Saturday, August 27, 2011

Open Learning and the Next Generation LMS

Onderwijsdagen 2007 - Keynote - Stephen DownesImage by moqub via FlickrWe have been talking at work about what the next generation of LMSs (learning management systems) should look like. In the education blog world, LMSs are considered pretty old fashioned because they tend to be proprietary silos, built on old code (by committee), and do not empower students to facilitate their own learning. Once the class is over, the LMS shuts the door behind the student. We agree with all of that. We find it particularly hard to get really meaningful information in and out of most LMSs. We are all in favor of "personal learning networks" - the way LMSs generally attempt to integrate Web 2.0 or social networks is pretty laughable. It is usually misunderstood and bolted on as an after-thought. But LMSs can be important to institutions because they provide a consistent interface for students who may not have any experience with technology. I got the idea to email Stephen Downes about this because I have been reading his blog and newsletter since I have been involved in teaching and education. I asked him what he thought the next generation of LMSs would look like and he was gracious enough to send us this response:

"I guess my short answer to the query is that I think the future LMS will look like what gRSShopper will look like when it's done. Because I've been developing gRSShopper for the distributed and open model of learning for some time now, in other words, exactly where I think institutions should be going. Of course I'm not a great programmer so gRSShopper is far from complete. But it gives a bit of a model of what the future LMS should look like.

In particular, gRSShopper supports a distributed environment, This allows the institution to aggregate student content from wherever it's posted. gRSShopper also supports syndication. So content can be distributed by email or RSS into pretty much any environment. The idea is that the LMS isn't a destination that people have to visit, but rather a clearing house that manages content aggregation, indexing and redistribution.

This is what I've been building out on gRSShopper - but because web 2.0 has migrated away from standards and toward proprietary APIs I need to do a lot more to extend it. But any LMS should be working with remote content minimally with RSS/Atom, DC, LOM, iCal, FOAF, and various other standards, as well as the Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter and related APIs. gRSShopper is a tool for managing things like MOOCs, and should support open online course content.

In addition, student access is ideally managed witgh a personal learning environment (PLE). This is a bit like a gRSShopper for idividuals, but with better management for personal accounts on remote systems. It would also have a more robust player - it would be a PLE that plays cartridges, not LMSs (though PLEs should report to LMSs any results). PLEs contain permanent records for student - all bookmarks, references and readings, created work, etc., is stored (or indexed, if stored in the cloud) locally, so the student can always retrieve it.

That's a short answer. A long answer would be consideraly more in-depth, but along these lines.

We would love to gather more ideas from others. If you have some thoughts on what you think the next generation LMS should look like or not look like, send us an email or leave a comment below.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Digital Native Mythology

Howard RheingoldImage via WikipediaI was glad to see some research this week on the so-called "Digital Native" in the article "Open University Research Explodes Myth of 'Digital Native.'" The whole idea of a "net generation" is ridiculous - the idea that because you were born after a certain year, you have some latent super-powers as far as technology is concerned. What the research shows is that it depends more on money, class, and access then on when you were born. Much of what is written about digital natives and the net generation is true only for the upper-middle classes and above or in areas where there is consistent access to technology. There is a whole body of literature that has grown up around this so-called generational relationship to technology and it is just hogwash. I agree that there are skills that we need around technology, I will even call them 21st Century Skills if someone wants to engage in buzz words. I love that the Open University is actually researching this rather than engaging in the anecdotalism that passes for research in much of education. Some of the more astute observers in this area include folks like Howard Rheingold who sees that though youngsters have some skills in technology, they still need to learn the critical thinking and focused attention skills required to engage in technology in a meaningful way. We do have to teach the current generation differently than the previous - not because they have wicked mad tech skills but because without the focus and discipline required to make sense of the media, they become mere consumers of media - passively disengaged in the world.

More on this can be found at
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, August 19, 2011

Time says commercial textbooks are a boondoggle

They did not use the word "boondoggle" but in the list of 12 Things You Should Just Stop Buying that also included homeopathic remedies for the flu was new commercial textbooks. The article suggests that you shop online for used or electronic texts. The only exception, according to the author, Martha C. White, was if you could not find one or if the instructor was the author. I would further add that students could also shop for classes that use open textbooks!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Flash Robs and the Darker Side of Human Nature

Free twitter badgeImage via WikipediaAfter weeks of Twitter fuled violence, rioting and crime, the British government is considering shutting off social networks. With similar problems, the mayor of Philadelphia is appealing to youths shape up combined with increased "stop and frisk" policies. Just as networks like Twitter and Facebook can be used to create art and topple governments, it turns out that they are good at quickly, nearly spontaneously  organizing gangs of criminals. The same technology that is used to form learning networks is the same technology that youths are using to organize robberies. I have links to the relevant stories at the bottom of this page. I originally wanted to join in on the rhetorical fun and talk about the "darker side of social networks" but this is really, once again, a case of the media missing the point. It is not the technology: the same press that publishes the works of Ghandi also can publish "Mein Kampf." The same phone technology that can announce a Nobel prize can direct a terrorist attack. Guess what? The problem is not the technology and stopping the technology will only spur further innovation and technological change that the authorities will understand even less. Attempting to close down communication is a lot easier than addressing poverty, unemployment, and the escalating crime rates. The technology is already here to monitor twitter and track who is tweeting and what they are tweeting. I am not condoning this, but it shows you how far behind the curve the British and Philadelphia are that their own police are not using Tweeps Around type software as a crime radar. Twitter is basically an open channel. Why aren't there flash mobs to prevent crime? Why do the police still look like they are barely above the phone-box-on-the-corner level of technology? But before they attempt to boot-block communications, I hope they do something about the roots of these crimes and address the needs of these desperate communities.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Making Sense of Public Domain

