet. All the new people online should find free havens from the Web. Wikipedia is a free haven – a site that is community driven, community governed and community own. It provides a powerful platform and a method for people to build their own capacity – to build their own knowledge infrastructure.

Wikipedia is now going places where people are getting online: China, India, South America and Africa. It gives tools for people to document their cultural knowledge in their own languages. This way it will also preserve small minority languages and cultures. This is very important, as we know that a lot of knowledge and wisdom will die with the languages.

Here are two videos related to Wikimedia in Africa.

The first one is about a project I have been working with partners in South Africa. It is a platform called MobilED. With the MobilED you can use Wikipedia or some other wiki-site with your simple mobile phone (text-voice).

The second one is also from South Africa. The iCommons and the Wikimedia foundation are organazing Wikipedia Academy events in collaboration with Universities. The main purpose is to show how people can start encyclopaedias (and other wiki-sites) in African languages.

So, if you’ll find all this interesting and important, you may donate. If you need more reasons for giving, please read the Why Give to Wikimedia? – The Wikimedia Foundation Fundraiser Blog.

Globalization, ICT and education

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

Last week I was giving a talk in the SOMECE’s (Sociedad Mexicana de Computación en la Educación) annual conference in Mexico. The short trip was worth of doing: many interesting projects and many clever and good people. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to go around in there. Must go back.

There was not much time for questions and answers after my talk. Because of this I want to get back to one of them in here. I got it written on a paper. I will copy the question in here.

Finland may have shaped some of the best practices on ICT applied on education & learning environments. However, although globalization and media are destroying cultural & ideological basses, considering the difference of cultural, economical, ideological & technology development. How do you suggest that México and other Latin-American countries could apply and use the research, knowledge & the best practices?

In the session I did answer something. I said that I am also worried about globalization and the effect it may have to different cultures. I also explained that in Finland, with language of only 5 million speakers, we are very concern about the challenges related to globalization. I continued that, still, in Finland we seems to be very practical. We take from the “global offering” – culture, ideology, technology and economy – those things that will fit for us. Things that will serves our needs and effort of keeping Finnish language, culture and people alive.

I still stand behind this answer, but I want to add in it something more.

First of all, I think ICT in Finnish schools do not play very important role, at all. Maybe this – not giving ICT a central role – is the paradoxical best practice of using ICT in Finnish schools. However, we do pay a lot of attention to “learning environments” – in a broad sense.

In Finnish we have the proverb(* that says that something can be a good servant but not a good master (hyvä renki, huono isäntä). For instance, you can say that “fire is a good servant but a bad master”. Most educators in Finland see ICT as a servant that should serve the main task: helping students to learn. ICT is a tool – no more, no less.

However, it is true that the Finnish educational system is ranked in the OECD’s PISA studies as one of the best in the world. So, if ICT usage in schools is not the factor that makes the Finnish educational system successful what are the factors?

Three things. Taking good care of: (1) teachers, (2) pupils, and (3) the system as a whole.

Let me explain these.

(1) Teachers’ wellbeing comes from the quality teacher training, decent salaries, respect of the profession in the society, possibility to professional development, and wellbeing of their pupils.

(2) Pupils’ wellbeing is made out of basic health care, free and healthy school meals, small classes, teacher’s child-centered approach, and wellbeing of their teachers.

(3) The whole system is doing well when it is supporting continuous pedagogical and organizations development, open for criticism, willing to look for solutions to the challenges recognized, and have wellbeing actors (teachers and pupils).

Conclusion: You may have a world-class educational system without a single computer or ICT tool in it. Computers do not take care of teachers, pupils or the system as a whole. It is not a right solution to the problem.

Still, there are many reasons to use ICT in the educational system.

(3) In different levels (national, local, school) computers are great tools for collecting and analyzing data about the wellbeing of teachers, pupils and the whole system. Are teachers paid enough? How many pupils are there in every classroom? etc. To work with this data, computers and networks help a lot.

(2) Among teachers ICT can be used for teacher training, professional development, and to build teachers-to-teachers, teachers-to-parents, teachers-to-authorities connections and networks. All these will increase the wellbeing of the teachers. This kind of networking is possible if the basic ICT infrastructure is in place (Internet connection in teacher’s room at school or in their homes) and teachers are given the possibility – they are encourage and supported – to use the tools.

(1) Among pupils ICT can be used for giving them a voice, to help them to document their learning process for reflection, and to build pupils-to-pupils, pupils-teachers, pupils-to-parents, pupils-to-authorities connections and networks. All this is part of the child-centered approach and will increase the wellbeing of the pupils. This kind of ICT usage is also easy to arrange if there is easy to access Internet infrastucture for pupils all the time and they are encourage to use it for these purposes.

Simple. Easy. Fast – Not.

*) I am not sure if this proverb is originally Finnish. Probably not. Anyway, as it is commonly used in Finland it has become one kind of “cultural property” – howerver, in commons. A good example of positive globalization. icon smile Globalization, ICT and education