Monday, November 11, 2019

The OLPC: Suicide, Homicide, or Death by Natural Causes.

Reading “The Charisma Machine: The Life, Death, and Legacy of One Laptop per Child,” by Morgan Ames, interim associate director of research for UC Berkeley’s Center for Science, Technology, Medicine and Society is about as much fun as attending a psychological autopsy. Yes, I've done both. One of the problems with Ames' book is that we're left wondering about the cause of death. Was it suicide, homicide, or death by natural causes. It's not a fun book, in any case.

The book explains the origin story of the One Laptop per Child project and how it was badly implemented. South America is where most of the machines were deployed. It was an intriguing idea that captured the imagination of lots of people and also had lots of problems. Ames details some of the problems in excruciating detail. She goes on and on about how the machine and the concept were designed by mostly men for mostly precocious boys. (It was a product of the now infamous MIT Media Lab.) She rightfully points to that flaw (of men for boys) being shared with other projects in ed tech and cautions readers to watch out for that. That’s not bad advice.

Ames provides readers with a lengthy ethnography of her time observing the implementation of the OLPC in Paraguay. Instead of an ethnography, I would have preferred an account of what happened and an analysis of what was done right and wrong and why. I would also like to have heard more from the people of Paraguay. The people of Paraguay appeared as objective lab subjects of a researcher from Berkeley. They deserve a bigger and better role in the story.

The shortcomings of the OLPC would make a good starting point for a book about how to actually effectively implement technology in education or, at least, get a good start at it. Ames doesn’t do that, though. She doesn’t really tell us what she thinks would be a good implementation of technology in education except to use a short paragraph to recommend David Tyach and Larry Cuban’s limp idea that tinkering is good. She also quotes Donna Haraway’s call to ‘stay with the trouble’ and says that is what her book also tries to do. I’d rather that she had moved on from the trouble to some practical solutions about how to implement technology effectively.

This blog is called DevelopingProfessional Staff-Mpls because of my experience that the key to effective implementation of anything is the support and development of those who will be responsible for guiding the use of the thing. That was true when I was in telecom and computer sales with AT&T, and it’s been true in education at all levels from elementary to graduate programs. Teachers are necessary and natural to teaching and learning. Providing adequate training for teachers to use technology is crucial and complicated. The OLPC project was not dealing with reality when they thought that children would be in charge of their schooling in South America. That’s not true for any country. It was true, too, when I wrote about another book that also had some misguided ideas about making changes in education, Clayton Christensen, Curt Johnson and Michael Horn's Disrupting Class.   Destroying schooling in the name of making education better is not healthy and will lead to an autopsy of someone.

Jeffrey R. Young from Edsurge has produced a podcast of an interview that he did with Dr. Ames about her book. I don’t think you’ll be getting any more information that will be useful by reading the book than you will by listening to the podcast or by reading the edited transcript of the podcast. It will also save you 35 U.S. dollars. The podcast is here.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Learn to Fish or Pay for a Baited Hook

I really like the purpose statement that David Wiley shared in his recent 3600 word blog post. Here it is:

“My long-term goal is to create a world where OER are used pervasively throughout primary, secondary, and post-secondary schools. In this vision of the world, OER replace traditionally copyrighted, expensive textbooks for all primary, secondary, and post-secondary courses. Organizations, faculty, and students at all three levels collaborate to create and improve an openly licensed content infrastructure that dramatically increases student success, reduces the cost of education, and supports rapid experimentation and innovation in education.”

David used that statement in Shuttleworth Fellowship application. My work aligns with that stated goal. I founded the Stone Arch Bridge Initiative for Education Resources in 2016. SABIER provides funding for K12 and Higher Ed faculty Professional Development supporting teachers to:
- Create or Curate OER - especially, STEM & PBL
- Engage students in the Classroom with OER
- Revise OER to meet standards
- Infuse OER in course content

SABIER's work enables philanthropy and foundation funding to go directly to supporting teachers and students to be able to use free openly licensed content that can be adapted to meet the needs of students. In addition to the further empowerment of teachers and students, the potential savings to school systems globally is as much as $30 Billion annually. We will do our part.

I founded SABIER after having worked in open education explicitly since 1996 which according to David is before the beginning of the OER movement. The Open School I taught at had been founded in the early ‘70s, so I was a newcomer, and I wasn’t always a compliant follower of the Open Movement. (I know, you’re shocked.) The Open Movement in those days was even less well defined than the OER Movement is today. The Open Movement then did support faculty and students at all three levels to collaborate, to create, and improve teaching and learning that dramatically increases student success, reduces the cost of education, and supports rapid experimentation and innovation in education. It was a bit messy at times.