As more material becomes identified by governments, libraries, museums, and other institutions as "public domain," instructors and administrators will need help in understanding what is out there and the significance of some of the archives. They will also need help in learning how to use them effectively. This is where The Public Domain Review comes in. "Public domain" is any work that is not copyrighted, has an expired copyright, or that is considered public property. Copyright expiration dates can vary from country to country but tend to be 50 to 70 years after the death of the author. These materials are free to use and re-purpose, even commercially. There is a University of California website dedicated to copyright with a good over-view of the laws and definitions around public domain. The Public Domain Review provides examples of the kinds of materials in public domain from various archives of public domain materials on the net including:

The Public Domain Review is accepting submissions of articles. They are looking for articles about items in the collections but they are also looking for articles about how to use the materials in the collections. This is a good opportunity for teachers, instruction designers, and artists to reconnect students and the public with the historical record of our culture. I would like to see lesson plans developed around public domain materials, much like what we are doing with the course development around the Kaleidoscope grant (a grant that seeks to implement courses using openly licensed texts and learning objects).
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

3 Reasons Why OERs are Better Than "Free"

I see a lot of emails, Tweets, and blog postings that include free materials from both corporations and individuals included in lists of "open education resources" or OERs. I always have to let people know that I am not anti-corporate: I am using a corporately produced computer and posting to a corporate blog. So why so picky about licensing? Because open licenses mean sustainability. We have a good basic definition of OERs from Stephen Downes: "Open educational resources are materials used to support education that may be freely accessed, reused, modified and shared by anyone." Notice that there are no limitations there of any kind. It does not say you must be a member, ask permission, or be vetted by the Ted Talk people (which are great and basically free but not openly licensed). So what is the big deal? In online learning, some instructors like to be able to package the learning materials with a course. This is not always possible on commercially licensed products (yes, I said "product" and that is another issue). If the materials are licensed using Creative Commons, that takes care of those issues. Creative Commons licenses allow us the

1. OERs can be remixed and republished
Look closely at "free" textbooks or materials that are not openly licensed. Typically, you are not allowed to reproduce the text in any way. In some cases, you may be able to print it out or link to it. In many cases, downloading it and uploading again to another server would be considered a violation of copyright and way beyond the bounds of the Teach Act.

2. OERs do not disappear
OERs do not graduate, retire, or accept contracts. OERs do not move to other colleges or get bought out. Regular readers of this blog have had to join me in mourning the passing of a lot of really great tools on the internet - Drop.Io was one. If it were an open source program, someone would still be using and developing it today. I am still using Delicious Bookmarks but holding my breath as it has been sold. One of my favorite textbooks on Semiotics was free for years on the internet and I knew many people that used it. It was bought out by a publisher and it only exists at Archive.Org's Way Back Machine as a fond memory. I have seen teaching materials dissapear from the internet when If something is really worth teaching, it is worth putting an open license on so others, long after you have retired, will get to benefit from your wisdom and influence.

3. OERs are adaptable to your community
Why should your students have to adapt to your material? Shouldn't that be the other way around? The entire time I have been in education (even as a student), I have been dealing with instructors who say "We will use half of this textbook and everything else will be taken from the four other books you had to buy." Why? Because it would be a copyright violation for the instructor to bundle in only the pieces he or she is actually going to use. This is the same for free materials on the internet - if you can't adapt that "free" resource, you have to continually add to the reading list.

When I first got into teaching, I never had to ask for syllabi or materials because the teachers I worked with believed that a textbook was not a course and hand-outs and tests were not teaching. Teaching is what one does. The spirit of collegiality impelled them to share and help a new teacher. I hope that I have carried that spirit forward as well. But in these days of copyright happy corporate culture, I am using the Creative Commons license to again let others know that they don't have to ask.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Hewlett Packard Funds University of the People Research Students

Cover of Open Education book.Image via WikipediaHP is funding research projects with the University of the People, a tuition free open university. I am not sure about your end of the internet, but I haven't see much out there about this story. This is going to be one of the most significant stories in open learning of the year. There was a story about it at the Chronicle of Higher Ed. Long after the "real" colleges finish debating whether open universities, free universities and alternative schooling is effective or "valid," the graduates of these programs will be taking their portfolios into the workplace of major corporations. With open universities, MOOCs (massively open online courses), and other alternatives in education coming out of a combination of traditional schools and social networks, the education landscape is changing. This is no longer about creating free content. This is no longer about credentials, although students can go to the University of the People and get a bachelor's degree in computer science online at little cost. There is a $50 application fee and small fees around the grading of tests. They also offer Associate degrees in computer science and Associate and Bachelor's in Business Administration. What makes this story so significant is that the president of the college Shai Reshef, is not just interested in getting people educated but getting them jobs as well. The real revolution in education is not going to take place in the usual universities, it is going to happen when the highly motivated, self-directed learners from places like Wikiversity and U of P move into management of corporations. University of the People also offers general studies courses which I like because their students still get a chance to study history and the world around them.
Enhanced by Zemanta