Archive for the ‘Collaboration’ Category

How to learn and what to learn: reflect and regulate; humanities and arts

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

415px Holbein erasmus3 How to learn and what to learn: reflect and regulate; humanities and artsIt looks that in the edu. tech. research field we constantly forget two things. These are:

(1) learners are humans;

(2) what is important for humans.

For instance, in research related to e-learning and learning objects and later to massive open online courses and learning analytics there is very little consideration of these topics.

Why thinking, motivation, emotions or behavior — all deeply human things — are not in the interest of the researchers?

Some days ago Sanna Järvelä’s lecture made me think. In learning science these “human factors” are considered to be the key issues in learning. Research has shown that good learners are able to observe, evaluate and regulate themselves. They are able to reflect their thinking and motivation and regulate their emotions and behavior. They are strategic. When aiming to learn they work with study materials (search, read, listen, watch); analyze the materials; plan their next steps; explore; do stuff; validate things; observe and regulate their own behavior etc.

Fine. So how do you learn these skills? The good news is that we can develop the skills for our entire life. To learn the skills we must practice them.

Couple of weeks ago a Finnish freelance journalist Johanna Korhonen wrote a column to the leading newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, with the title “The morons of civilization” (Sivistyksen tunarit). The title may sound strange, as the word “sivistys” does not translate well to English. The idea of the text, however, is that with a growing focus on utility of actions we may same time loose something extremely useful.

Today in Finland you may hear relatively smart people claiming that social debates are just waste of time or music and other forms of art are useless (except if they are export products). Everything is seen primary in relation to economics and economic growth. This is the case in education, too. Education system’s only task is to serve economic growth. Barbarism? Yes.

Instead of barbarism we assume that we have a democracy. Here is the problem. Democracy requires education — educated citizens who are knowledgeable, critical and active. Democracy needs people who care.

According to Johanna Korhonen to have people who care the most important objective of education should be to prepare citizens who have critical thinking skills, imagination, compassion and are able to carry responsibility. This means that the most important school subjects are not mathematics, science or even programming. The important subjects are humanities and arts. In these you learn imagination, critical thinking and compassion.

I do not like dichotomies. I think studying math and science (and programming) are important. We may study them reflectively and critically, too. What it will ask for is probably a bit of humanities and artistic touch in the study of them. We may study math, science and engineering with critical, ethical and æsthetic mindset.

The next big thing in edu. tech. research will be (or should be) how to enhance truly reflect and regulative learning with technology. In this kind of research and development the human is in the centre.

Tools (and Spaces) for Self Organised Learning Environment (SOLE)

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

We have designed some new (media) tools for self organized learning environment (SOLE) and for progressive inquiry.

Media Tools for Reflection in Learning (iTEC) from Media Lab Helsinki.

The self organized learning environment (SOLE) is a model to adapt school space to facilitate inquiry based learning. The idea is simple and powerful: “A teacher encourages their class to work as a community to answer questions using computers with internet access“.

In practice the SOLE class should work according to five simple rules: (1) students will form groups of about 4, (2) students may choose their own groups, (3) students may change groups at any time, (4) students may go and look what other groups are doing and may bring this information back to their own group, (5) students should prepare to present for the class their answers to the question(s). The SOLE is developed by Sugata Mitra and his colleagues.

I see in it some similarities with the progressive Inquiry and Future Learning Environment research we have been working with for many years.

The progressive inquiry is a pedagogical model where teachers are facilitating knowledge building that characterizes scientific research community and expert-like working with knowledge. To facilitate this we designed and developed the Fle3 – software. Later there has been other tools for the same purpose, such as the experimental Knowledge Practices Environment KPE.

The SOLE principles could be used in progressive inquiry learning with Fle3. There are, however, some differences, too. When in SOLE the inquiry questions are expected to be asked by the teachers in progressive inquiry it is seen that allowing and guiding students to set their own questions of inquiry is very important. Students are also expected to elaborate their questions, to find better questions during the study work. If the aim is to educated experts this makes a lot of sense. Scientists and experts are good at asking questions.

