Random thoughts about education, democracy, information warfare and Wikipedia

I am afraid I am now writing some pretty obvious observations. Something we all know. Nothing unique. Unfortunately, I feel that I must write these obvious things as it looks that so many people are ignoring them. Maybe I am writing more to myself than to anyone else — to remind myself.

Present Continuous Past(s) by by Dan Graham

Education pays off. Democracy needs education and education is the key to a healthy economy. The question is why it is still so difficult to provide even basic education for all? Without any conspiracy theories it is reasonable to ask who benefits from the lack of education?

Far too often when talking about democracy we emphasis elections, the right to choose and replace government through fair election. Same time we easily pay less attention to the most important aspects of democracy: respect of human rights and people’s active participation to civic life. Without these in place there will never be fair elections, either. Again we may ask, are there people, mobs or individuals who benefit from the lack of democracy?

Characteristic for the latest armed conflicts in Ukraine and in Israel-Palestine have been their expansion from the battlefields where people die to the information warfare where the killings are justified. Military intelligence, spying and propaganda have always been part of warfare. Today it is different. For public the number of sources of information is almost infinite. Information is provided by news agencies representing different regimes and working for their interests. There are messages, pictures, selfies and video clips in social media from the solders and civilians (or made to look like and claimed to be made by solders or civilians).

Furthermore, the information warfare is not only about propaganda and attempts to influence the public opinion. Today the information warfare is also real and fake surveillance disclosures and attacks to information infrastructure. All these made by government agencies, paid or unpaid hacktivist — who knows. No surprise that educated public with critical thinking skills is confused what source one should trust. And in places where ignorance is bliss, it is anyway folly to be wise. (Thomas Gray). Ignore the truth or die. Again I am asking, who benefits from the confusion and ignorance?

Education, democracy and information warfare are all interlinked. Without educated public it is impossible to have democracy. Without democracy there are wars.

Therefore, these days we probably need more Wikipedia that ever before. Why? Wikipedia has a simple and clear content policies (neutral point of view, verifiability etc.) and motivated crowds around the world that are committed to the vision and the mission. This means that Wikipedia is transparent and aims to be multilingual and accessible for all (see: free mobile access in various countries). All this makes Wikipedia a great source of information. It is hard to manipulate and difficult to infiltrate to. People are watching.

With its hypertext format and latest move to the direction of semantic web with the Wikidata, Wikipedia is providing not only news about the current issues but the context, too. This makes it easy to get an overview, to compare different events, to read about the history of the events and to compare how different language groups are writing about the topics. Lets have a look of the situation in Ukraine via Wikipedia. To study the topic, to get an overview and context, you may have a look of these articles:

Wikipedia is important. On our way to democratic and peaceful world — to the world were we all respect human rights and take part in civic life — we still need more. Because:

“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

We need primary education focusing on basics: reading and writing, math, science, geography, history, languages and arts (including music). The point of primary education is not to have skills with exchange value in a job market. They are important for the sake of democracy and peace: for people to become humans. Continuing deepening understanding on the “basics” is important in higher levels of education, too. When combined with domain specific studies people become questioning, creative and empathic. And guess what? It pays off.

Posted in General, Wikimedia, Wikipedia | Leave a comment

Learning Methods, Tools and Spaces in a Digital Society

I wrote a small piece to the forthcoming Media Lab Helsinki 20 years anniversary book. I’ll post here a draft, unedited version that has not yet go though any language checking etc. The book will be published in September 2014.

Media Lab 10 years

1. Introduction

Designing learning environments — methods, tools and spaces for good learning — have been one of the cornerstones of the Media Lab Helsinki since it’s founding in the early 1990’s. Within the emergency of new computational tools, digital media and networks it was seen that these would radically change the educational landscape of our time. In the Media Lab we decided to have an active role in the process where the future of education is designed.

