Education Research in Berkeley

Originally published in my personal blog Science & Industry.

Greetings from Berkeley Education Research Day, one day event exploring education research and practice around education. The US education sector is highly different from Finnish context, so not all topics were that relevant for me. But, I was able to participate in a set of super-interesting presentations anyway, and here are my selected highlights:

Power relations in educational settings

As an old political scientist, I’m always intrigued when someone speaks of power.  Dr. Donnelly observed how power is seen in a virtual environment with an open inquiry approach. Open inquiry is a student centric learning method, where the idea is to investigate a topic in rather free-form settings. And what he observes is that the idea of open inquiry is harmed (but also supported) due to use of surveillance, normalization, and too much discourse. He suggests that one of the main issues here is the fact that school settings are not that flexible: there is limited time to complete the task, and not that much tolerance on doing things differently. His slides are online, including set of references.

Technology demos

It seems that the US has a new curriculum in development, called Common Core. Bunch of my School of Information mates were developing a teaching material sharing site for teachers. It’s interesting to see if the new curriculum development would create enough pull for this kind of site to function.

There was also a group of people playing with multimodal interaction for learning. Their idea is that students by moving their hands can demonstrate partitions and maybe learn these the other way. They key take away message or reminder from this is that different interaction can be used to enhance the education – not just the keyboard and mouse. And we live in sensor rich world: depth cameras (Kinect), accelerometer (mobile devices), compass (mobile devices) and stuff like that are just waiting to be used.

How to get policy out from research

It wasn’t all academics: we had practitioners to discuss about changing the school culture and getting research to policies. The former topic covered many issues in organizational change, mindset change is not trivial and you need to support people for that. The latter was a lit of the common pitfalls in social sciences: echo chamber effect, confirmation bias and tactical use of research. Not that many tools to fight against that.


The last highlight I want to make is the focus on evaluation of new educational approaches. It seems that proportions are thought here using the number line and asking students to think on that. There’s an alternative way which – arguably – helps students to learn more of this stuff – the best described for me as fraction pies (in Finnish: murtolukupiirakka), however not exactly that. They had a good sample, and evaluations before, during, after and way after being thought using the new approach.  They explored differences between schools too, it seemed that the new approach worked better for some schools but not all of them. Cool stuff to present.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Richard Stallman to speak at Aalto

We are happy to announce that with our project partner, Eliademy we are organizing an event where Richard Stallman will give a speech about Free Digital Society. The event is free (as in beer) and free (as in speech). Here are the details:

Richard Stallman: A Free Digital Society
Time: February 10th, 14.00 – 16.00
Venue: Design Factory, The Stage
Web site:
Visiting address: Betonimiehenkuja 5 C, 02150 Espoo, Finland
Optional sign-up: (we have room for about 200 + people, the sign-up is for everyone to see if it will be very crowded).

There are many threats to freedom in the digital society. They include massive surveillance, censorship, digital handcuffs, nonfree software that controls users, and the War on Sharing. Other threats come from use of web services. Finally, we have no positive right to do anything in the Internet; every activity is precarious, and can continue only as long as companies are willing to cooperate with it.

Brief bio:
Dr. Richard Stallman launched the free software movement in 1983 and started the development of the GNU operating system (see in 1984. GNU is free software: everyone has the freedom to copy it and redistribute it, with or without changes. The GNU/Linux system, basically the GNU operating system with Linux added, is used on tens of millions of computers today. Stallman has received the ACM Grace Hopper Award, a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Award, and the the Takeda Award for Social/Economic Betterment, as well as several doctorates honors causa, and has been inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Feeler workshop

As part of the contextual inquiry of Feeler’s prototype design, a participatory workshop was held with MA students of the School of Arts, Design and Architecture. Feeler is a design-in-progress tool for visualizing of learning performance and well-being with the aim of fostering reflection and awareness.

07_feelergameThe aim of the workshop was to collect information about challenges dealing the combination of Quantified Self data (QS) with Learning Analytics, as well developing a better understanding of the conditions for reflection and behavior change.

In order to introduce the stages of reflection identified by academic research, as well as the initial approach to the tool design, a game was created. The use of a game was perceived as an effective strategy for presenting the design ideas and challenges dealing with reflection to the participants rather than having a traditional presentation. In this regard, the game was used as a way of breaking the ice, putting participants into situation and what’s more important, getting them familiar and interiorize the situations in which the prototype would be used. The game was followed by a discussion about several design issues dealing with motivation, challenges dealing with data collection and its visualization and how to better support behavior change.

The game design followed a journey structure. At the beginning of the game, each player picked a character that had some problem dealing with learning and a particular motivation for engaging in QS (the different motivations were established according to the research developed by Gimpel et al., in press). Each square represented a specific moment in the process of self-monitoring such as deciding the type of data to monitor, setting a question, selecting how to visualize the information, as well as facing problems dealing with data collection and the analysis of the data. The decisions about the number of squares and its content were informed by research on reflection in learning. In order to make the game engaging and easy to play, the terms used in academic literature were modified and synthetized. During the game the players consciously took some decisions, although in some occasions they just rolled the dice and this determined the consequences.

