Archive for July, 2010

State of Open Source Software in Finnish Schools: some good news, something crucial still missing

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

To be honest, for a couple of years now I have been pretty skeptical about the future of Free and Open Source software in Finnish schools and education sector in general.

cmyk pingo crop 200x260 State of Open Source Software in Finnish Schools: some good news, something crucial still missing

In Finland we have a lot of open source expertise and know-how. We have developers. I also assume that majority of the (liberally) higher educated people in Finland, at least know what is “Open Source” and “Linux”. This should be a great foundation to get open source software to all public schools (and public institutions).

Today I did a little Internet study on the topics to find out where we are now. Frankly, I am positively surprised. There are a lot of things happening in the field. But there is also something very crucial missing. I’ll get back to this in the end of the post.

The good news is that the number of schools using Open Source is growing. Relying on several sources I would estimate that around 5% of the schools are using Linux on desktop and over 50 % of the schools have some Open Source software in their desktops — mainly Firefox browser, whose share in Finland is estimated to be over 50%. This is a great result when the Linux’s is estimated to have only 1-2% share of all the desktops in the world.

Another good news is that there are several projects raising awareness on Free and Open Source software for schools. There are blogs and newsletters, webinars and get-together events. The outreaching and educational activities seems to be today professionally carried out and well organized. Still, I would claim that the information provided on the topic is far too technical and as such irrelevant for most of the decisions makers. The people making decisions on the educational technology are not really interested in the LTSP (Linux Terminal Server Project). They want solutions. It looks that we are still missing credible providers of solutions.

Probably, however, the most promising thing in the field of Open Source in education in Finland is, that there actually are several small and middle size companies that are specialized in providing Open Source solutions for schools. Some of them have also build their own products and services specifically for the school market.

I am maybe doing some unfair promotion of only three companies, but they are good examples of those that were catched by my survey.

Opinsys seems to be the most promising one. Opinsys designs and implements networks, computers and software for schools — in practice solutions for teaching and learning. They provide support and maintenance. All Linux and Open Source.

Dicole use to develop their own Open Source community/intranet/learning environment platform, but has since then focus more on knowledge work. I still, however, believe that they could pull together a package of software-as-a-service specifically designed for schools.

Mediamaisteri is a company with strong presence in the Finnish education sector. Their product / service portfolio includes Moodle, Elgg, Mediawiki and Open meetings hosting. All Open Source. (Disclaimer: the founders of Dicole and Mediamaisteri are my friends)

Could these companies find growth in the international markets? I think they could. At least, in the European markets. Maybe there are similar small companies in other Scandinavian / Baltic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Estonia) or in the large European countries (Germany, France, UK, Poland, Italy, Spain). Maybe these small Finnish companies could establish partnerships with them?

I honestly was happy to find out that the Free / Open Source in education is not dead in Finland. Some regions in some other countries, like Andalucia in Spain and some pockets in the UK are maybe far ahead of us. I still, however, think that in Finland we have great chances to make a real impact in the field.

I wrote in the title that there is still something crucial missing. What is that?

It is the simple Linux based device designed specifically for school use. I think OLPC XO is not the solution for us or the rest of the Europe. We need our own device that is basically a touch screen with a web browser, a camera, audio in/out and all possible forms of wireless connectivity (Wlan, 3/4G, Bluetooth).

Firefox interface State of Open Source Software in Finnish Schools: some good news, something crucial still missing

I know there are people in Finland who are able to do perfect electronic engineering and industrial design for this. I know that there are software people able to do relatively minor changes to existing Linux distributions to make it up and running. If we can do it, why we are not doing it?

Just with the European market — close to 100 million school children — it should make sense.

Wikipedia article traffic statistics are hypnotics

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

I am trying to get offline, to the vacation mood, to read some good books in a hammock.

200px Wikipe tan trifecta sign Wikipedia article traffic statistics are hypnotics

I took some notes in the WikiSym / Wikimania.

I take notes in rather unstructured way. I carry several paper notebooks with me: often an A5 size and a small A6 sketchbooks. Then I always have with me a laptop and a phone which I use for note taking, too. Sometimes I also write notes to some random Post IT notes, which I often have in the case.

My logics with this kind of note taking is that if something is not really important I may and will lose it. Also if I really need something later I should be willing to take the effort to search it.

So, what is there, couple of days after the Wikisym/Wikimania, in the top of my pile of notes? There are many things, such as:

From all these I have some random notes in here and there. I may write blog posts about them later.

The most hypnotic new thing I found during the WikiSym/Wikimania is probably the Wikipedia article traffic statistics. Actually it is not even new and I think it was not even presented in the conference, but with some free browsing on wiki-related things I happen to found it now.

With the service you can check the popularity of any Wikipedia article from more than 70 language versions. The latest statistics are from December 2009, but it is still la lot of fun. I have been playing with it now for several days.

For instance, I have been comparing the top 1000 articles of the Finnish, Swedish and Russian Wikipedias.

Here are the top-10 articles in the Finnish, Swedish and Russian Wikipedias in December 2009:

Finnish Wikipedia

  1. Suomi (Finland)
  2. Wiki
  3. Talvisota (Winter War 1939)
  4. Brittany Murphy (Hollywood celebrity)
  5. Irwin Goodman (a Finnish protest singer, rock and folk singer)
  6. Suomen itsenäisyyspäivä (The Finnish Independent Day)
  7. Joulu (Christmas)
  8. Twilight – Houkutus (Hollywood movie)
  9. Lady Gaga (American celebrity)
  10. Yhdysvallat (United States of America)

Swedish Wikipedia

  1. Sverige (Sweden)
  2. Brittany Murphy (Hollywood celebrity)
  3. Wiki
  4. Lucia (Saint Lucy’s Day)
  5. Anna Anka (Swedish Hollywood celebrity)
  6. Julkalendern i Sveriges Television (Christmas calendar in a Swedish Television)
  7. Kurt Wallander (character in Henning Mankell’s novels)
  8. Jul (Christmas)
  9. Wikipedia
  10. USA (United States of America)

Russian Wikipedia

  1. В Контакте (Russian social network service)
  2. Турчинский, Владимир Евгеньевич (Vladimir Turchinsky; Russian celebrity, bodybuilder, TV/radio, actor)
  3. Википедия (Wikipedia)
  4. Россия (Russia)
  5. Порнография (Porno)
  6. Мой Мир@mail.ru (free e-mail service)
  7. Аватара (Avatar concept of Hinduism)
  8. Москва (Moscow)
  9. BitTorrent
  10. Новый год (New Year)

Looking the top lists of English (I love The Beatles, too) German (and adore Elisabeth von Österreich-Ungarn) and French (and listen to Johnny Hallyday) Wikipedia’s and comparing them is also interesting and fun.

From the top 1000 lists we may already conclude some hypothesis / theories. All the lists show the actuality of using Wikipedias. For Finnish and Swedish people Christmas is important, whereas in Russia New Year is the Christmas (Orthodox Calendar). The Finnish Independent day is in December. In December 2009 it was 50 years from the Winter War.

Also the celebrities in the list were actual in December 2009. In Finland and Sweden people seems to follow Hollywood. In Russia they have their own stars. Brittany Murphy in the Finnish and Swedish WIkipedia and Vladimir Turchinsky in the Russian Wikipedia represent the celebrities who died in December 2009.

It looks that the Russian Wikipedia in December 2009 was still dominated by technology / internet people. The general public was not yet the main user of the Russian Wikipedia as it obviously was the case in the Finnish and the Swedish Wikipedias.

The high position of Irwin Goodman, a Finnish protest singer, rock and folk singer, in the Finnish Wikipedia could be a result of some new research about him that was published in December 2009, but why is the Hindu concept Avatar so high in the Russian Wikipedia? Could it be that people were looking for information about the movie Avatar but end-up to this page?

Then you may ask why the Twilight movie and Lady Gaga are in top ten in the Finnish Wikipedia but in the Swedish Wikipedia only in the places 43 and 36. In the Russian Wikipedia these great cultural products are in the places 60 (Twilight) and 352 (Lady Gaga).

I already started to copy paste the data to spreadsheet to do more analyses, but gave up. I know that there are people who really can do statistics. I am not very good with them, but I would love to do some cultural-historical analyses of the Wikipedias with someone with solid skill in statistics. Let’s do some hypothesis and see what the data tells us.

Imagine courses that take place in wikis, blogs, social networks…

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

I am this week in the WikiSym / Wikimania double conference.

Its’ another great opportunity to spend some time with the world’s brightest wiki-minds: academics, developers, community members and bureaucrats.

