Archive for the ‘Social Software’ 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.

TeamUp: a soft launch

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

team up guide large TeamUp: a soft launch

For a couple of months now we have been designing and developing a tool called TeamUp.

It is still in an alpha stage. However, we decided to do a public “soft launch” because it is a working prototype that can be already tested in schools and other contexts where people are aiming to work together in several teams, so that the work takes place in a sequential sessions.

That was the “high level” explanation. The short description:

With TeamUp you may form teams based on skills and interests and record teams’ progress.

Ward Cunningham, the developer of the first wiki platform described a wiki as “the simplest online database that could possibly work“. I think that in a way, TeamUp is the simplest collaborative software that could possible work.

Then the most important thing, the links:

Public test site
In here you may create new classroom, add people, play with it or take it in use (please, read the warning below).
Warning: TeamUp is an experimental prototype and we may remove the service from the public internet without any advance warning. We also do not provide any guarantee on your data (e.g. the teams’ recording): all it may disappear at any point.

Public test classroom
This is a classroom with some people pre-added in it. This is a fast way to get an idea how TeamUp works. As it is a “public” service it can me a bit messy, as anonymous people are fooling around in there.

Download the software / source code
if you want to study TeamUp technology, you may want to have a look of the source code. Most content is licensed under some OSI approved license. If you want to write some code, let us know.

I must document this, too. We were having the circles before the Google+ was released.

TeamUp is designed in an European iTEC project. It is an early result of probably one of the most profound design process ever carried out in the field of educational technology (let me know, if I am wrong).

Behind the design of TeamUp there are: creation and analyses of 19 scenarios of the future of learning, created with various stakeholder and experts working in the field of education and 11 Participatory Design workshops with teachers in 10 European countries, naturally carried out in the local languages in authentic environment. On top of this we also have organized three Focus Group sessions with teachers to confirm some of our interpretations and design decisions.

With this size of investment to design one could expect more than a web widget for creating teams and recording audio clips. I agree.

There are other results from the process, too. We have recognized 28 design challenges (16 design opportunities), 13 learning activities and 6 learning stories that echo scenarios of future classroom. We also have two other tools in a stage of early prototype. More information is available in a the Report on Design Prototypes and Design Challenged for Education.

To see functional tool prototypes you still must wait.

PS. You may also contribute to the open source software development. If interested in, please, contact.

Children learning by themselves and progressive inquiry

Friday, June 10th, 2011

A couple of weeks ago — actually it was the May Day — I gave a talk in a conference in Ankara Turkey. Here are the slides from my talk:

One reason to accept the invitation (in Finland the May Day is an important festival of academia) was, that among the invited speakers there was Professor Sugata Mitra.

I consider Sugata Mitra to be one of the most important researcher in my field. To get an idea of his work you may check the lecture he gave in Google, just two weeks after the Ankara conference:

Sugata Mitra’s main argument — as I see it — is, that children learn many things when involved in to study things in small groups in front of a computer with an Internet connection. Children learn without a teacher, or at least without a teacher-led instruction.

Mitra has made a considerable amount of empirical research to prove his argument. I am convinced, although I think that if we’ll take a closer look of his experiments the argument is oversimplified. In the experiments there is a teacher — an extraordinary teacher. That is professor Mitra himself.

When doing the experiments Mitra is giving students an assignment. Often it is something relatively complex and open-ended, something like “find out how DNA works. You may use the computers. I am coming back in a couple of months to find out what did you learn”. What happens then is that children get excited about the computer, study the topic and then show Mitra what did they learn when he comes back. This is not learning without a teacher. There is a clear and clever teacher’s intervention: A professor asking students to study, giving them a new tools (computers) empowering them, giving them self-confidence and motivation. There is also a promise and actual implementation of assessment. All these are important didactical actions.

Another Mitra’s interesting insight is that children learn even better if they have a “granny figure” supporting them. The granny’s job is to stand behind the children, ask them what they are doing and admire them. Exactly what loving grannies do.

Again we can see that a good teachers is a bit like a granny: supports students, is interesting in their work and praise them. I think, however, even better teachers than a random granny is an expert of a domain acting the granny way. An excellent expert-teachers (can be a granny, too) is able to guide pupils in their inquiry by challenging their thinking and by providing new perspectives to the students inquiry. The point is to guide, not to instruct.

