Archive for the ‘Wikimedia Commons’ 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.

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.

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.

How to do the learning revolution?

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

Not long time ago I wrote a post about a real learning revolution. I decided to elaborated it now a bit in light of Sir Ken Robinson’s latest TED talk Bring on the learning revolution!, even though, I actually agree with what Stephen Downes already said about the talk.

Anyway. Here is my advice for local and national decision makers to do the “learning revolution”, caused by the digital revolution. I am sure my “reforms” would payoff, exactly the way learning does: educated people are able to provide higher output, economically and culturally.

Public Libraries
Invest on public neighborhood libraries with (1) wide collection of different kind of reading materials (books, newspapers, magazines, electronic materials) and (2) public access to Internet: Wi-Fi and laptops. Do a marketing campaign about the libraries. Let people to know about the services of the libraries.

Basic Education
Guarantee universal (for all) high quality basic education: literacy, math, arts, music, civics, culture. Make sure you will have highly educated and motivated teachers, and seamless access to internet, Wi-Fi and laptops (in every classroom and in every space). Support the schools to have continues effort to develop their operations; pedagogy, school culture, workplace. Request all schools to publish their mission, vision and curriculum in their website and to have a blog with weekly updates about their work.

Higher Education
I think Universities are the liver of the society. Make sure that they will function. Research and higher education is there to renew things that should be renewed and protecting things that should be kept.

Network Connections
Guarantee that all the citizens will have inexpensive access (cheap and free) to Internet, network computers (mini laptops) and mobile phones. Make sure that there is competition that will work for the benefits of the consumer. The markets work only when there is true competition.

Media, Journalism and Free Speech
Guarantee public broadcasting media services (radio, TV, online) that are, as independent as possible, from the markets and the politics. Do not limit the public media to news. Politics, civics, culture, arts and music in a widest possible meaning — including cotemporary and independent pop culture — should be the core of the offering. A strong public media will help the commercial media to renew itself to meet the future challenges. This way the public media is a bit like a liver of the media field (compare to the Universities).

Online Content
Invest on free and reliable online reference and other educational content, like Open Educational Resources, Wikipedia and Wikimedia. Bring the content of museums and archives online (Wikimedia may help museums in this effort).

Online Learning
Support peer-to-peer online learning and teaching communities. The open education movement is fast moving to the direction where people are self-organizing themselves to learn together online. The P2PU is a good example of this. People learning new things is almost always good thing. Still, to avoid people to do “home chemistry”, it might be a good idea to provide people something a bit more “guided”.

Community Colleges
Support community colleges and open universities online and on campus. In addition to the online learning we also need the “traditional” community colleges. Still, one should help (and force) the community colleges to go online. In Finland, Otavan Opisto is a good example of a college that is strongly online (and on campus).

A long wish list? It is and it will cost a lot of money. A good thing is that it is not a risk investment. The economist know that these things have a high return of investment. It is true that to get the return for the investment may take some time — 10, 50 or 100 years — but it will come.

Wikimedia – the public media of the Internet-era?

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

I just met with the BBC journalist, Tim Sebastian. He was visiting us to see the results from our study project exploring new media concepts for World Health Organization (thank you M4ID’s Mari for organizing this). The main issue discussed related to humanitarian emergency communication.

How we could communicate fast and efficiently with the people who are affected or even injured with disasters? How we could help people to help each other? According to Tim Sebastian, often the last people to know what has happen are those people who are in the middle of humanitarian crises. Our students have designed a simple mobile solution to help this.

Tim Sebastian was seriously worried about the growing censorship and violation of free speech. I was quite surprised about this. My own – maybe naïve – view have been that with the Internet and the Web the situation is definitely better, than when the media landscape was managed mainly by public broadcasting companies. Those days, in tens of countries, the government was strictly controlling all the information channels, except private conversations. In some countries they use to have some pretty sophisticated systems to follow even private chats.

In a couple of years Wikipedia has become the largest and most popular reference media on the Internet. Besides an encyclopedic reference work, Wikipedia has become a popular news resource where articles about recent events are quickly and frequently updated. It is already fair to say that Wikipedia is no more *just* an online encyclopedic. All the processes and things around it are making it its own media or media network.

Wikipedia is a community and volunteer-driven project supported by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. The Foundation is funded primarily through donations by tens of thousands of individuals and several grants and gifts. Probably most of the donations come from the readers of the Wikipedia. Still, also the same volunteers who are donating their time to write articles are also donating money in it. Wikipedia is not only encyclopedic or media – it is a social movement.

In addition to Wikipedia, the Wikimedia-community has started several sister projects that are aiming to fulfill its’ mission “to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content“. These are, for instance: Wiktionary -project creating a multilingual free content dictionary in every language; Wikimedia Commons –project building repository for free photographs, diagrams, maps, videos, animations, music, sounds, spoken texts, and other free media; and Wikiquote –project creating a repository of quotations taken from famous people, books, speeches, films or any intellectually interesting materials. All the projects are collaboratively developed by volunteers.

Wikimedia –project have many characteristics of a public broadcasters, though formulated from the beginning to utilize the possibilities the Internet provides for media. Just like in public broadcasting Wikimedia’s aim is to be free from vested interest and governments. There is a serious concern for community and minorities. Special interest is made on cultural heritage, and all in all the investments are made to activities with are expected to have high social benefits.

Wikimedia is a people to people media. Anyone reading or watching Wikimedia may freely edit, copy and redistribute it.

Wikimedia is still young. However, by running one of the world most popular websites, it already has a huge impact to modern life. Same time Wikimedia is facing some external and internal challenges. The traditional media industry may see Wikimedia as a “market disruptor” or “competitor”. In many ways Wikimedia –projects are disruptive innovations using disruptive technology. They are changing the game. Also the need and growth of more permanent staff in the Foundation (today around 30) causes tension between the “paid staff” and volunteer community. Will the Wikimedia movement survive this?

I hope that in a couple of years we will see an establishment of the Wikimedia movement, community and the Foundation. Establishment is good – when it is done without giving-up the original vision, mission and values. To progress the establishment the Foundation has started a project to formulate a strategy for the organization.

Being Wikimedia the strategic planning process naturally takes place on a wiki. The process in an open community process designed to serve the movement. The wiki is there for you to explore and edit.

The values of the Wikimedia Foundation are “Freedom, Accessibility and quality, Independence, Commitment to openness and diversity, Transparency, and that Our community is our biggest asset.

If these values will stand the Wikimedia movement will be fine.