Archive for December, 2007

Networked learning in a networked world

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

Last year I took part in The Future of Learning In A Networked World (FLNW 2006) conference. It was really outstanding event.

Since then I have been in touch with almost all the participants. This is not common with conferences. In most of the cases you go there, talk your talk, have dinner with some people and never contact them or hear about them again. After going to the same conference for five years you start the conversation with the other people: “I think we have met somewhere before, could it be last year in this conference”. The FLNW 2006 was very different and it looks that it will be very different this year, too.

flnw2 wiki header Networked learning in a networked world

The The Future of Learning In A Networked World 2008 conference is a social inclusion experiment. There is a group of people who will gather together in Thailand (I am not, I am in Bogota), but most of the events will take place online. Everybody is welcome. The participants will come from all the continents to discuss about whatever theme related to the future of learning in a networked world. Everybody is free to propose a theme.

While Skype-chating with Alex Hayes – one of the main organizers of the FLNW 2008 – I decided what I want to talk. I want to talk about “networked learning”, “informal learning”, “non-formal learning”, “networks” and “groups”.

Networked learning is a term widely used in online discussion about teaching and learning. According to Wikipedia article, as it is in December 19, “networked learning” “is a personal process of developing and maintaining connections with people and information via the Internet” (Networked learning. 2007, September 26. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 02:53, December 19, 2007)

Considering networked learning mainly as learning taking place on internet is very limiting. It may also lead us not to see the real potential and character of “networks” in learning. If we’ll see networks as a more general term, it may also enrich our understanding of the term “networked learning”.</

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines “network” at first as a technical infrastructure: “fabric or structure of cords or wires”, “a system of lines or channels resembling a network” and “a group of radio or television stations”. The last definition of a network is related to people: “a usually informally interconnected group or association of persons (as friends or professional colleagues)”.

When talking about learning we should, first of all, pay attention to people, their social networks and groups they are involved in and working with.

We learn all the time: when awake and when sleeping. Informal learning means learning that is taking place in every day life situation when we are interacting with the outside world or with our own inside world. Most of the learning is informal and purely accidental and random.

In a human brain there are about 100.000.000.000 neurons with about 100.000.000.000.000 connections. New connections are made all the time and old are called off. Human brain is very plastic and in a continuous change. Our informal learning experiences are shaping our brains.

Can we “fight” against the power or “informal learning”? We can. and people always have been fighting against it. The guidance of “informal learning” takes place in a socialization process where earlier generations are transforming for younger generations their culture and how to live within it. In a “cultural informal learning” we learn language and symbols mediating our interaction, the norms, attitudes, values, motives and social roles.

The cultural informal learning does not stop to the youth. It continues when we meet and integrate with new cultures and sub-cultures. At some point of our life we may be more connected to the criminal sub-culture and later to the culture of internet dilettantes. We are plastic.

Networked learning can also be non-formal. Non-formal means that it is informal but with objectives. If a group of criminals are organizing a discussion group in a bar to share ideas about latest burglary techniques they are having a non-formal learning session. It is informal but with an objective. When internet dilettantes are getting together in Thailand and online to talk about networked learning it is organized because they have recognized a need to have non-formal learning experience about the topic.

These events are build out from networks but organized in form of groups. This brings light to the differences between networks and groups. Networks are “usually informally interconnected group or association of persons” whereas “group” is “a number of individuals assembled together or having some unifying relationship”. The assembling together and unifying relationship comes from the shared objectives.

So, what is “networked learning”? Is it informal, non-formal, network or group learning?

I would like to see that “networked learning” is considered as non-formal or formal learning taking place in a non-hierarchical groups that are constructed from the participants’ social networks.

Hidden curriculum of teacher training in LeMill

Monday, December 10th, 2007

Last week in Brussels, while giving a talk about free/libre/open source educational resources and LeMill, I realised that the role these initiative play in a teacher training have not been discussed that much. So, I’ll try to do it here now.

LeMill is a teacher community. Jukka, one of the LeMill developers, just said some days ago that LeMill is a Facebook for teachers. This is partly true.