Couple of weeks before the workshop, a low-fi prototype of the game was tested with the LE group community who gave feedback and suggestions for improving the game (many thanks to Jukka Purma, Kiarii Ngua, Sanna Vilmusenaho, Antti Keränen, Akshay Roongta and Leyla Nasib for their comments).

central-2 central-4

According to the feedback provided, the game was redesigned. The game used in the workshop that took place on Wednesday, December 18th was done in collaboration with Juan F. González, who contributed to the game visual design and to the workshop visual documentation.

04_feelergame_C central-2 central-4 central-4

The participants’ comments during the discussion brought interesting insights, especially in aspects dealing with motivation and data visualization. From their point of view, meaningful feedback as well as early detection of trends and patterns can motivate people to keep using the tool. In this regard, they highlighted the role of data visualizations for detecting relations among data and helping the user identify problems. Although some of the participants expressed that they would like to be able to check the raw data about their activity, they considered that visualizations could go further than just representing the data and show some initial analysis.

In relation to the type of data monitored, some of the participants considered important to include subjective and qualitative data. Therefore, users would be able to find more personalized data that really takes into consideration how they feel in a specific situation. Some of the attendants also expressed their interest in monitoring information dealing with food, mood or weather.

The decision about what to track in learning analytics was difficult. From the participants’ point of view learning cannot be restricted to academic contexts since it happens everywhere and at very different moments. Regarding Feeler prototype design, in order to avoid misunderstandings with the concept of learning, one option could be using a different term such as “academic activity”. Although there wasn’t a clear consensus about what would be more meaningful to monitor, one acceptable option would be to focus on the amount of time dedicated to a particular course.

Finally, there was an interesting debate about the role of rewarding. Should a reward system be included in the design of Feeler? Some social media services as well as software associated to QS devices are already including some sort of rewards, so this is certainly something to think about. Participants were critical about this aspect since in some cases, rewards don’t bring any clear benefit to the user.

Posted in Prototypes, Uncategorized, Work in progress | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

LEAD progress

In the last couple of months the LEAD project’s university research partners have been focusing on case studies, additional participatory design sessions and development of new prototypes.


The research group of at the University of Tampere (UTA) has continued with their research on data collected with the OPEKA -tool. During the autumn term the UTA’s reseach group reformulated their research questions. They are now formulated, as follows:

  1. Which community, technological and structural factors are behind the sharing and communication practices between teachers?
  2. What kinds of teaching cultures are present in the case schools and how these support or hinder the learning and sharing of ICT-practices?

Further analysis has been conducted on the Opeka data. On goal has been to select schools for a closer investigation through interviews including high and low level schools in IST development. Interviews of from 30-36 teachers (principals, ict-support teachers, “regular” staff teachers) in hi/low-end, upper/lower primary schools Tampere, Hämeenlinna and in 1-2 national top schools are underway. There is still a need for more responses from Hämeenlinna and Tampere schools to get statistically representative data (some schools missing or low response percentage) for sampling of low-end schools.

HIIT has explored the concept of computer-supported live participation, namely different systems which allow the audience to participate to performances via a real-time computer-mediated participation channel. Backchannels, Twitter streams and our very own Presemo are examples of live participation. On top of the more conceptual work the research has focus on several case studies including research on previous cases, re-engineering the backbone system of the Presemo and current work to increase field installations and re-examine potential to do more experimental research.

HIIT team has also got international. Matti is currently in UC Berkeley taking courses on behavioral economics and online collaboration. He’s also engaging to study online participation (both live and non-live) further by examining commenting systems, backchannels and online exchange systems. Even while not always aimed at education, having knowledge on more general online practices will be helpful for development of online solutions too.

In the Aalto’s Media Lab Helsinki the latest activities relate to experimenting with the Edukata, a participatory design guide for teachers to extend their educational design skills. Edukata is based on a design research process that has been adapted for use by teachers and educational planners. As part of the iTEC project Edukata will be piloted in over 1000 classroom around Europe in the fall 2013. In Finland we do more Edukata related research is done in the framework of the LEAD project.

A new prototype under design is called Feeler. a set of tools integrated in Feeler aims to combine data about wellbeing, such as physical activity and rest, with data about learning performance in order to generate visualizations that support learners’ reflection processes. The idea has been presented in the ARTEL workshop that took place in EC-TEL conference and during Aalto researchers day 2013. Currently, Feeler’s first prototype will use Moves’ open API in order to collect data about physical activity. Studies of the possibilities to collect data about learning performance in ongoing and focusing on the Eliademy’s virtual classrooms and/or Open EdX, which is installed for research purposes to the project’s server. The EdX server and service will also be studied with special focus on its pedagogical affordances and possibilities.

