Learning Paths, Collaboration Tools, Social Software: A Video Interview With Teemu Arina (Part Two)
Teemu Arina: "Key enemies? Well, nowadays when the world is so networked and so complex I think that those people who I might think are ideologically my enemies are really also potential people to cooperate with, so there is no meaning with having a conversation with those who agree with you.
So those who are enemies are actually the most important resource for you to learn and reflect on your thinking, because they bring such different points of view in a conversation, so I can't point to any single enemy."
While informal and mobile learning were the themes of the first part of the video interview with Finnish futurist and learning scholar Teemu Arina, in this second round of rapid-fire questions and explorations into what the future may have in store for us, I take Teemu onto some interesting new trails:
Blogs, barcamps, unconferences, social technologies, online collaboration tools are in fact the main course for this extended second part.
Recorded just about a month ago, here in Rome, as Teemu passed through Italy to attend an educational conference (he has already informed that he will be back in Rome this coming June), this interview offers lots of insight and refreshing thoughts without taxing your time or patience.
In a sequence of very short but sometimes enlightnening answers, Teemu takes once again into seeing and creating visions for a future in which exchange, cooperation, and human interaction may again prevail over command and control structures and traditional teaching approaches.
The future he and I see (as Teemu takes over in the interview to ask me some questions too) is yet unmolded, rough, not so sharply countoured, but it is one that we can shape and model as we have never been able to do before, if not in very ancient times.
Last but not least, make sure you don't take off without having learned the true fantastic story of Santa Claus. Having gone and talked to the aborigens of Lapland, from where the Santa Claus story originally came, Teemu takes us into a short magical trip like no-one could have done before.
Robin Good Interviews Teemu Arina
Your Goal In Life
Robin Good: What's your goal in life? What did you come to this planet to do?
Teemu Arina: Well I started to understand more about that when I was sixteen, and I read about learning theories and understood that the system that I was in was not the most effective and best... well, the most suitable way for me to learn.
So I wanted to change the system, of course. I started teaching when I was seventeen. And that's when I started to understand the job of teachers, as well, and all this learning environment thing.
And so, I think that things happened gradually. There's no real meaning in my presence that could be broadcast at one single moment, but gradually I'm making an impact on people, and I think emphasizing openness and Open-Source in content, and open media and those sort of things is an important cause to fight for.
And well, I want to see other people getting things done very quickly, and I want to help them understand how technology could help them to achieve what they want, and that sort of thing.
Field Of Research
Robin Good: What is the field of research that you spend most time on?
Teemu Arina: Well, it's many different fields, mainly learning, the emerging topics: informal learning, collaborative learning, knowledge building. Also knowledge and the shifting nature of knowledge as well.
Networks, emerging complexity theories - that's what I'm also looking at, trying to incorporate these different points of view. And also, management, especially knowledge management - that's what I'm also looking at.
Robin Good: Who are your key enemies?
Teemu Arina: Key enemies? Well, nowadays when the world is so networked and so complex I think that those people who I might think are ideologically my enemies are really also potential people to cooperate with, so there is no meaning with having a conversation with those who agree with you.
So those who are enemies are actually the most important resource for you to learn and reflect on your thinking, because they bring such different points of view in a conversation, so I can't point to any single enemy. I don't like to pick enemies.
What Is A Blog For Someone That Doesn't Know?
Robin Good: If you were to explain now, even in a shorter time frame, what is a blog to your uncle, who doesn't know anything about the learning theories, and wants to know whether it is a software to download...so more in a pragmatical way. Can you describe to me what a blog is for somebody that doesn't know?
Teemu Arina: Well, a blog is a sort of, well, its an iPod of personal publishing. It's not a content management system, it's not hard to use, so my uncle could use it, because it's usually easy to use.
But it's not just a single technology, it's an approach. It's about having a personal site on the web which you can publish and share conversation through it with other people, have a conversation on it. Or if you want you can keep it private, you can keep it to yourself or just to your family, so there's no simple definition.
