Archive for January, 2006

Let’s let them hear what we think about software patents

Wednesday, January 18th, 2006

- a public consultation round on patents in EC –

As expected, the
Commission is most likely trying to sneak in the issue of software
patents into the Community Patent. A general discussion has now been opened about the
Community Patent and the future EC patent policy in general, nothing mentioned about software patents, though. The
Commission says that the Community Patent remains a priority for them,
but they are also seeking views on what measures could be taken in the
near future to improve the patent system in Europe.

What is dangerous here is that by bringing up the whole issue of
Community Patent and industrial property, which includes patents, the
debate of software patents as such (see the first round) will be pushed aside
and possible passed into the EC legislation by disguising it behind big
themes such as:

"Good
intellectual property rules are essential: by stimulating innovation
and leading
to the successful development of new products, they help to generate
growth and
jobs. We want to maximise these benefits in Europe by making the single
market
for patents a reality." by
Internal Market and Services
Commissioner Charlie McCreevy

The Community Patent, according to FFII position is
"uncontrolled case law, together with cheaper and easier application
and long retroactive period is a pernicious combination." (note,
the text from FFII was before this new consultation round, differences
in litigation system, among others). 

We’ve been discussing here before
about software patents
and how they could potentially be harmful
for the field of e-learning, especially for the open source development
within it. We are planning to write a position paper with arguments
presented before. See http://community.nolearningpatents.org,
sign up for discussion list and help us finalise the position paper.

Once the position paper is ready, we’ll raise a campaign and have it
signed by e-learning practitioners. We hope that this will open up a
debate among e-learning stakeholders about the issue, which can
potentially have big ramifications for the field. This position paper
will also be sent to the Commission for the feedback on what we think
about the future EC patent policy including free e-learning (free as in
free speech!).

So, at the link below you can find the Commission’s call for
comments and the questionnaire in .pdf which they ask you to fill in
(how the hec do you fill in a .pdf?)

The
questionnaire is available at:
http://europa.eu.int/comm/internal_market/indprop/patent/consultation_en.htm

More
information on the EU’s industrial property policy is available at:
http://europa.eu.int/comm/internal_market/indprop/index_en.htm

Sign up for the discussion about e-learning patents at http://community.nolearningpatents.org

header short Let’s let them hear what we think about software patents

(Learning) nodes are here – still and again

Friday, January 13th, 2006

Node – A unit of information. Also known as a frame (KMS), card (Hypercard, Notecards). Used with this special meaning in hypertext circles. (W3.org 1992)

David Wiley post a few days ago a very nice post with the title “RIP-ping on Learning Objects”. Arcy Norman was fast commenting David’s post and wrote that learning object concept is not dead, but now we will put “emphasis on learning rather than object”.

I would like to claim that the latest online debate (this is not a new debate, at all) about the concept of learning object was partly started with the post “Learning objects – Is the King naked?” last May on Flosse Posse. With references to this post Alan Levine then announced the dead of learning objects.

Funnily enough in some conference last year someone was already presenting me as the guy who killed learning objects. I think that he was actually thinking my polemic writing on “dead of e-learning” and was confusing it to the ongoing online discussion on learning objects.

As a reflection to the learning object debate I wrote later on Flosse Posse that: “There is maybe nothing new in the LO thinking. We already have the Web where content is as reusable and modular as it can be.

The world of reusable and modular content – the web – is today better than a few years ago. Some people call it web 2.0. I would call it comeback of the web.

The original idea of the web as a web of nodes on which you make anchors that are linking to other nodes is crucial in blogs and wikis. More and more web sites are using so called permalinks and human readable links that use to be de-facto in the web ten years ago. From the perspective of learning and teaching this is just great. Web is already a great source of learning nodes. It is also growing and becoming more rich (audio, video) every day.

An example.

If I would be teaching international politics I could provide my students, for example, the following selection of (learning) “nodes”:

After everybody has checked these nodes on their own time we could start a collaborative knowledge building on Fle3, debate on blogs, discussion on mailing list or even have a good old presentations and discussions in a class room.

The learning nodes are out there. Take them in use!

Thank you Tarina and Aivomassa for the links.