In the Media Lab the approach has been to enable meta-design: to have activities that create new methods, tools and environments that allow people to be creative and act as designers (Fischer and Scharff 2000). The idea constitutes a deeper pedagogical principle, too. Learning is not primary about receiving information and gaining skills but rather a process of participation to practices of an expert community.

In the early days the pedagogy of the Media Lab was summarized with the statement “hands-on with minds-on“. Finding balance between the “just do it” attitude and serious considerations of the consequences of the doings is still central in the Media Lab.

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

In the last 20-years we have seen several stages in the history of mainstream development of computer-based learning tools (see Leinonen 2010). I have recognized five stages of paradigms of using computers in learning. From those, Media Lab has been influenced by all of them and actively involved in the three latest one. Although we have been living with these trends the focus in the Media Lab has been, already from the very beginning, to the latest stage: social software + free and open content. We may proudly say that in this we have seen and done the future.

Today, in the field of design research of New Media for learning in the Learning Environments research group of the Media Lab we recognize and focus on three topics that are essential part of the social software + free and open content paradigm. These are New Media enhanced methods, tools and spaces (1) for knowledge building, (2) for reflection and (3) for design and creativity.

In the following, I will present each of them from theoretical and pedagogical point of view and then present some ideas on how New Media can be used in them. If you are interested in the prototypes designed in the research group to experiment within these areas, you may point your browser to the URL’s listed in the end of the article.

2. Methods, tools and spaces for knowledge building

In the knowledge building research we have a long history. The Learning Environments research group was found in 1998 on the bases of the Future Learning Environment research project carried out with the Centre for Research on Networked Learning and Knowledge Building at the University of Helsinki. Since then, the theoretical framework of the research has stayed the same, although we have witness remarkable development in it, too. In it the central concepts are the social constructivist learning theory, Vygotsky’s (1978) theory of the zone of proximal development, knowledge building theory (Scardamalia & Bereiter 1994) and progressive inquiry learning (Hakkarainen 2003).

The pedagogical framework can be summarized to be an attempt to facilitate similar kind of working practice with knowledge that are common among expert communities, such as scientific or art and design communities. In knowledge building people are engaged to work together to create knowledge. In the computer science, some of the earliest experiments of computer supported collaborative work (CSCW), were having very similar kind of objectives. Especially Douglas Engelbart’s 1968 demo of the oN-Line System (NLS), designed for collaborative knowledge work can, be named to be the first attempt to design computer system for knowledge building (Engelbart & English, 1968).

Using New Media in knowledge building is a widely studied topic. There are still, however, a lot of work to make it properly. The design and development of knowledge building tools that will truly support progressive discourses, are able to guide students to deepen their understanding collaboratively, that will help them to self regulate their activities, as well as to follow and take different views to the process is not a trivial design research challenge. With several prototypes (Fle3, Fle4) and experiments with them, we have contributed to this research tradition.

With some connections to knowledge building theory there are also topics I would like to explore in the future. These are rich media (audio-video) tools in a knowledge building processes, as well as dialogue and discourse tools specifically designed for organizational strategy work, for conflict meditation and to support deliberative democracy.

3. Methods, tools and spaces for reflection

According to dictionary reflection means “serious thought or consideration”. Thinking and thinking about once own thinking are common methods used for better learning. In formal education, reflection is often a process, in which individuals are writing texts, such as lecture notes, journals and essays.

Reflection is important in knowledge building, too. Knowledge building can invite the participants to guide and regulate their own learning: to think and decide on what is important to find out, what to do next and how to do it. The process is asking people to take responsibility about their learning. In this the participants need both, self and group reflection.

To experiment with the possibilities to use New Media to enhance reflection we have designed several prototypes (ReFlex, TeamUp, Ach So!). The tools are expected to help teachers and their students to create spaces for reflection, to make their classroom a learning environment where reflection is essential part of all activities. When brought to the classroom the tools are formulating new kind of interaction between the students and teachers, as well as among the students themselves. The tools also support transparency and sharing culture in a classroom or in a workplace.

4. Methods, tools and spaces for design and creativity

The third area of research in the field of New Media and learning we have worked lately, is the use of the tools in design and creativity. In this arena we have focus on the essence of New Media, the possibility to program, to code things that will serve you. We see that programming, ability to command a computer to do things for you, is in the core of New Media and with a great impact to creative practices.

We call the ability to think and interact with computers computational thinking skill. In practice it means that when doing stuff — designing and creating new things — students are able to recognize situations where a computer can help them to achieve their goal but also situations when computers are not for any good.

As the research group’s senior researcher Tarmo Toikkanen have present, programming in its essence is same time math and art: problem solving, logical thinking and creative expression. In the digital society coding is as important skill as farming use to be in the agrarian society or technical drawing in the industrial society.

As design researchers we are interested in to design and develop prototypes (Square1, Meemoo) that will provide computational thinking, programming and coding for the rest of us. Also this area of research has a long history to build on. In our case we have been interested in hardware and the meta-design aspects with them. Concrete hardware components can demystify the computer technology and when build to be hackable, they can provide tools for students to take full ownership of the tools used.

5. Conclusion

Diversity of ideas and working practices is good for learning. Students should everyday experience new discoveries and inventions. To make this to happen, we need intellectually rich environments: different people with different ideas. Within the Media Lab we should ask everyday how we could be more sophisticated community of scholars, designers and artists — all exploring new frontiers.

Continuous revising and developing our methods, tools and spaces for better learning is a way to keep Media Lab relevant. Building on what we already know, but also providing possibilities for meta-design are critical. We believe that these are the philosophical, pedagogical and research methodological approaches that will create digital society that is fair and sustainable.


Engelbart, D. C., & English, W. K. (1968). A research center for augmenting
human intellect. In Proceedings of the December 9-11,

Fischer, G., & Scharff, E. (2000). Meta-design: design for designers. In Proceedings
of the 3rd conference on Designing interactive systems: processes, practices, methods, and techniques (pp. 396–405).

Hakkarainen, K. (2003). Emergence of Progressive-Inquiry Culture in Computer- Supported Collaborative Learning. Learning Environments Research, 6(2),

Leinonen, T. (2010). Designing learning tools. Methodological insights. Aalto University.

Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (1993). Computer Support for Knowledge-
Building Communities. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 3(3), 265-283.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society: Development of Higher Psychological
Processes (14th ed.). Harvard University Press.

Prototypes to study methods, tools and spaces for knowledge building

Fle3: http://fle3.uiah.fi

Fle4: http://fle4.aalto.fi

Prototypes to study methods, tools and spaces for reflection

ReFlex: http://reflex.aalto.fi

TeamUp: http://teamup.aalto.fi

Ach So!: http://achso.aalto.fi

Prototypes to study methods, tools and spaces for design and creativity

Square1: http://lead.aalto.fi/tag/square1

Meemo: http://meemoo.org

Posted in Aalto University, Design, educational tool, Social Software | Leave a comment

Mobile learning prototype: create, annotate and share

With my research group we have released a new prototype that aims to help people to learn from each other — as part of their work, in situ, in same time and space where work takes place. The specific target group is construction industry, the people working in the construction fields. The tool is called Ach So!.

I think the Ach So! prototype’s greatest advantage is its simple design. However, it is important to point out that still the design is rooted on pretty solid pedagogical thinking and research on workplace learning. Ach So! is an Android App in an Aplha state (but functional) and available in the Google Play app store.

Last Friday I gave a talk about it in the 10th International Conference on Mobile Learning 2014. The talk explained a bit more the context and some theoretical considerations. The slides are here:

The research paper will be online at some point. Here are the publication details:

Bauters, M.; Purma, J.; Leinonen, T. (2014). In-time on-place learning. Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Mobile Learning 2014, 28 February – 2 March, Madrid, Spain

Posted in Aalto University, Design, educational tool, Sharing economy, Social Software | 1 Comment

Blended learning in higher education: Theory and practice in Finland

A week ago I gave a keynote at the Universidad de Ibagué in Tolima, Colombia. The Universidad de Ibagué is very advanced in the use of ICT in education. Most of the professors use Moodle with their in-campus courses and the university is strongly training and supporting its teaching staff to improve their course design and pedagogy with digital tools.

