Learning, moving and digital tools

January 26th, 2013 by Teemu Leinonen

muuvit flosse Learning, moving and digital toolsThis week, I saw a presentation about the Muuvit, a Finnish start-up with a teaching and learning tools for elementary schools. Their product is a hybrid of tangible materials that comes in a box and an online community. The idea is to promote children to move more: to play outside, to jump around in a park, to climb a tree, to walk to the school. The reasoning makes a lot of sense. Healthy children are better learners and for children to keep themselves healthy is actually pretty simple. Healthiness follows, if children play with a lot of physical movement.

Children taking part in the Muuvit–program all have a little booklet where they mark all the events, 10 minutes, of “moving” regardless what type of movement it is. From the booklets the activity points are then put to the online system that will keep track of the whole school class’ points. The activity points are then used on a poster that looks like a board game. With the poster children do an adventure around Europe. Moving on the board opens new learning materials on a web site. The material varies from arithmetic to geography and environment.

I like how Muuvit is combining tangible objects and digital tools. Being tangible is important for children. Tangibility and physical movement go hand in hand. Also there is research on the relation between physical healthiness and ability to learn. They do correlate and there seems to be causality, too. However, I have a hypothesis that the relation is not linear, but rather a normal distribution. In practice, this means that if you do a lot of sports it starts to reduce your ability to learn [Grin]. Think about it. It would explain many things.

I also like Muuvit because it is not about sports but about moving and free playing. From the learning point of view moving in a form of a free play is better than taking part in some sports with objectives, training and couching. Free play develops imagination and when practiced in a group it requires social skills. I think this is exactly what we need.

moves app 168x300 Learning, moving and digital toolsAlso this week, another Finnish start-up released a beautiful and simple iPhone app to track your physical movement per day. The app is called the Moves App and tracks number of steps, kilometers walked, cycled, moved by driving your car or by public transportation. It puts all your moving on a map and shows you the kilometers walked and ran.

I haven’t tested it yet, but it sounds perfect for me and I believe for many others, too. I am not a Quantified-self freak. I am not interested in to know every possible piece of quantitative data about my life. But what I am interested in, although, is my health. I would like to track my movements, such as walking to the tram stop etc., that have an effect to my health. I am not interested in to track my training. I actually hate to go jogging and do it only because I know that it is good for me. Having a tool telling me I did it! is enough.

There are many sport / movement tracking / recording products but I am afraid that they are primary designed for sport enthusiast by sport enthusiast. I am not one of them and not planning to become one. I need sport technology when I am scuba diving but I am not into “training” with tools. Actually I am not into training at all. The Moves App looks very suitable tracking tool for a lazy mover like me.

I think that the people of the Moovit and the Moves App should meet. Maybe we can have a walk around Töölönlahti?

PS. In my research group we are also looking how to visually combine students’ objective and subjective well-being indicators with their learning performance so that it would help them to take actions to improve their learning and well-being. Results coming later this year.

Prototypes: ReFlex, Square One, Cardboard Hospital

December 13th, 2012 by Teemu Leinonen

One of the reasons why I enjoy working in the learning environments research group — and in the School of Arts, Design and Architecture — is the possibility to design and build prototypes.

In our academic practice we aim, no only to study and do research on learning environments and learning tools but also to build new artifacts (prototypes, models etc,). The artifacts that are designed during the design research are a crucial part of the research results. The way the artifacts are forms part of the research argumentation.

I have above updated slide set presenting our research group. From it you’ll get an overview of the research projects we are currently involved in and some examples of the prototypes. Things are done by people — they are presented, too.

With this post I am happy to present three relatively new prototypes made in the research group. These are ReFlex, Square One and Cardboard Hospital.

reflex blog Prototypes: ReFlex, Square One, Cardboard Hospital

ReFlex is a tool for learners to record 60-second audio-visual clips of their personal learning experiences, to store them on a timeline and to share them with teachers, peers and parents. All recordings by one learner are stored on a personal timeline and are accessible for later review. In addition to the present, learners may also create “time capsule” recordings for the future. Time capsules can only be opened when their set date is reached, and can be used as statements of learning objectives. From the entire pool of recordings, learners can mark important clips by highlighting them. The best way to get an idea of it is to try it. ReFlex is a web app and available in: http://reflex.aalto.fi

square1 image blog3 Prototypes: ReFlex, Square One, Cardboard Hospital

Square One is a single task dedicated learning devices designed for group work in schools. The idea is that school children could build their own device in a Fab Lab kind of facilities. In the Square One there are three kind of devices: (1) one dedicated for writing, (2) one for drawing and (3) one central piece for searching and for assembling presentations out of the content created by the learners. The central piece is a two-sided tablet, one side is dedicated for searching and the other side for assembling. The central piece comes with cameras, microphones and speakers. The writing and drawing tools are dedicated only for these tasks. You write or draw and then you send your creation to the central piece. We are currently doing the software and hardware design and looking for the components. There is a more complete description of the Square One (or Square 1) in the LEAD-project blog.

