Archive for the ‘educational tool’ Category

How (online) learning could be knowledge building?

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

In the technology-enhanced learning field the year 2012 has been the year of MOOCs (massive open online courses). I definitely support the idea of opening possibilities for self-driven and self-motivated students to study and learn online. The high-profile projects and endeavors in the MOOCs-business are also looking for smart ways to initiate peer-to-peer activities, such as peer-support and peer-evaluation. This will make the MOOCs more collaborative and participatory than classical distance learning courses or courses using automated checking of exercises (e.g. in programming courses in computer sciences or math). When the MOOCs are moving more to the direction of collaborative learning it is possible that they will also include activities that could be called knowledge building. It doesn’t, however, happen automatically. To make it right it asks for some serious thinking and design.

In the following I’ll try to illustrate my thoughts on the matter with some late examples from my practice as a teacher.

Earlier this year I wrote an article to the Towards peer production 
in public services: cases from Finland book about p2p learning, media used in it and on the question who should we consider to be our peer. In it I define different kind of media for peer-to-peer learning and discuss their potential, different implication for learning. Different media enables different practices.

Online media, when used to distribute learning materials, to exchange ideas and links with blogs, micro-blogs, discussion forums, social bookmaking and social network services are powerful tools for learning. In the MOOC implementations I haven’t so far seen that students would have been guided to do research together in a small group with an aim to present their results for their peers. I am sure that with smart design one could implement this with the existing tools. However, it would require a lot of planning and coordination. The tools and services (blogs, wikis, microblogs) simply do not support very well small group collaboration.

In a university classroom I have tried to get students to do their own research. This autumn term, in the Media Lab Helsinki, I have been teaching the Introduction to Media Art and Culture course with Marita Liulia. It is an annual introductory course for all the students of the department. Our objective is to engage students to do self-driven collaborative knowledge building. The course is an introductory course, 3 study credits (3 x 27 hours study workload), three weeks of intensive studying. The time dedicated for this is scarce. This means that it is not possible to present or discuss all important media art and media culture phenomena in the course. Only lecturing on the themes of the course would actually be silly and would only give a poor overview of the topics.

Because of this we have organized the course a bit differently. In the course we have three sections and two major assignments. During the first week I concentrated on media culture and communication studies while in the second week, led by Marita, the focus is on Media Art. We aim to provide students with tips on where to grab on and to study interesting things independently more. Therefore, during the course students also study in small groups some media culture concepts and media artists. The results of the teams are presented in the third week. The aim is to guide students to find and evaluate information from existing sources.

When students are doing their assignments, the idea is to have activities that are close to those introduced as self-organizing learning environment (SOLE) by Sugata Mitra. The first assignment is to study a concept; theory or phenomena related to media studies. It can be something like transmedia storytelling, Jürgen Habermas public sphere or Google’e PageRank. In their research students may use whatever sources: web sites, Wikipedia, on- and offline libraries, articles, books etc. They are expected to find the sources themselves. The results of research are then presented for all.

Even though our students are highly motivated and interested in the topics of the course, it is difficult to design assignments so that there would be meaningful knowledge building. In groups there are always students who take the assignments more seriously and those who simply try to do as little as possible. I understand very well those students who do as little as possible when the assignment is not something he or she is internally interested in to study. Still I do not believe in extrinsic motivation. I believe, however, that we may help people to find their intrinsic motivation. To guide students to really deepen their understanding on the topics under study we give them the following guidelines:

(1) Make the assignment challenging for you
Set yourself and the group research question.
Ask what you want to know more about the concept.
Start from your own level.

(2) Make it personal
Think how do you feel about the topics you are studying.
Think are there any connections to your own work or life.

(3) Be critical
Check your sources: two sources are better than one. Primary is better than later.
Pay extra attention to criticism made by other.

(4) Make connections and references
Try to find connections to other concepts, disciplines, traditions and people.
Remember references.

Someone should do an experiment: an online course that would include in it some real study assignments, peer-to-peer learning and peer evaluation. It probably would not be massive but it would be interesting. I would like to see what kind of groupware / social software student groups would like to use in their study work? How would the groups preset their finding for others? How would they evaluate each other.

Maybe I’ll do the experiment. Let’s see.

Why tablet is a lousy learning device and how it could be better?

