Friday, December 14, 2007

Reset Vista

I have a new computer that's been sitting on my desk, waiting for me to have time to move everything over off my old computer. I only use it only occasionally, but have logged into it several times. So yesterday, as I was trying to transfer some music files over that I didn't want to store on the file server where I'd been putting everything from my old computer, I couldn't get my old computer to connect to the new one. I end up rebooting it, and when it comes back up, the password doesn't work. I don't know if I changed it or if a security update did something weird, but I was locked out. No other account to login with.

I found a nice Linux CD that boots you up to a registry editor that allows you to reset the passwords on accounts and enable or un-lockout accounts. The website itself was confusing to navigate, but once I found what I needed, it went pretty quick. I reset the password to something else a couple times. Nothing. I tried enabling the Administrator account and setting a password on that (since the Administrator account is disabled by default in Vista). No go.

So as I start looking through his FAQs, I find that setting the password is a bit flaky but just blanking the password should be pretty consistent. So I tried that and was in, and then within Windows I set the password to what it should have been all along. It won't let me change anything on the Administrator account, so I'll have to go disable that again, I guess.

When I was setting the password, I got this little hint from Vista: "If your password contains capital letters, they must be typed the same way every time you log on." Yes, thank you, but the question I have to ask is that if my password does not contain capital letters, does it not have to be typed the same way every time? If it's all lower case letters and numbers, do I not have to type my password the same way? I'm not sure I want to actually find out.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Making a Difference with Research

After reading what Fishman, et al. have to say [Fishman, B., Marx, R.W., Blumenfeld, P., Krajcik, J., & Soloway, E. (2004). Creating a framework for research on systemic technology innovations. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(1), 43-76.], I'm not sure if I was supposed to be depressed or excited about all the great work there is still to do: "most innovations derived from Learning Sciences research have not found their way into widespread classroom use", "the primary uses of technology in schools remain drill and practice, word processing, and web surfing", "the field lacks a bridge between focused research and development of learning technologies and the broad-based systemic use of these innovations in schools", "technology used for curricular purposes is often maintained by organizations in the school district that traditionally have not been involved in classroom learning", "the time districts devote to standardized assessment activities cuts into the amount of extended time available for inquiry-oriented learning as called for in the standards", "computers distributed throughout classrooms are difficult to secure and maintain, while centralized computer labs create scheduling conflicts", and "the Internet is down more than it is up".

Since I'm not as much interested in K-12 education as I am in higher ed and business, I would be interested to know how many of the above challenges apply to those environments as well. My guess is that it ends up being similar. Often in business the IT department will be somewhat isolated from whatever is actually produced, just like it is in this example in K-12 education. In my experience, I have seen (and felt) frustration on the part of IT personnel when they are not involved in important decisions of the organization.

One of the most important points I read in the article was that successful reform will happen when the local organization is invested and heavily involved in the reform. In Union City, the school district designed its own reforms to avoid losing control of their district to the state. It's too bad that the federal government can't get its fingers out of the country's education and leave it up to the states or even to the local school districts to make decisions about what is best for their students (as the U.S. Constitution states should be the case). Because the district was in charge of its own reforms, it could make changes both to what is taught in the classroom and the professional development of teachers.

Innovation has to be localized and sustainable in order to be successful. Empowering people at all level of an organization to act on a unified set of goals will make an organization more nimble and responsive. I really believe that putting together good people and allowing them to make appropriate decisions without too many layers of paperwork and bureaucracy will keep morale higher and get more good things accomplished.

I would love to implement a cognitive tutor, like that discussed in the article, to track the behavior of the students I work with in CIL. There are many methods students may use to prepare for our tests (and some don't prepare) so it would be useful to track students' paths and really analyze what people are spending time working on in an online environment. Knowing what people are working on and where they make mistakes would help us refine our instruction.

When they discuss the benefits of collaborating across grades to implement tools that can take advantage of economies of scale, it makes sense, but I don't know of a specific tool at the K-12 level that does so other than maybe Accelerated Reader, which, from what I hear, seems to be a pretty decent product. Perhaps Blackboard is supposed to be a tool at the university level that should allow for collaboration and communication in a classroom; if it is, I'd like to see someone that's actually using it effectively.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning

Technology and sociality are interrelated. Few social groups can function without some kind of technology to connect them, and technologies with no social function serve little purpose. Stevens discusses Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) and the relationships among people, tasks, and technologies in performing tasks. Roschelle, in discussing Convergent Conceptual Change (or collaborative learning), describes a process by which students can agree on a given piece of knowledge.

Roschelle’s four-featured process includes production of a deep-featured situation, interplay of physical metaphors, interactive cycles of conversational turn-taking, and progressively higher standards for convergence. In other words, they need the following: a case that captures their attention and requires some effort to accomplish a goal, a connection to their existing knowledge, iterations of practice and feedback, and assessment as they apply their newly constructed knowledge. So we’re talking about Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction, with a few of the steps combined and applied to a technology-based collaborative environment.

I was interested by Steven’s observation that in a middle school classroom the students mirrored the practice in architectural firms of designers using paper and draftsmen translating the paper into a computer model, even though the computer was intended to be the primary design tool and the students had little training in paper-based designing. Once the roles were established, it was interesting that the students declined to rotate into the other roles as they had been told to do by their teacher. After reading this, I’ll have to take a hard look at my own role as R programmer in the group for my statistics class, where the other members write on the white board and discuss theories, while I actually enter the code based on their recommendations. Apparently I’m the junior draftsman of the group, but seriously with the number of group projects I’ve been in, it appears obvious that in almost any situation with teams, the roles seem to be established quickly and are often difficult to change later.

Steven’s discussion of assessment was very important, given the weight we place on assessment in courses. Students quickly figure out what is and isn’t important in a class, based on how they are assessed. The classroom designers learned very different skills, so how are they to be appropriately assessed? A test on using the CAD software would (and did) result in low scores for the designers, because scores were based on traditional uniform-experience assessment. In the reading I have done on Problem-based Learning (PBL), which this experience appears to match pretty closely, assessment of individuals is always a difficult issue. A possible method for grading is to rotate groups throughout the class, so each individual receives the average of their group scores, if there is time to do so. Assessment should be based on performance on the task, not on a True/False test afterwards. Although students involved in PBL often score lower on tests than those involved in didactic learning, they tend to retain what they did learn longer.

Steven’s discussion of division of labor and Roschelle’s discussion of collaborative learning do not compete, but are complementary. The roles that are played by group members depend on the type of environment in which the group is placed. Individual members of the group come to a shared understanding (hopefully), but the path to get there is dependent on the roles each member plays. An important part of PBL is allowing the group to come to consensus in whatever way works for them. They learn the subject matter, but they also learn processes for collaborating to make decisions and construct knowledge.

It is unfortunate that so much of traditional educational practice discourages teamwork, when the interaction while learning is what really encodes the concepts being studied. Collaboration is key. Some real-world environments continue to function on the competition model we are taught in school, but they are not as productive. That is not to say that competition is bad, because it’s not. It is good but in the right context. A goal, then, should be to provide technology that encourages collaboration, so that sociality can thrive.

Roschelle, J. M. (1992). Learning by Collaborating: Convergent Conceptual Change. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 2(3), 235-276.

Stevens, R. (2000). Divisions of labor in school and in the workplace: Comparing computer and paper-supported activities across settings. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 9(4), 373-401.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Wrap Up

Near the end of what will hopefully be the busiest semester of my PhD program (roughly comparable to the busiest semester during my MBA program, except then I was only working part time), I finish up one of my four classes with this post. Intro to Open Education has been an interesting class.

Professors teach. They have not all been trained in teaching, so you don't necessarily expect every professor to always be a masterful teacher. Being in a department of Instructional Technology, however, there is a higher standard. In their teaching, we expect them to practice what they preach. I think that has happened in this course.

