Dissertation submitted for pre-examination

Today I submitted the manuscript of my doctoral dissertation for pre-examination at the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture.

The Structure and Components for the Open Education Ecosystem
Constructive Design Research of Online Learning Tools


This research studies the design of online learning tools for open education. The dissertation is based on five articles and design case studies that explore open education from different perspectives: open educational resources, open learning environments, and assessment of teachers’ competencies. The underlying concept of the study is the open education ecosystem. The study explores the ways in which the design of online learning tools could benefit from the digital ecosystems approach. The design of online learning tools for open education presents wicked problems, that involve ill-defined requirements and contemplates the influence on and by the stakeholders and other components of the ecosystem. Firstly, to clarify the design challenges related to the open education ecosystem, this study summarizes a set of design challenges presented in design case studies. Secondly, it identifies and recommends a set of design patterns that address these design challenges. Finally, the study proposes the structure and components that are needed for the open education ecosystem.

Original articles:

  • Põldoja, H., Leinonen, T., Väljataga, T., Ellonen, A., & Priha, M. (2006). Progressive Inquiry Learning Object Templates (PILOT). International Journal on E-Learning, 5(1), 103–111.
  • Leinonen, T., Purma, J., Põldoja, H., & Toikkanen, T. (2010). Information Architecture and Design Solutions Scaffolding Authoring of Open Educational Resources. IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies, 3(2), 116–128. http://doi.org/10.1109/TLT.2010.2
  • Põldoja, H., Duval, E., & Leinonen, T. (2016). Design and evaluation of an online tool for open learning with blogs. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 32(2), 64–81. http://dx.doi.org/10.14742/ajet.2450
  • Põldoja, H., & Väljataga, T. (2010). Externalization of a PLE: Conceptual Design of LeContract. In The PLE 2010 Conference Proceedings. Barcelona: Citilab. Retrieved from http://pleconference.citilab.eu/cas/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/ple2010_submission_68.pdf
  • Põldoja, H., Väljataga, T., Laanpere, M., & Tammets, K. (2014). Web-based self- and peer-assessment of teachers’ digital competencies. World Wide Web, 17(2), 255–269. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11280-012-0176-2
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Three master’s theses successfully supervised

This week we had theses defences in Tallinn University Institute of Informatics. Three of my students from the educational technology master’s programme defended their theses successfully.

Tuuli Perolainen studied the use of learning analytics in workplace learning. More specifically, she was interested how existing cloud services could be used for tracking workplace learning with xAPI. Three main components used were Lectora Inspire authoring tool, SCORM Cloud as a hosting site and learning records store, and Watershed LRS as additional learning records store for visualizations. The study showed the possibilities and limitations of existing services and their implementation of xAPI.

Kadri Riis studied how digital technologies could be used in youth work. She used Edukata participatory learning design method to develop three learning scenarios for youth centres. The scenarios were about video editing, outdoor learning games using QR-codes and studying electricity using Makey Makey. According to my knowledge, her thesis should be the first publication outside iTEC project about using the Edukata method. In practice, Edukata method worked really well with youth workers. This thesis also extended Edukata method with a visual language for describing the learning activities (the still unnamed visual language for describing learning activities is currently under development in our research group).

Elo Sepp studied the use of monitoring devices in youth football. She conducted interviews with youth football experts in 5 countries and did a survey among youth football coaches, players and their parents in Estonia. In addition, she evaluated the use of Zephyr BioHarness monitoring system in three football clubs. As a result of the thesis, she provided a number of recommendations for developing ICT solutions for youth football and improving trainers’ education on using these solutions. This thesis was co-supervised with Kristjan Port from the Institute of Health Sciences and Sports.

All the theses should be published in the coming days in our institute’s repository. The theses are in Estonian but have summaries in English.

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Article at the Open Badges in Education workshop

This summer I presented a paper at the 1st International Workshop on Open Badges in Education (OBIE2014). In our study, we were exploring the potential of open bagdes in formal higher education. The study was carried out in the “Creating Digital Learning Resources” course for the educational technology master students.

When designing our badge system, we did a literature review to understand current approaches for using open bagdes in higher education courses. The following four approaches were identified:

  • composite badges can be achieved by completing multiple assignments;
  • activity-based badges can be awarded automatically based on measurable learning activities;
  • grade-based badges are based on the grades that the learners have received;
  • hierarchical badges are divided to several levels, some of which may be composite badges based on lower level badges.

Considering these approaches, we recognized that none of these were focused on learning outcomes. The Estonian higher education system has a strong focus on outcome-based assessment, therefore in our context the open badges should be also directly linked to learning outcomes.

We designed a badge system where the learning outcomes of the course and the assignments were connected to badges. The course had 7 learning outcomes, 8 assignments and 15 different badges. There was a basic knowledge badge for each of the six main topics of the course that was awarded for the blogging assignments. For group assignment on creating a digital learning resource the students were able to earn one of the three skills badges. Finally, there were six advanced knowledge badges for the literature review on a chosen topic.


At the end of the course, we carried out focus group interviews to evaluate our approach on using badges in formal higher education. The students pointed out feeling of recognition and confirmation about accepted assignments as the main benefits of using bagdes. They noted that the badges would become more valuable, if they are used in several courses, not as a one time experiment. Some students were also interested in recognizing prior learning with badges.