We are not trying to “replicate” Facebook – but there are similarities. In LeMill teachers can keep in touch and find other teachers who are interested in same topics they are interested in. Teachers can create groups and start projects. However, in the case of LeMill there is very clear reason why teachers are gathering together in LeMill. Teachers are in LeMill to create open and free educational resources – together.

Why the collaboration around learning resources is important for teachers?

To be honest, we havea “hidden curriculum” in LeMill.

We want to develop teacher’s competences. The hidden curriculum is closely related to our pedagogical thinking, that emphasises social constructivism.

The point of providing LeMill for teachers – and promoting collaborative creation of open education resources on it – is that it will show how powerful learning experience collaborative learning can be. This will have an effect on teachers teaching practice in their classrooms. We hope that while working in LeMill teachers will see the benefits of collaborative learning and co-creation of knowledge artefacts and because of this they will implement similar kind of practices with their pupils, too.

We believe that the final benefiter of LeMill are the pupils of LeMill teachers. Actually, who else could it be?

To make it simple, the teachers who are active in LeMill are and will be good teachers. They are active teachers; interested in the topics they are teaching, they see the value of collaborative learning, and finally are able to support their pupils to have the same qualities.

I was thinking if I would be a pupil in school today … well maybe I’ll try to present this as an imaginary dialogue between my schoolteacher, Ms. Virtanen and me.

I will play here the role of 12-year-old pupil having a chat with a great imaginary teacher, Ms Virtanen (I use to have some good teachers):

Teemu (12 year-old pupil in a Grade 6): Ms Virtanen, have you heard about LeMill.net?

Ms Virtanen: No Teemu, please tell me about it?

Teemu: Hmm… well …I am not exactly sure what it is, but I think it’s a bit like Wikipedia – the encyclopaedia online. Do you know Wikipedia?

Ms Virtanen: Of course I know Wikipedia. Thank you for reminding me about it. I must talk with all of you about it and especially how to use it in your study work.

Teemu: Cool. I really like Wikipedia.

Ms Virtanen: Yes – but Teemu, when using it one must be very critical and check the original references, too. I will talk about this with the whole class next week. But, didn’t you talk about something else… how was it called?

Teemu: LeMill.net. Yes – I just found from this LeMill site very good exercises for studying Swedish. They have audio clips I was listening, and then there was a questioner to check if I understood everything in the audio. The audio clip was an interview of one mangaka. I think the interview was made by the Swedish radio. It was very interesting.

Ms Virtanen: Teemu, may I ask you what is a “mangaka”?

Teemu: Mangaka? Sorry, mangaka is a manga artist. Mangas are these Japanese comic books.

Ms Virtanen: Right, thank you, Teemu. Could you borrow me some mangas? I would love to know more about them.

Teemu: Yes- I have one in my bag… I may put it on your desk.

Ms Virtanen: Thank you, but hey, we keep on getting on a sidetracks with the conversation. You were telling me about this website, LeMill, right?

Teemu: Yes, so I was using some materials I found from LeMill – just for fun. But I also used another material from LeMill as a reference when we were doing the project on wetlands last month. I hope I did add references to the project report I gave you last week – Did I?

Ms Virtanen: Yes you did. And I actually checked the page you were pointing to, but didn’t have a closer look of the site – was the site called LeMill?

Teemu: Yes – that was the site.

Ms Virtanen: Right. I also checked that the wetland content you where using in your project report was made by one teacher in another school – so the reference was just fine, no problem.

Teemu: Huh – Thank you. icon smile Hidden curriculum of teacher training in LeMill

Ms Virtanen: Thank you Teemu for telling me about LeMill. I will have a look of it. Maybe in future we can all use the content found from there.

Teemu: Cool. I think I am very lucky to have a teacher who knows about all these Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, blogs, LeMill and other things.

Ms Virtanen: Teemu, actually I do not know about them too much, but I am willing to learn. icon smile Hidden curriculum of teacher training in LeMill

Teemu: Yes, I think that LeMill is a kind of teacher community where teachers are talking about teaching and things like that.

Ms Virtanen: Really? That sounds really interesting. I am a member of Facebook. I have there some old friends from the teacher college, but to be honest, we do not talk very much about our work – we just keep on poking each other.

