Open Source

Graham Attwell at ITK’05, Finland

I had the pleasure to meet Graham Attwell from KnowNet here in Finland. He had in mind to contact me that he is coming to Finland but forgot about it. By accident, we ended up giving a presentation at the same workshop on 20th April at the ITK conference (Interactive Technology in Education (ITK) -conference
is the largest conference in Finland about information-
and communication technology in educational use).

Teemu Leinonen was supposed to give the presentation but a week before the conference he handed it to me. I will write about my presentation in the next post, I think it was well received.

I wasn’t able to attend the workshop presentation he did but I understood it was about wikis and weblogs and was a good starter to my presentation which perceived the socio-economic reasons why these new emerging tools exist in the first place, largely thanks to much greater changes happening in our society.

The level of quality of ITK presentations has dropped dramatically during the last years. People are just reading their bullet points aloud. I would rather read them online beforehand to see if there is something I’m actually interested in. I was mainly coding a Dicole extension, an Open Source web-based news aggregator on my laptop instead of listening. But Graham gave an excellent presentation on friday, which kinda saved my day.

Here are my notes about the presentation:

According to Graham, Open Source is a good thing for education. Open Source software is able to reflect on particular pedagogical approaches. Previously on the LMS dominated market, management was the paradigm instead of learning. In that sense, educational software improved in the way how it operated and not in conceptual terms. The reason for shift towards more pedagogic thinking is mainly because of Open Source.

There are communities of sharing practices and knowledge all around the world. These conferences are good examples. We have to begin this as software as well.

Graham tells us that there are thousands of VLEs on the market, mainly developed to local needs, even though similar tools already exist.  He has mixed feelings about this but it might be a good thing. The future is in small widgets that are able to connect together through Open standards. We can built small pieces that help knowledge development and continual
training. There is no point in creating large chunks of software.

In informal settings outside the conference room, Graham tells me about the idea of forking:
Forking is often seen as a bad thing in the Open Source community (i.e. starting a new branch with a completely new development team instead of joining the existing one). In the other hand, he sees that it might be a good thing for innovation. Take it, fork it and let others do the same. I’ve perceived Open Source important for customized learning, where you take a generic piece of Open Source and customize it to your own needs, then share it.

Open Source is essentially changing the relationships between producers
and consumers. We are beginning to change that relationship so that users
are starting to become producers. Open Source starts to adapt into educational needs, not the other way around.

As an example, he offers us Connexions. It’s well done stuff in the realm of Open Content coming from Texas, Rice University. He finds it surprising that something like this, emphasizing sharing and democracy is coming out of Texas, which has usually represented other kind of values 🙂

Open Source is not anymore stuff that students write in their basements. Most new Open Source software today is written by companies. Open Source has a solid business model, operating inside capitalism instead of being an opposite of it. Open Source is doing very well by economic terms.

He underlines, that Open Source developers are part of our community, not some outside sales
managers of large corporations. They are inside our community and understand our needs as users.

As a point for using the Open Source model to create content in education, he arguest that most of our commercially available content is very poor, not very exiting and is less in quality. We have generally a big vocational education (history, social studies, physics etc.) that is the same all around the world. The same content is often carried out in English, as many universities have studies in english. Yet we don’t have generally applicable content. Everyone is creating their own. We should create Open Content together to address this global need.

Amazon tried to copyright the shopping trollie. Ideas cannot be "owned" in the traditional sense, it’s against our advancement as a society. Copyright
should benefit the citizen, not the publisher.

Then he talks about blogging and open content and shows us some pictures and ideas of a personalized learning environment. As an example, he shows us the roadmap of Elgg.

Some fellow from Greece argues, that commercial vendors are not totally lacking reusability as they are trying to use metadata and content packages to enable the sharing of content between VLEs. I commented on this by arguing that the original reason of metadata and reusable objects was to enable the friends of these VLE producers, publishers to do commerce and that metadata has nothing to do with pedagogy in the current discussion.

Graham illustrates a nightmare scenario of learning objects by using an official image of SCORM, a vision in which you have small pieces of content (learning objects), processed through an LMS (crunched through some wheels) and then blasted against a brain (learner). This is exactly the behavioristic factory learning model we are trying to get as far away as we could (looks very much like my previous slides about pull vs. push in education).

I continued by explaining the idea of Stephen Downes about Wittgensteinian philosophy: meaning is use. We need distributed/third-party metadata which enables people to describe how a certain object was used (the pedagogy thing) during the lifetime of such an object, instead of what it is (as the what it is depends largely of the context where it is used). In that sense, learning objects are not static entities but changing rapidly based on how people use them, hence the term learning snowballs I’ve been talking about.

Graham continues that there has to be a change in understanding of how to use learning objects in education: the first issue is meaning as use, i.e.
third party/distributed metadata and other is the vanishing of controlled metadata
and being replaced by folksonomies.

Open Source not necessarily saves you money but it changes where the money is spent. We could spend as much money, but where the money is spent changes to something
you create instead of something you consume. The more money you put back into
your community, the more money you make.

We don’t understand the change process related to the use of ICT in education. In the other hand univerisites should use a strategy, but in the other hand they shouldn’t and
they should remain open to it.

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