Archive for July, 2008

Conferences and meetups

Saturday, July 12th, 2008

It must have been in 2005 in Pretoria when I first time met Erik Möller, a Wikimedian, who is nowadays working full time for the Wikimedia Foundation. We were both invited to a conference in South Africa to talk about open source tools for teaching and learning. I don’t even remember what did I talk in there, but I remember Erik’s talk about Wikipedia, Mediawiki engine and the Wikimedia Foundation.

Erik’s talk in 2005 was nothing special in content wise, but his passion and love on Wikipedia and his confidence of its importance had a great impact on me. Earlier same year I was in India and got a change to listen and chat a bit with Jimmy Wales – the founder of Wikipedia (and an Internet celebrity). Jimmy is a great speaker. He also loves the Wikipedia project and of course knows how great it is. Probably the most interesting character of these Wikimedian folks is anyway their real commitment to the “community”. In South Africa Erik ran away from the conference to meet the local Wikimedians, whereas in India Jimmy sometimes looked busier to find WLAN and to chat (on IRC) with the online wikimedians than paying attention on the conference taking place around him.

Wikimania2008 Conferences and meetups

I am just about leaving to Wikimania 2008 – the annual “conference” of the Wikimedians. It’s an interesting event. It’s a conference and gathering of different kind of people with one common interest – “free knowledge”. What makes it really interesting is that people coming there are not really “like-minded”, as it often is in scientific conferences. In Wikimania people really have very different backgrounds and ideas. There will be people from all the continents, most likely believers of all the major religions of the world, with different political ideas and ideologies, high school students and university professors, rich and not that rich. In that sense it is better than the United Nations. But like I said, the people coming to Wikimania share one common interest: “free knowledge”.

After Wikimedia I am traveling to Helsinki. The first half of the year I have been focusing on writing in sunny Northern California, and a bit of jumping between Bogota and Palo Alto. I am really thankful for all the people who made this possible. I am, anway, very happy to return the Eurolandia and Helsinki.

In Helsinki there are two upcoming events related to the idea of “free knowledge”. The Open Research Swarm of Finland is going to have a summer meet up on August 8th. The third Konfabulaari (my favourit confernce in Finland beside the ITK) of the University of Helsinki will take place on October 8th. Konfabulaari is an unconference focusing on social media in Universities. The Konfabulaari wiki is now open for you to build the program of the event. I’ll do my best to make it to both events. They are free and everyone is welcome.

In September – early October (Oct 1—Oct 4) I will make a short trip back to US, to attend the PDC08: Participatory Design Conference. I will present there my paper “Software as Hypothesis: Research-Based Design Methodology”. On November 12-13 I will be in Barcelona giving a talk at the UOC UNESCO Chair in E-Learning’s 5th International Seminar. These are confirmed.

Other interesting conferences for this year, of which I am yet not exactly sure if I will make it, are the EC-TEL 08: 3rd European Conference on Technology-Enhanced Learning, 16. – 19. September in Maastricht, The Netherlands; and ICCCE 2008: the 16th International Conference on Computers in Education, 27. – 31. October i nTaipei, Taiwan. This year I have been working in the program committees of these conferences.

Still, in Helsinki we are planning with colleagues from the Helsinki University of Technology, Helsinki School of Economics and Nokia Research Centre a seminar series with the theme “mobile Internet”. I am not yet sure about the exact dates, form or web presence of the events. This activity, like almost everything in a coming next two years in my work, is related to Aalto University. Aalto University is a new university uniting my University, the University of Art and Design Helsinki and the previously mentioned Universities under one roof. It’s very interesting to see what will come out when we have the science and engineering, business and management, and art and design, all in one place. A riot? A better world? We will see.

The girl effect and value creation

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

I got a link to this pretty neat web site explaining how educating girls pays off.

It made me thing how value is created. Open source and value creation was also one of the topics we we chating about with Jon “maddog” Hall last week in Bogotá.

Related to open source, open content and free culture people are often asking where do these people find time to do these things? The answer is pretty simple: they are saving time from doing something else. Many people are also paid to do it (I am partly and so is maddog), because people paying for it see that the value created is valuable for them, too (in most of the cases the value translates to euros and dollars, too).

How is value created? Value is created all the time with almost in all human activity. Actually, most things we do in our life create some value. So, we just do things and value is created. Different activities, however, creates different amounts of value.

Examples: Some people like to play air guitar, some like to write Wikipedia articles. Some people want to play football, while other want to spend all their time on paid work, only. Some want to watch TV, some play with their children. Some people want to party. Most of us do all these things in different quantities.

The key is that some activities create more value than others.

Eating a dinner with your family creates value – social value. In many cases it may create more social value than clicking around in Facebook. In some cases having a family dinner together is very expensive – you may actually loose more social value than what is created. In Leo Tolstoy’s words:

All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Sleeping creates value. If you are tired you can’t create value. Good parties create social value. Bad parties may get expensive in many ways.