Cardboard Hospital is model for prototyping workshop, service design and co-design. The model was tested this spring in our Media Center Lume. In the workshops, patients, hospital staff and architects were creating ideas for the future hospital environment through physical 1:1 prototyping. The Cardboard hospital worked as a media rich learning environment for stakeholders (architects, patients, medical doctor and nurses) to discuss, negotiate, to transfer and to design new spatial, organization and process solutions. This is is presented in the video above.

This post was originally published in the blog of the Learning Environments research group.

How (online) learning could be knowledge building?

November 14th, 2012 by Teemu Leinonen

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.

Why tablet is a lousy learning device and how it could be better?

August 16th, 2012 by Teemu Leinonen
800px Apple iPad Event03 Why tablet is a lousy learning device and how it could be better?

iPad with on display keyboard. Photo by matt buchanan / Wikimedia Commons

In Finland the discussion on tablets in schools has reach a new level. It looks like a real hype. Principals, heads of school districts and library directors are feverishly trying to find out cash from their budgets to acquire some of these devices to be used in education.

Those who praise tablets usability in learning have dominated the discussion. There have been some critical comments, like the one made by a City of Helsinki’s early-childhood learning expert saying that there is scientific evidence that walking in a forest is good for learning and to replace that with tablets is very hard.

I have been testing and studying tablets for two year now. I have not myself tried them in a classroom teaching but have studied several cases and think that I have a relatively good picture of the usage.

Tablets are great media devices. They are good for reading, for watching videos, for listen music and other audio. They are also extremely easy to use for taking photos, shooting videos and for doing audio recordings. They are more exciting than any other information and communication technology for playing games. There are tens of good and interesting click-drag-and-drop-drill-and-practice educational games. Children really get excited about them and may also learn something by playing these games.

So why not tablets in schools?

I really do not have any scientific evidence to back this (this is all my intuitions based on my limited understanding of human cognitions) but I think writing and drawing are the most important (meta-)skills in all kind of learning.

What I know for sure is that with tablets writing and drawing is very difficult — mostly painful experience. With the virtual keyboard you may write short messages. Writing a blog post like this is impossible even for an experienced keyboard / tablet writer. Drawing with your fingers is fun, but if you really need to sketch, draw a diagram or a map that is not possible with finger paints. To draw you need a sharper tool and precision grip.

Giving up writing and precision grip is like going backwards in a human evolution. Is that what we really want to do in schools?

So how tablets could be better?

We should have much better virtual keyboards. Or we should have a proper keyboard in a tablet in a way that it is always available for use (does this sound like a laptop?). Microsoft surface is an interesting proposal to this direction. Whatever virtual or mechanical, a tablet for learning should be a powerful writing tool.

742px Archives of American Art   Blanche Grambs at work   2129 Why tablet is a lousy learning device and how it could be better?

Blanche Grambs at work. Photo by Bofinger / Wikimedia Commons

In addition to the keyboard we should have a drawing pad that resemble closely paper and can be used with sticks, paintbrush etc. – practically with everything you may want to hold in your hand. Like the keyboard, the paper-like drawing pad should always be available with the tablet.

I know that there are other people promoting same things and even designing and developing things along these lines. To make sure that it will happen, in the research group we have started to design our own (experimental) prototypes of devices, too. Let’s see how it will be.

Learning Environments research group is hiring

August 6th, 2012 by Teemu Leinonen

The Learning Environments research group (LeGroup) at the Media Lab Helsinki of the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture is looking for doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers interested in to work in several new research projects starting in Autumn 2012.

For the doctoral students position(s) there is still a week to prepare your application materials. The applications should arrive no later than on August 14th 2012. You will find the official call text and instructions from the Aalto University web site. Please read it carefully and prepare your application.

If you are interested in to the postdoctoral researcher post(s) , please send an email to Teemu Leinonen with a (1) cover letter, (2) CV, (3) design portfolio and (4) a statement of your research interests.

Further information
Associate Professor Teemu Leinonen
e-mail: teemu.leinonen@aalto.fi
tel. +358 50 351 6796