Archive for May, 2008

Content or human – Equality of opportunity or intervention?

Friday, May 30th, 2008

This is a note to remember to come back to the topic at some point. So, do not expect anything very elaborated. I’ll still start with a quotation from Foucault (Michel Foucault from Wikiquote):

There are more ideas on earth than intellectuals imagine. And these ideas are more active, stronger, more resistant, more passionate than “politicians” think. We have to be there at the birth of ideas, the bursting outward of their force: not in books expressing them, but in events manifesting this force, in struggles carried on around ideas, for or against them.

I feel that there is an ideological divide in the Open Educational Resources community. I see that there are two major Parties. I call them (1) content-people and (2) human-people.

The content-people believe that Open Educational Resources should primary be some kind of independent “courses” people study. Studying the OER courses will then lead to enlightenment. This approach can be compared to reading a religious text leading to deep religious belief and certainty.

The content-people are relying on non-questioning epistemology and to social philosophy of “equality of opportunity”. These two things are very much interconnected.

The non-questioning epistemology leads to action where people are aiming to create non-bias OERs that are representing universal truth. When you hold the universal truth it is fair to offer everyone an equal opportunity to access the truth. Take a course and the test: you made it!

The human-people see that the Open Educational Resources should primary be only reference materials that are used in a human-centered teaching and learning process. The OERs are never “courses” and one should never “take them”.

The human-people’s hold social epistemology where different interpretations of the world and the truth are in a continuous conflict. To promote equality people should be empowered to be active subjects in the process of defining the “truth” of their time. Because of this providing people with an access to the OERs is not enough. One must empower people to create their own OERs, modify them, break them, dishonor them. I call this intervention.

I also see some kind of difference in the two parties’ way of seeing tradition.

Same time when the content-people believe on universal truth, they do not give a lot of weight to tradition. At least I haven’t heard about any great OER projects focusing on classical philosophy or national epics.

The human-people who are more or less critical on everything are still more open to build on tradition and native wisdom. The fact that someone before found some content valuable is seen as a sign of the content’s high quality.

This is a blog, so I can’t help to make more conceptual pairs, which can be or then not, related to the OER Parties:

North America – (New) Europe, Catholic – Protestant, Federal – Networked, Religious – Secular, Material – Spiritual.

Heh. icon smile Content or human   Equality of opportunity or intervention? Which Party you belong to? Which Party I belong to?

Finnish National Curriculum on a Wiki

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

It was fall 2006 when I proposed for several people in the Finnish National Board of Education and in the Ministry of Education to put The National Core Curricula (equivalent to “national curriculum” in other countries), on a wiki, so that the citizens could discuss about it and edit it.

I got very positive replies from the Ministry. Artcihoke wrote about the idea online, while I was waiting to make the big news. Then something happened and nothing happened anymore. The last note I got from the National Board of Education was that their lawyers are considering if this is possible. Blah. End of story? Not yet.

This week some friends back in Finland started an online campaign with an aim to promote more project-oriented approach in education, so that students could study several study subjects by doing research on some theme. A theme could be for instance presidential election in USA or Baltic Sea. While doing the projects on themes student could cover studies related to several subjects, such as social sciences, history, math/statistics, biology etc.

To put forward this kind of thinking my friends wrote a manifesto, set up an online petition and opened a wiki for people to discuss about the topic. Next fall they are going to hand the manifesto and the petition for the National Board of Education. Good.

In the wiki site set for people to discuss about the idea, the first post was asking could someone add the current The National Core Curricula to the wiki. The answer was that you would find a link to the site of the National Board of Education where they have the documents. Good. Good enough? I don’t think so.

Links to documents are great. If you are, however, planning to change some document it is definitely better to have it on a wiki. So, I took the document and posted it to the wiki. Now the National Core Curriculum for Basic Education 2004 is on a wiki. You will find the wiki version of the document from here:

Perusopetuksen opetussuunnitelman perusteet 2004

Feel free to edit and comment it in the discussion pages.

So here we are, finally. I could have done this a year and half ago. Why I didn’t? I didn’t do it because there wasn’t a community interested in to work with the documents. Now there are at least 20 people who already wrote the petition and are at some level interested in the topic. I know that the people in the Board of Education and the Ministry of Education are also interested in this. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as we are kind of paying them to be interested in this. Let see if this will now get any reactions from them.

You may wonder what is the status of the National Core Curricula document and how is it created in the first place?

The document is equivalent to “national curriculum” in many other countries. It is prepared by a group of experts in a frequency of 5-10 years. The document is basically defining what students in different grades should master. The current practice is that in the national level we only have this document to “guide” the work taking place in schools. Each school is then free and obligated to formulate their own curriculum and make it public in their website. In a way the National body is only giving the ends. The means are then decided in the school level. Then again the National and local educational authorities are following that things are going fine in the local level.

I think this works very well. Also the National Core Curricula document itself is really good document. I do not have any complains about it. Except one, which is not really about the content but about the process.

I think discussion on renewing and updating it should be continuous – something we do every day, not only in every 5-10 years. A wiki is a great place for this. I still think we need experts and the Ministry who will have the final word – these things should not be decided on a wiki-war. Still, the process pf preparing a document that is effecting us all, through our children, should be as transparent and open as possible.