Brittany G (from Flickr)In another class where new PhDs get to know the faculty and write about how their interests align, Wiley said that someone once wrote on their evaluation that they had no idea what he was interested in. Oh. Well, in every class I have had from him, there have been elements of collaboration, reusing open materials, utilizing the latest technology, and learner control in the structure of the course. Looking at the research and presentations on his CV, it is all about collaborating with Web 2.0 tools, creating and reusing open content, providing instruction via the Internet with various technology, and giving learners materials that are most effective for them. So it's nice to see he's using what he's been researching. Okay, enough about Wiley.

There was a lot of content packed in this course. I liked both the individual comments directly on my posts and the synthesis or highlight posts. When Wiley stopped the comments and went back to the synthesis posts and we were supposed to respond to others' postings for the last three readings, I chose to leave individual comments on others' blogs rather than do my own synthesis post. The comments just seem a little more direct and personal. That said, I liked being able to see everything in one place. Either way, hopefully we boosted each other's pageranks by all the interlinking. For the future, a little more coordination and training up front on how to set up a feed reader and properly tag everything so it is easier to see everything in one place would be very beneficial. That is the power of the tools we used, but I don't believe we really harnessed that power. Or maybe just I didn't.

During the semester, I found myself citing articles we read in this course in papers I wrote for other professors. I also cited papers from other classes in my postings here. I plan on going back through some of the papers I've written over the past year and posting several of them here. For some reason it's just a little easier to find and cite my own writing when it's out in one spot on the web for me to access anywhere, instead of scattered among the four USB drives I carry around, my laptop, home computer, work computer, several wikis, and Google Docs.

In my day job, I'm in charge of Computer and Information Literacy at USU. We're currently starting the process to hammer out a statewide agreement so we have at least a minimum level of competency across all the local higher ed institutions. I have included in my recommendations that students should be able to contribute content via a wiki. I am also suggesting that in addition to teaching about copyright, plagiarism, and piracy that we make sure we teach fair use and the CC and GFDL licensing of content. I put together a wiki page and invited the representative from each school to put their recommendations there. One tried and couldn't get it to save right. Another school emailed me to post it for them. I've seen nothing from the rest. I sincerely hope we can keep up with the new kids, both their needs as well as their strengths, so we can really provide them something useful, not just a lame, out of touch test.

Brittany G (from Flickr)As I've been reading and writing a bit about virtual communities lately and thinking about how something along those lines might work for a dissertation topic, I've been impressed by the community in this class. I've communicated more with many members of this online class than I have with the people in my face to face statistics class I'm in right now. Other than a few of us that do stats homework together, I never talk to anyone. For this class, it was a little bit of a slow start, but we had to give time for half the class to drop out to really get going. Conversations started up pretty quickly on what people thought about how the class was going, and changes were made because of that. The conversations about the content were fantastic. The added diversity by having so many countries represented added valuable depth to the course, with many more points of view to consider. Now that it's over, a few people set up a wiki to keep the community alive. That's great. There are some people in this class that will make a real difference in the lives of a lot of people.

Do No Evil

I recently discovered Cory Doctorow. Apparently he's pretty well known. I had never heard of him until I stumbled upon some of his writings in searching for articles related to a paper I was writing. Of course, I ended up reading a bunch of his stuff instead of what I needed for my paper.

He has a fun story called Scroogled where he pictures a world in which Google turns evil.

I haven't gotten to it yet, but I'm looking forward to reading his When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth, when I get a minute.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Time Keeps on Slippin Slippin Slippin

mtstradling (from Flickr)As I look into the future of higher education and the impact of the OER movement, I read OpenCourseWars again, having read it a couple times recently. A problem of this particular fictitious history, which simply requires some amount of suspension of disbelief, is the short amount of time in which the story takes place. It seems unlikely that any major changes in higher education generally could occur in a 7 year span, especially given several court cases and multiple levels of appeals, which themselves probably take most of that time. Then there's the part where Google becomes evil, but I digress, as that is not really the point of the story. What's important is the discussion of the problems with the CC-NC clause, license compatibility issues between GFDL and CC, and the explosion of the sharing culture.

My first prediction is that we will have compatible versions of the GFDL and CC licenses by 2010, although concessions will have to be made on both sides, and they will not be fully compatible. There will be certain versions of both that play together. Some people will care and use the license-exchange option, and some will continue not to care and mix them anyway.

My second prediction is that as new collaboration and communication tools are created and distributed over the next 10-15 years, more virtual schools like WGU will pop up, and the jucos, tech schools, and for-profit institutions will embrace collaborative education methods. Broadband access will finally become universal and inexpensive after a narrow vote in Congress funds a major investment in infrastructure, as lobbied for by Google. The two major options will be wireless and powerline networking. With increased access a whole new market of potential nontraditional students will open up. With the lower-tier schools enabling and empowering their students, the research universities will have no choice but to adjust their practices to remain competitive. The top-tier schools will be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the collaborative age and then will immediately turn around and congratulate themselves on their innovative practices (like how the cellphone companies fought against phone number portability, but now tout it as a great feature since they were forced to implement it).

My third prediction (a subset of number two) is that the textbook industry will go away as we know it. As Wikipedia and its sister projects continue to grow, the younger professors, who are adept at Web 2.0 tools and who resent their professors that forced them to spend $1,000 per semester on out of date textbooks, will stop requiring textbooks for their courses. It will be a slow process, and some form of printed textbook will always be around, but the demand will eventually diminish.

My fourth prediction (also more details on number two) is that these young professors will adopt new teaching methods that leverage student and alumni knowledge and information-gathering skills to develop their lesson plans, giving them more time to complete their research. That won't last long, though, as many faculty positions will become 12-month, rather than 9-month appointments to deal with the increasing numbers of students and their tendency to take classes year-round, since many classes can be done from any location.

My fifth prediction is that my children will not remember a time when you had to pay for long distance phone calls. Okay, so that doesn't have much to do with OER or higher education, but that will be the seamless nature of technology within a few years, and openness will be expected in all facets of life.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


An important sentence from an article I recently read regarding evaluation was, “There is a need to help evaluators consider the way in which usability and learning interact.” That was the whole point of the article, so it was nice to see it directly stated in the introduction. To back up this claim, they present two well known evaluation checklists that fail to address the learning component to software, focusing more on usability of the software.

The Jigsaw Model, meant to address this need, follows a multi-level approach that addresses various tasks involved in both learning concepts and using the software. After addressing them independently, it looks at the relationships among the various concepts. While I’m not particularly interested in evaluation, it does (or should) permeate all steps of the design process, and I do like the focus on the integrated view, showing how everything fits together. Often courses will teach specific concepts or skills without relating them to the general field and without any help in figuring out how it all might be used in the real world.

I am interested in Sweller’s Cognitive Load Theory. Much of the software side of the Jigsaw Model fits in with the need to reduce extraneous cognitive load. That is, as students spend time learning to use a specific piece of software or trying to integrate it with their computer’s speakers or printer, extraneous cognitive load is present. That is, students are spending time trying to figure out something other than what they are supposed to be learning. Unless the class is about troubleshooting printers or HCI, when there are problems, the students stop learning to take care of these other issues. Students shouldn’t have to deal with poorly written software when trying to learn.

Germane Cognitive Load (the good kind) is the processing and storing information that is being learned. By manipulating and working with the materials being learned, students will learn to understand it better. The anti-test-cramming argument would come into play here, with little likely germane load experienced when students just try to memorize a bunch of words right before the test. Without constructing schema to help figure out how everything being learned fits together, there is no context, and everything will be forgotten after the test. It is unfortunate that our education system seems so intent on tests. Performance on tests is rewarded, even though the process in preparing for tests often gets in the way of students being able to really focus on digging deep into the material for the class.

