Archive for March, 2013

The Principles of a Free and Open Source School

Monday, March 18th, 2013

800px Ruetli3 Schule Neukoelln 300x166 The Principles of a Free and Open Source School Photo by Lienhard Schulz / WIkimedia Commons. Read about the Rütli School in Berlin.

A couple of days ago Esko Kilpi wrote about emergence and self-organization with references to the Wired’s article The GitHub Generation: We’re All in Open Source Now and Sugata Mitra’s latest TED talk Build a School in the Cloud.

I started to think how would be a school that is primary operating according to the principles of free and open source software development communities. I didn’t think about online schools or even the possibility to extend some of the school operations to the “cloud”. I was thinking more school as we know it today: a place, most often a building, where people come to learn. I made a list.

(1) Free project spaces. The free and open source school must have a lot of free project space for anyone to take in use for any project they are interested in to work on. The space should have basic materials (pens, colors, paper, cardboard, partition walls, whiteboards, laptops etc.) for people to define spaces, to write, to draw, to hang up things, to save things etc. (You may compare this to all the online services we have to host open source code, mailing lists to communicate, GitHub etc.)

(2) Freedom to start and join projects. In these spaces any member of the school is free to start a study project and invite in it who ever they want to invite. The spaces are open so that people can see what other people are doing and anyone may join them for a short or a longer period of time. This is the case with visitors, too. Doors are open for people to come and see what’s going on and to join a project if they wish. Joining a project is the only way to become a member of the school.

(3) The school is a copyright / IP free zone. Anything seen in the project spaces can be copied to another project. In the school people may show whatever media for each other for whatever purpose without any copyright restrictions.

(4) Progressive inquiry. The purpose of the school is to help people to learn on things they are interested in to study and learn about. The progressive inquiry, relying on scientific method and critical thinking method, is the primary approach in the study work. The aim is to deepen everyone’s understanding on the things under study and also contribute to the commons.

(5) Flat organization. Students are free to study whatever they want, but because we know that sometime students may need advice to find topics that are truly meaningful, interesting and important there are two roles in the school: students and mentors. To become a mentor is a matter of merits. Mentors select mentors.

(6) Civic virtue, transparency and leadership. Civic virtue is expected from all the members of the school. The primary decisions making method is consensus. Decisions are expected to be based on on sense making after having all possible data in hand and listening of different point-of-views. If some people do not agree with the decisions they are free to forge the School by starting their own School. There is a leader.

Simple. Why we are not doing this? Or are we?

Design thinking in learning (and education)

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

800px Raspberry Pi boxed 300x199 Design thinking in learning (and education) Photo by Nico Kaiser / WIkimedia Commons.

In the last ten years design thinking has been one of the most used buzzwords among technology and design circles. In my book Designing Learning Tools — Methodological Insights I also use the term. To be honest, one of the sections is titled “Design Thinking: Solving Wicked Problems in a Participatory Way“. Cool title, isn’t it? icon smile Design thinking in learning (and education)

Last week in San Francisco I visited Square, a company providing electronic payment services with smart phones. Currently their main product is the Square Register, a credit card reader you can attach in your phone or tablet and start accepting credits cards. With their product, also small merchants and individuals can take credit cards.

Their second product, the Square Wallet, however, is definitely more interesting one. With the wallet app, running in your phone in your pocket you can pay just by saying your name. After saying you name in the checkout your name and photo appear on a screen of the cashier and he may confirm the sale. The data comes from the server based on the location information. Smart. No showing your phone, no scanning, no NFC, no RFID. Nothing. The technology works in the background. You keep your head up, say your name and you have paid.

I asked the people in Square how do they feel if I define them as “design company”. They didn’t object. It is, naturally, a real software engineering house but design thinking seems to be the driving force behind their product development. The vision is not to provide credit card readers or payment solutions but to improve the user experience and interaction in a situation of making payments. When you approach the matter of paying someone from the point of view of a service and an experience you can design products like the Square Wallet.

This blog is not about payment systems or customer experiences. From the Square example, however, we may gain some insights to learning and education, too.

Design thinking is discussed in the context of education, too. The Design Thinking for Education by Riverdale Country School and IDEO is a great resource.

In the iTEC project we (my research group) have also brought design thinking to classrooms by promoting teachers to carry on design activities with their pupils. Right now we are prototyping a design toolkit with a group of teachers. The aim of the toolkit is to help teachers to design learning activities. The kit with the title “Designing Learning Activities — a Workshop Toolkit for Teachers” will be published in a couple of months.

This is all good, but I am still wondering are we really able to catch the essence of design thinking in these? Should we still step back and think one more time what is learning and education really about? How people could raise their head up, say their name and learn? How would be a learning experience designed primary on this principle?