The SOLE sessions is designed to be a single lessons (about 60 minutes). There is a time for a teachers to post an inquiry question (5 min), time for students to study the questions with Internet (40 min) and time for reviewing the finding of the groups (10-15 min). In the implementation of progressive inquiry the study project is expected to last the whole semester or even two. This way there is time to explore number of questions, to do on top of the Internet search some experiments, interviews or other forms of data-collection to really study the topic from different perspective.

The progressive inquiry and especially the Fle3 (or other knowledge building tools) have not been widely took in use in schools. Not even in our home base in Finland. The schools culture, as well as institutional and organizational constrains have made it very difficult for teachers to take it in use in their own teaching. Some of the principles, however, are widely known and many teachers adapt some parts of it in their teaching.

I think the SOLE could be an interesting first step to the right direction. Like with the progressive inquiry there are also tools that are expected to help teachers and students to get into it. Mitra and his colleagues have proposed that a school should prepare classrooms with minimal set-up or to have a specific SOLE classroom with required equipment. The minimum set-up is defined to be:

• Laptops for one per 4 students. Large screens are preferable as they enable the group to work together on a single screen.
• A classical black or whiteboard to write the inquiry question so that it is always visible for the whole class.
• Paper and pens for students to take notes.
• Props to make each student groups’ “managers”visible for other (a badge, hat, etc.)
• A space to present the results of each group for the entire class.

In a SOLE classroom there should be an advanced set up and architecture. These include, for instance:

• A location that is highly visible for the whole school community, such as the lobby used by the students, teachers and parents.
• Having a classroom with glass walls so that the entire school community can see what the students are doing in the SOLE classroom.
• Having furniture that enables groups of four to interact with a computer and to have table space for note taking with papers and pens.
• Having in each group working space a fast laptop or desktop computer with fast broadband internet connection, large screen and speakers.
• Having free/ibre open source software such as Open Office and GIMP (drawing, graphics) for students to work with.

When thinking this now, this sounds like our design research studio at the Media Lab Helsinki. It’s not an office, neither a laboratory. We do not work that much in groups in front of a single computer as it is proposed in SOLE, but once in a whole we share things on a big screen. We have, at some point, also experiment with pair programming (agile) where there are two people in front of a single computer.

studio 1024x575 Tools (and Spaces) for Self Organised Learning Environment (SOLE)

We try to practice expert-like research work. This also requires more ownership on the space. We want to have our own books, articles, papers etc. on our own desks. When work requires months or even years of analysis, design, re-design and reflection you need your own space for it.

This makes me wonder. Would it be possible to provide students their own “research desk”they may have for the whole year? Could the SOLE classroom be something where one do not just visit when it is the SOLE lesson but something where there are also individual research desks in addition to the group work desks. This way the space could serve also more long-lasting progressive inquiry.

I think the tools presented in the video above could be useful in, both in the SOLE classroom activities and in a progressive inquiry. We will try. Then we will know.

Wikimedia: accessible (new) media for (almost) all

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Two weeks ago at the Aalto University, we were having a symposium focusing on accessibility of media. In there I gave a talk about Wikipedia / Wikimedia.

If we think the Wikimedia services from the accessibility point of view, there are some issues that make it pretty unique. Often one must go all the way to the Mission and Vision of the Wikimedia to understand them.

Accessibility can be seen narrowly as technical quality of a product. A television program that provides sub-titles and a signer of a sign language is more accessible than a TV program that does not have these add-ons. Similar way a web page where one can resize the font of read the text with a screen reader is more accessible than a web page that has, for instance, text in images. Doing technically accessible media products is not trivial. It is hard. Still, it is a topic you may study and pay attention to. If you do, you probably will get it right.

