ICWL 2011 conference

Last week I participated the International Conference on Web-based Learning (ICWL 2011) that took place in Hong Kong. Three conference papers and one workshop paper were accepted from our research group, so I travelled with my colleagues Mart Laanpere and Vladimir Tomberg.

I was presenting our work on assessing teachers’ educational technology competencies and the conceptual design of DigiMina environment. As a nice surprise, our paper received the best student paper award.

Põldoja, H., Väljataga, T., Tammets, K., & Laanpere, M. (2011). Web-based Self- and Peer-assessment of Teachers’ Educational Technology Competencies. In H. Leung, E. Popescu, Y. Cao, R. Lau, & W. Nejdl (eds.), Advances in Web-Based Learning – ICWL 2011: 10th International Conference, Hong Kong, China, December 2011. Proceedings (pp. 122–131). Berlin / Heidelberg: Springer.

The conference papers covered wide variety of topics. I would like to point out a few of the presentations from the sessions that I attended. Elvira Popescu was presenting eMUSE platform that aggregates learner activities from several social media media tools (Blogger, MediaWiki, Twitter, Delicious, YouTube, Picasa, SlideShare) (preprint). This is very close to our work in EduFeedr project. Adriana Berlanga was presenting a paper co-authored with Riina Vuorikari and a group of researchers in TellNet project (draft). They were studying the eTwinning community and presented some interesting statistics. It was nice to see that Estonia has the largest percentage of teachers involved in eTwinning activities (9,74%). It would be good to have a similar study about LeMill community, but unfortunately we have detailed data only about those users who have filled up their profiles. In the KMEL symposium my colleague Vladimir Tomberg presented the conceptual design of Timeliner tool that supports collaborative scientific writing (presentation). It is nice to see that they have made an in depth design process and we have something to offer also in the research 2.0 field. However, I still think that often the main problem in collaborative writing is lack of time, not lack of tools.

I would have expected a little bit more active use of the web in the conference. It seems that I was the only one using #icwl11 hashtag in Twitter and I have found only a few presentations from SlideShare so far.

I had also some time to look around, take photos and enjoy asian food. First photos are up in Flickr and more will follow during the Christmas break.

Hong Kong skyline

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Two new projects: DigiMina and Dippler

In recent months I have been busy with two new projects. Both of these are local projects but I hope that the final results will be useful also outside Estonia. Unfortunately most of the design documentation about these projects is in Estonian.


In DigiMina project we are developing a framework and a web-based tool for assessing teachers’ educational technology competencies. Our educational technology competency model for teachers is based on ISTE NETS for Teachers 2008 and consists of 19 competencies. Each competency can be measured on a 5-level scale. Teachers will be able to solve competency tests in DigiMina environment. These tests will contain self-tests items, peer-assessment tasks and self-reflection tasks. Finally teachers will be able to publish their competency profiles and compare their level with other teachers.

We are currently still in the design phase but first full paper about the project has been already accepted to ICWL 2011 conference and will be published in December:

Põldoja, H., Väljataga, T., Tammets, K., & Laanpere, M. (in press). Web-based Self- and Peer-assessment of Teachers’ Educational Technology Competencies. In H. Leung, E. Popescu, Y. Cao, R. Lau, & W. Nejdl (eds.), Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Web-based Learning (ICWL 2011).


In Dippler project we are developing a lightweight LMS with an open and distributed architecture. Learners will use WordPress blogs that have Dippler plugin. This plugin connects to a learning management system that is used to manage courses and learning activities. There are several aspects that make Dippler different from other learning management systems. One of these is blog-based architecture that supports open learning communities. Another aspect is special focus on learning outcomes. All the course assignments can be connected to learning outcomes. In the end of the course learners can compose e-portfolios where evidences are linked with learning outcomes.

We haven’t published anything about Dippler yet but in recent months we have made a fast progress with the software development. I hope that I will be able to use Dippler in my next course that is starting in February.

In both projects I have been also thinking about possible connections with my doctoral thesis. Educational technology competencies are not directly connected with open education but there are some aspects of openness that could be emphasized in the design of DigiMina (public competency profiles, etc.). In Dippler project my challenge is to find a compromise between open educational practices and institutional requirements that universities have for learning management systems.

Dippler and some other projects have taken all the time from our developers. This means that we had to postpone the next release of EduFeedr. Hopefully we can find some time for EduFeedr in the beginning of next year.

