Archive for June, 2010

Practice-based design research of learning tools

Friday, June 11th, 2010

When people ask me what is my research about I often get nervous. Depending a bit about the person asking, I may reply that my research is about educational technology, e-learning research, computer-supported collaborative learning, use of computers in teaching and learning, social media and learning, new media and learning, Web and mobile things in learning etc. All this is true, but I also feel that with these answers I am loosing something essential.

I feel uncomfortable to define my research with these concepts. Sometimes I even end-up to explain that our research is kind of “e-learning research” but we do it differently. This get people very confused.

On the other hand, when you do not know the background of the person asking — that is often the case — one must use terms and concepts you expect them to be familiar with. Still, I would like to be precise but also present the special characters of our work.

Within the learning environments research group we have before define ourselves that we are “theory-based, design-oriented”. That is a nice motto and even some kind of description. That tells a bit what we do and how we do it. The difficulty to tell “how we” do it has been a challenge.

Recently I have used the phrase: Practice-based design research of learning tools. I think it has everything what I do. Simple. I do “design research”, with a methodological approach relying on “practice”. My object of design research are learning tools.

Now you know.

LeMill: 12 329 teachers creating and sharing open educational resources on an Open Source platform

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

LeMill is a web community for finding, authoring and sharing open educational resources.

Today in LeMill there are over 12 000 teachers and other learning content creators. The site has over 11 000 learning content resources and over 6 000 descriptions of teaching and learning methods and tools in over 30 languages.

With these numbers LeMill is one of the world largest community of open educational resources. The LeMill’s what’s going on -stream shows how active the site is.

LeMill is, however, a classical example of “long tail”. The head, the majority of the community members, come from Georgia (the country, not the US state) and Estonia. Actually, it is fair to say that the only communities with the critical mass are Georgian and Estonian communities.

This year we have noticed that pulling more language communities to the head is extremely difficult. For instance, among Finnish teachers we have worked hard to bring them to LeMill. The results are poor.

We may think why Finnish or English speaking teachers have not found LeMill interesting or useful. There are, for sure, socio-cultural reasons and structural obstacles. No more about them. In addition to these, there are also many design issues. As the designers of LeMill, these are things we may change.

Here is my list of LeMill design issues, we should work with:

1. Connections with Web 2.0/social networking services
We have some cool content in LeMill that do not move because we do not have any “share this” –tools in the site. For instance, I am sure some people could share some english listening comprehension exercise with their friends with Facebook. With all the content in LeMill we could simply use share this or something similar to the sexybookmarks Word Press plug-in.

2. Re-designing (Web 2.0) the appearance of the site
LeMill’s interaction and visual design should be renewed. LeMill is not easy enough to use, neither attractive. LeMill should be simple and elegant. This would require the design to be more like HeiaHeia or Facebook than Wikipedia. In the interaction design we should use Web 2.0 GUI widgets. For instance, LeMill’s Browse content is a brilliant idea: you can set different kind of criteria and will find content depending on it. The current implementation, however, is clumsy: you must choose the criteria and then press “Show”. Choosing the criteria should be enough.

3. Search centric approach
The main reason for a user to visit LeMill is to find some useful content. Google have taught us to simply write the words we are looking for and expect that we will find something useful. We should serve users this way. In practice, this would require including our search field in a central location and redesigning the search results. The algorithms organizing the search results in LeMill are already pretty good, so also this would be more like a design issue.

4. Online status information and chat for the community
We currently have IRC chat in the LeMill community. Nobody is using it. I think, to build LeMill community we should have online status information (the Facebook style green and red dots) and easy to use chat to connect with people online. We could use, for instance, Olark – chat or some other third party service.

5. User dashboard
We already have email announcements telling users what has happen in among their groups or in the content they have contributed to. This same information – kind of personalized “whats going on” should be provided in a user’s dashboard.

If you are interested in to develop these features, please, contact us. LeMill is Open Source platform and we are happy to have more designers and developers in the team.

You will find more information about LeMill platform development from the development site. The LeMill blog is also good place to follow the project.