Accessibility can be approached also broadly, by not focusing only to the media or application as such, but to the service and infrastructure underlying it. For instance, if people do not have access to Internet at all, it doesn’t really matter if the web pages are accessible or not. If compared to architecture one may have technically accessible public library building, with wheelchair ramps etc. but if citizens moving with wheelchairs can never reach the library, the public service itself is not accessible.

In the Wikimedia / Wikipedia there is an attempt to be technically, but also broadly accessible. Wikimedia / Wikipedia naturally may not provide Internet connection for all, even if they would like to, but they may do design decisions that will increase broad accessibility. For instance, strict commitment to free content, free standards and free software is this kind of decision. With out the commitment, the long-term accessibility aims, stated in the last words of the Wikimedia’s Mission statement, could never happen:

“The Foundation will make and keep useful information from its projects available on the Internet free of charge, in perpetuity.”

To be free of charge and in perpetuity the content, standards and software must be free.

How this then effects on the Wikipedia today?

Various ways. I have examples of all the three.

Urho Kekkonen 1986 Wikimedia: accessible (new) media for (almost) all Free content: Wikipedia does not have high-quality or “official” photos of all the heads of states of all the countries, because all the governments do not provide photos under free content license. For instance, in the Wikipedia, the photo of the long time president of Finland, President Kekkonen, is a stamp from the year 1986.

This is sad and people working in different State Archives could take a note and consider providing photos under free content license.

The positive effects of the commitment to free content, however, are significant. For instance, there is a device using Wikipedia content and you may order custom books out of Wikipedia content.

One of my favorite projects “taking advatage” of the free content is the Webcionary, a multi-lingual web dictionary with easy to use web and mobile interface. A bit surprisingly all the content comes from the Wiktionary -project, the Wikimedia’s free dictionary project. All these examples are also greatly improving accessibility, as people are free to design new ways to distribute and access the Wikimedia content.

Free standards: In Wikipedia audio and video content is still limited as the free formats are not mature enough to be de facto formats. This is a bit of a chicken or an egg dilemma. Developing free formats is slow because there aren’t many users for them. If there would be easy to use free formats, more users would take them in use.

In the development of free formats and web standards Wikmedia / Wikipedia actually plays an important role. With its volume, it partly pushes other players to the right direction. Because of this I would like to see the Wikimedia / Wikipedia to work more with the World Wide Web Consortium, practically defining web standards.

Free software: Many people do not know that Wikimedia / Wikipedia is one of the largest users and developers of free software in the world. All the Wikimedia web services run on the Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP. Also the wiki-platform in use and developed by the community, the MediaWiki, is a free software.

Wikimedia / Wikipedia’s decision to be multilingual is another attempt to increase accessibility. Most people in the world do not speak English. Also most people in the world are more or less multilingual. They are fluent in their native language but can more or less operate with one, two or three other languages. When using the content of the Wikimedia / Wikipedia they simultaneously use several language versions, to get a rich picture of the topic.

Finally there is one more news from the Wikimedia / Wikipedia, related to accessibility. The mobile phone operator Orange and the Wikimedia Foundation will provide for more than 70 million people in African and the Middle East, free of charge mobile access to Wikipedia. The Orange-Wikimedia deal is non-exclusive and other operators are invited to join it.

In those parts of the world where the only affordable access to Internet for majority of people is (and will be) with mobile phone this is great news. It also demonstrates that we can provide accessible services and infrastructure if we really want to.

The Wisdom of Motivated Crowds

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Wikimania 2011 Group Picture flosse 1024x451 The Wisdom of Motivated Crowds

I have been lately thinking a lot the idea of motivated crowds and how the idea could be used in teaching and learning. Firstly, what is a motivated crowd?

In an interview published in the Wikipedia Signpost Umberto Eco makes a difference between wisdom of crowds and wisdom of motivated crowds:

“I don’t quite agree with this. I am a disciple of Peirce, who argues that scientific truths are, ultimately, approved by the community. The slow work of the community, through revisions and errors, as he put it in the nineteenth century, carries out “the torch of truth”. The problem is the definition of truth.