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NBE2011 conference in Salla, Lapland

This week I am at the NBE2011 conference in Salla, Lapland. This is a small conference that has a quite broad focus on social media and learning. We submitted a paper about the pedagogical design challenges of open online courses. In our paper we compared three cases: Composing free and open online educational resources course that I did with Teemu Leinonen in 2008, Learning Environments and Learning Networks course that I did with Terje Väljataga in 2010 and Learning and Knowledge Analytics course that I participated this year. Our paper is published in the conference proceedings:

Väljataga, T., Põldoja, H., Laanpere, M. (2011). Open Online Courses: Responding to Design Challenges. In H. Ruokamo, M. Eriksson, L. Pekkala, & H. Vuojärvi (Eds.), Proceedings of the 4th International Network-Based Education 2011 Conference The Social Media in the Middle of Nowhere (pp. 68-75). Rovaniemi: University of Lapland. [Online]

One of the reasons for coming to NBE conference was to see the beautiful summer in Lapland. I came here with four of my colleagues and we had a nice car trip through the Finland. Salla is a little bit north from the arctic circle and it is currently the time of polar day. Unfortunately the weather is cloudy and we can’t see the sun during nighttime. Salla area has more reindeers than people. I have already managed to capture one of them on the photo.

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ITK 2011 conference and updates about EduFeedr

Two weeks ago I participated the ITK 2011 conference in Hämeenlinna. This is the largest e-learning conference in Finland with approximately 1600 visitors. For me it was fifth year in a row to participate ITK conference.

My main aim was to present EduFeedr to Finnish audience. As more educators are trying to use blogs and social software instead of a learning management systems, tools like EduFeedr become handy. There have been 19 active courses and several more tryouts in EduFeedr since we launched the beta service last September. The best example in English is New interactive environments, but the largest course is actually in Spanish (Innovación abierta en la gestión de proyectos culturales with 61 participant blogs). In addition to English (2) and Spanish (2) we have courses in Estonian (11) and Finnish (4). Here are my abstract and presentation slides from ITK.

We planned to release a version 0.6 before the ITK conference but unfortunately we didn’t manage to do that. The main features that we have planned for EduFeedr 0.6 are described in EduFeedr blog.

On the second day of ITK we had a joint video conference session with Estonian e-learning conference that took place in Tartu. From the Estonian side my colleague Mart Laanpere was talking about the development of digital learning resources by vocational and higher education teachers (PDF). From the Finnish side Ville Venäläinen and Tarmo Toikkanen presented the Sometu network. Twitter hashtag #itkesitys178 was used for short comments from the participants in both sides.

Most inspiring presentation for me was the keynote speech by Pierre Dillenbourg. He presented several “modest computing” experiments where they used simple physical objects with simple sensors/displays in the learning setting (video). Although I am now able to follow presentations in Finnish quite well I was most of the time in the English session. There were two open education related presentations by Kati Clements and Anna-Kaarina Kairamo. An interesting discussion followed Jukka Huhtamäki’s presentation about the Knowledge Federation initiative.

Teemu Leinonen presented three design concepts that our research group in Media Lab Helsinki has developed in iTEC project. TeamUP, PLATES and ReFLEX that are designed for supporting study projects where students work in small groups. These applications help to divide students to small groups, follow their work, manage/share media and reflect on the learning experiences.

Teemu Leinonen presents iTEC project

I hope that next year the Estonian and Finnish e-learning conferences don’t take place on the same days. Then there could be more visitors and presenters from the neighboring country in both conferences.

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Late thoughts on the Open Ed 2010 conference

Last two months have been so busy that I haven’t written anything on this blog. There is one blog post that I planned to write already weeks ago. It’s a summary of the Open Education 2010 conference that took place in Barcelona. Several participants have already shared their thoughts about the conference: Ismael Peña-López, Molly KleinmanJohn Robertson, Brian LambScott LesliePieter Kleymeer, Paul Stacey and Vic Jenkins. There is also a wiki page and a Cloudworks site about the conference. In my post I want to point out some of the presentations.

