Archive for the ‘Wikimedia’ Category

Open education needs free knowledge needs open data

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

“Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is the best…” – Frank Zappa

Open education can only happen with free knowledge. Free knowledge does not exist without open data (and information). Open education should focus on wisdom, truth, beauty, love and music (art).

The Wikimania, the annual Wikipedia conference, is taking place this week in Washington DC. A couple of days before the Wikimania, the World Bank is organizing an International Open Government Data Conference in the Banks headquarters in Washington DC. The same week in Brussels, the European Commission DG for Education and Culture, is having a round table meeting on Open Education with researchers and practitioners in the field of open technologies and open education.

The themes of the three events are related and partly overlapping. The Wikimania is focusing on Free Knowledge with the well-known vision: “Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That’s our commitment”. Open Data researchers and advocacy groups see that opening government data will increase transparency and help in the anti-corruption work. Open Education is seen by many as a vehicle to improve education and skills development. All three have an impact on economy and social good.

In the Wikimania there will be many sessions on how to use, and what is the impact of Wikipedia and its sister projects to education. Wikipedia plays a huge role in education today. Without doubt, Wikipedia is the largest and most used repository of “Open Educational Resources” in the world. What the Wikipedia community could work on more is creating free textbooks on various topics that are written for different age groups. Why we do no have ABC-book, basic algebra book, geography, biology, democracy, physics etc. books online, for free for all — let say at least in 200 major languages of the world at the begining?

The latest project of the Wikipedia community, the Wikidata, has many connections to the governments’ open data initiatives. Practically Wikidata is building a repository of open datasets, which will provide data to the Wikipedia. Without access to data and other sources of information Wikipedia would not exist. The more open data there will be, the better the Wikipedia will become and more widely it will be used in (open) education.

Open data and free knowledge are the basic infrastructure of open education. They are crucial parts of the system. Without them one can’t have quality education.

From the three interconnected things education is probably the hardest to arrange, even if you have the other pieces in place. Investments on curriculum and testing are a wrong medicine.

Quality education is only possible when we see that the primary building block of it is a knowledge community. Knowledge community is a deeply dialogical community where people do things together. They communicate. They contribute to the process of creating knowledge.

When teachers start to see themselves as knowledge community leaders there is hope.

In its simplest and most pure form, education is a human system for building communities with time and space to do things: to explore wisdom, truth, beauty, love and music (art). In education we must get beyond data, information and knowledge.

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.

European perspectives on design for learning in the 21 century

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

In mid July, I gave a workshop and a keynote at the National conference of the Australasian Association of Distance Education Schools in Tasmania, Australia. The slides of my talk are here:

View more presentations from teemul.

During the lecture I showed some of my favourit videos related to ICT/New Media and education. I’ll add them here too, with some comments.

I think people working in the field of ICT and education in the 21 century should get familiar with Marshall Mc Luhan‘s ideas. Interestingly enough you can do it today by watching Mc Luhan talking on video about his (literature) scholarly works. A video with an interview from the year 1960, made by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, is one of my favorites.

In the lecture I said that when Mc Luhan wrote about the tribal man in the era of electronic media, I am worried that with the digital media we may see some tribal wars, too. When then week later, I got the news about the attack in Oslo, I couldn’t help to think that this is an example of tribal war in the era of digital media. Someone should do a proper study of the killers social media behavior and its effects on him.

In the presentation I also summarized three main research topics I see as the most crucial and important in the field of ICT or New Media in education. These are (1) Creative spaces, (2) Social software and (3) Free and open content. Related to these topics I have some videos, too.

The first one is an example of “future classroom” or “creative space” where the ICT is just an add-on. By watching couple of minutes of it you’ll notice (5 minutes is definitely enough!) that the teacher is teaching the way they are use to do, and the role of the students is to listen and talk only when teacher is asking them something. The laptops are there, but they are not practically used for anything else than to deliver material.

With the video I try to demonstrate how important is to think first pedagogy and only then consider what ICT tools could help in the implementation of it. Bringing laptops and interactive whiteboards to the classroom without re-considering the whole idea of teaching and learning is useless.

