Friday, August 31, 2007

Analyst Anticipates Eight-fold Increase in K-12 Open Source by 2011

I followed up on this eSchool News report on the America's Digital Schools Report. There are some interesting tidbits in the key findings from last year's report.

Open source is gaining importance for schools. The growth rate is a healthy 70% per year. Beyond Linux and the well-known Indiana open-source initiative, a number of other states and districts are considering open source. Moodle, a curriculum delivery platform, is an example of a popular open-source program. Widespread open-source usage will grow eight-fold from 2006 to 2011.

This one is buried, not surprising considering the sponsors of the survey. The eSchool News story which uses the survey to riff on on ways of cutting technology costs doesn't peep about free software either, presumably for the same reason.

Those gripes aside, this is a plausible projection from an established source, and open source advocates should quote it liberally.

66% of curriculum directors indicate that a bullet-proof infrastructure is the most important factor in adopting a primarily digital curriculum. This finding may indicate a level of skepticism about the current state of infrastructures.

Apparently curriculum directors do think it is about the technology, or the unreliability thereof.

Almost the same number, 64%, of curriculum directors rank more flexible licensing and pricing terms and conditions as extremely important factors in adopting a primarily digital curriculum.

Perhaps this 64% percent would be interested in knowing more about the spcific flexibility offered by free software licensing.

Interestingly, only 27% of curriculum directors indicate that third party, web-delivered content via an ASP is an important factor in digital learning. It appears that those surveyed want a digital curriculum but that they prefer it to reside on their own server.

Interesting indeed.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Open eGov

The City of Newport News, VA:

The City of Newport News is offering the software that runs its web site as well as the knowledge base we created through the implementation process to any organization or individual, free of charge. Our intent is to create a collaborative software ecosystem, where government organizations, non-profits and the private sector work together to share the cost of enhanced capabilities.

On August 24, 2007, Open eGov joined 55 other government organizations from Europe, Africa and South America and merged with the PloneGov project. The intent is to offer our software and relevant documentation integrated with the PloneGov delivery channels.

I would like to read a good analysis of why eGovernment is so far ahead of educational IT (aside from open source in education not having its own Jim Willis).

Monday, August 27, 2007

New IP Policy for Digital Media and Learning Competition

In response to criticism, including from me, the Digital Media and Learning Competition has changed its intellectual property policy. It is, in my opinion, still a mess.

OK, here's the new first paragraph:

Copyright in the product produced as a result of the award shall remain with the successful Applicant subject to the terms of the Competition. Each Applicant must agree, however, that if it receives an award it will license the use of the product in accordance with a Creative Commons License (Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, ShareAlike) or be Open Source.

I think the underlying problem with what they're trying to do comes from the first sentence; giving the intellectual property rights to the grantee, but with ambiguous encumbrances. I don't, as a general point, see why the recipient of a philantropic grant (or a wage) should get copyright over paid work. As an American, I'm just used to not recognizing the "moral right of the author." More practically, I think a much cleaner route to the grant's apparent goals for IP would be for the grantors to retain the copyright and make the work available under a free content or software license to anyone.

The second sentence of the quoted paragraph is so imprecise that it is hard to believe they actually consulted with lawyers in making this revision, or, for that matter, it is hard to believe they spoke to anyone who knew anything about open source software licensing. Does the grantee have to choose the CC-by-nc-sa license? In the first version they clearly did, now it might be a suggestion. Perhaps other CC licenses are permissible?

The tacked on "or be Open Source" should be something like "or under an Open Source Initiative approved license." More importantly, there is a huge difference between the terms of the by-nc-sa license and an open source license. Specifically, the Open Source Definition explicitly disallows restrictions on commercial redistribution:

6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor

Thelicense must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.

Rationale: The major intention of this clause is to prohibit license traps that prevent open source from being used commercially. We want commercial users to join our community, not feel excluded from it.

If it is open source, you can't limit its commercial use. This contradicts the terms of the next section in the grant's IP terms, "Use of Revenues Generated By Distribution of Product." I'm not going to go into that section in detail, because it is just not clear to me how binding it all is. They state:

Applicable law and the policies of the MacArthur Foundation preclude the use of grant funds to further or benefit private interests in a manner that is more than incidental to a broader charitable purpose.

Do those laws apply to the recipient, or just the grantor? In particular, what if I have no intention of using the work commercially when I make the grant, but when it is completed I'm offered money to sell the IP? Can I do that, or is the IP encumbered indefinitely, despite the fact that I "own" it? If I can't sell it, is there any point in my owning it? Wouldn't it make more sense for the grantor to own it and just give me a non-commercial license to the work?

