Archive for January, 2011

Open content in education: less is more

Monday, January 31st, 2011

My colleagues, Tarmo Toikkanen and Ville Oksanen just published a book in Finnish with the title Teachers’ Copyright Guide. (Opettajan tekijänoikeusopas). The guidebook, quite naturally focuses on digital content and its distribution. The book provides practical answers to such questions as: What copyrighted content you can use in education and how? What kind of rights teachers and students have on content their create? How teachers creating learning materials can legally take advantage of content available in the Web?

Tour Eiffel 1878 Open content in education: less is more
Photo: “Paris. Tour Eiffel (juillet 1888)” BnF, Estampes et Photographie, Qe Mat 1 from the Wikimedia Commons.

When reading the book I am quite surprised that it does not even mention Wikimedia Commons — “a database of more than 8 million freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute“.

I find missing Wikimedia Commons from the book strange because of two reasons: (1) According to its own definition Wikimedia Commons is “a media file repository making available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content (images, sound and video clips) to everyone, in their own language” and (2) I share office space with Tarmo (!), and there is no way that he would not know this mission of the Wikimedia Commons. Because of the second point I am afraid that this is just a mistake (thoughtlessness ?) or an attempt to be unbiased as the Wikimedia Commons is not the only educational media repository in the Web.

So, what does the book present as sources for open content in education, if not Wikimedia Commons?

It shows how to check the license of images on Flickr and explains how to search Creative Commons-licensed content with the Google Advanced Search, Creative Commons meta search engine and Flickr’s CC search. This is all great, but I would still expect that Wikimedia Commos, as an online repository that is precisely a repository of educational media would have made it to the book, too. There are other repositories of educational media, but I think, there are a couple of things that makes the Wikimedia Commons special.

Why I think Wikimedia Commons is so important? I think less is more and that is something what teachers appreciate.

In the Flickr there are close to 200 million photos with various Creative Commons licenses. This makes searching educational media difficult.

Example: If I’ll need a picture of Eiffel tower for my lesson and do a search to Flickr’s I must, at first, be familiar with all the Creative Commons licenses. After knowing this I may search photos, for instance, that are Creative Commons-licensed for noncommercial use requiring attribution and share alike distribution. This search will today give me 14 931 photos. A lot of stuff.

When I do the same search to Wikimedia Commons I’ll get to the Eiffel Tower page. In it I’ll see:

  • one “valued image”
  • 46 “other images” that are from different angles, taken from different distances and weather conditions as well as some photos focusing on details of the tower.
  • a picture with a panorama views from the tower and 17 other pictures taken from the tower.
  • 16 historical pictures, and
  • 3 pictures of art pieces with the tower

By checking the category page: Eiffel Tower I’ll find more educational media, such as:

I think that for a teacher looking for educational media Wikimedia Commons should be the first stop. This is because all the content found from there are freely usable, and because the community maintaining the media in the site is committed to do a huge amount of editorial work to keep it useful for educational purposes. Less is more.

Future School Concepts and Design Research

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

800px Noe classroom Future School Concepts and Design Research

I was just reading the InnoSchool project’s final report.

The goal of InnoSchool is to develop the Future School Concept: a set of research-based good practices, processes, models and designs, and recommendations for their successful combinations in the Future School.

It is a nice project with many interesting results. The report is worth of reading, and even just to browse if you do not read Finnish. The pictures from different physical learning places and spaces are a great resource for anyone interested in learning environment design.

The final report, however, has a section describing “design research” (design-tutkimus). When reading the section, I noticed that the research described in it is not “design research” but “design-based research”. At least in the discussions in Finland — regardless of the design boom over here (design thinking, service design etc.) — there seems to be a lot of misconceptions related to the design -terminology.

Design-based research (as described in the field of Learning Science, for instance Barab & Squire, 2004; The Design-Based Research Collective) is not to be confused with design as it is understood in the art and design tradition.

In design-based research, the aim is to do research with designed interventions into real-world situations. As a such, it is in practice, one form of action research – not more. In design-based research design interventions are a research method. You do them to gain some data or ideas to build your pedagogical theory.

In design as discussed in the field of art and design, the designs (artifacts, tools, services) are the main outcomes of the activity. To draw routes to that outcome research helps. Research studying design, its methods and its results is design research (design-tutkimus).

I would love to see more design research in the field. In practice, it means that you will “get your hands dirty”, build a prototype, build a software.

Wikipedia: Ten Years of Providing Open Educational Resources (Almost) for All

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Wikipedia is ten years old. In a decade Wikipedia has become something we take for granted — a pool of free knowledge. Wikipedia is huge. It is a top-10 website in the world. It is in many languages and still growing.

After ten years, Wikipedia is the most important Open Educational Resource (OER) in the world, but unevenly distributed. In a next ten years Wikipedia should become the basic pool of educational resources for many more.

The Internet penetration (% population) is estimated to be close to 30% in the entire world. In Africa it is close to 10% and in Asia 20%.

From the African languages in the Swahili Wikipedia there are over 20 000 articles and in the second largest, the Afrikaans Wikipedia over 16 000 articles. There are many other established projects in African languages, but non of them are really active.

People should take the lack of Wikipedias in African languages seriously. Many educated people in Africa are educated in European languages (especially in English and French). Still most of the educated people are also fluent in some African language. Editing Wikipedia in African language is an easy way to give back something you got in your education.

And you can write Wikipedia articles without “education”, too. In the Wikipedia nobody is asking are you “educated” to write articles. If you feel that you know something just start an article about it. It can be an article about your neighborhood, city or town, about the geography of your country, about your local politician. We all know about many things.

I know that editing Wikipedia is not a simple thing. It is difficult. A beautiful thing with Wikipedia is that in there one can not make mistakes that couldn’t be fixed. There is always the possibility to edit — again, again and again.

Wikipedia: Edit button from WikimediaFoundation on Vimeo.

Please, talk to your friends who are speakers of African languages or who work in African countries. Writing Wikipedia articles about African topics in African languages is important.

It is important for your children. Wikipedia should be the Open Educational Resource (OER) in Africa, too.