In universities, at least in Europe, there is a lot of discussion on “learning centers”. In most of the cases they are build on top or beside existing university libraries. The interest on the “learning centers” comes from the fact that more and more of learning materials, especially academic journals and articles (and soon study books, too) are already available online. Faculty and students see the benefits of using digital content – it is always available. Same time there is a worry that meeting other students, sharing ideas and working together will decrease. When we know that learning is a social process and that often innovations happen when people from different disciplines get together, isolation caused by digital content can be a real issue. A contra-argument is that the social part will take place in social media, but it is also true that meeting face-to-face increases collaboration and trust between people.

The École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne’s (one of the top Universities in Europe) learning center concept is interesting. The forms of the building are based on the human movements in space. The open public space invites students to hang-out, to do their study work and same time meet other people. The public space with “hills” can be used for gatherings and events of different size. Many small meeting rooms gives more privacy for groups working together and wireless connectivity provides access to learning materials.

Related to the creative space I also presented the idea of large multi-user displays. One example of this is the multitouch microscope. Researchers at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) and Multitouch Ltd have created a gesture controlled microscope that is combination of web-based virtual microscopy and large multitouch display.

The new creative spaces should include social software in them. The software will run “in” the multitouch displays and in people’s own devices, such as pads and mobile phones. Critical in the this track of development is that the software will be web-based (in practice HTML5). This way we may use the devices students already have with them; a laptop, pad or mobile phone with a web browser. It is also important that the students own devices will seamlessly work together. This is what our design research is about in the European iTEC project.

I finished my talk to a new video explaining the LeMill – Web community for finding, authoring and sharing open educational resources, developed in my research group. In addition to have media/internet/web-rich creative spaces with large displays and social software we also need free and open content. To increase the amount of open content such projects as the Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects are very important. In addition to these we also need projects that are precisely targeting to create learning materials for different levels of education and in different languages. In this — at least in the primary and secondary levels — I consider LeMill to be one of the most important projects in the world.

I had absolutely great time in Australia. People were very friendly and I like the humor in there. Professionally, I particularly enjoyed the pre-conference workshop giving me a nice overview of the ICT use in Australian schools, colleges and universities. It was not a surprise for me that in distance education Australians are in their own level (with Canadians) but there were also interesting experiments and research related to ICT implementation and policies in “normal” schools and other educational institutions (1t:1 computing, social media, etc.).

There are probably many blog posts related to the conference. As traveling, I haven’t found time to read them all, but I found this post, which I really like. There are also references to Educational system in Finland: How to win the “best schools” competition – don’t play the game!.

Another nice surprise in the conference was that just before my talk the Hon Peter Garrett MP gave his talk about the Australian Government’s $2.4 billion investment on ICT in education to create Digital Education Revolution. His talk is worth of reading. With the Minister I also got a a chance to chat a bit about his musical and political career in the last 20 years. I actually saw his band playing in Finland in 1990. I was 21. It was a good summer, indeed.

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.

Doctoral Dissertation: Designing Learning Tools – Methodological Insights

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

I finally finished my doctoral dissertation. The dissertation was presented for public examination on December 7th at the Aalto University School of Art and Design.

The book is available at the University Book shop.

At some point there will be free PDF, too.

In a couple of weeks I am also going to post chapters of the book to this blog.

teemu leinonen 07dec10e Doctoral Dissertation: Designing Learning Tools   Methodological Insights

In the Finnish tradition there are several steps to complete doctoral dissertation. At first, the manuscript is examined by two, so called, pre-examiners selected by the Research Board of the School. After this the Research Board sends your work to an opponent of their choice.

Finally there is a public defense of the thesis. The even starts with the candidate’s presentation of the work and the opponents general notes. Then starts the discussion based on the opponents questioning.

Here are the slides of my presentation:

The opponent of my work was Professor Gerhard Fischer (Department of Computer Science, University of Colorado at Boulder), the director of the Center for Lifelong Learning and Design.

During the discussion I was very nervous, although Prof. Fischer showed that he is a master of Socratic method which is — if not necessary easiest — as least fair form of questioning.

Our School’s Adjunct Professor (docent) Timo Honkela wrote a summary and a commentary of the discussion.