The first version of this IP policy struck me as an insulting, vaguely exploitative mess; they've improved it to the point where it is just a mess.

For the record, I think the smartest approach would be to say:

  • The Foundation (or whatever institution is appropriate) owns the work;
  • The Foundation will make the work available under the CC-by or, in the case of software, the BSD license.

And that's it. What's so tough about that?

The State of Chinese Schools


Jim Fallows is an former editor of and currently writer for the Atlantic Monthly who has often written about education and who is currently stationed in Shanghai. In an email to me this spring, he called the schools in Shanghai "awful." Deborah Meier and Eleanor Duckworth, two of the nation's premier educators, were gentler. They were invited recently to consult with Chinese educators. The Chinese are concerned about the quality of education schools are providing even for the elite. In an August 18 email, Deborah said "the idea that they have a superior education system is beyond absurd."

She also wrote that most of the "immigrant" Chinese kids are not even in school. "Immigrant" is the word applied to Chinese families who have moved, illegally often, into the cities from the poor rural regions. All Chinese schools charge tuition and they cannot afford it. Immigrant Chinese kids are legion.

Deborah says that they were told "that in many rural areas there are virtually no teachers--even if there are schools." As for the schools she visited, "The schools we saw were middle class ones in Shanghai which were working with the University and seemed pleasant enough but had 50 kids in a class and a relatively ordinary pedagogy."

"Did You Know?" Still Sucks

As teachers around the country are being shown the revamped Did You Know slideshow, I'd like to take a moment to point out that it still sucks, it just sucks more accurately than before.

The show starts with a few slides that introduce the threat of the loss of American hegemony, using the rapid growth of China and India, and the 20th century decline of Great Britain. This part used to be much longer. The remainder introduces a theme (an empire in decline, the East ascendent) which is quickly dropped.

The presentation then shifts into a brief discussion of the number of jobs students are likely to have in their futures and the uncertainty about their nature. This is why "lifetime learning" is already in the mission statement of every school district in America, but perhaps some folks need a refresher.

Then we get into the longest and strongest part of the show, reviewing the extent of the growth of the internet and other communication technologies, and the general media immersion of kids today. The whole presentation should probably just focus on this aspect.

Then the predictive point of view shifts and you get into some Ian Jukes/George Gilder/Ray Kurzweil stuff about exponential growth in bandwidth and processing power. Fair enough; we'll see soon enough if they're right. But if they are, how much does that change the implications of the rest of the piece? If we've got super-intelligent computers designing self-replicating robots, do we need to worry about the Chinese and Indians? If you really believe these predictions, you need to lead with them and build the rest of the presentation around them. If you're not that confident in them, leave them out.

I don't think these criticisms are unreasonable, and I think if this was an 11th grade research paper, any good English teacher would make the same comments. Since it is a viral web video, it just seems to bypass certain filters.

The larger problem is that this presentation seems to be trying to focus the viewer on certain problems facing our future, but I'd argue that it points to the wrong one. As the parent of a seven-month old daughter, I'm worried about two overarching issues:

  • Climate change and environmental degradation.
  • The collapse of American democracy.

So apparently, what we need is a really good PowerPoint about those issues... hm... where could I find such a thing? Of course, a lot of schools won't show An Inconvenient Truth because we're already in a crisis of American democracy. Did you know that?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

A Good Day at the Plate

From Rick Stattler's report on today's contest with the inimitable Brooklyn Atlantics:

The Grays felt fortunate to split today's double-header with the Brooklyn Atlantics in Narragansett. The Atlantics came into the game with a 25-4 record and are by any measure one of the best teams in vintage base ball.

The first game was one of the best-played games of the year, played by the Grays' own 1884 rules in front of an enthusiastic crowd which numbered in the dozens in addition to the usual cluster of family members and retired players. Scott Olson turned in another pitching gem. After years of excellence at third base, center field, shortstop, and catcher, he has become a real star pitcher as well (next he may be tried in right field to test the full range of his talents). Brooklyn countered with some fine work by "Shakespeare" Van Zant. Heading into the ninth inning, the Grays clung to a 5-4 lead. "Tree" Ness, leading off for the Atlantics, took two strikes but then managed to work Olson for a base on balls. He made his way to third base with two outs. His son "Toothpick" Ness then bunted at the ball, blocking it with his bat in such a way that it rolled just a few feet in front of home plate. Pitcher, catcher, batter, first baseman and right fielder converged on the baseline in a confusing throng as "Tree" raced home, a desperate throw to first was made but not held, and thus the score was tied. Bunting at the ball is not a manly approach to batsmanship, of course, but this one was skillfully executed and temporarily saved the day for the Atlantics. With the score tied in the bottom of the ninth, E. Bratt led off for Providence with a well-struck hit to left. A wild pitch and a passed ball brought him to third base with one out. Hoffman came to the plate for Providence and sent a stinging line drive directly at the third baseman's feet. Almost no man would have caught that ball, even with futuristic leathern gloves. The third baseman blocked the ball nicely, but it rolled softly to his left as Bratt raced home with the winning run. Final score, 6-5 Providence.

