Archive for April, 2008

Wikimedia – media for all

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

A good media report is such that whatever opinion you hold about the topic, you’ll find the report supporting your point of view. I think the Dutch documentary “The Truth According To Wikipedia” does exactly this.

In the video Ndesanjo Macha makes some excellent remarks being same time amused, cynical, despairing and hopeful. If you are busy – as you probably are – just jump to those parts where he is talking. You may learn something.

In Andrew Keens’ comments – which I have found in most cases rather unsophisticated, both in form and content – there is one point I agree with. A lot of activity online is nowadays extremely egocentric. I think this is partly a result of the online culture moving from the “IRC / newsgroup / discussion board internet” to the “blog internet”. In the blog internet it is always me talking to you – not us having a conversation. The absurdity of this is that same time Mr. Keen is worried that with the new internet people do not anymore follow authorities telling them the truth.

Like always the issue is not that simple. The possibility to write a blog, and this way report about topic you find interesting is important. I think the egocentrism in the blogs is simply representing our egocentric culture. The blogs are just as egocentric as we are.

What it comes to the Wikipedia, I see it much more to be part of the “old old internet”, “IRC / newsgroup / discussion board internet”, the place where you do things together and the common objective is more important than the personalities doing it.

After saying this, here are the slides from my talk in the Helsinki Media Conference about two weeks ago. I was talking right after Andrew Keen’s another rant, where he, for instance, called bloggers and citizen journalists monkeys. This is a great example of the form and content of his talk.

I don’t know why in the slideshare version some pictures are missing and there is just a frame. You may imaging to the frame the Wikipedia ball.

My point, however, in the talk was that among small cultures, like in Finland, free knowledge is extremely important and one of the backbones of peaceful and wellbeing societies. When people have access to media, when they have a voice and they can participate they can learn and change the world they are living in. Lack of media (now in the meaning of a space where we may have a discourse), results as lack of education, results as many things that suck.

Many things in Finland do not suck at all. We do not have a lot of poverty, very little abuse, no civil conflict since 1918, and last time we were in a war more than 50 years ago. We are doing pretty well. These are the good times and the future looks bright.

What we should remember is that what we have today in Finland is all build on one kind of free knowledge and some people’s willingness to “save” Finnish language. The first publishers in Finland were not interested in to make money but to give a voice for the people in their own language. This all took place something like 150 years ago when most of the Finnish people were still living in cabins without chimneys or windows (and now I talk about the transparent thing in a wall, not an operating system). These poor, “simple”, non-educated people were seen as valuable sources of knowledge with their poems, songs, traditions and wisdom. All this is still the foundation of the Finnish culture, art and science.

For instance, many people – especially in the English-speaking world – find it strange that in Finland we publish scientific journals in Finnish (with the population of 5 million). It doesn’t look very “economical”, especially when all the scientists are able to read and write in English, too. Publishing in Finnish, however, makes it possible to teach science in schools in Finnish and that is where the new scientists are growing. Later in their life many of them will also learn to communicate in English. So, if we want to have science in Finland we must do it in Finnish.

Making things slower and better

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

In a couple of last months I have been visiting two times the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco. I know their projects very well from online, but visiting physical places made me think about them differently. Physical world is so immersive – you know.

“The Long Now Foundation hopes to provide counterpoint to today’s “faster/cheaper” mind set and promote “slower/better” thinking.”

What would slower/better mean in the case of education?

Do we have in the field of education “faster/cheaper” mind set?

How we could have in the field of education “slower/better” thinking?

Let’s have a look of the things we have been working on in my research group. The first project we started in the late 1990s was called “future learning environment”. The main results of the project were the progressive inquiry learning model and Fle3-software that supports the model.

The progressive inquiry model explains a good way to learn well. People do not change very fast, so we may assume that the model will work fine for a couple of thousand years. This way the pedagogical model is naturally a result for a long-term. It doesn’t wear out. It may get out of fashion but it is still there for other people to try out, experiment with and change it.

Fle3-software is designed to supports the progressive inquiry model. One could assume that software don’t stand time very well – You always need a new version. Is it really like this? Why we couldn’t have software that will be fine to carryout things for a long period of time? I hope Fle3 is designed exactly like this. It is not very fashionable at the moment but it is not going to disappear. It works as long as there are web browsers. We can simply keep Fle3 available in our website, maybe develop it once in a while and see if people will find it useful. And some people do. Because Fle3 is an open source software other people may even change it – just like they can change the progressive inquiry model.

“Slower/better” thinking means that you make things slowly, but to last long. Building Fle3 took something like 5 years. Now we are thinking about making a new Fle3 version in a year or so, which makes it a project of 10 years. It’s been very slow.

The progressive inquiry model also requires a “slower” and “better” process than what we are use to have in a modern classroom. A long inquiry gaining understanding of the topics studied takes time and is hard. Fle3 does not make it anyhow faster or cheaper. It actually may make it “slower” and more expensive, but same time “better”.

Strange, isn’t it: A computer is making something slower and better?

Is it same with the LeMill – another project we have been working on for several years. Is it making things slower and better?

I think yes. Using a ready-made and static schoolbook or digital learning object is obviously faster and more economical than making things yourself. With LeMill you must use your own brain, as you must check who did the content and think why it is as it is. This is the case even if you just use it and do not contribute in it. Because you are using your own brain, it is more likely that also your teaching on the topic will be better than without using your brain. Right?

Stories, learning and ignorance

Monday, April 21st, 2008

This is not a great story. This is a fragmented note I am making to this blog. The thesis of the post is:

Learning is story telling. Avoid ignorance.

Learning is story telling because we make sense of the world through stories. Teachers job has always been story telling. This should be in the core of the students activity, too. Tell stories.

Listen to a story someone is telling you, and tell a new story for someone willing to listen to you. You are learning. It’s actually pretty simple.

Laurie Anderson said in the weekend’s Financial Times:

“Wow, it doesn’t matter that it’s not true, it matters that it is a good story…it has an evil king and hidden weapons”.

Last week in a conference in Finland Olli-Pekka Heinonen of YLE, the Finnish Broadcasting Company said something like this:

“With digitalization everything is changing; our work, organization – everything, except the fact that we are still in the story telling business”. (This is not an exact quotation)

Some weeks ago in a PARC Forum in California Chris Anderson (not related to Laurie Anderson, as far as I know) said something like this:

“I find the news from my daughters playground much more interesting than the news telling that my country is again bombing some country somewhere”. (This is not an exact quotation)

Two Andersons and Heinonen are all so right but do they ask the real question: who is telling all the stories and who is willing to listen them? I assume we all agree with Laurie Anderson’s another point:

“what I find dangerous is ignorance…”

…and I’ll continue: Ignorance to listen and ignorance to tell stories for yourself and for your children is dangerous. Ignorance of the sad stories – those that are often called the truth – is most dangerous, because it meanas that you are not learning anymore.