Version 53 (modified by teemu, 13 years ago) (diff)


Demonstration of LO template prototypes

Editors:: Teemu Leinonen, Hans Põldoja, Tarmo Toikkanen

Contributors:: TODO

Contact details:: MediaLab, University of Art and Design, Helsinki

email:: teemu.leinonen _at_

Keyword list:: TODO


Collaborative learning challenges the tradional roles of teachers, learners and learning material in a learning situation. In the design of online learning object templates we have attempted to answer these challenges. First at all we are aiming to support teachers as they learn to function in collaborative learning situations. We do this by providing templates that guide teachers to author material that has a pedagogical function in a collaborative learning environment, and also allowing the teachers themselves to collaborate in authoring this material, thus experiencing collaborative work and learning in online environment for themselves. The resulting learning objects of these templates are designed for maximum accessibility, interoperability and versatility. This means that the learning objects created with the templates can be used in various learning scenarios, situations and environments. In this report we present the rationale and design results of the first three online learning object authoring templates that will be supported by the upcoming LeMill system (deliverables D3.3 and D3.4).


In WP3 we have designed prototypes of learning object templates, which content authors can use to create learning objects easily into the framework specified by the template. This report presents the rationale behind the design of these learning object template prototypes that will be implemented in the LeMill server software (deliverables D3.3 and D3.4). The goal is to provide an online tools for teachers to collaboratively author learning resources that in turn support and encourage collaborative learning.


Learning objects

The concept of "learning objecs" is about a decade old. In 1994 Wayne Hodgins named the CedMA working group as "Learning Arhitectures, APIs and Learning Objects" (Polsani 2003). Holdings idea was to have interoperable pieces of information that could be combined like LEGO blocks (Jacobsen 2001). Since then there have been number of attemts to standardize "learning objects". In 2002 IEEE Learning Techonlogy Standards Committee agreed of the Learning Object Metadata (LOM) standard (IEEE, 2002). Same time it defined the "learning object" as follows:

“Learning object is any entity, digital or non digital, that may be used for learning, education or teaching.”

The IEEE's definition has been criticized by number of authors (for instance: Sosteric and Hesemeier, 2002; Polsani 2003; Leinonen 2005). The main concern has been that the definition is too broad. If everything is a "leaening object" nothing is a "learning object". Because of this, in WP3, we have decided to use a slightly different definition. In WP3 we define learning object as follows:

"“Learning object is any entity, digital or non digital, that is or is aimed to be used for learning, education or teaching.”'

This means that a person aiming to create a learning object is expected to hold some kind of vision how and in what context the object could be used in learning, education or teaching. The "learning objective likeness" of any object is defined only in the situation where it is finally used. If the creators intension of use of the object in learning, education or teaching is never realized the object will simply loose the "status" of being "learning object".

In WP3 we also decided to make a clear separation between "pieces" and "materials". Pieces are not learning objects – not even learning assets (pieces of learning content that are smaller than learning objects, and thus not usable by themselves). A piece can be a single image, short audio file, or short video clip. A piece is something that is probably not very useful as such in a learning situation but can be used as a part of larger material or “learning object”. For this reason pieces do not carry any education or learning specific metadata with them. Only materials – build out of pieces - are learning objects. As materials are learning objects, they also carry learning object metadata (LOM) with them.


Templates are patterns used to create documents. Many people are familiar with templates from word processing and presentation software. However it is not clear how much they are actually used. In WP3 we use templates for creating learning materials.

In WP3 templates are patterns for creating learning materials (learning objects) from pieces. The pieces can be in the person’s own hard disk or can be found from an online database. These media pieces – images, audios or videos – may be added into predefined slots in the template and write or copy & paste the textual content to fields dedicated for them.

Collaborative learning

Collaborative learning is an umbrella term for learning activities taking place in an interaction among a group of people. The density of collaboration can - for instance - be broken down to five steps:

(1) Solo activity where there are individual objects, individual scripts of process, and little or no communication between subjects;

(2) Coordinated activity with individual objects, but shared scripts of working process, and little or no communication between the subjects;

(3) Cooperative activity with one shared object and script of process and some communication;

(4) Collaborative activity with shared objects, various shared alternative scripts of process and lots of communication;

(5) Co-constructive activity with shared object, but also the scripts of process are objects to work on with lots of communication.

In WP3 we try to support all these kinds of collaborative learning, from solo activity with little or no communication between the individuals to co-constructive activity that is continuously developing its processes. On the other hand try to enhance collaborative learning among the students taking advantage of the learning materials provided by the system, but also teachers and possible other content producers to learn collaboratively when (co-) constructing the learning materials.