Open Thesis: Give Me More Scientific Thinking and Weeds of Philosophy!

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

My brother is today defending his Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of Tampere in Finland. Because I am now in Northern California I am not able to attend the public defense of the dissertation. I got, however, the actual book on my screen and printer. Thanks to open publishing.

The University of Tampere is also my academic “home”. I studied there in the early 1990s. When I finally finished my thesis at the Faculty of Education, they did not have in place any way to publish thesis online. Because my thesis was about international education politics, I thought that someone somewhere could find it interesting and put it online under my homepage. Because my thesis discussed the education policy of the Government of Zambia, I shamelessly sent one or two emails to the University libraries in Zambia, just to inform them that this kind of work is out there and I am happy if they will add it in their collections.

Things at the University of Tampere are today different. The Tampere University Press is publishing all Master thesis and Ph.D. dissertations online as PDF files if the writer gives a permission to do it. I assume most people do.

Playing with the database that covers all the Master thesis since 1991 is fun. You may search with different words and get an idea how popular they have been in last 17 years among the students of the University of Tampere. Some examples: action research: 39 hits, television: 58, Internet: 145, Radio: 36, Mobile phone: 31, artificial intelligence: 7, wiki*: 2, blog*: 5, society 103, equality: 31, “progressive inquiry”: 6, Second Life: 0, Habbo Hotel: 1 etc.

With the open access we often focus mainly to the open access journals. This is of course important, however, I think it is also very important to bring Master and Ph.D. thesis online. The practice also carries pedagogical value in University teaching: it is very different to write your thesis exclusively for your professor, than when knowing that it will be out there for people to read and comment.

There are many open source tool to publish and maintain this kind of online libraries, but it looks that the de facto open source standard tool is the DSpace. When checking the DSpace, I also found a Registry of Open Access Repositories (ROAR) maintained by the University of Southampton, UK. Looks interesting, but actually it is not exactly a repository of open access content. At least I found from there in less than 5 minutes links to repositories, which do not provide access to the full text, but only to the metadata.

I wonder could there be some open APIs to make the open theses even more easily accessible and movable from one place to another? Would it be possible to mash-up the register in any website so that one could seamlessly search these databases from a single search? What about the Google Scholar or Science Commons?

The full title of my brother’s dissertation in English is “Scientific Thinking and Weeds of Philosophy. The Identity of Philosophy as a problem of Finnish Philosophy and the Conceptions of Philosophy in the Output of Eino Kaila and Erik Ahlman”. The actual book is in Finnish, but there is an English Summary. From the Summary:

“The study deals with the development and characteristics of academic philosophy in Finland. It brings forth new results and critical viewpoints in constructing and estimating the history, identity and characteristics of Finnish academic philosophy.”

Congratulations Mikko!

Wikis: networks, groups and the third way

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Last weekend I took part in the RecentChangesCamp – a three day open space conference for people interested in wikis and related topics.

I met some new and old wiki-people, which some of them I may soon start to call my friends. I saw several interesting demos and had some quite nice discussions about wikis in education, wikis in informal, nonformal and formal learning.

I am today more convinced than ever, that wikis are soon taking over in classrooms around the world. More and more teachers are starting to see the wiki-platform as the fastest and the most comprehensive web technology to support collaboration in and outside their classroom. When some teachers have made something successful with a classroom wiki, others will follow. At some point use of a wiki will becomes more a norm than an exception. I think, sooner than we think, a wiki in a classroom will be as common appliance as paper and pen: if there isn’t one everything else you try to do in the classroom becomes pretty useless.

This is good news for the whole “e-learning field”. When these children will grow-up and enter to higher levels of education they simply will demand wikis in their classes. Only area that is left for the “learning management systems” (still remember the term?) will probably be distance (training) courses and corporate training. Wiki-way of doing things simply represents many values that are important in teaching and learning. For instance the issue of vandalism, and the ways to take care of it, is … well, you know … pretty educational.

If you are a teachers you may simply go to the wikispaces.com and start a wiki for your class. It is worth of it. Why I am promoting Wikispaces and not some other wiki hosting service? Wikispaces-service is already working closely with educators. For K-12 education use it is completely free and free of advertising. Their wiki is easy to use with a simple interface and pretty good discussion tool. There are some things I would like to be different in the Wikispaces. At least, two things: (1) In the discussion tool there could be an option to use some knowledge types. (2) In education the matter of language of instruction is extremely important. To make Wikispaces more useful in the non-english speaking world the user interface elements should be translated. Teaches do not want to spend time to translate for their students the widgets like “Join this Space” or “Recent changes”. Time spend to this is out of the actual things one should do in a classroom.

