Archive for October, 2006

Transportation systems and open educational resources (OERs)

Monday, October 30th, 2006

Some people are worried what will happen for publishing industry if schoolbooks and other educational resources will be delivered online under free/open license. I am not worried – and not only because I am not in a schoolbook business – but because I see that in the value chain there is job for publishers, too. However, it looks that many people in the publishing industry and in ICT industry are not that willing to change the status quo.

To see that there are a lot options for different kind of actors, I am proposing that we should actually look how the transportations systems are organized in the most progressive countries (like in Sweden). Based on this we should consider if the global ecology and economy of open education resources could be somehow similar to the good transportation systems.

We all know that video didn’t kill the radio star. Same way Internet will not kill printed materials, such as books, newspapers or magazines – at least not in the next two hundred years. Still, just like the “radio starts” were “forced” to make their videos for the MTV publishing industry must rethink their business and adjust it to the era of digital media.

I personally think different kind of free/libre/open and proprietary software and content may all find their market niches in future, too. The problem is that the media/ICT industry is naturally much more willing to sell one for all, than giving consumers right to choose from several options.

Here are two examples of choosing and using both (1) proprietary and FLOS software and (2) proprietary content and open/free content side by side.

I am happy to pay for my proprietary operating system (based on open source OS). I am a happy customer because my OS is offering me user experience that is better than the FLOSS options or some other proprietary OSs. In my OS I run many open source software and some proprietary. I want to choose for the tasks I have the best tools that fit to my budget. I also know that having the change to choose I am very privileged. However, the basic tasks should be possible to carry out without any financial investment. These are e.g. browsing the web, writing emails, writing text documents, doing spreadsheets and basic image processing.

Similar kind of example from content. I like reading, but I prefer reading printed real books with proper layout design. I am happy to pay about the add-value the real book gives me compared to miscellaneous pills of papers printed by myself from web or reading something from the screen. I also do this when there is no printed book easily available. What I do a lot is borrowing books, from the libraries and from my friends. Again I, as a consumer highly appreciate my right to choose. I also appreciate the fact that even with less consuming power I could still read (online or in library). The open educational resources may make this possible in a global scale. Even without a lot of consumer power you can still study.

I actually hope that the global ecology and economy of education resources could be in future something like transportation systems (in many developed countries and regions: many parts of Europe but also in some mega-cities in developing countries). In a good transportation system basic infrastructure, streets and roads are “public domain”: you are free to walk and cycle on them. Also basic transportation services (buses, metros, trains) are provided for all with reasonable contributions from the “end-users”. Finally, if you anyway prefer your private car you are free to spend your time in the traffic jams.

In the case of developing transportation systems we may ask: how do you get the best return of investment if you consider the return to be the people’s increased possibility to move around? No you do not build more highways for private cars. You should invest your money on the basic infrastructure and the public transportation (metros, trains, buses).

Similar way when we are developing the ecology and economy of educational resources we probably should not at first ask from the publishers what do they think about the idea? We should focus and invest on the basic infrastructure and public “transportation”. The publishers will always find their markets.

Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That’s what we’re doing.” – Jimmy Wales 2005, Founder of Wikipedia

Distance working the Australian way

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

I have understood that in the field of distance learning there is one country that is very much ahead of everybody else. Australia.

In an audio interview Martin Dougiamas, Creator of Moodle, tells how he grow up in a middle of Australia. In 1970’s he did his first years of school with four or five other youth talking via radio with a teacher who was 600 miles away. Every other week an airplane would stop by with school materials (via Steve Hargadon and Stephen Downes).

Distance learning has a long tradition in Australia. It looks that using Internet and web is very natural next step in the Australian history of distance learning already including use of post (letters), radio and TV for the same purpose. Many Australian are use to communicate, study and learn with people at distance.

On Friday I will participate in an online session organized by a group of great Australian people. I will give a short brief and we will then discuss about the MobilED initiative – our mobile learning project.

The session is open for anyone to participate in. If you want to see how the Australians do distance sessions online, please join us! Here are the details:

Place / platform: Breeze – Flash based online conferencing system
-> just get in to the event room.

Time: ESB Australia 2:00 PM – 2:30 PM
-> check your time around the world.

Hope to see you there!

The EU is after us again

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006
“The Government is seeking to prevent an EU directive that could extend broadcasting regulations to the internet, hitting popular video-sharing websites such as YouTube.

The European Commission proposal would require websites and mobile phone services that feature video images to conform to standards laid down in Brussels.

