Dissertation, publications, prototypes

In 2016-2017 we have had some very very low, but also some high moments. Let’s focus on the good things.


In late 2016 Hans Põldoja defended his doctoral dissertation: The Structure and Components for the Open Education Ecosystem: Constructive Design Research of Online Learning Tools. (Download the PDF)

The pre-examiners were Professor Vladan Devedxic and PhD Lisa Petrides. The opponent in the public defences was Professor Terry Anderson from Athabasca University.

Hans work is worth of reading for all interested in the topic of open education. These days Dr Põldoja is an Associate Professor of Educational Technology and a Head of Studies at the School of Digital Technologies at the Tallinn University. Congratulations Hans!


The best way to check our latest publications is to visit the Aalto research databases and to check all the research outputs of the Learning Environments research group.

Here are three examples of our recent research publications.

Pejoska, J., Bauters, M., Purma, J., & Leinonen, T. (2016). Social augmented reality: Enhancing context‐dependent communication and informal learning at work. British Journal of Educational Technology, 47(3), 474-483.

Our design proposal of social augmented reality (SoAR) grows from the observed difficulties of practical applications of augmented reality (AR) in workplace learning. In our research we investigated construction workers doing physical work in the field and analyzed the data using qualitative methods in various workshops. The challenges related to learning in the construction sites were: sharing of specific situation processes or details, need of direct communication channel over distance and support for social appraisal. The second result of the study is a prototype. SoAR is a design solution, an application for smart phones. The primary target for the SoAR design builds on the discoveries and idea that current AR developments in the area should focus on enhancing human-to-human interactions: messages, gestures, words and other small elements of communication. We present the current SoAR prototype that enhances video calls with overlaid drawings therefor SoAR is a tool for asking and providing guidance in context-reliant work situations. Our guiding theoretical framework is drawing from phenomenological discussion dealing with embodied interaction expanded by a process of research-based design.

Durall, E., Leinonen, T., Gros, B., & Rodriguez-Kaarto, T. (2017). Reflection in Learning through a Self-monitoring Device: Design Research on EEG Self-Monitoring during a Study Session. Designs for Learning, 9(1).

The increasing availability of self-monitoring technologies has created opportunities for gaining awareness about one’s own behavior and reflecting on it. In teaching and learning, there is interest in using self-monitoring technologies, but very few studies have explored the possibilities. In this paper, we present a design study that investigates a technology (called Feeler) that guides students to follow a specific learning script, monitors changes in their electroencephalogram (EEG) while studying, and later provides visualization of the EEG data. The results are two-fold: (1) the hardware/software prototype and (2) the conclusions from the proof-of-concept research conducted with the prototype and six participants. In the research, we collected qualitative data from interviews to identify whether the prototype supported students to develop their reflective skills. The thematic analysis of the interviews showed that the Feeler’s learning script and visualization of the EEG data supported greater levels of reflection by fostering students’ curiosity, puzzlement, and personal inquiry. The proof-of-concept research also provided insights into several factors, such as the value of personal experience, the challenge of assumptions, and the contextualization of the data that trigger reflective thinking. The results validate the design concept and the role of the prototype in supporting awareness of and reflection about students’ mental states when they perform academic tasks.

Toikkanen, T., & Leinonen, T. (2017). The Code ABC MOOC: Experiences from a Coding and Computational Thinking MOOC for Finnish Primary School Teachers. In Emerging Research, Practice, and Policy on Computational Thinking (pp. 239-248). Springer International Publishing.

The Finnish primary school curriculum will feature programming and computational thinking as mandatory cross-curricular elements in all teaching starting from the first grade. Many teachers are quite concerned about this and feel ill-prepared. A group of volunteers created a MOOC for teachers and, with no budget, trained over 500 primary school teachers to be competent teachers of programming (38% of the participants). The results from a study conducted within the course indicate that Finnish teachers seem to think that coding is an important addition to the school curriculum and they exhibit low levels of anxiety over it. The MOOC design focused on connectivist design principles (cMOOC) and was considered extremely successful by the participants. The MOOC participants seemed confident that the MOOC would equip them to face the new challenge, and indeed, the feedback from the MOOC and its results support this.


Design research, the way we think it is important to conduct, is possible only when we can build prototypes. Here are some resent prototypes build in the group:

Feeler v.2.0. “The Feeler prototype guides students in self-study, which starts with meditation and ends with self-analysis. During the sessions, students self-monitor their brain activity through EEG. The EEG data are used after the self-analysis stage, to foster students’ metacognitive skills by triggering questions about the mental state of studying and then improving it. With Feeler, reflection is expected to happen during the revision and interpretation of the EEG data visualization. The prototype is composed of the following elements: three smart objects with which the user physically interacts (the blocks), an EEG monitoring device, and Feeler software running on a laptop.” (Durall e.t.all. 2017)

SoAR (Social Augmented Reality) is a mobile app for collaboration and communication in work environments. It consists of one-on-one video streaming with a bidirectional drawing layer for emphasizing details. SoAR is ideal for cooperating in situations that require an effective, visual assessment.

Ach So!. “Ach so! is an open source application for video recording, annotating and sharing (Fig. 1). It is implemented as an application for Android platform to be used with tablet computers or smartphones. With Ach so!, the users record short videos and categorize them under four genres. Ach so! creates MPEG-4 video with serialized semantic annotations. Video descriptions automatically include location, date and creator, and they can be annotated by adding textual annotations, ‘points of interest’, to specific points on screen and in video timeline. The annotations are placed in the video timeline and have screen coordinates for each, and the playback automatically pauses on each annotation to allow reading the annotation acknowledging the point of interest. The annotated videos can be saved in a cloud or exported from the device with Android’s share-intent. The exported videos can be viewed in a browser-based Ach so! Player.” (Virnes 2015)

Kinemata is a wearable device for training movements for the purpose of learning.

New projects and collaboration

It’s been a hectic end of the year.

The iTEC -project is moving forward with testing in school and new cycles of scenario creation and design work. The annual review of the project went fine. The reviews are important: they are quality control but also an opportunity to learn. We past the “control” and learned a lot.

The formal results of the iTEC project’s first year are available in the project website. We think the Report on Design Prototypes and Design Challenges for Education is worth of reading.

We have, however, some new and exciting projects going on and coming up. Some are small, some are large.

With the Learning + Technology Group at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering we have started a project studying, developing and designing online learning tools and social media for computer science learning. The group has developed many great software tools serving computer science studies and has interesting educational practices of teaching computer science. In the research project we are now looking possibilities of integrating the services, motivational questions of students and coherent design of all this.

Another national project we are involved in is called (in English) Open Networks for Learning. In it we support production of open educational resources by training teachers and other experts, creating and supporting networks and services and this way strengthening active citizenship and democracy. For this project we are, for instance, maintaining, supporting and training people to use LeMill, Wikimedia -services, and Creative Commons Finland -services. The project does not include a lot of research per se but provides as possibilities to bridge research and practice.

A third national project is service design project with the Pirkanmaa Hospital District renewing their organization to focus on value created for patients and to prepare the way for a construction of a new wing in the hospital building. In the project we are applying some learning theories and participatory design methods, as well as considering the role of new media (online, an in hospital) services and devices in the hands of the patients and hospital professionals. The first research publication (in press) from the research project is titled Games as Design Medium —
Utilizing Game Boards for Design Enquiry with Cancer Patients
by Juha Kronqvist et al.

Our colleges in the Tallinn University are getting together an interesting consortium of European top research groups in the field of mobile learning. With them we are right now preparing a research and project plan with several companies to start a new project in mid 2012.

We also have ongoing discussions with library operating bookmobiles: to study and redesign the service by introducing new media tools (tablets, projections, touch screens/tables, RFID etc.) and services in their offering. The possibilities to implement new kind of media education, youth work etc. with bookmobiles are huge. It is a great opportunity to do people-centric and participatory design research.

In addition to the European research in 2012 we are interested in to take part in the national Learning Solutions program by Tekes – the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation. Let’s seen.

One more thing: As part of the Aalto on Waves we organized a Future of Learning study project with graduate students coming from the fields of art and design, engineering and technology and economics. We may expect interesting results.

iTEC, LeMill and some new projects in the pipeline

We have some news from the research group, which you may have read already from some other sources.

The iTEC project — the designing the future classroom — is now in a full speed. It is a four year project we started in September so the first results are expected to be out around April-May. To follow our work focusing on to engage teachers and learners in the future classroom you may visit the blog and wiki just set-up last week. Here is the link:


LeMill — the web community for finding, authoring and sharing open educational resources — developed and hosted by us is something that is getting better and better almost every week. The latest updates are reported in the blog of the service:


The LeMill community is also growing steadily. The statistics show that most of the growth right now comes from Lithuania, Russia and Hungary. Why from these countries? I think it is all word-of-mouth marketing from our stable community members in Estonia and Georgia. Where is the rest of the Europe, United States, Asia and Latin America? What are the competitors of LeMill in these countries or is it simply that teaches do not care? A lot of open questions. A good thing is that LeMill is getting better and better.