One of the keynote speakers Wim Westera talked about the next steps in OER strategies (presentation). On of the important issues that must be solved is the financing model. Westera argued that micro pricing model where people pay for views or downloads doesn’t work in education. Instead of that we should look at the cross-funding. He proposed 8 cross-funding schemes (see slide 30). In my opinion the most promising models are the freemium model and the rock concert model. We can see the freemium model working quite well in Flickr where the pro account costs $24.95 for a year. Some other services like SlideShare have failed to provide a reasonable price for ad-free accounts ($19 monthly). I wonder what could be additional pro services in LeMill that would attract active authors to pay a small fee that helps us to cover the hosting costs (detailed statistics about the use of their resources, management of exercise results, …).

Another keynote presenter Erik Duval was talking about removing friction in open education. His presentation made me think about large numbers. GLOBE has reached more 1 million learning objects. This is a great result, but what is behind that number? How many of these resources have a Creative Commons license that enables educators to improve and remix the resource? Are these resources somehow connected to the authors? In many repositories the resources are not published by the actual authors. I think that in case of user generated content it is important to maintain these connections. This is something that the OER community must work on. LeMill has 24 000 resources but unfortunately we have some technical problems with our OAI-PMH interface and these are not available through GLOBE yet. If we get this fixed then LeMill resources would make 2% of all OER’s available. Erik showed also an interesting comparison data from dataTEL initiative (see slide 50). We have to make LeMill data also available for dataTEL community.

From the conference presentations I really enjoyed Rory McGreal’s talk about approaches to OER course development (article). He listed 13 suggestions for developing OER course content. I find his suggestions very relevant for Estonian context. In recent years we have had several large project where lecturers develop online course modules. However, the quality of these modules varies a lot and often there are technical limitations for reuse and re-editing (source files not available, etc).

A lot of interesting things are going on in University of British Columbia. Brian Lamb, Scott Leslie and Novak Rogic presented how they use open platforms in UBC. One wiki installation is used for the whole university and integrated with university login system. This has allowed them to reach critical mass of people who collaborate online. They have even hired a wiki gardener to manage the site. Instead of developing their own platforms they rely on major open source platforms (MediaWiki and WordPress) and add/develop the needed plugins.

Another wiki-related presentation from UBC took place in Mozilla Drumbeat Festival. Jon Beasley-Murray talked about a course project where his students were writing Wikipedia articles. Three of the articles were finally featured on the Wikipedia main page. I should start improving the Estonian Wikipedia in my courses.

Brian Panulla and Megan Kohler presented an ontological model for exchange of assessment rubrics (article, presentation). I have experienced it in my own teaching that coming up with a detailed assessment criteria is more difficult than creating/finding/adapting the learning content. Many educators would benefit from a sharing platform of educational rubrics. Actually in Estonia we have a platform for creating and sharing rubrics for primary and secondary education. Estonian teachers have created more than 250 rubrics that are published under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license.

Nathan Yergler presented a new search engine prototype that is developed by Creative Commons (article, slidecast). DiscoverEd search engine provides only open educational resources as results. Currently the results come from OER Commons, Connexions, Open Courseware Consortium and several other repositories. The number of indexed content cannot be compared with GLOBE but the results should include only OER’s. I hope that the user experience of this search engine will be in a same level with other Creative Commons tools when it will come out of the prototype phase.

Two interesting projects come also from the Open University UK. Anna De Liddo presented qualitative data analysis tool Cohere (article, presentation). Cohere is a web-based tool and it is specially designed to annotate and analyze web data (blog and forum posts, etc.). In the paper they analyzed one course that took place in P2PU. Cohere had very nice network and cluster visualizations of memos and participants. This work is very interesting for me because we have developed simple course visualizations in EduFeedr. This should be also interesting for my Finnish colleagues who are planning to do a visual knowledge building tool for the next version of FLE.

Another really promising project from OU UK was presented by Simon Buckingham Shum (article, presentation). SocialLearn is a learning community that is designed by the principles of Web 2.0 and social software. Every member has a dashboard with gadgets and a user profile. It is possible to form communities, make connections and follow other people in SocialLearn. The site will be launched later this year.

All together I am really happy that I had a chance to participate the Open Ed conference. There were quite a lot of interesting presentations and probably I missed some good presentations in parallel sessions. Unfortunately there were only five participants from Eastern Europe. If I look at the use of LeMill I think that open educational resources have a big potential in these countries. It would be good if the Open Ed conference would take place in Europe every second year.

Proceedings of the conference are available in UOC repository and can be downloaded also as a complete PDF book.

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