Curious about WalkAbout and how it can be used for higher education? 211110 1400-1600 we arrange within the Universeh project a seminar and workshop about WalkAbout. It is online via Zoom and everyone is welcome. If you do not want to be active, you can just listen to the first half, which is more of a presentation. The presentation and workshop is in English.
The basis for compulsory school education in Sweden goes back to 1842, but before that from 1723 it was the parents’ responsibility that all children learned how to read and write. The current school system has not changed much since the end of the 19:th century when the main motivation was that we needed an educated workforce for the factories as part of industrialization. I.e., the main motivation was not political in the sense that everybody should be educated, but rather financial, to support the industry. Since then, the school system has changed somewhat in how it is organized, e.g., responsibility moved from state to city level and we have many more schools and universities, but the educational format itself is still the same. In the end, it is just a group of children sitting together in the classroom and learning a specific subject at a specific time.
How could education instead be organized? Do we need to put every child/student in a specific group based on age even though we know what people and specifically children learn at different rates? There has also been talk about using modern technical tools in education for a long time and some progress is made, but here it is mostly a question of moving the learning material from physical to digital format. In the end, it comes down to: What is the motivation for learning from a societal perspective?
In an ideal world, everybody should learn everything they need to live a successful and prosperous life in a modern society, but unfortunately not everyone is motivated by the same things and can not learn at the same pace.
Right now, there is a big push in Sweden for life-long learning mainly motivated by new growing base industries like modern iron/steel-production and battery factories for electrical vehicles. These are mostly industry jobs with specific requirements and do not always fully match available educational programs. Instead, special cases with MOOCs and specific short programs are created by universities, but the main educational effort is still on the classical education.
The educational system overall needs to be refined/changed to support a life-long learning thinking where the learners are not finished learning at the stage they end their learning at. Most see a person that has finished a program at university level to be “finished”. Changes could include the following:
- Compulsory learning time for everybody every year. In Sweden we have compulsory vacation, which the employer must pay and why not use the same principle for learning where we all get 2-4 weeks paid learning time.
- Educational financing at university level should be shifted to include more of the life-long perspective and not only focus on basic educational programs.
- On compulsory level (year 1-9) followed by secondary school, the learning should be more integrated where several subjects could be read together and with shifting learning groups where the classical class is removed (we need to think about the social impact though).
- The school system should utilize technical tools to support the learners where technology is used to identify learning levels and learning motivation and adapt both the curriculum per student and the learning system itself. The tools would provide clear and direct feedback to the learner and help the learn more and finally help them get more motivated to continue to learn.
So, why is change so slow or non-existent in the school system? How can we make something happen?
Idag höll jag en 15min presentation om vårt arbete med WalkAbout och här hittar ni en inspelning.
When I look back on my childhood education, I cannot really say much about the school itself. Most of the things I remember relate to other children and not at all to what I learned (children can be cruel).
I do remember a few things though and they all relate to making me as a student be seen and recognizing me as an individual and not as just one among many. When I was in lower grade school (age 7-9), I would come early to school before all the other children and stand outside the window of my classroom until the teacher (she was there early preparing each morning) saw me and invited me into the classroom where I usually did math calculations. I do not remember anything we talked about or even who she was (I wonder if she still is alive and if she would remember me?).
Another memory is from the final years in compulsory school (age 13-15). We had a big drive in Sweden for computing in school and just like Bill Gates (as mentioned in an earlier part of this course) I had access to my own room of computers (as the teachers did not know how to use them). Ps. Did you know that Sweden invented its own computer, called Compis just for learning in schools? Anyhow, I and another student got our own key to the computer room, and we could spend as much free time as we like in there. This together with having two parents working with computers (this was in the 80s) cemented my interest in learning programming. What has this to do with if it was a good school or not? Well, I think it was a question of trust where the teacher trusted us with our own key and that we would not break anything.
