eLearning Communities and Conferences

Riitta Suominen   

Online Educa Berlin 2017: More communication and interaction

After a two year break, I attended the Online Educa Berlin conference. The conference is still going strong. This year the event drew more than two thousand well-informed professionals from 80 countries, and the arrangements were again excellent.

Over 2 000 e-learning professionals gathered at Online Educa Berlin. The traditional OEB debate asked whether students should reduce their reliance on social media. There were fewer Finns than usual; the only exhibitor was Tuudo.

Creative solutions and participation in change

The keynote speakers were Aleks Krotoski, Abigail Trafford and Pasi Sahlberg. According to Aleks Krotoski, we have shifted in education from top-down storytelling to participation and personalization. In society, there is a constant struggle about who will be heard and who is able to participate. Abigail Trafford wondered how people's longevity affects society. Elderly people are studying and working longer; their strategic skills are better than those of younger employees and should be utilized at work. Learning should be part of all life stages.

Although I’d heard Pasi Sahlberg’s presentation before, it was the most interesting one here. Sahlberg spoke about the success factors of Finnish education: equality and the university training of teachers. In the future, according to Sahlberg, the core of teaching should be creativity, problem solving and empathy - the human skills that smart devices lack.

The OEB debate -- great infotainment

My constant favorite among the Educa events is Thursday night's OEB debate. This year, teams argued whether students’ dependency on social media should be reduced. The debaters Marc "Digital Native" Prensky and Claire Fox opposed the idea, while Joe Edelman and Julia Hobsbawn defended. As usually, a lively argument, especially given Julia Hobsbawn’s outstanding debate skill. Thanks to her, the vote of the winner ended almost to a dead heat inspite of social media friendly audience.

Challenges of open sharing

The seasoned guru Stephen Downes continued to advocate persuasively for open materials and learning environments. According to him, the creation process of traditional textbooks is too slow, and vendors of closed platforms think primarily of their financial interests. In my own session, I also talked about open publishing and the diversified use of social media channels in eductional communication. In the discussions that followed, it became apparent how difficult the publicity related to open publishing is for education professionals. Our e-problems seem to be still mainly cultural, not technical.

This year, Online Educa provided more space for joint discussions, with the length of presentations shortened accordingly. I think this arrangement works well and reflects the lines of online pedagogy.

Participants in my session. The presenters: Gordana Benat, me, Marit Nieuwenhuys and Vasilis Tsilivis; Nives Kreuh chaired. The largest groups were the Dutch and the Danish; with Marjaana Kareinen we wondered about the small number of Finns.


Talking about Social Media in Georgia

Operating out of new, well-equipped premises, the Academy offers a good ICT environment for training.

For a week in March, I was consulting with the Academy of the Ministry of Finance in Georgia. The training is part of a project managed by a Finnish sister-organization, HAUS. The project aims to strengthen the Academy’s capacity to design and deliver high quality training and support for professional career development in the ministry. My topic was open educational environments, educational communication, and the use of social media in education and in professional work.

The assignment began by connecting participants to blogs, wikis, Twitter, YouTube, and so on. Last summer, Georgian ministries had closed access to such social media because they wanted to eliminate their use for entertainment during working hours. Facebook is the most popular service in Georgia, and the way it’s typically used has shaped attitudes toward the entire spectrum of tools. Participants repeatedly asked why they needed multiple channels like wikis, blogs, and Twitter; why can't the same functionality come from a single service, namely Facebook? I myself use Facebook pages and groups professionally; I think these work well for relatively superficial discussion and sharing, such as agreeing on schedules. However, more complex work requires a wider range of tools, such as a blog for fuller reflection, or a wiki for building knowledge. When we combine such tools with a rapid reaction channel like Twitter, we create an effective social media environment for learning and for professional work.

We need a common language on the Internet

The audience's understanding of English varied, and so an interpreter translated my words into Georgian. Fortunately, the topic of my session was online tools and activities, which made it possible to create multi-lingual environments and foster interaction there. At the same time, my week clearly illustrates how essential a solid knowledge of English is, if you want access to global networks. When presenting MIT's open learning resources, the deputy director of the Georgian agency commented with wry humor: If we want to keep our jobs, we either have to stop teaching English, or stop teaching anything except English.

In every case, it is necessary to make use of open educational environments in order to foster the experts’ own development. It’s also crucial that they are able to connect their own trainees and local groups to global networks.

The participants had used social media mainly for entertainment and marketing. During the week we examined their suitability to instruction and other professional activities. After work, Georgia offered excellent meals and sulphur baths; even "wine" origins from the Georgian word ghvino.


Online Educa Berlin 2014: Rheingold, Downes, and Siemens

The twentieth Online Educa Berlin conference took place December 3rd through 5th, 2014. The conference brought together 2332 partcipants from 100 countries. I intended to skip the conference this year, but changed my mind for three reasons: Howard Rheingold, George Siemens, and Stephen Downes.

Stephen Downes reminded the conference that he and Siemens invented MOOCs, something that’s often forgotten. Matthew James Constantine from Spain offered practical tips for MOOCs: keep videos under 7 minutes; plan a 4 to 6 week duration for the MOOC overall.

Howard Rheingold spoke convincingly about the empowering potential of learning and the importance of networks. Teachers should discuss with students, find out their needs, and enable them to take responsibility for their own learning. The instructor’s task is to learn along with students instead of teaching. Rheingold recommends replacing pedagogy with peeragogy, which highlights different co-operative methods such as co-writing. Instead of memorizing we should consider meanings and connections. Effective networking requires that students create their own public voice. When someone enters your name in Google, you want the results to include your own outputs, not only information written by others.

Stephen Downes, in turn, advocated that each person needs his own independent online space. In the same way, every student should have his own personal learning environment, which is linked to other environments. The main idea is linking rather than using a joint platform. Services like Facebook are based on the premise that users are a product to sell to advertisers. Learning management systems, similarly, collect student data for the benefit of the organization and for the LMS company, even though the student should have the primary right to decide on its use. Content creators should always be able to take their data with, when they stop using the service. Our technology choices will define our future.

Thursday evening’s Oxford-style debate is always the culmination of the conference; two debaters stand for a given claim while two others argue against it. George Siemens and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger defended the idea that big data is not corrupting education, but rather helps to enhance and personalize instruction – as long as its use is open and transparent. Ellen Wagner and Inge de Waard were sceptical about the methods and goals of data use. In the post-debate poll, 72% of the audience agreed with the men. The debate was entertaining as usual, but it didn't deliver such sparkling arguments as in previous years.

Things are getting better, even if it doesn’t look like it

Keynote speaker Lisa Lewin illustrated with her own personal history that political decisions have both micro and macro impacts. In her case, they made it possible for her to study at Harvard. For many women and minority groups, good political decisions have opened access to higher education which was previously reserved for the elite. With the help of technology we can continue to increase educational opportunities. Lewin thinks that educational technology has now passed the rapid assimilation phase and has reached the endpoint of an S-curve. Now we need new innovations, which may come from the fields of big data or neuroscience.

Ola Rosling delivered another interesting presentation. He began by posing three questions to the audience to find out if the participants viewed the world based on facts or illusions. It turns out that we education professionals were nearly as well-informed as chimpanzees. Rosling demonstrated that we believe the state of development in general is far darker than statistics show it to be. Poverty has been halved, women's education has increased, and natural disasters have been less devastating than we think. Instructors in particular should rely on a fact-based worldview.

Tablet is not a solution

Beyond its keynote speakers, the Online Educa conference offered many interesting presentations for smaller audiences. I was inspired by three Canadians – Thomas Stenzel, Michael Canuel, and Donna Aziz who dealt with teaching English in Thailand. The Thai government had ordered nine million tablets as part of an effort to improve miserable student performance on the PISA exams. The tablets ended up on the shelf. No content had been planned for them, and they couldn't even charge the batteries. Only after this failure was the Canadian group invited to establish a workable, web-based model for learning English. The case is a typical example of what happens when a so-called reform begins by purchasing technology without a pedagogical plan and without training teachers. Technology deployment requires their skills and commitment. Without their own e-learning experience, it's impossible to implement new teaching methods. Unfortunately, the acquisition of tablets in particular seems to be a value in itself, rather than their purpose. Before deciding on a device, we should analyze its intended use: is it a tool for working and interaction, or mainly a reader for ready-made materials? In the search for fast solutions, we often grasp the wrong end of a problem.

Educa offered several smaller sessions. Canadians Thomas Stenzel, Michael Canuel, and Donna Aziz presented a web-based model for learning English. New generation virtual glasses attracted attendees: there was a continous queue in front of the booth.


OEB 2013: Massive open online courses continue to conquer the world

MOOCs were vigorously defended by Donald Clark. Théo Bondolfi led people in trying out collaborative group writing tools. Mister Blackboard Rick Van Sant vividly shared his opinion of man’s ability to multitask. Educa veteran Juhana Nieminen presented an interesting KungFu feedback tool.

Again in 2013, Online Educa Berlin gathered a few thousand e-learning professionals from 91 countries. Despite turbulent weather, the conference proceeded in a relaxed atmosphere. The main topics did not change from last year, but MOOCs–massive open online courses–were examined in greater depth from various perspectives.

Are MOOCs working? The answer is yes and no. They attract a huge number of participants and offer a wide audience the opportunity to participate in courses from top universities. Not everyone can take part, however, because MOOCs demand a computer, Internet access, and usually skill in English. One of the biggest problems is the large number of drop-outs; only a fraction of those who enroll will formally complete the course. MOOCs, therefore, require a fair amount of student self-direction, which is why they may be particularly suitable for university graduates.

We already have experience in MOOCs, and they can be designed in the traditional method (X MOOCs) or in the spirit of connectivism (C MOOCs). Donald Clark encouraged people to try different types of courses for different target groups. Not all participants need credits; many are involved because of the joy of learning. It might be possible to reduce the drop-out rates, so that massive open and small closed online courses are connected to each other. According to Clark, the financial problem can be solved in many ways, for example by state aid, donations, sponsorship, small participation or certificate fees and advertising.

One solution for time-consuming feedback is peer work, but there’s also the development of data collection and automatic feedback. Keynote speaker Victor "Big Data" Mayer-Schönberger illustrated how raw data collected in MOOCs is processed to support learning. When statistics show, for example, that a specific discussion comment helps in solving a problem, then students who have failed are automatically guided to read the comment. The huge amount of participants in a MOOC makes such massive data collection possible, which in turn supports the personalization of education.

The other keynote speaker Jeff Borden strongly advocated active learning. As evidence, he described a survey of 16 000 students who were asked about their favorite courses. The respondents almost unanimously cited those courses that require critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving. Borden also surprised the audience by saying that critical thinking is more likely with a cafeteria-like noise level around 65 to 80 decibels, while a lecture hall with 35 decibels is not as good for brain activation. If you need an environment that does not in any way support learning, he said, choose a classroom. MIT's research on activiting the brain shows that student attention is lower while listening to lectures than while sleeping.

Finns are always active in the Educa; perennial participants Petri Lounaskorpi and Leena Vainio are talking with Ulla Tirronen and Johannes Pernaa. Linda Saukko-Rauta delighted the Educa audience with her sketchnotes. Kari A. Hintikka and Maija Kärnä talked about the use of social media; Inge de Waard guided teams in the design of MOOCs. The annual highlight of Educa is the debate, in which mass course opponents and supporters faced off this year. Almost unanimously, the audience voted the mass course on to the next round.


SITE 2013 – Mobile, MOOC, multi-channel

Milton Chen urged participants to build the future. Paul Kim described the positive experiences of 20,000 students in an open online course. One panel made a strong case for building skills for digital citizenship.

The SITE conference was held in New Orleans this year. Milton Chen praised project learning and presented the George Lucas Educational Foundation's Edutopia site. According to Chen, instructors can evaluate the appeal of their teaching by observing whether students come into the class as fast as they go out. Paul Kim talked about Stanford's SMILE learning environment, which is built around learners' questions. Based on his experience with an open, online course with 20 000 participants, Kim gave a new meaning for the acronym MOOC – "massive open online course" becomes "massive ongoing online course", as students continue to work in self-chosen ways after the official end of the course. He also urged participants to forget the debate over internet-based courses versus classroom instruction, because learning is present everywhere: on-line and off-line should be combined into all-line learning.

Mariana Patru from UNESCO was concerned about the geographical and gender-based digital divide, which mobile learning may be able to narrow. Worldwide, more than 775 million people are illiterate, two thirds of them women. In developing countries, most people connect to the internet via mobile devices, which can provide access to global educational resources for marginalized people. Even though men account for more use of mobile devices, these tools offer many women their only chance for education.

Interaction requires freedom and inspiration

Several presentations dealt with online discussion. Jon Dron from Athabasca University presented an interesting thesis: "The more structure you have, the less dialog." In an online learning environment, participants should have an opportunity to self-organize and to create their own spaces for different purposes. Karen McFerrin from the University of Louisiana sounded like me when she spoke about content analysis: you should systematically monitor online discussions during a course. Pay attention to critical thinking, focusing, reflection, and writing style. Susan Patterson, in turn, presented the SNAPP software, which creates graphs based on online course interaction; it shows who is talking with whom and who remains isolated. The instructor can therefore address a situation just in time. Mahnaz Moallem has studied the impact of synchronous and asynchronous discussion on motivation, self-direction and learning outcomes. These two ways of interacting are not significantly different, but the best results come from combining them.

Skills for digital citizens

I got the largest number of ideas from a panel that included Michael Searson, Bonnie Sutton, David Whittier, Robert Plants, David Gibson, Joke Voogt, Marilyn Ochoa, and Vic Sutton. They proposed that skills for digital citizenship should be a part of the curriculum, but teachers often lack these themselves. Among the skills the panel recommended: knowledge of open materials, media literacy, cyber ethics and online communication skills. Joke Voogt defined levels of competence: a passive user understands what's going on, an active one uses web resources, a competent user is able to interact online, a skillful user also knows how to influence others. A good digital citizen participates and actively contributes to matters affecting his life and environment. Technology will likely bring a revolution to civic participation like the one taking place in education.

SITE offers the chance to discuss the state of online education around the world. Joyce Pittman says that change requires know-how, resources, and commitment. According to Blance O'Bannon's research, the educational use of Facebook improved learning – although one participant suspects that teachers just wanted to be hip and cool... like jazz , the pulse of New Orleans.


Online Educa Berlin 2012: Changes in higher education and MOOCs

Michael Barber predicted an avalanche of change for higher education. Steve Martin showed how to bring about change through the force of persuasion. Online Educa Berlinattracted e-learning experts from 98 countries.

Two thousand e-learning enthusiasts from nearly 100 countries gathered in Berlin at this year's Online Educa conference. Finns were well represented – the biggest foreign group came from the UK, the second from the Netherlands, and the third from Finland. Some Finnish organizations value this event enough to send teams of six or seven people.

Among the major trends discussed at the conference was the coming avalanche of change in higher education. Michael Barber's keynote speech pointed out clear evidence of forces pressing just below the placid surface of the academic world. University education costs have risen several hundred percent, yet at the same time the employment level of graduates has decreased. For example, in the UK last year, recent university graduates had a lower employment rate than people of the same age without university degrees. Popular massive open online courses, MOOCs, are pioneering new methods in universities, but financial viability is still a problem. Robert Cummings captured the current situation: MOOCs do not make us rich, but they can make us famous.

Getting ready for a world full of VUCA

Besides MOOC, the other popular acronym at the conference was VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity), which describes the current situation of organizations in general. Success in a constantly changing environment requires vision, clarity, understanding, and agility, according to Edith Lemieux. Organizations in every field need to strengthen their ability to learn and to change.

This year the most attention focused on the educational use of video; Ville Venäläinen shared great examples from Finnish schools. A number of presentations also discussed educational use of Facebook. The most beneficial to me was Nick Kearney's talk: he defended such use of this entertaining service because learning should be easy and fun. Open sharing can increase transparency and trust among learners and instructors. However, one disadvantage of Facebook is that learners have great difficulty finding older materials and references in the continuous stream of updates.

So, Steve Martin – how do I accomplish change?

A presentation on persuasion really got the participants buzzing. Steve Martin isn't the American comedian, but like his namesake makes his points with humor. Martin says that people don't understand what really affects their behavior. If we want people to behave in a certain way, we should tell them about others who are already acting that way. One of Martin's points emphasized how context and impression influence the way people react to messages. Working with the UK tax authorities, he greatly increased tax compliance by replacing threatening letters with persuasive ones that emphasized how many taxpayers play by the rules. His book on persuasion has been translated into 26 languages.

My absolute favorite event on the Educa program was once again the Thursday evening debate. This time the question was whether the eliminating of formal degrees would improve lifelong learning. Debaters Jef Staes, Donald Clark, Sue Martin and Philip Ellaway delivered sparkling speeches in support of their viewpoints and greatly entertained the enthusiastic audience. More conferences should have such thought-provoking debates!

Nick Kearney believes that education can change: "Shift happens". Finnish attendees at the conference included online learning specialists from FCG, InnoOmnia, colleges and universities.


Site 2011: Teaching with Passion and Entrepreneurial Spirit

Yong Zhao enthused about creativity and passion in learning when Nashville, the Music City, hosted the SITE 2011 conference. Yehuda Peled (Ohalo College of Education) gave an inspiring presentation on wiki production and its evaluation in teacher training. The evening program included a taste of the world famous ribs served in music bars on Broadway.

The SITE 2011 conference was held at the Nashville Sheraton Music City Hotel March 3–7, with participants from 51 countries. Presentations focused on a wide variety of research and experiences with the educational use of technology. Given the continual online presence of students, many of the attendees are eager to apply the tools of social media more widely in teaching.

Yong Zhao (Michigan State University) entertainingly presented statistics on how American students never do well in tests, but have plenty of self-confidence, while Asian students mistrust their skills, but do well in tests. In this sense, Finnish students seem to follow the Eastern trend. Despite their low scores in school tests, Americans perform well in GDP comparisons. The presentation convinced us listeners that an entrepreneurial attitude takes you further in life than mere success on tests.

Punya Mishra and Kristen Kereluik (Michigan State University) continued envisioning the future in the same spirit. They summarized the challenges of the future under three headings: content knowledge, meta-knowledge and life management. Content knowledge includes information literacy and an interdisciplinary approach; meta-knowledge involves areas like problem solving, communication and creativity; and life management includes professional skills, cultural knowledge and ethics. The life-management topic sparked a great deal of discussion.

Many presentations stressed the importance of diverse reading skills, particularly that by Margaret Leahy (Dublin City University) on creating meaning in multimodal digital texts. Leahy emphasized that weak readers often cannot recognize the main ideas in even easier texts. Such students benefit from working on the texts together with others. Identifying the most important material is challenging for poor writers as well. Their work is not made easier by the rule that the main point should be written first. One technique to improve skill in finding the main idea is for students to create animations or comic strips based on a text.

Other conference topics of high interested includes questions connected to digital learning material, especially materials available for the iPad and student-produced online books. For the latter, several new services exist that are easy to use and free of charge.

Punya Mishra's excellent presentations rescue even the more lacklustre events. Michael Herrick (University of Hawaii) gave an award-winning presentation on how to improve online discussions through a two-deadline approach. Due to shockingly slow communication from the organizers, Satu Nurmela had to miss our own presentation and could only participate via video. Laura Palmgren-Neuvonen and Henna Mikkola represented The University of Oulu.


Online Educa Berlin 2010: Online learning is growing up

Online Educa Berlin collected a record-breaking crowd again this year. My favourite speaker was Sugata Mitra, who kick-started the learning process by carrying the computer in - and the teacher out. Our own session was called “Learning 2.0: The Gap Between Talking and Doing" in which the speaker was - standing next to Satu and myself - Lance Dublin; the chairman was Jan Kees Meindersma.

This year's Online Educa Berlin conference once again collected a record-breaking crowd. The conference was attended by 2,197 education professionals from 108 countries, even though the participation was made more difficult by the problems with flights: the Finns had to deal with the repercussions of the airline strike and the others were troubled by snow storms. The conference arrangements and the hotel services were excellent as usual, apart from the online connections.

The keynote speeches envisioned the future and emphasized the fact that the majority of people in the world use the web with their cell phones. Many speeches touched on the importance of versatile digital reading skills and the need to find a way to connect formal and informal learning in a new way. The true star of the conference, Sugata Mitra - who is known for the Hole on the Wall project directed at poverty-stricken Indian children - spoke of these themes, too. Mitra had a fun way of showcasing his current experiments in which he makes the pupils teach themselves through the aid of the computer. He asks the learners to form groups of four people, each of which has one computer at their disposal. The groups are given a difficult problem to solve and all the distractions - such as the teacher - are removed from the site. Surprisingly 10–12 year-olds are already capable of solving the problems independently, set their own learning goals and develop the suitable pedagogical solutions. Mitra's presentation was illustrated with many good case examples: among other things, the Indian children downloaded a spoken dictionary to help them learn better pronunciation in English, so that the computer program started to understand their speech. Mitra's methods have the sort of revolutionary ingredients which have the power to really take learning to a truly new digital age.

The educational use of the social media increases at a steady pace, but the conference didn't reveal anything new happening in the field. Personal learning environments are still current, and the tools used in them are being developed further. Russell Stannard spoke in vivid terms about Twitter as an aid for networking; according to him, the core of the whole activity is in the meaningful messages and the reputation of the sender. 10 Theses For and Against the Educational Use of Social Media, presented by Satu Nurmela and myself, had a similar message. The usage of the tools has to be based on the benefits and the quality of the content, otherwise they have no intrinsic value in teaching. However, there were multiple well-developed practical applications presented at the conference, which speaks of the deepening of knowledge in online teaching.

Larry Johnson envisioned a future in which the keyboard is transferred from the screen onto the user's skin. Russell Stannard's energetic Twitter presentation got even experienced users excited. The Christmas Market offered only a hasty currywurst thanks to the airline strike – even Satu had to make a quick getaway in the middle of our session.


Waltic 2010: The Internet – Threat or Possibility for a Writer?

Waltic 2010

Waltic is an international writers' and literary translators' congress managed by the Swedish Writers' Union. This year's Waltic 2010 was organised on the first weekend of September at Bilgi University in Istanbul, and both its programme and participants were very much oriented to the Nordic Countries.

The themes of the presentations were varied, but many statements touched on the impact of the Internet on the work of a writer. The tendency has been to think of the Web as a threat, but it also opens possibilities for a content producer – even a new kind of independence from the publisher. The chairman of the Swedish Writers' Union, Mats Söderlund, gave quite an interesting presentation on the Dejavu web service. The Writers' Union's own web service offers books the publisher has pulled out of commercial circulation to be bought by the public. The writers own all the rights to their own work and receive a larger portion of the profit.

Another very tempting web service was also present at Waltic: the Bokhylla service maintained by the Norwegian National Library. The Bokhylla web library offers over 50 000 works which can be read off your own computer screen. The writers are remunerated by Kopinor, the Norwegian Reproduction Rights Organisation, the same way as Finnish writers are remunerated for photocopying.

Writers and translators have to do non-biased research on how they can better their own working conditions in the new situation. From the perspective of financial advantages, the connections – for example, sharing information about fees – are important, but what is even more significant is the international communication to secure the writer's freedom of speech. A shockingly large number of the comments revealed how vulnerable a writer's position is in a closed society.

Waltic 2010 writers Azar Mahloujian, Hasna Jasimuddin Moudud ja Ana Luisa Valdés told impressive stories of exile. Olov Hyllienmark urged translators to hold their ground in fee negotiations. The Swedish Dejavu service gives books a new lease on life.


ITK 2010

ITK 2010

ITE 2010 (Interactive Technology in Education) was organized this year for the 21st time. Many things were familiar from previous years: the crowds, the presenters, the atmosphere. This is apparently a working concept as it is, but the program could always use some spicing up with a few fresh names and ideas.

A sense of experimentation was introduced into the conference by the Sometu network, which realized its session with a rotation of panelists – these kinds of panel discussions which break the mould are oddly refreshing. The exhibition area also offered a greater input than expected: for example, the well-rounded presentation of the smart board raised the excitement, as did the simulations from the Emergency Services College. However, they were not enough to substitute for the disappointment caused by the fact that main speaker Stephen Downes was forced to hold his speech on personal learning platforms long-distance, due to the volcanic ash cloud over Europe.

In our Social Media – Beneath the Surface theme seminar, Satu Nurmela and I held our presentation “10 Theses For and Against the Educational Use of Wiki, Blogs and Social Networks". After our own session, I had time to gain some familiarity with the useful Elma report and a seminar which discussed libraries as sites of learning. All in all, the conference dissects the field of online learning well, but offers only a few new things to try.

ITK 2010

Tapio Neuvonen from the Emergency Services College demonstrates how the firemen train with the aid of simulations. Elina Harju and Ulla Vehmasalo from Tampere held a wonderful presentation entitled “Is Digital Life Fun, Easy and Free of Cost"? Kari Hintikka published a report on e-learning business models together with Anne Rongas. The leaders of our own theme seminar, Marja Kylämä ja Pasi Silander, got serious for the last effort.


Online Educa 2009 – Something Old, Something New

The participants at Online Educa largely spoke for the changes in the teaching culture and informal learning. Both the bigger agents (an IBM function on the right) and private teachers (in the middle, Esben Lydiksen from Copenhagen) enthused over the use of social media. The only one who criticised the social media – Aric Sillman – also participated (on the left) in a lively debate.

Online Educa was held for the fifteenth time and the conference was attended by over 2,000 online learning professionals from 90 countries. All-in-all, the topics and the speakers were interesting, but the discussions seemed to be repeating the old demands for change in teaching practices, but lacked enthusiasm for taking action. The most useful functions were, in my opinion, those which really focused on fresh approaches to teaching – for example, the Pecha Kucha presentations, social media in language teaching and designing minimalistic web environments. As a perfect finish to the first day, the audience was treated to real fireworks at the debate in which – in accordance with British tradition – two completely opposing opinions were expressed concerning the benefits of the teaching technologies. In particular, the speeches by Aric Sigman and Donald Clark electrified the atmosphere at the end of the long day – we really need to bring something like this to all conferences! My absolute favourite of the keynote speakers was Artur Dyro (Young Digital Planet), according to whom there will only be two agents in the future world of publishing: the author and the service provider. The direction of the change is obvious both in publishing as well as education, but in practice things move forward at a frustratingly slow pace. The problem is not with the technology, but in the ways people are willing to function.

Zenna Atkins gave a colourful speech on the new ways of learning available to children, and the credibility problem the schools are faced with. The only Finnish participants were the Aalto University and Metropolia, but the Berlin Christmas Market boasted some Finnish stands as well.


Social Media in Education

Visit Sosiaalinen media oppimisen tukena

The Sometu network was established in 2007 in order to enhance the use of social media in education. Sometu has its own page in Ning with a few thousand teaching professionals as its members. Sometu promotes the web activity of the field by offering a venue for discussion and sharing information. The users are able to start smaller discussion groups depending on their interests, and there are already over fifty communities for various target audiences: developers of work communities, IT-consultants, librarians, people interested in wikis and many others. Sometu is a good place to network and to explore the uses of social media in teaching.


Online communications in the style of the classical Athenians

Online teaching was once again advanced with Fenno-Greek vigour in Athens during the last week of February. At the fourth HAUS-EKDDA seminar, it came to the fore that community spirit has a strong foundation in Greece, but instrumental communications do not necessarily represent the strongest area. In any case, e-communications restore the principle of the identical and equal right to speak, in the spirit of convening together at the Pnyx. At this stage, however, online participation functions best through close encounters in accordance with the principles of multiformity. The philosophy of open production obtains abundant sympathetic response, even if the wikiversity and wikibooks are in their nascent stages of development.

Information and communications technology is being beneficially utilized in increasingly diverse fields in Greece. Know-how - in like manner to accessibility to network materials - are improving via target-oriented development. The fourth HAUS-EKDDA seminar was once again piloted by Riitta Suominen and Johanna Snellman.


Wikis and connectivism sources of inspiration at the Athens seminar

In September 2008, the third online teaching-related HAUS-EKDDA seminar was arranged in Athens. The use of wikis still inspires the instruction developers: operational modes are being further refined and specified all the time. The open content production philosophy is vigorously in vogue, and wiki still appears to be the easiest type of community generation tool. The fate of open wiki courses and materials appears, however, to be based on the contribution of active editors, since the uneven quality of content production necessitates good editorial work - otherwise, the usability of content is poor regardless of the user-friendliness of the program itself. The seminar boasted participants from a gratifyingly large number of administrative sectors, and as usual the programme was the responsibility of Riitta Suominen and Johanna Snellman.

The initialization of online teaching is accelerated by easy tools that are available for use by many administrative areas for various purposes. Openness increases usability and application possibilities - wiki schools are a source of interest in both Greece and Finland.


New eSeminar in Athens - Social Media in Teaching

The second consecutive HAUS and EKDDA mutual seminar was held 19 - 23 May 2008 in Athens. At the seminar, putting together an online course was the main emphasis as well as the use in instruction of social media tools such as wikis and blogs. Special attention was given to the fact that the quantity of high-quality Open Access materials is increasing at a feverish pace. Similarly, the role of learning platforms would appear to be decreasing and the utilization of light, free tools increasing. The culture of community sharing still requires strengthening in teaching, which has traditionally been a field of solitary achievement. Riitta Suominen acted as seminar leader in cooperation with Johanna Snellman.

The seminar was held at the Ministry of the Interior's training centre in Athens. The participants included information and communications technology specialists, producers of electronic cultural services and teachers. The work goes on smoothly in accordance with the Become an eTeacher in a Week guide.


SITE 2008 - Wikis in Busy Use

SITE 2008

SITE2008 PowerPoint

The SITE 2008 conference hosted speakers from 65 countries and a large number of parallel sessions. The use of social media in teaching - wikis in particular - was the thematic offering this year. The wiki presentations can be summarized as follows: Wikis have come to stay in teaching. The idea behind such activity is active cooperative effort with regard to some question of content, and wikis truly have the possibility of deepening learning. Monitoring-based research also indicated problems, however: participation is uneven, motivation tends to decline in long projects, and specialists in particular showed themselves to be cautious about editing their colleagues' texts.

Research results have also obtained confirmation on what is a familiar matter in practice - teachers gain benefit from the same social media-based tools in teaching that they also utilize during their leisure time. Currently 19 out of every 20 American youth actively use social media, so it is certain that in the future social media tools are set to be used extensively both in teaching and in working life generally.

One aspect outside the field of social media that led to a lot of discussion was the presentation by Ronald McBride (Northwestern State University of Louisiana), according to which the research data does not support the rather general assumption that student results or satisfaction improve when classroom teaching is joined to online instruction. The speaker demonstrated in detail that it is possible to realize all the same operations online that are used in classroom teaching. Contradicting the assumption referred to, the quality of web services rises significantly when classroom teaching is completely abandoned. It is universities and schools that need teachers, he says - not students.

One of the most interesting speakers at the SITE 2008 conference was Professor Punya Mishra (Michigan State University), who emphasized the creative combination of content, pedagogics and technology. Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) is King - that's all right mama!


