Saturday, 8 December 2007

Collective Knowledge , Learning, Networks and Charting

Following a chat with Allison yesterday, and my reading of Kinchin & Hay's paper on the myth of the research-led teacher, I(Isobel) am wondering whether in our thinking about collective learning, we haven't remained tied to the traditional view of knowledge as residing in the heads of people. And I think this is the origin of some of my unease with Kinching and Hay's arguments - they present concept maps for novices and experts, but there remains a gap between the two which we cannot address: we don't know how/why a novice map transforms itself into an expert map, and thus we cannot chart the path from novice to expert.

I'm wondering whether a helpful way to think about collective knowledge and collective learning (and to distinguish between the two) is to view collective knowledge as a network with people (or machines) at the nodes. Then on a traditional view (as in Kinchin et al) the knowledge all resides within the nodes and the purpose of the links between the nodes is somehow to transfer knowledge from one node to another (learning) and we don't have a good handle on how this happens - ie. we don't really know what links the nodes. The learning remains an individual thing and essentially all that is collective about it is the number of nodes that an individual has access to. We could chart the way to increase the number of nodes, but this doesn't necessarily turn the novice (characterised by a simple concept map) into an expert (characterised by a complex concept map).

I'm wondering whether a more fruitful approach is to consider knowledge as residing in the interactions between people (or actors if one wants to include the machine) - this is a Wenger-like CoP view of collective knowledge. Then on a network view the difference between a novice and an expert would be in the interactions they had access to but more importantly the way they managed those interactions. One role for an expert might be to expose the way they manage interactions to the novice (this is the rationale that several of the blogging lecturers at Kathy's last learning sandpit based their use of blogs on). As a novice becomes more expert (learns) the network around them will change as they contribute knowledge to it and change their management of it.

This latter view of collective knowledge is by no means new, but has the advantage for us that these things are all, in principle, observable so we can research them and, hopefully, begin to chart the route from novice to expert. We might want to use ideas like actor network analysis, transactional distance, discourse practices, etc.

Or am I completely off the wall?

Monday, 3 December 2007

Online Educa Berlin 2007: Day 2, Closing Parallel session

This last session focused on Linking Web 2.0 to Education 2.0.

Julia Jaeger (a learning consultant from a company called Common Sense) spoke about collaboration and learning between international tutors who were using open source tools. This was a blended course for a distributed group of teachers and has been delivered for over three years. They use Skype for communication, wiki for progress check, and other tools such has moodle to consolidate all the tools and resources. She outlined a number of challenges that they experienced in this programme: large number of learners and workload; complexity of course (toolbox and tasks); virtual teamwork (coordination of feedback) and a range of media and tools (global campus 21 and moodle) used. She highlighted a range of demands on tutors, including technical skills and skills of giving feedback and virtual work. Key messages (somewhat simplistic in my view) - importance of matching teams, importance of all information being in one place (moodle), clear course manual and task descriptions.

Natalie van der Wiele from ePrep Community of Practice, supported by EU FP6 funded PALETTE project. This is an association that is contributing to preparatory classes for teacher training - “Pedagogically sustainable adaptive learning through the exploitation of tacit and explicit knowledge” (an Integrated project funded under FP6 – EUR 6Mln – 14 partner CoPs). Participants are teachers in various subjects and representatives of universities. In their approach, CoP members and Palette researchers are designing tools and resources together, using a semantic wiki and a web-editor.

Bart Rienties from Maastricht University delivered a great presentation on social networks and virtual team working in Web 2.0. This talk was based on a longitudinal study of a cohort of international students in a preparatory course that Maastricht provided for students (both Dutch and international) who were going to start a study at Maastricht Uni. In this course, students work on problem-based tasks in virtual teams. Bart's presentation focused on findings from a study exploring dynamics of virtual team work.

This could be a useful approach to enhancing the rates of progression and retention of students.
When I spoke with Bart after his presentation, he was saying that they too had an issue with drop out rates of students at Maastricht. They have evaluated the effectiveness of this onboarding course in terms of impact on progression in retention – results were that only 2% dropped out later. I am looking forward to having the opportunity to invite Bart to give a seminar on his work at GCU.

