The Web Is Agreement

The Web is Agreement is a fantastic hand-drawn poster by Paul Downey, created on behalf of Osmosoft for the 2007 BT Open Source Awareness Day.

The poster, drawn in the style of the Lord of the Rings’s Map of Middle-Earth, delineates the various pitfalls along the way of creating an open source, creative commons work on the Web.

The Web Is Agreement

Visit the original size image on Flickr for a better look.

Future of Ideas – Now Available through CC

Larry Lessig’s book, The Future of Ideas, is now available as a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial licensed download.

In The Future of Ideas, Lawrence Lessig explains how the Internet revolution has produced a counterrevolution of devastating power and effect. The explosion of innovation we have seen in the environment of the Internet was not conjured from some new, previously unimagined technological magic; instead, it came from an ideal as old as the nation. Creativity flourished there because the Internet protected an innovation commons. The Internet’s very design built a neutral platform upon which the widest range of creators could experiment. The legal architecture surrounding it protected this free space so that culture and information–the ideas of our era–could flow freely and inspire an unprecedented breadth of expression. But this structural design is changing–both legally and technically.

Read this book. Now.

EC&I 831: Upcoming Ed. Tech Grad Course

I am really excited about this coming semester. About a year ago, I received a Technology Enhanced Learning grant to begin creation of an online, Graduate-level, educational technology course. The result is EC&I 831, and here are just a few of the details.

    – I am developing the course with the help of Rob Wall who we’ve dubbed the “social capital philanthropist” for this educational experience.
    – We have an enrollment of 30 students, about twice what is usually expected in an online Graduate course, so Rob’s role will be especially important (no pressure, Rob).
    – We are trying our best to use as many free and/or open forms of technology as possible. Blackboard/WebCT were never options for the course. Exposure to and use of open, free, and social tools is a priority.
    – We have a tongue-in-cheek course trailer made up entirely of public domain video footage.
    – There are both synchronous and asynchronous components of the course. The synchronous components will take place Tuesdays (presentations/conversations) and Wednesdays (hands-on sessions).
    – And probably most exciting is our amazing lineup of presenters for the duration of this course. Presenters will include (couple yet to confirm, in order of appearance) Darren Kuropatwa, Richard Schwier, George Siemens, Sharon Peters, Dean Shareski, Clarence Fisher, Stephen Downes, D’Arcy Norman, Brian Lamb, and possibly others. There were many more I wanted to ask, but I know I am so lucky to have these individuals participate.
    – All sessions will be recorded and available. The course will be entirely transparent and open.

Throughout the course, we will be looking for ways to participate within the edublogsphere. If you have an edublog that would be of interest, please add it to the wiki.

To find out more details about the course, check out the course wiki (more info to come soon), subscribe to the course blog, or contact me.

I have very high hopes for this course. Please wish us luck!

10 Worst Consumer Tech Trends – Education Edition

PC World has released an instantly popular list of the “10 Worst Consumer Tech Trends“. As soon as I read the list, it was easy to see the parallels in education. Thus, here’s my educational take on the list.

10. Closed Source Technology – I’ve been an advocate of FLOSS for quite a few years now, in fact, my dissertation had much to say about the topic. While we are nowhere near a world where Linux is ubiquitous, we’ve made a lot of progress through Firefox, Open Office and newer software like Google Android for mobile devices. In my courses, I make use of our Windows and Mac machines, but introduce many open source apps on the desktop. As well, Linux Live CD’s are used often to get beyond the tyranny of the desktop.

While we have a long way to go, my best indication of how far we’ve come is that the terms “open source” and “free software” (not simply a the “free in beer” sense) have become much more common in conversations with my non-techy students and colleagues. I think there are many experiencing a mental shift, however, we need to catch up through user interface and viral marketing approaches.

9. Over-promising and under-delivering: I’m still convinced that salesmen do more educational technology planning than educational administrators. I know of institutions locked-in to student administration systems like SCT Banner for periods of more than 10 years when (I’ve been told) there are other open source solutions available. I hear nothing but complaints from institutional users of Blackboard, people who’d rather learn Moodle on their own than go with the supported, Blackboard “solution”. IBM Learning Village is a common “instructional portal” in many school districts, one that has been abandoned by many teachers in favour of flexible, free environments, services like Ning.

And while we’re talking “over-promising, under-delivering” we can go beyond the issue of proprietary software. Larger, conceptual frameworks like course/student/learning management systems or just about any monolithic learning “solution” (or learning theory for that matter) can be critiqued in a similar manner.

8. Fanboys: “The definition of fanboy (or fangirl) is an individual who harbours a fanatic devotion to something without logical reason.” While at times I might be considered an Apple fanboy, I’d argue that I’m promoting a particular concept more than an specific product. I wrote a while back re: the Apple iTouch and the potential implications for learning. And while I love my iTouch, I was more critical to the fact that I needed to Jailbreak it before it actually became a usable, personal learning device.

And in relation to this point, I’m witnessing a disturbing trend in some parts of the edublogosphere as of late. I’ve ditched several, (once) trusted blogs from my reader in the past few weeks due to their less-than-critical, over-promoting of certain Web 2.0 tools and services. Note to those (few) edubloggers: if you’re on the take, your readers deserve full disclosure.

7. Region-encoding: I couldn’t think of how this applied to education in any significant way. Any ideas?

6. Licensing fees: Put simply, I do everything I can to avoid any content or products where licensing is required. I promote freely available media through such sources as the Creative Commons and As well, I nurture a learning environment where learners become producers nearly as much as they are consumers. At the same time, I do recommend exemplary copyrighted works, and do understand this livelihood model. However, the bar has been raised in relation to what I will spend money on. In this abundance economy, I need a strong demonstration of “value-added” before I ever consider pulling out my credit card.

5. Format wars: I haven’t much to say on this topic other than getting into a rant on the Open Document Format, and others have said it better. Anyone?

4. Proprietary file formats: Most proprietary products produce proprietary formats out of the box. Whether it’s a .doc, AAC or even .mp3, these formats can cause a huge issue, proprietary file format lock-in.

3. