European perspectives on design for learning in the 21 century

In mid July, I gave a workshop and a keynote at the National conference of the Australasian Association of Distance Education Schools in Tasmania, Australia. The slides of my talk are here:

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During the lecture I showed some of my favourit videos related to ICT/New Media and education. I’ll add them here too, with some comments.

I think people working in the field of ICT and education in the 21 century should get familiar with Marshall Mc Luhan‘s ideas. Interestingly enough you can do it today by watching Mc Luhan talking on video about his (literature) scholarly works. A video with an interview from the year 1960, made by the Canadian Broadcasting Company, is one of my favorites.

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In the lecture I said that when Mc Luhan wrote about the tribal man in the era of electronic media, I am worried that with the digital media we may see some tribal wars, too. When then week later, I got the news about the attack in Oslo, I couldn’t help to think that this is an example of tribal war in the era of digital media. Someone should do a proper study of the killers social media behavior and its effects on him.

In the presentation I also summarized three main research topics I see as the most crucial and important in the field of ICT or New Media in education. These are (1) Creative spaces, (2) Social software and (3) Free and open content. Related to these topics I have some videos, too.

The first one is an example of “future classroom” or “creative space” where the ICT is just an add-on. By watching couple of minutes of it you’ll notice (5 minutes is definitely enough!) that the teacher is teaching the way they are use to do, and the role of the students is to listen and talk only when teacher is asking them something. The laptops are there, but they are not practically used for anything else than to deliver material.

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With the video I try to demonstrate how important is to think first pedagogy and only then consider what ICT tools could help in the implementation of it. Bringing laptops and interactive whiteboards to the classroom without re-considering the whole idea of teaching and learning is useless.

In universities, at least in Europe, there is a lot of discussion on “learning centers”. In most of the cases they are build on top or beside existing university libraries. The interest on the “learning centers” comes from the fact that more and more of learning materials, especially academic journals and articles (and soon study books, too) are already available online. Faculty and students see the benefits of using digital content – it is always available. Same time there is a worry that meeting other students, sharing ideas and working together will decrease. When we know that learning is a social process and that often innovations happen when people from different disciplines get together, isolation caused by digital content can be a real issue. A contra-argument is that the social part will take place in social media, but it is also true that meeting face-to-face increases collaboration and trust between people.

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The École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne’s (one of the top Universities in Europe) learning center concept is interesting. The forms of the building are based on the human movements in space. The open public space invites students to hang-out, to do their study work and same time meet other people. The public space with “hills” can be used for gatherings and events of different size. Many small meeting rooms gives more privacy for groups working together and wireless connectivity provides access to learning materials.

Related to the creative space I also presented the idea of large multi-user displays. One example of this is the multitouch microscope. Researchers at the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM) and Multitouch Ltd have created a gesture controlled microscope that is combination of web-based virtual microscopy and large multitouch display.

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The new creative spaces should include social software in them. The software will run “in” the multitouch displays and in people’s own devices, such as pads and mobile phones. Critical in the this track of development is that the software will be web-based (in practice HTML5). This way we may use the devices students already have with them; a laptop, pad or mobile phone with a web browser. It is also important that the students own devices will seamlessly work together. This is what our design research is about in the European iTEC project.

I finished my talk to a new video explaining the LeMill – Web community for finding, authoring and sharing open educational resources, developed in my research group. In addition to have media/internet/web-rich creative spaces with large displays and social software we also need free and open content. To increase the amount of open content such projects as the Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects are very important. In addition to these we also need projects that are precisely targeting to create learning materials for different levels of education and in different languages. In this — at least in the primary and secondary levels — I consider LeMill to be one of the most important projects in the world.

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I had absolutely great time in Australia. People were very friendly and I like the humor in there. Professionally, I particularly enjoyed the pre-conference workshop giving me a nice overview of the ICT use in Australian schools, colleges and universities. It was not a surprise for me that in distance education Australians are in their own level (with Canadians) but there were also interesting experiments and research related to ICT implementation and policies in “normal” schools and other educational institutions (1t:1 computing, social media, etc.).

There are probably many blog posts related to the conference. As traveling, I haven’t found time to read them all, but I found this post, which I really like. There are also references to Educational system in Finland: How to win the “best schools” competition – don’t play the game!.

Another nice surprise in the conference was that just before my talk the Hon Peter Garrett MP gave his talk about the Australian Government’s $2.4 billion investment on ICT in education to create Digital Education Revolution. His talk is worth of reading. With the Minister I also got a a chance to chat a bit about his musical and political career in the last 20 years. I actually saw his band playing in Finland in 1990. I was 21. It was a good summer, indeed.

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