Open Source Creation

For a number of years I was responsible for the purchasing of all hardware and software for schools within my K12 division.  Despite the fact that the amount of money I was responsible for was significant it was invariably never enough.  There was a growing excitement about educational technology at the time and schools and teachers were clamoring for more and better hardware and the software to drive it.  In order to stretch the dollars I did have to support schools I was constantly on the look out for open source software to compliment or replace the commercial software we already used.  At roughly the same time I was also introduced to Blackboard and was very intrigued by the notion of using a learning management system to support student learning and professional development.  Because of cost [extreme cost] Blackboard was not an option given my budget so I went on the hunt for an open source equivalent.  Along with looking for general software and an LMS we were also in need of some type of website system to replace the existing school websites.  At the time interested teachers [if anyone was interested] in each school worked at developing websites using software like FrontPage or Dreamweaver and occasionally the development environment in Netscape [yes…it was that long ago].  I put in many hours trying to train teachers to build and manage websites using Dreamweaver [without much success].  I even went as far as to license Macromedia Studio for all schools to provide a consistent environment for website creation, digital imaging and some authoring.  In hindsight it was almost a total waste of money.

So in the end we ended up with the following within the division:

Teacher and student laptops [I forgot to mention….during this time the division began providing every teacher with a laptop and schools with mobile laptop carts] were installed with Audacity, OpenOffice [NeoOffice on Macs], GIMP [GimpShop on Macs], Tuxpaint, Blender, SketchUp, and a number of other tools.  Because the majority of the machines in the division were Macintosh we also had access to iLife [iMovie, Garageband and iPhoto]. Software, by the way, that did more for furthering the use of educational technology than anything else we did or had available.  Even though we now no longer provide macs [despite my protests] much of this software is still placed on machines as they are provided.  However…the division still spends way too much money on commercial software that generally speaking does not get used at all or not close to its full extent.

As a result of the LMS hunt and with the support of a very forward thinking and intelligent division IT person [you know who you are GG] I ended up installing two instances of Moodle.  One to support teacher use with students in schools and one to support professional learning within the division.  Both instances are still running [with upgrades] and have been a bulletproof addition to the learning environment.  We have a growing number of teachers creating courses in Moodle even though the process is still not for the faint of heart.

After researching, installing and piloting Drupal, Joomla, Plone, WordPress, MediaWiki and Adobe Contribute [eliminated early because of cost and the complicated nature of the product] we finally settled on Drupal as a solid system for giving each school a presence on the web.  Within about 2 weeks all 56 schools were provided their own install of Drupal [version 5] and they have been happily humming away with virtually no issues [except for required updates] for the past 5 years. As a bonus our test install of Mediawiki became the division wiki available to all teachers.  I know someone out there will mention that we should have installed a multi-site version of Drupal.  We worked at it at the time without much success.  Knowing a lot more now it would not be an issue today….and it would be the better way.

With all of this already in place along came Google Apps for Education.  Our division was one of the first in Canada to have our own Google Apps domain and we now have over 7000 students and teachers using the secure suite of tools to support content creation, collaboration and sharing.  My previous comment about the iLife suite from Apple applies completely to Google Apps.  For me….no other service or software since iLife has had the impact on the use of educational technology and on shifting the thinking of teachers around the use of educational technology as Google Apps.  I think in the end that this shift is possible for a number of specific reasons…the service is free, online and available 24/7/365, sharing and publishing are built in and collaboration [true live collaboration] is simply a sharing click away.  It also doesn’t hurt that many students and teachers are already familiar with the Google tools through their public service.

So what am I saying with all of this?  In the end I can not see how any school division could not operate [at least from the teaching and learning perspective] entirely with the use of open source software and services.  It is unfathomable to me how a publicly funded institution can justify spending the money they do on commercial software that can be easily replaced with open source alternatives.  This is especially true where educational institutions are tied to extremely expensive licensing arrangements for software and services that are at the very least overkill in most K12 educational environments and at the very worst lock divisions [districts] into the traditional IT perspective of control.  Spend the money on infrastructure and hardware instead and when you absolutely have to spend money on specialized software spend equal amounts to provide the support required [and usually sadly lacking] to properly use it in the educational context.

On a personal note….I now use Google Apps almost exclusively at work and at home.  I have not used Microsoft Office at work or at home for almost a year.  I don’t miss it at all.

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UofR Library Supports Openness

University of Regina [Dr. John Archer Library]
http://www.uregina.ca/library/

I would suspect that in many respects the University of Regina library website is similar to most institutional library sites.  It offers the usual service tabs, search tools, collection access, support contacts, support information, library tutorials, announcements and general information [copyright info as an example].  Links to the library Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare presence is obvious and institutional users can customize their online library experience with MyLibrary account functionality.

