How do I use Fle3 in my study course?
- practical tips for teachers

30.7.2003 (Last edit: Teemu Leinonen)

Teemu Leinonen, Samu Mielonen, Janne Pietarila, Ilkka Kekkonen, Giedre Kligyte, Tarmo Toikkanen
UIAH Media Lab, University of Art and Design Helsinki

Table of Contents

Learners' Motivation and Fle3

Technical Preparations

Adding Users to Fle3

Creating your Study Course and Course Context(s)

Engaging in Knowledge Building

Using WebTops

Fle3 Glossary


Learners' Motivation and Fle3

Be sure your students are motivated

Fle3 is designed to help study groups interested in collaborative learning to engage in research kind of learning process. We do not know how you should motivate your students to work this way. However we have noticed that some people will have hard time adjusting themselves initially, but most who make an effort to try the process for themselves will feel rewarded.

We believe that a meaningful process (i.e. usually having a context and a shared meaning for the group) aiming to solve problems, will result in study group's deeper understanding of the subject and is motivating in itself.

Fle3 is not Learning Management System or courseware

We are very aware that in the field of learning technology solutions Fle3 has a very specific focus. We hope that Fle3 will be useful in constructive and inquiry like learning processes. We know that for a more traditional teacher, instruction and didactic-based training Fle3 might not be the right tool.

Fle3 does not lend itself easily to material based learning, where obligatory course material is delivered and then questioned. Nor does Fle3 offer much of a support for teacher centered models, where teacher tells learners exactly what to do and when to do.

We expect that your students are (or you believe that they will be) highly motivated and willing to work to improve and deepen their understanding on some topics of your course. This is very natural for small children. With older students you probably have to spend some time to explain them why you want to run the course this way.

This is not to be taken as an explicit criticism of these models (that can be found elsewhere if needed). It just a matter of choosing the right tool for the problem.

Fle3 is a Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) software

Fle3 is good for group centered work that concentrates on creating and developing expressions of knowledge (i.e. knowledge artefacts). That is why we say that Fle3 is a software for computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL).


Technical Preparations

Set up Fle3 server

First at all you should set up Fle3 software on your own server. You may contact your local web master and let him know that you want to use Fle3 system. Your web master should be able to set up the system for you.

Probably it's a good idea to share one Fle3 system with several teachers in your institution. This will reduce the maintenance cost per teacher and student. Remember that also your web master's time and hardware resources are limited. All new services costs some time and hardware even though the actual Fle3 software is free to use.

Fle3 server run on almost all Operating Systems (Linux, MacOS X, *BSD, etc.) and Microsoft Windows.

Use Fle3 with a standard web browser

For your and your students' use Fle3 is designed to work every web browser (Netscape, Opera, Explorer, Mozilla, Konqueror) on every operating system (Unix, Linux, Mac OS, Windows, etc.). As it is impossible to test for all combinations beforehand we appreciate any reports on bugs you may encounter (

Fle3 does not require the use of cookies, flash, javascript or Java. However it does use CSS (style sheets) to render the visuals on the page. While this is not 100% essential, the display can look a bit confusing without style sheet support. All modern browsers (IE5, Netscape4, Mozilla, Konqueror, Opera5 or later) support some type of style sheets.


Adding Users to Fle3

There must be Fle admininstrator

After the Fle3 system is set-up your web master probably gives you the "fle administrator" user name, password and the URL where you may login to the system. Alternatively your administrator might give you a "staff" role account to Fle3 that enables you to carry out all the essential administrative duties needed. In any case create yourself a "staff" account and use the "fle admin" only to take care of your Fle3 server.

Categories of users in Fle3 are: fle admin, staff and user

By default there are three different categories of users in a Fle3 system: fle admin, staff and user. Fle admin is the most powerful and can do anything within the Fle3 system. Staff user is bit more restricted and cannot easily break a Fle3 system, but can create and manage courses, students and so forth. Finally user is a restricted user who can take part on courses, but can't create courses or new users (nor remove existing ones).