Teemu: Poking is fun.

Ms Virtanen: It is, but thank you for the LeMill hint. It sounds like an interesting site. I will call all my old friends from the teacher college to join it. Maybe we can work out something in there.

Teemu: Maybe I will join your group. icon smile Hidden curriculum of teacher training in LeMill I may also tell all your teacher friends what kind of teacher you are.

Ms Virtanen: Please, do – I am sure you are responsible and will tell everybody how great teacher I am. icon smile Hidden curriculum of teacher training in LeMill

Teemu: …but you really are…

Ms Virtanen: Thank you, Teemu. Hey, by the way, could you help a bit Konsta who seems to have some challenges with the chemistry project he is working on?

Teemu: ok hmm.. I guess I must to?

Ms Virtanen: Yes you must. Anyway it was nice to chat with you, Teemu.

See you again in Skype another day.

I asked my 12-year-old nephew to read this and asked him what he thinks about it. He said that it sound like something he could talk with his teacher. Then he was saying: “so the idea is that you as a student are presenting this site, LeMill, for your teacher because it is so great site. Right?” Yes. He promised to have a look of the site and tell his teachers if it is good. So it goes.

EMINENT conference blog

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

I am not able to do conference blogging. I am a slow thinker and a slow writer. However, I highly appreciate when people are documenting and making public notes from conferences in their blogs.

Flosse Posse Fellow, Riina is reporting the EMINENT – European Schoolnet annual networking conference almost in real time in the conference’s blog. The blog is here:

http://blog.eun.org/eminent/

What is EMINENT? From the EMINENT site:

“This year’s EMINENT (Experts’ Meeting in Education Networking) takes place in Brussels, Belgium, on 6-7 December (from 8:30 Thursday to 17:00 Friday). It is the 7th EMINENT conference and this year the theme is ‘political priorities for education and the role of technology’, a topic at the heart of what European Schoolnet is about: the European network for and about schools.”

“EMINENT is unique opportunity to meet, make new contacts and discuss common Information and Communication Technology (ICT) initiatives that foster the development of education in Europe.”

So, if you are interested in to know what is going on in Europe in the filed of ICT in education in schools, take a look of Riina’s notes.

CC-By-SA is THE license of the free/libre/open educational resources

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

Creative Commons, Free Software Foundation and Wikimedia Foundation are working on to make the FSF’s GFDL and CC’s CC-By-SA compatible. This will mean that in future all the Wikimedia content (Wikipedia, Wikibooks, Wikimedia Commons, etc.), that are licensed under GFLD can be remixed with content using CC-By-SA. The Wikimedia Foundation’s Board made a resolution about this some days ago.

Because the volume of Wikimedia content is so huge – tens of millions of article and millions of media files – we may already assume that;

the most common license used with free/libre/open educational resources will be the CC-By-SA.

This is absolutely great news!

In LeMill we use the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license. We have good reasons for this. These are:

  • The license is human readable and internationally the most well known free/libre/open license among educators.
  • It supports remixing and massive public collaborations.
  • It offers a minimum protection for authors against possible rip-off of their content.

The issue of having or not the “share-alike” and the “non-commercial” restrictions in the free/libre/open education resources has been widely discussed online in different forums (See eg. David Wiley’s post about the topic and the comments following it.)

I believe that the Share-alike virus is protecting the author and the future authors (remixing) against possible rip-offs (see the reason 3). With the share-alike restriction the message is simple: you play according the rules of free/libre/open resources or you’ll drop the author an email and make her a business offer.

The fact that there isn’t restriction against commercial use will make the content more movable. It makes it possible to use the content in other web sites with different kind of “business models”. It also gives people the chance to make CD’s, DVD’s and other media out of the content and charge reasonable price to cover their working hours, reproduction and material costs. Without the non-commercial restriction teachers are also free to use the content without thinking is the fact that they are paid salary a commercial use.

