Archive for the ‘Sharing economy’ Category

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.

Open Education, Personal Learning and National Policies

Monday, August 30th, 2010

800px USA 1956 3c FriendshipTheKeyToWorldPeace Open Education, Personal Learning and National Policies

I just finished co-authoring of an article for a book that will be published by (and for) the Parliament of Finland. The title of the article is “Open learning – the end of teaching?”. In it we try to explain what open education and personal learning are and what kind of scenarios there are related to the theme. We present three scenarios:

  1. Society of independent learning communities
  2. Academic capitalism
  3. Small entrepreneurs of open education

We do not value the scenarios anyhow. We aim to leave that for the reader.

We do, however, claim that a society of independent learning communities is a risk. With it we may loose the society wide cohesion and responsibility. In this case there would be some great communities but also some extremely nonconstructive one.

We also show how academic capitalism valuing highly knowledge with high exchange value (patents and immaterial right) is partly dominating, but also partly withdrawing trend. Open Access, open scientific data, free culture, Wikipedia/Wikimedia and open courseware movements are examples of the change. The knowledge with high use value (not necessary exchange value) has shown to be providing, in a long run, more value for the mankind at large.

With the small entrepreneurs scenario we build on the Ivan Illich’s deschooling idea. According to Illich:

“A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.”

Some kind of “deschooling” would naturally require network of entrepreneurs interested in to operate in the area. If doing it with public funds it would make sense that all online activities are open and transparent for all.

We see that most likely in the future we will se features of all three scenarios. How national policy could then respond to the challenge? We propose five action points:

  • We should invest to all citizens — including adults — ability to build good national online culture that will provide bases for the constructive open education online.
  • We should expand the concept of “liberal education” / “free adult education” in the legislation so that public funding could be allocated also for individual citizens, organizations and businesses and not only for the established institutions.
  • The public funding should operate so that it would allow direct support for individual open online courses.
  • We should more widely recognize — also outside the “liberal education / “free adult education” — that studying and learning is not only a matter of reaching economical goals but as a such increases people’s happiness and wellbeing.
  • Government should provide the most critical social media services for learning and research purposes.

With these action we have a chance to maintain the happy family we have been for a long time. Righ now it looks that we may loose it.

“All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. ” – Leo Tolstoy

I was last weekend in Copenhagen. I learned a lot about many things. I have been many times in Copenhagen but only now realized that it is a happy family.

With the Tolstoy’s thought in mind I am now really interested in to study “happy families”. Whatever you consider your “family” to be a modern nuclear family, commune, neighborhood, language or racial group or an online community they resemble one another. They are mutually supportive and empathic.

Wikipedia article traffic statistics are hypnotics

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

I am trying to get offline, to the vacation mood, to read some good books in a hammock.

200px Wikipe tan trifecta sign Wikipedia article traffic statistics are hypnotics

I took some notes in the WikiSym / Wikimania.

I take notes in rather unstructured way. I carry several paper notebooks with me: often an A5 size and a small A6 sketchbooks. Then I always have with me a laptop and a phone which I use for note taking, too. Sometimes I also write notes to some random Post IT notes, which I often have in the case.

My logics with this kind of note taking is that if something is not really important I may and will lose it. Also if I really need something later I should be willing to take the effort to search it.

So, what is there, couple of days after the Wikisym/Wikimania, in the top of my pile of notes? There are many things, such as:

From all these I have some random notes in here and there. I may write blog posts about them later.

The most hypnotic new thing I found during the WikiSym/Wikimania is probably the Wikipedia article traffic statistics. Actually it is not even new and I think it was not even presented in the conference, but with some free browsing on wiki-related things I happen to found it now.

With the service you can check the popularity of any Wikipedia article from more than 70 language versions. The latest statistics are from December 2009, but it is still la lot of fun. I have been playing with it now for several days.

For instance, I have been comparing the top 1000 articles of the Finnish, Swedish and Russian Wikipedias.

Here are the top-10 articles in the Finnish, Swedish and Russian Wikipedias in December 2009:

Finnish Wikipedia

  1. Suomi (Finland)
  2. Wiki
  3. Talvisota (Winter War 1939)
  4. Brittany Murphy (Hollywood celebrity)
  5. Irwin Goodman (a Finnish protest singer, rock and folk singer)
  6. Suomen itsenäisyyspäivä (The Finnish Independent Day)
  7. Joulu (Christmas)
  8. Twilight – Houkutus (Hollywood movie)
  9. Lady Gaga (American celebrity)
  10. Yhdysvallat (United States of America)

Swedish Wikipedia

  1. Sverige (Sweden)
  2. Brittany Murphy (Hollywood celebrity)
  3. Wiki
  4. Lucia (Saint Lucy’s Day)
  5. Anna Anka (Swedish Hollywood celebrity)
  6. Julkalendern i Sveriges Television (Christmas calendar in a Swedish Television)
  7. Kurt Wallander (character in Henning Mankell’s novels)
  8. Jul (Christmas)
  9. Wikipedia
  10. USA (United States of America)

Russian Wikipedia

  1. В Контакте (Russian social network service)
  2. Турчинский, Владимир Евгеньевич (Vladimir Turchinsky; Russian celebrity, bodybuilder, TV/radio, actor)
  3. Википедия (Wikipedia)
  4. Россия (Russia)
  5. Порнография (Porno)
  6. Мой Мир (free e-mail service)
  7. Аватара (Avatar concept of Hinduism)
  8. Москва (Moscow)
  9. BitTorrent
  10. Новый год (New Year)

Looking the top lists of English (I love The Beatles, too) German (and adore Elisabeth von Österreich-Ungarn) and French (and listen to Johnny Hallyday) Wikipedia’s and comparing them is also interesting and fun.

From the top 1000 lists we may already conclude some hypothesis / theories. All the lists show the actuality of using Wikipedias. For Finnish and Swedish people Christmas is important, whereas in Russia New Year is the Christmas (Orthodox Calendar). The Finnish Independent day is in December. In December 2009 it was 50 years from the Winter War.

Also the celebrities in the list were actual in December 2009. In Finland and Sweden people seems to follow Hollywood. In Russia they have their own stars. Brittany Murphy in the Finnish and Swedish WIkipedia and Vladimir Turchinsky in the Russian Wikipedia represent the celebrities who died in December 2009.

It looks that the Russian Wikipedia in December 2009 was still dominated by technology / internet people. The general public was not yet the main user of the Russian Wikipedia as it obviously was the case in the Finnish and the Swedish Wikipedias.

The high position of Irwin Goodman, a Finnish protest singer, rock and folk singer, in the Finnish Wikipedia could be a result of some new research about him that was published in December 2009, but why is the Hindu concept Avatar so high in the Russian Wikipedia? Could it be that people were looking for information about the movie Avatar but end-up to this page?

Then you may ask why the Twilight movie and Lady Gaga are in top ten in the Finnish Wikipedia but in the Swedish Wikipedia only in the places 43 and 36. In the Russian Wikipedia these great cultural products are in the places 60 (Twilight) and 352 (Lady Gaga).

I already started to copy paste the data to spreadsheet to do more analyses, but gave up. I know that there are people who really can do statistics. I am not very good with them, but I would love to do some cultural-historical analyses of the Wikipedias with someone with solid skill in statistics. Let’s do some hypothesis and see what the data tells us.

Imagine courses that take place in wikis, blogs, social networks…

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

I am this week in the WikiSym / Wikimania double conference.

Its’ another great opportunity to spend some time with the world’s brightest wiki-minds: academics, developers, community members and bureaucrats.

I am going to give a short talk on Friday in the Wikiversity session. I am going to present the EduFeedr, a small and beautiful project I am working with Hans Põldoja.

