Saturday, June 30, 2007

L3rn

Will points to this Seattle PI piece on a "social learning network" written and deployed by the Seattle Public Schools called L3rn.

A few points:

  • I've argued from the beginning that this kind of web application, hosted and administered by school districts or regionally, is a good idea. We don't literally want or need schools to use flickr, we need for them to have their own tools which work just as well as flickr. An urban school district is full of interesting happenings; even completely dysfunctional wrecked systems have isolated points of brilliance. There is no reason to think a well designed site that truly captured the goings on in a city school district, particularly over a period of years, wouldn't be compelling. This is a minority position, I think because people don't believe schools will ever have good software at their disposal, or even if they do, that they will never use it. I'm not sure how you can be an educational technology advocate and hold either of those two ideas, but many people seem to manage it.
  • If we want to expand the reach of the "Edubloggercon" circle, we should start by reaching out to people who are doing projects like this. This is the distinction I was trying to point out in my earlier post about NECC; that at least in the open source in education community we're getting some connections between the grassroots bloggers and the state and corporate players who are, in some cases, managing major open source projects. This has taken years of work, however. We need to get the folks who are implementing significant initiatives using social software in education into "the conversation." That we're finding out about this project in the newspaper is absurd on several levels.
  • Why, for the love of God, is this not an open source project?

8 comments:

Lindell said...

Hi Tom,
I'm the development manager for L3RN at Seattle Public Schools. It's pretty amazing how closely your post reflects our thinking within the L3RN team. It's our hope that L3RN will showcase those "points of brilliance" that are taking place in our schools and pass unnoticed. Second, we want to break down the siloing between schools where good teaching and great curriculum are being developed but then have no conduit for virally spreading to other schools. Third, we want to empower and engage the creative potential of our students by allowing them to share their work and thoughts online and to build their own social networks to link to each other's work.

As for open sourcing, we are currently working on an open sourcing strategy that would allow us to release L3RN back to the world as a collective good for all schools. We are also considering creating a separate co-op L3RN site for other districts that would let them easily sign up for the L3RN service even if they don't have open-source techies on their staff.

Lindell Alderman

nlalderman - at - seattleschools - dot - org

Mark Ahlness said...

Tom, I'm a teacher in Seattle. A couple of comments to other posts on this that you might find interesting:

from Wesley Fryer

from Will Richardson

Bill Fitzgerald said...

I just spent some time going through L3rn, and reading on some of the articles about it -- I was struck by this quote from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

"And coming this fall, the district will introduce Medley, another social-networking site it has created that's similar to MySpace.

Each student will have a Medley Web page, where she can paste pictures and samples of her work, write in an online journal and create links to friends' Web pages. Students also will be able to send "friend requests" to one another and messages to teachers using Medley. "

While I think it's great that we have large urban districts taking these steps, I can't avoid the fact that much of this functionality comes enabled out of the box within DrupalEd (and I'm talking about the functionality of both L3rn and Medley) -- a quick look at the source code on L3rn shows that they leverage jquery for their javascript magic; jquery ships with Drupal as well.

So, while these initiatives are incredibly necessary, leveraging the work already taking place within existing open source communities, and then contributing back to those communities, can save huge amounts of money, and make these products available to a broader range of districts and schools, in the US and internationally --

And what if these tools were designed to fit on an OLPC screen?

Cheers,

Bill

Lindell said...

Bill,
Our entire site is powered by open source. It is a 100% python site powered by django. All of our developers come with many years of python experience so we chose django as our platform rather than drupal because it is the language we are most comfortable with.

It is our dream that L3RN could grow into a service that scales beyond our district and even beyond our national borders. While a single district site filled with great content and great tools for teachers and students is wonderful, the potential for L3RN becomes infinitely more interesting when hundreds of thousands and even millions of users are contributing to a shared learning network and content repository. In that scenario, small districts and developing nations with limited resources could have access to a vast collection of high-quality curriculum. Furthermore, cross-cultural communication and exchange becomes instantaneous and pervasive, opening up the opportunity for our users to become true global citizens.

I'd love to get our site tailored to run on OLPC. Do you know how we could get access to one for testing?

Tom Hoffman said...

I'm very happy to hear that the site is built on Django. Now I'm REALLY excited to seeing your code, hopefully asap.

Regarding OLPC, web apps are just web apps on OLPC, so you shouldn't need to do anything in particular, unless you want to make some kind of special client. You can try it out using an emulator or building the whole thing on Linux with 'sugar-jhbuild' See wiki.laptop.org for more.

Bill Fitzgerald said...

Hello, Lindell,

Thanks for your response -- it's good to hear that you went with Django, and, like Tom, that makes me more eager to see the code and take a look at the admin backend.

RE: "As for open sourcing, we are currently working on an open sourcing strategy that would allow us to release L3RN back to the world as a collective good for all schools." -- this is great! I'd love to hear more about the licensing options you are examining.

RE: "It is our dream that L3RN could grow into a service that scales beyond our district and even beyond our national borders." -- agreed -- creating a generalized tool that supports learning in a variety of contexts is what it's all about.

RE: "In that scenario, small districts and developing nations with limited resources could have access to a vast collection of high-quality curriculum. Furthermore, cross-cultural communication and exchange becomes instantaneous and pervasive, opening up the opportunity for our users to become true global citizens." -- again, agreed. I love what you're saying here. This is also part of what fuelled the development of DrupalEd --

If you are interested, I'd love to talk with you about ways of moving content between systems in a way that protects the security of students while allowing collaboration between learning organizations. In developing L3rn, have there been any steps toward supporting external client services via xml-rpc calls, or open apis?

Cheers,

Bill

Lindell said...

Bill,
One of the features of l3rn is that is has a plug-in architecture. New types of content and new widgets can be added to extend the system "a la facebook." I would like to create a standard protocol for importing and exporting data within l3rn as well. One of the big mistakes that a lot of vendor software makes is the lack of an easy way to integrate their products with a school's student information system. You should email me at nlalderman - at - seattleschools - dot - org and we can talk about what a standard protocol for exchanging data might require.

Bill Fitzgerald said...

Hello, Lindell,

Thanks for your feedback on this -- I'll be in touch later today.

Cheers,

Bill