Computers are the instruments of collaborative learning and knowledge work

Imagine a jazz band. A guitarist, a saxophonist, a pianist, a bass player and a drummer.

The band is lead by the guitar player. He is the one that is, not only composing the first ideas, but also organizing most of the practicalities with the agent of the band. There are rehearsals, gigs, transportation, catering and of course money.

All members of the band are great with their instruments. Still any of them can play a note or two from each other instruments – even from a saxophone. When jamming they may change their instruments for fun.

Imagine the band on a stage. The guitar player starts the songs. Their style of playing is to start with a theme and then improvise from there. In turns the musicians take the front stage to play a solo. When playing the band members are communicating with body language and glances. From small hints they know what will happen next in the song.

The gig is over. Next day the guitar player is spending his time on practicing and composing new themes. In the evening he goes to jam in a club with some old friends. He is looking for a possibility to start a new project: a band playing jazz fusion. The saxophone player is playing jazz standards in a hotel lobby. She is playing with a pianist, but not the one she is playing in the band. Same time the pianist of the band is giving piano lessons for children. The drummer and the bass player are having a gig with a salsa band. it is their other project.

Doing collaborative learning and knowledge work is like being in a jazz band. The instruments played are computers and software.

All bands — including learning and working groups — should have a leader. Just like some bands may have an agent or management, this can be the case in a collaborative learning and work, too. Important is that the management is not telling the band what or how they should play. This is how it should be in a collaborative learning or work groups, too.

In a collaborative learning group the participants should learn to play their instruments: computers and software needed to create new knowledge. The instruments can be various. They can be tools for searching information, tools to evaluate and validate the information found, tools to conceptualize things in a written or visual forms, programming tools, tools to design models and simulations, tools for collecting data, tools to measure things, tools to create audio and video. There are many and all groups don’t need them all. Important is to learn to be a master of some of them and to be able to play a bit with the other instruments, too. At least for fun.

The natural place, the stage, for collaborative learning and knowledge work is online. A teacher and supervisor should act as the leader of the group. She should participate to the playing, lead the work but also step back when someone is ready to play a solo. Multifaceted communication is a key.

Collaborative learning and knowledge work doesn’t end when the school day or working hours are over. It continues in different times and spaces. People should be encouraged to use the skills they have learned. To start their own group. To learn and to work for fun. To make most out of the skills and knowledge learned in a another project.

Posted in educational tool, Sharing economy, Social Software | Leave a comment

How to do a learning (r)evolution: perspective from Finland

“Education is a source of pride in Finnish society. However, the transformation of working life, digitisation, growing inequality, multiculturalism, and globalisation pose challenges for the future of the education sector. How might education and training respond to changing skill needs in the working life of the future? How can we foster educational equality and equal opportunities for all in education and training, in an increasingly polarised society? How can education be reformed in a student-oriented manner, while taking advantage of technology and setting our sights on the future? Instead of the traditional division into subjects, should the education system be based on a phenomenon-oriented approach?”

These are the opening words of the report composed by the SITRA’s New Education Forum. In the report, however, education and learning is not seen as something that is adapting to the changes around us. Learning can be an active force driving the change:

“We insist that education must not settle for adapting to change, but also act as a driver. To raise brave, compassionate citizens capable of independent thought and bearing the responsibility for themselves and for others; curious people, capable of finding things out for themselves and assessing the reliability of whatever information they come across. People with a tolerance of uncertainty, the courage to implement their ideas in practice and even break a few rules, if necessary.”

To do this we must see every individual as a human with a huge potential in them. We must let teachers to renew their working practices — let them to work together, to get the best practices to move in the community of educators. We should get rid of many traditions in a culture of schools: reconsider grades and evaluation, think how we can focus on competences instead of degrees. We can build a system with little red tape and a high impact. And we can design and use technology to serve people trying to do the right things.

You may read the report in here:

Read also:

Posted in Collaboration, Interviews | 1 Comment

The future of computers in education

Ten years ago I wrote a blog post with the title (Critical) history of ICT in education – and where we are heading? I feel that the post is still pretty accurate interpretation of the history, but there are some issues I see today differently.