Online tools for learning

Online tools for learning can be roughly divided to tools for delivering (1) learning content and for (2) tools for communication. This separation – especially in a digital online world – is however rather artificial. Learning content is of course always communicative. It is always made by someone to be used by someone in some learning situation and context. In the digital online environment the state of affairs are different. First at all the learning content can be under continuous review and improvement. Wikipedia is probably the most well known example of this. Also tracks of online communication may actually become learning content. Newsgroup, online discussion forum and blog posts are examples of tools that are often primarily used for communication, but as all the communication is recorded and archived the material found from these tools can be used as learning materials, as well.

In WP3 we are aiming to support production of shared learning material in a communicative process. The results of the process are expected to be used as source material that will support students co-construction of their own material in a communicative process. Student's own online collaborative processes will be supported with online tools that are particularly designed for this purpose. Fle3 Learning Environment ( is an example of a such tool.

Challenges of collaborative learning

Collaborative learning, much more than traditional teacher-centered learning, focuses on learner interaction rather than material delivered or presented by the teacher. This raises new criteria for learning material, and removes many traditional ones. We may no more see material as information that must be "learnt" per see. For instance in the beginning of the process learning material should not give full answers as it may this way hinder indepth learning (Hakkarainen et al., 2005). The material should rather motivate students to build communities of inquity around the the topics. The material should also be easily available as a source that is used in the collaborative learning process.

The major challenge in collaborative learning is the appropriation of new methods of teaching and learning by the teachers themselves. Most teachers are not versed in collaborative pedagogical practices and very easily fall back on teacher-centered practices, even if the material they use could support a more collaborative learning approach. This is the challenge that collaborative learning material also faces - it must be interesting, enticing, and motivate learners to investigate more.

Another challenge is the various methods of working collaboratively - in the class room, in small groups, from home using network connections, from museums, etc. For learning material this basically stipulates that it must be available and usable anywhere, anytime.

Templates for Online Learning Object Creation

The templates presented here are merely the first three that are being designed in detail and implemented fully. Others will follow. The design process has attempted to answer the challenges presented previously as well as possible. Some general guidelines are: maximal accessibility to cover any and all learning situations, as simple and intuitive user interface as possible, and usefulness in collaborative learning situations.

Multimedia Page Template

The Multimedia Page template is the default template for creating learning material in LeMill. It enables users to compose media rich learning material that may include not only text but also photos, sound clips and videos. The template is designed so that the user has control only over semantically meaningful HTML formatting options (<em>, <strong>, etc.). Users have limited control over layout and no control over colours and typography. This way we can ensure that all learning materials look professionally designed, well readable and accessible with all modern web browsers.

The following scenario describes typical usage of the Multimedia Page template:

Lisa is a music teacher who is preparing a learning material about Beethoven. There is a comprehensive article in Wikipedia, but it doesn’t fit her needs. She wants to have learning material with samples from famous compositions. Lisa writes some most important facts about Beethoven to multimedia page template and adds a photo that she was able to find in LeMill. She knows that there is a good selection of Beethoven’s compositions in the Internet Archive. She can add these clips to LeMill as pieces. There is no need to worry about copyright issues because the clips are in Public Domain. She adds a selection of sound clips to multimedia page template and publishes the material. This is a valuable addition to information that students can find from the textbooks.

The Multimedia Page template consists of text areas and piece placeholders. Text area has four symbol formatting options (bold, italic, subscript, superscript) and four block level formatting options (heading, paragraph, blockquote, preformatted text). It is also possible to create bulleted lists, numbered lists and hyperlinks. Users can have only one level of headings in the Multimedia Page. This prevents them from creating too long documents with complicated structure. We expect that typical granularity for Multimedia Page is comparative to be used in one lesson, not in a whole course. To have all the material for one course in one place users may use the "collections" of LeMill, or use some learning management system (LMS), or simply create another "course web page" with links to the Multimedia Pages.

It is not possible to insert images inside the text area. Images, sound clips and videos can be inserted in piece placeholders between text sections. Sound clips and videos will be played in Flash-based players.

Template demo at:

Presentation Template

The Presentation template enables users to publish presentations in LeMill. Our aim is to provide a possibility for those users who have done a live presentation somewhere to share it with people online. This way teachers can share their ideas, reflect on their own presentation and get ideas from other teachers' presentations. The Presentation template is not designed for sharing the presentation file so that somebody can take it and reuse for their teaching. In WP3 we believe school education should not become lecturing with Powerpoint.