The slides of my talk are here.

In my talk I told a long story all the way from the Finnish geography and history to my University and my pedagogical thinking and teaching practice. In the end I also showed some snippets from my research.

You may ask why to explain the geography and history of Finland when giving a talk about pedagogy and use of ICT in higher education?

I think that the context — the cultural-historical reality — where we come from and live in is extremely important. I come from Finland, whatever I may sometimes try to act as some kind of citizen of the world. The history of my people, language and culture shapes the way I see the world. My talk makes more sense if people know a bit of the world where I come from.

What is universal, however, is that educational methods, pedagogy and technology used in and for teaching and learning is changing. Many people do not understand how much it is actually changing. It is not naive to compare the changes we are facing to the changes caused by the invention of the movable type in 1000 A.D. in China and about 400 years later in Europe. In Europe it was the starting point for communities of scientists and universities as we know them today. With the printing press the new scientific discoveries were communicated and disseminated across the Europe in a speed never seen before.

With the Internet and the Web we are again living transition time. Now the change is not primary happening in Europe, but everywhere. The price of communication, the price to deliver information is becoming close to zero. This is forcing educators to reconsider their practices.

It means, that higher education relying only to classical lectures is coming to the end. In educational planning we should have a “digital first” strategy. We should aim to have all the learning materials and a large part of course communication such as announcements and assignments, in addition to administrative tasks all in the open web. When we have done this we must think, what shall we anymore do in the classroom?

Some people are on that opinion that nothing, that we may turn of the lights and close the door. I disagree.

I think the classroom time can be very valuable — more valuable with the “digital first” approach than in most cases ever before. In a classroom students may have access to the tacit knowledge of the academic community. In the classroom — of which most should be modified to me laboratories, studios and workshops — students can see and take part in experts way of working. Problem based learning and progressive inquiry, where students are asked to do research in small groups, is one way to do it. And in the introduction courses we may give students homeworks, ask them to read and watch video lectures and then use the classroom time to discuss about the content.

On the other hand, in addition to becoming an expert in some field, there is a real need to learn skills that will help to work in multidisciplinary groups. Essential is to learn to understand other competences — to respect them and to get excited about them. Therefore part of the studies should take place in multidisciplinary study projects focusing on to solve real world problems with others.

I ended my talk with a slide advertising my latest research article, the first one in Spanish. Here is a link in to article:

Teemu Leinonen, Eva Durall Gazulla (in press): Pensamiento de diseño y aprendizaje colaborativo. Comunicar. Revista Cientifica de Communicación y Educación.

Finally, I want to thank everyone at the Universidad de Ibagué who made my stay easy and pleasant, even when I missed my meetings and forgot to have my phone with me. Really nice people. Thank you!

Posted in Aalto University, Conferences, Design, educational tool | 1 Comment

Digitally mediated — education and commons

There’s no free. Commons is limited. Education is slavery.” – anonymous

Photo by Jorge Royan.

In the last couple of months I have spent a remarkable amount of time to think about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), learning analytics, data science, learning science, quantified-self, reflection in learning, tools for reflection etc. Same time I have been thinking what are commons in education?

What are commons? Antonio Lafuente describes the commons as follows:

Commons are a new way of expressing a very old idea: that some things belong to everyone and as a whole, they comprise a set of resources that should be actively protected and managed.

Simple. Commons in education means that opportunities to study and learn belong to everyone and together we create, protect and manage resources that will enable it to happen. I am in.

I am skeptical about MOOCs. I am not the only one. I also agree that there are, for sure, good moocs and bad moocs — high quality and low quality online courses.

I am, however, confident about digital technology’s, especially Internet’s potential in education. With the technology we can provide opportunities for more but also do it pedagogically better than ever before.