Thriftiness is a virtue – in learning and education, as well

Sunday, January 8th, 2006

I started to write this post as a comment to Leigh Blackall’s post “learning should be free, its an education that can cost”. Then it started to expand. However read Leigh’s nice post first. This will then make more sense.

Difference between library and university/college/school is still hardly understood among the people in the e-learning filed. The Open Courseware and the Libre Resource movement (if there is a such one day) is actually leading us back to the separation of learning content and activities. This is a right track. Library is a critical service of any University. One could claim it to be the heart – actually more the liver – of an University. Still the University is more a community of practice than a place.

I agree that learning must be free for the people. We should see this as an investment that pays off. Naturally, both to have content (libraries) and education (institutions) cost money. So, who should pay this?

In Finland both, libraries (public and scientific) and Universities are free and open for all – meaning there is no fees and you are free to visit and us the libraries. The legislation also guarantees right for the people to attend to any lectures held in any of the Universities. So, you can just walk in and have a seat, take notes, even ask questions from the lecturer. Laboratories, workshops, hospitals etc. may block you to enter the class by making an appeal to security, lack of space etc. This is reasonable.

What you *can not do* as the man from the street is to ask the lecturer to read and give feedback on your essay, ask her to supervise your research etc. To do this you must be accepted to one of the study programs. This is because these tasks requires use of lecturer’s limited resources of time. But, why is there freedom for all to attend to the lectures?

The reason is money. We are a poor country (or at least use to be) with only 5 million people. We can not afford loosing a single Joe or Leigh willing to learn. These people sitting in the back of the lecture room does not cost anything for anyone. The lecture would be held anyway and in 9 out of 10 lectures there are more seats in the room than attendants. They still scale pretty well.

This is the same with content in libraries, or even more with a content on Internet. They scale even better than the lecture rooms. When content is produced and located to the library or on Internet it costs some money – less and less nowadays. But reading (using) the content costs very little more. The main reason is that information and knowledge does not wear down. Also when you give it away you do not loose it from yourself. It’s a strange goods.

So, anyway, as there are costs who will pay them? Joe the Taxpayer pays it all. To make prospects greater that Joe will have a business or a job, it makes sense to give him all the possible ways to learn. Learning conducts to productiveness. Productiveness means ability to pay taxes.

The whole idea behind the free or libre learning is thriftiness. We can not afford to loose people who are interested in to learn: whatever they do it inside the formal system or informally with content from libraries / Internet and in online discussions with their peers. These are the people who come up with new ideas, start businesses and finally, one day, pay taxes.

Libre Educational Resources and Libre Universities – Should we redefine what is an University?

Thursday, January 5th, 2006

I probably should write this post in Finnish, as it is targeted mainly for my colleagues in Finland. Though, as the post may be interesting for people in other countries, as well, I am presenting some insights from abroad and as the Flosse Posse is all in all in English I’ll go with the flow(*.

During the autumn I participated in the UNESCO’s online discussion and debate on Open Educational Resources. You can now read the reports about the debate from the UNESCO Virtual University web site.

Already before the mailing list was opened I was surprised how UNESCO was able to find only North American moderators under the title “provider perspective”. The “user perspective” was provided from Egypt, China, African virtual university and a portal of Latin American universities.

The arrangement of “providers” and “users” is not what comes first in my mind when thinking about Open Educational Resources. Or maybe that is the idea behind the OER, and maybe Open Education Resource is not what we need.

Perhaps we need Libre Educational Resources (LER). Basically, it would mean that the content is free to be used for whatever: to changed it and to redistribute it. In practice this would mean releasing the resources under public domain or e.g. under GNU Free Documentation License. This is not the case with OERs, that are promoted by several North American Universities. Kim Tucker from South Africa pointed out this matter already in the UNESCO’s mailing list. In the world of Libre Educational Resources we all are providers and users at the same time.

Liberty of science (research) and education is an old norm. The liberty of university research does not only mean freedom of speech, but also responsibility for the surrounding society and the whole humankind. The Universities are given this extraordinary liberty from the people (governments, companies, NGOs), because they contribute to the common good.

