Network Seduces


Politicians’ relation to virtual networks

Mart Laanpere, the director of the centre of educational technology at the Tallinn University, sais that today e-learning and virtual networks are no longer “new and exciting” for the European Union. For instance Minerva and some other programs supporting e-learning over the past years have been closed now. Now one has to apply under several different programs for research, development and training. But Laanpere thinks that the situation is not hopeless because it has changed in a radical way. Whereas ten years ago e-learning was “up” in politics and “down” in practice today e-learning and virtual networks are “down” in politics but very much “up” in practice.
Peeter Normak, director of the Institute of Information Technology of Tallinn University finds that the European Union and the Estonian state still value e-learning and virtual networks because these strengthen the European dimension of education and help to overcome regional encapsulation of educational institutions. Thus the EU programs (Erasmus for example) require educational discussions to include a broad range of participants i.e. learners, members of academic circles, vocational unions, graduates’ organizations, employers, people involved in the public sector and so on. Stronger collaboration between universities and enterprises, development of shared responsibility are of priority, too.

The weaknesses of Estonian Virtual Networks

Peeter Normak quotes Engeström: (virtual) networks are a necessity because creativity does not manifest in a person’s head but within the interactions between different people within a sociocultural environment. Even Wittgenstein said that thoughts are not “in one’s head” - thoughts are “relations”. And networks can be platforms for testing out new ideas and thoughts. These very simple truths invite us to become active users of virtual networks. Alas the MA diploma works of Tallinn University demonstrate that only one fourth of all the participants in Estonian virtual networks take actively part in discussions while the remaining three quarters remain passive. Many simply do not understand what virtual networks serve for. Peeter Normak finds that Estonian virtual networks are still “underground” and their educational potential has not been realized yet. These are the main reasons that make him believe so:
Firstly the typical Estonian network is run by only one enthusiastic person, but virtual networks work better when lead by a team of people - director, content creators, discussioners, experts, commenters, support persons etc. There is no such thing as role division in the Estonian networks. This is probably due to lack of finances but also because the experts are overwhelmed with their primary job – they simply do not have the time to participate in networks. Peeter Normak suggests that more young and ambitious people should be included now. Networks can also serve as a platform to show their expertise and help them climb on the professional ladder.
Secondly the strongest networks in Estonia are project-based. As long as there is funding everything goes well but discussions slow down when the money is gone. Some networks still manage to stay “alive “ for a while but sooner or later it becomes evident that the aim has disappeared.
Thirdly the Estonian virtual networks tend to be either too “tense” or too “loose”. When relations between participants are too strong the networks become inside circles and attract no outside interest and cannot be innovative. Networks with “loose” organization on the other hand are more innovative but usually unable to realize theirs ideas because of weak organization.

Which virtual networks do you take part in?

Eve Eisenschmidt, director of Haapsalu College of Tallinn University: I prefer the network for novice teachers. Very interesting issues are brought up every week. Young teachers write quite frankly about their experiences and thoughts and we express our point of view by comments. This network certainly reassures young teachers that they are not alone with their problems.
Toomas Plank, docent at the Institute of Physics at Tartu University: since 1998 I am part of the environment measuring project “Globe” network initiated by Al Gore. Students measure the environment and enter the data on the Internet. But we are not limited to the virtual world– in August we organize a summer camp with over 100 Estonian students and guests from abroad (Norway, Czech Republic). When the camp is in South Estonia we have many Latvian participants too regardless of the fact that the main working language is Estonian.
Johanna Helin, director of Estonian world-education project “Look and Change: I am mainly interested in networks dealing with world education “Whole world” and “World School” (in Estonia); Kepa - Globbarit, Uutiset, Maailma.Net; (in Finland); Development Education Forum, CoE, North-South-Centre: GE Network, Global Campaign for Education (in Europe); Pambazuka News (in Africa). I look for information and ideas for my work and it is good to keep myself updated on the developments in other countries. I am also on the mailing list called Footballgirls. This keeps me in contact with my friends in Ghana where I worked and played football from 2002 to 2004.
Uno Traat, professor of criminology of The Estonian Public Service Academy: I follow three networks. Firstly, AVE (Alcohol Free Estonia). It has 400 members of which 50 are active. Recently we tried to find out which of the Estonian politicians has contributed the most to the spreading of alcohol in Estonia and the winner was the Minister of Justice, Rein Lang. Thus he is our negative hero now. We are planning protests in front of the Ministry of Justice, too. Secondly, I am in the Network Estonian Book friends. This is very good for book reviews and discussions.
Astrid Sildnik, German teacher at Kose Secondary School: I am a member of the DafCommunity, a network of German teachers in Finland, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Sweden, Poland, Germany, Italy and Estonia. We meet on Tuesday evenings to discuss new methods of teaching foreign languages in the midst of the explosive development of social networking. The meetings take place live in an online-room where we can talk and present photos and videos to each other.
One of the interesting topics lately has been Social Learning. It turns out that pupils often do their homework collectively. Groups exchange information over the Internet or mobile phones. Teachers in Estonia usually try to inhibit this kind of activity but in fact it helps pupils learn about teamwork – the ability to understand the aims and motives of other people, being able to express oneself clearly –these are essential skills in today’s work life.