Archive for November, 2005

The $100 Laptop: Manna-vaporware

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

Update: Esta entrada está en Español en el blog de Caro Botero. Gracias!

I find the MIT’s $100 Laptop project disturbing. For me there are too many open questions. I also found out that I am not only with my thoughts. Several other people are also rather critical with Mr Negroponte’s latest brainchild.

Already last February John Thackara of Doors of Perception called the MIT’s $100 Laptop “manna-ware” and Jamais Cascio of Worldchanging asked why the device should be a laptop? In the discussion following Jamais post people pointed out that if you would dare to ask from the people they would most likely rank radio, phone and TV much higher as a communication device than an Internet-PC.

So, I guess we all already see that the MIT’s $100 Laptop is just a vapoware and MIT’s latest attempt to get a bite from the developing world’s long tail. Still I am worried that many Governments are seriously considering if MIT’s Laptop could be the thing that will bring their children to information society.

As the tool is primary marketed for school – basically for the Ministries of Education – I would like to know a little more about expected educational results and pedagogical ideas behind the MIT’s laptop project. In educational politics one should always ask who is educating whom, why, where and how? It really bothers me that MIT is preaching about having every child a laptop in 2015, would just like that represent development and welfare. Also the explicit pedagogical vision on how the $100 Laptop will be used in schools is very weak.

I would like the MIT people to be a little more transparent and open when it comes to their motives, vision and aims with the $100 Laptop. Here are some questions (didn’t find answers to these from their FAQ):

  • Why the only use case the MIT people talk about is delivering school books with the $100 Laptop? Is it because they have notice that it is the best sale argument for the Governments that mainly see learning over budget lines where use for textbooks is a large cost? Or is it really only way of using ICT in school that the MIT people came up? With the current vision the $100 Laptop is just an e-book, a very expensive e-book. The $20 / year / pupil used today for text books for instance in Brazil is more than 5 times better investment than $ 100 for a laptop that will be stolen or broken in less than a year. An example: Almost every night I read for my daughter a textbook my grandmother got when she was in primary school in 1920’s.
  • Have the MIT designers ever heard about contextual design? You must be a fool if you seriously claim that your results from pilots made in schools in Maine, United States, where every child is given an Apple iBook, are anyhow transferable to Brazil, Sub-Saharan Africa or China. Even your own results from testing Laptops in Cambodian village show that there is hardly any use for your technology. You report: “there is no electricity, thus the laptop is, among other things, the brightest light source in the home.” I think you need several cultural anthropologists and designers in your team.
  • Why didn’t MIT decide to contribute to the Indian Simputer project that has been around already for five year? From the Simputer project there is already a Linux based product in the markets. The price could easily be close to $100 if some Government would order a few million of them. To make this happen they need your marketing skills and contacts Mr Negroponte. I assume that MIT researchers are aware of the Simputer project, as they use to have a branch laboratory – Media Lab Asia – in India for some years.

Now you may ask what is my motivation to criticize the MIT’s project? I have two reasons which are linked together: (1) I am managing R&D project where we design and develop use of mobile phones in teaching and learning in developing countries. I seriously think that investment to mobile services in countries where networks are already everywhere and devices are getting to every third hand (we have two hands) in a few years, makes more sense than investments to laptops. (2) I am worried that MIT’s hype will simply kill all great projects in the field, as everybody will wait for MIT’s vapoware to be launched.

Some definitions of terms from the

* manna

* vaporware

* brochureware

Content + methods + tools = learning pattern: the ToolBox is in production

Saturday, November 26th, 2005

This week we – our research group – were hosting a workshop with our partners from Estonia, Hungary and Norway(*. The developer workshop was organized to start a new software project. The software is called ToolBox. We have been working on it for some months already, but now it was time to get our hands dirty with the code(**. The development takes place online at:

It is a free/open source project. So, if you are interested in, please, get involved in it.

The ToolBox is a code name. We should come up with something better. But the idea is simple. We want to build server software that can be used by teachers – or in practice anyone interested in – to collaboratively author, edit, review and publish:

(1) Learning content,
(2) Learning methods, and
(3) Learning tools.

All three things will be loosely connected (permalinks) to each other. Users may approach the ToolBox from any angle and find connections between the three things. Then they may use them in their own teaching practice. When the user has a combination of contents, methods and tools that are somehow linked together she has designed a “learning pattern”.

The fourth dimension of the ToolBox is the community. People will get together to the ToolBox server to work with and to develop further all three things. To make it simple the server software will support collaborative construction and use of learning content, methods and tools.