In general terms however this particular institutional library site [the part easily found] could not be considered an instructional repository or referatory…at least not for open educational resources.  Obviously the library supports its own collection of physical and online materials [journals, books,materials, etc.] and provides access to the university community.  But access directly to open instructional materials and support made available at the University of Regina is not present and only limited reference to other online repositories is provided.

The one [huge] notable exception to this is that the U of R has an open access initiative of their own called oURspace [http://ourspace.uregina.ca/]. This local repository for peer reviewed work stands out as a true open access resource.   Available under the Faculty tab within services the repository is fully searchable, refers to other repositories and provides additional search capabilities for other institutional repositories.

In fact…within a few minutes I found, viewed and downloaded a research article related to technology use in the net generation that I sadly needed. The site even refers to [top of the list] the Budapest Open Access Initiative and goes on to discuss the cultural point to all of it.

Good job!

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Supporting openness….

In case you hadn’t heard….. the Capetown Open Education Declaration and Budapest Open Access Initiative want you to declare your support for openness.

In the case of the Capetown Open Education Declaration this means agreeing in principal to the idea that “everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, improve and redistribute educational resources without constraint”.  What the declaration states generally is that we should actively contribute to a store of educational resources that anyone can then use.

The Budapest Open Access Initiative speaks to openness from the perspective of access to research and scholarly works through peer reviewed scholarly journals.  In this case it is about the sharing of knowledge in order to “accelerate research, enrich education, share the learning of the rich with the poor and the poor with the rich, make this literature as useful as it can be, and lay the foundation for uniting humanity in a common intellectual conversation and quest for knowledge”.

Both of these initiatives speak in general terms to the public good and I agree with the ideas 100%.  From an educational standpoint [K-12 in particular] because we simply can no longer afford to pay the high costs associated with packaged and delivered resources from traditional publishers and because open access to peer reviewed journals might help to close existing equity gaps in knowledge.  There is also something to be said for the leveraging of the collective capacity of educators to produce content appropriate to their context….technology has strengthened this ability.

I have not signed either declaration yet but would have no qualms in doing so.  I feel strongly as an educator [working in a publicly funded system] that anything we produce should be freely available to others. Given the rapidly expanding access to mobile technologies, cloud computing environments and the notion of personalized learning it seems that freely available digital resources are required….including the research and data that drives educational decision making.  I see initiatives like this as important catalysts for or at least supports for change.

What the Capetown Initiative in particular can’t speak to is the increasing requirement for all learners to have a personal learning device or devices to access and contribute to the ever growing collection of learning content.

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Trend Tracking Infrastructure

I might have made changes.  View the Live Version

Trend Tracking Infrastructure

I think the diagram adequately illustrates my online learning infrastructure. In this case I am talking specifically about leveraging the infrastructure to track trends but overall it supports my learning life. Notice I said support. The diagram does not include the people I have conversations with and learn from or the paper books, magazines and journals I read, the TV I watch, the radio I listen to, etc.  The diagram also does not illustrate the time management [or not in some cases] required to actually use the infrastructure appropriately.

It is also difficult to illustrate the ecosystem that now exists across my learning appliances. I use two significant services….Google Apps and Diigo.  Just about everything I do and capture is immediately available across and able to be published from all my devices.  This is an incredible thing….no more disjointed efforts to build capacity or to gather content and publish.

Creating the diagram makes three distinct trends increasingly clear..mobility, cloud-based activity [I don’t like the term cloud-based computing] and personal publishing.  And in fact, many of the posts by my compatriots in the Future Trends and Directions class  have been linked directly or indirectly to these specific trends.

BTW.  I consider Firefox [Chrome as well] as much a service as a tool.  Browsers have become so much more than browsers. Definitely the Swiss army knife of online learning.

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Trend Tracking Sources: Feeling the Pulse

Tracking trends is/can be a time consuming task.  Management of that task is paramount to teasing out what are trends and what are fads…even though they might be the same thing in some cases.  I also think that balance is key. From an educational perspective balance means looking at both topics and sources.  In order to gain perspective we need to be looking internationally at what is happening as well as nationally and locally.  We also need to look at post secondary, K-12, private and public.  Perspective is important.

Google alerts has provided many of the specific sites, articles or blog entries that I have bookmarked, read and posted.  This process provides a wide array of sources and supports the goal of balance.  The items are also delivered in consumable blocks [8 each time for me] which makes the reading/viewing easier to manage.  A subscription to both the Google Blog search results for education and trends also provides additional sources.  Even though it does not specifically appear in the reading results i also subscribe to education alerts from the Huffington Post.  Their education section provides specific items within educational reform, college, educational reform, for teachers and also bullying [hot topic] as well as a general item for education generally.