Squires & Preece point out that successful learning will involve students relating concepts and skills being taught to concepts and skills previously learned and used in that field of study. Usability issues need to not only keep from getting in the way of facilitating learning, but will ideally be designed to promote it. That integration of learning tasks and usability tasks is key in minimizing extraneous cognitive load and encouraging germane cognitive load.

Squires, D., & Preece, J. (1996). Usability and learning: Evaluating the potential of educational software. Computers & Education, 27(1), 15-22.

Internet-based Communities

I mentioned an article about online communities and how the framework presented applies to the learning objects community. There were some other general points of the article that I thought I should follow up on.

Online communities tend to be successful or not in their own right, but well-designed software can facilitate an increase in productivity. With the many Web 2.0 tools available to us, along with pervasive connectedness, we see increased collaboration. It is becoming less necessary for communities to have to spend much time creating technology to suit their needs, other than simply choosing from many pre-existing tools and perhaps extending the tools' capabilities by mashing up with another tool. For a great matrix of tools that can be combined to form something new, see ProgrammableWeb's Mashup Matrix. For an awesome mashup example, see the Ad Generator, which combines photos from Flickr with components of real corporate slogans for moving, yet meaningless advertisements that you could spend an hour watching.

I thought it was interesting when de Souza talked about emoticons as symbols that take the place of body language and that some are close "to becoming a stable conventional symbol that can be universally understood by the computer literate population." Being involved in computer literacy myself, I would hope that the ethereal goal is not only to standardize upon symbols that computer literates can understand, but that our collective grandma could use also. That point is addressed in a way I hadn’t thought about before, when de Souza discusses how software designers communicate both directly and indirectly with their users. The direct communication is through help files and FAQs, and the indirect communication is how the designer works through the software to help users know how to interact with the system in order to achieve their goals. I might almost reverse those and call the help files indirect communication and the system interaction direct. Yes, a help system consists of the words of the designers directly handed to the user to explain what is going on; however, this communication only happens if something went wrong in the interface. The fact that someone is looking through the help means that something has broken down between the user and the tool. The user is knocked out of “the zone” and extraneous cognitive load begins to increase as the user has to try to figure out how to use the help system in order to help them learn how to use the primary system.

I’m actually interested in some of these design and usability issues as they relate to communities. The individual implications are important and factor into a lot of what I do for work, but the richness of experience that is gained through teamwork, especially as facilitated through the use of technology is very exciting with all the resources available to us now.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Call for Mashups

Greg called for some lighthearted and creative mashups to celebrate Wiley's 10th birthday. Here's to 10 more years!

Unfair Mashup
Original photo by jylcat

I should have mentioned, but didn't, that the picture in my last posting was dedicated to Erik.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Learning Objects Community

I recently read an article by de Souza & Preece (2004) about online communities. Specifically, they point out two components by which an online community can be assessed: sociability (people, purposes, and policies) and usability (software). In their framework, these two components have to be aligned to produce success. Any community (whether online, offline, or a hybrid) will have sociability factors that change as the people (or purposes or policies) in the community change. For any online community, the software has to work with those people, purposes, and policies. They continue on to discuss Semiotics and HCI and how communication takes place among users and designers. The important part, I thought, was that everyone is communicating all the time, but the message doesn't always get across how we expect it.
In the Learning Objects community, Wiley points out that since much of the work with implementing learning objects, defined by some as reusable (purpose) resources, was done by software engineers (people), who wanted to ensure that content systems were technically interoperable (policy). How usable are the software and standards we ended up with? Well to give you a hint, people don't use them. They use tagging and RSS, which are simple and friendly for all the non-engineers that are actually trying to develop and share content for teaching, rather than IEEE's LOM and other complex metadata implementations that the software engineering community designed. With two distinct communities, it is no wonder that tools developed by one were not usable for the other.

Since Learning Objects have been respawned as Open Educational Resources (OER), the usability side of de Souza's framework has changed to match the needs of educators and learners without software engineering degrees. OER are simply placed online so they can be easily found and licensed to allow reuse and localization.

How well do sociability and usability match now? It's better. When I google a term, whether related to statistics, learning theory, etc., I often find myself looking for the Wikipedia entry, and it often shows up right at or near the top of the results. Why do I look for it? The articles are consistently formatted, generally well-written, and I can use the material I find because of its GFDL license. The fact that Wikipedia shows up at the top of so many search results means that a lot of other people are using that content as well. There are still licensing compatibility issues and a need for more content to be contributed, but both are happening. It just takes time; learning objects haven't been dead that long.

deSouza, C. S., & Preece, J. (2004). A framework for analyzing and understanding online communities. Interacting with Computers, 16(3), 579-610.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Tracing Learner Practices

Barab, et al. discuss [Barab, S. A., Hay, K. E., Barnett, M., & Squire, K. (2001). Constructing virtual worlds: Tracing the historical development of learner practices. Cognition and Instruction, 19(1), 47-94.] participative learning environments (PLEs) as providing a learning process where students collaborate with peers to solve problems (student-based), rather than sit through the more common didactic, lecture-based (teacher-centered) process. Instead of lecturing on a topic and expecting students to draw their own connections to the real world, Barab suggests that knowing and doing cannot be separated.

It was interesting how the solar system group was struggling with the teacher trying to control her group and both sides being frustrated until the teacher gave up and the students gladly began running their own show. Much of what they did, however, was based on teacher direction. I wondered what training or instructions the teachers had received in this study. Each of the participants reflected on their goals and expectations and whether they were met. It generally seemed that the students were happy with what they had done, since they were fully aware of the time they put in and understood the compromises they made to complete the projects. For the camp directors, it seemed that the theater project, which was more driven by the students, met more of their expectations, while the solar system group’s teacher-directed approach met fewer expectations. Even so, in both groups the students learned and experienced changing group dynamics and were able to teach each other things they had learned one-on-one with one of the technical experts (adults). Much of the instruction, then, was just-in-time and context-specific.

Although the students used computer-based tools to perform many of their tasks, this study was not about the use of technology, rather about group dynamics, relationships, timing of instruction, and real-world experience. This study has many similarities with Problem Based Learning (PBL), although the lack of training and buy-in on the part of the teachers (especially the solar system teacher) causes it to diverge from a true PBL model. Although, for anyone that has had a micromanaging boss, the solar system group might have had the more real-world experience.

The discussion of how the introduction of technological artifacts was interesting. Two points were made: that certain artifacts (the glue gun) may reduce the need for students to learn or understand certain concepts and that other artifacts (predeveloped door) can undermine individuals or communities that are less efficient or become devalued. I recently posted about the book The World is Flat, and my first thought was that the devalued person needs to get over it, just like the people whose jobs are outsourced to India need to retool. If your job can be done by a shell script, then why are you still here? However, as I’ve reflected on Barab’s point, I see he is talking about teachers and designers of PLEs and the need to be aware of the potential impacts of artifacts introduced into an environment. It’s not that they shouldn’t be introduced, but that they should be implemented for a reason, with the teacher being aware of possible implications of their introduction. Some of the most important concepts can be learned and most creative ideas generated during a Storming stage of team development, when group members are fighting for control or direction because of some change to the group, but the teacher should be aware of such changes and ready for them.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The World is Flat

I read Tom Friedman's book The World is Flat a couple years ago. The only thing that I remembered reading before as I went through it this time was the introduction on the golf course in Bangalore and a vague recollection that he talked about Wal-Mart a lot. I don't know if he just changed it that much when he updated and expanded it from the original or if so much information has been stuffed in my head since starting my PhD that everything else has been displaced. Perhaps it's just my focus was different this time that it all seemed new. My focus this time was on how the flat world affects education, rather than business.

Hamed Saber (from Flickr)
One point that stuck out to me (perhaps since I had recently read Wiley's report to the Secretary of Education) was Friedman's tenth flattener, The Steroids. These are new technologies that amplify and turbocharge all the other flatteners, making collaboration possible in a "digital, mobile, virtual, and personal" way. Wiley extends and slightly changes that list to digital, mobile, connected, personal, open, and participative. The specific technologies that Friedman lists as steroids are increasing computing and storage, IM and file sharing, VoIP, videoconferencing, computer graphics, and wireless. Since the book was written, wikis and blogs and exploded in popularity and Google has popularized online office productivity software. If I'm writing in my blog or working on a googledoc, and I have to go somewhere, I just close my browser and walk away, and I can pick up where I left off on any other computer. If you don't want to keep all your information online, you can install OpenOffice and Firefox or even an entire operating system (Linux) on a USB drive and carry your OS, programs, and documents with you. You'll notice it's the open source software that can be carried around. A few years ago, I remember seeing someone that got Windows 98 running on a CD through a painstaking process. The latest versions of Windows would make it even more difficult to accomplish something like that because of DRM and because of the bloat that would make them too large, but it doesn't matter, because the OS and office productivity software are becoming irrelevant, just as printed syllabi, textbooks, and DRM-protected, non-open content are becoming irrelevant. We are becoming used to being able to collaborate online from anywhere, and the classroom should be no different.

Something else that got me thinking, as I've been reading lately about open source, open content, copyright, and licensing mechanisms, was when Friedman talked about Japan and China working together. Even with the bitter feelings the Chinese still have towards the Japanese who occupied their country and used biological weapons to kill millions of Chinese, the Japanese are outsourcing to China. The economics override the hate. That made me wonder if at some point we'll see some collaboration among Richard Stallman, Larry Lessig, Steve Ballmer, Tom Giovanetti, and Marilyn Bergman. Stallman's and Lessig's licenses, GFDL and CC, don't currently work together even though they're on the same team. The software and recording industries seem pretty much united in their opposition to anything being open, although Ballmer does claim that he likes to see open source development happen using Microsoft products. If Lessig and Stallman can't present a united front, however, how will anyone be able to withstand the attack from the MPAA/RIAA/ASCAP/Orrin Hatch/Microsoft front?

Friedman points to the Apache project as a good example of how development could happen using an open foundation. IBM worked with Apache to ensure those using Apache would be legally protected and able to use Apache for free. Anyone can now use Apache as a base to build more free stuff, just the same as they can use it as a base to serve up commercial services. He gives the mash-up example of realtors combining Google Maps with Craigslist to produce an always-current map of houses and apartments for sale or rent in a certain city. The businesses that will survive the outsourcing of many common tasks, according to Friedman, are the ones that localize, defined by Joel Cawley of IBM as "[taking] all the global capabilities that are now out there and [tailoring] them to the needs of a local community." One of the important functions of the OER movement is in providing resources available to anyone that are compatible with technological and legal frameworks that allow localization.

More from IPI

After my post from just a few minutes ago, I read with interest a blog posting by Tom Giovanetti, president of IPI, where he discusses Venezuela removing intellectual property restrictions from their constitution and the rejoicing that is sure to follow from the copyleft camp. He thus mischaracterizes the copyleft movement as desiring to do away with IP protections altogether. I attempted to leave a comment on his blog, but it either got lost in the great bit bucket in the sky or is waiting for moderator approval to become public. Either way, the following is my comment to President Giovanetti, as closely as I could reproduce it from memory and remnants in my clipboard:

Your headline and comments about the copyleft folks being excited about the removal of IP protections in the Venezuela constitution display a surprising lack of understanding of the copyleft movement. Licenses like GFDL and CreativeCommons work within the currently broken copyright system to allow people to more freely share materials with others, of their own free will.

You mischaracterize Larry Lessig as promoting less-than-democratic policies. You point to countries with political and economic problems that happen to also not respect IP laws in a straw man attack that unfortunately adds to overall misunderstanding of the complicated issues at stake. I might suggest (if you have not done so already) reading Larry's book Free Culture and then making a more accurate statement on his position regarding Intellectual Property.

You might defend yourself by pointing to Richard Stallman attending a meeting with Hugo Chavez, and I don't doubt he has said something you could construe as his support of the removal of IP protection, given his outspoken activist nature. However, he has stated that he believes authors should be able to charge for their works in order to make a living if they so desire, and that a copyright system could help them do so.

sillygwailo (from Flickr)

Billions Stolen?

A headline in the newspaper about the tens of billions of dollars that are lost to piracy pointed me to the Institute for Public Innovation. The IPI is dedicated to "advocating lower taxes, fewer regulations, and a smaller, less-intrusive government." It appears that one of their methods of promoting a smaller government and lower taxes is tightening copyright laws, so I thought I would link to it here in the interest of providing another viewpoint on copyright.

They make it difficult to deep link to articles on their site, so you have to just go to their homepage and look for their articles, but the following is a synopsis from their site. While I was there, I also found an article about different types of fair use that I thought was interesting, and I've included that synopsis as well.

IPI Policy Report - # 189
The True Cost of Copyright Industry Piracy to the U.S. Economy
by Stephen E. Siwek on 10/03/2007
22 Pages

Using a well-established U.S. government model and the latest copyright piracy figures, this study concludes that, each year, copyright piracy from motion pictures, sound recordings, business and entertainment software and video games costs the U.S. economy $58.0 billion in total output, costs American workers 373,375 jobs and $16.3 billion in earnings, and costs federal, state, and local governments $2.6 billion in tax revenue.

IPI Issue Brief
What's "Fair"? Why Those Concerned About Copyright Fair Use Need to Say What They Mean
by Lee Hollaar, Ph.D on 04/11/2007
8 Pages

While many people in the copyright debate talk about "fair use," they seldom say which uses are of concern. But without specifics, it is hard to provide balanced exceptions to copyright protection. Congress should codify "fair use of necessity" and many instances of "economic fair use" so that people will know what is allowed, while reserving fair use primarily for the "transformative" or "productive" uses that reflect the goal of copyright.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Technology in the Classroom

More is expected out of students in school as more information has been made available. As technology has been added to the classroom, it has not always been integrated like it should. Educational technology is sometimes discounted as using technology just because it is there, which is unfortunate. Technology should be integrated into the classroom environment where it makes sense, along with appropriate curriculum reforms and training.

I’ve been starting to study a little about Problem Based Learning (PBL), and many of the characteristics of learning mentioned Roschelle, et al. seem to fit with the methods used in PBL, such as learning through active engagement, learning through participation in groups, learning through frequent interaction and feedback, and learning through connections to real-world contexts. They discuss students gathering data on weather and pollution to send to scientists that actually analyze the data they receive. Mistakes in gathering the data are not penalized, but rather used as a learning experience to analyze why the measurement error might have occurred. More is probably learned through failure and the analysis of that failure than always succeeding the first time. I see this with some of the parents of Scouts that I work with – although the majority of the parents couldn’t care less what we do or don’t do (which is unfortunate), there are always one or two who get very upset when everything does not work out perfectly in one of our activities or with an award the boy is working on. It’s important to make mistakes and work through them.

Some of my readings in PBL have stated that when using the PBL approach, students actually learn less than students might learn in a traditional environment, but they understand the material they do learn better and retain that information much longer. Roschelle states that “teachers who succeed in using technology often make substantial changes in their teaching style and in the curriculum they use. However, making such changes is difficult without appropriate support and commitment from school administration.” It is unlikely that an approach like PBL that might lead to decreased short-term standardized test scores could be easily justified and implemented, even though deeper learning actually occurs.

One of the most important justifications for integrating technology into a classroom is the ability to provide more immediate feedback. It is important to receive feedback quickly, if not immediately, on work that has been done. If the technology that has been implemented is customizable by the user, individuals with different learning styles will be able to take advantage of the features that will help them, and turn off the features that distract them. I try to do that in my teaching, providing multiple methods of learning and practicing the material, but it would be interesting to actually research which methods of those provided that people use to study and then how they perform.

Roschelle, J. M., Pea, R. D., Hoadley, C. M., Gordin, D. N., & Means, B. M. (2000). Changing how and what children learn in school with computer-based technologies. The Future of Children, 10(2), 76-101.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Economics of OER

As I've been thinking and reading about the economic models of Open Educational Resources (OER), I can't help but think of some of the influential contributors and writers in the open source community like Bruce Perens and Eric Raymond. Perens discusses software and how most software is developed as infrastructure, not as a product to be sold. Many companies run the open source Apache web server and along side that run Microsoft Office and Windows for their desktop needs. They could easily use a closed-source web server or pay to have their own developed, just like they could easily use OpenOffice and Ubuntu on their desktops. It doesn't really matter, since it all comes down to someone's personal preference. Much of the commercial software used is the same as any other company is using. No one can claim that they have a strategic advantage over their competitors by choosing to use Microsoft Office, because anyone else can buy the same software and use it as well. It is non-differentiating. It may even make sense to collaborate with a competitor, making both of you more efficient. Raymond discusses how using open source software can create goodwill that attracts customers, increase the size of a market so you can grow (even if it allows your competitors to grow also), regain control over a market that you might be losing, etc. Since the Open Source community is several years ahead of the OER community, it is important to keep a collective eye on the choices made by our Open Source friends to provide some guidance about what might and might not work for open content.

kafeole (from Flickr)
Benkler discusses the marginal cost of information, which is effectively 0, with perhaps some nominal transmission costs. Although it costs nothing to pass along information to others, Benkler continues on to say that IP laws do make sense by providing an incentive for "market-based producers [to] engage in the useful activity of creating new information, knowledge, and culture." The tradeoff to be made in IP issues is to charge enough to make it worth it to be creative, but to still be accessible for reuse by others. If existing IP is inexpensive enough (or free) for others, it will be less expensive for the next author to build on that existing material. As prices of output rise, that just means that the prices of inputs rise for the next generation of material, so their output prices have to rise to match. Costs go up because either all new materials must be created (if that is even possible) or more money has to be paid out for every reused expression. Theoretically, if everyone reduced the price they charge, everyone's costs would decrease together, and with costs decreasing the price they charge for their products could be reduced...rinse...and repeat.

So how much of our OER are created to be sold, and how much is infrastructure? I'm not sure I could pinpoint a percentage. Thinking back to my bachelors and my MBA, much of the material we learned was in textbooks (the same textbooks used at Harvard or other prestigious universities, it was pointed out to us). So if I have the same textbook as a student at Harvard, and I have the same ability as him or her to go to Google or Wikipedia and read or publish information or even collaborate directly with that Harvard student, what makes the Harvard degree so different from mine? The actual content being deposited into us is non-differentiating.

USU is currently going through the re-accreditation process like all schools do once every 10 years, just checking to make sure everything is in order, to facilitate the transfer of courses between schools and to ensure that the students here can continue receiving federal financial aid by working towards an accredited degree. Not only does the entire school work to keep accreditation, but individual degrees and departments can be accredited. The result of accreditation basically ends up being that degrees should be mostly interchangeable, because we're following the same curriculum. There are obviously other reasons why certain schools are more prestigious than others. After Boise State University's perfect season, capped off by a win over Oklahoma in a BCS bowl, a survey showed that the national recognition for their football team had a positive impact on the school's reputation for academics and research (although the two are probably not related). There will always be something else to differentiate schools on, but it does not appear to be the content taught in the classroom.

Many of the textbooks we use are written by academics who are already being paid to develop course material, so they're double-dipping according to my calculations when they get paid to write a book. Writing research articles and book chapters already fits into the promotion and tenure process as well as their duty to teach their classes. Anyway, giving them the benefit of the doubt, if they were to contribute to a bank of learning objects or OER of some other form like Wikipedia, they might lose money from book sales. But how much of the money from book sales actually goes back to the author? Perhaps something like 10-15% of the new book market, so maybe $10 per book? One author goes so far as to say that the reason textbook prices are so high is because of the evil used book market (even comparing the sales of used books to pirated movies and music). Dr. Roediger talks about "wear and tear" on authors (apparently including himself) who are constantly releasing new editions of books in order to continue receiving their cut of new book sales "until laws are changed to prevent the organized sale of used books". He even mentions his temptation to trade off between two versions of a book to save himself the time of revising again and again every two or three years...right in the middle of his observations of other behavior he considers to be unethical like sales of complimentary copies of books or the bundling/unbundling of workbooks and CDs. That man needs to be slapped, er, I mean introduced to the wonderful world of OER. Seriously, he needs to be sent a special invitation to next year's Open Education conference. Look at the obvious frustration and wasted time that he is spending all to make a few extra bucks, when he could be releasing his materials so others can remix and add more insight and check for mistakes. The time he spends is greatly reduced but the quality of the result is higher. Dr. Roediger is already being paid to research and develop teaching materials, so let him get back to being productive by developing new ideas and actually teaching, rather than being so concerned about all the evil bookstores taking advantage of both students and authors.

It seems that everything would run smoother and more efficiently without having to worry about tracking all the IP issues inherent in creating closed content.

If the content becomes free, where does that leave degrees that are based on mastery of that free content? That one is going to have to wait for another day, but I imagine it will come down to paying for the actual differentiating features of an institution.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Great Men

At the North Logan Pumpkin Walk, the theme this year was "Those Were the Days." Here's a picture of one of the scenes, with some great men in history: Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington, Albert Einstein, and ... Bob Marley.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Shift Happens

Here are a couple of videos that I've watched lately. The first is designed to get you thinking about globalization and how we are preparing our kids for the changes to come. It's about 8 minutes long.

This second video is about 20 minutes long, but makes a very good point and is very entertaining. Sir Ken Robinson at TED in 2006 discusses the importance of cultivating creativity in our kids rather than educating it out of them.

It's long, but it's worth it.

Friday, October 12, 2007


For this week's OpenEd class, I jumped on the readings early in the week, meaning to write early. When I looked at the questions, though, I got a little stuck, so I've had licensing terms floating around in my head for the last few days, as I've pondered: What is missing from CC, and how can we possibly make CC and GFDL content compatible with each other?

Stian and Greg both mention that a non-BY license would be nice. I would agree with that. That got me thinking, since Attribution is the most consistent and simple term across all the CC licenses. Obviously the implementation of a SA-only license would be pretty straight forward to implement, but then I wonder if without making a declaration to put your work into the public domain or selling the copyright to CC like in their Founder's Copyright, could you simply implement a license that allowed anyone to use your content however they like (similar to BY, but without the actual BY)? Would it matter that it would have the same effect as declaring it to be in the public domain? Would it have the same effect?

BinaryApe (from Flickr)
The CC license could possibly benefit by adding a Notification clause, which could go with or without any of the existing licenses, asking that those who remix or make certain other uses of the content notify the creator that their work has been mixed into something else. Something like that might be too difficult to understand and costly to implement. CC works because it is simple, and I believe it is important to keep it that way.

Looking to the software world, the shareware model comes to mind. We've all probably seen websites with a little PayPal donation box or downloaded software like WinZIP or others that can be distributed for free but require payment to continue using it. Pollock discusses the Magnatune music label that allows users to choose what price to pay for their album downloads. There's a restaurant in Salt Lake City, One World Cafe, soon to open another restaurant in New York City, where guests pay whatever they feel the meal was worth, and they can help do dishes or serve food to work off their meal if they need to. I don't know how well it would work with open content. You'd run into issues with both NC and SA with a shareware license, but maybe it would be worth it to CC if they provided a service to run payments through their system for a nominal 5% cost recovery fee.

The shareware idea there is kind of a brainstorming idea, not well thought out by me yet. Our GNU friends have a page dedicated to the various software licenses that are available and how they relate to each other. Perhaps another of the software licenses will spur an idea of how to license content differently. When it comes to GNU, however, something about them just makes me slightly uncomfortable. Perhaps it was the 20 pages about why we shouldn't say Linux, but GNU/Linux, when referring to that particular operating system. I mean, I enjoy and appreciate Open Source software, but perhaps not so much that I really care what the difference is between Free Software and Open Source Software (although I could very easily explain the difference between Free Software and Freeware if you needed another clue as to my location on the geek-continuum). Their approach seems to be one of a fundamentalist, with only one right way to license. Stallman and friends get pretty worked up about whether a given license is really open and get upset about CC's NC clause (not because NC is unclear or difficult to enforce, but because it is unfair to disallow commercial use). The CC licenses give more choice to a creator than does the GFDL, because of the range of available licenses. That additional choice adds complexity and incompatibilities, though.

I hope something can be worked out so these licenses can be more compatible with each other, but it seems unlikely to happen quickly. In the mean time, it may just be a liberal application of fair use that allows a mixture among the various incompatible licenses, along with a sprinkle of a gentleman's agreement not to sue.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Norman discusses artifacts as tools or artificial devices that enhance our lives, with particular emphasis on human cognitive performance. The part that stands out for me in the chapter referenced below is the discussion of how, in spite of the power and importance of artifacts in our lives, much current research focuses more on the unaided mind. Rarely if ever do we do anything with just the unaided mind.

In many classes where tests and quizzes make up a significant portion of the grade, students are required to perform without the use of any artifacts. Occasionally tests are open-book or allow a note card to be used. I can personally think of times where I remember reading something and I can picture exactly where it is on the page and the picture next to it, but I can’t quite remember the concept well enough to answer the question. Given 20 seconds with my book, I could answer it correctly. There seems to be a disconnect between both research and teaching and with the way we actually work in real life. David Wiley points out that disconnect to the Secretary of Education’s panel on the future of higher ed. In university courses, students are paying a lot of money to be stuck in a classroom, reading out of date printed materials, listening to the teacher give generic instruction to the whole class, without being allowed to collaborate with others. As soon as students leave class, however, they are used to quickly jumping online with a cell phone or laptop, finding current/open/free information on exactly what they need at that moment, and sharing the new-found information with friends via instant messaging or blog postings.

As part of my teaching, I cover some basic information literacy skills. The goal in information literacy is the ability to use tools to find and evaluate information. You don’t have to memorize a long list of journals; you simply have to be able to use the journal databases effectively. That was evident in Norman’s explanation of the scope of artifacts, that from a personal point of view, using artifacts changes the task to be completed; but from a system point of view, the task to be completed is the same, just that the task is done better, faster, etc. That’s one of those things that makes perfect sense when reading it, but it takes someone to actually state the obvious to think about it and draw the connections.

I was also interested in the discussion on interface between people and artifacts. In designing software or websites, it is important for the system to be intuitive. I wonder sometimes why it is that I can sit down with a new piece of software and just know what to do, where another person might struggle to figure it out. Is it my experience and training that gives me an advantage or is it some innate difference in how our brains work? That difference in users is one important reason, I believe, that many effective computer-based tools have multiple ways of performing the same task (keyboard shortcuts, buttons, right click menus, etc.). The many Web 2.0 tools that have exploded in popularity are likely used by so many people because they are so intuitive, although the social pressure and support in using them cannot be discounted.

Norman, D. (1991). Chapter 2: Cognitive artifacts. In J. M. Carroll (Ed.), Designing Interaction: Psychology at the Human-Computer Interface. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Copyright and the Public Domain

Copyright has obviously gotten out of hand. Even ignoring the complexities of differences among laws from various countries, which you'll have to deal with anytime you cross international lines, just within the US, copyright law has become convoluted and complex. It is no surprise that the lawyers are making a killing off helping all these authors comply with the law and protect themselves from each other, all the while increasing costs and reducing creativity.

Unfortunately, when I teach about copyright as part of a larger unit, generally the most I have time for is to briefly explain that copyright protects your creation as soon as it is put in tangible form without any additional registration or notification required and that fair use allows some exception to this rule. I guess I go slightly (but not much) deeper than that, also briefly mentioning work-made-for-hire, open source vs all rights reserved software licensing, citing your sources, plagiarism, and the DMCA. If I have time I try to at least point out Creative Commons by showing a CC search on Flickr.

Other than government-produced works, 80-plus year old works, some works where someone forgot to renew the copyright or inadvertently left off the copyright notice back when the law required either of those things, or people who specifically release their materials into the public domain, we are left with tons of material that can't be reused by anyone without a big hassle...until the GNU and CC folks came along.

Ideally, we would have much more content in the public domain, but the GNU and CC open licenses allow for more sharing of content while protecting the author's copyright claim. So would we be better off by converting these open licenses over to public domain? That is, if more works moved from all rights reserved status to the public domain, we should theoretically see an increase in creativity and a decrease in production costs, so wouldn't it follow that by changing these open licenses (which contain restrictions) to public domain (with no restrictions) we would see a similar change? I don't necessarily think we would be better off.

The open licenses provide some benefits that the public domain does not, given our current IP climate of extended-length, automatic copyright. Copyright exists, according to the Constitution, to encourage new works by granting the right to exclusive use of those new works to their creator. If the only two choices given an author were infinite full copyright or completely giving up all rights to a creation, I believe we would see less overall sharing. The reason the open licenses work is that they allow the creator to retain the rights they care about, while allowing others to use their material in certain ways. This compromise is the strength of the open licenses.

If copyright reverted to its original term of 14 years or to a model of requiring registration or notice to retain copyright, the open license issue would be moot. Many materials would quickly become public domain and we wouldn't need alternate licenses for them. I believe that many people that are willing to voluntarily apply a "some rights reserved" license would be unwilling to give up all their rights. Even the simplest case attribution-only license is important so that acknowledgement is given to the author; that is not required of public domain materials. An author is unlikely to review his or her own materials on a regular basis to decide which old materials should be released to the public domain. He or she will likely decide that when it is published. The open licenses allow the author to set it and forget it.

Should copyright law be scaled back so works enter the public domain faster? Yes. Is that going to happen? No. Would we be better off by releasing our creations into the public domain instead of using an open license? That depends. If people will actually do it, then yes. If they reserve all rights, because they don't want to cede some, then no.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Last week with the Scouts, we filmed a short video entitled "Be an Example". I left it up to them to pick a topic and once they picked the topic, I tried to give them a little advice without getting into their way too much, letting them control their own project. I ran the camera (since it was mine and I didn't want them breaking it plus we leaders didn't want to be in the video). I also did the video editing afterwards, since there's no way I could have gotten them to sit down and do the editing even on a 1 minute video like this. It took a full hour to actually film two one-minute takes, giving us a 2 minute video, including the outtakes. The idea of the video is to be an example to your friends and not drink alcohol, with one guy declining the beer that others are drinking and a friend decides not to drink anymore either. I tried in my editing to stick closely to how they portrayed it, but to provide a few extra hints in places where the sound got muffled. Given the short amount of time I had for editing, my novice skills using iMovie, and the 12-13 year old actors/directors with ADHD, I think it turned out okay.