I am going to give a short talk on Friday in the Wikiversity session. I am going to present the EduFeedr, a small and beautiful project I am working with Hans Põldoja.

If you can’t make it to Gdańsk — it’s sunny and with nice mixture (like good wikis) of Slavic flexibility and Prussian order — you may check the following presentation. I’ll copy here also the abstract of the talk:

Designing Tools for Supporting Wikiversity Courses: the Case of EduFeedr

In spring 2008 the authors organized a course on composing free and open educational resources (in the Wikiversity). It was officially a master’s course at the University of Art and Design Helsinki. The authors decided to make the course available with an open enrollment through the Wikiversity and promoted it in their blogs. As a result about 70 people from 20 countries signed up for the course on the Wikiversity page.

The course was organized as a weekly blogging seminar. In each week the facilitators posted a weekly theme and links to related readings on the course blog. The participants reflected on the weekly theme in their personal blogs and commented their peers.

One of the challenges in a large blog-based course is to follow all the communication. Typically this communication takes place not only in blogs but also in other environments such as Delicious, Twitter, etc. Most of these environments provide RSS feeds but typical RSS readers are not very suitable for following this kind of courses. Most of the RSS readers such as Google Reader are designed for personal use. In a Wikiversity course it would be important to have a shared feed reader that all the participants could use.

EduFeedr is a web-based feed reader that is designed specifically for following and supporting learners in open blog-based courses. The design process of EduFeedr is based on the research-based design methodology. We have organized several Wikiversity courses where we have tried out various online tools to manage the course. The initial user needs for EduFeedr came out from this contextual inquiry. Interaction design methods such as scenario-based design, user stories and paper prototyping have been used in the process.

As a result of the design process we have indicated the key features for EduFeedr. These include (1) signing up for the course, (2) visualizing how the students have proceeded with the assignments, (3) visualizing the social network between the students, (4) annotating blog posts and comments, and (5) archiving the course.

EduFeedr is currently a work-in-progress. The first version is implemented as Elgg plugin and we are currently doing internal testing with real data from several Wikiversity courses. In this version we have implemented signing up for the course and some of the planned visualizations. We are planning to launch the beta version of EduFeedr service in late summer 2010. The source code and more information about EduFeedr is available at the project web site (see http://www.edufeedr.org).

Open education: if you can do it, do it

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

Some time ago the New York Times wrote about the fathers’ leave in Sweden. The articles ends with these words:

In Sweden I am on the right,” Mr. Westerberg said, “but in the United States, I’m considered a Communist.”

Some days ago David Wiley wrote that with the open content the Open Knowledge Foundation gets it wrong when claiming that share-alike licenses are open but non-commercial ones aren’t.

For those who are not that familiar with the open/free content/knowledge discussion, the share-alike (SA) license has a condition asking people who remix or build upon the content to distribute the resulting work under the same license. The license ensures that later works will be open, too — will stay in commons. Wiley wrote:

“When authors adopt a share-alike license, they are saying: we value the freedom of content over the freedom of people.”

As an author using share-alike license I see this a bit differently. I value the *freedom of mankind*, the common good, over the freedom of content or individuals.

I think that this is the way most SA people see it: When you are given, you should give back, too.

I also do not consider use of SA to be any kind of violation of individual’s rights. Individual’s rights is something I am not willing to negotiate about. In the case of content anyone is still free to release *their own stuff* under whatever license. So, as a such SA is not really communism. It is a way to contribute to the common good.

Later Wiley wrote a follow-up post with the title Openness, Radicalism, and Tolerance and asking “Why isn’t the open crowd more open-minded?”

I see here some signs of a straw man arguments.

I think we should look how the Free / Open Source Softeware movement and the Open Content movement were started. People simply started to do things. The Free software people made software and wanted to share it with their friends. Some other people started to write free encylopedia or publish University course content online. They just did it because they could.

What are people doing in the field of Open Education?

Many things. For instance, the Peer 2 Peer Univeristy and the Wikiversity are crassroot open education projects organizing self-organizing learning online. The idea is to bring people together to teach and to learn from each other. Simple.

Similar kind of initiatives are started here and there: from Indian to Brazil, From South Africa to Finland. I find these much more interesting that the discussion on content-driven “open education”. The content is there – now it is the time to use it. That is education.

Peer 2 Peer University 2010 from P2P University on Vimeo.