Olen nyt viikonlopun aikana valmistellut esitystä, jonka pidän reilun viikon päästä Liettuan Vilnassa eräässä e-oppimisen konferenssissa. Tulen siellä kertomaan nettilukion kolmesta kattauksesta ja niiden suhteesta teknologiaan sekä sosiaaliseen mediaan. Aiheeni on muuten liettuaksi ”Socialinės medijos ir Web 2.0 technologijos Otavos vidurinėje mokykloje: trys keliai”. Ajattelin kuitenkin puhua englanniksi ja ehkä suunnilleen niistä asioista, joista alla olevassa artikkelissakin kertoilen.
Social Media and Web2.0 Technologies Supporting Learning at Otava Folk High School
- three paths to the destination
Taru Kekkonen, firstname.lastname@example.org
Otavan Opisto, Otava Folk High School, Finland
Otava Folk High School was established 1892. Ever since its task has been to look for and offer new ways of studying and learning, to question the already existing school system and to complete to that. In other words its task is to meet the learning demands that are not otherwise met in the prevailing education system. Online Upper Secondary School (nettilukio in Finnish) was established in 1996 bearing this task in mind.
Online Upper Secondary School started with and has been following two key ideas ever since: openness and trust. Openness in the sense that the school is open 24/7/12 and in the sense that the learning material has been available and accessible by anyone interested from the very beginning. The school can be reached from any place in the world as the whole programme of upper secondary school can be studied online, from a distance. There are no terms or semesters and the academic year is the whole calender year. All the courses are ceaselessly available online so that the students can pick any course any time.
Trust in the sense that no police forces or customs were established to control the students. Instead, the school wanted to trust its students. There are no exams in the school but the students have a lot of learning assignments that they do and the teachers give feedback on. The students also write learning logs. A portfolio that contains the learning assignments and the learning log provide the basis for the course assessment and the grade.
Each and every student has a specific reason to join Online Upper Secondary School. No one is pushed there automatically from a local comprehensive school, for example. The age scale of the students spans from 16 to ca 75. They are mainly adults working full time and in various phases of life with various learning and studying capacities. The student profiles include among others
- professional athletes
- people working in shifts
- parents taking care of their small children at home
- people living abroad
- people with health problems
- people with negative school history
- people living in sparsely populated areas
From listening towards dialogue
Thirteen years ago we started with thirteen students that studied quite independently. It was more about giving and receiving information and making the learning visible mainly by writing essays etc. The interaction between a student and a teacher/tutor worked fine but there was little interaction between the students. Now the students outnumber 500 and we are on the way from listening to dialogue and collaboration.
The general debate related to e-learning in Finland has mainly moved from talking about web2.0 technologies to talking about social media and how it can be used for supporting learning. Thus the focus has shifted from technology and tools to people and collaboration. Social media in itself is a bit challenging as a concept as it is defined in various ways. One definition that is quite commonly used is formulated by Eija Kalliala and Tarmo Toikkanen. In their book about Social Media in Education (Kalliala ja Toikkanen, Sosiaalinen media opetuksessa 2009) they define social media as “a process in which individuals and groups construct collective meanings with the help of content, communities and web technologies”. In this definition the individuals, working together and sharing are in focus, not the technologies. Also in this article and presentation the technologies are seen only as a means to an end. As it has been said, without people, web2.0 is just an empty kitchen with a nice set of shiny appliances but nothing bubbling in the kettle on the stove.
Three settings to choose from
In Online Upper Secondary School the students can choose between three ways to accomplish courses. Using a food metaphor, they can choose if they want to enter a buffet, an à la carte restaurant or the kitchen in order to learn to cook.
Buffet / Non-stop-courses
Each student is free to pick any upper secondary school course in his/her schedule any time he/she wants. The buffet table is always open and the student can choose any dishes he/she favours at his/her own phase (i.e. according to his/her personal learning plan). Studying on this path is quite independent and sometimes lonely, too. It may be pretty quiet at the dinner table as everyone is having his/her dinner at various times. Even if the studying is independent of point of time, the buffet offers no fast food as the learning always takes its time, no matter how flexible the frames.