In the LeMill community we are already waiting for the GFLD and CC-By-SA compatibility. For instance it will open the Wikimedia commons database of more than 2.2 million media files for the authors of LeMill content. Because the free havens of free/libre/open content are now becoming compatible and growing fast, maybe we should reconsider do we need “media file” hosting in LeMill at all?

This would be a logical move. Especially if we reflect all this to the core ideas behind LeMill:

  1. LeMill’s target group is school teachers and school children. The aim is to make authoring of learning resources easy for teachers. Also the resources made in LeMill should be pedagogically compelling and easy to use for children.
  2. LeMill emphasizes collaboration and communities. In LeMill we have many tools for teachers to create groups and start projects to generate content on some topic. This is part of the “hidden curriculum” for teacher training: LeMill should offer teachers the experience of learning by collaboration and co-creation, and this will have an effect on their teaching practice. When teachers are working online together, they will see the benefits of it and will guide their pupils to do the same.
  3. LeMill content is multi-lingual. In LeMill we have tools for teachers to translate content from one language to another. When you see a content in one language you can (the Wikipedia way) check the same content in other languages. This is very important among multi-lingual teachers and pupils
  4. LeMill user interface is multi-lingual. LeMill is designed so that the user interface is easy to translate. We now have 12 languages. Volunteers are providing all the time more user interface translations.

Our job with LeMill is not to be a “media repository” or to replicate something Wikimedia projects are already doing. Our aim is to expand the creation, remixing and use of free/libre/open resources to areas that are not yet using them.

The Cape Town Open Education Declaration and Equality of Education

Tuesday, December 4th, 2007

A group of people have released The Cape Town Open Education Declaration. The hope is that this Declaration will server as rallying point for the development of open educational resources similar way as the Budapest Open Access Initiative did for open access to research literature.

I see the Declaration, first of all, as a statement to improve educational equality in the world – actually, a certain kind of educational equality. So, this means that there are different kinds of “educational equalities”.

According to Swedish academic Torste Husén (1972) there are three different kinds of conceptions of equality of education: conservative, liberal and the new (it was new in Sweden in 1970’s). The Cape Town Open Education Declaration is pretty well driving the “new conception of equality of education”.

I have a table explaining the differences between the three conceptions of equality of educational opportunity.

flosse 3 equality The Cape Town Open Education Declaration and Equality of Education

The conceptions all build on different theories of intelligence; basically the questions is what is the origin of people’s intelligence. When conservatives claim that intelligence is inborn, inherited and unchangeable, people behind the “new conception” see intelligence as a result of cultural interaction and some inheritable capacity. But they also claim that intelligence is so culturally bias that it should not be used as a factor in selection in education. These principles lead to different kind of ideas on what are the bases of educational inequality. According to conservatives they are simply a cause of biological differences in individuals’ intelligence and abilities. When the liberals claim that inequality is a result of cultural deprivation and unfair social opportunities, the “new conception” sees that educational inequality is only one factor in a group of many factors causing inequality, unfair possibilities, poverty, and social problems. The political implications of these three naturally differs a lot from one to another and this way we may also see in them some connections to more general political ideologies.

So, what would the conservative do with learning resources? She, of course, would provide materials only for those who have the inborn ability to study and learn. Giving it for someone else would simply be a waste of resources. University libraries that are open only for faculty and students are a good example of this.

The liberal would claim that everyone should have access only to some limited amount of learning material because it would guarantee that nobody could study more than someone else. Equality of education should be protected by protecting students to study only what is necessary for them. Strict national curriculum is an example of this.

The “new” conception of equality of education emphasises access to education, learning materials, networks and communities where learning may take place. It provides for all educational resources on whatever topic in the world, and leaves the responsibility of making use of them for the people. Public libraries and free/open educational resources are good examples of these.

Equality of education should not mean identical opportunities. Equality of educational opportunities should mean that we give for all optimal opportunities to develop their personal interests. The more opportunities, the better.

Equality does not mean that all people should be treated the same way. Equality of opportunity means that we actually provide equal opportunity for unequal treatment so far as socially relevant differences are concerned. We should recognize the external barriers of the members of the lower social classes and support them to excel the obstacles.

I hope this is what The Cape Town Open Education Declaration is trying to do. I am going to sign it.