Ministers fear that the directive would hit not only successful sites such as YouTube but also amateur “video bloggers” who post material on their own sites. Personal websites would have to be licensed as a “television-like service”“

Amateur ‘video bloggers’ under threat from EU broadcast rules – Times OnlineIsn’t that nice. Once we finally replace the controllers of the message (distribution channels) with the Internet and hand off the keys of the gates from gatekeepers to prosumers who remix, amplify and refeed culture for our collective benefit, someone comes from the last decade and suggest that we take the same rules created for the old mass-distribution channels and apply them on the new mass-niche channels, or our children wont be safe. Wasn’t the whole point of broadcast licenses to prevent frequency
interference? This is not a problem with the internet today. Internet is not a series of tubes icon wink The EU is after us again This threatens not only our freedom of speech as in video, but also our ability to co-create the culture we so much love and the new democracy where everyone can have a voice rather than a vote. This is not only a question of culture and freedom but also a question of education. Think of learning object repositories, like LeMill, setup by the people for the people. Soon you need a broadcasting license to run one. Think of dynamic knowledge-creation centric sites that jam on videos created by others. Take for example this band. Once again you have to step down and submit yourself to those who have the money and the resources. Those who in their self-interest choose themselves what content is good for you, rather than allowing your audience to make the decision.Is this really something that separates EU in competition from others or does it hinder innovation, sending us back to the stone age? Hmm, I kind of like the ancient feeling of those black robes and sacred libraries…

Networked groups

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

It’s been a busy month. First there was the trip around New Zealand with bunch of nice people with a lot of new thoughts and ideas about learning, teaching and education. After this I made a short visit to Manila and had several very good meetings in there. It looks promising that we will do something interesting in Philippines with the MobilED. I also got a chance to experience the typhoon and got a little touch of Philippines SMS-culture. When waiting for the winds to calm down I got this message from a Philippines colleague of mine: “Unfortunately m stil at home w8ng 4 electrcty nd water 2 come bak. Do u hav ur new flyt sked”. My presentation slides (PDF, 45 MB) from the Manila meetings are online.

Pretty soon after getting back to Helsinki I took part in a conference on a boat to Stockholm and finally the same week to another conference in Turku. The presentation slides are in LeMill, here and here (all in Finnish).

I love when the right things happens without my involvement. This was the case during the trip in New Zealand. Everything was well designed and worked out so smoothly. Thank you Leigh one more time. The latest release of LeMill was another great experience of right things happening without me. I just wrote about the LeMill release in here. I am very proud of us! Thank you Tarmo, Hans and the whole LeMill team. You, … ups sorry. We make a great “networked group”.

The last weeks has challenged me to think a bit more what makes a community, a group, a network and on the other hand what is co-operation, collaboration and co-construction. Some time ago I wrote about the later topics in here. I concluded that we need co-construction to achieve higer levels of learning.

I am naturally not alone with the issue. If I’ll make it very simple Stephen Downes’ claimed that “groups” are bad and “networks” are good.

In the last four weeks in several formal and informal conferences and gatherings, in dinner tables and in the mailing lists I have claimed that beyond groups and networks we can have “networked groups” (in Finnish: verkottuneet ryhmät).

So what are the networked groups?

Networked groups are one kind of collections of people who get together to build something; from better understanding (learning), to build a house, science, software, or simply to improve their living conditions. The point is that there is a common goal.

Networked groups, like all groups, form norms and agree on roles. Still, a networked group keeps the norms and roles open for improvements and changes. They are also open for anyone to join and leave at any point. This way they remind a lot of networks.

Actually we may see that the networked groups are groups with network properties(*. These properties are for instance: there is no hierarchy and they are self-organized.

So, what still makes networked group then a group and not just a network. The difference is the goals, the norms and the roles. In an open network there are no goals or norms, nor roles. In an open network of human nodes you should not bind yourself to anything.

The “freedom” of networks is especially problematic in learning. If there is no goal – such as “lets try to understand this phenomena together“ – very little useful learning will take place. If there are no norms and agreement how the goal will be achieved we most likely will never get there. Finally, we need roles that are defining that these people are committed to help each other in different tasks. When working well this lead to the situation where someone is really interested in and committed to help you over the obstacles you may have in your learning process. Psss.. in English these people are called “teachers”.

So, where are there networked groups? Many in Sweden. Some in Finland. There are also reports that at least one teacher in Canada and another one in Brazil are building their whole classrooms as networked groups. icon smile Networked groups

*) Actually this was a definition made by Stephen Downes’ in a mailing list discussion.

Peko is here – LeMill 1.1. released

Monday, October 16th, 2006

We are very happy to announce the release of version 1.1 of LeMill. LeMill is a web portal and engine for authoring and sharing free and open learning resources. You may download your own LeMill from our development site. LeMill is free/libre/open source and released under GPL.

The Peko release (v.1.1) – named after an ancient Estonian and Finnish god of crops, especially barley and brewing – is a huge step to right direction. Now LeMill starts to look and function the right way. There are still many bugs and for that reason we still call the lemill.net service “preview”. However, trying it out now makes more sense than ever before. We are also very grateful for all the bug reports you may post us.

Feel free to play around.