10 years before beginning to work at the Open School in Minneapolis I had been paid by AT&T to learn and understand the business applications of the Linux kernel. I hadn’t been (see this post referencing another learning experience 10 years previous) and wasn’t always a compliant follower of AT&T; that said, the learning I experienced while employed by AT&T is still one of the highlights of my education. That year, AT&T hired a group of Princeton computer science graduate students to teach us in the Business Systems Division about Linux and Unix and as many of their derivatives as possible. It was actually really fun even though a suit and tie protocol was strictly enforced at the AT&T Darth Vader University (very dark glass buildings) campus in Colorado. I was well paid.

Here’s where David and I diverge. He spends a good chunk of his 3600 words explaining why the OER movement needs to play nice with for-profit publishers and for-profit providers of things that get packaged with OER. I, frankly, don’t give a damn about for-profit publishers and for-profit providers of things that get packaged with OER. The fact that 93% of higher ed courses are still using non-OER material is evidence for how much money there is still to be saved by supporting faculty to use OER. The percentage is even higher in K12.

When I wrote this guest post, Writing the Elephant in the Classroom, on Scott McLeod's blog almost 10 years ago, professional development and teacher training on how to use an LMS was almost non-existent in K12. An LMS was still thought of as web software to be used with online learning. In 2010, wifi was not available in most K12 classrooms, wifi devices were still relatively expensive and viewed as distractions to 'real' learning. Computers were mostly in labs and used primarily for testing or once a week or so for "Friday free time." Some schools were beginning to incorporate computers into media literacy, but not into everyday learning activities. Things were not much different in higher ed, either.

What's changed in the past 10 years is that wifi devices have become increasingly less expensive and most schools have wifi capabilities. Most students have 1:1 access to a wifi device, in many but not all cases via the school. The other big change has been the emergence of OER, open educational resources. OER used with a well supported LMS will naturally provide greater opportunities for learning that is Relevant, and Contextualized. Student agency and social learning are also essential components of the learning environment when students, teachers, parents and the larger community all have a stake in re-making the content to provide maximum local benefit.

As was the case 10 years ago, professional support for the crucial work of designing new learning environments that effectively incorporate technology, are aligned to some set of standards, and allow for open-walled learning will cost money. That aligns with David’s newly announced work with Carnegie Mellon. But here’s where David Wiley and I see a different path ahead. He sees for-profit companies providing the homework systems behind a paywall. I see faculty doing it themselves. The difference is I want to teach faculty and students how to fish for bigger learning hauls. David wants faculty to pay him to bait their hooks, again, and again.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

David and the Commons

David Wiley’s attempt to slay the giant OER Commons is to call it a metaphor and to suggest that the metaphor is not appropriate for the work of Open Educational Resources.. David rather begrudgingly suggests that there may, in fact, be a Commons of which the work of OER is a part - “If we really are part of an emerging commons, perhaps we need to invest our effort in catalyzing and sustaining true commoning behaviors.” But, David thinks doing the behaviors necessary to sustain an OER commons are unnatural.

In his post on the subject where he harkens to religiosity by suggesting that there is something called an OER Orthodoxy, David defines The Commons rather narrowly. He does so, I think, to better enable his argument that The Commons is a mere metaphor used to describe the work of sustaining OER. Except that The Commons can mean something more than David says it can. This list of uses of the word the commons includes a wide variety that go beyond those offered by David in his post: And likewise, this Wikipedia article includes links to many more variations of the commons.

David says that “perhaps we are part of a commons – just a very young one which has yet to develop either the community or the community governance that is necessary for us to be a “real” commons. Maybe the best argument one could make is that we are part of an “emerging commons.”

We are, indeed, part of an merging commons and some kind of community governance will emerge. I hope we don’t develop an orthodoxy, but being part of the commons offers more possibilities than trying to not be a part of the commons. We just need to be OPEN to the possibilities of this particular Commons.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Assessment - Global and Local

This past week, assessment was both a global and a local news-maker. On the local scene, my old friends at Education Evolving presented a paper called “Defining and Measuring Student-Centered Outcomes.” EE’s paper covers a very broad spectrum of assessment domains, strategies and purposes before suggesting a few action items. EE asks us to “imagine if the state test could be taken in separate parts throughout the school year rather than all at once at year end (as is possible under ESSA), with results available the next day. Or, imagine the state partnering with a company that produces formative assessments (like the NWEA MAP) so that the same tests currently used for formative purposes could also serve for accountability with, of course, important modifications and accommodations. Or—even bolder still—imagine giving districts the option to embed standardized state questions into end of course exams, with safeguards in place to ensure question security.”