Wikihow is not a new project, but for some reason I have been ignoring it for some time. Also it is not something that people would widely discuss or make references to when talking about “open educational resource” (OER). I think the reason why I have ignored it, is simply the issue that the self-help / how-to manual culture have been very strange for me. It is still strange for me, but when now reflecting the idea of having “a collaborative writing project to build the world’s largest, highest quality how-to manual”, I see that it is actually close to something I consider to be the most valuable genre of open educational resources. I am even kind of ready to claim that the Wikihow is THE most valuable collection of Open Educational Resource we have today online. For instance, comparing Wikihow to something like MIT Open Courseware may sound silly, but if you are honest what kind of information is globally more valuable: manual explaining how to fix your bicycle or Physics I: Classical Mechanics? Both are great and important, but if you think about their value for us all – about 6 billion people – I am pretty sure fixing bikes will win the classical mechanics. So, if there is anyone interested in to translate and localize OERs to other languages and cultures, maybe you should have a look of the Wikihow, too.

Writing new how-to manuals on topics relevant for people living in challenging conditions would be a great project. For instance how to get a job probably works pretty well everywhere in the world, but why not encouraging or even paying for someone to write such articles as “how to use TransMilenio in Bogotá” or “how to have a garden in urban slum”. Before you say: “why don’t you do it”, let me explain that I actually did, but it looks that the Wikihow does not support Unicode, and I failed when starting a title where there is á -character. I am not going to write an article with the title Use Transmilenio in Bogot, because I do not know a place called “Bogot”. Uhh… Anyway, Wikihow is a great OER site.

From the Wikihow comes also very interesting new Mediawiki extension. It’s called
Import free images. It “allows users to import properly licensed photos directly into their wiki from flickr”. With the extension you can have in your Mediawiki installation a search that will find you e.g. images that are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license and import those you’ll find useful in your own Mediawiki installation. This kind of things, that are making the free content to move from one service to another are really important to reach the world where free content is truly reusable.

When talking with wiki-people they often say that they are editing wikis because they feel that they learn while doing it. Several studies have also reported learning to be the main motivation of open source developers to contribute and participate in open source projects.

Editing wiki is always informal learning, but hardly random. Most of the people are also aware of the learning side while editing: You recognize that you are learning while editing, because you are spending you cognitive surplus to do research, to think and formulate words, sentences, images or whatever media. Same time you are also engaged to community of other editors who are giving you feedback and comments. You may of course use your time for watching TV, which will also result as “learning”. The challenge of learning by watching TV is that in this case you are more often much more unsure what did you learn, if anything. Because of this you hardly ever found watching TV motivating, similar way as doing other thing where you are more aware of your learning. When editing wiki you are steering the activity. When watching TV – whatever how “educational” the program is – someone is trying to steer you.

Often I hear wiki-people saying that just editing wiki is the only right way to learn with wikis. According to them one should not formulize learning in anyways. They claim that if there is form it is not anymore a self-organized wiki-way of doing this.

I highly appreciate the “philosophy” of wiki-way. There is, however, now more and more interest to think how we could use wikis in a bit more formalized way. My solution is to move from the totally open and informal way of learning to the direction of “non-formal” learning – something that is between totally informal and formal learning.

The difference between informal and non-formal learning is that when informal is something that happens all the time, non-formal is intentional and organized, but still informal in many ways. An open space conference is a great example of non-formal learning situation: everybody are free to come, to speak or just listen, wear shorts or a suit. It is informal but with some form – shared interest and objectives, time and space – and rules to make it useful.

The move from informal to non-formal in wiki-learning is somehow reflecting the old discussion about networks vs. groups in learning. I strongly believe that there is a third way, beyond the network and group learning.

Any examples of this kind of activity in wikis?

Yes. With a group of 22 people we actively worked together for ten weeks in a Wikiveristy course/class called Composing free and open online educational resources. The form – including weekly program and assignments – was pretty much given by me. I made the first outline of the program, I selected most of the course reading, and designed the assignments. As it was in a wik a few other people also edited it – very few. More form to the process we have gave with Hans, my co-facilitator, by writing facilitators’ course blog and once in a while by commenting participants’ assignment posts in their blogs.

It’s been a lot of fun, but also a lot of work for all the participants. The drop-out
rate, from 70 to 20 in ten weeks, probably tells about it. So, how is this representing the “third way” beyond networks are groups?

With these people we got together as a network of people, through various connections. From the network of people we formed an open group to get some things done. Our objective was simply to learn together about open educational resources. Soon we may again “disappear” to the network, be in touch if we want to, and maybe one day again form another non-formal group when there is something we want to do together.

*) My “third way” concept does not have anything to do with the “Third Way” -political philosophy of Anthony Giddens and Tony Blair.

Call for eLearning Papers: Open Educational Resources

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

The next issue of eLearning Papers, a series by the elearningeuropa.info-portal, focuses on Open Educational Resources (OER). The eLearning Papers looks for articles on OER and their use in education at all levels, taking into account the aspects of global development and Web 2.0.

The contributions should focus on one or more of the following themes:

* Lessons learned and best practices of OER projects, tools and initiatives
* New findings, facts and figures of OER development and usage
* Discussion and position papers on how the OER movement can be supported
* Pedagogical innovations and OER, does OER make any difference?
* Transferability and usability of OER
* OER as a way to create and support sustainable development
* Business models around OER

The deadline for article submission is 30 June 2008.

Read more here: http://www.elearningpapers.eu/index.php?page=fix&id=10