If we take this to my own students (I am professor in computer science and I teach mostly software engineering in larger projects on advanced level) at Luleå University of Technology, I think a key part of making a good school (university in this case) is to make the students be seen and not just see the students as a big mass of bodies. I try to connect with as many as I can, and I do this by engaging early with them. E.g., I do guest lectures for our new students, meet many of them before they even come to university as part of recruitment events, I engage in their online channels (earlier Facebook and now Discord) where I try to help when I can.
I have also experimented with several different efforts to help and support the students. I started a mentorship program for first year students where the students were divided up into groups of about 5 and got assigned to another engaged teacher for regular meetings outside of their normal schedule. This was fully voluntary for the students and the idea was to support those that needed it with not only schoolwork but also with social issues. The outcome was not that good as it in the end turned out that those students that needed the extra help did not show up for the meetings.
Another effort that is much more successful and is still ongoing, is my project #include with the goal to support our female students within the CS area and help them continue and conclude the studies. This started in 2014 and we have done many events together, like social dinners, study evenings, mentorship programs, alumni gatherings and just creating a feeling of togetherness to support them during their time at the university.
To conclude, I think it is important to make the students be seen but at the same time we have reality around us. We as teachers have a limited amount of time and a limited amount of energy to spend on our work. At university level it is a bit different from compulsory and secondary school level, where I am just a part time teacher while others are full time teachers. Around us we all have budget issues, teachers moving between jobs (and many leaving the teachers jobs all together), other mean students and it might be hard to get a continuation as a student with just one teacher.
So, what makes a good school comes back to what makes a good teacher. Without good teachers, we cannot have good schools. This is an ongoing process where we as teachers must make an extra effort and help the students be seen. It is our responsibility to make that extra effort to make the student be seen!
/Peter, just another teacher trying to do his best.
When I look back on my own education, a couple teachers come to my mind as being “great”.
The first example is my technology teacher in secondary school (1988-1990). He was not an educated teacher, but rather a construction engineer originally. He introduced me to the notion of not learning everything by heart, but rather we were allowed to bring everything we wanted to the tests. This was before the Internet was generally available in schools, so we had to think about what books, notes etc., we wanted to bring to the tests which in turn was a way of reflecting on our own learning which is a key part of the learning.
Another example is my algorithms teacher during my master’s education (around 1992). This teacher was very charismatic and impressed us by never preparing his lectures, or at least he made it look like he never prepared. He came into the lecture hall, asked us which chapter we were currently reading, looked in the book for 10 seconds, closed it and then held a 2*45 min lecture by just speaking and writing on the blackboard. This impressed me as it showed that he really knew his subject. After all, he was a professor in algorithms so he should know the subject.
So, what makes a teacher good? Here are a few things.
- See and listen to the students. Take care in trying to understand what the students have trouble learning and then try to explain just that.
- Show that you care. Tightly connected to point 1, but more about the emotions. Show that you want the student to learn, but also that you can be stern when needed.
- Never ever lower the learning criteria. We can change much in our learning and teaching style, but we should never ever lower the criteria for passing. Students do not want to just pass, but rather see that they have accomplished something.
- Pay attention to the details. Show respect to your students by not giving them material with a lot of errors. This includes everything, the learning material in the LMS, lecture notes, what you say and most importantly in the course planning. If you show the students respect through your work, then you will most likely get respect and good results back.
- Connect theory to practice. Do not just give facts and theories but also connect it to real life by showing real examples that the students can connect to and by that motivate why they should be learning the subject in question in the first place.
- Get the students to ask the right questions and get them to reflect on their learning. Why is a certain thing, the way it is? What did I just learn by doing this assignment? By reflection and questioning, the student can generalize and take their own learning to the next level.
These are just a few things that can be said about what makes a teacher good. That do you think makes a teacher good?
/Peter Parnes, a learner for life.
