Archive for April, 2005

Business models and FLOSS in education

Friday, April 29th, 2005

In last several weeks I have been traveling heavily. In number of conference
presentations, meetings and private discussion many brilliant people
have presented many interesting ideas. I’ll sum-up here some of them.
Many of the thoughts are in a way or another related to the question how
are the business models of using free and open software and content in
education.

Doors of
Perception
, Delhi, India.

Jimmy Wales, the founder of
Wikipedia, told that journalist are often asking him what is the
business model behind the Wikipedia? Jimmy answer is that he doesn’t
really care about business models. The Wikimedia
Foundation’s
– the non-governmental organization behind the Wikipedia and several other wiki-projects – aim is simply to give people “free access to the sum of all human knowledge". So far there has been many enough people who share this vision and are willing to donate their time, knowledge, know-how and money. Jimmy
also said that he see that Wikimedia Foundation could maybe one day operate
similar way as the international Red Cross. Nobody is
asking what is the business model of the Red Cross.

Estonia e-University conference, Tartu, Estonia.
My colleague Hans Põldoja said in his presentation that
the Tiger Leap Foundation – the Estonian national funding body of educational software and content
production – has made a decision that in future all the products coming
out from projects funded by them must be released under FLOSS (software)
or Creative Commons (content) licenses. This is a brave move. Something
I would like to see happening among other public funding bodies around
the world. If taxpayers are funding the work, should they also gain
rights in it?

FLOSS and free knowledge communities conference, Tshwane, South Africa.
Angela
Beesley
and Erik Möller, Wikipedia
activists, gave me a great introduction to Wikipedia-thinking. Probably
the most interesting path of development in the Wikipedia community is
the idea of
Wikiversity
– a free online university using the resources of the Wikibooks and hopefully in future
relying on the teaching power of the Wikipedia community. So far the
project looks more a selection of “course books". But if they (or we)
are able to implement proper educational planning, involve voluntary
professors to give the classes, give students assignments and interact
with them, there is a change that it will become a “real university",
similar way as the Wikipedia has become a “real encyclopedia".

Moscow, Russia.
Alexei Shulgin
told me that the western societies and cultures, based on logics, law,
rules and contracts are missing mysticism and metaphysical aspects of
human life. This makes them boring. What is business about?

La Escuel Del Futuro, Granada, Spain.
Angel I. Perez Gomez from the
University of Malaga told me about the
Andalucían Governmental Linux project
. According to him it really works
and has significantly speeded up the process of offering ICT for all
citizens. Pupils in schools and ICT centers are mainly using the GuadaLinex distribution, which
development is funded by the regional government. Same time it has
generate local Linux-based businesses that are offering software and
maintenance services.

Graham Attwell at ITK’05, Finland

Saturday, April 23rd, 2005

10484895 c945aed286 m Graham Attwell at ITK’05, Finland
I had the pleasure to meet Graham Attwell from KnowNet here in Finland. He had in mind to contact me that he is coming to Finland but forgot about it. By accident, we ended up giving a presentation at the same workshop on 20th April at the ITK conference (Interactive Technology in Education (ITK) -conference
is the largest conference in Finland about information-
and communication technology in educational use).

Teemu Leinonen was supposed to give the presentation but a week before the conference he handed it to me. I will write about my presentation in the next post, I think it was well received.

I wasn’t able to attend the workshop presentation he did but I understood it was about wikis and weblogs and was a good starter to my presentation which perceived the socio-economic reasons why these new emerging tools exist in the first place, largely thanks to much greater changes happening in our society.

The level of quality of ITK presentations has dropped dramatically during the last years. People are just reading their bullet points aloud. I would rather read them online beforehand to see if there is something I’m actually interested in. I was mainly coding a Dicole extension, an Open Source web-based news aggregator on my laptop instead of listening. But Graham gave an excellent presentation on friday, which kinda saved my day.

Here are my notes about the presentation:

According to Graham, Open Source is a good thing for education. Open Source software is able to reflect on particular pedagogical approaches. Previously on the LMS dominated market, management was the paradigm instead of learning. In that sense, educational software improved in the way how it operated and not in conceptual terms. The reason for shift towards more pedagogic thinking is mainly because of Open Source.

There are communities of sharing practices and knowledge all around the world. These conferences are good examples. We have to begin this as software as well.