If I were forced to replace “truth” with “crowd”, I would not agree. If you make a statistical analysis of the 6 billion inhabitants of the globe, the majority believes that the Sun revolves around the Earth, there’s nothing you can do. The crowd would be prepared to endorse the wrong answer.”

Some research suggests (see a summary e.g. in the Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowicki) that crowds are good at choosing from a selection of predefined answers but bad in defining problems or to invent solutions. Later in the interview Eco describes the idea of motivated crowds are follows:

“We must therefore find another criterion, which I think is the motivated crowds. People who work on Wikipedia … are not the indiscriminate crowd [but] are the part of the crowd who feels motivated to work with Wikipedia. Here it is: I’d replace the theory of the “wisdom of the crowd” with the theory of the “wisdom of the motivated crowds.” The general crowd says we should not pay taxes; the motivated crowd says that it’s fair to pay them. In fact, it’s not the ditch diggers or illiterates who contribute to Wikipedia, but people who already belong to a cultural crowd for the very fact they’re using a computer.”

This leads us to the second issue: what constitutes motivation?

Steven Reiss has proposed a theory with basic desires that explain human behaviour. In the article Multifaceted Nature of Intrinsic Motivation: The Theory of 16 Basic Desires Reiss (2004) describe the motives behind the desires. These are:

  • Desire to influence (including leadership; related to mastery),
  • Desire for knowledge,
  • Desire to be autonomous,
  • Desire for social standing (including desire for attention),
  • Desire for peer companionship (desire to play),
  • Desire to get even (including desire to compete, to win),
  • Desire to obey a traditional moral code,
  • Desire to improve society (including altruism, justice),
  • Desire to exercise muscles,
  • Desire for sex (including courting),
  • Desire to raise own children,
  • Desire to organize (including desire for ritual),
  • Desire to eat,
  • Desire for approval,
  • Desire to avoid anxiety, fear,
  • Desire to collect, value of frugality

A motivated crowd is a crowd that provide possibilities to full fill these desires in a balanced way.

Nevertheless, when we approach the wisdom of crowds from the motivational point of view, the term crowd starts to loose its original dictionary meaning: “a large number of people gathered together, typically in a disorganized or unruly way” ( Apple OSX Dictionary). The motivated crowds are people gathered together, but as they are driven by motives (to fulfil their desires) they start to organize themselves.

I have been sceptical about the idea of massive open online course (MOOC). I have a theory: many courses (not only the MOOCs) are not motivating because they do not pay enough attention to the participant’s desires.

In a good course students should have the opportunity to practice leadership, gain knowledge, and be autonomous. Students should be provided ways to get social attention and opportunities to play and compete with each other. But this is not enough. Students should have the opportunity to make connections to deep philosophical issues, too: to obey moral codes, improve society and have connections to past and upcoming generations. Students should feel safe and secure and opportunities to take part in rituals, organize themselves, eat and express themselves as sexual beings. Finally, according to Reiss, we also have a desire to exercise muscles. Maybe the idea of school children gymnastics and the Bauhaus’ practice to began lessons with exercises is not that bad idea (I have tried the morning exercises, stretching, yoga, etc. in my lessons).

European perspectives on design for learning in the 21 century

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

In mid July, I gave a workshop and a keynote at the National conference of the Australasian Association of Distance Education Schools in Tasmania, Australia. The slides of my talk are here:

View more presentations from teemul.

During the lecture I showed some of my favourit videos related to ICT/New Media and education. I’ll add them here too, with some comments.

I think people working in the field of ICT and education in the 21 century should get familiar with Marshall Mc Luhan‘s ideas. Interestingly enough you can do it today by watching Mc Luhan talking on video about his (literature) scholarly works. A video with an interview from the year 1960, made by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, is one of my favorites.