Anja Johanning (MMB, Institute for Media and Competence Research in Germany) discussed how CoPs can support competence development and management, using an example of a CoP called (30,000+ membership group of mainly secretaries and office managers). She started off by talking about the definitions of CoPs (never an easy task!). My impression was that she used the term communities of practice interchangeably with the term networks. She carried out a survey of web-based CoPs, which had the following characteristics: work communities; cross-organisation boundaries; built up top down; offering professionally edited material (?); asynchronous communication (text based mainly).

Then she discussed definitions of competences (not an easy task either!) focusing on competences as skills of social systems to solve problems on their own, in a self-organised way (Erpenbeck, 2004). She outlined three groups of competences- personal, professional and social-communicative.

Her study investigated the following key questions:
  • What situations in daily life have an effect ion the usage of online CoPs?
  • Does the participation in communities enable the development of online CoPs?
  • What are the success factors of competence development within online CoPs?

She carreid out qualitative interviews with 13 members of the community – 98% females aged between 20-50 yo. No difference in usage of internet (daily), but differ in community participation (2 core members, and quite a lot in the peripheral members group).


  • A large number of users share personal information about private problems outside work and within work (e.g. conflicts with colleagues, or problems with husbands) and ask other community members for advise. I wondered if it was specific to this professional group perhaps to want to share a lot of personal information?
  • Participation in the community had an impact on competence development, in the following ways:
  • Optimisation of all three groups of competences
  • Big impact on personal competence
  • Less impact on socio-communicative competence
  • Management of competences also rather strongly impacted - building up a social network and reviewing own competences and keeping competences up-to-date
  • Strengthening of will to solve problems
  • Solving or reducing uncertainty
  • Professional competences also quite strongly impacted but not as strong as personal competences (time saving, strengthening the ability to judge situations and assess solutions)

She outlined the following success factors:

  • Time-saving
  • Trustworthiness and reliability
  • Heterogeneous competence
  • Core members
  • Guaranty of anonymity
  • Observation of netiquette
  • Maintenance of data archive
  • Overwork and under utilisation at work encourages participation

Online Educa Berlin 2007: Day 1, Plenary Session 2

The second plenary session of the day focused on Social Networking and Web 2.0 in Learning.

Firstly, Sian Bayne of Edinburgh University spoke about how they are using Second Life (SL) in an MSc programme in E-Learning - an online programme, with a distributed group of mostly adult learners. She used Freud's notion of unheimlich (the Uncanny) to characterise Second Life. Unheimlich is the effect arising on the boundary of reality and virtuality. They expedrimented with a number of other 3d virtual worlds in the past, however they are now focusing on Second Life. They have an island called Holyrood Park, Virtual University of Edinburgh (VUE) and are experimenting with using SL in Faculties of Education, Architecture, and Management. Sian emphasised that contrary to the rumors that they spent hunderds of thousands on this, most of their development was done by the Doctoral students and some teachers in their spare time. She did a live demonstration of their SL environment, and then outlined a number of key issues that they faced: skills for using a 3D environment; bandwidth; and cultural issues for avatar appearances (e.g. in African cultures animal heads might have negative connotations since they might be associated with witchcraft and black magic). Then, in light with the recent UK trend of presenting data "in students own words" she went on to read out a number of -rather lengthy - quotes from students elaborating on some of this issues.

Next, Graham Atwell delivered an exciting keynote on Web 2.0, social software, and Personal Learning Environments. He characterised himself as "Andrew Keen’s nightmare – I am a socialist, former hippy, and an anti-authoritarian” :-) He argued that emergent tools are being pushed into the old metaphors of industrial age, and that it is not technology that is challenging but the way people use technology. Key soundbites from his talk:
  • "Universities are in bewilderment at best and most often exhibit downright hostility towards the social software and web 2.0"
  • "Universities risk becoming irrelevant to students"
  • "When we want to learn something we don’t go to a VLE, we go to Google – so why are we sending students to the VLE?!"
  • "Schools resemble factories, with classrooms like factory workshops, teachers overseeing the students, and there are even bells to tell students they are free"
  • "Assessment of learning rather than assessment for learning"

He argued that PLEs can help addresses these issues because the allow continuous learning; allow students to use their own tools; recognise informal learning; are controlled by learner.