Stupid Capcha

Bill MacKenty's capcha doesn't show up on my browser, so here's my comment to this post (which, quite frankly, is probably not worth your time, but I've already written the stupid comment, so here it is):

I don't agree with the first few points.

If, for some reason, you want to blog for six months, why not? It isn't like you're going to be unpleasantly surprised by the fact that, as you anticipated, you decide to stop blogging. What are we comparing this to? If you're talking about other types of amateur publishing or broadcast, the fact that you can try blogging out at no cost and stop if you feel like it is a great advantage, compared to, say, publishing a magazine or getting a show on a local public radio affiliate or cable access channel.

Unless you're applying a super-strict definition of what a "link post" is, the massive popularity of blogs like Boing Boing and good old Slashdot (to name a few) would seem to refute your second bit of advice.

Google Sky, Celestia & Stellarium

So Google has added some simple space and sky functionality to Google Earth. Cool enough, that's an objectively good thing.

But let's not forget, there are mature, cross-platform, free applications that already do a great job at looking at the sky from Earth -- Stellarium -- and looking at space from space -- Celestia. I just fired up Stellarium for the first time, and I'm frankly stunned by how cool and polished it is. I clearly have not been spending enough time keeping up with the free education apps. Google Sky is a toy in comparison, and if you're on Ubuntu, it is just a sudo apt-get install stellarium away.

The question for the future is whether or not educational technologists can break away from emphasizing products released by companies and really get behind and promote software which is just there. Can we get behind software that has no publicist and no ad budget and won't be the next big thing because it is already here? Can we operate without a news hook?

Pushing Video to Grandma(s)

So, the Viv-Text is working out well for publishing videos via Google Video, and once the new direct video upload for Blogger works (it doesn't for me, so far), I'll have a pretty short workflow for pulling short clips off my hard-drive based camera. I would like to be able to push full resolution video to my mother and mother-in-law's computers. We all have broadband, so it shouldn't be a problem, but nobody has an IP address and we're all on different platforms, so I'm not sure what to do. I'm talking 100 - 150 meg files, and I don't want to park them on a server. AIM direct transfer from Linux to Mac doesn't seem to work. I suppose Skype file transfer might work? I'd like to have the process be completely automated though. I'd rather the process not be dependent on IM presence.


Friday, August 24, 2007

Quality Counts

Dean Millot points to an essential new report: Quality Counts: The Growth of Charter School Management Organizations. The interesting school reform efforts that have survived in the era of NCLB have been focused around these "CMO"'s, like Big Picture and High Tech High. As I keep repeating, there are not only individual schools implementing what probably looks a heck of a lot like what you might imagine "School 2.0" or the "new story" to be, there are whole groups of real, live schools trying to implement the models as you read this post. This report is a great update on their experiences with the process of growth.

"epistemological importance wrt to future of the human race"

Bill Kerr:

My general view about programming is that it is hard to learn. I'm also quite keen to improve my skill because for me programming has a deep sense of epistemological importance wrt to future of the human race.

That's about right.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Double Shot of Depressing News from New Orleans

You really must read "NOLA's Failed Education Experiment: Privatization runs amok in the post-Katrina New Orleans school system" by Ralph Adamo for The American Prospect, and if you can stomach more, "Deadly lockdown in New Orleans" is a pretty depressing report in Salon on the penal system in New Orleans.