We are also soon starting some new projects. They are related to service design and use of ICT in informal learning in open spaces: offline and online.

Fle4 – Knowledge Building for the rest of us

We finally decided to bite the bullet and create a plugin for WordPress to allow knowledge building discussions, such as progressive inquiry. While Fle3 is a very good tool for doing KB, it’s quite challenging to install. The impulse came from Hans, when he (jokingly) said that he needed knowledge building on WordPress by “next Tuesday”.

Well it turned out that implementing KB discussion onto WordPress blogs wasn’t such a difficult task after all. I’ve now written a functioning plugin that does this, and it even uses the knowledge typesets from Fle3. Meet: Fle4 – Knowledge Building for the rest of us. It’s still very much in beta. There’s a live demo so you can test out Progressive Inquiry and Six Hat Thinking, but easy plugin installation is still a few days in the future (waiting for acceptance into the WordPress Plugin Directory).

So… Take a look and send us comments.

Mobile Community Wiki presented at GTF’08

We’re right now at GTF’08, presenting a new application of our MobilED platform, the Mobile Community Wiki.

MobilED is an open source platform for connecting phone call and SMS functionality to a data source, such as a wiki. We’ve previously piloted another application, the Audio Encyclopedia, in South Africa. The community wiki is more geared for easy asynchronous communication within a community or distributed team, and thus more applicable in informal and nonformal learning scenarios.

MobilED – mobile audio wiki engine

For some time we have been doing design research with the MobilED mobile audio wiki prototype we designed and implemented with our partners in South Africa.

The research has relied on research-based design approach with contextual inquiry, participatory design, prototyping and piloting of the prototype with real people in real life situations. In number of event and forums we have present the results of the research (we are still woring on with the main article). It’s been an interesting journey.

Now someone should take the MobilED technology – the mobile audio wiki engine – to a new level. If there is somewhere some software developer with coding skills related to one or more core technologies used in the MobilED, these are Asterisk and MediaWiki, we are happy to give the leadeship of the development for you.

We are happy to keep on hosting the development site (http://dev.mobiled.org/trac/), the SVN and give all the support one may need to get on working with this. Let us know if you are interested in.

LeMill ITK-päivillä

Tarkoituksemme on tuoda LeMill opettajien tietoisuuteen Suomen suurimmassa opetusteknologiatapahtumassa:

ITK’08 – Opi valitsemaan, olet aikaasi edellä

Toivottavasti pääset paikalle, tilaisuus on aina mielenkiintoinen ja meiltä on luvassa kolme ohjelmanumeroa. Tärkeimpänä workshop, tämä kutsu koskee sinua:

LeMill logo, green

ITK-08 workshop “LeMill opettajan työkaluna”

Järjestämme ITK-päivillä kaikille perus-, keski- ja korkea-asteen opettajille sopivan työpajan, jossa opitaan löytämään, käyttämään ja luomaan avoimia oppisisältöjä LeMill-ympäristössä. LeMill on vapaiden oppimateriaalien etsimiseen, jakamiseen ja luomiseen keskittyvä verkkoyhteisö opettajille. LeMill on MediaLabin Oppimisympäristöjen tutkimusryhmän ja eurooppalaisten yhteistyökumppaneiden kehittämä ja Euroopan opetusministeriöiden rahoittama ja tukema, joten sen käyttö on kaikille ilmaista ja tulee pysymään ilmaisena. (Käy ihmeessä tutustumassa ja ota käyttöön saman tien! http://lemill.net)

Työpajassa perehdyt siihen mitä LeMillistä löytyy ja saat kokemukseen pohjautuvaa tietoa Internetistä löytyvistä vapaista opetusresursseista ja siitä, miten niitä kannattaa hyödyntää opetuksessa. Työpajan osallistujasta tulee omassa koulussaan se henkilö, joka tietää mistä taikoa tehtäviä, materiaalia ja ideoita tarvittaessa ja jonka luomat oppimateriaalit tunnetaan myös oman koulun ulkopuolella. Yritämme myös saada suomalaisen LeMill-yhteisön käyntiin ja kasvamaan –muu Eurooppa on jo edellämme.