Of course, I could have picked a different topic for them or written the script myself and commanded that they read from it or insisted that they follow the Cinematography Merit Badge requirements to the letter, but it wouldn't have turned out nearly as creative or fun or interesting. It also wouldn't have been theirs. Given the Storming stage we are in as a group, and no sign of leaving it anytime soon, conflict and more importantly creativity is high, so we take advantage of what we can.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

OER Repositories

Open University (UK) Open Content Initiative

The Open University, being a higher education institution, provides higher ed content. This content is available in units, which are different size chunks, anywhere from a smaller amount of material that could be reviewed in just a few sessions or a workshop to what appears to be enough material for a full semester course. The materials have learning objectives and are rated from Introductory to Advanced in the level of the material they cover, but they do not provide any clear prerequisites that might be required to successfully meet those learning objectives. There are discussion forums dedicated to allowing for exchange of ideas among learners of the content.

Rice Connexions

Connexions is a repository of modules and courses (collections of modules). From what I understand about Learning Objects, these modules are basically just that. Each of these modules are quite small, and could be used alone or along with the rest of the course, or remixed in some other way.

Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

The OLI exists of a very small number of full courses, with all the same material as a student taking the course at CMU, but without access to the instructor or exams. By paying, the student can earn credit by working with an instructor and taking exams. Both methods allow the student to track their way through their completion of the course if desired.

UNESCO Open Training Platform

The UNESCO materials, put out by the United Nations, is not so much focused on higher ed like many of the other OER repositories reviewed here. The OER in this case look more like continuing/distance education or adult outreach education. A byline on the site says they are "Advocating open content in non formal education." I suppose that nonformal in this case probably refers somewhat to the fact that this is not formal university material. A lot of it looked like material that could be very helpful in terms of teaching something people can actually use. I was a little worried, however, by a 10-year-old document covering the basics of getting on the Internet; some of the other information may not change as much in 10 years as that particular topic, but that one was extremely out of date.


This is one of the most well-known OER Repositories, but then again I am most familiar with USU OCW which is modeled after the MIT OCW. Again, we're looking at higher ed material here, and quite a comprehensive set of well over 200 courses published in the last 6 months alone and over 1700 courses altogether (compared to just under 100 or so total at USU). They look to be mostly full semester courses, including presentation of material, additional study materials, and exams. One course even had a pop quiz included. So the students reviewing the OCW content when taking the actual class at MIT might get an extra hint about when the pop quiz will come up. :) These are MIT classes, so a reasonable assumption might be that these are high quality materials.

National Repository of Online Courses

NROC OER consist of higher ed as well as high school level courses. They employ a staff of designers and evaluators to ensure the content consists of effective materials that follow accepted Learning Theories. NROC content is available for educational and nonprofit use for free, or for a price to commercial entities. Similar to the OLI described above, a small number of high quality courses are available.

Some of the differences among these repositories are terms of the licensing of content, the balance between quantity and quality of content, and tools for finding and working with the content.

One of the most useful features of any of these sites was in the Open University, where they have forums to discuss the materials with others that are there to learn the same thing. That interaction is key. Add onto that the myLearningSpace where you can track what you've studied, see what other people have been looking at the same materials as you, and be notified when new items are posted, and this one has to be tops.

If I had to kill one (or two), I'd have OLI and NROC take all their materials and post them to Connexions. I mean, I like the Open University's learning community better, but the fact that Connexions allows anyone to post their material is a bonus. Connexions has some tools for collaboration among authors, but I didn't see that on the learner side. Add the forums and myLearningSpace from the Open University to the collaborative development process of Connexions and that is the ultimate community.

The only thing that could possibly make this ultimate community better would be to take the enormous amounts of material from MIT and dump it by the truckload onto the community.

We'd have something to rival Wikipedia (or maybe we'd just be recreating their Wikiversity project).

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Open Education: Past, Present, and Future

Several years ago while working on my MBA, I worked with a group of 3 or 4 other students on what turned out to be a 100 page marketing plan for Aggie Ice Cream. A friend of mine wondered how we could write 100 pages about ice cream. Those 100 pages seem to pale in comparison as I try to compile the several hundred pages that I've been reading over the last few weeks on Open Educational Resources (OER) into a blog posting.

The three reports are: Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources (OECD), Open Educational Practices and Resources: OLCOS Roadmap 2012 (OLCOS), and A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities (Hewlett).

OECD is an organization of governments focused on discussing and promoting policies to encourage democracy and economic growth around the world. They collect data and make forecasts to assist member governments in making decisions. The OECD report is fittingly a survey of OER movement, how it has developed over the past few years and some of the current challenges being faced.

According to OECD, much of the OER movement is driven by Higher Education, with some of that coming from institutional policy and some from individuals providing content on their own. Whether it is individuals or entire institutions participating in the movement, the purposes for sharing seem to be similar: reduce content development cost, promote lifelong learning and encourage more to seek a university education, return content to the taxpayers that funded it, compete for the best students, and improve content through transparency, among others. As content opens up, the traditional role of a teacher as one who simply provides content to students becomes out of date. If the content is already available, the teacher must become a facilitator and collaborator with students.

OLCOS is a project aimed at promoting the production and use of OER in Europe, targeting producers and users of such content, educational institutions that support them, and the technology developers and researchers who facilitate the sharing of OER through their innovation. The OLCOS report agrees with OECD that the shift to OER will bring along with it a decreased focus on a teacher-centered classroom, but points out that any change to the system will take time and sustained focus and effort by educational leaders.

As teachers begin taking a constructivist approach, allowing students to remix and reuse content, individual students will begin taking an active role in their own education, building on their existing knowledge and schema. There is much still lacking in terms of seamless support from technology to support collaboration; wikis do a good job in certain applications, but are not feasible in others. There are legal issues to deal with to allow a range of usage and remixing of content, as well as the unwillingness on the part of some educators to make any kind of change to how they have always taught. Creative Commons is a possible solution to the copyright issues, and a new reward structure may help with some of the traditional educators' unwillingness to integrate OER into the classroom.

The Hewlett Foundation is a grantor organization dedicated to addressing social and environmental problems and thus assist grantee organizations make positive contributions to society. The report to the Hewlett Foundation was the one that most drew me in. Although it focuses mainly on projects that have received Hewlett funding, that covers a lot of ground, since so much money has been made available to many organizations to encourage the growth of the OER movement. I liked seeing the specific projects that have been funded and the impacts they are making.

The Hewlett report provides a balanced view of the featured projects, pointing out that there are successes as well as items to keep working on. An interesting concept here is the meta-university, perhaps something along the lines of the WGU, where content may be provided from any number of sources, but then some central assessment or organizational structure exists to provide direction and verification of skills. An important consideration in providing open content is accessibility of that content through mobile devices or in remote locations.

To me, the most interesting piece of the entire OER movement has to do with an increase in direct participation in the learning process by students. Students will learn better as they take the time to invest in their own education. In addition, we should see more of the legal issues worked out as music, movie, and publishing industries fight to maintain copyright control while becoming increasingly irrelevant as the technology to share content becomes increasingly simple and available. The path ahead is long and filled with resistance, but change is already happening and will continue to happen. Hopefully the movement reaches critical mass (if it has not already) before some boneheaded senator is duped by lobbyists into passing legislation that cripples the growth that is already starting. Given the international nature of the OER movement, it seems likely to withstand the resistance that is to come.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Pedagogy vs. Andragogy

In a class recently, we were discussing a constructivist environment for learning, and I made a contrast between constructivism and pedagogy. The professor looked really confused, and it only took a moment for me to figure out the problem was with my use of the word pedagogy. Defining pedagogy generally as the study or practice of instruction and tools the facilitate such, my statement definitely did not make sense, since constructivism is a theory/tool used in learning.

I modified my statement, substituting something along the lines of "a traditional classroom approach" instead of the word pedagogy, but I'm not quite so sure that was necessary. I think of pedagogy as a contrasting theory with andragogy. Pedagogy is traditionally an approach for teaching children and andragogy is a relatively new approach for teaching adults. Pedagogy is generally teacher-centered, with the teacher deciding who should learn what when and how. Andragogy is learner-centered, allowing learners to direct how learning occurs.