Thursday, August 16th, 2012
800px Apple iPad Event03 Why tablet is a lousy learning device and how it could be better?

iPad with on display keyboard. Photo by matt buchanan / Wikimedia Commons

In Finland the discussion on tablets in schools has reach a new level. It looks like a real hype. Principals, heads of school districts and library directors are feverishly trying to find out cash from their budgets to acquire some of these devices to be used in education.

Those who praise tablets usability in learning have dominated the discussion. There have been some critical comments, like the one made by a City of Helsinki’s early-childhood learning expert saying that there is scientific evidence that walking in a forest is good for learning and to replace that with tablets is very hard.

I have been testing and studying tablets for two year now. I have not myself tried them in a classroom teaching but have studied several cases and think that I have a relatively good picture of the usage.

Tablets are great media devices. They are good for reading, for watching videos, for listen music and other audio. They are also extremely easy to use for taking photos, shooting videos and for doing audio recordings. They are more exciting than any other information and communication technology for playing games. There are tens of good and interesting click-drag-and-drop-drill-and-practice educational games. Children really get excited about them and may also learn something by playing these games.

So why not tablets in schools?

I really do not have any scientific evidence to back this (this is all my intuitions based on my limited understanding of human cognitions) but I think writing and drawing are the most important (meta-)skills in all kind of learning.

What I know for sure is that with tablets writing and drawing is very difficult — mostly painful experience. With the virtual keyboard you may write short messages. Writing a blog post like this is impossible even for an experienced keyboard / tablet writer. Drawing with your fingers is fun, but if you really need to sketch, draw a diagram or a map that is not possible with finger paints. To draw you need a sharper tool and precision grip.

Giving up writing and precision grip is like going backwards in a human evolution. Is that what we really want to do in schools?

So how tablets could be better?

We should have much better virtual keyboards. Or we should have a proper keyboard in a tablet in a way that it is always available for use (does this sound like a laptop?). Microsoft surface is an interesting proposal to this direction. Whatever virtual or mechanical, a tablet for learning should be a powerful writing tool.

742px Archives of American Art   Blanche Grambs at work   2129 Why tablet is a lousy learning device and how it could be better?

Blanche Grambs at work. Photo by Bofinger / Wikimedia Commons

In addition to the keyboard we should have a drawing pad that resemble closely paper and can be used with sticks, paintbrush etc. – practically with everything you may want to hold in your hand. Like the keyboard, the paper-like drawing pad should always be available with the tablet.

I know that there are other people promoting same things and even designing and developing things along these lines. To make sure that it will happen, in the research group we have started to design our own (experimental) prototypes of devices, too. Let’s see how it will be.

Learning Environments research group is hiring

Monday, August 6th, 2012

The Learning Environments research group (LeGroup) at the Media Lab Helsinki of the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture is looking for doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers interested in to work in several new research projects starting in Autumn 2012.

For the doctoral students position(s) there is still a week to prepare your application materials. The applications should arrive no later than on August 14th 2012. You will find the official call text and instructions from the Aalto University web site. Please read it carefully and prepare your application.

If you are interested in to the postdoctoral researcher post(s) , please send an email to Teemu Leinonen with a (1) cover letter, (2) CV, (3) design portfolio and (4) a statement of your research interests.

Further information
Associate Professor Teemu Leinonen
e-mail: teemu.leinonen@aalto.fi
tel. +358 50 351 6796
www.aalto.fi/en
http://taik.aalto.fi/en/
https://reseda.taik.fi/Taik/jsp/taik/Index.jsp?lang_global=en&

Qualified Self and Learning Analytics: from Quantification to Qualification

Monday, May 14th, 2012

I think the learning analytic research should move from the current practice of doing quantitative data analyses to include in it qualitative analyses. The quantified self should be expanded to be qualified self.

In learning analytics research we should consider use of mixed methods that are combining quantitative and qualitative data analyses.

Today the learning analytic research builds strongly on the quantified self idea. The idea of quantified self is simple and powerful. With help of technology we can collect data on our daily life, such as our physical activity (mobility, walking, running etc.), surrounding environment (weather, air quality etc.), our performance (work, study etc.) and social relations (emails, phone calls etc.). The reason to gather and analyze data is to increase awareness on ones own life and ultimately, I assume, to have a chance to change things in it.