All of those imaginings are actually already very possible and they can all be accomplished using free open source software for which the the state wouldn’t need to pay a dime, or even a penny. Somebody would need to host the software on a server and somebody would need to manage the software and the processes, which would be necessary, too, if the state ‘partnered with a company’ to use a less open and flexible assessment platform.

The state can do all of the things that EE is imaginining with Moodle. We know this because the United Nations is already doing something very similar on a global basis using Moodle. This week the UN Secretary General's Award for Innovation was awarded to an online assessment platform built on Moodle. The U.N. is using this platform to assess the skills and abilities of the thousands of applicants they hire to do the many different and varied jobs that the U.N. does in all of its divisions - the General Assembly, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, and all of the sub groups. Moodle is a learning management systems that has been used for over ten years in a large percentage of schools in Minnesota at all levels. This post describes a scenario that allows students to participate in selecting tasks that meet a set of criteria or standards. The schools in the State of Minnesota will likely have slightly different assessments needs than the U.N. but the beauty of open source software is that the users of the software, the schools and teachers, can define the specifics.

It’s important to focus on the actual tools needed to accomplish the daunting assessment tasks that EE is talking about because if a more global tool for assessment isn’t used at the outset, the state will likely end up with a system like they already have - a bunch of different systems that work differently, measure differently, report differently. It wouldn’t be necessary for every school to use Moodle, though. Schools that want to use a proprietary system from a vendor of their choice would only need to make sure the system they used was capable of LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) which is standard on most learning management systems. The nature of the particular assessments, their domain, strategic focus, and the timing of the assessments are all things that can be adjusted once the system is operating.

Let’s have our students become globally prepared by taking a cue from the U.N. on the next step in assessment. Make the system open source, and use a system that is already successful. Most importantly, create a system that allows for maximum control by the teachers and students.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

OER Intent and Purpose

I agree wholeheartedly with the statement that Steel Wagstaff made on his blog recently- "we need openly-licensed formative assessments, learning objectives, etc. AND we need well-integrated, interoperable open-source platforms composed of open-source tools that allow educators to build openly-licensed (and thus free) alternatives to the partially-proprietary remixes that have been built upon the open content that we’ve already released into the world." Notice that I didn't include the first part of Steel's statement about the need for CC BY content. When we put CC BY content into remixes in well-integrated, interoperable open-source platforms and then put a CC BY NC license on those remixes we will be ensuring that subsequent remixes and revisions of the original content will be free.

For me this is an issue of intent and purpose. If our intent and purpose is to make more learning content free, we are true to that intent and purpose by declaring that all subsequent remixes of this content should also be free. I don't want LearnZillion, for example, to take the 3rd Grade Science textbook that I created/curated for the Minnesota Partnership for Collaborative Curriculum and put it into their proprietary platform and put an all rights reserved copyright on it. The MPCC doesn't either and that's why the 3rd Grade Science content has a CC BY NC license on it. That is precisely what LearnZillion did with the CC By licensed Creative Commons Illustrative Mathematics middle school math curriculum that was largely funded by the Hewlett Foundation.

Taking CC BY licensed content and putting it into a proprietary platform and then putting an all rights reserved copyright on it is not activity I want to encourage; it is not consistent with my purpose. Another remix of the Illustrative Mathematics curriculum has been put into Microsoft's OneNote platform. Microsoft makes OneNote available to school district's at Microsoft's discretion. Microsoft doesn't make OneNote available to nonprofits that provide professional development for public schools. It is more than a little odd,I think, that a foundation funded by the Hewlett family is funding a 'freemium' for Microsoft.