Why I am skeptical if I still believe in Internet as the most important change factor in education in my lifetime?

My skepticism about MOOCs is probably related to my failures with some early experiments with online learning.

(Yuan, Li, and Stephen Powell 2013)

In 2005-2006 I was running my first set of large-scale online courses (some kind of xMOOC). The courses were part of the Art, Design and Technology Master Classes in the Arab States -program, funded by UNESCO, designed, developed and lead in Finland but taught by teachers in Beirut, Dubai and London (if I’ll remember right). To keep it high quality we limited the number of participants to be 50. Out of the 50 participants taking the first course we selected 20 to the second and third part of the program that was planned to take place partly online and partly in Beirut.

This kind of study program was possible to organize only with the Internet. The students came from different Arab states and also the teachers were geologically distributed. Still I would not call it a great success story. The quality was not great, although we did limit the number of participants, had a great teachers-student-ration and time for individual tutoring. It just didn’t happen the way we designed it. Many students were shy and we failed to build social cohesion among the group. Also our original plan to bring 20 students to Beirut to work face to face and to have an exhibition in there was cancelled because of the 2006 Lebanon War. Still there were a lot of positive things in the course, too. For many participants the course was a first time they met other artist and designers from other Arab states interested in to use digital tools in their work.

In 2007-2008 I was teaching another course online. With this course I was experimenting with a colleague the idea of truly open online course (nowadays called cMOOC). To the Wikiversity site we made a sketchy syllabus and schedule of ten weeks Composing free and open online educational resources -course. Then people came, some edited the syllabus and about 70 registered themselves to the course. We didn’t limit the number of participant. In the the course we were having weekly videoconference sessions, gave feedback on the assignments people did on their personal blogs that were openly in the web and also gave them grade (passed/failed) based on their activity in the course.

I think the course was good for some people, maybe for 10 participants. For most it was not. The quality for all was not high. Most people dropped and from those who completed only few did very well their assignments and really put a lot of effort to their studies.

Still the experiment was in some level convincing me that this kind of course could have a real impact in a global capacity building. To do so we would need millions of people doing courses like this all the time in every corner of the globe. Could this happen? It will happen but it may take very long.

Commons in education is not reached with xMOOCs, neither with truly open online courses such as the Wikiversity course. We need both. And we need much more. We need:

  • Free and very low-cost access to educational content for all different age groups and in all the languages of the world. To do this we need free and very low cost connections to Internet, globally.
  • Open source / free software to run open education and to experiment with it in open education.
  • Free and very low-cost access to books (on paper and e-books).
  • Galleries, libraries, archives, and museums, in place and online — free and low-cost.

These are the educational resources that should be actively protected and managed if we are interested in to build commons in education.

Posted in Aalto University, Collaboration, Design, educational tool, Open Source, Sharing economy, Social Software, Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia | 10 Comments

Edukata – Learning Activity Design Toolkit for Teachers

In the LeGroup research group we are happy to announce Edukata, the innovative learning activity design toolkit (PDF).

Update 24.9.2013: We now have a website for the Edukata: http://www.edukata.fi

Edukata is a tool kit for educators. It helps them to implement collaborative design process to create innovative classroom practices. It is based on empirically tested methodology piloted in over 17 European countries in over 2000 classrooms. In the pilots Edukata was found to positively impact teaching, learning and attainment and to foster 21st century skills.

From many point of views Edukata presents very Finnish approach and a way of thinking about education. I did a search to this blog to check what I have wrote earlier about Finnish educational system, PISA etc. I found some interesting posts. Reading them now makes me think that Edukata just makes so much sense.

In 2005 I wrote how high standards in education means less low-level standards. In the article I tell — lately many times told story — how Finnish kids take no standardized tests except the final exams in the end of the high school. I also tell how in Finland we trust our teachers and their ability to create a great school and learning environment. Great teachers are not only teaching — they are creating learning opportunities for their students.