Timeline of the Main Paradigms of Using Computers in Learning (Leinonen 2005, 2010)

In 2005 I was optimistic. Social media and free and open content were growing. More people were having access to free knowledge. Services and platforms for social interaction were becoming user-friendly and more accessible for more people. A large part of the Internet was commons. Internet was on its way to become a global public sphere to create, share and participate.

In 2005 many things started to change. Closed social media services, especially Facebook (found in 2004) and mobile apps (iPhone 2007), started to take over the internet.

Already for some years, for many people Facebook and the Internet are the same. Or actually many people using Facebook and mobile apps don’t even know that they are actually using Internet. The most ironic anecdote in this issue is that today Facebook owns the domain and host there a project claiming to provide free Internet connection for people who currently can’t afford one.

Today Internet is also a battlefield for intelligence agencies. As a such, it is causing a real threat to democracy, civil liberties and human rights. It is fair to say that in 2015 the world is a lot like the world described in the Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Furthermore, surveillance is not only the business of the national intelligence agencies. There are proofs that Internet corporations are collaborating with national intelligence agencies. Surveillance is easier in a walled garden than in a public space.

Because of walled gardens, mobile apps, lost of net neutrality and online privacy, Internet is not anymore what many of us think it should be.

So, what are the consequences of these changes for the future use of computers in education?

In 2005 I wrote:

I really hope that in the late 2000 social software and free and open content will make a real breakthrough in the field of educational technology. Blogs and wikis have already brought web back to its original idea: simple tool for your personal notes that are easily accessible and even editable by your peers and your potential peers.

About the pedagogy I wrote:

The pedagogical thinking behind the social software and the free and open content can be located to the social constructivist theory and cultural-historical psychology. “Any true understanding is dialogic in nature” wrote Mikhail Bakhtin and Lev Vygotsky wrote that “all higher [mental] functions originate as actual relations between human individuals”.

Although, things didn’t go exactly the way I hoped them to go, there is hope.

The history of computers seems to be a continuous power struggle between exploitation and common good. For instance, PC was partly a respond to the worry that the governments running the main frame computers would have the ultimate power over people as the holders of the data and all the computing power. PC was there to give power to the people.

Similarly, the free and open source software was a result of people looking for alternatives for proprietary software that was seen to limit some of the most fundamental freedoms, such as a right to study (how the program works) and a right to help your neighbor. By introducing free software license people doing software found a way to protect these rights.

Also the growth of the Internet itself was a result of people inventing new models of governance and taking distance from the traditional corporate and governmental forms of organizations. Yochai Benkler (2013) have called these organizational forms of the internet governance, the Web, many FLOSS development and Wikipedia practical anarchy and working anarchy. We may assume that this has been partly a social response aiming to protect people’s freedoms as computer users.

Today using computers in education is problematic. E-learning cloud services where the main interest is to have your data rather than to help you to learn are common. MOOCs are good example of this. At least part of the trick with MOOCs is to collect data about the users and use that for various purposes. Often MOOC providers don’t even know why do they collect the data in the first place. There are same challenge with many publishers and providers of digital learning materials and services. In some countries there are even plans of aggregating content from various sources to a single service to make it possible to collect data about the use of the content from every school children attending a school. This would mean that in a couple of years someone could have a database to check, for instance, how many time a student X tried to pass test Y or played the game Z, when she was 7 years old.

These cloud services are collecting data with the believe that, at some point the data will be valuable. For what the data could be used then for? It could be sold for universities looking for talent, recruiters, human resource departments, insurance companies, intelligence agencies . . . I know that most likely it is not, but it is possible and therefore I am worried.

Still I am optimistic. From the history of computing we may learn that we can turn things around. We can hack things.

In our everyday practices we can find ways to use computers in a beneficial way in education without giving our data to anyone. For instance, we should always provide our students options to do their online studies anonymously. When selecting learning materials for our students, we can favor open access journals and open knowledge. When publishing our own research, we can again favor open knowledge when ever possible. We may use only services that are primary web apps and therefore work with all the web browsers and devices.

Furthermore, we must educate people about the Internet. We must make sure that everyone understands how the Internet works, why net neutrality, internet privacy and data privacy in general are important. We may tell people about FLOSS, open knowledge, creative commons and the importance of having fair use in the legislation (e.g. we do not have this in Finland).