When I was around 16 in secondary school in Sweden, it was very popular to test one’s IQ by doing logical IQ tests. We found several books with tests in the library and soon we realized that the more tests we did, the higher IQ we got. I.e., we trained on tests and then we “competed” with others in the school and scored very good. This made me question these IQ tests and I am still very skeptical of the results from them. Instead, I like the idea of looking at intelligence from the perspective of being able to solve problems via abstraction and generalization. I.e., how to take acquired knowledge to new domains.
In the Swedish school system, until 1994 the mathematics subject was divided up into a common and an advanced group. I was in the advanced group initially and during my final year (9:th grade) they made an advanced-advanced group with about 5-6 members which taught even more advanced math at secondary school level. Even though this was about 35 years ago, I still remember these sessions because they gave me a huge confidence boost. I have for many years argued that we should bring this system back as many children are not challenged in the mathematics subject. Should we help boost the confidence of these children and what does it do to the children in the common group?
When I was young, I was always pushed to study and my mother and relatives, and friends of the family pushed me to study hard. Not studying at university was out of the question. At least for them. I especially remember one time when my mother asked me why I only got 49 out of 50 on a test. I took that rather negatively then but now looking back I remember it more as a joke, so I guess it did not do much damage and instead it has become a standard joke with my own children (21 and 15).
I see myself as a very good learner. I have trained all my life to learn new things and I really love learning. What has changed over the years is how I gather information and build up knowledge. When I was young, books were the predominant form but these days, I have a really hard time reading a non-fiction book from cover-to-cover. My mind always triggers on various details, and I go off to check or expand on that thought which leads to new interesting things to read. Instead, the approach I like to take to learning is to look at problems and find the information and knowledge needed to solve that problem as a combination of all available sources (not only written text). I see myself as a good learner as I tend to be very fast in my learning, and I very quickly understand new things (technical and otherwise).
Too conclude, I want to say: “A day that you haven’t learned something new is a day wasted.” – Prof. Peter Parnes (that is me!)
I am currently taking a course at Coursera called What future for Learning and I thought I would share some reflections. Here is the first text.
How do we Learn?
How we learn and how we teachers should support this learning for students has been in my mind for a long time. I have been a teacher at university level for 26 years and my personal teaching methods have changed a lot over the years.
How much time should we spend on summative vs formative examination? I teach mainly advanced project courses and here a combination of both is very good. The students get assignments where they must reflect on their learning during the course, learn from each other via continuous group presentations and peer reviews of each other’s writings together with verbal presentations in the middle and the end of the course and a written report at the end. At the same time, I am often a guest lecturer in other courses and here I get asked to give the other teacher quiz questions for the final examination and I find this tough. Creating good quiz questions is hard. E.g., it should not be something the student could just easily search for on the Internet but rather be a question that triggers reflection and thought and this is something I would much rather do via a written assignment.
One pedagogical idea is that the students should get variation in their learning. There is no template for learning that suits all, neither teachers nor students. As a teacher, I want the students to reflect on their learning and go back and see if they could have solved a task differently.
In this first part of the course, What Future for Education the key things I take with me is how the course and assignments are set up. Already in this first week, we as students get a high variation in tasks and how the material is presented. There are videos but also transcripts if I prefer to read instead (even if the transcripts are not perfect unfortunately). There is a longer text as well as other students writing via the Paddlet and forum. All this helps me learn via variation and triggers me to reflect as the material is just not one big homogeneous mass.
Finally, I reflect that for me personally as a student the most attractive way of learning is that I can do it anywhere thanks to ”modern” tools. These days, I have a really hard time learning from books (the old, printed type) but rather, I want to have different resources with me electronically. E.g., if I am waiting somewhere, then I can take 5-10 min to read, watch or listen to something or write something in a journal (electronically of course). Learning should be possible to be done anywhere and anytime. How does this rhyme with today’s school system where students are supposed to learn a specific thing at a specific time and at a specific place?
On 210525 I present the following abstract at Design for Learning 2021. The conference is held online.
This abstract presents the results from an informal learning process called Luleå Game Create where children, ages 7-15 and accompanying adults got a gentle introduction to computer game creation in a Makerspace  setting at Luleå Makerspace where special focus is given to gender equality .