My Technology Blog Reading List

Andy Carvin has posted a list of technology blogs he reads. I find most of his selections to be way too commercial in focus to recommend to teachers. Just like we don't teach specific applications to kids, reading about technology shouldn't focus on an endless string of new startups and applications, but more basic and general principles, concepts, techniques, and um, technologies. Tools that will empower your work over the next five years. At least, that's how I approach it in my reading. To put it another way, if you were reading the equivalent to TechCrunch five years ago, you weren't reading about blogs and wikis. You were reading about the release of products nobody remembers and companies that are long gone. My short list in alphabetical order:

  • apophenia - The only blog Andy and I have in common here; I appreciate that danah is always conscious of the role sexuality plays in social networking and our perceptions of it.
  • Bill Kerr - The best old skool construtionist blogger.
  • Boing Boing - If apophenia counts as a tech blog, so does Boing Boing.
  • copyrighteous - Mako's got his hands in a lot of pies important to educators: free content, free software, OLPC. A very important young voice on the underlying philosophies off all this stuff.
  • Daring Fireball - Necessary and sufficient for Mac users.
  • dive into mark - A prototypical tech blogger; expert in syndication, accessibility, mashups; a strong and pragmatic voice for freedom.
  • Mark Bernstein - Hypertext guru.
  • Mark Guzdial's Amazon Blog - Brand new to me (via Bill Kerr). Constructionist author and academic.
  • Mark Shuttleworth - My boss. His record as a technology analyst can't be disputed. His interest in and instincts about education are strong.
  • O'Reilly Radar - Essential if you're trying to plan more than one step ahead. My career is built on a stack of O'Reilly manuals.
  • Planet OLPC - OLPC News is essentially anti-OLPC. I've never regarded them as well informed, but ymmv. Only read it if you have some kind of "balance" fetish. Planet OLPC aggregates the blogs of various OLPC developers. The best source for OLPC news is the weekly report on their wiki.
  • Sam Ruby - Another prototypical tech blogger, covering mostly the same territory as Mark Pilgrim, more phlegmatically.
  • Simon Willison's Blogmarks - Nice catch basin for news about web technologies.
  • Slashdot - The old skool way to make sure you don't miss any of the big geek stories of the day.
  • Stephen's Web - Stephen is a first class technology analyst with a fundamentally sound understanding of progressive education and a traditional academic's temperament.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

AI Scripting for Wesnoth

It turns out that Battle for Wesnoth is just what I've been waiting for, a free strategy game with nice polish and an active developer community. It is modeled after Warsong, a Sega Genesis game Matt Yglesias likes. It is written in C++, but they've got a Python API for writing new AI's, which happens to be the part I'm interested in anyhow. This "" AI is apparently better than the default and weighs in at under 300 lines of pretty simple Python. Seems like a good way to take some of the mystery out of game AI programming.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Last Word (for a while) on SIF and Jabber

I ended up spending a good chunk of Thursday doing more research on this, despite myself. I looked more deeply into the XMPP (the more technical name for Jabber) publish/subscribe (PubSub) specification. With Jabber server supporting PubSub, I think you could do SIF over Jabber without a dedicated Zone Integration Server. What's more, it seems like PubSub is supported by several server-side implementations. However, as far as I could glean, it is not supported in the existing client libraries, particularly in Python. Yet. At this point, trying to figure out the Jabber specs and existing libraries well enough to do this myself is even less appetizing than returning to my SIF_HTTP code, so I can shelve this idea for six months, but I'll keep an eye on the relevant libraries.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

SIF & Jabber

Sam Ruby's elaboration on his latest technological "Long Bets" caused me to lose a few hours of work yesterday. Ruby includes Jabber in his five "bets," which reminded me of how much better suited the Jabber protocol is for doing the kind of messaging that SIF does than SIF's current (ab)use of HTTP. I thought about this quite a bit before I finally just started writing standard SIF applications a year or so ago, but I forced myself to just use HTTP. But it is so ugly and it would be so easy to use Jabber. It would probably be more easily accepted by the open source community. Creating an SIF_HTTP/Jabber bridge wouldn't even be that hard, it would just make for a lengthy chain HTTP_ZIS <-> BRIDGE <-> JABBER SERVER <-> JABBER AGENT. Anyhow, this was all short circuited by my inability to get the ejabberd server to run for utterly mysterious reasons.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Present of the Future of Teaching

What's striking about Will's report from the Institute for the Future's workshop on the future of teaching is the extent to which it is focused on the present. I don't mean that in the "hey, Dewey thought of this 100 years ago" sense, but if they want to have a follow up meeting, they can place about a half-dozen phone calls to well-known (in the right circles), well-funded and researched projects that are out of the pilot phase and (stuck in the) "going to scale" phase. You don't need to guess about how the ideas on their cute wall charts play out. We pretty much know that already, and the people who've implemented them are happy to talk about it.

