Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

OpenLearn Mash-up

October 29th, 2006 by Graham Attwell

The Open Content Community is going from strength to strength. On Thursday, Patrick Mc Andrew presented the new UK Open University open content site – OpenLearn at the OECD project seminar on Open Educational Resources . The site had been launched the previous evening.

On Friday, before the meeting had ended, I received an email from
Tony Hirst

‘Hi Graham’, he said ‘this may interest you – proof of concept openlearn content via rss – string’n’glue learning environment. Go to learning materials, living with the internet (rss derivation described in passing here).’

Interest me it certainly does and impress me also. OK – so Tony probably sat up half the night making this. But in a previous post
I was impressed that the OU were making tools available to help remising. But this mash up shows the real potential for repurposing and reusing open resources in new ways. I love it!

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Open Educational Resources and Quality

October 27th, 2006 by Graham Attwell

I am still at the OECD meeting on Open Educational Resources.

There is a recurring discourse on quality. How do we ‘measure’ or represent quality. Many of the initiatives presented here are from higher education. Higher Education has a tradition of peer review and projects such as the Merlot repository are working to extend the peer review process to Open Resources.

In vocational education this would be a non starter. We do not have the resources, infrastructure or traditions and cultures for such a process to work. But even in Higher Education I am unsure such a process really can work. Who chooses the ‘expert’ reviewers? On what basis? What are the criteria for review?

More fundamentally the quality of materials depends to a considerable extent on the context of use. What is of high quality for me may not be for another user. Surely we need to find some way of representing users in any quality mechanism. That could be as simple as star rating systems. However, I think we need a more sophisticated mechanism which can capture the context of use as well as a quality rating – and ways of displaying such distributed metadata.

In other words – we need to build / adapt social social software for developing, sharing and re-purposing open educational resources. If you are interested in this work, please get in touch.

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Barcelona – Open Content Rules

October 26th, 2006 by Graham Attwell

Great Bazaar seminar – ‘Hey Dude, Where’s my Data’ in Barcelona yesterday. No time now to write a longer piece as I am at an OECD ‘expert meeting’ on Open Educational Resources (ironically invite only). I will try to write up my first thoughts at the weekend and of course will write a fuller account on the Bazaar project wiki. In the meantime you can read blog posts from the meeting by Ismael Pena Lopez on his ICTlogy blog.

Now live from the OECD meeting. Shigagawa Miyagawa from MIT talked about the MIT Open Courseware initiative as a social initiative to counter the “huge social cost if we let the dot coms take over’. He acknowledged the need to develop sustainability models. He talked about access and that in many African Universities despite poor internet access, there were excellent Local Area Networks. Therefore the is copying open courseware onto external hard drives for physical installation of university LANs.

Patrick McAndrew from the UK Open University presented the OpenLearn initiative, launched by the University yesterday. Looks extremely interesting, especially as through their OpenLab they are trying to make it easy for users to remix materials. We are going to hear a lot more about this in the future. Patrick presented OpenLearn as an experiment, saying the OU is not as brave as MIT. However he feels it impossible for the OU to reverse the direction they have taken, although he is still concerned at the costs of development.

The materials are available in XML and he feels the experience of this is of value to the university as a whole.

There is a continuing debate (which also came up at the Bazaar meeting) running over quality and whether universities should have a role in accrediting materials.

Patrick feels we are looking at futures – University 2.0 – and said there are many unknowns. We do even know if people learn using open content.

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The new pedagogy of open content: bringing together production, knowledge development and learning (Part 2)

October 25th, 2006 by Graham Attwell

As promised – a downloadable copy of the paper on ‘The new pedagogy of open content: bringing together production, knowledge development and learning’. For those of you who do not want to read the full paper I will run a couple of excerpts highlighting parts I think are important in next two weeks.

See the ‘download’ link above…

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Hey Dude – where’s my data?

October 20th, 2006 by Graham Attwell

The Bazaar project, in which I am a partner, is organising a seminar next week on the theme of ‘Hey, Dude, Where’s my Data?’.

This text, taken form the introductory flyer explains some of the themes of the seminar.

“Seminar Theme: Hey Dude, Where’s My Data?”

With Web 2.0, more and more people have their documents, products, personal details and photos stashed all over the internet – what issues does this raise for education?

The rise of commercial services

With the use of free, commercial, centrally hosted, social software services growing in education, some important issues arise; Who controls this data? Do users care that commercial services are mining their usage patterns and selling this to marketing companies? Is the nature of these ‘free’ services understood – yes, users can come in and use the base system for free but often, in return, they are bombarded with advertising and their details/usage habits are sold. However, does anyone really care? Perhaps the convenience of service outweighs the perceived downsides.”

We have asked the participants to prepare a short position paper. This is mine.

