Archive for the ‘Open Source’ Category

MOOCs or orchestrated jazzy learning with the Web?

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

In many things the middle is the best. MOOCs versus no MOOCs? The Web is the best.

800px Toronto All Star Big Band   Beaches Jazz Festival 2012 MOOCs or orchestrated jazzy learning with the Web?
Photo by synestheticstrings / Wikimedia Commons.

The massive open online courses are seen by some as a disruptive innovation in education. For instance, Michael Barber and his fellow lobbyists of the Pearson recently published a booklet with a provocative title: An Avalanche is Coming: Higher education and the revolution ahead. In it the authors give advice for the university leaders:

“University leaders need to take control of their own destiny and seize the opportunities open to them through technology – Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for example – to provide broader, deeper and more exciting education.”

The advice is interesting. Broader, deeper and more exciting education with technology? Yes. With MOOCs? Not sure.

Most people agree that there is a lot of room to develop MOOC pedagogy. Distance courses have been organized for close to 300 years. Online learning over Internet (often called eLearning) is close to 20 years old. Neither, the distance courses over mail, radio, TV or the eLearning with Internet, have been great success stories. The main criticism has been that there is a lack of (human) interaction. Those MOOCs that are now emphasizing communities, peer evolution and group work tasks are trying to do get this right.

With the eLearning and most of the MOOCs there seems to be one major problem: poor understanding of the nature of the Web and how to use it most efficiently in teaching and learning.

The people promoting connectivist MOOC (also called cMOOCs) claim that the cMOOCs are a platform that “emphasizes creation, creativity, autonomy, and social networked learning“. Maybe.

These MOOC enthusiasts seems to believe that the opportunity itself will make people autonomous, creative and social and that every person have this character. I agree — partly. All people are creative, autonomy, and social. The challenge is that most of us have a life history that has shape us not to be creative, autonomous or even social.

The MOOC developers should pay a special attention to find ways to support human beings that do not have pre-existing, internal motivation to be creative, autonomous and/or social. In this task the traditional schools, colleagues and universities are, at least in average, doing much better job than the MOOCs. Not all of them, but many. The key in the case of the schools, colleagues and universities is to be a community: a social network where people respects and cares about each other and support each other in their attempt to be autonomous learners.

Many schools, colleagues and universities are also today magnificently using the Web to achieve these objectives. For instance, my university provides for the academic staff a service to find interesting contacts to study and works with, a blog service, a wiki platforms and mailing lists. Maybe a bit surprisingly we also have pretty classical order and discipline management that do not want to provide these services for students.

With the tools we can orchestrate learning on the Web. We can orchestrate learning but still keep it free for improvisation. That is why I call it orchestrated jazzy learning.

We can have a blog for the study project, ask students to share their essays and other creations on a wiki, ask students to share their projects online have discussion on a forum on urgent matters in the community, use Twitter and Facebook to share our work and to facilitate discussion with a wider audience. Depending on the direction people takes in the course, as some kind of jazz collective, and depending on the respond we get from our “audience” we improvise.

Why it is so difficult to have MOOCs that would work this way?

The difference is in the number of strong and weak links. In MOOCs there are thousands of weak links — links between the people participating in the course. In an orchestrated jazzy learning with the Web in a campus university there are many strong links (your class, your teachers, your department, your lab) and many weak links (practically everyone in the world who is interested in).

There are, however, examples of building strong links online, too. Howard Rheingold’s Rheingold U is a good example of an online community with strong links too. The Rheingold U alumni have, for instance, co-authored the Peeragogy Handbook.

The General Assembly is another interesting startup with online classes and workshops in various locations. The service is matching great teachers and instructors with specific skills and people interested in to learn them. The classes are small and the courses are intensive (In 2001 I co-found a company called that was in practice doing exactly the same).

Adianta School for Leadership and Innovation is also doing things differently. They have a curriculum with three large themes: innovate, build and lead. In their program building balanced network of strong and weak links is crucial. For instance in one of the courses students’ assignment is to get 100 followers on Twitter and get retweeted 10 times in a week.

MOOCs are not the disruptive innovation in education. The Web is the disruptive innovation in education. Some players in the educational field will be better in utilizing the Web than others. Some will have MOOCs, when others will build jazz collectives using the Web.

It is not only a matter of using the tools, the Web. It is also a new way of thinking about studying and work. The Web is challenging us to see that most innovative and productive organizations and people are no more managed by “order and discipline”. The organizations are becoming networks of autonomous, creative and social subjects. We should take advantage of it. The right place to exercise this is a school. The educational organizations must be the first to change. Or actually, you must be the first to change.

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?

Prototypes: ReFlex, Square One, Cardboard Hospital

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

One of the reasons why I enjoy working in the learning environments research group — and in the School of Arts, Design and Architecture — is the possibility to design and build prototypes.

In our academic practice we aim, no only to study and do research on learning environments and learning tools but also to build new artifacts (prototypes, models etc,). The artifacts that are designed during the design research are a crucial part of the research results. The way the artifacts are forms part of the research argumentation.

I have above updated slide set presenting our research group. From it you’ll get an overview of the research projects we are currently involved in and some examples of the prototypes. Things are done by people — they are presented, too.

With this post I am happy to present three relatively new prototypes made in the research group. These are ReFlex, Square One and Cardboard Hospital.

reflex blog Prototypes: ReFlex, Square One, Cardboard Hospital

ReFlex is a tool for learners to record 60-second audio-visual clips of their personal learning experiences, to store them on a timeline and to share them with teachers, peers and parents. All recordings by one learner are stored on a personal timeline and are accessible for later review. In addition to the present, learners may also create “time capsule” recordings for the future. Time capsules can only be opened when their set date is reached, and can be used as statements of learning objectives. From the entire pool of recordings, learners can mark important clips by highlighting them. The best way to get an idea of it is to try it. ReFlex is a web app and available in:

square1 image blog3 Prototypes: ReFlex, Square One, Cardboard Hospital

Square One is a single task dedicated learning devices designed for group work in schools. The idea is that school children could build their own device in a Fab Lab kind of facilities. In the Square One there are three kind of devices: (1) one dedicated for writing, (2) one for drawing and (3) one central piece for searching and for assembling presentations out of the content created by the learners. The central piece is a two-sided tablet, one side is dedicated for searching and the other side for assembling. The central piece comes with cameras, microphones and speakers. The writing and drawing tools are dedicated only for these tasks. You write or draw and then you send your creation to the central piece. We are currently doing the software and hardware design and looking for the components. There is a more complete description of the Square One (or Square 1) in the LEAD-project blog.

Cardboard Hospital is model for prototyping workshop, service design and co-design. The model was tested this spring in our Media Center Lume. In the workshops, patients, hospital staff and architects were creating ideas for the future hospital environment through physical 1:1 prototyping. The Cardboard hospital worked as a media rich learning environment for stakeholders (architects, patients, medical doctor and nurses) to discuss, negotiate, to transfer and to design new spatial, organization and process solutions. This is is presented in the video above.

This post was originally published in the blog of the Learning Environments research group.

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
tel. +358 50 351 6796

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.