The proceedings of the workshop are now published by Springer:

Põldoja, H., & Laanpere, M. (2014). Exploring the Potential of Open Badges in Blog-Based University Courses. In Y. Cao, T. Väljataga, J. K. T. Tang, H. Leung, & M. Laanpere (Eds.), New Horizons in Web Based Learning: ICWL 2014 International Workshops, SPeL, PRASAE, IWMPL, OBIE, and KMEL, FET, Tallinn, Estonia, August 14-17, 2014, Revised Selected Papers (Vol. 8699, pp. 172–178). Cham: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-13296-9_19

Our presentation is in SlideShare and there is also a video recording.

I am planning to use badges again next spring in the same course. For the next iteration, I have the following plans:

  • offering at least two levels of badges for each assignment;
  • providing more choice of different badges / learning paths;
  • encouraging learners to propose and design their own badges.
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Open Education 2030 workshop on school education

Last week I participated the Open Education 2030 foresight workshop on school education. The workshop was organized by the The Institute for Prospective Technological Studies in Seville. It was second of the three workshops that aim to provide input for the European Commission’s new initiative “Opening-up Education”. The other two workshops focus on openness in lifelong learning and in higher education. Before the workshops there was a call for vision paper on open education in 2030. Vision papers for lifelong learning and school education are published on the Open Education 2030 weblog.

The workshop started with a presentation of recent trends on open education by the local organizers Christine Redecker, Yves Punie and Jonatan Castaño Muñoz. After the presentation we were divided to groups to identify the most important issues for open education 2030 in four key areas:

  • educational resources
  • personalization & flexibility
  • social interaction
  • open schools & society

I decided to join a group on educational resources. In the discussion we agreed on the following top five issues related to educational resources on 2030. We also had to rate the importance and difficulty of these issues on 10-point scale:

  • More research (importance: 10, difficulty: 6) is needed to make evidence-based decisions.
  • Indexation, interoperability and open standards (importance: 9, difficulty: 9). With the vast amount of educational resources the key issue is in finding the right content. The content has to be described with appropriate educational metadata for indexation by search engines. For interoperability it is important to follow open standards. Unfortunately we can see that big companies are using proprietary solutions to keep the content locked in their ecosystem (e.g. iBooks Author and iTunes store).
  • Legal framework and business models (importance: 8, difficulty: 10). There is a need for business models that would allow the co-existance of commercial content developed by the professional textbook publishers and open educational resources developed by the teachers. How can the teachers revise and remix the commercial content? How can the commercial publishers reuse high quality open educational resources? How are teachers rewarded for the high quality educational resources that they have created? We have seen how the music industry has transferred to new business models but in case of educational content it will be more difficult. For music it is clear that the listener will pay for the downloads or streaming service. But who is the paying customer for educational resources? In some cases it might be the school, but also the parent or the teacher.
  • Teachers’ and learners’ interactions, teacher training (importance: 7, difficulty: 8). It is important to look from the teachers’ and learners’ perspective and understand how they interact with educational resources. Also, teacher training is highly important.
  • Authoring models and tools (importance: 6, difficulty: 7). More research is needed on different authoring models. Publishers, teachers and learners should be all seen as possible authors of educational resources. Future authoring tools should support revising and remixing the educational resources by teachers and learners.

Issues related to educational resources

Our second task was to develop scenarios for school education in 2030. At first we had to agree on the key tensions that will differentiate the scenarios. After a lively discussion we agreed that the two main tensions will be between autonomy-control and formal-informal learning. Some of us still felt that two dimensions are not enough for positioning the scenarios. For example there is often a tension between human-centered and technology-centered approaches.

Key tensions for open education

I joined a group that started working on the scenario for formal school setting with high learner and teacher autonomy. We didn’t come up with a concrete scenario but rather a description of the context.

Scenario A

In order to develop actual scenarios we should have a problem or design challenge that we need to solve. For example one possible real life challenge is related to closing local upper secondary schools in rural areas due to lack of students. This process is currently going on in Estonia and probably in other countries as well. How can we address this issue by more open school system where students and teachers have high level of freedom?

On the second day of the workshop we continued discussing the scenarios and roadmap of actions until 2030. It was rather difficult to set milestones after 2020. I proposed the following three milestones for the roadmap:

  • Develop quality assurance framework for user-generated open educational resources (2015)
  • Support the development of business models that allow reusing, revising and remixing of educational resources by the publishers (2016)
  • Implement new forms of gradeless assessment (open badges, etc) on a larger scale (2018)

Open Education 2030 roadmap

It is important that the European Commission has turned its attention to open education. I have participated in similar workshops before and I feel that our understanding of openness in education is getting wider. It is not only about OER’s and MOOC’s, but also about decentralizing education and giving more freedom to learners and teachers.

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Article published in the World Wide Web Journal

Our article about web-based self- and peer-assessment of teachers’ digital competencies has been recently accepted for publication in the World Wide Web Journal special issue on Advances in Multimedia e-Learning Technologies. The article is a revised version of a paper presented that we presented at the ICWL 2011 conference. It has been extended by a description of the software implementation and a validation study.

We have now completed the first working prototype of DigiMina tool for assessing teachers’ digital competencies. This tool and initial set of assessment tasks were evaluated with a group of teachers. At the moment we have still covered only 20% of competencies with assessment tasks. Therefore we cannot open the system for a wider audience. This autumn we will continue with creating the assessment tasks and improving the usability of the system.

The online version of the article is available through SpringerLink:

Põldoja, H., Väljataga, T., Laanpere, M., & Tammets, K. (2012). Web-based self- and peer-assessment of teachers’ digital competencies. World Wide Web. doi:10.1007/s11280-012-0176-2

I am planning to include this article in my dissertation instead of an earlier paper that was presented at the ICWL 2011 conference.

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