The following scenario describes typical usage of presentation template:

Mary is an English teacher who is an expert in using ICT in her teaching. From time to time she is invited to give presentations on that topic. Recently she was having a workshop about using blogs and social software in international study projects. Teachers who participated the workshop became very interested in social software. In the evening Mary took some time to publish the presentation in LeMill. She exported the presentation as image files in her office software. In LeMill she wrote a short background info and uploaded the images to the presentation template. Mary decided to leave out some slides which were not so relevant for the web version of her presentation. She e-mailed link of her presentation page to some of her colleagues and wrote a little note about it in her blog. A few weeks later she was invited to give another workshop on social software. She decided that next time she will record her presentation and put the audio file on the LeMill presentation page with the slides.

In the presentation template user has to write the title of the presentation and some background information (when and where the presentation was given). It is also possible to upload audio recording of the presentation. Initially three placeholders for presentation slides are displayed. User is expected to upload individual presentation slides as image files. It is also possible to search for images from existing pieces in LeMill. Below each slide the user can write a short caption where she can explain the slide or provide other information that is important for understanding the presentation.

Template demo at:

The presentations will be published as series of slides that are all visible on one page.

Progressive Inquiry Context Template

The Progressive Inquiry Context Template (PILOT) is used to support the progressive inquiry knowledge building process in the Knowledge Building discussion tool found in the Fle3 learning environment (Põldoja et al, 2006). Each PILOT consists of two parts - (1) a text version of the course context description and (2) a rich media teaser that is introducing the course context.

The following scenario describes typical usage of the PILOT:

According to the national educational curriculum, the six-grade teacher is starting a course in her classroom on wetlands. The course should have a perspective on environmental conservation and lead a student to understand what the wetlands are and why they are important. The teacher is an expert of the progressive inquiry learning method and has been using Fle3 with her students for several years. She has read about using PILOTs to support progressive inquiry and she is interested in trying it out. To compile a rich media PILOT she must record a voiceover audio and find relevant images to be displayed on the background. She makes some changes to the course context from last year and divides that text into 5 parts. The most complicated part is recording the voiceover audio, but after some trying she manages to get good sound quality with her laptop built-in microphone. She easily finds some wetland photos from LeMill and adds them to the PILOT together with the voiceover recordings. After looking through the result she adds some keywords and research questions to the rich media PILOT. When she is starting her course in Fle3 she can import the text part of PILOT to Fle3. The course context will also have links to rich media PILOT in LeMill.

LeMill will provide online templates that help teachers to write the text version of PILOT and compile rich media teaser that has images and voiceover audio. In the first page of the template users have to write the title, short description and full description of the context.

After writing the text content the users can add the first scene. They are asked to upload (or search from Pieces) background image and a voiceover audio clip. It is also possible to add up to three keywords that will be displayed during that scene.

After the first scene users can add additional scenes. The final scene must have initial research questions that guide students to raise their own study problems and start the knowledge building discussion.

A typical rich media teaser will have about 5 scenes that last in all for 2...3 minutes. It is possible to import PILOTs from LeMill to Fle3 Knowledge Building. In the Knowledge Building tool the teacher can make some final changes to the text part of the PILOT and start the course.

The rich media part of the PILOT will be a Flash movie that can play the uploaded voiceover audio and display the keywords and research questions on top of the background images.


These online learning object authoring templates attempt to answer the various challenges posed by collaborative learning approaches. The templates are kept simple, small, and restricted, so that teachers are not encouraged to create too detailed material that leaves nothing for the learners to discover. The Progressive Inquiry Context Template is a good example of an interesting, motivating learning object, whose main function is to present a theme to learners, and open questions rather than provide answers. The combination of images, questions, and voiceover produces a very captivating material that is more fun to look at than just pages in a book.

Viewing of the objects created with these templates has been made as easy as possible - they are all viewable in a normal web browser, using an easy-to-remember, simple URL, without authentication. This makes linking into them from any learning platform very easy, and also allows learners to independently search and browse for them.

Finally, in order to effectively teach using a collaborative approach, teachers themselves should routinely collaborate among their peers. As these templates are online, they allow teachers to collaborate in authoring material. This gives the teachers a good way of experiencing the benefits and problems of collaborative work for themselves, allowing them to better function as teachers in a collaborative learning environment.


The authors would like to extend their thanks to the entire LeMill team whose feedback and opinions have helped the design process immensely. We also acknowledge the research and work done in previous EUN research and development projects, that have provided the foundation upon which this current work is based.


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