Networked Learning Conference 2008
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Democratising Online Education through Innovative Methods and Tools: the case of Living Labs

Symposium Organisers: Charalampos Karagiannidis, University of Thessaly, Department of Special Education, Volos, Greece.
Adamantios Koumpis, ALTEC Information and Communication Services, S.A., Research Programmes Division, Thessaloniki, Greece.

Symposium Introduction

On November 20th, 2006, the Finnish EU Presidency launched a European Network of Living Labs for the "co-creation of innovation in public, private and civic partnership". This is the first step towards a new European Innovation System, entailing a major paradigm shift for the whole innovation process.

A European Network of Living Labs is a collaboration of Public Private Partnerships where firms, public authorities and people work together in creating, prototyping, validating and testing new services, businesses, markets and technologies in real-life contexts, such as cities, city regions, rural areas and collaborative virtual networks between public and private players. The real-life and everyday contexts both stimulate and challenge research and development, as do public authorities and citizens not only participate in, but also contribute to the whole innovation process.

The Living Lab concept is about moving out of laboratories into real-life contexts. In the past years, a number of national experiences can be mentioned across Western Europe, and more recently, an integration effort has been set out in a trans-European perspective. From a market and industrial perspective, Living Labs offer a research and innovation platform over different social and cultural systems, cross-regionally and cross-nationally. This is a natural move for ICT, life sciences and any innovation domain that deals with human and social problem solving and people's every day lives.

However, this new approach to research for innovation is a huge challenge for research methodologies, innovation process management, public-private partnership models, IPRs, open source practices, development of new leadership, governance and financial instruments.

This complexity increases remarkably with the international nature of a European Network of Living Labs, implying a set of large-scale experimentation platforms for new services, business and technology, market and industry creation within ICT environment.

The aim of the proposed symposium is to further improve over this promising state of the art, by exploring success and failure stories and report on methodologies and toolsets for the pan-European deployment of Living Labs in the areas of networked learning, thus creating new opportunities for networking and best practice exchange between public entities, individuals, industry and academia. Through the replication of systems already operational and the integration of similar experiences across EU Member States, originally thought for the animation of democratic discussions and participative public opinion formation at local and regional level, we aim to revolutionise the networking and repeated interaction of Living Labs participants during the development and implementation of innovative networked learning projects.

In the symposium we invite key professionals and researchers who shall contribute to the addressed subjects and have the opportunity to examine complementarities and explore the opportunities for useful synergies.

Introduction - .pdf

Employing the Living Labs methodology to support experiential improvement of processes and practices in special education

Charalampos Karagiannidis and Sofia Efraimidou
University of Thessaly, Department of Special Education, Volos, Greece,,
Adamantios Koumpis and Francesco Molinari
ALTEC, Research Programmes Division, GREECE,,


Our research aims to define an integrated, context-sensitive, adaptable and interoperable environment for improving the processes and practices of teaching staff and special education experts, based on the concept of technology-enhanced experiential learning for competency, skills and performance enhancement. More specifically, we aim to the professional development and upgrading of distinct professions such as special education experts, and teachers.

The establishment and operation of a learning community will be achieved by employing the Living Labs methodology to engage all relevant actors and roles across the classroom "value chain", and to mobilise / adapt / implement the most advanced e-learning technologies into a single immersive simulation framework. This approach may also be considered as a "blueprint" for other areas and application topics.

Our research will implement and validate a collaborative professional development model and learning platform on the aforementioned pilot domains and will deliver three types of output:

• In service training courses;
• Professional training;
• Interdisciplinary system-wide exercises.

For each of the above, many diverse solutions may be adopted. The learning process may either develop in face-to-face meetings or in web based environments within the established Living Labs communities. The overall criterion of success for the proposed environment is the extent to which the results of the research will be embedded in the business processes, human resources and organisational management infrastructures of the schools. To come up with reliable performance measures, we will cater for the design of commonly accepted benchmarks that combine quantitative and qualitative aspects and comply with field standards as these stem from well respected and accredited bodies.