The progressive inquiry learning, a pedagogical model that has been widely studied, experimented and partly took in use in Finland, is close to Mitra’s way of teaching (I call it teaching, although there is very little teaching in a traditional sense). In my talk in Ankra I explained how progressive inquiry learning works and how pupils and students in all levels of education — from kindergartens to universities — can be guided to do research.

In the last weeks of the spring semester I have seen several learning cases that are one kind of implementations of progressive inquiry learning.

The TIVI-O-AALTO is an unconference organized by the Aalto University in a collaboration with the University of Helsinki. The topic of the event is use of ICT in teaching and learning in higher education. An unconference? What is an unconference? In traditional conferences, the most interesting ideas are often discussed outside the conference sessions, in corridors and coffee breaks. With the unconference format we aim to bring those discussion to be the main content of the event. The unconferences are open for all. Those people who come, are the right people. Anyone can sign to have a talk on any theme of the event. Sessions are informal and interactive. All participants are expected to take part in the discussion. This, however, does not mean that it is all just chit-chat. The sessions chairs are expected to facilitate the discussion and to make conclusions. If there are parallel sessions they may take place in one large space where people are free to move from one group to another. In the end of the day the chairs of the sessions will summarize discussions back to the whole group.

Another example with some elements of progressive inquiry learning, I recently heard about, is a card game designed for data structures and algorithms course of the Computer Science department. The card game was designed to study some of the main concepts of the course. The cards come with concepts and their definitions. These are all also available in the course materials. The game itself does not teach the players. The cards do not come with the answers. The idea is that one can play the game only when holding necessary information about the algorithms. When playing the cards students will face problems. That then drives them to discuss about it or collaboratively check the learning materials or search answer from other sources. The card playing put people to talk about the topics of the course. This will help students to know each other better and builds trust between them. This will help students in their studies in a future.

A third example of one kind of implementation of inquiry learning is from my own department. We call it “Open Workshop”. In the Media Lab most teaching is organized as a week or two long intensive workshops. The topics of the workshops are such as: Rendering/3D Advanced Techniques, Introduction to Visualization, Information Design, Composing with Pure Data, Interface Prototyping, Rapid Mobile Application Prototyping, etc. When done well, the workshops are progressive inquiry: students set problems, create and develop a variety of solutions, and end up in some that are then presented for others. A couple of years ago, students asked could there be one “Open Workshop” without any pre-defined themes, only a room for the entire week for students and faculty to meet and work together. What a great idea. Now the Open Workshop is officially in out curriculum. All students are welcome to join the workshop with their own New Media project to put it forward with others. A real opportunity for progressive inquiry learning.

Brand new New Media tool for school classes: TeamUp

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

We are working on a new tool for school classes, teachers and pupils. We call the prototype TeamUp. The idea is simple: it is a tool for creating great teams for classroom team work. You may try the prototype over here:

TeamUp is designed for touch screens / tablets and interactive whiteboards. When trying it think how it could be used on a large interactive whiteboard in front of the class or from a tablet with a projection for all pupils.

Picture 81 1024x553 Brand new New Media tool for school classes: TeamUp

With the TeamUp teacher can add “mental notes” (visual tags) related to the pupils. Teacher can mark who is who’s friend in the class, who do not get along together, what pupils like/dislike, what are they hobbies etc. Adding mental notes is not necessary shown for the whole class, but teacher may do decision on it.

After mental notes are set, teacher or the class together may name topics of interest. After this the pupils may vote on the topics. The voting may take place on a shared interactive whiteboard, with laptops/netbooks/tablets or clicker/mobile phone. The voting happens by tracking your own face next to the topic.

Based on the notes, votes and rules set by the teacher or the class together, the software will put the pupils to teams. At the moment we are working with the algorithm handling the team creation.

Picture 91 Brand new New Media tool for school classes: TeamUp

For the pupils there is an option to record 1 minute video report after each class. The idea is to summarize what did they learn, what they are planning to do next and report if there were problems. Teacher and pupils may watch the 1 minute reports of each team or they can be watched together in the beginning of the next lesson. This is not yet implemented to the demo.

The software will be open source. Please. Let us know what do you think about it.

TeamUP is developed in the iTEC project. We are reporting the progress of the work in the blog of our work packages where we are developing number of prototypes. This means that TeamUp is just one and there will be more.