On the other hand, what is to come in the "I can live to be 120 and buy a robot to wipe my ass" future is more intriguing and mysterious, but apparently not covered. Here's a good question: how do you educate people to live in a democratic society with inexpensive, pervasive surveillance technology?

Update... Just to make this a little more concrete: I know a number of people who were hired to be exactly the kind of "learning agents" described at this workshop. Most of them quit after a year or two. Talking to them about what their job was actually like might be a better use of one's time than independently re-implementing their former job description.

Attention OLPC Conspiracy Theorists

Remember when everyone was soiling their britches over the decision to upgrade the XO's hardware, thinking it was a sign that Microsoft was moving in? Well, Morgan Collett has some before and after benchmarks on how well the old and new machines run their native Linux apps. Basically, the new models are over twice as responsive in starting up and opening applications, moving the subjective user experience (in my interpretation) from "intolerably slow" to "acceptably slow."

Hoopleheads Comment

Kevin Prentiss commented:

Yes. And I couldn't agree more. I was excited about this until I got to the fine print.

I sent an e-mail to Erin Ennis, project manager right away.

A snippet:

Our challenge, and question, comes from the Intellectual Property Rights Policy. We don't have a problem with Creative Commons (we hope to go open source as soon as feasible) but the clause about 50 percent profit sharing seems to rule out both entrepreneurs and corporations, despite statements to the contrary.

. . .

From this, it seems that we would be giving up a perpetual 50 percent stake of our current business profits (from the last two years investment) to take a grant for future development. I do not see how we would untangle revenue from a grant funded product feature extension from the basic product. Giving up 50 percent of all future profits for 10-20% of the money we have already invested would not make sense for us or any other business in our potential situation (i.e. people with a good idea that is working or near working).

I ended proposing other structures without money.

Erin replied they were "checking with their legal department".

I don't think capitalism is the only way to innovate, but if they are going act like a VC they should be clear about that (and give similar terms.)

I don't think (smart) businesses would take this deal and I agree that any academic with a good idea that won may find themselves in a tight corner.

Doesn't seem like a recipe for fostering innovation to me.

Slightly Shorter Philanthropy for Hoopleheads

The intellectual property policy of the Digital Media and Learning Competition creates a situation where the future value to the grant recipient of the content created in the grant is roughly 50% of its value to anyone else, thus creating a strong incentive to sell the work at the end of the grant under distressed circumstances. The creator of the work is disempowered by this scheme.

For example, let's say a entrepreneurial young 21st century innovator like Vicki gets a $100,000 to take a sabbatical and create the wiki of her dreams, and at the end she's created something wonderful and valuable. She skypes Will and David and they advise her that through book sales, speaking engagments and website ads related to her wiki, she can make $120,000 a year over three years. Except the only problem is that half of her (did we mention that's pre-tax?) profit has to go back to the Collaboratorium, meaning she'll make something south of $60,000, without benefits. That might even be less than a school teacher in the South makes!

So at the big end of the project presentation Pearson offers her $25,000 for the rights to her wiki, of which she'll get to keep $12,500 (before taxes), which seems like a big discount, but she chalks it up as a windfall and accepts. They have one of those big checks; everyone poses behind, grinning. It is $12,500 for work someone else already paid her to do, and it'll pay for half a semester of Vicki Jr.'s tuition. Pearson would love to hire her to promote and expand the wiki, but all the kings laywers can't figure out whether this would constitute further "profit" from the original work on her part, thus triggering the Collabababatorial taking 50% of her wages, so they hire Steve Hargadon instead.

Get the picture?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Philanthropy for Hoopleheads

Rob Lucas points out the intellectual property statement of the Digital Media and Learning Competition:

The intellectual property rights will be retained by award winners; however, as a condition of being funded, the award winner must agree to license such rights in accordance with the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, ShareAlike License. If a project results in commercial use and profit to the award winner, then fifty (50) percent of any such profit will accrue to the University of California Humanities Research Institute to be used for future awards or other charitable purposes.

Rob comments:

Have they required open licensing in the past?  If not, this is a nice step forward.  I know Tom Hoffman has been lobbying for a similar requirement to be placed on MacArthur funded software projects.  Some will find this particular license a bit restrictive--and they don't seem to offer a choice--but I'm inclined to save that issue for another day.

One important thing to keep in mind in these situations is the distinction between copyright and licensing. The copyright holder can apply as many licenses to his or her content as he or she pleases. In this case, if the grant winner retains the copyright to the work, he or she must release the work under CC-by-nc-sa, but, in the absence of specific language to the contrary, he or she can also issue it under a commercial license or a less restrictive free content or software license. In this case, what the CC-by-nc-sa license is doing is providing a veneer of "openness" without substantially reducing the commercial value of the content.