What Is A Blog?
Teemu Arina: A blog? Well, it can be many things, but for me inside organizations a blog is a means of reflection. To learn, if you take David Kolb's experience of a learning cycle, the idea is that when you have a sort of experiment you get an experience out of it, and to actually have learning you need to stop and think, to reflect. Reflect in action.
And after that you have to build a sort of abstract model or generalization of what to do next, have a new experiment from which you have an experience, and such things.
And nowadays blogs are very useful tools for personal reflection, but what is important to understand here is that it's not like a learning diary. You don't reflect just with yourself, you're reflecting in a conversation with other people, in a connected environment, and in a social environment, so that blogs enable you to extend your reflection to a wider network of different people and interactions.
So you probably may come up with better experiments than you could alone, because your reflections are connected with other people's thoughts as well.
Blogs And Sites
Robin Good: Do you have some specific blogs or sites that you follow regularly where you've got some of your reflective thinking from on this topic? Can you mention a few names?
Teemu Arina: Well, on the learning side, of course Stephen Downes is very influential and I like his way of connecting the philosophical thinking and the whole shift that is happening in our society.
Of course we should mention George Siemens and his work on Connectivism. Some hardcore theorists, scientists think that part of George's theories are not well researched, so not proven, but a lot of those things are actually about important conversations that we should have on knowledge and the shifting nature of knowledge and learning.
So I see teachers, for example in Finland, who are starting to have a conversation on how technology is impacting on learning, and they are using Connectivism as one of the explanations. That's important.
I think science is not something like a book that is written and then it's done. A book is a process that has ended, while conversation or interaction with the web is conversation that is ongoing and its continuing, so that sort of knowledge is more dynamic, more fluid, based on conversations that we should have.
Well other bloggers that I follow, of course Robin Good, my friend. I look at your site for insight on how these different virtual collaboration tools... What are there out there. And especially which ones of them are free and how they compare together. You are making very good articles on these things.
Well, there are lots of, lots of people - about 200 or so on my RSS feed list.
Robin Good: Do you know the Cluetrain Manifesto? I like the main idea that is brought forward there and I would like to know which one did you get
Teemu Arina: Well, it was a very influential book for me, Cluetrain manifesto. I think the most important point in the book was about how the markets are getting smarter than the organizations that have traditionally served the markets.
So this goes along with the whole push and pull ideas. Jay Cross just recently wrote that this is the year of pull - when things are not pushed at you, it's pulled, so it's a kind of learner pull from teacher push, where we're going. And from, say, doctor push to patient pull and from politician push to citizen pull. That's where we are going.
Cluetrain manifesto noticed important points that actually the masses have the wisdom of crowds. It's a useful resource, and that's what the management has ignored in organizations, is that the collective wisdom of their employees is much greater than their own capability to solve problems.
So I think the winners in the future are those organizations that can take the standing that utilizing their workforce and their ideas more freely and more effectively they will be ahead in the game.
So managers become sort of nodes for building connections, and opening connections, and helping their employees to solve problems more quickly, rather than giving the orders of what to do next, rather than being the single last point of problem solving in the organization.
Robin Good: What does it mean social software for you?
Teemu Arina: What does it mean? Well, I came from the learning side, and in the e-learning sector they were talking too much about emphasizing too much content, while I was more into collaborative knowledge building. And from that point of view social software emphasized more the social aspect of software.
So in 2003 I moved forward to work in that field, and I understood pretty quickly that in software it's not really the problem that you have bad software, it's that the adaption of the software is done wrong too much emphasizing the technology. While you should emphasize the cultural shift required for adapting the software, so that's why I'm working on consultation.
Technology-Mediated Social Interaction
Robin Good: Until now, we've had these communication technologies that allow us to exchange, get in touch, have presence, awareness, for quite sometime. We've also had the squares and the gardens and the places, available to us for a long time.
So what is happening exactly now that is triggering this convergence? Is it just that we have thought and asked a little more questions and things majored because at the beginning you don't see all this or is something else also happening that is driving this?
Teemu Arina: I think one thing is that who we are serving here is the world's largest organization - it's called Humanity Incorporated. And it's organization chart is our world, and its how the organizations are connected together.
And so far technology, in the beginning technology enabled automation, of how to make things. And then later it became more a way of automating transactions as well - shopping and having business and such sort of things.
Now the role of technology is moving to collaboration - how people interact and network and connect together, and we go back to these piazzas and squares where people can meet.
And we see such places, such communities on the web as well. And we want to connect the virtual communities and spaces that we're seeing emerging with those physical spaces where people meet, and not based on the automated technologies, not the sort of Taylor's technologies, not the sort where people are cogs in machines, but rather where they are human and have questions, and sometimes answers.
Robin Good: What are the collaboration tools you use on a frequent basis? Can you name a few?
Teemu Arina: Well of course I have Skype conversations over borders with people. Then I have IRC as well - I'm sitting on several channels that are popular in Finland.
Then I use our own software which is called Dicole Knowledge Work Environment, which is based on connecting wikis and blogs and RSS feeds to create a miniature blogosphere inside your organization, and that's what we use very much. I use it with my customers, I use it with my partners and I use it with my employees.
Then we use some virtual meeting tools as well, sometimes Centrum, WebEx and UserPlane chat as well, for virtual conferences. I've used Elluminate conferencing tools as well.
Well, there are several different tools - del.icio.us, Flickr, Places, right now I'm using Jaiku, which is broadcasting my presence to my friends all over the world.
Actually while I've been here in Italy I've been sending messages to Jaiku, and my online presence is there - it's aggregating my online presence all in one place. And my employees can know where I'm going and what I'm looking at, and they can know when to distract me and when not, so they don't have to ask me 'am I disturbing you?' or something, they can see.
Robin Good: How do those people see whether you're having an interview with me right now or laying on the grass and therefore available to have a conversation or not?
Teemu Arina: Well, I forgot to send my text message to Jaiku to broadcast my presence with Jaiku that I'm having an interview with you. Probably right after this I will send the message that I had the interview with you, so they will know about it.
Robin Good: So it requires you to send out each time a message? There is yet no automatic sensor that tells where you'll be?
Teemu Arina: Well, places, for example, if you are using wi-fi networks, could easily just as quickly as you move from network to network broadcast your location to other places.
Jaiku right now requires that you are aware of informing others about what your presence is, but I believe that in the future this will become much easier. If you had physical cues, RFID tags or something laying around Rome, and when you pass on it could maybe register your location somewhere if you want. Your mobile phone could do that.
It's sort of based on voluntarily exposing your presence to others, and you can share your presence with whoever you want, with the world if you need, but sometimes just with your family is very useful.
Barcamps and Unconferences
Robin Good: What do you think of barcamps and unconferences?
Teemu Arina: I think exactly we have to have the sort of unconferences where people actually create the questions they look for the answers to. And the method by which they interact and look for answers is created by those people alone, not some external party.
I think all cities need such places, but I think we need something more than just unconferences and barcamps, because barcamps and unconferences are once a year, twice a year.
We need a place which is open 24 hours where we can go and share our conversation. If I walk here in Rome, I could get a text message that my friend Robin is sitting in a cafe and we could share a conversation there, so there is another way around as well.
Barcamps And Unconferences 2
Robin Good: What do you think of barcamps and un-conferences?
Teemu Arina: It's sort of supporting Ray Oldenburg's Third Place. When he created the idea it was about cafes and bars and those sort of places, like barcamp.
But traditionally those sort of places have been - you know - just for, you don't have the strong shared object there. If I order a drink and I share a conversation with the person next to me, I don't know anything about his ideas.
So that's where the virtual technology could help, is to give a voice to everyone that is present in such spaces, so it becomes like a physical buddy list. I have my buddy list green dots on my Skype list, and I know what they're doing.
I could have similar buddy lists for places where I can go. And I can see who's there, and I can see behind their profile what's interesting, what they are interested in, and have a very serendipitous environment but still supported by the technology for people to meet and interact.
Benefits Of Physical Places
Robin Good: Is the emergence of such social places in the virtual world somehow facilitating this self reflection from our brains to realize that we need to become more aware of the benefit of the physical places and bridge them or is this just me ranting?
Teemu Arina: Well, this goes to the learning theories. I think one of the problems of learning theories so far that have been emphasized too much, is the sort of individual mind.
Well, constructivists and connectionists and theorists provide us with an idea of a learner constructing its knowledge through context and interacting with context. But now with technology we see that learning is about much more, it's about also that what you know is shared with your surroundings.
So actually some people say that everything has been learned from something else, so everything is connected to something else. And the kind of shift in thinking, rather than emphasizing the individual mind is that what I know, also my friends know.
And with this technology that sort of brings the transaction costs of people to share ideas and meet and use the resources of other people is getting near zero. It enables us to distribute our knowledge in a network of people. And these physical spaces become spaces for extending the networks.
Because while we are physical beings in physical bodies - when we have a conversation, I can see from your cues if I'm ranting too long, or if I'm saying the right thing right now or not. These sort of things I can't see on the web, but it's only a matter of time until we can see those simple hints in the surroundings to really share the politeness of conversations as we have right now.
Teemu Arina Interviews Robin Good On Free Software
At one point, during the interview, I just turned the camcorder around and asked Teemu whether, in a truly interactive and co-operative fashion, he wanted to "learn" something from me as well.
He didn't hesitate one second and immediately shot a good set of rapid-fire learning-related questions back at me before I could even wear my intellectually-challenged-bullet-protection vest.
Here they are:
Teemu Arina: I'd like to ask you about your standing on Free Software. How did you arrive at this position? Have you always been open-minded to sharing ideas, or is it just recently that you got enlightened by this whole movement?
Robin Good: In terms of sharing I like to share things, because I think I get the best kick of all. There is no sport or activity that gives me as much pleasure as seeing other people enjoying themselves to the fullest. So whether I'm a DJ or a reporter or a musician, my goal is really to enhance that enjoyment, to make them feel the life they're living to the fullest so that they forget they are there - kind of become part of the energy that is there.
So in this respect, I've always liked to share, and whenever I got a little more intelligent and knowledgeable about a few things I just couldn't hold them all for me or whoever was paying for me to find out those things to do a certain project.
So I said let me write them down, there is this beautiful Internet - we send some emails, make a website about it, that's how it came.
In relation to Free Software I'm really the last one to have understood what it is, and to have promoted it. I mean, I'm the most ignorant person about this. I've only very recently in relative terms discovered what Free Software is, and the fact that it's not about software that you download for free, but is software that has more philosophical meaning behind it and that cares about the freedom of everyone.
Basically people do not realize that by allowing companies to develop software of which these companies have complete control of, we're gradually giving in control of all the things we do, in a manner that you hardly notice because you use that software all the time.
So in principle Free Software would mean to be able to support a movement that promotes the use of software that can be used and modified by anyone, and not just the companies that built it.
Robin Good On Mobile Technologies In Support Of Learning
Teemu Arina: Well what do you think is the role of mobile technologies in emphasizing and supporting learning?
Robin Good: Interrupting the teacher. That's the role of mobile technologies in learning environments. To disturb, to interrupt, to make sounds that are inappropriate - this is the present role I think.
The future role, I'm very enthused to think. Maybe you can open a lot my mind in that direction, because I've tried to resist this glamorous drive to have the latest gizmo in my pocket with three antennas, five screens and so on.
So I've had a mobile phone for the last ten years, always the same: sending SMS's and that's it.
Robin Good On The Future Of Mobile Devices
Teemu Arina: Well, one question - what do you think about the convergence in these things - will we have one device with everything or several different devices, or does the device disappear sort of and become sort of cyborgs with technology in our body, what do you think?
Robin Good: I think all of those will apply - I think they will disappear, I think they will be all integrated for some people who want to have it all, and some people will like to make up their own components.
And so there will be also solutions that allow, you know, to plug in, not as software, but as another module, and so create the portable media communication tool that best fits your needs. Does it have to have a web-cam or not? I don't know. So it will be very personalized I think.
Robin Good On The Social Changes Caused By Blogs And Wiki
Teemu Arina: When the mobile phone came, the real shift was social. Before the phone was the center of the family - the family phone. Right now phones have become a personal thing, a very personal thing for people.
That's a major social shift, we never predicted. What do you think is the major social shift that comes along with blogs and wikis that we didn't predict in the first place?
Robin Good: I mean, when it comes to the essence of it for me, it's people becoming more aware of things and issues, either because they write and have to think and research that stuff, or because they read and finally they're curious enough to find as many resources of information as they want.
Overall the bottom thing is that there is a lot more thinking going on, a lot more research, a lot more questions being asked. And that is the planetary brain is finally awaking from this eternal sleep it has been in for a while. That's what I think is socially happening. Am I out of track?
Teemu Arina: Yeah, that kind of thing is happening. Universal thinking.
Robin Good: Is that a social thing, though, or is it just another aspect?
Teemu Arina: Well, it could be that our reality in a sense is just a fantasy of the knowledge we use. Like I said knowledge is an act of collecting fantasies, new fantasies, new points of view.
Thank you Robin - Back to Teemu
Teemu Arina's Similitude For The Process Of Learning
Teemu Arina: The point is it's not there, there is no such thing as a point. But we build a whole structure and science around points. So that sort of thing - I think that that's what knowledge is all about, and what makes life meaningful. It's about creating things that are not there - it's seeing things inside rocks that are not there.
Michelangelo when he created sculptures, rocks, he saw a shape inside the rock, and it was just an act of the sculpture to reveal the beautiful structure inside the rock. That's what we are doing Robin, with this social technology - we are seeing rocks everywhere and we are revealing the beautiful shapes that are inside these things, these networks.
Teemu Arina Tells The Story Of Santa Claus
Robin Good: I have one last thing and you know already without me asking what this thing is, because it's the most beautiful gift that you have given me, as you have come to Rome. It has made your presence in Rome worthwhile for me - it is one piece of information that you've had and you shared with me yesterday that I didn't know about. Do you recall what it is the story of? I said to you...
Teemu Arina Ah, the story of Santa Claus.
Ok, well, I'll tell you. In Lapland there is a minor community called the Sami people, which is aboriginal to Finland - they came from Russia or something. They live with the reindeer, and they have also the story of Santa Claus there.
You know, Santa Claus has this red coat with white stripes or something on it, and in the forest of Finland there grows these Amanita mushrooms which have the red coat, the red cover and white dots, and that's where it comes from.
And Amanita's are toxic, but they have some sort of psychedelic features to them, so they give the mushroom to Reindeer, and the Reindeer's body will filter out the toxins, and the shamans will drink the piss of the reindeer, and they get the feeling of flying. So that's where the flying with the reindeer comes from, Santa Claus flying with the reindeer.
And they live in these tents that have a hole right in the top of them, and they have the fireplace there, where the Santa Claus comes in from, so that's where the whole chimney and Santa Claus coming in comes from.
Teemu Arina and Robin Good - Rome - March 2007
About Teemu Arina
Teemu Arina is partner and CEO at Dicole, a company focusing on understanding the role of social technologies in knowledge work and networked learning in organizations. Teemu is a programmer, teacher, consultant, networker, mentor, entrepreneur, self-directed learner and artist who has deep interest in Open Source, networked learning, collaboration, cooperative work, social software, self-organizing systems, complexity, networks and related emerging technologies.Robin Good and Teemu Arina - [ Read more ]
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