I thought I would list the main websites that I do keep track of.  I have subscribed to all of these and outside of the Google Alerts I receive these are the Google Reader subscriptions I tend to focus on.

Websites:
Edutopia
Huffington Post
TED [not just those presentation that relate to education]
US Department of Education
Education News [general news for education..K-12, Post-Secondary, International
Education Week [general news for education..K-12, Post-Secondary, International
NPR
University World News [perspectives other than K-12]
Mashable
Freakonomics  [use the search for education specific blog items]
Globe and Mail  [Education [no specific section but the search works, Technology]
Technorati  [education search results]

I read/view the following blogs because of the educational prominence of the people that created them and for the links they provide.  These links are sometimes reflected in the Google  and other alerts I receive by email.  Generally though they provide an entirely different “direction” for reading about education than the mainstream media, government or commercial websites.  They are a link to some of the general “thinking” that is happening within the educational community and provides a lot of thought provoking questions. I look specifically for the links that are provided in posts that can be followed to gain insight into new ideas and directions and strengthen those being followed already.  These are not the only blogs I read but they but the items presented in these blogs tend to surface elsewhere more often than others.

Blogs:
2¢ Worth [Warlick has been a fixture in the education blogging community for years]
Dangerously Irrelevant [all things education and focused on reform]
Edutopia Blogs [a wide range of educational topics offered]
Innovative Educator [can be very controversial but raises great questions for debate]
Emerging EdTech  [provides specific information on emerging technologies]
WillRichardson  [well connected to teaching practice]
Technorati Blog
The Fischbowl
SCOOP-Leading Learners
Cool Cat Teacher [very well connected to teacher practice]
Mashable [the trending topics says a lot about what is current]
Freakonomics

Diigo Postings to UMTrends11 Group [as well as individual participant blogs]

This a valuable component to the overall picture.  What other participants are posting to the group tends to validate what I am doing and in other cases points me in directions I may not have gone.  Common trends come to the surface quickly but what is interesting are those that are unique to individuals.  It brings the “I didn’t see that” or “I would not have thought of that” aspect to the topic.

Management:

iGoogle [Reader Gadget, Bookmarks Gadget] > Google Reader > Google Alerts [other alerts] > Diigo > Diigo Groups

Being presented with a constant stream of information within a consistent environment makes it possible to manage.  iGoogle is set as my homepage on all browsers and I use Firefox and Add This to manage adding items to Diigo, Reader and Bookmarks.  The process separates what is read generally from what is posted to Diigo for group consumption. The process is also an evolution.  Sources that were deemed as important early on lose their prominence over time and are replaced by those that emerge later.  For many reasons I suspect this would be a continual part of the process.

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Personalized Learning

All Roads Lead Here

It is clear to me from emerging educational trends observed and especially the continued move to a more mobile and connected life that personalized learning is one of the more significant [relevant] trends for education.  In my previous trends report I identified 8 education trends [there are others] distilled from hundreds of articles, blog postings and websites.  Included in the 8 was personalized learning.  Of the remaining 7 trends presented mobile learning, cloud computing, ubiquitous learning, BYOD, digital content and the flipped classroom all fully support personalized learning.  Each of these trends is important in its own right but they all in one way or another point to personalized learning as  an outcome or possibility.  Perhaps ubiquitous learning [ubiquity] stands as more significant but without the freedom granted by our increasing level of mobility, our increased utilization of cloud-based services, the ability to use our learning appliances at school and access to digital content ubiquity would not be possible.  So…for me at least, personalized learning stands alone at a higher level of importance.  It is probably true that personalized learning might not be possible without those very things required for ubiquity but in the end it is the notion of personalized learning that is profound. Personalized Learning centers on the individual and captures so much of what we now know makes a great learning experience.

The idea of personalized learning is not new.  What is new is the collective advancements in technology that now provide even more opportunity for personalization of the learning experience.  The BC Ministry of Education went so far as to create an online interactive guide to personalized learning as part of their learning focus.  A guide that looks particularly at what learning might look like from the learners perspective supported fully with technology.