All the ToolBox servers will replicate its data with other ToolBox servers around the world. Also content from other services, such as Our Media, SoundClick and Open Access will be available in the ToolBox’s interface. And of course WikiPedia, too. One may also use different kind of learning tools with the ToolBox. This is why we call it “Toolbox”. The tools accessible from the ToolBox can be things like Fle3 knowledge building tool, discussion forum, chat, file sharing, Voice over IP etc.

ToolBox is not a LMS, neither CSCL tool nor a “personal learning environment” or “Future VLE”. The idea is simply to pull teachers to use ICT in more exciting way. To empower teacher by offering them tools to use and share content, methods and tools to implement meaningful learning patterns, on- and offline, with ICT and without.

*) The work is carried out in the CALIBRATE project supported by the European Commission’s 6th Framework Programme, Information Society Technologies (IST).

**) To be honest my role in the software development is something in the crossing point of “designer”, “interaction logic designer”, “patron” and “wise fool”.

No e-Learning Patents! No Software Patents!

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2005

Last week at the Open Source for Education in Europe an ad-hoc group called "No e-Learning Patents!"
was formed to start campaigning against any possible new European-wide
software patent directive that would cover the patentability of
software including also the area of e-learning and computer & network
supported learning applications.

The group "No e-Learning
" is preparing for "Round 2" after the directive on Computer
Implemented Inventions, also known as software patent directive,
was voted down by the European Parliament last June 2005. This
directive sought to regulate the scope of patentability of software
within the EU. A new one can be anticipated.

The idea now is to create a pre-emptive position paper outlining
what are the possible ramifications of a European-wide software
directive on e-learning in Europe. This position paper will be signed
by e-learning practitioners in Europe and elsewhere who believe that
software patents would be harmful for innovation within the field of e-learning and hinder the good development that is currently taking currently place in Europe.

We are concerned about the potential reduction of access to Lifelong Learning and global digital knowledge.

  • First, the cost of applications could become higher because of the
    software patent system; the choice of available software could become
    limited, and costs of using underlying communication structures,
    operating systems and any software could increase.
  • Second, it could have a negative effect on "in-house" and/or open
    source development of educational applications. Many European
    Educational authorities, universities and small and medium size
    entreprieces (SME) develop educational platforms and applications for
    educational use. Money spent on defending against software patent
    litigation would be better spent on development, education and training.
  • Third, the roll-out of educational FOSS in education could be jeopardised by the danger of software patents.

Join us on the No e-Learning Patents! community website at the forum (you are asked to register) to discuss about some more good arguments against the European-wide software patents.

Help us to brainstorm the campaign strategy and get the word out once the pre-emptive position paper is ready to be signed at the end of 2005.

The petition to be signed will be online, accessible through No e-Learning Patents! community website and through Flosse Posse.

Go to and register!

The message is: No Software Patents! No e-learning Patents!

ps. If you blog about this campaign, please use technorati tag eusoftpat

Also, if you socially bookmark pages that are relevant for this, use the same tag (eusoftpat). You can find some reading at

A summary of the Open source for Education in Europe conference

Thursday, November 17th, 2005

with a very good feeling from the NL, where the first Open source for
Education in Europe
conference took place.

I got my hands full of little goodies to bring home. I picked up a few TheOpenCDs to
bring home for Christmas, a Kubuntu
installation Cd, and brochures produced by OSS Watch, which is a Free
Open Source advisory service for UK higher and further education. Some
good advisory policies have been produced by OSS Watch, such as Developing
University Policies That Engage with Open Source Software
, and Policy
on Open Source Software for JISC Projects and Services
.  You
can find Stuart
paper on this, I guess slides will be available later on the
conference site.

Other interesting things that I had a chance to see:

  • Of course, check out Stephen
    presentation about his vision
    that he calls Metauniversity (he also called it Metaversity, I think
    combining meta-level and diversity). Open Learning
    and the Metauniversity
    , PPT Slides 
    and the MP3

    Mr. Downes talked about a concept for an information architecture, that
    could comply with the vision of M.Feldstein 
    “we need a system that is
    optimeised toward slotting in new pieces as they become available, not
    as an after-though or an add-on, but as a fundamental characteristic of
    the system…”. Neat, many good concepts, maybe this will work as a roudmap to inspire people to see further than tomorrow.