Of course, the interesting bit here is not the first sentence of their statement, but the second, giving them 50% of any profits gained from the work by the award winner. So, this is as much investment as philanthropy, if not moreso. They put up $100,000 or $250,000, you produce something, they help you shop it to vendors or VC's ("Winners will be invited to showcase their work at a conference that will include venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, educators and policy makers..."), and they take 50% of anything you get for your work. Note of course that they don't get 50% of any subsequent profit from the work.

This isn't evil, but I find it dubious. Probably the biggest threat to their virtue is the temptation to pick grantees based on investment potential rather than educational or social value. I won't be surprised if potentially marketable games get chosen over work on open source collaborative writing tools.

There is an opportunity for corruption as well. Give a $250,000 grant to one friend, sell the work at a discount to another friend at below market value, taking a cut back to the Collabatory's coffers toward pulling the same trick again.

Beyond that, it simply galls me as the latest in a long string of ostensibly "open," collaborative, philanthropic gestures from academia to those of us in primary and secondary education that contains some subtle provisions which somehow sneakily assert their power and treat us like a bunch of hoopleheads. I doubt there is a single example of a foundation offering a deal like this to academics or established commercial firms (what's MacArthur's cut of the future profits of Gamestar Mechanic, eh?). Every single time something like this comes up I find myself digging around some consortium website trying to figure out what the fine print means. They just won't play straight with us.

Also, the whole 50% of the profits made by the "award winner" seems so ripe for exploit. How about if I sell the rights to my wife for a dollar and then she makes a million off it? What if I combine this work with other work in the future? How do I determine which fraction of my profits to give up? Are we talking gross or net?

If they want to encourage wide reuse of this content, which they should as a philantropic venture, they should require that it be issued under a permissive license, like CC-by or BSD. If they want to balance free access and the possibility of making back some money that they can reinvest in more grants, I'd propose that the Collaboratory retain the copyright on the work, issue it under a free, viral license like CC-by-sa or GPL, and offer commercial licenses to any buyer (including the grantee) at a fixed price (equal to the value of the grant, or some fraction thereof more or less, for example).

On top of everything else, this grant's approach is just old school. It is still more about using IP to make money than taking a commons-based approach to create innovation. This is the kind of thing we should be leaving behind.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Secret Spaces!?

Ewan cites a taxonomy of "social media spaces" by Matt Locke that begins with "secret spaces," described this way:

Secret Spaces
Behaviours: Private, intimate communication, normally with only one or two others, often using private references, slang or code
Expectations: Absolute privacy and control over the communication between users, and no unauthorised communication from third parties (eg spam)
Examples: SMS, IM

Please do not teach people, kids especially, that SMS and IM give them absolute privacy and control. They don't, and I'd especially avoid the word "secret," unless I was teaching some applied cryptography at the same time. I don't know the law in Scotland, but in the US at least, the current precedent is, by my non-lawyerly understanding, that it is "reasonably forseeable" that anything a kid says on IM is not going to be kept secret and can be held against him or her in disciplinary and legal proceedings.

But even on a more basic level, sending messages across a network that can be logged both by the IM or SMS service and by the recipient is just not a good way to keep a secret, compared to, say, picking up a land line or meeting face to face.

Can We Do Edu-Journalism?

I don't have the time or motivation to follow up myself, but I would point out that this is a story lead that somebody should pick up on.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The CanDo Sprint

I spent Monday through Wednesday of last week in a dorm at Gallaudet University participating in an open source development sprint, indistinguishable from similar sprints I've attended, hosted by the Python community or Canonical from Dallas, Texas to Montreal, Canada, to Vilnius, Lithuania. In each case you find a distributed teams of open source developers coming together to work on some associated group of projects. This sprint was indistinguishable from the others, aside from the fact that the average age was about fifteen years younger.

About two-thirds of the 25 or so attendees were top high school computer science students from around the DC metro area, working as paid interns on the CanDo project. The rest are recent high school alumni continuing to work on the project, and a smattering of adult teachers and developers, including the lead SchoolTool developer, Ignas Mikalaj┼źnas, who we flew over from Vilnius. The high school students participated in a yearlong training program to get them up to speed with Zope 3 and other cutting edge web technologies, primarily remotely taught by CanDo lead developer Paul Carduner from his college dorm room in Walla Walla, Washington. Everyone wasn't working on CanDo. Several of us were working on SIF related stuff, and others were writing programming curriculum using the GASP (Graphics API for Students of Python) library developed at Arlington (by students, natch).