Andragogy brings with it a few principles, popularized by Knowles, which point out that adults, unlike children, have much life experience which allows them to more immediately contribute to a discussion, and because of that experience and the busy lives they lead, adults prefer problem-based learning that is applicable to their lives. Following an andragogical approach, a teacher becomes a facilitator of learning, providing materials and resources and keeping discussions in the right direction, but stays out of the way to let learning happen.

Taking andragogy to an extreme, some have suggested the term heutagogy as completely self-directed learning. I suppose my teaching myself how to put up drywall, texture walls, lay tile, and replace light fixtures as I've been working on renovating our bathroom has been a heutagogical approach, in addition to being very slow. (Of course, my slowness has not necessarily been due to heutagogy itself as much as a lack of time with work, school, scouts, and other family things taking precedence.) I could have taken some classes at the tech school in town or found a mentor to work with, but I've survived by using the internet and reading the little pamphlets at the home improvement stores as well as some trial and error.

These approaches need not be restricted to some set line, so when a person turns 16, he or she moves to a new class that uses andragogy instead of pedagogy. Andragogy can be used with children, and pedagogy with adults, just depending on the preferences and experience of the learners and the type of material being taught. As adults, we like being in control and a pedagogical approach is where we're most comfortable whether we're teaching children or adults, but are we willing to step back and let the lunatics run the asylum to some extent?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Patterns of Understanding

I just read a paper about Open-ended Learning Environments [Land, S. M., & Hannafin, M. J. (1997). Patterns of understanding with open-ended learning environments: A qualitative study. Educational Technology Research and Development, 45(2), 47-73.] which discussed using software to design a roller coaster, in addition to some resources to learn about some of the principles involved to help them design one that doesn't crash. It was open, in that students could play with the simulator and just see what happened and were free to use or not use the other resources to help them out. It was a case study, discussing the experiences of the four students involved, to see how much they would learn without being directly taught or guided by an instructor. I haven't read as many qualitative studies as I have quantitative studies, but this one seemed a bit more organized and well-planned than some qualitative studies I've seen. There was definitely a methodical, scientific approach in everything, from choosing the participants to the method of coding their actions and responses, while retaining a case study approach.

The two main items discussed in the paper were the differences in how students applied prior knowledge while forming either informal or formal hypotheses and the extent to which students followed a methodical approach in testing those hypotheses. There was little interaction with the learning materials that were available, with one student confused and frustrated with the lack of an "answer" in the materials as to what combination of horsepower, weight, hill height, and turning radius was "best".

Each student had different ideas of what was successful. For one, the fact that the coaster did not crash meant that it was successful. For another, if the coaster was as close to crashing as possible, but didn't, that was successful. There was not a clear explanation of how students performed on the quizzes, other than one student who answered a question correctly, but in practice actually acted in a manner that would suggest a lack of understanding of that concept. It would be interesting to compare the performance of these students to others that were taught the same concepts in a traditional classroom environment, but that is not done in this paper.

One interesting quote from the conclusion of the paper was that "the effectiveness of the constructivist environment relies heavily on the learner's task management and decision-making processes." Of course, this is somewhat of a loaded observation. If the effectiveness of constructivist learning environments is in question, and we are immersing students who have been trained in a dichotomous student/teacher banking environment (teachers depositing knowledge into student brains), as challenged by Freire and Dewey, it is hardly surprising that students may be lacking in some of the skills that would allow them to keep themselves on task and make effective decisions.

A few times when I have come in as a new Scout leader for a group of boys that have been oppressed and controlled by the previous untrained Scout leader, and I begin to allow the boys to make their own decisions (since they are supposed to run their own program with ideally minimal guidance from their leaders), chaos ensues. I assume this is the case, because when given a little bit of wiggle room, which they have never experienced before, they go out of control because they don't know how to handle the freedom. It takes some time to reign them back in, and eventually they learn to cope with freedom, which may be more difficult to deal with than oppression. I also see similar issues in my work with CIL here on campus. There are many ways for students to prepare for the CIL tests, whether coming to formal classes, attending informal demonstrations, reading on their own, taking practice tests, or just trying the real tests. There is no set "best" way to study and no particular deadline that all students must meet (although individually there are deadlines, such as applying to a program, registering for a class, completing graduation paperwork, etc.). We often see students that follow a less than methodical approach of simply taking a test without preparing, and after they fail it, they immediately take the test again, apparently hoping they'll guess just differently enough to pass the test.

So do constructivist learning environments fail because of inherent problems in the process or because we have trained students (and been trained ourselves) that the teacher's job is to stand in front of a classroom expounding and exhorting while the student's role is to sit there and bask in our glory, soaking up the knowledge that we spew forth? Obviously that statement is a bit over the top and is not meant to say that I believe constructivism is the answer to everything, rather that it is difficult to create a study that can untrain years of practice by both teachers and students in a traditional pedagogical environment.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Is Education a basic human right? Should it be mandatory?

This is an interesting set of questions to think about. It becomes one of those where there become so many layers and exceptions to the rule that it makes it difficult come up with a clear answer. Andreas' blog posting points the contrast between systems that implement education for nefarious purposes and teachers that thrive and make a difference in children's lives.

I believe that I agree that education is a basic human right. Whether it should be mandatory to a certain level, well, that depends. Education means so many different things to different people. Tomaševski's articles really made me stop and think about how different our situation here in the US is compared to other countries. We're debating here about NCLB, charter schools vs traditional public schools, and vouchers for helping students attend private schools, but rarely if ever do I hear an argument that schooling should go away all together. That is, culturally here in the US (although there are portions of the country that do not value education) it is generally a given that education will make us better, and we simply argue about the manner in which to implement it. I really hadn't given much thought before to how to handle young boys that herd sheep in the mountains far away from any sign of civilization. Who am I to say what education, if any, will help that boy? Or will it hurt him? Will he be outcast in his society because a Westerner came in and told him that he needs a Western education? Is his education, being out in nature, surviving on the land, communicating with his animals, learning to read the sky and the water, worth any more or less than the PhD I'm working on?

In the case of the girls who become worth less when they get married at an older age because they put off marriage to go to school, a burden is placed on the parents for trying to educate their children, so who should blame them for conforming to their society's reward structure? Certainly many great people have made sacrifices in spite of great pressure around them and have gone on to make a difference in the world. But is a person unsuccessful because they didn't change the world or because they conformed to society's expectations?

Of course, education is one of those things where you don't know what you're missing until you become educated, then once you have become educated, it's somewhat too late to decide that you'd rather not be educated, a paradox in line with the Observer Effect. Rising literacy rates and the availability of education have led to improvements in medicine, communications, travel, efficiency in production, and a better understanding of the world around us, but does that mean that everyone has to take advantage of such? I hope that the opportunity is made available to all who wish to receive an education, but I don't believe that mandatory education is necessarily the answer in all situations. It does seem to be a difficult line to draw.

I think I've asked more questions that I've answered.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Begin Year II

About a year ago when I was starting my PhD program (Instructional Technology, Utah State University) I set up a blog and made one post, something kind of generic and like welcome to my blog. So in setting this one up I was hoping to put something more meaningful as my first post. But I haven't been able to think of something, so here's something to just start it off.

This first year has been really interesting. As I've been working full time, taking 12 credits, serving as a Scoutmaster, time has been pretty tight. I did find some time last year to go play volleyball on Friday nights, but I have a feeling that's not going to happen this semester. I'm hoping, in terms of coursework, this is my last packed semester and I can slow it down and take it easy (not easy, but just not piling it on so high) from here on out, since I'll have all but one required class done, so just mainly elective courses left.