Archive for July, 2009

(Free, libre and) open education needs humanities

Friday, July 24th, 2009

I was just checking the program of the Open Education Conference, OpenEd 2009, with the tagline “Crossing the Chasm”.

I have two questions about the conference:

1) Why is the title “open education” and not “free and open education” or “libre education”?

Isn’t the “open education” in this particular case making references specifically to the idea of “free software” or “libre software”, when it is applied to educational content and new forms of learning? If yes, why not then using the word free or libre to make it clear? The use of the open (alone) gets even more confusing when we remember that “Open University” and “Open Distance Education” are established concepts in the field of education and do not have anything to do with the idea of “free / libre software”.

2) Why there aren’t any talks/presentations about language learning?

If the conference is about to cross chasms why don’t it talk about language learning? Learning languages is a critical for the “open education” movement – I’ll write about this a bit more later, when getting into the humanities.

A few days ago David Weinberger wrote a post, Transparency is the new objectivity. I agree that calling something “the new” is naïve but still the comparison of these two things really makes sense. The idea is also extremely relevant and important for open and free learning content.

In the case of open and free learning content the transparency means that the user of the content will know who and in what conditions and context the content was produced. If the content comes from a North American University or from a global publishing house one should “read” it differently than in a case of it coming from a Chinese University or from some individual living – let’s say – in Luumäki. The point is not who do you believe. The point is that you are aware of the possible different interests and intentions, even biases and misunderstandings among the content producers. You must be aware and able to read the cultural meaning in the content and follow the links to sources increasing the transparency.

So what we need to be able to “read the cultural meanings”?

We should study humanities: languages, history, religion, arts, and literature of different cultures. Only by understanding the secondary material increasing transparency (who, where, when) we can get a clue of whys. If we do not get the material because of a language barrier or do not understand the cultural-historical context where it was produced, it is pretty much useless.

So, to make the open education a global movement, the people producing “open content” should study languages, and people aiming to use the content should study languages.

With the languages comes the rest: history, religion, arts, and literature – all needed to do the interpretations.

Now I am out in to practice my Spanish.

Media Lab Helsinki – Spring Demo Day 2009

Friday, July 10th, 2009

In the Media Lab Helsinki, two times a year, we bring out our researchers and students from the offices, studios and classrooms to show what they’ve been busy with. This year the Spring Demo Day took place May 20th in the Lume TV-studio, with more than 200 people dropping in to see the demo presentations and demo stands.

Here is a video with some of the demos this year.

The most famous (new media) demo is the one made by Douglas Engelbart and his team in 1968. In the demo he is showing his research groups latest results – a computer system called NLS or the “oN-Line System”. If you are interested in design and development of New Media, WWW, internet, groupware, computer supported collaboration / work / learning etc. you should take the time to check out the demo available in Google video.

I have had the honor of meeting Dr Engelbart a couple of times. Once I asked him what was the reason to do the demo – a rather non-conventional way at that time to present research results? Engelbart told me that basically the demo was done to demonstrate such results that were very difficult to explain in any other way. Think about it. What kind of research paper you could write about the NLS? Scenarios, user stories, descriptions of interaction, UMLs, screen shots? Uhh… please, no thanks!

I love demos! Show me.

Then there is this joke. A new media designer, who died and is then having a meeting with Saint Peter at the gateway to the heaven. Saint Peter is on a good mood and tells the new media designer that she may herself decide whatever she wants to go to the Heaven or to the Hell. The designer is happy about the chance and asks Saint Peter: – “Would it be anyhow possible to take a look how the Heaven and the Hell are? I have no idea how life in these places are”.

Saint Peter: – “Sure, no problem, I can give you a demo of both of them”.

First Saint Peter is showing the Heaven where angel-kind of figures are floating in a garden, singing hymns and smiling composedly to each other. The designer is nodding her head:

- “Looks nice and peaceful”.

Then Saint Peter is showing the Hell. The Hell is full of cool people eating good food, sipping nice wines, having chat, laughing and dancing. The designer: – Hmm… to be honest the life in the Hell is much more that kind of life I am use to. Actually, I wouldn’t mind to spend my eternal life this way.”
Saint Peter: – “Are you sure – the choice is all yours: Heaven or Hell?

Designer: – “I am really sorry Saint Peter, but to be honest the Hell definitely looks better for me. I’ll choose the Hell”.

Saint Peter opens the floor hatch on what the designer has been standing on. The designer falls down to the Hell where harried souls are screaming in pain. Flames are everywhere. While falling down the designer yells up for the Saint Peter: – “What is this? This is not the Hell you were showing me!”

Saint Peter:- “Hey, it was a DEMO!”