The issue of how data is stored, what is shared, who has access to it and who provides services is becoming an urgent question for education. That it has received little attention is probably a reflection of the limited understanding just what is going on by policy makers and educational managers. In some ways this is understandable. Firstly, the growth of distributed on-lien services is a recent phenomenon. Secondly, there is a digital divide in that it is younger generation who are making most use of these services.

The knee-jerk reaction of policy makers, where they have acted, is to ban such services. This is unfortunate and unsustainable. Banning access to such sites as YouTube and MySpace form schools and colleges will not make them go away. Indeed it could be seen as a dereliction of the so called ‘duty of care’ in failing to provide learners with the new and changing skills and knowledge of digital literacy.

What are the issues regarding distributed data and services?

1. Longevity.
Will it be there in the future? Internet companies come and go – especially at the moment. Services which are presently free may not be in the future. Even where services do continue it is easy to eradicate your own data. I was accessing my Google account on a new computer and was (stupidly) using a Spanish language interface. Instead of ticking to agree to the conditions, I clicked not to agree. Google instantly wiped my previously uploaded videos from their server. Of course I could upload them again but now they have new urls meaning all previous links are broken.
2. Security.
Other contributers to the Bazaar seminar have already said much on this so I will be brief. It is fairly obvious that service providers are struggling to provide secure services and ass the services grow it may be that security will be difficult to maintain.
3. Ethics.
Once more other contributers have pointed out the potential clash of ethics between education and learning and the shareholder / venture capitalist driven interest of many of the commercial service providers.

Of course it would be easy to say that the answer lies in only using locally installed services and blocking access for education institutions to the commercial services and social community sites. However the point and great attraction of many of these services is that they are social and community sites. Moreover it is through the user base and access to data form other users that they acquire their utility. Even blogging loses much of its attractions in a walled community.

What are the potential answers?

  1. Some form of regulation or code of practice for service providers. The problem here is that the web has proved notoriously difficult to regulate. However it could be possible to provide some kind of kitemarking for approved sites if they adopt approved practices. This has happened to some extent with self policing by the internet chat providers. However, it is difficult to see how the regulation could be extended given the border free nature of the internet.
  2. The provision of national services for education as a service infrastructure. But this would be expensive, large scale internet projects are prone to failure and it could become as much an infringement on privacy as privately provided services. National services may lack the agility of the present explosion in web 2.0 services.
  3. The provision of services through more localized public infrastructure – for instance local education organisations or the public library infrastructure. This already exists to some extent and has some attractions – I will return to this idea further on in the position paper.
  4. Learners taking more responsibility for their data through the provision of an extended portfolio or Personal Learning Environment. Learners would remain free to use external services accessed through their PLE. However important data would be held on local repository.

This is my preferred solution. The extent of the present problem suggests to me that we need to speed up the implementation of portfolios and PLEs. In some countries this is happening rapidly but in others it lags behind.

Of course it still begs the question of where data is held. I would suggest that all education institutions should install a lightweight standards compliant repository. Standards will, be important for allowing data to be transferred between different institutional providers. The systems should also allow users to download and store their own data – preferably on a potable memory device.

Also standards will be important for allowing federated search between institutions and allowing communities to be developed between different institutions and applications. Whilst the data storage is local if users wish, they should be capable of sharing that data outside institutional boundaries.

This still leaves open the question of provision for those not engaged in education. What happens when a student finishes at university, for example? Some universities are already proposing to continue providing services but to charge for them. I do not believe this is the right answer. There is a strong case for Adult Education providers to have a new role in providing an PLE / Portfolio service for all adults within their geographical area. This would obviously require funding but could be of immense benefit in stimulating lifelong learning.

Regardless of what answer is adopted, perhaps the most urgent issue to to extend the idea of digital literacy to include the issue of data. Learners will have to take more responsibility for their own data in future. We should be assisting them in judging what to disclose, to who, in what contexts and how to use services sensibly. That in turn require further professional development for teachers and trainers.

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How we learn

October 18th, 2006 by Graham Attwell

I am taking part at the moment in an on-line conference organised by the UNESCO IIEP Community of Interest in Open Educational Resources. Although I don’t really like the format of these email conferences, it is lively with a lot of cultural interchange. And I just received this wonderful post from K. C. Sabu from Bhopal, India. He or she says in one short story more than I have ever managed to say in long convoluted papers!

“Women Hand Pump Care Takers

In one of the Water and Sanitation Projects in South India, during the 90s women were to be trained to be hand pump care takers. Due to some reason the training was delayed – and the authorities distributed the tool kits to the suggested women in the remote rural areas.