We envisage to achieve the establishment and operation of the learning community by means of employing the Living Labs methodology. The reason is straightforward: Living Labs represent regional innovation environments focusing on user communities embedded within "real life". Even if the planning of the project is performed in a centralised manner, it will be developed such that it can be continuously adapted and validated through the interpretations and comments given by professionals. As a result of this cooperative approach, participants will acquire full or partial ownership over the planning and their motivation to implement the pilot application in the real world school environment will increase.

Additionally to the technological aspects, Living Labs allow a deep insight into the human dimension of technology, which is of paramount importance for a successful societal deployment of new technologies. As a consequence of this potential, the Living Lab approach is taken as a natural candidate for the implementation of large scale evaluation, demonstration and validation activities at a European level.

A Living Lab refers to a setting that is created with specific targets and has a clear structure, but in the same time it is dealing with the uncontrollable dynamics of daily life. Therefore, its configuration holds an open character according to which technology is shaped out of specific social contexts and needs, and which users are seen as co-producers. Researchers within Living Labs are restricted to monitoring what is going on "from the inside"; on the other hand, they are part of a Living Lab themselves, and are able to intervene in order to contribute to a better implementation of technological innovations in social practices, and deal with the unpredictable processes by reflecting upon and consequently adjusting their initial methodology.

The problem faced by current Living Labs is that, although similar services and products are usually developed, a coherent framework for cooperation inside a Living Lab is missing. Thus every new Living Lab has to start (almost) from scratch in configuring itself for the selected beneficiaries. Within our research, we build and populate our targeted experiential learning environment according to the following steps of a Living Lab configuration process as summarised in Pierson & Lievens (2005).

  • contextualisation, referring to the prior exploration of the technological and social challenges implied by the technology or service under investigation;
  • selection, referring to the identification of potential users or user groups, by means of non-probabilistic or purposeful sampling;
  • concretisation, referring to a thorough description of the current characteristics, everyday behaviour and perceptions of the selected test users regarding the research focus;
  • implementation is actually the behavioural validation and operationally running test phase of the LL, from a user-oriented and ethnographic viewpoint; and
  • feedback, consisting of two research steps: an ex post measurement based on the same techniques of the initial measurement, to check if there is any evolution in the users perception and attitude towards the introduced technology or service, to assess changes over time in everyday life in relation to technology use and to detect transitions of usage over time; and a set of technological recommendations from the analysis of data, gathered during the previous implementation phase; this outcome of the feedback phase is used as the starting point for a new research cycle within the LL; in this way the iterative feature of research can be made operational.

To come up with reliable measures of the success of the application of the Living Labs approach in the project, we will cater for the design of commonly accepted benchmarks that will combine quantitative and qualitative aspects of the application exercise and will comply with field standards, as these stem from three well respected and accredited bodies namely the National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) in U.S.A. and the European Association for Special Education (EASE).

Full Paper - .pdf

The Role of Participatory Evaluation in democratising Education Processes in the Public Administration

Francesco Molinari
ALTEC Information & Communication Systems, S.A., International Research Division, Thessaloniki, Greece,


Almost forty years ago, Peter Drucker, the famous 'guru' of management, advocated the building up of "an independent agency ...independent of pressures from the executive as well as from the legislature" to play the role of 'performance auditor' for Public Administrations, that is, to convert people's expectations into policy goals and to compare with them the results obtained.

At the other extreme lie Robert Dahl's conditions for democratic decision making (i.e. Effective participation, Equality in voting, Gaining enlightened understanding, Exercising final control over the agenda, Inclusion of all adults), each of them raising sensitive and unsolved issues in the area of political access, equality and legitimisation.

For instance, it is known from Sherry Arnstein's seminal work that the development of participation in a selected context can reach different levels of granularity, including 'loose coupling' and rhetoric "manipulation". Moreover, Dahl himself admits that in the real world, it is very unlikely that every citizen can have equal opportunities to influence the policy agenda.
As James Fishkin clearly stated: "The (real) problem of democratic reform is ... how to bring people into the process under conditions where they can be engaged to think seriously and fully about public issues".

However, this can be simply impossible to reach as the number of participants in public debates increases above a certain, very low threshold.

Again it was Robert Dahl to show this paradox with a back-of-the-envelope calculation: "if an association were to make one decision a day, allow ten hours a day for discussion, and permit each member just ten minutes - rather extreme assumptions - then the association could not have more than sixty members" in order to allow everyone to have their say.

