The past weekend, I have been to the ninth Educamp in Cologne. The Educamp is a BarCamp about learning with new media, and this is a short review, covering creating apps for learning without programming, using screencasts in schools, types of digital learners, the digital identity and some thoughts on the relation of media, knowledge and learning.
It has been my second visit of the Educamp, after my visit in Ilmenau in 2009. I did not manage to go to the other Educamps due to time constraints or distance. I know, these are excuses. However, I could not miss an Educamp in Cologne, and so I'd like to share my personal experiences with the ninth Educamp. Feel free to skip topics if you are not interested in them, the headings should give enough clues about the content.
Edulize: yes to learning without programming, no to learning programming
I started with a session on Edulize, a "development framework". The quotes are on purpose, because Edulize's approach is not to require prior knowledge in order to bring learning to various platforms. Users can thus create apps for learning by simple clicking, using articles, tests and cards. There are also some layout options. In the end, you can export the app for various platforms.
Now, I am not really a friend of this kind of platform independent development, because those apps often feel foreign. In my view, Edulize has a further weakness: The source code is hidden from the user. This makes it impossible to assess the quality of the software, and you cannot use the framework to learn programming.
However, I like the fact that the Edulize team showed their platform at such an early stage. The interface seemed still a bit unfinished in some places. It has been said that some demo apps will be created in order to present the possibilities to the user. It is definitely interesting to further watch the path of Edulize, because the platform could become the first choice for teachers trying to augment their teaching with apps for learning. I guess I am not part of the target audience, because I really miss the possibility to review the source code.
Media literacy in the classroom
One of the most interesting sessions followed: Thorsten Groß spoke about "videos of pupils". He is a teacher, and together with the Linux interest group he developed videos for learning Linux. Participants planned the topics of the screencasts on their own, and also took over the creation of the videos.
In a small group of seven participants, an intensive exchange with a focus on practice developed, documented in the Etherpad. It contains a couple of interesting software tools with examples. I also liked the discussion about whether a school should show the videos only on an internal platform in projects like these. I think it is more valuable to post them publicly, because (1) videos like these are also important for external viewers, (2) participants will likely be proud of them, and (3) they will learn about media literacy "on the side" by having their actions documented in public.
Lack of education: are there types of digital learners?
In a session called "lack of education on the web 2.0", we had a diffuse discussion mainly focused on the "children of immigrants on social welfare, playing video games", children who the initiator Christian Füller regarded as today's losers in education. The discussion touched a huge number of interesting arguments, like the question whether it is still necessary to learn handwriting, or whether the introduction of tablets in the classroom does not exclude children of parents who cannot afford the devices.
Although the partly very emotional discussion was attended by a lot of people, I remember not too much from it. I somehow missed a central theme, a well formulated and explained hypothesis. Less would have been more in my opinion: How do video games affect the development of young people, and how can they be used for educational purposes? What is the role of handwriting in the digital age? A session on one of the many topics would have been more interesting, instead of connecting all these topics to a single session on the lack of education. The arguments have enough potential to fill a huge number of interesting sessions.
But I really liked the experiences of the teachers in the room, in particular a statement by @herrlarbig. He has discovered huge differences between students who can freely decide on the form of a homework (handwritten or generated with a computer). This led him to ask whether there might be analog and digital types of learners.
Obviously, this makes the heart of a scientist dream, without really having a clue on the possible differences of these digital learners, or how these could be studied. However, I also noticed differences like this: While the internet has always played a huge role in my studies, some of my mates used it as a platform to exchange data, or a giant lexicon, others made it a means of creating knowledge. I particularly noticed that in the way people dealt with unsure contents: While some simply ignored them, others used them as an opportunity to communicate, thus creating knowledge.
However, these are unfinished thoughts, which I will definitely think through.
Digital identity: Who am I in the digital world, and how many?