Workshop pidetään Hämeenlinnassa, ITK-päivien workshop-päivänä 16.4. klo 14-17 Hotelli Aulangossa. Osallistuminen maksaa 50 € /osallistuja. Vetäjinä toimivat Tarmo Toikkanen (TAIK), Hans Põldoja (Tallinnan yliopisto) ja Jukka Purma (TAIK).

Ilmoittaudu workshopiin ITK-päivien ilmoittautumissivustolta, valitse workshop-lomakkeesta “WS:LeMill opettajan työkaluna”.

Ota workshopiin kannettava tietokone, jossa on langaton verkkoyhteys. Jos sinulla on verkkomateriaalia, jonka haluaisit julkaista avoimesti ja saada muilta opettajilta apua sen jatkokehittelyssä, ota kyseinen materiaali mukaan tietokoneellasi.

Aikataulu (joustaa osallistujien intressien mukaan):

14.00 Yleiskatsaus LeMillistä

14.20 Tunnusten luonti osallistujille ja ITK08-workshop-ryhmän perustaminen.

14.40 Omien kokoelmien laatiminen

15.00 Tauko15.10 Materiaalin tuottaminen

15.50 Katsaus sosiaaliseen mediaan ja avoimiin sisältöpalveluihin

16.10 Tauko

16.20 Oppimis- ja opetustarinoiden laatiminen

16.40 Seuraavat askeleet: Neuvoja LeMillin ja avoimen sisällön hyödyntämiseen

17.00 Workshopin päätös

Workshop-kutsu julisteena (pdf)

Jos aiot osallistua workshopiin, tai on ihan mitä tahansa LeMilliin tai ITK-päiviin liittyvää kysyttävää, jätä kommentti tämän postin perään!

Lisäksi Teemu, Tarmo ja Hans esiintyvät englanninkielisellä foorumilla torstaina 17.4, klo 14.30 otsikolla:

LeMill – Facebook for learning resources

Esityksessä he kertovat, miten sosiaalisen median ilmiöt voidaan valjastaa äärimmäisen hyödylliseen käyttöön, oppimateriaalien kehittämiseen.

Avoimet sisällöt -tori

Tarjoaa mahdollisuuden käydä konferenssin aikana
juttelemassa kehittäjien kanssa ja kokeilemassa LeMilliä.

Nähdään siellä,
Teemu Leinonen
Hans Põldoja
Jukka Purma
Katrina Silfvast
Tarmo Toikkanen

(Teemu toimii panelistina myös torstain Wikipedia-teemaseminaarissa, 15.15 [B] ja perjantain Sosiaalinen media ja oppiminen-teemaseminaarissa, 10.30 [A])

LeMill 2.0

Our final deliverable for CALIBRATE project is ready. The original promise was to develop an ‘open source learning toolbox for collaborative learning’ and this should be it.

It looks like our latest version announcement was from version 1.9, so 2.0 doesn’t seem so big a step, but really, we have gone a long way from that: 1.13 was our latest previous release. Our community has grown close to 900 people, 800 learning resources, 2300 media pieces plus tools, methods, groups and references. This is good growth, yet not explosion of popularity. One notable feature of LeMill has always been our multilingualism (12 working translations for LeMill, 3 partial) and this is really affecting our feeling of community: there are few very active countries (Estonia, Georgia) and for me having those visible, but difficult to understand, gives me a good general feel of what we want for our language group to do together. Instead of one story about evolution of LeMill community, there probably will be as many stories as there are teachers native languages.

For next few weeks we’ll have a lighter touch on development, and concentrate more on just observing how people use LeMill. Welcome.

LeMill merged with Learning Toolbox

As some may already know, LeMill is developed in the CALIBRATE project and so far the teachers participating in the project have used a separate, closed copy of LeMill for their testing. A month ago it was decided to combined the closed Toolbox and the open LeMill communities. Instead of having two small communities, we now have one that is more vibrant, and hopefully closer to reaching critical mass.

From our perspective as shepherds of the LeMill community, this merge makes our job much more meaningful. If there’s a useful pedagogical method that we’d like to write about, we don’t need to do it twice in both environments. Also we hope that the interaction between the contracted CALIBRATE teachers and volunteer (or enthusiast) members of LeMill will prove to be fruitful.

In summary, for LeMill users the only change is that the community grew by 150 people and the list of resources got a bit larger. Toolbox users need to get accustomed to the slightly different skin (happily the layout and functionality itself is identical), and also as single sign-on is now disabled, they need to create separate accounts to LeMill, or change the passwords of their current accounts. Hopefully we’ll later get a more open SSO scheme working, most likely based on OpenID.