Surprisingly after about 6 months when we visited the areas, we found that the women were actually functioning as Hand Pump care takers though they were not trained to be. Through trial and error they learned the ‘Engineering’ of hand pump. The factors behind the learning include access to the tools, the need – for water – and the natural determination? Learning is mostly demand driven, self organized and self paced. Opportunity and access are important factors in the process of learning.

It is very much true that the children find schooling to be boring. A more active involvement of the user – students – in specifying the content and curriculum may make a difference in this scenario. Teachers need to recognize that there cannot be any teaching if there is no learning. There is need for teachers to realise the fact that the learners are able to construct knowledge. Once this is realized, the teachers will naturally grow above their level of delivering the content, to higher levels like that of becoming partners and facilitators in the process of constructing knowledge.”

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Open Content as a changing form of cultural exchange

October 17th, 2006 by Graham Attwell

One of the reasons I like blogging is the opportunity to share work in progress. In this case it really is work in progress. I am writing a paper on Open Content and Open Educational Resources for the CODATA conference to be held in Beijing later this month.

One of my issues with the Open Content / Open Knowledge debate is that it is hardly new. So what is innovative about the whole idea. This is what I have juts written. Be interested in any comments.

“Open Content, or Open Educational Resources, is hardly a new idea. Indeed it could be said that everyday teaching involves the open sharing of knowledge ideas and content. Furthermore, much of scientific development through publicly funded universities has been premised on the sharing of research and research outcomes with often elaborated cultural and social processes for both assuring the quality of those outcomes and for regulating the exchange of knowledge. It may be that rather than seeing Open Content as a new phenomenon we should rather look at changing forms of cultural exchange and regulation, based on changes in production processes, new forms and organisation of innovation, new understandings of knowledge production and, of course, rapid changes in technologies.”

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Developing open content

October 16th, 2006 by Graham Attwell

Sorry not to have posted much lately. Up to my eyes in work and travel seems never ending.

Anyway, just to get the travel-log up to date. Spent most of last week in Romania – first in the beautiful; mountains of Transylvania and then in traffic clogged (but still beautiful) Bucharest.

I was in Romania for a meeting of the Reflective Evaluation project. We rolled out for the first time our as yet unnamed tool which allows an easy way for teachers and trainers to themselves create learning activities. This was always going to be interesting – given that the majority of the parters are teachers and trainers themselves rather than ICT experts. They seemed to like it. We benefitted from the input from Kris who has programmed the tool and is himself a specialist IT trainer. It was particularly good for me to watch how he presented the workshop. It requires a lot of patience in making sure everyone is keeping up and in guiding people through installing plug-ins etc.

The tool – about which I shall write more in the next month – is definitely a Web 2.0 development in that the activities of the learners or users form a key part of the learning materials. Of course this raises issues – particularly the relationship between expert and user based knowledge. This is quite a challenge for university researchers, used to the paradigm of expert knowledge drawn from research rather than practitioner knowledge based on practice.

What was particularly encouraging was that as participants became used to the idea of installing and ‘playing’ with the application, they became enthusiastic about other social software tools. By the end of the workshop everyone was sitting in the room sending messages to each other using Skype. Sometimes, working in the e-learning field, we can forget that many people have no knowledge of these tools and what use they might be for researchers and project development. We also forget that installing software – even modern, easy to use, web software, lays outside the experience of many users,

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Blogtalk Fun

October 4th, 2006 by Graham Attwell

We had a gas at the Blogtalk Reloaded conference in Vienna. Together with Ray Elferink, I presented a paper called “Developing an Open Architecture of Participation.” Or I was supposed to. We certainly wrote the paper (watch this slot – out later this week – hones). And we sat down last Sunday to write a presentation.

Trouble was, we got carried away with form over substance. We wrote – and delivered – our old fantasy of the Ray and Gra show.

What fun. Music, dancing (yes I am not lying – dancing at a conference), multi media, live trialiing of – at best – beta software and much more. You can catch the atmosphere with this video.

However – in designing the show we lost sight of what we were sup [posed to be communicating. People came up afterwards to say how much they had enjoyed our presentation – and then to ask what we had been talking about. Well at least they noticed us.

More about the content in the next post.

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What is social software?

October 2nd, 2006 by Graham Attwell

As promised – live blogging from the Blogtalk Reloaded confernce (I love the title by the way).

After spending the last two weeks in a number of academic and education conferences, it is interested to be in a meeting comprised mainly of geeks working in small private companies.

Lots of discussion around what social software is or means. seems to be a bit of a split between those of us – who like me – see the only use of the term to describe software which supports social processes – there are others who seem to be referring to things like MySpace as social software – or as phenomenon or artifact – independent of the social processes or activities taking place.

Having said this, there is at last some very useful case studies, particularly form the german speaking countries who have a tradition of accompanying research.

More later.

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