Tuesday, October 31, 2006

SupportBlogging's New Google Custom Search Engine

Today, after some email exchanges with Chris Craft, I set up a Google "Custom Search Engine" at SupportBlogging.com. It lets you search inside the blogs, articles, and websites that are listed at the site. It also lets you refine your search just to specific blog categories (general, teacher, student, or administrator blogs), or just to articles or websites.

Not entirely certain how useful this will be, but does seem to provide an opportunity to look specifically at what the "edublogosphere" has to say on a particular topic. Now, while the new SupportBlogging! custom search engine searches 111 sites, I'll allow that this is far from exhaustive in the educational blogging sphere. But as sites are added to SuppportBlogging!, I'll add them into the search engine. Or if anyone points me to some easily imported lists of edublogger sites, I will add them as well (as long as I can keep them categorized).

I also did some long-overdue housekeeping on the site, and hope it is a little more user-friendly. I moved some of the lesser-accessed pages to being linked on a new "More" page, as well as consolidated the list of edubloggers to one page. Comments always welcome.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Interview with Martin Dougiamas, Creator of Moodle

If you look at the "stats" page for the Open Source program Moodle, you will see the incredible growth taking place in the use of this e-learning program. Martin Dougiamas, the creator of Moodle, spent an hour with me talking about Moodle, what is is, where it is being used, and how a large Open Source program like Moodle is sustained. Martin is thoroughly engaging, and the interview goes by much too fast.

Some notes:
  • Martin grew up in the desert of Australia, and his own schooling as a youth was from "The School of the Air." Through CB (Ham?) Radio, he and four or five other youth talked with a teacher who was 600 miles away, and every other week an airplane would stop by with school materials. Seems quite appropriate that someone with that background would 1) of necessity become a self-learner (again, reference the Doc Searl's interview and the "self-learner" aspect of the Open Source world), 2) understand the value of e-learning, 2) understand the nature of distance learning, and 3) see the value in learner-participation that lies at the philosophical heart of Moodle.

  • It was a test of Martin's patience for me to ask him to explain Moodle as though he were talking to a teacher who knew nothing about it, but he did a very good job, and I hope it makes the interview a better resource to the teacher community. There is a skill involved in not only managing a project as complex as Moodle, but also being willing and able to communicate its value in basic terms to new users. This impresses me about Martin.

  • Moodle isn't just for distance-learning situations. It is also built for and used in "face-to-face" learning or "blended" learning environments, and he mentioned its value in homeschooling.

  • The Moodle community that works on the actual software project is a model of the "community of practice" or "collaboration" that Moodle strives to help create for learning environments. They are their own best "customers" of the project, as they work to extend this core value of participation. For several months I have been wrestling with the two values of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) to schools. The first is "FOSS in Education," which is essentially the use of FOSS programs that, for the most part, are just replacing proprietary programs which were already in use or which weren't in use because of their financial cost. The second is "FOSS as Education," where the use of FOSS programs introduces the student to the Free and Open Source world, and allows them to participate in collaborative programming. Jeff Elkner's work teaching FOSS programs like Python to students at Yorktown High School in Arlington, Virginia, is an example of this. What makes FOSS more than just a "cheaper" replacement of proprietary programs is this second opportunity--to engage students in very real-life aspects of a world that is becoming more and more based on collaborative work. The fascinating value that Moodle seems to bring to this picture is the ability that Moodle has to bring these collaborative opportunities into the regular classroom, bridging the gap between the worlds of regular computer use and Jeff Elkner's computer lab--because if "FOSS as Education" were only to take place in the computer lab classes, it's impact would be limited only to those technically-minded students. (Coming up for air now...)

  • Moodle is most definitely having a unique impact on the awareness and understanding of Open Sources software in schools. This is largely, I think, because it is viewed as "free" (as in cost) competitor to very expensive proprietary programs. Our Moodle demonstrations at the NECC and CUE shows have literally been standing-room only. But Martin is quick to point out (as was also clear about OpenOffice in my recent interview) that it is the combination of features and the benefits of the Open Source community that are driving the adoption of Moodle, and not the low cost.

  • The Moodle.org project is financially self-sustaining because of the commercial partnerships that Moodle has under the Moodle.com website. There are 40 Moodle partners who provide hosting, support, consulting, training, and certification (and some 200 additional applicants) who pay royalties into a Moodle trust. Funds from that trust go to pay developers to work on Moodle.

  • There are some very large deployments of Moodle, including the upcoming use of Moodle by the Open University of the UK, where they anticipate it being used by 200,000 students. Large organizations that use Moodle also help the project by devoting staff to maintain or improve Moodle, and Martin said that the Open University will be working on helping to maintain the "quiz" module, as well as funding directly some upcoming developments.

  • Martin wasn't sure he wanted to get into the fray over "Free Software" and "Open Source Software," but he admitted he uses the phrase "Open Source" himself.

  • Maintaining a project with some 20,000 scripts is a big job, but Martin still finds time each week to do some actual coding himself. He loves his job, and wishes that everyone would have something exciting to work on so that they want to jump out of bed each morning, like he does.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Moodle Interview with Martin Dougiamas Thursday; Workshop Nov. 6/7 in Dallas

This Thursday, October 19th, I'll be interviewing Moodle creator Martin Dougiamas at 8:00 am Pacific Daylight Time (the show is early to accommodate the time difference between here and Australia). The interview will be broadcast live as a "Skypecast," and details will be posted 30 minutes prior to the interview here. The recorded show will later be posted at EdTechLive.com.

We are also running a two-day hands-on Moodle workshop in Dallas (Plano), Texas, on November 6 & 7 with our "favorite Moodler" Michelle Moore. The first day will introduce participants to Moodle and then ultimately creating their own structure for an online course. On the second day, the focus will be learning to create several of the most frequently used Moodle activities. The cost is $395 per participant, and details are available under the workshop link at EdTechLive.com.

Also, don't miss my recent interviews with Doc Searls, Ragavan Srinivasan, and Richard Stallman--all available for download or to listen from your web browser here.

The Next Classroom PC

Ever since the interview I did with Larry Cuban, I've been intrigued with the idea of understanding what a computer would need to be like to be broadly assimilated in to the regular school classroom. I've started a mailing list to discuss this topic, which you'll find here. As soon as I can determine that there is enough interest to justify it, I have purchased the domain name www.PC20.org, and could start a website devoted to this cause.

But first things first. Here are the attributes that I believe the next generation classroom PC will need to have:

  • It should be able to be easily adopted by teachers (that is, it must be simple and easy to use)
  • It should be low- to no-maintenance
  • It should be low-cost
  • It should be acceptable to technology directors and support staff
  • It should provide user-authentication
  • It should have accountability tracking in some form
  • It should provide a data-storage for users that is independent of classroom and schools, extended through the lifetime of their education
  • It should allow the classroom teacher to see the screen display remotely
  • It should be able to be updated remotely
  • It should be able to have applications added and upgraded remotely
  • It should have audio and video input capability
  • It should have video-conferencing built in
This is obviously a quick list, but I want to give this discussion a start. Let me know what you think! Please respond here or on the email list.

For more history and background on this topic, see here.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Another Incredible Glimpse into the Future

During the first day of the Office 2.0 Conference this week I remember thinking: this stuff is cool, but what makes a "web 2.0" application "web 2.0" for me is that it accumulates and aggregates and reshapes user data in a way that provides an experience that can't be had without that data. I think Amazon.com is a great example of this--when I search for a book, I can see what books customers actually bought after looking at the one that first caught my attention.

As I looked at the many different "Office 2.0" applications being demonstrated, it seems to me that just porting an application to the web has a good deal of value. For instance, I can do my accounting at home or at the office on a web-based accounting program without having to port files or log into another machine over the web. But to be really compelling, I wanted to see the application somehow do something significant that could only be done by being on the web.

Google had just announced their combining of Docs and Spreadsheets, and I wondered out loud what would have to happen for word processing to become "web 2.0." Now, to be fair, collaborative real-time word processing is already "web 2.0," but I wanted more. Something to really zing me. I said to Jason Galmeister: what you really need is a word processor that searches through web sites and blogs while you are writing and finds links to materials that match the content of what you are working on. This would allow you to discover other content that would enhance your ability to think about and or synthesize ideas, and to find others who have like interests or have written about similar topics.

Bruno Haid, pictured above, was the last speaker of the "Blitz Demonstrations" the next day. In a quiet, understated way, he demonstrated a program that they have developed that does just what I had described--and probably more. I quickly found him and asked about it, specifically indicating that I would like to see if it could be brought into the educational world. He said that right now the program is so processor intensive that it requires an $8,000 computer for just 100 users, but that they expect the price to come down as they continue to develop it.

I hope he hooks up with Google. They have the processing power, and they have the search tools. Put this together with Google Docs and you have met my criteria for "web 2.0." It would, I believe, be more than just another word processor--it would significantly change writing.

Why Is Google Popular with Educators?

Andy Carvin, in his learning.now blog, asks if there is really anything to get excited about with the newly-announced Google for Educators program.

I think there is. (I posted this reply on Andy's site as well).

I was asked to help publicize the one-day pilot of “Google Teachers Academy” in Northern California. I was literally shocked at the number of responses I got from all over the country—and the world—from people asking: when will Google do this in our area?

