Archive for April, 2006

Linux installation standardisation: yes please, do something about it!

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

After some two years of being a full-time Linux desktop user, I think I can eligibly say this: “Please, do something about the installation of software on Linux, and soon!” You already lost me!

Now at the upcoming annual Desktop Linux Summit (San Diego, US), the Free Standards Group plans to bring up the Linux Standard Base, “a standard that dictates how the software and configuration files for Linux distributions are organized. ..Linspire, Novell, Red Hat, and
Ubuntu are already on board to support the new version, according to the FSG.” This means that installing new software on your Linux would actually become possible for most of us, too, who do not know how to use the command line, let alone what it is. For those who are not familiar with Linux, there is nothing like easy installation wizards that we know from MS and Mac.

Just about time. To my experience this is the biggest hindrance for an every-day user wanting to switch using Linux. Facing the installation process of a new software application is a definite “no-go” sign that leaves any potential user shaking her head and humbly mumble something like “yeah, so what’s wrong with Windows anyway?” and keep on running it.

And this is a real pity, do you know why? Because all the Linux distros geared toward desktop usage have spent a lot of time and effort to develop something that actually looks good and has pretty reasonable user logic (like you don’t shut down the system by going to the “start” menu). The Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) are pretty flexible to adapt to your desires, you can easily make customised menu-bars, run pre-installed applications smoothly, and they actually don’t crash that often. I’ve enjoyed using the latest Open Office, learned to change from PhotoShop to GIMP, managed to use Skype, etc. in my various Linux distros that I run on my IBM laptop.

But, what was a killer and a constant reminder about my no-nerdiness, was the fact that I never managed to install anything on my Linux. Forget about computers empowering users, here I was dependant on my Linux-savy boyfriend to instal a browser update! How degrading. And don’t tell me that I could easily just learn a few commands to do it myself. I refuse, I want developers who think about doing it for me. To drive a car I don’t need to dirty my hands with oil, so be it also with computers!

This is my message to Linux developers: as long as you keep developing to yourselves and your geeky-buddies, Linux desktop distributions will never become a real alternative for Windows! Developers developing only for themselves never think about the other user-groups like me and my mom, who have no clue of terminal and command line to execute some obscure commands.

So, typing this using my new MacBook Pro (which, by the way, doesn not always work well), I can only wish best of luck and courage for this effort in San Diego. And for those who want to keep the installation process as it is, so be it, but only for you. Check out this Flash catoon about Steve, the super Vilan, I love the way he describes the installation process. He really gets it right, it makes me laugh.

Flash animation origianlly from the Ubergeek website

InfoWorld about Desktop Linux Summit

LeMill – for authoring and sharing learning resources

Sunday, April 23rd, 2006

LeMill is the software we have been working on for some months in my research group. LeMill is a web community for authoring and sharing learning resources.

LeMill (Learning Mill) is the new name for the software I have wrote about in here with the name Toolbox. At first I wrote how LeMill (that time still Toolbox) will combine learning content, methods and tools to generate learning patterns. Then I wrote about the first prototype.

Now we have a second prototype online. It gives much better picture what is LeMill about than the earlier prototypes. We also have a wiki page where we are writing down what is LeMill. If you are familiar with concept maps you may find useful the followings maps explaining how LeMill works:

Technically LeMill is a Zope/Plone product. LeMill have blogs for communities,
RSS feeds from every possible place, permalinks, tags, “edit this” –links etc. We are using Learning Object Metadata (LOM) and IMS Learning Design from those parts that makes sense for people who will be using LeMill. However, the idea is to make LeMill very wiki like system where people are free to do things.

We are also hooking other open/free/libre content repositories to the LeMill. This means that you can use with LeMill open/free/libre materials found from such a services as flickr and ourmedia. From the pieces found online you can build inside LeMill learning materials.

Truth of open and socially constructed information

Sunday, April 9th, 2006

I’m back from ITK conference and what catched my attention was all the discussion about how can we be sure that the information we read from open systems (Wikipedia, blogs, Open Source etc.) is truthful and accurate? This concern is often voiced by teachers who see the potential of resources like Wikipedia
but are afraid that it cannot be used as an educational resource
because there is no widely accepted scientific method in the background.

As Jussi Silvonen pointed out in finnish, this all goes to the epistemology
of how we understand knowledge. The social web is affecting the leading
paradigm of what is proper education. In this article I seek for a new
paradigm to base our current educational system upon, starting from the
school books.

Our current society is mainly based on the foundations of Cartesian knowledge, the idea that we need to seek the truth and objectivity to replace beliefs and God with accurate scientific knowledge. Descartes wanted to replace God with facts.
This is what our educational system teaches. Our school books and
encyclopaedias are based on the idea that what is contained within is
truthful and we need to memorize and learn exactly what is written
inside. Then we have exams to test if the student is able to replicate
the same truths as written in their school books.

I find this thinking a bit disturbing. Knowledge is always in the intersection of beliefs and truths.
As we cannot see all the facts or have all the first-hand experiences,
we generalize and believe that what we know is the truth. We live in a
uncertain world and history has shown, that what is written in our
school books is constantly shifting. The truth we teach is shaped by dialog between our current beliefs.

Now the social web is growing with social information that is blurring
the line between who is the author and what is the method, as
everything is actually a remixation of a wide range of sources. Uncertainity
is rising because of the social web but at the same time conversations
that shape this uncertainity are increasing in volume.

Montaigne
offered a different perspective where we actually agree that we live in
the middle of uncertainities and through conversations we will be able
to find common understanding on how to live together in this unstable
world.

The increasing ammount of socially constructed knowledge then becomes
actually food for thought, inspirations for new conversations where
knowledge is created. People make their decisions on information not
based on the list of authors and textual references but what others say
about it. They use their trusted peers to live in the middle of
uncertainity.

So the importance of information as a building block for creating new
knowledge is more important than preserving something that we believe
is the truth.

Right now our students go through many years and thousands of books and
they are constantly trained like animals to trust that the content what they read is the one and only truth.
We need something to balance this and teach them critical thinking and
ability to seek balance through conversations in the middle of
uncertainity.

I go on and suggest a new school book paradigm. Turn everything around.

Write a school book that has purposefully inserted factual errors. Make it as uncertain as possible, so that the student needs to seek conversations to make any sense out of it.

Make the point of the course to discuss the book and what things are
actually true and what are not. Base that on conversations reaching to
other information sources and people for answers outside the course as
well. Help them to be curious to seek different points of view. Make
critical peer review and discussion the central process. Make them realize that to cope with untruths they need humble conversations rather than forcing their own beliefs.

As a conclusion, Wikipedia is not really there for educators, news papers or fact seekers to refer as a truth. Wikipedia is not really about teaching facts. It’s about conversations.
A wiki page is inviting for a change. It’s never ready, it’s never a
truth. It has a discussion section for seeking a common ground.
Wikipedia is our greatest gift to education, because it makes us
understand that facts are constantly shifting based on open
conversations.