While Drucker's idea of an agency has not taken place so far, modern regulation theories now admit in its place the establishment of rules, procedures and standards, helping to make the Governments more accountable for their performance towards the citizens. Some international comparisons (from OECD Puma to EU Sigma) already show that the 'power of standards' can be used to elicit process reengineering, comparability and harmonisation of practices in tge Public Administration. However, an insufficient attention has been given until now to change realised through quality management principles implementation.

More generally, we believe that a unified and systematic approach to public performance evaluation is missing, which should make use of innovative concepts and tools like social and democratic dialogue and an extensive participation of citizens/customers in the governance and accountability process.

The Living Labs concept is a recent innovation approach set forth in Northern Europe, through which all stakeholders of a product, service or application actively participate in its development process. Stakeholders can be public authorities, civic communities, SMEs and large industries, academia, content providers etc. The underlying R&D methodology enables innovation to be created and validated in a collaborative, multi-context, real-life environment, where the person is focused and monitored in all his/her social roles as (e.g.) a citizen, user, consumer or worker. This human-centric, experience-based perspective does not only ensure a user-driven design and development of products, services or applications, but also user acceptance. The idea is to reach a more sustainable innovation by taking benefit of the ideas, experiences and knowledge of the people involved with respect to their daily needs, in their every day lives, encompassing all their societal roles.
Additional methodology reflections are needed to assess whether the Living Labs paradigm can be helpful in reviving and consolidating the theoretical foundations for a citizens-focused, participatory performance measurement system that is more coherent with the increasingly 'networked' configuration of modern Public Administration and the need to find a balanced pathway between budget restrictions and quality assessment of 'government reengineering processes'.

Full Paper - .pdf

Net-wiring the Learning Environments to address Emerging Organisational Needs

Nicolaos Protogeros
University of Macedonia, Department of Accounting and Finance, Thessaloniki, Greece,


The shift from the industrial economy to the information economy that has happened over the years has led to an enormous increase in competitiveness among organisations. This in turn has led to the development of information technology to highly advanced levels. It is now able to support modern enterprise operation in extremely intricate environments where the changing needs of the business community forces firms to be more agile and responsive. The development of technologies that can efficiently handle complex information such as software agents, combined with the development of Internet technologies for learning process integration and automation such as Web Services, is causing considerable impact on the way economic actors and their roles are implemented in the worldwide market place. This technological evolution has lead to the development of the new value-creating economic paradigm of e-learning, which can exhibit its full potential if approached with modern tools such as the Living Labs methodology.

The network based Information economy and the virtual-yet-real learning environments are a promising reality. New theories and technologies such as Software Agent and Web-Services can be applied to customize learning service provision and support distant formation and operation, to plan requirements for Collaborative Learning, and to share Active Learn-ware and Learner-generated content. They are mature and flexible, forming a concrete framework for successful operation of learning environments. At the same time, serious challenges to the future effectiveness of these environments are also sensed and discussed throughout our paper.

Two main dimensions can be identified in this context:

  • The Web service dimension - a very popular technology for learning environments integration and operation where the academic approach hasn't solved the fundamental problems of selecting the most appropriate learning service and coping with learning service discovery as yet. How do interested parties find the learning style and content they're looking for? How do they advertise? How can software do this on behalf (but without the intervention) of a person? Many proposals along these lines exist, ranging from content-based routing in the early 1990s to the use of DAML-S for agents in recent years but none of them has led to deployed, practical learning systems so far.
  • The Software agent dimension - this includes Multi Agent Systems (MAS) technology, Mobile Agents, Intelligent Agents and other combinations of traditional agent technologies to support parts of the learning interactions (mainly) at the transactional level.

The aim of our paper is to discuss the main issues, trends and opportunities related to the application of agent and Web service technologies to networked learning environments, from the above-mentioned dimensions. The paper will take a comprehensive approach, and present practical solutions to promote the adoption of the Living Labs methodology for tackling with all different levels of the networked learning uptake and deployment process.

Our paper concludes with a discussion of the business integration requirements in the modern enterprise environment and other emerging inter-organizational models as well as the presentation of relevant and recent developments and solutions (both academic and industrial) addressing the several dimensions and issues of the addressed field.

Full Paper - .pdf




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