In 2007 I wrote, whatever how much we love technology, in education it is a means to an end, not the end itself. I pointed out how the most important things to take care of are (1) teachers, (2) pupils, and (3) the system as a whole. Importance of the wellbeing of teachers and pupils is pretty obvious. About the system I wrote: “… system is doing well when it is supporting continuous pedagogical and organizations development, open for criticism, willing to look for solutions to the challenges recognized …”.

In 2009 I again wrote, this time related to the 21st Century Skills, how important it is that we see the teaches as the key players in the system developing their own practices. At that point, however, I also pointed out that in Finland we should also wakeup and start to use ICT in education. Although I also made a point that in ICT in schools we should focus on social software, open content and free and open source software (today I would add in here programming and hacking).

In 2011 I was in Shanghai and got a chance to meet several local educational authorities and educators. I wrote a blog post: Education in Shanghai (and Finland): Open Tracks and Diversity. Maybe surprisingly there are a lot of similarities between the educational systems in Finland and in Shanghai (yes both are doing very will in PISA). I wrote: “If I’ll compare the basic education in Shanghai and Finland it is amazing how similar the systems are. Both emphasis equality, open tracks, teacher training, as well as teachers and schools autonomy. All this is done by combining these priorities with fact-based centralized planning.

The main people behind Edukata have been Tarmo Toikkanen and Anna Keune. It is a privilege to work with people like them; smart and analytical (design) researchers. Thank you.

Posted in Collaboration, Design, educational tool | Leave a comment

MOOCs and the need to redesign the Finnish Open University

A Escola de Atenas, afresco no Vaticano. Photo by User: tetraktys / Wikimedia Commons.

In Finland we have a great tradition of Open University. Almost all the Finnish universities provide Open University courses. The principal idea behind the Open University is to promote educational and regional equality.

Every year close to 100 000 people take part in the Open University courses in Finland. In a country of 5 million+, that is close to 2 % of the population. A growing number of the courses are fully or partly online courses. This of course makes a lot of sense, when the attempt is to promote equality and access to education for all regardless where do they live.

Now in the field of open education we have the new kids on the block — the MOOCs. In some earlier posts I have asked if the MOOCs really is the lapis philosophorum that will solve our problems in education. I also have asked if the people behind the MOOCs have really understood the motivational aspects in learning. Quite interestingly Udacity, one of the major players in the MOOC-world, just announced that MOOC magic formula is emerging.

Although if the MOOC providers — from the platforms to the Universities — are still in a search of the right process formula they are doing many things right, too. Especially they are great in design. Together the sites have created some kind of common structure and style for the sites. All the MOOC sites from Coursera and edX to Udacity and Stanford online course site all look pretty much the same. All of them come with colorful cover photos of each course, in the front page there are “editors choices” and categories/tags to find the course. Within every course there is also a short introduction video by the instructor and a “sign up” -button. Good design.

Back to the Finnish Open University. Their web presence is very sad. Actually their entire vision of the web site is wrong. It comes clear already from the site’s English name: “The Open University information service”. The current idea of the site is to be a directory of courses offered by the Open University, when it should be a a place to find and *take* courses. The situation is strange especially when more and more courses actually are online courses. Bad design. Very bad service design.

The story of the Open Universities online is not that sad everywhere. The UK Open University’s Open Learn web site is not bad. The Open Learn is still mixing a lot of self-study course, MOOCs with an instructor, syllabus and activities and is not therefore as clear as the MOOC sites, but in the Open Learn they are definitely thinking their learners.

With a redesign, a customer/learner-centric redesign of the Finnish Open University we could have a real impact to the world of learning. Putting 90% of the resources to have online courses and by building a world-class web site with great social networking features, we could easily find a niche market from the long tail. And not necessary even a niche. There are many people who would love to take an online course on school management, introduction to teaching and curriculum, linux kernel, MySQL, game design or scandinavian design. We actually have good teachers for these topics.

Posted in Design, educational tool, Open Source, Sharing economy, Social Software, Uncategorized, Wikiversity | 2 Comments