I’ve been thinking about why the response would be so strong, and I’ve concluded that Google has at least three things really going for them.

First, they are a trusted name in the web arena, which means a lot. They are trusted because they provide services which are free to use and work well. And they are trusted because they seem to have a genuine desire to make a difference with their success.

Second, their product are generally simple to use. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to use them, but you feel that you are on the cutting edge. Teachers have so much that they have to juggle already that it must feel great to find technology that helps in practical ways and is simple to use.

Third, Google has staying power. They don’t have to start out providing the best of all services, because they have the resources to stick around and keep working at it until they do.

I think it’s likely that we’ll see a lot more of Google in the education world.

More Reactions to the Office 2.0 Conference

Originally uploaded by SteveHargadon.
First, on the new web tools and education...

Early adopters in education are using some of the most powerful tools to have come from the web in the last few years: blogs and wikis, in particular. But for all of the the incredible benefits of these tools, we have to recognize that they are fairly disruptive. That is, there is no standard curriculum to follow, and they present all kinds of difficult issues (both practical and political) with regard to access to the web. But even more than this, these tools do something more--they reward the self-learner, and seem to be most effective in less formalized teaching settings. It is hard to imagine their easy adoption on a widespread basis in an educational system largely based on testing, accountability, and control.

Culturally there have been changes which would seem to reward individuals who are self-learners and not necessarily the traditional "good student:" the dramatic reduction in the past 15 years to the commitment (both by employees and employers) to a 'covenant of employment;" the rise of the Internet and Free and Open Source Software, which reward self-learning and ad hoc collaboration; and the "long tail" economy, which allows much more specialization of work based on individual interest. Can our educational system continue to provide a basic education to students, and also help prepare them for this new world? A most interesting question.

Second, on the new web tools and small business...

While the discrete or independent business web applications that were shown at the Office 2.0 conference don't really fit into the enterprise computing environment, they are just what the doctor ordered for small businesses, giving them sophisticated tools without the infrastructure costs: project management, online web site creation, online conferencing, database publishing, workflow, and much more. These pieces don't fit together seamlessly the way a larger enterprise requires, but for the small business owner or entrepreneur, it's like being in a candy store.

So, could you pull off a conference, like Ismael Ghalimi has done so adroitly, targeted to small business? Certainly, the audience would be larger, but also maybe harder (more expensive, more complicated) to communicate effectively to? What specific part of that group would be most likely to respond and attend? Would you need to hold several in different parts of the country? Would it be worth the while of the vendors to participate?

O'Reilly is holding a Web 2.0 conference next month, but it's not really focused on the practical and immediate applications for this technology for small business. Seems like there might be an opportunity here.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Office 2.0 Conference--Education Angle?

Originally uploaded by SteveHargadon.
This is a birds-eye view of the vendors area from the Office 2.0 conference at the St. Regis Hotel in San Francsico. An extremely interesting conference, well-organized, and leaving me with lots to think about.

The conference revolves around the use of office productivity tools that are becoming available as "web 2.0" applications. (Of course, Google was here, and used the conference as an opportunity to announce the renaming of Writely to Google Docs and its integration with Google Spreadsheets.) I spoke at length with one of the session moderators, who basically complained that these new web applications have less functionality than their regular enterprise counterparts, and don't really bring any additional features or value that might provide them with leverage to succeed in corporations.

I agreed with him, but then I got to thinking about the educational market (which isn't being addressed in the conference at all). Even with lesser functionality, programs like Google Docs and Spreadsheets do bring something that gives them an advantage over traditional programs: computer independence.

Computer independence is significant because a student who uses these programs will have access to their data both at school and at home. And if you take it a bit further, they will also have access to their work when they advance grades or switch schools. That seems to me to be inherently compelling. And it leads toward the dream I have of classroom computing appliances, which are purchased and plugged in and thta have limited or no need for technical setup or configuration. The student's login follows him or her through each grade level, as does all of his or her work. Most of the applications are web-based, and so it doesn't matter which computer they use or where, and it doesn't require lots of technical support from the school to provide this freedom.

The other inherent advantage to the web-based computer appliance is that maintenance costs should be close to zero. Just running a web browser can be done with a computer that should be virus-proof, and run for years without any user intervention. (This is what our LiveKiosk.com project is all about.)

There is a tremendous amount of creativity in this crowd of Office/Web 2.0 folks. Now, if we can get some of them focused on the educational arena, maybe these dreams aren't that far off from being realized.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Richard Stallman on Free Software in Education

Richard Stallman and I emailed back and forth several times before he agree to an interview with me on Free Software in Education. Not that Richard is not passionate about Free Software in Education, but he has some strict requirements about the presentation of his material. As the founder of the Free Software Movement, he is both passionate and principled, and doesn't want to dilute his message.

