Published on 11/28/2008 - Experiences

Co-LearningCommunities / NetworksTecnology reappropiationICTsAnalogies of digitalNetworks creationTelecommunicationsWeb 2.0

Contributors: Teemu Leinonen

BCK Seville
Platoniq interviews Teemu Leinonen (1)

1. M-learning-related projects such as MobilED, ShareIdeas and others are operating in pretty much uncharted territory, as the present of mobile communication technologies evolves every few weeks/months. Have you conducted any previous studies on similar enterprises before starting your project or do you prefer to focus on this particular reality?
In our research practice we have several stages.These are: contextual inquiry, participatory design, product design and implementation of software and/or social/technological system as hypothesis. The process is iterative and we understand that in the later stages of the process we always gain more understanding of the topics and activities central in the earlier stages.

During the contextual inquiry we do "benchmarking", get familiar with earlier research and try to map the environment all in all. We also do observation of people we are working with and work with "unfocus groups" - people who already are "experts" in the social practices we are dealing with. The aim is to understand the field and to define design challenges.

In the m-learning field we have been active since 1999 but have not published very much about it.

2. Can you talk about the MobilED KIT and MobilED SERVER experiences? You emphasize in your site that the KIT project's success is merely a hypothesis. How does it work, things you think could be improved and why?

Right. The KIT is hypothesis and so is the MobilED SERVER, though it is a working prototype. Actually we also build a KIT box prototype in South Africa but didn't really finalize it.

I think the KIT is a good idea. However, it should be such that the communities could build it themselves. My idea has been that it should be very simple and easy to assembled from the local materials and the manuals should be available online so that one could print them and add them to the KIT.

THE MobilED SERVER is a proof of concept prototype. We (or someone) should still develop the software to make it easy to install and set-up. There are still many little things that do not work.

3. What about the Audio Encyclopaedia project? Can you describe the scope, goals and results of that initiative so far?

We have moved from the Audio Encyclopaedia idea to the direction of developing MobilED more to the direction of being community information and news server, some kind of mobile community radio on which people can add their own news, classified adds etc. We are writing a journal paper about this idea and hope to get ready early next year.

However, some parts of the world there is an interest on making the Wikipedia accessible as audio (text to speech) service for mobile phones. We are not working on this, but I assume these people will try out MobilED SERVER or similar kind of set-up in their projects.

4. Open licenses can ensure the future of a project beyond its original range. How important are licenses and authorship issues in your projects? Would you care to elaborate on your views on that?
We work in an academia. Our funding is mostly public money (EU, etc.) and they are pretty open for our openness. With software we use the GPL, with content CC-BY-SA and also try to publish research papers only in Open Access Journals.

Sometime we do collaboration with companies too, who may want us to provide them some "proprietary knowledge". We may agree that they will have the first right to the study results, so that they will get them 6 months before we'll publish them. In most of the cases this is fine for companies. I also have said for companies that if our results are such that one can right from them make business we have not done "academic research" but product development and that is not our task. So, we try to stay in a such "basic research" level that the possible benefit will come only in a years come, not in 6 to 24 months.

5. From a quick glance at MobilED's network of Associated Partners and Advisers, one can guess that you are trying to focus on the application of m-learning in developing countries. Can you talk about your experience on that? Any specific cases that you think might illustrate best the success of mobile learning in such environments?

The project was started in the context of developing countries. We wanted to explore and think could we somehow take advantage of the fact that most people in the developing world already have access to mobile phones.
Speaking in a general level, mobile phones are already the most important learning technology in the developing world. People use them daily to exchange news and information. However, as the communication with mobile phones is at the moment mainly synchronous and point to point it does not build repositories and archives similar way as compute mediated communication. I would like to see more asynchronous communication with mobile phones that takes place in a centralized server: in practice this means mobile news groups, mailing list and mobile wikis. These are all possible to implement even with the simple text-audio mobile phones.

6. One of the most interesting fields of your research for the Bank of Common Knowledge is group-centred learning. Can you summarize the evolutions and improvements that have occurred in that particular area in relation to new mobile technologies in recent times?
I feel that what I just present in the earlier section about asynchronous communication with mobile phones is a good answer for this, too. I would like to see that people could set-up groups with the i mobiles and have a shared asynchronous communication space in there.

7. Some would argue that while mobile technologies such as GSM phones, internet tablets and the like are obviously very valid and powerful tools, they are also the product of massive telecommunications companies (and sometimes byproducts of military research) that value profit, trade and consumer markets over social affairs.

This is all true. It is also true that large part of technology is byproducts of military research.

However, I feel that in an open and free market telecommunication companies are so dependent on their customers (it is B to C business) that to make profit they must value the issues their customers value. If the social affairs are high in the customers priority list, the companies will follow. This of course - like I said - requires that there is open and free competition in the market. The worst situation comes with a monopoly running a business, when obviously better one is a state own monopoly with functional political control. Still, the best is a fair competition, I think.
The fair competition should also open up the market for small players offering specialized services for mobile users. This is of course not the case in mobile network market today, because it is stillvery much controlled by states and or telecoms. I would like to see that in future one could set-up mobile services - like MobilED - to the mobile network similar way as one can start a web service on internet. When the mobile networks are becoming more closely part of the Internet this will happen - sooner or later.

In other words, the potential of old communication technologies was probably less widespread but also implied less control over users. Not to oversimplify things (we know the world is not black or white) but how do you perceive and deal with that balance/unbalance? Please note we are aware that companies like Nokia and Vodafone are involved in various m-learning initiatives.
I guess we all know that the people who use to work in the human controlled phone exchange center where the worst gossipers. I think today the privacy with the mobile phone network operators is in much better control of law enforcement. There has been already some cases in Finland where the operator was using tele-information to catch some of their own employees from some wrong doing.

I think opening the network for small players will also improve privacy when you are not tight-up to one service provider. Still, the mobile world is becoming more like "internet", and we should be aware of this. The same challenges are in the mobile as there are in the web.

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BCK Seville

Platoniq llevó a cabo en marzo de 2009 una experiencia piloto de Banco Común de Conocimientos en el Instituto de Educación Secundaria Antonio Domínguez Ortiz, localizado en el Polígono Sur de Sevilla, también conocido como Las 3.000 Viviendas.