The eSeminar in Athens - the Socratic method is well-suited for online learning

The combined online learning seminar between HAUS Finnish Institute of Public Management Ltd and EKDDA, the corresponding organization in Greece, was held 8 - 13 October 2007 in Athens. It was quite appropriate considering the Athens venue that questions of learning were discussed in the real Socratic spirit. The obstacle to the quick assimilation of online learning is not actually regarded as a technical problem but rather as the slow change affecting the culture of teaching. Online teaching - as with all network operations - is itself based on doing, participation and equal interaction, but the assimilation of consultative operational modes has proved to be much slower than the learning of information technology skills. Teaching practices in the land of democracy's birth are no more learner-centred than in Finland, but the need for cultural change is evident if there is a wish that online teaching be intensified and its initialization accelerated. - Riitta Suominen acted as seminar leader in cooperation with Johanna Snellman (HAUS).

Online teaching-related good practices were a source of interest and discussion for the participants in both face-to-face and network-based connections at the eLearning seminar in Athens. Aris and Ada (in the middle) look after the Ministry of Education's online learning portal, which offers open materials for Greek schools and colleges. Dim, Lena and George (on the right) are developing methods for teaching mathematics online.


Online Educa - a huge event in Berlin

ONLINE educa is the world's largest online learning-based event, which gathers experts in the field together to discuss current questions affecting the field. According to Brandon Hall, the focus in instruction is on relevant technical operational modes, real-time learning connected with work, and the utilization of web tools (e.g. blogs and wikis). In Gilly Salmon's experience, teachers adopt new tools in use if they do not merely represent an end in themselves but in actual fact really improve quality and save time. Open content production is supported by, among others, Vijay Kumar (Massachusetts Institute of Technology); Over two million have already visited MIT's pioneering Open Courseware environment.

In teaching, video conferencing is a good tool. Kristi Jauregi Ondarra and David Sanz Pardo (Utrecht University) have enthusiastically applied it, successfully getting Spanish and Dutch students to work up text in pairs on the web. Operational modes for video in online-based materials have also also been studied by Helle Meldgaard ja Clive Young; in the presentation A Top 10 of Video Use in Higher Education, they assigned final place to the most prevalent method of application, i.e. "talking heads".

Wim Veen's (Delft University of Technology) adventurous experiential multimedia presentation about the media culture of the new generation is an impressive demonstration of the fact that youth literacy is not deteriorating but is rather becoming more versatile: incoming messages from many sources can be successfully received and dealt with simultaneously. Learning has switched more and more outside the classroom, and "school is about meeting friends, not just learning".

Wim Veen
Kristi Jauregi Ondarra
Marianna Leikomaa, Sanna Sintonen ja Claudia Hallikainen

Wim Veen's presentation - including groups of rappers - was dazzling. Kristi Jauregi Ondarra also sparked admiration not only through her inspiring performance but with her highly workable concept of language-teaching as well. One again, Tampere was superbly represented, with TAMK University of Applied Sciences' network specialists Marianna Leikomaa, Sanna Sintonen and Claudia Hallikainen.


Pedagogical networks in Turku

The Trying out pedagogical networks seminar celebrated its fifth anniversary in October. The programme was a composite of familiar information and communications technology-related teaching application themes, and the areas of priority were the social media in instruction as well as the future of online teaching. In addition to Finland, the festive seminar offered high-quality international expertise from neighbouring countries in the field (Brian Hudson, Umeå University, Mart Laanpere, Tallinn University). The city of Turku had again managed to rally a large group of online learning experts - quite an achievement for an event arranged for the autumn season. Seminar arrangements were the responsibility of the University of Turku, Turku School of Economics, Åbo Akademi University and Diaconia University of Applied Sciences.

When I last spoke at the seminar in 2005, the themes of the event were mobile learning and web-based tools: blogs (Jere Majava), wikis (Riitta Suominen), HorizonWimba (Marko Mäkilä) and Breeze (Annika Ranta). Laura Naismith spoke of mobile learning so convincingly that one can only believe in its possibilities, particularly in learning linked with tasks as well as in informal study. What was highly interesting was her example of the benefits of a pocket computer at a botanical garden, but just as noted at Finnish museums as well, it is not easy to combine navigating in specific facilities with general information space.

Wikis were once again on the programme this year, and two speeches were made on the subject: Wikiversity (Jaakko Suominen) and the educational use of wikis (Riitta Suominen). It was gratifying to notice that the use of wikis is growing and becoming continuously more diverse, though competing social media tools are being offered at an accelerating rate. New tools were surveyed at the seminar under the heading "Social media gems" by Anne Rongas and Jari Sjölund, and by Katri Lietsala in her talk "Learning environments - what may be learned from social media?" Experiences of Second Life as used in teaching were offered by Kim Holmberg, Isto Huvila and Franck Tetard from Åbo Akademi University.

Jere Majava
Laura Naismith
Laura Naismith
Gilly Salmon

Jere Majava spoke inspiringly of the significance of blogs in the creation of networks and encourage the audience to 'blog'. Gilly Salmon provided a video lecture while Laura Naismith did hers 'live'.


SITE 2005 - Online teaching requires more time than anticipated

SITE 2005

SITE (Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education) supports the research of teaching technologies and their use in schools and colleges as well as in teacher training. In this year's conference, e-portfolios, learning styles, network communities, building strategies for online courses and learning diaries were dealt with, among other things.

SITE2005 PowerPoint 
SITE 2005

The most fascinating offerings were the talks connected with teaching styles, interaction and use of time. In relation to learning styles, the speakers favoured the "split portfolio" theory, i.e. they preferred the provision of many resources for various types of learners.