It is all a little overwhelming to even describe, let alone experience. In the aggregate it is unique in the world of public secondary education -- an open source project funded primarily by the local government (Arlington County Public Schools, Office of Career & Technical Education and Virginia Department of Career & Technical Education, plus some money from Mark Shuttleworth) written by local students and used in local schools, with development collaboration with the global open source community, and hopefully someday a global community of users as well. It is probably five years ahead of anything like it anywhere else in the world. On the other hand, it is really nothing more or less than a 21st century update of Junior Achievement. It is not a coincidence that this is a project spawned by and for vocational educators. It is very much the kind of thing they've done for decades, just with a new twist.

Anyhow, the kids did great work. This was the last sprint of the summer, and they were intently tying up loose ends to get ready for their new version to be used locally in the fall and in pilots across the state in January. Unfortunately, I have no pictures, but hopefully I'll have some to link to soon.

Boring Gutsy Upgrade Post

I upgraded my desktop to Ubuntu Gutsy Tribe 4 (alpha) yesterday. That is, I did a clean install (rather than apt-get dist-upgrade). It worked on the whole. Unfortunately, the Compiz 3-D desktop effects still don't seem rock-solid. That's supposed to be a major feature of the new release. One reason I made the switch at this point is that Feisty had some multimedia issues on my system. I had a hard time getting the system to switch to using my new sound card (instead of the onboard one) and sound with Flash video (i.e., YouTube) never worked. It works now, so I've restored that distraction. Since football season approaches, I got MythTV working again as well. The driver support for video capture has improved since I first did it under Dapper.

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Mark Ahlness:

The departure of the two people responsible for the development of L3RN last week has shocked and rocked me. The wind of promise is out of my sails. My hopes are taking on water.

So I send cryptic emails, trying to find out more - and giving up a carefully measured very little of what I know. I lose sleep and second guess myself to ridiculous levels.

A previous post by me on L3rn.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bethpage V.B.B. Festival

Here's a picture of me admiring one of my two doubles (3-4 total) last Saturday in the Grays 2-1 victory over the Elizabeth Athletic Club at the Old Bethpage Village Festival. The Grays had a great weekend overall, going 4-0 in two overhand and two underhand games.

Note my stylish and historically accurate extra-wide belt, which Jennifer and I made, the matching wool socks, which I dyed for the team in the offseason, and the new authentically long 38.5" bat Gray Frank Lucas turned and I used to great effect.

Putting Your Face On Someone Else's Blog (or Vice Versa)

I can't be the only person who thinks "what a pretentious douchebag" about a third of the time I'm reading Chris Dawson's blog, only to realize at the end that it is a post by Marc Wagner. Can't ZDNet spring for another blog (they're cheap!) or at least take Chris's picture off Marc's posts? As it is, it is a pretty amateur hour presentation; almost as if nobody concerned actually understood blogging.

Waitasec, is "Social Networking" What We Want for Schools?

To be sure, the NSBA's report, "CREATING & CONNECTING//Research and Guidelines on Online Social — and Educational — Networking," is a step in the right direction in toning down the moral panic over online safety. I have a few critical thoughts, however.

If Microsoft and Verizon are going to chip in on a study like this, can't they frickin' afford a better study? I mean, they're hardly poor. This is predominantly based on an internet survey. I don't regard internet studies as very reliable in general, and particularly if it is an internet survey about internet use there would seem to be a built in selection bias. I haven't dug into whether or not they controlled for this somehow, but on the surface it doesn't look good.

This is another time where I feel like the complete absence of clearly defined terminology may sink this entire "movement." A lot of creative activity and publishing is discussed in this report, but it all gets put under the umbrella of "social networking." In my opinion, the case for embracing the use of closed, commercial social networking sites in K-12 schools is weak (whether or not they should be not blocked is another question). The case for creating school-administered "social networking" sites in schools is also dubious. I mean, does the school want to literally get in the business of helping kids explicitly define who is and is not their friend, to directly facilitate clique-y social machinations? I suppose it is not that different than hosting a school dance, but it is not a can of worms I'd want to open.

The case for web publishing (blogging, podcasting, etc.) is pretty straightforward. The case for online discussions of various sorts is as well. I don't know what the case is for schools facilitating "social networking," unless social networking is defined broadly enough to be meaningless.

