Open education needs free knowledge needs open data

July 10th, 2012 by Teemu Leinonen

“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.

Towards Peer-production in Public Services: cases from Finland

June 4th, 2012 by Teemu Leinonen

Picture 50 300x212 Towards Peer production in Public Services: cases from Finland

I wrote an article to a book about peer-production in public services.

The title of my article is Towards p2p learning: what media and whose peer?. In the introduction the editor describe the article as follows:

Meanwhile, Teemu Leinonen, in his article, inquires on the qualities of different media when it comes to providing peer-to-peer learning opportunities, and how we might conceptualize who are our peers when doing so. To ilustrate his point, three different examples are used, ranging from the assemblies devised by students occupying a high school in Santiago de Chile, the online computers used to create self organized class rooms in India, and finally the different social media services used to create complex massive open online courses. The three cases highlight important possibilitites of peer-to-peer learning and related media, to develop opportunities which challenge current assumptions of how teaching and learning should happen. At the same time, the examples also illuminate an important concern: If our peers are understood to be only those with whom we share an interest, the possibilities of transcendence seems ultimately very limited.

The book, edited by researchers from Aalto University, is a collection of articles that deal broadly with the relationships between peer-to-peer dynamics, and public services. Most of the cases presented are illustrative of recent developments and discussions in Finnish society, however, also included are broader international perspectives, giving historical reflection and future-oriented speculation on how peer production might affect the structures of our society. Of particular interest is the role of Internet and new media in making these developments visible and scalable.

For more information and to download the PDF:

Join the Facebook online launch event:

This publication has been made with the support of Aalto Service Factory

Qualified Self and Learning Analytics: from Quantification to Qualification

May 14th, 2012 by Teemu Leinonen

I think the learning analytic research should move from the current practice of doing quantitative data analyses to include in it qualitative analyses. The quantified self should be expanded to be qualified self.

In learning analytics research we should consider use of mixed methods that are combining quantitative and qualitative data analyses.

Today the learning analytic research builds strongly on the quantified self idea. The idea of quantified self is simple and powerful. With help of technology we can collect data on our daily life, such as our physical activity (mobility, walking, running etc.), surrounding environment (weather, air quality etc.), our performance (work, study etc.) and social relations (emails, phone calls etc.). The reason to gather and analyze data is to increase awareness on ones own life and ultimately, I assume, to have a chance to change things in it.

The idea of quantified self raises some questions. Like, how much data on their behavior and analyses people really need to get to the right conclusion? For instance, people who have never tracked or record their jogging can still tell pretty accurate information on it (for instance: I run 0, 1 or 2 times / week / 3-5 kilometers). Whatever they run a lot, little or not at all they must be aware about the fact. People also can tell relatively good description of their diet. Most of us do not have a clue about the amount of calories we eat, but most of us know whatever our diet is healthy or not. Because of knowing all this (without any numbers) people may also pay attention on their diet and may have an attempt to run more (or less). On the other hand many people rarely enjoy running and often enjoy unhealthy food. In some aspect jogging and eating healthy food are decreasing the quality of their life.

A different thing is when someone is training, for instance, to run a marathon. In it exact data and a plan helping to reach the objective is for sure useful. Most of us, however, are not interested in about this kind of training. Doing some training is still important.

The idea behind the learning analytics is that collection and analysis of data about learners and their context will provide opportunities to optimize learning and the learning environment (compare to training to run a marathon). In practical implementation of the learning analytics, learners and teachers are provided visualizations on their interactions and progress in some study course. The visualizations can be things like performance in assignments and tests compared to other students or social network analyses.

At some level this probably makes sense, but I think often in study work one can reach good conclusion simply by observing, self-reflecting and using common sense. I think most students know, from various small hints, how they are doing in a class. It is a bit like knowing that I do not run enough or knowing that I should eat healthier food — just by knowing it without any accurate data. In this case people are doing qualitative analyses that is not based on the limited accurate data from the course but from various sources of fuzzy information.

Getting back to the issue of running and diet, however, we must remember that without tens of years of scientific research on the topics — health, physical exercise and diet — people wouldn’t be able to come up with the “right” conclusions of these things importance in their own well-being. I assume this is the case with learning and learning research, too. We should study how people learn, because that will help individuals to monitor, reflect and self-regulate their own behavior. Even if numbers and visualizations on individuals’ behavior may help students to be aware of some things related to their learning, I think we should get beyond it — to the quality of learning.

For many years in social science there has been two methodological camps — you may call them paradigms —fighting on their relevance. These are quantitative research and qualitative research. Recently there has been some advance of bringing them together. The mixed methods have become popular. Often quantitative research can provide interesting research questions for qualitative research and other way around. To get a good picture on some complex social phenomena (e.g. learning) one must use both.

The mixed method (also called multimethodology) approach could be used in learning analytics research, too. What then would be qualitative learning analytics? Could this approach lead to qualified self?

With some latest prototypes we have somehow touch the topic. We call the new learning tools reflection tools. Here is a video of the three latest prototypes.

Media Tools for Reflection in Learning (iTEC) from Media Lab Helsinki on Vimeo.

The idea with the tools is not to collect quantitative data (there is some, like how many reflections one have made), but to provide a space for student to do reflection in natural language. With the tools students are asked to think and ponder questions, like: what I have learned? What I have done? What I am planning to do next? Have I faced any problems to implement my plans?

The reflection tools are also calm technology. They are designed not to be distributive in a learning situations taking place in social interaction. They are not central, they are peripheral, but can be brought to the center when needed.

What I would like to see in future in the learning analytic research is a move to the direction of machine learning and natural language analyzes. I am imaging that one day we could automatically or semi-automatically analyze content people create as part of their learning activities (or everyday life) and based on that provide them hints on directions they could explore more. The picture build out of the qualitative data (the content produced) could be something that could be called “Qualified Self”.

As a final (meta) note I want to explain how this idea of qualified self and qualitative learning analytics idea came to life. Why? Because it is a nice story and demonstrates how research happens.

A couple of weeks ago I met with Erik Duval when he was giving a keynote in a conference in Finland. Erik is doing right now a lot of research on learning analytics. His talk and discussions we had were very inspiring. At some point we also discussed about quantitative and qualitative analyses – actually in the context of research evaluation.

Next week I was in Copenhagen and was lucky to have dinner with Timo Honkela – a colleague who happens to be visiting fellow in Copenhagen right now. Timo’s area of research is computational cognitive systems — “adaptive, autonomous and socio-culturally grounded cognitive systems that are able to learn and use language“. Some years ago with Timo we did some theoretical research around the idea of using self-organizing maps (SOM) in learning. During the dinner I explained to Timo the idea of qualified self. He liked it and brought in it the idea of machine learning. I hope in a near future we will do some writing on it.

In Copenhagen I also met Jonas Löwgren, one of the leading figures in interaction design. He made some more interesting comments on the idea of qualified self.

Thank you all!

How to learn and what to learn: reflect and regulate; humanities and arts

April 3rd, 2012 by Teemu Leinonen

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)

March 20th, 2012 by Teemu Leinonen

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.