Graham tells us that there are thousands of VLEs on the market, mainly developed to local needs, even though similar tools already exist.  He has mixed feelings about this but it might be a good thing. The future is in small widgets that are able to connect together through Open standards. We can built small pieces that help knowledge development and continual
training. There is no point in creating large chunks of software.

In informal settings outside the conference room, Graham tells me about the idea of forking:
Forking is often seen as a bad thing in the Open Source community (i.e. starting a new branch with a completely new development team instead of joining the existing one). In the other hand, he sees that it might be a good thing for innovation. Take it, fork it and let others do the same. I’ve perceived Open Source important for customized learning, where you take a generic piece of Open Source and customize it to your own needs, then share it.

Open Source is essentially changing the relationships between producers
and consumers. We are beginning to change that relationship so that users
are starting to become producers. Open Source starts to adapt into educational needs, not the other way around.

As an example, he offers us Connexions. It’s well done stuff in the realm of Open Content coming from Texas, Rice University. He finds it surprising that something like this, emphasizing sharing and democracy is coming out of Texas, which has usually represented other kind of values icon smile Graham Attwell at ITK’05, Finland

Open Source is not anymore stuff that students write in their basements. Most new Open Source software today is written by companies. Open Source has a solid business model, operating inside capitalism instead of being an opposite of it. Open Source is doing very well by economic terms.

He underlines, that Open Source developers are part of our community, not some outside sales
managers of large corporations. They are inside our community and understand our needs as users.

As a point for using the Open Source model to create content in education, he arguest that most of our commercially available content is very poor, not very exiting and is less in quality. We have generally a big vocational education (history, social studies, physics etc.) that is the same all around the world. The same content is often carried out in English, as many universities have studies in english. Yet we don’t have generally applicable content. Everyone is creating their own. We should create Open Content together to address this global need.

Amazon tried to copyright the shopping trollie. Ideas cannot be "owned" in the traditional sense, it’s against our advancement as a society. Copyright
should benefit the citizen, not the publisher.

Then he talks about blogging and open content and shows us some pictures and ideas of a personalized learning environment. As an example, he shows us the roadmap of Elgg.

Some fellow from Greece argues, that commercial vendors are not totally lacking reusability as they are trying to use metadata and content packages to enable the sharing of content between VLEs. I commented on this by arguing that the original reason of metadata and reusable objects was to enable the friends of these VLE producers, publishers to do commerce and that metadata has nothing to do with pedagogy in the current discussion.

Graham illustrates a nightmare scenario of learning objects by using an official image of SCORM, a vision in which you have small pieces of content (learning objects), processed through an LMS (crunched through some wheels) and then blasted against a brain (learner). This is exactly the behavioristic factory learning model we are trying to get as far away as we could (looks very much like my previous slides about pull vs. push in education).

I continued by explaining the idea of Stephen Downes about Wittgensteinian philosophy: meaning is use. We need distributed/third-party metadata which enables people to describe how a certain object was used (the pedagogy thing) during the lifetime of such an object, instead of what it is (as the what it is depends largely of the context where it is used). In that sense, learning objects are not static entities but changing rapidly based on how people use them, hence the term learning snowballs I’ve been talking about.

Graham continues that there has to be a change in understanding of how to use learning objects in education: the first issue is meaning as use, i.e.
third party/distributed metadata and other is the vanishing of controlled metadata
and being replaced by folksonomies.

Open Source not necessarily saves you money but it changes where the money is spent. We could spend as much money, but where the money is spent changes to something
you create instead of something you consume. The more money you put back into
your community, the more money you make.

We don’t understand the change process related to the use of ICT in education. In the other hand univerisites should use a strategy, but in the other hand they shouldn’t and
they should remain open to it.

How Flickr could become the largest learning material repository in the world?

Monday, April 11th, 2005

I wrote two weeks ago an article about the Creative Commons and learning materials to the edu.fi – website. Edu.fi is an educational portal published by the National Board of Education, Finland. At the moment the article is only in Finnish but they have some plans to translate it to Swedish. The same story will be published in May in the Opetek – the Finnish Education Technology Magazine. I also made an easy to read and browse version of the same article under my home directory.

The assignment was to write about CC so that ordinary people, especially teachers, could understand what is CC about and what is there for them. Not an easy task although this seems to be one of the main objectives of the whole CC movement. I tried to use a lot of examples to illustrate the idea.