Hitting the Rubber Chicken Circuit to Talk About Free Software

Miguel writes:

Yesterday, a brochure arrived for the T&L Conference taking place in October. David is speaking on open source software.

Why is he the only one?

Well, whose job would it be to give talks on open source software at the endless circuit of ed-tech conferences?

I'm one of the handful of people in the US who makes his living managing and writing free software for K-12 schools, and I can't justify spending Mark Shuttleworth's money to fly down to fly down to Nashville for T+L. Plus, they wouldn't want me to just give a talk on SchoolTool; that'd be too much like an annoying product-centered talk, but if I'm not promoting SchoolTool, how would I justify the cost?

Most school districts that are implementing open source software are doing it to save money; they probably don't have money lying around to send staff to give talks at conferences either. If volunteers working on free software products have some money to travel to conferences, they are going to go to free software conferences where they can work on and learn about free software.

Plus, we've already gone through at least one generation of open source advocates in K-12. Eric Harrison, Paul Nelson and others were flying the flag a decade or so ago. They just got tired of it and "retired" to continue their work locally (I think that's a fair assessment -- they continue to do lots of important work within the community).

Given the importance of conferences in setting the ed-tech agenda, this is a real problem for free software advocacy. The only solution I can see (well, in addition to Steve Hardagon's tireless work, but that's not sufficient) is for Novell, Red Hat, IBM and some of the other large corporations with a potential stake in the K-12 enterprise market to pool a few hundred thousand dollars a year and pay a few people to do general free/open source advocacy on the K-12 circuit. It would be a sound investment.

I am grateful that David Thornburg is willing to hit the road for open source.

Shorter David Wiley

"I prefer BSD-style licenses."

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Scaling Up Reform


If you want to improve the chances of uniformly high quality from a (school improvement) network, you are more likely to get it with: a compelling vision that approaches a religious calling (KIPP for example, which makes near-monastic demands of its staff), stays withing a very narrowly defined geographic and demographic space (see Green Dot in Los Angeles - but not its extension to NYC), have a very large network of colleagues who share your vision staff selection (the old EMO LearnNow, acquired by Edison), and subject new employees to the kind of mentoring and transfer experiences most likely to develop a single corporate culture.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

You Need This


I'll be unveiling my thesis work: a wiki that allows for branching and merging. It is built on distributed revision control concepts and tools (i.e., Bazaar) and includes a text-specific merge/conflict resolution system designed for writers. The tool has important potential for offline wiki work, stable versions, and collaboration among forked articles within and between wikis. Think ikiwiki but with distributed revision control and all the branching and merging that goes along with it. I'll be posting lots more information and source here in the coming month.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Open Minds Conference Presentation

I'm working on my proposal for the K-12 Open Minds Conference:

Schools write software. Not as much as universities or corporations, but individual teachers, schools, districts, regional and state departments all write software for their own use and have done so as long as they have had computers. Using COBOL, BASIC, Java, and C#; Filemaker, FoxPro, and Access; and now PHP, MySQL, Ruby, Perl and Python.

Schools use open source software; increasingly they write software with open source tools; but few have launched and maintained ongoing open source projects. Are schools ready to take this next step?

We shall address:

  • Rationales and motivations for open sourcing your code.
  • Costs and benefits of an open source release.
  • Determining if you can and should open source an existing application.
  • Building a new open source project from the ground up.
  • Simplifying the process of choosing a license.
  • Setting up open source development infrastructure.
  • Standard practices in open source development.

  • Collaboration and funding beyond your institution.

That seems kind of short, but I think I've made my point. Any suggestions to flesh out the details in the proposal?

Thanks For Putting Air in the Airbags!

Mark Pilgrim:

Also, Eben Moglen punctured the Web 2.0 hype bubble and said what I’ve been trying to say for years now. Praising companies for providing APIs to get your own data out is like praising auto companies for not filling your airbags with gravel. I’m not saying data export isn’t important, it’s just aiming kinda low. You mean when I give you data, you’ll… give it back to me? People who think this is the pinnacle of freedom aren’t really worth listening to. Please, we need a Free Data movement. (Yeah I know, Tim predicted it already. I was the one who told him, at FOO Camp the month before.)

Anyway, the Next Big Battleground™ isn’t on the web, it’s in your pocket — cell phones, routers, set-top boxes, spimes. Spimes already trigger the GPLv2 “distribution” clause, and soon they’ll trigger the GPLv3 Tivoization clause too. Eben’s got that whole “internet of things” thing covered, and everyone will get to reap the benefits. Even Tim.