Luleå Makerspace was founded in 2013 with the goal to provide an open learning environment  for people of any gender and background to realize their ideas, i.e. go from idea to prototype using modern tools and learn from each other. The Makerspace provides a creative environment where learning is done through either unstructured personal interactions or via organized workshops .
Luleå Game Create
Luleå Game Create is a series of informal workshops run during 2019-2020 where the participants learned how to create computer games. The format is based on that a workshop leader shows how to create different types of games and the participants get to make the games their own via various choices. The technical platform used is Unity, a professional game development engine .
Material for each workshop is designed with two parts; 1: pre-made digital libraries to help game creation, and 2: detailed instructions on how to create the game and highlights different features. The instructions are shared openly and can be used by the participants after the workshop .
The length of each workshop is 2.5 – 3 hours and the participants can either loan pre-setup computers at the makerspace or bring their own devices which they have to pre-configure at home. During the workshop much focus is placed on that everybody can follow along and participants are encouraged to help each other. Some of the children participate on their own and some together with an accompanying adult. Each workshop has between 10 and 15 participants and the workshops do not build on each other even though they might be divided up over two sessions.
Focus is placed on gender equality with the long-term goal of raising interest for studying STEM and Computer Science subjects among young girls . All workshops where open to both genders except one where together with the company Star Stable, a horse game was created.
Discussion and Conclusions
Luleå Game Create has run during 2019 and 2020 and so far about 75 participants attended the workshops. The feedback has been very positive with an overall grade of 4.5 out of 5 and 9 out of 10 say that they have gotten an increased interest in creating computer games and want to learn more.
Requests for future topics include various details related to creating games but also other maker skills such as modelling for physical fabrication using 3D-printing and laser cutting.
For the non-girl specific workshops, the gender balance is about equal between the children but surprisingly biased towards women among the adults (i.e. mothers and relatives) which has led to that a specific workshop for adult women is being planned. This is very positive as adult role models are important.
During the pandemic the series moved online using Zoom instead but unfortunately with less interest from the earlier participants.
 P. Blikstein, Digital fabrication and ‘making’ in education: The democratization of invention, in: J. Walter-Herrmann, C. Büching (Eds.), FabLabs: Of Machines, Makers and Inventors, Bielefeld, 2013.
 Sylvia Walby, The European Union and Gender Equality: Emergent Varieties of Gender Regime, Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society, Volume 11, Issue 1, Spring 2004, Pages 4–29, https://doi.org/10.1093/sp/jxh024
 Tomko, M, Schwartz, A, Newstetter, W, Alemán, M, Nagel, R, & Linsey, J. ”“A Makerspace Is More Than Just a Room Full of Tools”: What Learning Looks Like for Female Students in Makerspaces.” Proceedings of the ASME 2018 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences and Computers and Information in Engineering Conference. Volume 7: 30th International Conference on Design Theory and Methodology. Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. August 26–29, 2018. V007T06A036. ASME. https://doi.org/10.1115/DETC2018-86276
 Kajamaa, A., & Kumpulainen, K. (2020). Students’ multimodal knowledge practices in a Makerspace learning environment. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 1-34.
 Unity: Make real-time 3D projects for Games, Animation, Film, Automotive, Transportation, Architecture, Engineering, Manufacturing & Construction. Visualize & simulate industrial projects in 3D, AR, & VR. https://unity.com/
 Peter Parnes (2019-2020). Instruktioner för Luleå Game Create #1 Hoppspelet – en lärarledd workshop i Unity. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1L2e5eP8BhoOfzFNWAlUeDO4b_FxqO4Rcev00dQlrbnA/
 Ashcraft, C. S. (2013, March). Girls in IT: the facts-a comprehensive look at the latest research on gender and technology in K-12 contexts. In Proceeding of the 44th ACM technical symposium on Computer science education (pp. 740-740).