We may invite people to protect the Internet as commons. We may support and use those services that are in common. We may show people how to edit Wikipedia and how to publish useful media in the Wikimedia Commons. Like all good things in the world, also the Internet commons needs caretaking.

Disclaimer: I don’t have anything against Facebook. I actually like their service. Facebook has made social media a mass media and that is exactly what I wanted to happen in 2005. I am also sure that a world with net neutrality, privacy, democracy, civil liberties and human rights benefits Facebook, too.

Posted in Collaboration, Design, educational tool, noelearningpatents, Open Source, Sharing economy, Social Software, Wikimedia, Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia | 2 Comments

Why free/libre/open source in learning is important?

I just realized that maybe I should explain the connection between the three points presented in my last post and the overall theme of this blog — Free, Libre and Open Source Software in Education. To improve learning in the era of Internet we should follow these rules:

(1.) Do not select one of the good ways of teaching and learning. Do all of them.
(2.) Do it all online.
(3.) Get rid of all the stupidity.

For me the connection to FLOSS is very obvious. Implementing the three points becomes possible only when people working in the field of education know about, and see the value of free culture. Without the ideas of freedom and sharing the strategy will fail.

In education this shouldn’t be hard, as people know the benefits gained when people are free to learn and to share their learning with others. When you help someone to learn something you do not loose your skills or knowledge, but rather add something to it.

The idea of sharing is interesting in a more general level. too. We ask our children to share things with their friends and family. Why should we stop this in their later education?

Also science and art per se are results of sharing and building on. Without getting to know other peoples research and art you can’t do your own research and art.

The first step in our attempt to build a better word is to ensure that people can enjoy and build upon each other work. This is why we eat together and tell stories to each other. This is why we have libraries, museums, festivals, science centers, schools and universities. This is also why we have Wikipedia, WordPress and Linux.

An educational system can never be really good without strong commitment to the same ideas that are behind the free/libre/open source and culture movement. Free education pays off.

Posted in Collaboration, educational tool, General, Open Source, Sharing economy, Wikipedia | 1 Comment

(E-)learning strategy for the future

I have come-up(* with a simple strategy statement — three points — for the future of learning. It works in all levels of education, from kindergartens to workplace learning.

(1) Do not select one of the good ways of teaching and learning. Do all of them.

(2) Do it all online.

(3) Get rid of all the stupidity.

In the last six months or so I have been working with a group of smart people looking for a vision (and action) to redesign education in Finland. In the New Education Forum we have been studying, debating, designing and seeking for consensus to find a new path for education in Finland. We made a vision statement:

A country where everyone loves learning.

This is a bold vision, but possible to reach. A vision is a vision. The strategy points are there to tell how to do it. Let me explain.

(1) Do not select one of the good ways of teaching and learning. Do all of them.

We know, partly from research and partly from practice, that in the era of digital and Internet there are good ways of teaching and learning. Some ways of teaching and learning work, so lets focus on them.

For instance, we know that computer supported collaborative knowledge building and organizing learning according to the principles of the Self Organised Learning Environment are good practices. From both there are research evidence.

We also know that there are good learning games. And there will be more: games, digital toys, toys mixing digital and physical. We should use them.

Opening up the classroom to the rest of the world is good. Letting people to move around and play is good. Doing stuff with your hands — art, craft and science — is good. Working in a lab and in a studio is good. The possibility to show achievements is good.

We also know that a good online videos, such as a TED talks can be very inspiring. We know that using instruction videos is a clever way to solve problems in hand. Checking facts from the Wikipedia is smart, editing Wikipedia is even smarter. We also know that for some people studying independently or with an online peer-group in an online class is good. This, however, is not for all. Everyone, however, loves when they have an easy access to all the study related materials.

Furthermore, we also know that a good classroom discussion, a debate, a seminar, un-conference and even an inspiring lecture once is a while can be awesome. Still we should use the time with others wisely. Show that we care.

The point is we should do all this. All the good practices at the same time. But this is not enough.

(2) Do it all online

Digital first. Above I was presenting a list of good practice that makes sense today. To make most out of this, all these activities should be visible online — have a web presence.

For instance, if you have a knowledge building classroom using some knowledge building tool, such as FLE4, make your activities with your students visible for the rest of the world. There are reasons why GitHub is popular. This is not only, but from large part, because it is open for anyone to study other people’s code. Same is the reason behind the popularity of Wikipedia.

