[Edu-sig] Changing Education (OSCON panel)

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Wed Jul 23 20:33:21 CEST 2008

I'm going to publish my notes for Changing Education... Open Content,
Open Hardware, Open Source curricula, from Portland Ballroom 252.
Schmidt, Cooper, Shuttleworth, Keats, Kurshan, Wiley and Behlendorf
are our panelists (not saying we know them all... yet).  Each speaker
is introducing themselves with three tag words, like licensing,
poverty, literacy, freedom, collaboration, Africa.  OSC means Open
Source Curriculum.  "Community before code" was a fun slogan.

Foo Conference just ended, some of this discussion is a continuation
of those threads, but less North America focused, is our moderator's

The question on history (when did this "movement" get started) -- I'd
have to echo R0ml and point to liberal academic cultures in general,
where Stallman had his roots, UC Berkeley a big influence (one of the
panelists).  People build for each other, appreciate the role synergy
plays, and so off course we should be open, not in lock down mode.
Backsteps in 70s, 80s, 90s.

How extensive is the use of open source anyway, in education?
Compared to the US?

Mark Shuttleworth is saying one of the most extraordinary tools is
Moodle (award for that guy last night).  One of Mark's key words is
certification, similar to accreditation, in the sense of curriculum
content having imprimaturs from various sources (governments?).  Push
versus pull is something we hear about.  E-Textbooks are a buzzword,
but who's building these in practice?  Are we talking about mashups?
Is a web site an e-text?  Why or why not?

Curriki is growing:
http://www.curriki.org/xwiki/bin/view/Main/WebHome  Indonesia etc.

Education institutions are monolithic island structures (silos), with
technology's decentralizing effects starting to erode them the way
they've eroded many corporate institutions.  Scarcity drives
aggregation, hoarding of resources, the genesis of the professoriate.
This is starting to break down -- semi-permeable and permeable
membrane metaphors.  Not just teaching, but accrediting the people who
learn from them, is incipient.

All this hearkens back to the discussions I've been having with Steve
Holden around Python certification.  It's not about developing a
monolithic Microsoft University of University of Phoenix.  Schools
develop a rep by "minting students" meaning you find out over time
what a certification really means.  Schools don't have to ask
permission of other schools before putting their stamp on a transcript
or c.v., e.g. Saturday Academy hands out certificates with "currency
value" when it comes to applying for college (proves you've not been
wasting your time -- at least constitutes evidence).

Teachers really want a bigger role in content development, whereas
publishers are hungry for content, so there's an obvious synergy here,
with teachers playing the role of open source developers, hired guns
in the sense that publishers have some say about what gets their
imprimatur (many schools are also publishers, as are many private
companies, not that schools aren't themselves companies in many

Teachers identifying as curriculum writers (as I do) will be banding
and branding, doing OSCs.  What about "suspect curricula"?  How do we
develop "trust".  Mark is tackling that one, thinking opening up is a
great strategy for improving content.  Teachers often will not touch
material that hasn't been certified.  They only teach approved
materials.  Can we identify things which will be "contentious" like
Intelligent Design?  Mark sees contention more as the exception,
Wikipedia more the model.  Ideology is a problem in "corner cases"
only -- might be a blind spot on Mark's spot, given "certification" is
in itself a tool of control, keeps controversies suppressed.

One of our panelists is espousing the goal of having 100% open source
materials in its curriculum.  Any remaining gaps to be plugged, 9th
grade kicking off in 2009. Curriki is likewise K-12 focussed,

What we're seeing is a generation of open source developers old enough
to be bending their model towards teaching, i.e. using our new muscle
and savvy around keeping software free and open is feeding into the
education world, setting new standards wherein "open source" is in
itself a point in its favor.  Using a free market approach, where the
community has feedback as to whether a curriculum is any good.

Many governments are nervous about letting teachers just go for it, as
the potential for inciting tensions between ethnic groups is quite
high.  Strong bias and opinion colors courseware, inevitably, and
governments often want a top-down way of controlling quality.

The idea of a "global curriculum" is inappropriate and dumb, but the
practice of openness and adaptability means each community has the
ability to import and export.

Expanding the Internet is a great way to build teacher quality.
Realistically, OLPC notwithstanding, it's the teacher community that
is gaining access first.  Many countries are experiencing an acute
teacher shortage -- the certifications coming over the Internet might
be just the ticket in many cases, in terms of giving them career

Mark:  it's increasing difficult to censor TV, audit radio.

The moderator is talking about Unschool, an organization that allows
students to start customizing their own curricula even without
parental knowledge.

Different cultures are in different places in terms how willing they
are to motivate change.  On the other hand, there's that quote from
this morning (Tim had it) about history moving faster than the people
living it (future shock in other words -- we don't always get asked,
before we have to adapt).

This web page is being displayed, Mark encouraging us to take a look:

I think a strong teacher in a school with good access is in a position
to offer dynamite open and closed curricula.  Not every school will
put all its best stuff on line, like that Pueblo Museum in New Mexico,
warns tourists up front that not everything is explained in the museum
(not the appropriate context for explaining everything).

Open Content License -- big in Africa.

How can we contribute?  LiteracyBridge.org -- has some cute little
hardware that still needs software.  Mark:  both philosophy and
practice, with the latter including workflows for aggregating and
certifying.  Content management frameworks in education, still a
hotbed for innovation in need of new code.  OpenHighSchool.org

Vendors have a role (like 4dsolutions.net -- plug), usually tied to
sales of some product.  New brands of vendor will recognize that this
isn't just about selling new "stuff" to teachers.  So what *is* the
business model then?  How do content providers get rewarded or
compensated, or do they?

Scholarships to teachers, who vote with their feet, meaning kudos back
to the vendors of highest repute?  In spending tuition money upstream,
teachers net access and goodies downstream (get value in exchange). Is
that the model?

I need to move my car, risking a parking ticket.


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