If you can’t make it to Gdańsk — it’s sunny and with nice mixture (like good wikis) of Slavic flexibility and Prussian order — you may check the following presentation. I’ll copy here also the abstract of the talk:

Designing Tools for Supporting Wikiversity Courses: the Case of EduFeedr

In spring 2008 the authors organized a course on composing free and open educational resources (in the Wikiversity). It was officially a master’s course at the University of Art and Design Helsinki. The authors decided to make the course available with an open enrollment through the Wikiversity and promoted it in their blogs. As a result about 70 people from 20 countries signed up for the course on the Wikiversity page.

The course was organized as a weekly blogging seminar. In each week the facilitators posted a weekly theme and links to related readings on the course blog. The participants reflected on the weekly theme in their personal blogs and commented their peers.

One of the challenges in a large blog-based course is to follow all the communication. Typically this communication takes place not only in blogs but also in other environments such as Delicious, Twitter, etc. Most of these environments provide RSS feeds but typical RSS readers are not very suitable for following this kind of courses. Most of the RSS readers such as Google Reader are designed for personal use. In a Wikiversity course it would be important to have a shared feed reader that all the participants could use.

EduFeedr is a web-based feed reader that is designed specifically for following and supporting learners in open blog-based courses. The design process of EduFeedr is based on the research-based design methodology. We have organized several Wikiversity courses where we have tried out various online tools to manage the course. The initial user needs for EduFeedr came out from this contextual inquiry. Interaction design methods such as scenario-based design, user stories and paper prototyping have been used in the process.

As a result of the design process we have indicated the key features for EduFeedr. These include (1) signing up for the course, (2) visualizing how the students have proceeded with the assignments, (3) visualizing the social network between the students, (4) annotating blog posts and comments, and (5) archiving the course.

EduFeedr is currently a work-in-progress. The first version is implemented as Elgg plugin and we are currently doing internal testing with real data from several Wikiversity courses. In this version we have implemented signing up for the course and some of the planned visualizations. We are planning to launch the beta version of EduFeedr service in late summer 2010. The source code and more information about EduFeedr is available at the project web site (see

Open education: if you can do it, do it

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

Some time ago the New York Times wrote about the fathers’ leave in Sweden. The articles ends with these words:

In Sweden I am on the right,” Mr. Westerberg said, “but in the United States, I’m considered a Communist.”

Some days ago David Wiley wrote that with the open content the Open Knowledge Foundation gets it wrong when claiming that share-alike licenses are open but non-commercial ones aren’t.

For those who are not that familiar with the open/free content/knowledge discussion, the share-alike (SA) license has a condition asking people who remix or build upon the content to distribute the resulting work under the same license. The license ensures that later works will be open, too — will stay in commons. Wiley wrote:

“When authors adopt a share-alike license, they are saying: we value the freedom of content over the freedom of people.”

As an author using share-alike license I see this a bit differently. I value the *freedom of mankind*, the common good, over the freedom of content or individuals.

I think that this is the way most SA people see it: When you are given, you should give back, too.

I also do not consider use of SA to be any kind of violation of individual’s rights. Individual’s rights is something I am not willing to negotiate about. In the case of content anyone is still free to release *their own stuff* under whatever license. So, as a such SA is not really communism. It is a way to contribute to the common good.

Later Wiley wrote a follow-up post with the title Openness, Radicalism, and Tolerance and asking “Why isn’t the open crowd more open-minded?”

I see here some signs of a straw man arguments.

I think we should look how the Free / Open Source Softeware movement and the Open Content movement were started. People simply started to do things. The Free software people made software and wanted to share it with their friends. Some other people started to write free encylopedia or publish University course content online. They just did it because they could.

What are people doing in the field of Open Education?

Many things. For instance, the Peer 2 Peer Univeristy and the Wikiversity are crassroot open education projects organizing self-organizing learning online. The idea is to bring people together to teach and to learn from each other. Simple.

Similar kind of initiatives are started here and there: from Indian to Brazil, From South Africa to Finland. I find these much more interesting that the discussion on content-driven “open education”. The content is there – now it is the time to use it. That is education.

Peer 2 Peer University 2010 from P2P University on Vimeo.