To take the most out of learning games, get to know the best learning games and let your children to play them. Play them with them. Be part of their joy. Share your experience, the ways of using games with others, online. At some point start doing your own games and share them with others.

If you do a study trip to a museum or organize a mobile game with activities outdoors, again make sure you tell your story online. Write a a blog post. If you do a project of art, craft or science. Tell others about your achievements, online, of course.

If you are a great lecturer, make sure your lectures are available online. To help your students to get most out of the online sources, show them how to work with Wikipedia. Help them to find great online learning sites to study. If you are guiding your students to do research and to present their results in a form of a video essays, make sure they are put online. Share everything.

When having discussion, debate, seminar or un-conference in a shared time and space (e.g. in a classroom), let your students to contribute their thoughts — not only in the classroom — but also online. Make sure that there is a chat/IRC channel, hash tag or a blog in your class. Do this to make it possible for anyone to continue the discussions between and after the classes. When you are with people — face to face — help your students to pay all their attention to the live situation. Help them to learn to care.

(3) Get rid of all the stupidity

So what is this then? Stupidity. What is stupid? To find time to do all the things that make sense you should get rid of many things that are limiting you to do meaningful things. Here are some suggestions.

As a teacher do not lock the doors of your lab or studio from the students. It can be annoying when students are just walking in to see what you are doing, but if you are interested in learning of your students your door should always be open.

Get rid of grades as they are commonly used today. Giving grades is only a way to select people — to put them in some artificial order of superiority. They motivate only a handful of people. but do not do much good for most of us. Evaluation and assessment is important and can be done in more constructive ways than simply giving grades.

Don’t let the norms, rules of laws to keep you inside. Find all the possible loopholes to get the resources to get your students out of the classroom. Break the rules keeping you and your students out of the real world: museums, forests, parks, city space.

Do not show the great online video lectures in your classroom. Spending time to watch a movie in a shared time and space is waste of time. Instead find the best online videos for your students. Coordinate group screenings or independent watching of them outside the classroom and use the classroom time to discuss about them. You may call it flipped classroom if you wish.

Get rid of all lectures as they are commonly known in a university today. It just doesn’t make any sense to talk 2 times 45 minutes. You may ask your students to get together in a lecture hall every week to have a “town hall meeting” to inform, to discuss and to manage with organizational issues, but, please, serious, do not give a lecture (especially if you are not awesome lecturer). Instead you may give a talk of 20 minutes but let your students then to study, to find out themselves, to discuss, to debate.

Implementing these points is not easy. The hardest part is to get rid of the old: the long tradition of teaching and learning from the times when information was a scarcity and finding a place for everyone in an industrial society was one of the main reason to have an educational system. Today we need people who are inspired to get better and to go forward in their life — intellectually, skill wise, emotionally and culturally. We need love of learning.

*) The first strategy point is built on Lauri Järvilehto’s idea. Lauri has been promoting the idea that we should not think what is the best new way of teaching and learning but rather take them all in use.

Posted in Design, General, Open Source, Sharing economy, Social Software, Wikipedia | 9 Comments

Internet Archive, Wikidata and Open Education

I have come up with a conclusion that for the future of (open) education Internet Archive and Wikidata are the two most important web services in the world. And not only for the open education, but also for the open web. Therefore, I think the Internet Archive and Wikidata are becoming the most important websites for the entire humanity.

The new user interface of the Internet Archive

The new user interface of the Internet Archive

When people write about open education they often make reference to MOOC services, Khan Academy and MIT’s Open Courseware. Furthermore, they may include to the list TED talks and other online video lecture services. This seems to be the case especially with writers coming from the United States of America.

Khan Academy’s interactive exercises are great. Dragon box is a cool learning game. SmarKids games are good, too. About the closed MOOCs I am not so sure, but free online lectures by top researchers — yes please. These are all important when we are aiming to have better education for all. They are, however, not the solution. We need something much more foundational.

Education need access to knowledge. This is the classical idea of standing on the shoulders of giants. It is so obvious that we easily forget it. Everything we know comes from somewhere or is build on something. People editing WIkipedia know this. To edit you need sources, you need a library.