Thomas Bernhard hold a session on "identity 2.0", which also provided a good documentation in an etherpad. Departing from a couple of basic assumptions, he engaged in an interesting exchange about the ways of dealing with one's identity on the web. These ways yield huge differences due to different judgment of possible consequences. There were a lot of experiences provided by the participants. For example, a couple of participants use pseudonyms or multiple accounts, while others use their real names in the social networks. I also liked the idea that the choice of profession plays an important role. Teachers in particular referred to a lot of aspects of their lives which they do not want their students to know. Aspects like these were less important for self-employed people. Despite concerns like these, a first little summary of the session is this: Social media also needs personal aspects in order to foster exchange.
One aspect which only came to my mind afterwards: You do not even always have the choice of keeping out of social networks as a private person. This is especially true for blogs, which have to have an imprint required by German law. This can be exploited: Only a couple of weeks ago, I realized that the Berlin agency Meltwater saved my personal contact information in a database, using them to deliver PR for their clients. Obviously, this was done without asking, just because my data is public.
I somehow found it a shame that there was not deeper investigation of the text "digital identity" by Ilona Buchem which Thomas linked. I do also have to blame that on myself, because as usual, I did not find the time to prepare the text in advance. However, it is also valuable in hindsight, because the author summarizes a couple of interesting resources, keeping up to date with her Delicious stack. I think this topic is very interesting, and maybe I will write something about it on my own someday. However, it is now time to continue with my Educamp round-up.
Media, knowledge, learning: a theoretical session
Media, knowledge, learning are three concepts which summarize pretty much of my studies, so I had particular high interest in the session of this name. Friedrich-Alexander Ittner gave insights into his master thesis. This was the first challenge: How can such a theoretical session be tackled without any preparation of the participants? In order to do so, Friedrich-Alexander started with discussion a couple of definitions, before the participants worked on hypotheses and drew conclusions together.
My thoughts stayed with the definitions a long time, in particular the various definitions of "media". It stayed a bit too ambiguous in my eyes, which caused some concern for the hypotheses. A couple of examples:
- "Media facilitate learning…": Yes, I agree on that, but two objections respective additions: (1) Learning with media is always also learning about media. If you try learning about photosynthesis with a film, you learn about photosynthesis and film at the same time. This can be desirable or distracting, because (2) media and their content interact. Media are not containers, in which you put something in order to take it out again in a different place. I therefore consider a statement like "Media facilitate learning" too general.
- "Contents can be edited in a better way": Media edit content in order to make them learnable. For sure, but this is not enough in my view: Media also change content. Providing information as a text, image, or sound is not the same, because different sensory channels communicate different information. Also, it is not the same whether I read about a topic in a text book or a newspaper, because journalists work according to different criteria than book authors. And even if I read a text first and then have it read out loud by someone else, this is not the same: While I control my reading process on my own (even being influenced by aspects like typography and layout), a second person controls my reception in the latter case. These aspects of editing content for learning should definitely be considered.
- "Competence of action as a concept is missing": If I remember well, this suggestion came from the idea that learners should be able to use their knowledge in practice. This goes not far enough in my opinion, because learning with media is not only consuming (I do consider consuming media as a rare case), but active interaction with media. In doing so, it is of vital importance whether students have learned dealing with the particular medium. Furthermore, if you think learners have an active role in learning, you should study this active role. This means it is not enough to ask students what they have learned. You should also research how they have learned.
It is obvious that a short session can never cover the whole content of a master thesis. I am therefore very interested in the results and will definitely keep an eye on the particular wiki. Friedrich-Alexander wants to include the results of the session in his thesis, but for me, even the short session provided valuable input.
Comparing the Educamp in Cologne to the one in Ilmenau, I had the impression of this edition being very much shaped by teachers. On the one hand, this was very interesting, as these were new perspectives for me. On the other hand, this also meant that I couldn't do anything with a couple of the discussions. I particularly missed sessions by innovative start-ups (with the exception of Edulize), and I was not able to find much input for working with adults. Now, obviously, a BarCamp lives from participation, so maybe I will offer a session on my own during one of the next Educamps. #ecco12 definitely succeeded in create the motivation to do so.
If you are interested in the session, you can find links to the etherpads in the Ecco12 Pad.