Finally, Roger Larsen, CEO of Fronter (claims to be Europe’s largest commercial open source learning platform, with 2.2 million users) spoke about Collaborative Working Environments, which was in effect a sales pitch for Fronter. He argued that PLEs are useful, but that VLEs are still relevant, because "teachers need VLEs for managing educational process and assessment process" . On one point he remarked “We are not pedagogues, we are engineers who built systems”. This is precisely the problem with all these systems - that they are driven by technologists rather than educators. Just look at the amount of vendors that were exhibiting at the conference this year , their number has doubled from the last time I was there. And what do they offer? Endless VLEs, e-portfolio systems, assessment systems that are no different from each other. Lots of "containers", with little thought about what they are going to contain and who is going to need it and how they rae going to use it. His main message was: VLEs are relevant since they can serve as a portal to link all these other Web 2.0, PLEs and user owned tools. I was not convinced at all - why would I prefer a VLE that is locked up and costly - when I can bring together all my tools and resources much more effectively and organically within an open shared platform such as Netvibes?

Online Educa Berlin 2007: Day 1, More paralell sessions

Learning Object Repositories
Next was the session on Learning Object Repositories that I was presenting at. Others presenting within this session were: Richard Windle from the UK RLO CETL, Leo Højsholt-Poulsen, UNI-C/EdReNe Network, Denmark; Giovanni Fulantelli of the Italian National Research Council; and Ruth Rominger of Monterey Institute for Technology and Education,

My presentation was the first one in the session. I discussed some cultural, pedagogic and organisational issues involved in the implementation of learning object repositories. My presentation was based on findings from our recently completed Community Dimensions of Learning Object Repositories (CDLOR) project.

Richard Windle spoke about the findings from "Sharing the LOAD- Learning Objectives, Activities and Designs" project. He highlighted the tension between contextualised pedagogy and decontextualised nature of LOs. His talk focused on learning design templates and ways of capturing real-world reusable designs. Richard discussed pedagogic attributes for the designs, and emphasised that the repository and pedagogic needs of practitioners must be analysed and creation of designs in real-world context must be studied.

Leo Højsholt-Poulsen of Danish thematic Educational Repositories Network (EdReNe) spoke about some issues in sharing resources via reposoitories, focusing on management and organisation, quality framework and criteria, functionalities and features, metadata, IPR, and repositories’ role in the new web environment. He focused mostly on the information management issues rather than pedagogic or cultural aspects.

Giovanni Fulantelli, Italian National Research Council, Institute of Learning Technology, gave a very interesting talk on an alternative model to Learning Object Repositories - Open Learning Objects. He described the SLOOP project funded by the EU Leonardo Da Vinci programme. The project was focused on creating a community of teachers who collaboratively developed open educational resources. The platform they used is Freeloms. Others have argued for this kinds of open self-organising virtual communities developing educational resource - for example, David Wiley and Erin Edwards and Jennifer Maddrell - and I tend to think that this approach will work better than learning object repositories have done so far.

Ruth Rominger of MITE (Monterey Institute for Technology and Education) talked about the National Repository of Online Courses, which are developed collaboratively by subject matter experts, instructional designers, and multimedia and software development experts and made available to teachers etc. This seems to be a sort of middle ground between LORs and OERs, but I am not very keen on initiatves that focus on content development, for many reasons, so I was not impressed although I realise this approach might work in some contexts, for some people.

The question and answer session that followed mostly focused on discussions of tensions between use and reuse; and on tensions between OERs vs LORs. Sebastian GK suggested that we stop building these containers of content and concentrate on actually using these resources to support learning - and I can all but agree with him.

Supporting Lifelong Learning
This session focused on supporting lifelong learning, and seemed to include mainly EU-funded projects.

Firstly, David Griffiths of University of Bolton talked about conflicting definitions of the term competence in formal learning and lifelong learning context. Main message – lifelong learning support systems have to be open.

A woman from University of Graz (unfortunately didn't catch her name) presented findings from an EU FP6 funded project APOSDLE . The project aims to develop a framework/approach to integrating work and learning processes with knowledge management. The presenter outlined the following four dimensions of openness of systems for lifelong learning: content, user profiles and portfolios, collaborative maturing of models, and end-user devices (e.g. mobile devices). This project might be relevant to our potential FP7 proposal, so I am going to look up the details.