I thought that a good way to explain the CC is to talk about photos. More and more people take photos with their digital cameras and many also publish them online. We publish our photos to share them with our friends and family. But, the very same picture of Eiffel-tower – taken on a holiday trip – could be of course, used also as a piece of learning material. If the picture is published under CC license teachers can use it as a building block in their learning materials and students in their study projects.

If we then think about photo sharing services, such a Flickr, from the perspective what could they offer for schools, we may suddenly notice that they are actually becoming the largest digital learning material repositories in the world.

With Flickr you can publish your pictures under CC-licenses. If the CC-license used is Attribution, Attribution-NonCommercial, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike or Attribution-ShareAlike you are free to use the photos as part of your own learning materials or give them as a building blocks for your pupils to be used by them in their own projects.

The search features of Flickr are not designed for school use. I am also afraid that the schools and teachers are not really in their focus customer group. However, I am sure that soon there will be better search for CC-licensed photos. They already have a page for Creative Commons.

But, what can we as educators do if we do not want to be depend on the Ludicorp Ltd, behind the Flickr and acquired lately by Yahoo?

Could there be interest to build up a separate repository and online service for school with photos found from Flickr?

The photos indexed and syndicated to this services should all be published under the right CC-licenses and with tags (categorization) related to school world, such as grades and curriculum subjects. I am pretty sure many teachers would find the service very useful. Also localization of the UI for different languages and automated translation of the tags (just simple vocabulary lists) would be useful. This way when searching with the Finnish tag “Pariisi” I could also find those pictures of Paris, where the tag is in Italian form of “Parigi”.

Fle3 1.5 is here – and you are the first to know about it

Saturday, April 2nd, 2005

We just released a new version of Fle3 software – a web-based software for collaborative learning, knowledge building and jamming. Our main developer Tarmo Toikkanen just sent me a note that the new package is now online in Fle3 project’s website for downloading.

Tarmo also asked me to announce the release in our project’s mailing lists. Unfortunately the Free Software Foundation’s mailman server, where our mailing lists are hosted, seems to be down right now. I assume that all you who have ever released any FLOS software know that you want to get you message to the world in the very same minute the release is done. So, I am telling you.

Still after so many years of the FLE project I am really excited about this release. The last release was almost a year and a half ago. Actually the whole last year we were focusing more on usage of Fle3 – testing of it in different pedagogical practices – and less to software development. We also felt that “it was ready” and we should not add stupid features in it just to get new releases out and to make the feature list longer. I am not sure if the fight against long feature lists is an upcoming zeitgeist in software development, but if it is, it makes me very happy.

Fle3 1.5 is different. For all these years Fle3 has been a kind of closed seminar room for student centered and collaborative progressive inquiry learning. With Fle3 you need user name and password to use it. We have thought that study groups implementing progressive inquiry need privacy. The idea is that inside Fle3, with your study mates who share the same aims as you, you should feel secure to present also your naive own theories and arguments about the topics under study. Just like a door of a seminar room is closed when the seminar starts, Fle3 is protected from outsiders’ eyes and comments. Inside Fle3 students, tutors and teachers are very equal, as well. All have same user rights to participate in knowledge building and jamming and there are no hidden tracking or spying features for teachers. Tutors and teacher just hold some extra rights for managing users and courses – that’s all.

In the Fle3 v. 1.5 we are now slightly opening the door of Fle3 for the rest of the world. The new teachers’ course announcement blog feature is a very simple feature. Now teachers and tutors (not students, except if all students are given tutors’ rights) may write to the course blog course announcements, event and To-Do’s. The blog is of course using all the cool blog technology, such as RSS, trackbacks etc. An example tells more than 100 words. It may sound trivial feature, but actually the teachers’ blog feature changes Fle3 quite a lot. Now students can just follow one page (no log in needed) to keep track of the course. They may also syndicate the blog in their own site or use some RSS reader. For teachers the course blog makes it easy to guide students learning process thought one place. And probably the most important side effects will be related to the fact of making the guidance and tutoring of students more transparent. By following each other course blogs teachers may learn new ways to motivate, supervise and guide their students learning process. Same time the openness puts some social pressure on the teachers as they know that their peers may follow the blog, too.

In my own teaching I’ve been already using prototypes of the new Fle3 1.5 for a while. My experience of the blog feature is very positive. All the people behind Fle3 hope that other educators will find it useful, too. We believe that this is another small step in our way to change the traditional teacher and didactic-based teaching to be more student centered and knowledge building based.