User roles in courses are: teacher, tutor, student

Additionally each user gets a role for every course. On a particular course a user can be a teacher, tutor or student. Each level has less access rights for that course only. As an example you can be a fleadmin and still be a student on some course. Additionally somebody from user class might be a teacher on one course and have more rights to manage that course (and that course only).

Add or invite staff and ordinary users to Fle3

As a staff user of your Fle3 universe you may now start adding users to the Fle3 system. You may add them manually from the web based user interface or by inviting them by email address. When inviting users by email they will get an email from you with a URL where they may create their own user name and password to the system.

When creating users set the role for your teacher colleagues to be "staff" and your students "user". This will give your colleagues the right to create courses as part of the staff and add new users to the system. This is making your job (if you are the "fle administrator") much easier to carry out, as everybody is taking care of their own students in the system.


Creating your Study Course and Course Context(s)

Add your course to Fle3 and add students, tutors and teachers to the course

After getting your students to the Fle3 system, create a course for your students. When creating a new course to the Fle3 you are asked to give your course a name, a description and some other things. Remember to add your students to the course, too. Like said before on a course there are three different kind of users: teachers, tutors and students. The teachers and tutors hold the right to start "new course contexts" which are kind of bigger sections of a course. Eg. on a course on Human Biology there might be a "course context" called bones and skeleton.

Create course contexts for your course with your students

After filling up the basic information of your course and adding your students in it, you should go and prepare the Knowledge Building for your students. In the Knowledge Building you should create one or several "course contexts" to the course. The "course context" is, from your point of view, some logical section of your course (e.g. a one of the sub-topics of the course).

For your course context you must select some "thinking type" set or make your own. We recommend that you use the "progressive inquiry thinking type set" designed for inquiry learning.

Setting "course contexts" may also take place in a face-to-face session together with the whole study group. You may project the Fle3 screen (or just use the old blackboard) and write together what is the area you are studying in the course. By doing this stage together with your students, they might commit more to the process.

Please note that Fle3 is not designed to be a fully supported distance learning environemnt, but to enhance and support learning that happens in face-to-face meetings. We do not recommend using Fle3 as the only place where learning activities take place. Regular physical meetings are more than likely crucial to the success of a course.


Engaging in Knowledge Building

Introduce the progressive inquiry learning for your students

If your students are not familiar with the idea of knowledge building process, please introduce them the pedagogical model of progressive inquiry. Spend some time with this if you are using Fle3 first time. After a few courses it will be easier for you and your students. The progressive inquiry process is introduced, for instance, in the web site of the Centre for Research on Networked Learning and Knowledge Building, University of Helsinki. Look for progressive inquiry.

Start a Knolwdge Building thread

Inside the course context your students may start knowledge building discussions. The idea is that, first of all, your students present study problems related to the course context (usually a sub-topic). These are questions or areas of interest they want to solve during the course. After presenting their first problems, the students should present their own explanations to them. We believe that all people are able to do this.

Students should be encouraged to ask, answer and hypothesise freely, using the thinking types available for discussion notes. As a tutor you could stress that assessment will happen on the breadth and depth of the subject area covered, and not on how fast a "right" solution is discovered. Speed, while a limiting factor on any course, is of no essential importance and too much of it can hinder learning of more complex concepts.

Students can present their opinions or wild guesses. Actually the idea of studying with Fle3 is to ask questions, guess, find information and end-up with good solutions. In Fle3 you are encouraged to ask "stupid" questions and be "wrong". However, an important part of working with the Fle3 is that students also bring some "scientific explanations" to the knowledge building - something they have found from other sources, learned from their own experiments or validated through other means.

Plan your course, make a timetabe and encourage your students

Tutoring knowledge building is not an easy task, but of course is a very important one. Be sure that you have a good plan for your course. This means that you have an idea what the students should study in your course and how long the process will last.

The knowledge building does not happen with out your (and possible other tutors) active involvement. A good strategy can be to start by presenting first your own study problem and explanations of the field under study. This way the students get an idea of the dynamics in the knowledge building. Actually it is good if you really take part in knowledge building yourself too, so that you are really trying to study and deepen your understanding of the area too. It is not a crime if you, as a teacher learn something while running a course.