Volker Zimmerman from PROLIX project (also funded under EU FP6) discussed learning service to support formal, informal, and social learning processes. He focused on process oriented life cycle – integration of various tools used by training and HR processes in organisations. He argued that the glue between these different tools is business processes. I didn’t quite understand what he meant by business processes in this context - examples he gave seemed to point to educational processes, or rather perhaps steps individuals take when they have a learning need that they want to address. He suggested that business processes are based on trigger tasks – e.g. someone wants to learn a language - they go to content- sign up for a course-contact others-and so on. This sounded like it could be relevant to our work on charting learning paths, so another project to look up.

Next, Marcus Specht of OUNL spoke about metadata bridges for open lifelong learning, focusing on the Metadata for Architecture Contents in Europe (MACE) project .

Overall, the discussion in this session was very much focused on information management aspects of this systems and approaches (content, CVs, portfolios, competence profiles, etc) and hardly at all on learning from individuals’ point of view or on pedagogic issues.

Online Educa Berlin 2007: Day 1, Parallel sessions

Application of TEL research/Kaleidoscope: My presentation was planned to take place later that afternoon, but before then I went to find out a bit more about the research in technology-enhanced learning carried out within the Kaleidoscope Network. Kaleidoscope is a Network of Excellence (NoE) funded under the EU FP6. It comprises 90 research units across 24 countries in the EU and Canada, with 1100 researchers (2/3 of total members) and PhD students (1/3 of total members), as well as industry partners. The funding will cease at the end of 2007, but Kaleidoscope seems to be moving towards creating an association (perhaps with own regular conferences and seminars?). They maintain an open archive.

This session was presented by Barbara Wasson (University of Bergen), Judith Schoonenboom (University of Amsterdam), and Jacqueline Bourdeau (Canada, unfortunately I cannot remember her affiliation).

Barbara Wasson talked about collaborative knowledge building. Her findings were based on DoCTA (Design of Collaborative Telelearning Activity) project. Project had lots of outputs (publications, Masters Students and PhD students), but this talk was particulalry focused on students collaboratively learning how to do “science talk”. They have used Progressive Enquiry Learning (Muukkonen et al 1999) methodology, which is based on a problem solving framework. Key finding: too few students and teacher use higher order skills; many are trying to get through the problem and focus on solution rather than learning domain concepts. I wondered what the quality of problem solutions was in their study - if students do come up with good quality (whatever that means) solutions, then is there a point in worrying about how well students can articulate concepts (do the 'science talk')? What is more important - that one can solve a problem to a sufficiently good standard, or that one can articulate the solution and the process in nice and proper way?

Judith Schoonenboom's focused on TENCompetence project exploring competence development for lifelong learning (another large EU FP6 funded project). Main messages from Judith's talk:
  • existing pedagogical models are more suitable for formal education, rather than lifelong learning
  • it is difficult for individuals to have an overview of all existing lifelong learning opportunities
  • organisation do not know how to assess employees’ competences
  • centralised models of network do not work with lifelong learning

She compared principles of formal learning and principles of lifelong competence development to demonstrate these points. She then demonstrated a prototype of a system developed within the project - Personal Competence Manager. The system was trailed with 40 teachers from Bulgaria.

I wondered if this formal educational domain was really an appropraite context to trial someting that claims to be a lifelong learning competence manager. This is a rather a standard use as a competence manager software that many organisation (definitely corporations like Shell) have been using for years already to match the current and needed competences of their staff with learning and development opportunities - so what is new about this? I would have liked to see this system trialled in more realistic lifelong learning contexts - for example fisherman or farmers who cannot fish or farm anymore and have to develop a new set of competences.

Online Educa Berlin 2007: Day 1, Plenary Session 1

Day 1 started with a number of great keynotes:

Dominic Fobih, Ghanian Minister of Education, talked about the strategic drive in Ghana to shift from agricultural economy to knowledge economy, to which ICT is a key component. He discussed a range of inititaives in Ghana focusing on implementing ICT in Education. Main issues: affordability of technology, ICT literacy, perceptions among older people that technology is only for young people. He also spoke about cultural issues, e.g that educational resources that are available are not culturally suitable for Ghana/Africa, and they are not adapted for local contexts and needs. Another problem is that most educational resources originate from "the West", which creates dependency of Africa on the West and loss of cultural grounding of education. He also emphasised the need to digitise curriculum resources across Ghana.