Web2.0 technologies provide the buffet with facilities via the online learning environment but the studying is not very social or shared. Interaction is limited mainly between student and teacher (skype, chat, e-mail etc.).
À la carte / Collaborative courses
Several times a year, the table is also laid with so called collaborative courses. They begin and end on fixed dates. Booking the table beforehand is necessary and the students had better be there when the chef is available and food is warm. When sitting around the virtual table the students are able to work on issues together and use each others as resources. This is not possible in the buffet. Anyway, also this restaurant is located in a closed learning environment and the door is shut from the rest of the world. Only the students and the teachers have the VIP badges to access the restaurant.
Discussion forums, wikis and virtual conferencing tools are widely used in collaborative courses.
Cooking courses in the kitchen / Phenomenon based learning
In addition to these two settings, Otava Folk High School offers its students courses where they can learn to cook and prepare a meal together with other people.
In stead of enrolling in a course in a specific subject such as mathematics, biology or philosophy, the student has a chance to grasp a bigger entity, a real life phenomenon. The phenomena so far studied at Otava are among others hunger and thirst, welfare state, piracy and human being 2.0. The idea is to integrate various subjects in the studying of the phenomenon. The student can choose his/her approach to the phenomenon him/herself, set his/her targets him/herself and thus choose which (upper secondary school) subjects and courses he/she wants to complete.
As the phenomena to be studied are authentic, real life phenomena, it would be quite contradictory to close the studying behind school doors. That is one reason why we have taken the phenomena out in an open and public online environment http://ilmiopohjaisuus.ning.com so that people in various roles and with different interests can attend. There are project managers, pedagogues, experts, media tutors, subject teachers – and students, of course. Lurking is also allowed and anyone interested also from other schools and from outside the school world is welcome. The roles are often mixed and the teacher doesn’t have to be an expert in everything. Expertise can be found also outside the school or – as it often is – among students.
In the food metaphor, the people who join the cooking course prepare a meal together. First they decide what they want to cook, which entity they want to grasp. Whether to cook Italian, Mexican or Nepalese. Everyone is allowed to approach the theme from his/her interest. Thus someone might like to find out about the local food culture and traditions, another one about nutrients and health issues. Someone else might be interested in the raw materials needed, where and how they are grown, how sustainable the growing is, if they can be bought in Finland, how sustainable the transportation of them is etc. Experts can be invited to join when their expertise is needed. The chef might not be needed at all or it can be anybody, not necessarily the teacher. As everyone brings his/her own approach and learning to the same table, the result is much more than anyone could have achieved alone or with just the teacher.
Web2.0 technologies have a lot to offer in this kind of learning and studying. Tools such as blogs, wikis, video conferencing and social bookmarking make the life so much easier for those in the kitchen. Anyway, it is more a question of an attitude and a change of culture than a question of tools. In the end, the tools have existed in one way or another for already several years now. The teachers are used to being authorities and experts, used to being the ones that have access to the knowledge. The students are used to presenting their work only in finished and completed form as they have traditionally been assessed as such. Anyway, social media is not about completed and shiny papers. It is about hopping on a moving train, taking risks, tolerating uncertainty, tolerating incomplete world, flexibility to change plans while on the road. It is also about trust, respect and sincerity just like any interaction between people always has been. But maybe it is above all about courage to share and publish incomplete ideas for others to grab and refine further.
Do we dare to let the students in the kitchen?
The school as an institution was established in a world in which information and knowledge were more or less stabile. The teachers had an exclusive right to the information and their job was to transfer it to those who didn’t have it yet. Now the critical issue related to school and teachership is whether we let the students cook or not. I.e. if we encourage the students to take an active role and start constructing knowledge themselves. And if we go one step further, we as teachers have to ask ourselves if we let the students also decide what they want to learn and how they want to learn. If we open the kitchen door and let the students in, we run the risk that the meals prepared by the teacher might not be that attractive any more.