The idea of quantified self raises some questions. Like, how much data on their behavior and analyses people really need to get to the right conclusion? For instance, people who have never tracked or record their jogging can still tell pretty accurate information on it (for instance: I run 0, 1 or 2 times / week / 3-5 kilometers). Whatever they run a lot, little or not at all they must be aware about the fact. People also can tell relatively good description of their diet. Most of us do not have a clue about the amount of calories we eat, but most of us know whatever our diet is healthy or not. Because of knowing all this (without any numbers) people may also pay attention on their diet and may have an attempt to run more (or less). On the other hand many people rarely enjoy running and often enjoy unhealthy food. In some aspect jogging and eating healthy food are decreasing the quality of their life.

A different thing is when someone is training, for instance, to run a marathon. In it exact data and a plan helping to reach the objective is for sure useful. Most of us, however, are not interested in about this kind of training. Doing some training is still important.

The idea behind the learning analytics is that collection and analysis of data about learners and their context will provide opportunities to optimize learning and the learning environment (compare to training to run a marathon). In practical implementation of the learning analytics, learners and teachers are provided visualizations on their interactions and progress in some study course. The visualizations can be things like performance in assignments and tests compared to other students or social network analyses.

At some level this probably makes sense, but I think often in study work one can reach good conclusion simply by observing, self-reflecting and using common sense. I think most students know, from various small hints, how they are doing in a class. It is a bit like knowing that I do not run enough or knowing that I should eat healthier food — just by knowing it without any accurate data. In this case people are doing qualitative analyses that is not based on the limited accurate data from the course but from various sources of fuzzy information.

Getting back to the issue of running and diet, however, we must remember that without tens of years of scientific research on the topics — health, physical exercise and diet — people wouldn’t be able to come up with the “right” conclusions of these things importance in their own well-being. I assume this is the case with learning and learning research, too. We should study how people learn, because that will help individuals to monitor, reflect and self-regulate their own behavior. Even if numbers and visualizations on individuals’ behavior may help students to be aware of some things related to their learning, I think we should get beyond it — to the quality of learning.

For many years in social science there has been two methodological camps — you may call them paradigms —fighting on their relevance. These are quantitative research and qualitative research. Recently there has been some advance of bringing them together. The mixed methods have become popular. Often quantitative research can provide interesting research questions for qualitative research and other way around. To get a good picture on some complex social phenomena (e.g. learning) one must use both.

The mixed method (also called multimethodology) approach could be used in learning analytics research, too. What then would be qualitative learning analytics? Could this approach lead to qualified self?

With some latest prototypes we have somehow touch the topic. We call the new learning tools reflection tools. Here is a video of the three latest prototypes.

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

The idea with the tools is not to collect quantitative data (there is some, like how many reflections one have made), but to provide a space for student to do reflection in natural language. With the tools students are asked to think and ponder questions, like: what I have learned? What I have done? What I am planning to do next? Have I faced any problems to implement my plans?

The reflection tools are also calm technology. They are designed not to be distributive in a learning situations taking place in social interaction. They are not central, they are peripheral, but can be brought to the center when needed.

What I would like to see in future in the learning analytic research is a move to the direction of machine learning and natural language analyzes. I am imaging that one day we could automatically or semi-automatically analyze content people create as part of their learning activities (or everyday life) and based on that provide them hints on directions they could explore more. The picture build out of the qualitative data (the content produced) could be something that could be called “Qualified Self”.

As a final (meta) note I want to explain how this idea of qualified self and qualitative learning analytics idea came to life. Why? Because it is a nice story and demonstrates how research happens.

A couple of weeks ago I met with Erik Duval when he was giving a keynote in a conference in Finland. Erik is doing right now a lot of research on learning analytics. His talk and discussions we had were very inspiring. At some point we also discussed about quantitative and qualitative analyses – actually in the context of research evaluation.

Next week I was in Copenhagen and was lucky to have dinner with Timo Honkela – a colleague who happens to be visiting fellow in Copenhagen right now. Timo’s area of research is computational cognitive systems — “adaptive, autonomous and socio-culturally grounded cognitive systems that are able to learn and use language“. Some years ago with Timo we did some theoretical research around the idea of using self-organizing maps (SOM) in learning. During the dinner I explained to Timo the idea of qualified self. He liked it and brought in it the idea of machine learning. I hope in a near future we will do some writing on it.

In Copenhagen I also met Jonas Löwgren, one of the leading figures in interaction design. He made some more interesting comments on the idea of qualified self.

Thank you all!

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 edu.tech. 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.