I understand why companies that have proprietary platforms that provide content that is a value add-on to CC BY content want to promote CC BY, but the purpose of for-profit companies providing the added value is not necessarily beneficial in the long term for our public institutions. Eventually, our public institutions will begin exercising their ability to create publicly owned creative commons licensed alternatives to the current proprietary 'added value.' CC BY NC is consistent with that intent and purpose. It is also the purpose of SABIER, the Stone Arch Bridge Initiative for Education Resources.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

OER in Brazil and Beyond

Tom Berger, the author of the recent Edutopia piece, The Uncertain Future of OER , is not adequately informed about all of the things that are happening with OER and I don't think he's thought through all of the processes that are happening as K12 begins to use OER more. The New America report released a few weeks ago is more comprehensive even though it, too, leaves out important issues, specifically, the role of teacher preparation programs in promoting OER. The New America report does get it right when it reports 
that OER enables teachers "to design and implement personalized learning experiences for students that traditional instructional materials cannot always support."

Neither of the above notices that the U.S may not be the leader in fully adopting OER in K12. It is likely that other countries that have less legacy textbook publishers and less education bureaucracies at all levels will leap frog the U.S. and begin to implement on a national basis. The new developments in Brazil, as noted by Nicole Allen of Sparc, might be an indicator that they're moving at least as fast as the U.S., if not faster. I can envision Brazil using some combination of translations of  Minnesota Partnership for Collaborative Curriculum material, Illustrative Mathematics material, Concord Consortium, and Phet material to create a Brazilian national curriculum that they make available on a Moodle platform and distribute via some variation of the Moodlebox and/or SolarSpell. That will happen while Microsoft is trying to take a bigger share of the U.S. K12 market away from Apple and Google, and while companies like LearnZillion monetize the Illustrative Mathematics OER content in the U.S.

Another example of a stable OER network is KlasCement, which has been around for about 20 years and has become part of the policy on open education of the Ministry of Education in Flanders, Belgium.

K12 is a significantly different 'market' than higher ed. OER implementation in K12 is not about saving students money, and it's not about creating a large repository; it's about providing agency to teachers and students. Lots of government entities who are the current providers of K12 content (including U.S. local school districts) will hesitate to give that much agency to teachers and students, but there are governments who understand that an educated citizenry is the key to prosperity and security. It's too bad that Edutopia sees the need to throw cold water on OER.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Moodle and OER

“How can educators facilitate open learning between face to face and digital learning environments? What are the benefits of expanding learning into digitally open learning environments?" are questions asked by Verena Roberts on Twitter before the 2018 Open Education Global Conference in Delft. Combining MoodleNet with OER is a viable answer to those questions.

Open source Moodle works great to facilitate open learning between and within face to face and digital learning environments -  the term ‘digital learning environment’ does not mean Not face to face. Face to face can include digital learning and it can include online learning. I began using Moodle in a 3rd and 4th grade face to face classroom over ten years ago; I wrote about that experience here.

Facilitation between face to face and online digital learning environments was also a very conscious effort of the work I led at Augsburg University when we converted more than 400 courses from a face to face format to a hybrid format. The Higher Learning Commission was very interested in that facilitation when they re-accredited the program. We wrote about that work here and were acknowledged with a Best Paper award at the 2014 HLC Conference. Moodle was key to that work.

Moodle is uniquely positioned to both take advantage of the increased use of OER and to make a contribution to the increased use of OER. Moodle is already the most widely used LMS in the world, it is solidly open, and it already has a repository established for the sharing of Moodle courses and resources. That repository is soon to have some enhancements made to it and now is the time for Global Open Educators to make their voice heard about how they would like to see MoodleNet enhanced. Moodle could do more to make more educators aware of the repository and new options for using Moodle in the classroom. A MoodleCloud site is free for up to 50 users and very inexpensive for larger sites that use basic features. Too many open educators are not yet aware of MoodleCloud or the MoodleNet repository of courses.

The MoodleNet repository currently only lists 91 courses, and a course based on the popular OpenStax OER texts doesn’t appear in the search of those 91 courses. Building this repository with full featured Moodle courses consisting of OER content should be Moodle’s path forward leading open education. Moodle doesn’t need to re-invent an Open platform; that part is already done.

Moodle can follow the lead of non-open proprietary companies; one of them, Top Hat, has created a repository of OER texts which Top Hat hopes educators will then use with their non-open learning management system. There are also about twenty or more companies who have partnered already with OpenStax to provide LMS-like functionality for OpenStax’s OER books. The model of using OER texts in an LMS-like platform is well established. Moodle just needs to steer more open educators toward using a fully Open LMS with OER content. Expanded open learning in open digital environments that are face to face, hybrid, blended, or fully online is already more than a possibility.