In the lecture I said that when Mc Luhan wrote about the tribal man in the era of electronic media, I am worried that with the digital media we may see some tribal wars, too. When then week later, I got the news about the attack in Oslo, I couldn’t help to think that this is an example of tribal war in the era of digital media. Someone should do a proper study of the killers social media behavior and its effects on him.

In the presentation I also summarized three main research topics I see as the most crucial and important in the field of ICT or New Media in education. These are (1) Creative spaces, (2) Social software and (3) Free and open content. Related to these topics I have some videos, too.

The first one is an example of “future classroom” or “creative space” where the ICT is just an add-on. By watching couple of minutes of it you’ll notice (5 minutes is definitely enough!) that the teacher is teaching the way they are use to do, and the role of the students is to listen and talk only when teacher is asking them something. The laptops are there, but they are not practically used for anything else than to deliver material.

With the video I try to demonstrate how important is to think first pedagogy and only then consider what ICT tools could help in the implementation of it. Bringing laptops and interactive whiteboards to the classroom without re-considering the whole idea of teaching and learning is useless.

In universities, at least in Europe, there is a lot of discussion on “learning centers”. In most of the cases they are build on top or beside existing university libraries. The interest on the “learning centers” comes from the fact that more and more of learning materials, especially academic journals and articles (and soon study books, too) are already available online. Faculty and students see the benefits of using digital content – it is always available. Same time there is a worry that meeting other students, sharing ideas and working together will decrease. When we know that learning is a social process and that often innovations happen when people from different disciplines get together, isolation caused by digital content can be a real issue. A contra-argument is that the social part will take place in social media, but it is also true that meeting face-to-face increases collaboration and trust between people.

The École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne’s (one of the top Universities in Europe) learning center concept is interesting. The forms of the building are based on the human movements in space. The open public space invites students to hang-out, to do their study work and same time meet other people. The public space with “hills” can be used for gatherings and events of different size. Many small meeting rooms gives more privacy for groups working together and wireless connectivity provides access to learning materials.

Related to the creative space I also presented the idea of large multi-user displays. One example of this is the multitouch microscope. Researchers at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) and Multitouch Ltd have created a gesture controlled microscope that is combination of web-based virtual microscopy and large multitouch display.

The new creative spaces should include social software in them. The software will run “in” the multitouch displays and in people’s own devices, such as pads and mobile phones. Critical in the this track of development is that the software will be web-based (in practice HTML5). This way we may use the devices students already have with them; a laptop, pad or mobile phone with a web browser. It is also important that the students own devices will seamlessly work together. This is what our design research is about in the European iTEC project.

I finished my talk to a new video explaining the LeMill – Web community for finding, authoring and sharing open educational resources, developed in my research group. In addition to have media/internet/web-rich creative spaces with large displays and social software we also need free and open content. To increase the amount of open content such projects as the Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects are very important. In addition to these we also need projects that are precisely targeting to create learning materials for different levels of education and in different languages. In this — at least in the primary and secondary levels — I consider LeMill to be one of the most important projects in the world.

I had absolutely great time in Australia. People were very friendly and I like the humor in there. Professionally, I particularly enjoyed the pre-conference workshop giving me a nice overview of the ICT use in Australian schools, colleges and universities. It was not a surprise for me that in distance education Australians are in their own level (with Canadians) but there were also interesting experiments and research related to ICT implementation and policies in “normal” schools and other educational institutions (1t:1 computing, social media, etc.).

There are probably many blog posts related to the conference. As traveling, I haven’t found time to read them all, but I found this post, which I really like. There are also references to Educational system in Finland: How to win the “best schools” competition – don’t play the game!.

Another nice surprise in the conference was that just before my talk the Hon Peter Garrett MP gave his talk about the Australian Government’s $2.4 billion investment on ICT in education to create Digital Education Revolution. His talk is worth of reading. With the Minister I also got a a chance to chat a bit about his musical and political career in the last 20 years. I actually saw his band playing in Finland in 1990. I was 21. It was a good summer, indeed.