Posted in Prototypes, Work in progress | Leave a comment

The Backchannel Study and few notes on experiments

The school is over, and so is the extensive studies (5 classes, total of circa 75 students) conducted in Hämeenlinna have come to end. The idea was that the classes used a hacked version of a backchannel tool where we split them to two groups, condition A and condition not A. This way we could compare conditions in the same context and make an intelligent guess on on the impact of the feature A to their discussion.

Condition structure demonstrated

Much of this work was inspired by the wild movement in the human-computer interaction field (e.g, Brown et al, 2011), who argue that instead of a laboratory study, the research should be conducted in reality, real places, real people and real stuff. On the other hand, the research methodology was based quasi-experimentation (see Oulasvirta, 2012Stroker, 2010). Compared to traditional laboratory based study, in quasi-experimentation the control is more relaxed: for example, you just decide that half of the people need to be part of group A and half of them part of group not A; but don’t try to control who belongs to where.

The end result is that there were some problems, and the condition structure failed. In total we had around 2 000 messages, of which 1 800 belong to group A and only 200 in group not A. Also the level of posters is different, even while I double confirmed that the groups are indeed divided in half and half.

Lessons learned and next steps

Running experiments can be hard. In the future, I would myself try avoiding as extensive studies as this, and introduce a bit more control or oversight, even while it threads then the validity (fitness to real life) of the study.

I’m hoping to make a third try using this setup with someone, at some point of time. Also, we’ll try to scrap something interesting out of the data even while the condition system failed.

More details on my personal blog.

Posted in Work in progress | Leave a comment

Emergent design with iPads and 3D printers

What do you get when you take 40 2nd grade students, show them a 3D printer in action, give them 10 iPads, a 3D modeling app, a theme, and 1 hour? Continue reading

Posted in Video, Work in progress | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Square1: Third PD workshop with girls in Oakland

central-2 central-4

central-3 central-5

During two prior participatory design sessions with girls in the ACORD Woodland public school in Oakland, California we started developed software ideas for the interaction design and functionality of the central device of the Square1 set of devices. The main ideas included (1) a way for children to record audiovisual messages about their project progress, to practice presentations and to include as media in their presentations (much like TeamUp and ReFlex), (2) a screenshot function for clustering and potentially saving screen content, (3) a function for browsing the internet and storing media in a library to be accessed later, and (4) a tool for planning multi-device presentations. The images above show paper prototypes of these tools. As we did not discuss the tool for planning multi-device presentation in detail, the paper prototypes were used to design of this tool in a participatory design session with girls in a another Oakland public school.

The La Escuelita elementary school building

The La Escuelita elementary school building

The third participatory design session was again facilitated in context of the techGyrls mentor program of the YWCA Berkeley/Oakland. This time, the program coordinator, Jana, and I facilitated the workshop with 13 girls (4th grade) at the La Escuelita public school in Oakland, California. None of the girls participated in the research before. Continue reading

Posted in Prototypes | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maker Education Initiative anniversary

Maker Faire-Thur-3At the 1-year Maker Education Initiative (MakerEd) anniversary celebration at the Maker Faire on Thursday, Dale Dougherty presented his vision for bringing making back into schools by connecting it to science and technology education through Maker Corps Summer programs and Makerspaces in schools. In these spaces, Dougherty hopes, children will have access to tools and people and will be able to work on make projects. Essentially, the spaces could provide children with the empowering opportunity to think of themselves as makers, creators and doers and to deploy those skills back into their communities. In the spaces, teachers could create their personal and individual educational material to be used in their teaching, see examples, connect to others and take their learning back to the classroom. Through the DARPA Mentor Award, 50 Makerspaces have already been established in Bay Area schools, Dougherty mentioned. In the near future, the richness of the Bay Area Maker Movement is planned to be brought also to other areas in the United States.

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Square1: Second PD workshop with girls in Oakland

In context of the techGyrls mentor program of the YWCA Berkeley/Oakland, program coordinator, Jana, four active mentors, Becca, Jules, Lily and Emily, and I facilitated the second a participatory design (PD) workshop with 13 girls (4th grade) at the ACORN Woodland public School in Oakland, California. Most of the girls had also participated in the first PD session held at ACORN Woodland, only two girls had not participated previously.

Screen shot 2013-05-03 at 2.58.37 PM

As the previous session was a held a few weeks prior to yesterday’s session, I first remind the girls of the activities of the last session, by showing picture and video documentation. The main idea for the session was to further develop the ideas that emerged from the last session and to think in more detail about the interaction design of the writing, drawing and sharing tool of the Square1 set of devices. It was important for me to make aspects of the professional design process explicit to the girls. So, I explained that it is quite common that not all ideas move forward, but everyone’s ideas are equally important! The girls were asked to consider our sessions as sharing and mixing of ideas, and to consider that no idea belongs to one person. Often ideas develop based on a sentence that another person said, and it cannot be retraced who mentioned it first.

Continue reading

Posted in Prototypes | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

LEAD project Vimeo channel

The new Vimeo channel of the LEAD project is starting out strong with 13 short videos of Participatory Design sessions with girls at the ACRON Wooldland school in Oakland, California.

Posted in Video | Tagged , | Leave a comment