Archive for the ‘Wikiversity’ Category

How (online) learning could be knowledge building?

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

In the technology-enhanced learning field the year 2012 has been the year of MOOCs (massive open online courses). I definitely support the idea of opening possibilities for self-driven and self-motivated students to study and learn online. The high-profile projects and endeavors in the MOOCs-business are also looking for smart ways to initiate peer-to-peer activities, such as peer-support and peer-evaluation. This will make the MOOCs more collaborative and participatory than classical distance learning courses or courses using automated checking of exercises (e.g. in programming courses in computer sciences or math). When the MOOCs are moving more to the direction of collaborative learning it is possible that they will also include activities that could be called knowledge building. It doesn’t, however, happen automatically. To make it right it asks for some serious thinking and design.

In the following I’ll try to illustrate my thoughts on the matter with some late examples from my practice as a teacher.

Earlier this year I wrote an article to the Towards peer production 
in public services: cases from Finland book about p2p learning, media used in it and on the question who should we consider to be our peer. In it I define different kind of media for peer-to-peer learning and discuss their potential, different implication for learning. Different media enables different practices.

Online media, when used to distribute learning materials, to exchange ideas and links with blogs, micro-blogs, discussion forums, social bookmaking and social network services are powerful tools for learning. In the MOOC implementations I haven’t so far seen that students would have been guided to do research together in a small group with an aim to present their results for their peers. I am sure that with smart design one could implement this with the existing tools. However, it would require a lot of planning and coordination. The tools and services (blogs, wikis, microblogs) simply do not support very well small group collaboration.

In a university classroom I have tried to get students to do their own research. This autumn term, in the Media Lab Helsinki, I have been teaching the Introduction to Media Art and Culture course with Marita Liulia. It is an annual introductory course for all the students of the department. Our objective is to engage students to do self-driven collaborative knowledge building. The course is an introductory course, 3 study credits (3 x 27 hours study workload), three weeks of intensive studying. The time dedicated for this is scarce. This means that it is not possible to present or discuss all important media art and media culture phenomena in the course. Only lecturing on the themes of the course would actually be silly and would only give a poor overview of the topics.

Because of this we have organized the course a bit differently. In the course we have three sections and two major assignments. During the first week I concentrated on media culture and communication studies while in the second week, led by Marita, the focus is on Media Art. We aim to provide students with tips on where to grab on and to study interesting things independently more. Therefore, during the course students also study in small groups some media culture concepts and media artists. The results of the teams are presented in the third week. The aim is to guide students to find and evaluate information from existing sources.

When students are doing their assignments, the idea is to have activities that are close to those introduced as self-organizing learning environment (SOLE) by Sugata Mitra. The first assignment is to study a concept; theory or phenomena related to media studies. It can be something like transmedia storytelling, Jürgen Habermas public sphere or Google’e PageRank. In their research students may use whatever sources: web sites, Wikipedia, on- and offline libraries, articles, books etc. They are expected to find the sources themselves. The results of research are then presented for all.

Even though our students are highly motivated and interested in the topics of the course, it is difficult to design assignments so that there would be meaningful knowledge building. In groups there are always students who take the assignments more seriously and those who simply try to do as little as possible. I understand very well those students who do as little as possible when the assignment is not something he or she is internally interested in to study. Still I do not believe in extrinsic motivation. I believe, however, that we may help people to find their intrinsic motivation. To guide students to really deepen their understanding on the topics under study we give them the following guidelines:

(1) Make the assignment challenging for you
Set yourself and the group research question.
Ask what you want to know more about the concept.
Start from your own level.

(2) Make it personal
Think how do you feel about the topics you are studying.
Think are there any connections to your own work or life.

(3) Be critical
Check your sources: two sources are better than one. Primary is better than later.
Pay extra attention to criticism made by other.

(4) Make connections and references
Try to find connections to other concepts, disciplines, traditions and people.
Remember references.

Someone should do an experiment: an online course that would include in it some real study assignments, peer-to-peer learning and peer evaluation. It probably would not be massive but it would be interesting. I would like to see what kind of groupware / social software student groups would like to use in their study work? How would the groups preset their finding for others? How would they evaluate each other.

Maybe I’ll do the experiment. Let’s see.

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.

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.