  • My talk about Anticipating
    Round 2 of the EU Software patents
    battle took
    place on the second day.  Maybe one third of the audience was aware about the issue,
    so I had been asked to be pretty introductory about what software
    patents are, what is the current legislation in EU, and speculating how
    software patents could potentially
    hinder ICT in education
    . Slides will be available at the conference
    site later. I made a great impression (?) on the audience by stripping my
    jacket and showing off my "No Software Patents-Power to the Parliament"
    tee-shirt icon wink A summary of the Open source for Education in Europe conference You can view a picture of that and the other pictures from the conference at vermario’s gallery.
  • tOSSad project was also interesting. It’s yet another EU-founded
    project and the acronym stands for Towards Open source Software,
    Adoption and Dissemination. That is what the project is about, really.
    Check the site.
  • About the presentations in workshops, I must say that I didn’t
    follow many. However, some are worth checking out, like this one: Using
    IMAP to Build a Virtual Learning Environment.
    It’s good that
    people think out of the box!
  • To get an overview about what some Educational authorities and
    Ministries of Education are doing in Europe to promote the use of FOSS,
    you can find a paper
    by Karl Sarnow and me.

There were tons of other good stuff too, but you have to check it out
for yourselves on the programme.
Everything is available under Creative Commons and the conference used
this nifty Open Conference Systems
to make papers available online.

In general I got the impression that the conference audience was half
programmers and other half  was comprised of people who have
interest in using FOSS in education. Quite a fruitful mix, and I hope
some other stuff will come out of this. At least the continuation for
the conference would be great!

Other than that a variety of things were recommended such as an award for the best open source educational
, this would raise awareness and by submitting products
to the award, the community would also create a good state-of-the-art repertory.
Also, a Yearbook idea was
discussed listing most interesting FOSS in education projects in
different fields and areas.

The preemptive position paper against
EU software patents
idea got good reception at the conference.
We had a workshop about how to get going and many good ideas were
discussed. The timeline to get the arguments ready is by Dec 15, and at
the new year we will start campaigning about getting signatures,
spreading the word, etc. The minutes will be available also soon, watch
this space!

Some other people have posted on their blogs about the conference,

<a href="" rel="tag">softpat</a>

Baking cakes with the Pope of e-learning

Saturday, November 12th, 2005

In Europe we have our own richness of different cultures, different monopolies and many forms of corruption. We also have the rather powerful pan European government – the European Commission – that is both regulating and supporting citizens and their businesses. To make your business successful around the continent you better do some lobbying in the Commission.

Yesterday in Rome I was lucky to hear a presentation of a representative of the European eLearning Industry Group. ELIG is a group of publishing and ICT industry trying to get their perspectives heard in the Commission and in the national Governments. To make the European e-learning industry flowering we need certificates that are sold like salvation in 16th century. Welcome to Europe!

FLOSS and open content movement are slightly shaking the boat of the educational publisher. There is a real fear that the role of the publisher in the value chain will change. It looks that what is left for the publishers is the editorial work and marketing, as the actual content creation and distribution will be done online. Also many Governments are reconsidering how educational materials should be produced, delivered and used in future in schools.

To keep the educational publishers in business, ELIG‘s one proposal is to introduce pan-European certificates and licenses for all possible professions. For instance: If you are a baker in Italy and want to run a bakery in France, the French government should ask you to show a certificate proving that you can bake. To get the certificate you should study – online of course – learning objects about baking. Then you take a test. The learning objects are naturally published by one of the ELIG members and the test is taken on ELIG member’s platform.

To make this real, ELIG needs the Commission to make a directive about the European certificate for baking. Maybe you are asking how ELIG is going to sell the idea for the Commission? They will tell them that the certificates will help free movement of workforce – one of the core ideas behind the whole European Union. Oh lal a! It really makes sense to send some cakes for those Commission officers responsible on e-learning. Jamm..

In the end of his presentation the ELIG guy, by the way Italian and representing educational publisher, made a very interesting point.

From his slide:

“We must face the Guttenberg Syndrome again and again and again.

1490. Dear Gutenberg, Wonderful but … what else can we do with it part printing bible?”

I am not sure if he think this way, but the answer to this question is rather obvious. In 1517, Pope Leo X got the right answer. He started to sell Indulgence with Johann Tetzel: A little pieces of paper printed with Guttenberg’s printing press and then given for people as a certificate of salvation.

Sellingt salavation is the greatest business model ever. Happy customers who are willing to pay all they have to get the right certificate from the Pope. A business that was able to scale across the Europe with the Guttenberg’s printing press. As long as the people are not questioning if the piece of paper really give them salvation we are doing pretty well. It’s a little like saying people that you will learn to bake in an online course. We just must keep our customers non-educated.

So, if the ICT is a new Guttenberg’s print and doing e-learning, as it is done today, is printing bibles – what could be the Indulgence of e-learning? Who is the Pope of e-learning?