Even the late Issac Asimov [play video from the 2:30 mark] in an interview with Bill Moyer and provided on AllThigsD predicted the impact that technology would have on education.  He may not have fully described the details but he certainly hit on the the important points…connection, digital content, interest, differentiation, pacing….just in time and just for me learning.  Alberta Learning describes this change fully on the ministry website.  The short intro on the site also points to pacing instruction to learner need as a key factor in true personalization.  According to the World Future Society technological advances will make learning both more personal and more social.  A trend they say harkens back to a time when oral histories, formal and informal apprenticeships and one-to-one tutoring were common. Being a well connected learner in 2011 makes these and other learning opportunities not only possible but probable in an educational system changing as a result of continued reform and economic pressure.  George Siemens and Stephen Downes describe this connected possibility within their theory of Connectivism and speak clearly to the power of connected learning. In a presentation to Empire State University Siemens outlined the educational process as a reflective, social, multi-faceted and situated approach that includes self-guided, guided and cohort driven learning opportunities. This seems to me to be a very personalized approach or outcome.

Often described in the same breath with differentiated learning and individualized learning it is important to understand the differences.  Wikipedia very quickly identifies the major attributes to consider as pedagogy, curriculum, environment, individual aspirations and technology.  The article goes one step further to point out the specific differences between Individualization and Personalization in order to reinforce the idea that they are two distinct terms.

Difference List:

Individualization Personalization
Same objectives for all learners Different objectives for each learner
Applying of differenced didactic strategies to achieve the key competences Applying of differenced didactic strategies to promote the personal potentiality
The educational curriculum is defined by the educational staff The learner actively participates in the construction of his own curriculum
Valorisation of the cognitive dimension of the learner Valorisation of all dimensions of learner, not only the cognitive (emotional, social, life experience, etc.)
Valorisation of previous knowledge and competencies, formal and non formal Valorisation of previous knowledge, competence, life and work skill, also informal
Learner’s self-direction as an accessory skill Learner’s self direction as a fundamental skill
Teacher has a key role Tutor has a key role

According to Carol Ann Tomlinson differentiated instruction [ learning] in contrast speaks to determining what is best for each learner but within the context of expected learning outcomes.  Students still do not necessarily determine these outcomes for themselves. Personalized learning, on the other hand, provides for the possibility that individual learners will meet different and unique outcomes.

A deeper definition is provided by the Personalized Learning Foundation.  The foundation also provides the answers to some key questions:  Why is the model important?  What makes it a distinct educational model?   Where is it being used?   The BC Ministry of Education has adopted personalized learning as a focus and promotes the increased degree to which the learner exerts control over his or her own learning as central to the model.  In a special report entitled “A Vision for 21st Century Education” the Premier’s Technology Council describes this as a flexible path to education.  A path that requires a  gradual release of responsibility for learning to the student.

Access to the technological tools necessary to support personalized learning is seen as essential.  According to the report the new use of technology has the potential of:

boosting basic skills such as the recall of math principles and procedures, vocabular development in language, and internalization of science terms and principles. Learning technologies are also freeing up time to focus on the 21st century skills that require more interaction among learners while providing tools to further their skill-building online-collaboration, communication, leadership, and social and cross-cultural skills.

The idea of just in time, just for me and just enough learning occurs regularly in discussions around personalized learning.  This is also true for mobile learning, ubiquitous learning, cloud computing, BYOD and other emerging educational trends.  Indeed, the fact that discussions involving any of these topics invariably leads back to discussions about centering learning on the learner and the unique needs of that learner speaks to how connected these emerging trends are.  A more personalized learning experience comes as the result [planned or otherwise] of becoming a more connected learner. One that has access to their learning tools, content and support [teachers/experts] 24/7/365.

So…..is this about personalized learning? Yes!   But it is also about mobile learning, ubiquitous learning, learning appliances, cloud computing, BYOD and any other educational trend that empowers people to become an active participant in their own learning.

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Education Response to Significant Change

Much of what I have been reading of late about educational trends [technology, pedagaogy, assessment, mobility, etc.] points to significant need for change in the K12 education community [as well as higher ed].  I was especially intrigued by a recent posting in Fast Company entitled Moving Toward 2020.

From a business perspective the article does a great job of describing the competitive pressures that are mounting on companies of all sizes.  Blogger Sam Herring explains in detail how declaring the next 10 [or so] years as the “learning decade’ for  companies holds promise.  Herring outlines 17 key drivers for this shift to a corporate learning culture and some are very telling for the education community….the brain drain, failing grade and future jobs for example.

These drivers speak to a vastly different business environment…one in which current students will have to compete in. So how will we [K12 and higher ed] respond?

The new certainty is uncertainty. Knowledge doesn’t provide all the answers. But learning and the application of newly acquired knowledge provide us with a framework for co-existing with the unknown and for keeping innovation and hard-earned revenues flowing, even when difficult conditions exist.

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