From the Finnish point of reference, the observation of learning styles researcher Cynthia Loeffler (Sam Houston State University) was intriguing: students who for one reason or other are uncomfortable in a physical setting gain special benefit from online learning. David Pownell (Washburn University) presented attractive examples of blogs and wikis that could be tried in instruction. Backup for the experiences of eTeachers was actually offered by a pilot study, according to which online instruction really does take more time than contact teaching; the reason is the emphasis on bilateralness and the written message. Learner-centredness was also impressively present - what arose as a motto was the slogan given to teachers by Christopher Sessums (University of Florida): "From jailer to party host".

Jakob Nielsen: The User is King

JAKOB NIELSEN is the usability guru of cyberspace. He has studied the usability of web pages since the outset of the 1990s and has written innumerable books on the subject, amongst which the comprehensive 'Designing Web Usability' is also available in Finnish. He releases his column on the subject every second week on www.alertbox.com and receives feedback from hundreds of readers daily. At the UsabilityWeek 2004 event in Orlando during the first week of March, the most intriguing subjects were the following:

- The user is observed concretely
The user is not questioned about experiences: rather, his/her actions are observed in the real environment. The user is also not taken along into the planning group, because this way s/he quickly changes his/her perspective, starts to understand the solutions made according to the terms of the system, and changes in this manner from a user into a planner. Observation provides more comprehensive information for cooperation than quantitative research, and according to Nielsen it is reliable, economical and a quick way to carry out development work. Tests should be performed at various stages of planning.

- The user is always right
User-centredness proceeds from the attitude that the environment is susceptible to error if the user makes mistakes. The user's mode of acting as well as classifying and naming matters is the correct one, even if it is not similar to that of the planner. Generally, familiar, general words and concepts are easier to interpret than special terminology.
- The network environment is developed in cycles
Complicated environments are impossible to design well in one attempt. It is necessary to proceed from some version, test it and make corrections in accordance with the test observations. According to Nielsen, clear usability problems should be rectified immediately after each test: this way, it is possible to go forward with the next test object and the development work accelerates.

MindTrek – Greetings from Tampere

The MINDTREK association wishes to support the development of digital media and citizens' information society-related skills. In the autumn, it arranges a media week in Tampere and provides an award for the year's best media product.


Once again, Mindtrek Conference 2009 offered a wide range of interesting speakers and panels. Social media was discussed by Maria Pienaar, Ido Guy and Teemu Arina. Jyrki Kasvi, member of Finnish parliament, was the patron of the Apps for Democracy Finland competition, but had to step down mid-project due to the emerging Finnish political campaign funding scandal. Otherwise, Rosendahl is a terrific place for conferencing, even though the strange hors d'oeuvres made with ham raised a few eyebrows!

The main prize of 20 009 euros was presented for the MultiTouch display. The winner of the Apps for Democracy Finland competition was Nomen est omen.


The MindTrek event has improved over time. At the conference, interesting speeches were made by, among others, Marc Davis from Yahoo and Marko Turpeinen from HIIT. Copyright issues still kept participants occupied with regard to both content producers and users: in the picture, we see Herkko Hietanen and the CC licence.


First prize - 20,008 euros - was won in 2008 by the motion picture production web community Wreck-A-Movie, in which anybody can assemble together a film project with the community providing support. The Star Wreck team functions in the background of the community. The award really hit home for many reasons - among others, the fact that three years ago first prize was not issued for the contending sci-fi parody "Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning" - at the time, the award was won for "Jatkosota 1941-44" [the Continuation War 1941-44].

Recognition in the MindTrek contest has earlier been given to, for instance Assembly, FogScreen, www.suomi.fi, Helsinki mobile ticketing service and Eilisvisio (in the picture).


Finnish online learning in ITK

ITK (Interactive Technology in Education) is Finland's largest conference on teaching practice in the field of information and communications technology. Combined lectures, the presentation of current projects, short talks and fair booth make up what's on offer. The most interesting subjects at the conference, marking its 15th anniversary, were learning objects as well as the usability of online teaching and quality-related themes.

Satu Nurmela
Pasi Silander
Tuuli Kurkipää

At ITK, there was discussion about, for instance, online tutoring (Satu Nurmela, University of Turku / Centre for Extension Studies) and learning objects (Pasi Silander, University of Joensuu), and new tips for e-teaching were also collated (Tuuli Kurkipää, Tampere e-Learning Cluster).


eLearning cooperation in the European Union

PROMETEUS is a community for online learning whose purpose is to improve cooperation amongst various actors within the European community. Ideas concerning the various themes of eLearning can be exchanged in a SIG (Special Interest Group), embracing pedagogics, planning and life-long learning, etc.

The Prometheus conference was arranged 29 - 30 September in Paris. From the perspective of Yksityinen Kielitoimisto, the most fascinating content was provided by

  • Oleg Lieber (Professor of E-learning, Bolton Institute, UK)
  • Alison Wolf (Professor of Education, University of London, UK)
  • Sergio Vasquez Bronfman (R&D Manager, GECSA, Spain).

Oleg Lieber spoke on increasing complexity and the importance of interaction in eLearning. Alison Wolf placed online learning within the broader field of education and emphasized the significance of personal feedback, which requires considerable resources. Sergio Vasquez Bronfman presented the Caixa Bank online learning system, in which content has been organized on a function-by-function basis.



Home | My Agency | Books | Word of the Week | Easy Emailing | eLearning Communities and Conferences | Superior Hypertext | Blogs and Wikis