Archive for March, 2008

From social to socialist media

Friday, March 21st, 2008

The title is a chapter in a new book by Juha Suoranta & Tere Vadén. Here is an introdcution of the book from the blog of the book, where you can also download the full book:

WIKIWORLD – Political Economy and the Promise of Participatory Media

In the digital world of learning there is a progressive transformation from the institutionalized and individualized forms of learning to open learning and collaboration. The book provides a critical view on the use of new technologies and learning practices in furthering socially just futures, while at the same time paying critical attention to the constants, or “unmoved movers” of the information society development; the West and Capitalism. The essential issue in the Wikiworld is one of freedom – levels and kinds of freedom. Our message is clear: we write for the radical openness of education for all.

Now for about two days I have been reading, browsing and making searches to the book. The book offers a valuable historical and political framework to approach and think about the future of learning, education and media. The book has two faces. It is philosophical, humanistic and educational scholarly work but also an advocacy. This is the books strength but also its weakness.

I especially like the scholarly parts. They are enlightening many great ideas from earlier works to the discussion about media and education in the digital era. I do not have anything against advocacy, either, but I do not agree with everything the authors have to say. A real problem of advocacy can be, that in the eyes of many people the actual argument will loose its credibility. I also think that this is not only a rhetorical thing as the argument “we should make the world more faire place” (not a quotation from the book) is easy to do without getting pompous.

For instance, the discussion about “socialist media” is for me a bit confusing part. I can’t help to think – and I am afraid this is the way how most people will interpret it – that in practice it would mean that “media services” would primary be provided by some state monopoly. I don’t think that the problems related to this are solved, even if the “socialist media” is just a platform for people to do media. I understand the idea of considering free media more an infrastructure than for-profit business, but I also see that sometimes independent organizations are much more efficient to build and provide infrastructure than any governments. In a global scale a good example is to compare what the Wikimedia community – with the non-governmental, non-profit organization (Wikimedia Foundation) supporting the community – is able to do when compared to, let say international governmental organizations with the same vision. One of the Wikimedia’s good practices is to work hard to avoid overhead and focus on the actual task. For some reason this is very difficult for many governmental organizations. I don’t know why, but it seems to be the case especially in large governmental organizations.

I believe much more on a model where people simply take an ownership to provide services to meet their and their peers’ needs. This results as cooperatives and small businesses, which may then even become big businesses. I guess in Finnish one could say that I am “osuuskauppaväkeä”. icon smile From social to socialist media Monopolies are bad, whatever by corporations or states. Ok – enough – now this all starts to be more politics than what is the idea of this blog.

Another issue, which I found a bit disturbing in the book, is the simplified presentation of the world as divided to “South” and “North”. It is not that simple. Actually this is a myth which anybody may observer not to be true everywhere in the world (in South and North). This is the case especially in place with high density of population, like in large cities. The “South” and “North” is present everywhere, though more visible in some places than others.

For instance back in Finland, from foreign visitors I often hear the questions how come there are so many homeless people in the neighborhood I live in the center of Helsinki. Their image of the (socialist) Finland (scandinavia, nordic countries) has often been very different. My simple answer to the question is that we have failed, and unfortunately do not even try very hard anymore. The issue is simply not very high in the political agenda. On the other-hand I think my neighborhood is a great place to raise your children – exactly because of the homeless people. The facts of the world are visible. Also my daughter still wants to be a medical doctor even if visiting the local health care center can sometime be a smelly and a bit unpleasant experience. I hope that she will not fail to repeat the myths the Swedish medical students believed to be true. If you want to know more about this, please check the great talk by Hans Rosling: Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you’ve ever seen.

Finally, I hope – actually I am not afraid at all that this would not be the case – that all the wiki editors and users, for whom the book is dedicated, will keep things simple and focus on to do what they want to do:

Write the world largest and best encyclopedia in all the languages of the world (Wikipedia), create the world best dictionary in all the languages of the world (Wikitionary), provide alternative news service (Wikinews), free study and text books (Wikibooks), free media flies (Wikimedia Commons), directory of the world species (Wikispecies) and alterative opportunities for people to study (Wikiversity) and so on ,and so on (all the Wikia and other wiki sites in the world). These all are just right steps to the more fair world: “Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”

Is this then “socialist media”? – I don’t really care.

Our message is clear: we write for the radical openness of education for all.

Read the book!