To keep the idea of libre education alive, maybe in Finland we could redefine what is an University. WTO and UNESCO may then make this definition international. Or actually, we should come-up with a new term for those Universities that are Libre Institutions. Here is my proposal for a definition:

A Libre University is a research and educational institution that is giving freedom for all to use, modify and redistribute the educational content used in the institution.

Libre University should be something that all higher education institutions would compete to be. To be a Libre University should be a value itself and would tell about the high quality of the institution. I am already excited to see which Finnish University will “liberate” all their learning resources and declare to be the first Libre University.

When the Libre University movement gets international the number of Libre Universities should be used when comparing different nations on their level of development. The Human Development Index (HDI) should use it as one of it´s core factors. The Libre Universities could also have a Club of their own and accept only members that are audited by the club to be Libre.

Why would an institution grant “liberty for all” on its learning resources?

Here is my top four positive reasons. If there are obstacles or challenges you are welcome to post them as comments to this post.

  1. Transparency is crucial in quality control. As a teacher I want to be sure that the content that I am publishing is right or at least, somehow, relevant for someone. Your colleagues, former and future students and those who pay your salary (people = government, companies, NGO’s) can follow and challenge you if needed.
  2. LER’s and study programs are two different things. LER is just a resource, libre education resource, which is used in research and learning – it is not a course per see. In a course or study program there are always objectives, activities and assessment or peer-review carried out by someone who has shown to be advanced expert in the field of study. We may call these people teachers or professors. So, from the University’s perspective they do not give away their “intelligent property” when they giving away LERs.
  3. LER’s will work as “marketing” and “pre-educational” material for the University. Students that are interested in to attend the University may already before hand get to know the topics that the programs will cover. Students entering will be better “equipped” to do their studies, as they have already got to know the programs and the materials beforehand.
  4. It is the right thing to do.

So, what would the liberty of educational resources in the international level mean and bring up? All in all it could be a start for global exchange – ecology and economy – of study programs. Study programs that are using LERs.

From Finland we could “provide” programs (based on LER’s) on those topics we are good at. And actually there are many areas where we are over the average: design, technology, international business, innovation, music, basic education, welfare, public administration. Even fine arts, humanities and languages. From these areas we should first put all our educational resources online for free to everybody to use, modify and distribute and then provide online classes on these topics by those people who have produced the content.

For developing our own study programs we could have more courses in them based on LER content made in Indian, Chinese, African, Arab and Latina American Universities. They could be very educational, humanizing and civilizing for our students. Think about it: philosophy, art, architecture, history, science, traditions and languages from these regions. Those students who would want to go deeper in their studies on these topics, could sign on online classes with those professors who have made these LERs.

Why I think that LER’s is the way to go in the Finnish University system?

First at all, I have the experience that many Finnish academics believe on the liberty of science and education. For many it is so obvious that they do not even think about it.

Secondly, In general most Finnish people see that common good is really a “common” good – something on what all benefit: government, companies and NGOs.

Thirdly, number of Finnish Universities (and their teachers) are already publishing their learning resources on Internet free of charge for anyone to use. The LER-model and the label of “Libre University” would basically clear up the current situation and give advantage of being the first.

Then some final words about the OER debate.

When the discussion is focusing on OER we forgot that the liberty of education is actually widely accepted norm among academics and educators. The Finnish university teachers publishing their course content online is a good example of it.

Not surprisingly at all, just some weeks ago, I was given another example of liberty of education in Bogota Colombia. Most of the learning resources of the Universidad Nacional De Colombia have been online, free of charge for several years already. Have a look of their course listing. In the Universidad Nacional they do not talk about OER, they just talk about learning resources that are open and easy to access. I am sure there are hundreds similar kind of examples, if one digs just a little deeper.

Conclusion.

There is no need for OER if we keep the norm of libre education alive and keep on teaching it for the new generations. However, we may need the concept of Libre Educational Resource (LER) and the “brand” of Libre University to do this.

*) I have lately thought a lot the language issues. I am going to write in future more in Finnish, Spanish and Swedish in other forums than Flosse Posse. Why? English is very poor language and I am not fluent with it. Finnish is beautiful, Spanish I should practice and Sweden – the country, not the language – I simply love. Unfortunately, my interest on German language was killed in school by my teachers Frau und Herr P. Shame on you!