It is good be aware of your own understanding of what is correct and how you yourself came to believe in your current explanatory model. This way it's easier to help students to ask some of the hard questions that they otherwise would not ask. However, as a tutor you must understand that within a group learning effort it is not possible (nor often productive) to try and forcefully guide the process to some predefined goal.

If for some reason your students end up with what you as a tutor/teacher consider a wholly inadequate explanation for the problems discussed, we guarantee you it'll be easy to present the facts to them. Having probed the area already they - regardless of their possible misconceptualisations - possess a much deeper understanding of the subject than had you given them the facts straight away.

For over-critical and very self-aware learners it's important to stress that what some people call mistakes are an integral part of the Fle3 learning process and that they will not be penalized for their mistakes as long as they show an effort to go beyond and further the group's current understanding on the subject.

Be in touch with your students though email and face-to-face

You may also encourage your student to contribute to the knowledge building session by sending them email messages with links to relevant and interesting notes in the knowledge building. This way the students are reminded about the work in process and supported to join in it. If you are having face-to-face sessions (lectures, workshops, seminars) you should in these events always refer to the Fle3 working by pointing out your students notes from the knowledge building.

It's also good to check for the balance of discussion on the knowledge building forum. If somebody isn't participating at all, it could mean that that the person is having trouble accessing, using or understanding the system. The earlier you get to the root of possible problems the smoother the rest of the course will go.


Using WebTops

Help your students to organize their WebTops

WebTops can be used by teachers and students to store different items (documents, files, links, knowledge building notes) related to their studies, organize them to folders and share them with others. Guide your students to create folders for different areas they are working on.

Guide your students to use "create link to WebTop"

From the Knowledge Building you and your students may also "pick up" notes and add them in their WebTop. This can be used for reorganizing the knowledge building notes. This way all users may create their own personal knowledge base of the knowledge building discussions and other materials. WebTops and folders in there can be visited and browsed by other members of the study group.

Guide your studentst to search and collect relevant information from the web, databases, library, books etc. Also advice your students to raise abowe some key notes from the knowledge building discussion by using the "creating link to Web Top" feature and then moving the note to right folder.

New structures of information in the WebTop's folders can be really interesting. Encourage your students both to share their findings and visit each other WebTops.

Fle3 Glossary

Fle3 = Fle3 is a Learning Environment

Server = Hardware connected to the network where you run Fle3 (usually Internet). You need it to host and run Fle3.

Web Master = Person taking care of the (web) servers of your institution. In normal situation she is also responsible to take care that the servers are all the time on and online. She also should take backups of the data in the server.

Fle Administrator = Person taking care of Fle3 system. Everything the Fle3 administrator need to do can be done from the Fle3's web user interface. Some more advanced things like (import and export database) must be done through the Zope's web based management user interface. Fle3 Administrator is so called "global role" in use everywhere in the system.

Fle Staff = Person with a right to add users and create course to Fle3 system. Fle Staff is so called "global role" and it is in use everywhere in the system.

Fle User = Person with a right to use Fle3 system. Fle3 User is so called a "global role" and it is in use everywhere in the system.

WebTop = Module of the Fle3 system. Each user gets a personal Webtop. WebTops can be used to store different items (documents, files, links, knowledge building notes) related to their studies, organize them into folders and share them with others.

Knowledge Building = Module of Fle3 system where the study work takes place in courses and course contexts. Users may start new knowledge building threads inside a course context.

Course = In Fle3 a course means a group of people studying together in a research kind of learning process. Staff users may start new courses in the system. A course always has a name and description.

Course Context = In Fle3 courses are divided into course contexts. The course context should be a meaningful section of study.

Thread = In each course context there can be several knowledge building threads, which are discussion paths each starting with a single message.

Thinking Type Set = A set of labels with associated instructions fo structuring the discussion process towards a process that the thinking type set tries to support.

Teacher (course) = Person who organizes and leads a course, divides the course in meaningful study sections and takes care of the timetable. Teacher is so called a "local role" which is in use only inside a course.

Tutor (course) = A person or several persons who helps teacher(s) in a course. The tutor may create new course contexts to a course.

Student (course) = A persons taking part in a course / courses. The student may use the WebTop's and take part in knowledge building discussions.