Hole in the wall, i.e. self-organising systems in primary education. Audio from Dr. Mitra

Monday, March 17th, 2008

I remember around 2000 when I first read about the “hole in the wall” experiments in India. These were experiments with unprivileged children, usually from slums or small villages, who were given a possibility and access to a computer and the Internet. What made a real difference with these experiments was that there was no instruction planned nor supervision by adults or experts.

What happened next was that children, usually from 8 to 13-years-old, would gather around these “holes in the wall” and start exploring the computer and the Internet. During the first experiment, Dr. Mitra who ran this research, explained that within the 8 min from installing the computer, a 13-year-old boy who first discovered the “hole”, was surfing on the Web.

By the end of that night, he had called 70 of his friends who were all learning from one another on how to surf the Web for the first time in their lives. This was “the Shivpuri experiment”. In another experiment (Madantusi experiment) in a small village, where Dr. Mirta had installed a “hole in the wall” computer, when he came back after 3 months, the kids asked him for a better mouse and a faster processor. This was rather unexpected, as the village was so poor and remote that they did not even have an English teacher. However, by familiarising themselves with the computer and Internet, the research team evaluated that the group of kids had acquired an average vocabulary of 400 English words, that they spoke in an American accent learned from the games and other material that was pre-installed on the computer.

Dr. Sugata Mitra ran 23 variations of these experiments all over India to find the same thing: children would self-organise themselves around a computer to teach one another how to browse the Internet, explore games that were installed on these computers, teach themselves new languages and even in one of the experiments, teach themselves biotechnology.

Sugata Mitra’s message for a hall full of about 400 European teachers was “if you let them and if they want to” kids can learn anything. The key is in arranging that kind of an environment. Computers, for example, should be given to groups of kids, not for individuals, as learning mostly takes place through the communication in the group. Computers should also be placed in public areas, as kids would right from the beginning get suspicious if they had to learn in a school environment. Also, Sugata Mitra’s team had observed that kids older than 13 would act differently in a self-organised learning situation; they would ask who was the teachers and what was the schedule, etc., as they already were so used to being instructed.

Dr. Mitra received an awesome ovation from eTwinning teachers, who so well knew what he was talking about, but who too often would forget his message. I’m glad to share this audio recording from the keynote speech given by Sugata Mitra in an eTwinning event in Bucharest, Romania, on March 14. Enjoy it!

Audio (about 30 Mb in mp3)

I might also get the slides later, will put the link in here too.

eTwinning event blog



Wikipedia entry about Dr. Mitra:

Wikiversity course: Composing free and open online educational resources

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

WikiFavWikiVersity1 Wikiversity course: Composing free and open online educational resources We started today on Wikiversity an experimental course with an online class. The topic of the course is “Composing free and open online educational resources”.

The course is targeted for teachers and teacher-students who do not have prior knowledge or skills related to free and open education resources.

More than 70 people registered to the course. The program will take nine weeks and there are weekly readings and assignments. To accomplish the assignments participants are asked to write blog posts every week.

All the readings, program and the assignments are is in the Wikiversity. Since November 19th the course program has been under construction making it possible for anyone to add in it topics, materials and assignments for the class. There are still some open spots in the program.

With Hans – my co-facilitator – we are trying to make this a social constructivist learning experience for all – including us. Important issue in a learning, that is aiming to build something new with other people, is to define what are the shared, boundary objects of the community. I have written about this in several earlier posts on this blog. Probably the best one about this topic is the post:

Different forms of collaboration in learning

We have objectives in the course. To summarize them (you can check the whole list from the Wikiversity page), the objective is to get familiar with the idea of co-creation of learning resources and several concepts closely related to the phenomena. To do this we have assignments with reading and writing about the topics and some hands-on working with learning resources. To “get familiar” with something is of course very open and hard to measure objective. The participants, however, may do self-evaluation: if they feel they understand what is the OER about they made it. They know when they are there.

Why I call this course experimental? I simply want to try out how a “real” course and study work on Wikiversity could be. With this course I am searching for the right form. For me this is a prototyping experience.

All ready now I have some feature ideas for the Wikiversity. For instance, a simple aggregator of blog posts would be super. Now we are using a Jaiku channel for the purpose. Jaiku is cool and we can, for instance, have this kind of badges showing all the posts of all the participants.

To get the feeds in the Jaiku, however, I got to copy paste about 70 URL’s. I think computers are (should be) good at automating this kind of tasks. Someone should write a bot that is able to visit the Wikiversity course’s participants page, find URLs with blog feeds and create a page that is displaying the feeds.

I am sure that when the course will go on, we will come-up with similar kind of “would be nice to have” things. So, I consider the Wikiversity itself to be another shared object of the course.