Watching TV is very expensive behavior from the value creation point of view.

Working in open source, open content or free culture projects create a lot of value. It creates so much value that some people are scared. They shouldn’t. They can benefit from the value creation, too.

When more people will have more control on their time, more basic skills and understanding on how the world works they can join the global value creation party. That is the girl effect.

Campus Party Colombia: Learning with New Media

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

Last weekend I took part in at the Campus Party Colombia in Bogota. Campus Party is a combination of LAN-party, technology conference and a fair sponsored by Telefonica, the Spanish telecom.

2614322843 c2f388d056 Campus Party Colombia: Learning with New Media
Picture by mario_nel2002

I gave a talk about how to use New Media tools (blogs, wikis, micro-blogs, mobile phones) in learning and capacity building in self-organized and formal learning contexts.

When preparing my talk I asked from the organizers who will be in the audience. I didn’t get very good demographic profile. For some reason I assumed that the audience will be more general public and maybe educators. During the talk – actually a few minutes before – I realized that most people coming to the sessions were bloggers, hackers and other “native digitals”. So I felt a bit stupid to explain these people what is Wikipedia (although I think many of them were not aware of the other projects of the Wikimedians). In my talk I could have been, however, more theoretical and spend less time on explaining what kind of tools there are for sharing links, websites (wikis), point of views (blogs), micro-content (micro-blogs), and learning environments.

The discussion following the talk and many discussions in the “campus” during the days were fruitful and interesting. Some observations.

Many people and cognitive tools in one place. The gatherings of people with their cognitive tools (computers) are really important. These are event, not only to share your (free) software, but also to strength social ties in a way that is never possible online. It is partly a matter of “bandwidth””– yes – but will we ever have the bandwidth existing in meetings in a real life? I doubt. The flexibility to formulate group saround some topic is also pretty unique in real-life events.

Role of media (and propaganda) in learning. The role of media in the development of Latin American societies has been discussed in many forums. I don’t want to get political with this topic, but can’t help to mention that if you want to watch news in English in Colombia it is very likely that the only free news channel offered with the satellite package is Fox New. E.g. they do not include BBC in the packages. I have lately spend a lot of time on thinking the role of mass media in education and coming up with a conclusion that more media, the better. If people can access all possible propaganda in the world, they will be confused about the contradictory messages and will find out about the topics themselves. So, if I would have a role in any national media policies, I would aim to provide one TV news channel that would rotate randomly all the different news channels. The channels in the rotation (with sub-titles) could be BBC World, CNN, Al Jazeera, CCTV, teleSUR, NDTV 24×7 and the local news channels in local languages. Actually, this kind of “world view news” could be an interesting website, one could use e.g. in TVs at schools and in media education. Who could write software that will take these satellite channels programming and make out of them a single stream?

Knowledge management in geographically distributed mega-organizations. In Campus Party I also met some people working for a huge organization with thousands of people around the world. These geographically distributed mega-organizations should be the once who will most benefit of the new media tools and applications. They will help people to share their work with their current colleagues, but also with their potential future colleagues. The matter is not only to have a cool “intranet”, but much more on designing and defining the social practices around it. Sharing documents is easy. Sharing knowledge is hard. Building knowledge is something we should aim to.

In our University back in Helsinki we have been building pretty neat tool, called Onni, for our organizational knowledge sharing and building. Onnis main building blocks are (1) people; (2) notes (with flat replies); (3) organizational taxonomy (schools, departments, projects, courses, etc); (4) interests (free folksonomy); and (5) groups (with notes and calendar). The official policy documents will be on a wiki so that anyone may edit them (and will hopefully also know who should and who should not edit them). Onni should be ready for public launch in September. Then we will have all the 2500 people in the system with their picture, profile, projects, interests and groups taking advantage of the system. Still the aim of Onni is not to replace all other tools used at the University. The research staff will still add their results to the official and public Research database, and e.g. study records, traveling and financial issues will be handled with other system. Important is that all the systems will work together. Information of the publications of each researchers will come with RSS to Onni, course information will come to Onni from the study record, etc.

Maybe in the Campus Party 2009 we could also have some kind of social networking site in the Onni way. All the participants could be in the system with their profiles, interests (folksonomy) and list of sessions they are planning to take part in. As the Campus Party is an event of several days some kind of “centralized news channel” could be useful, too – maybe a big screen with TV-kind of “latest Campus party news” every two hours (between the “official” news there could be the “world view news” rotation from satellite channels. icon smile Campus Party Colombia: Learning with New Media

Thank you for all the people who made the Campus Party Colombia real: the Campuseros (people who were camping in the site), organizers, visitors, and sponsors. A special thanks from me goes to Carolina Botero, the boss of the blogs -track and Offray Luna, the coordinator of the Software Libre -track. Well done!

If you are interested in to see how it was in there, you may have a look of the Youtube channel or the Flickr -group.