When I called him last Saturday to start the interview (and yes, the date I give in the recording is wrong...), he asked if I remembered his two conditions for the interview. I said that I did, but he repeated them for me: to avoid common errors, I needed first to use the term "Free Software" only and not "Open Source," so as not to associate his work with that label; and second, to not confuse GNU and Linux. As you will hear in the interview, Richard cares very much about being exact with language. And, I think, for good reason.

In the interview, Richard defines the use of the word "free" in the context of software. He also defines the four essential freedoms that are behind the Free Software Movement, and the four reasons that he believes that schools should use exclusively Free Software (see also his essay on this topic). And lots more--including the fact that he likes Wikipedia, which makes A TON OF SENSE since all text at Wikipedia is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License--which Richard wrote! That might help to explain why Eric Raymond was so vocal about not liking it in his interview with me...

I think you will find this interview interesting listening.

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Ragavan Srinivasan from HP Gives a Primer on Open Source Licenses

An extremely well-prepared Ragavan Srinivasan of HP gives an overview of Free and Open Source Software (FLOSS) and the Free and Open Source Licenses. He provided a PowerPoint presentation to go along with the interview, which I have converted both to flash and Open Documents formats. Click on those links and you can follow along with him. Some other links from the interview are here.

For me, one of the real high points of the discussion was his description of the two different ways in which FLOSS is used in schools: "FLOSS in Education," and "FLOSS as Education." "FLOSS in Education" is the use of FLOSS for regular computing tasks, whereas "FLOSS as Education" is the teaching of programming--and collaborative programming--by using FLOSS. Thank you, Ragavan, for giving me a better vocabulary for something I end up talking about a lot..

Another sigificant aspect of the interview was Ragavan's descriptions of where HP as a company has seen significant value in the use of FLOSS internally. HP and IBM are both visibly posturing to show the world their support for Linux and FLOSS, but to hear how HP is actually benefiting from FLOSS itself is pretty compelling evidence of the real-world impact of FLOSS.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Doc Searls Interview on Free and Open Source Software in Education

This was a delightful interview for me. Not only was Doc Searls very interesting to listen to, but I only had to ask short questions to get good, long responses. As my goal for these interviews is to expose educators to the people, programs, and ideas of the Free and Open Source Software communities, this is exactly what I hope will take place in an interview.

My introduction to Doc was from a year and a half ago, when he wrote a couple of essays (and here) in response to Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat. I told him that it was interesting to re-read his comments again after that amount of time and to see how many of his thoughts had stayed in my brain and become a part of my perception of the value of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)--which is the ability of the Free and Open Source communities to absorb a wide range of individual efforts, and to allow individuals to find areas for contribution that fit their skills, talents, and interests. This model of "contribute where you can, how you can," is both inclusive and empowering, and, Doc says, encourages and favors self-learning/learners. I see this as one of the great opportunities for FOSS to impact schools, where students in higher grade levels can become involved in starting or contributing to FOSS projects to build tools that can actually be used or benefit their schools or communities.

Doc elaborated on this in a way that really clarified this idea. What he has seen in the FOSS communities is a do-it-yourself (DIY) attitude that he thinks is often missing from the "mill" system of education. Becoming a self-learner is at the heart of contributing to FOSS, and he thinks that sense of "self learning" is all-to-missing in schooling now, which instead frequently categorizes children based on IQ or other measures. He is particularly vocal on the issue of IQ tests, as you'll hear in the interview, because of his own personal experiences.

A few other tidbits:

  • Doc compared the software industry to the construction industry, in a way that I had not heard before. He said that the software industry has borrowed a lot of terms and phrases from construction: a web "site" is "under construction," or being "built." In fact, he thinks the parallels are significant, and that the value will be in taking cheap or free supplies (computers and software) and creating something of value for individuals or organizations.
  • Doc did surprise me when he suggested that we shouldn't have computers in the classroom until Junior High School.
  • He shot down my "American Idol" theory of businesses--at least, he made it clear that the "markets are conversations" idea that he brought out in The Cluetrain Manifesto is not reflected in American Idol. Instead, it is consumers as actual contributors that he was getting at.
  • I was very taken by his description of what he does as a blogger: he "rolls snowballs downhill." When a snowball rolls, he doesn't own or control, but he helped the idea to get into the world and got rolling and has meaning for other people. He also said, "we are all authors of each other."
  • Web 2.0, he says, is just a name that we are giving in advance to the next technology crash...
  • NEA: "N"obody owns it, "E"veryone can use it, "A"nyone can improve it. His definition of the best of the new marketplace for software.

You'll notice a slight hiccup toward the end of the interview--when my computer crashed! Luckily, we only lost about a minute when all was said and done. :)

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