Sugata Mitra from Newcastle University and formerly chief scientist with NIIT India spoke about his 'Hall in the Wall' experiments. It was a truly inspirational keynote, delivered with humor and warmth. His message made a lot of sense to me - he demonstrated very strongly and clearly by experiments carried out across the poorest neighbourhoods in India - that children can learn almost anything (how to use computers, browse internet, languages, biology) by themselves, provided the right emotions are triggered. One of the things he said was that technology should not be put into schools, because the effects he observed inhis experiments don’t happen in schools, since children expect examinations, assessments, etc. so he spoke about the importance of learning in a safe play environment.

Next was Patricia Ceysens, Flemish Minister for Economy, Enterprise, Science, Innovation and Foreign Trade. She emphasised many of the usual key strategic areas that EU and its individual countries are increasingly focsuing on these days (if not in action then definitely in speeches!)- innovation, investing in R&D, entrepreneurship, investing in human capital (ie education and training). She spoke about the fact that in Europe the society is aging rapidly therefore the clients of educational systems are changing (hence the EU's emphaisis on lifelong learning to ensure that people stay longer in the workforce). She specifically spoke about the importance of increasing their employment rate and allowing them to contribute more fully, through getting them into education and through provision of flexible working and flexible learning arrangements (e-Mamas). She spoke about mobile learning as being a key to this challenge. She spoke about the iKids of today - culture of images, need for interaction, intercultural and multilingual, social and collaborative, need individualised instruction in schools. She ended with a quote from “Little Prince” - if you want someone to build a ship, one thing you can do is to give them wood, hammers and tell them exactly what to do. But you can also paint a picture of a see with all its beauty, its possibilities and boundaries that they will want to explore, then they will get the tools and build the ship themselves.

Andrew Keen (or should I say The Andrew Keen :-)), author of the Cult of the Amateur who spoke about - well, all the usual stuff about how the internet is killing our culture and values, how the "monkeys [i.e. wikipedians, 14 year olds, everyone who is not a Harvard Professor, or New York Times journalist] have taken control of knowledge" ; about how the authority of experts should be reestablished, about how a 14 year old will never know more than a Harvard Professor, and so on. There has been a lot said about his book and his views . His views are mostly disagreeable to me, so this presentation was not any different. But there is one thing that I agree with him and that is that web 2.0 has re-emphasised the need for media literacy - i.e skills in evaluating information, determinining its quality, being able to differentiate between facts and opinion, being able to evaluate and understand evidence.

Online Educa Berlin 2007: Day 0

I was at Online Educa Berlin (OEB) last week, where I was giving a talk on issues in sharing educational resources via learnig object repositories. This was my second time at OEB, and based on my previous expereince (in 2002), I didn't have high expectations. I was however pleasantly surprised with the overall good quality of this year's keynotes and most parallel sessions I attended (maybe I am getting better at judging the potential quality of a session from a short description in the programme :-)

I was mostly twittering - rather twitter spamming - the sessions, as well as taking notes, however I thought I would consolidate my impressions from each of the three conference days in a bit more reflective way than twitter allows.

Many other people blogged about the various aspects of the conference: Inge de Waard , Steven Verjans , Wilfred Rubens (in Dutch) , Marc Dupuis , Keith Russell , Willem Karssenberg (in Dutch) , Steve Wheeler , and Sebastian Graeb-Konneker among others.

Before the conference, I attended a full-day pre-conference workshop on "Research in e-Learning in Berlin's Universities" organised by Technical University of Berlin. I was unimpressed either by the organisation or by the content of the workshop. Firstly, it was not a workshop as it was advertised but a tightly packed series of presentations with very little time for discussion or any hands on stuff (isn't that what workshops are meant to be?). The research that was reported was rather uninspiring (not to say boring), although reasonably well executed methodologically - evaluation of CD-ROM based course materials, use of VLE in primary schools, and so on.
Berner Lindtsrom from Gotheborg University was on the agenda with the most promising-sounding presentation on application of socio-cultural approaches to technology-enhanced learning - and I was very much looking forward to his talk given my interest in activity theory. Unfortunately he spent most of his presentation talking about his research group and his university (which was interesting but not the reason why people had paid to attend this workshop) .

We had a lovely lunch though (glorious German bread, I couldn't get enough of it!), and I met Prof. Casper Schutte who teaches Chemistry at University of Pretoria, who had a great sense of humor and who knew some of my previous colleagues from University of Twente, so we had a nice conversation at the Conference Party the next day.