I am sure that Wikipedia is the most popular open education resource repository in the world. Every student with an Internet connection uses it. To get deeper to some topic, however, you need more than an encyclopedia. You need a library. Internet is the media of the people. Internet Archive is the library of the people.

If we think open education, Internet Archive is serving both individuals and educators. With it people can study and discover independently but also find content that will be used in more formal education: from study groups to university classes. The question, is learning taking place online or offline is becoming irrelevant. You do it on- or offline, depending on the situation.



The Wikimedia sites, especially Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons and Wiktionary are extremely important sites for open education. They are part of the foundation. The role of the latest Wikimedia project, Wikidata is growing fast.

Wikidata is an infrastructure service for open education. Wikidata is a database with structured data used in the Wikipedia. This means that in the Wikidata there is information that is then used in the Wikipedia articles. If the data (for instance the population of a nation) is changed in the Wikidata it will also change it in all the Wikipedia article replicating the information.

This may not sound like a big think, but actually it is. Having the basics facts about our universe in a machine-readable data opens up interesting possibilities for education. First of all, we can easily create various kind of new educational materials and presentations about the world affairs. We may analyze, visualize and study the world. Wen the data is available for all anyone can do this, just like anyone can go to the library. This way Wikidata is serving both individuals and educators.

The Wikidata may also bootstrap our common aim of understanding the world. The shared database of basic facts may help us to move forward in the discussion. When we agree on the facts, we may move forward to discuss about the meaning of the facts.

There are two things I would like to see happening in the Internet Archive, to maximize its impact for open education:

(1) Internet Archive could become truly international and multi-lingual. The first step would be to translate the user interface to other languages. Already this would invite people to upload document and content to the site in other languages than English.

(2) Internet Archive could aim to provide for all a better access to scholarly literature. Currently the situation is terrible. To access the latest research you must have access to University libraries paying for the publishers. The Internet Archive could have a Google Scholar kind of service to open access journals.

Wikidata and Internet Archive are both projects funded by people. You may consider donating to support the Internet Archive or Wikidata: Wikimedia Deutschland, developing the Wikidata or the mothership Wikimedia Foundation.

Posted in educational tool, Open Source, Sharing economy, Wikimedia, Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia, Wikiversity, Wiktionary | Leave a comment

Mobile apps for reflection in learning: A design research in K-12 education

We just published a research article in the British Journal of Educational Technology. You will find the article from the journals’ website. The correct citations is:

Leinonen, T., Keune, A., Veermans, M. and Toikkanen, T. (2014), Mobile apps for reflection in learning: A design research in K-12 education. British Journal of Educational Technology. doi: 10.1111/bjet.12224

The journal is not Open Access. Although I have a right to send individual copies of the PDF to colleagues upon their request and to share it as part of my teaching duties.

So, if you are my colleague or student and interested in to have a look the article, please send me an email and I will send you the PDF.

Here is the abstract.

Mobile apps for reflection in learning: A design research in K-12 education

This study takes a design-based research approach to explore how applications designed for mobile devices could support reflection in learning in K-12 education. Use of mobile devices is increasing in schools. Most of the educational apps support single-person use of interactive learning materials, simulations and learning games. Apps designed to correspond to collaborative learning paradigms, such as collaborative progressive inquiry or project-based learning, are scarce. In these pedagogical approaches, reflection plays an important role. This paper presents a design-based research study of mobile device apps, ReFlex and TeamUp, that are specifically designed for use in student-centred and collaborative school learning, in which continuous reflection is an important part of the learning process. The design of the apps has relied on earlier research on digital tools for reflection and research about mobile devices in classroom learning. The design of the apps was accomplished as part of the qualitative design-based research conducted with a total of 165 teachers in 13 European countries. As a characteristic for a design-based research, the results of the study are twofold: practical and theoretical. The apps designed, ReFlex and TeamUp, are practical results of the qualitative research carried out in schools with teachers and students to understand the design challenges and opportunities in schools, to renew their pedagogical practices and to take new tools in use. To understand better the capacity of the apps to facilitate reflection, we analysed the apps in light of earlier studies concerning the levels of reflection that digital tools may support and categorisations of affordances that mobile device apps may provide for classroom learning. Our research indicates that there is potential for fostering the practice of reflection in classroom learning through the use of apps for audio-visual recordings.

Posted in Design, educational tool | 2 Comments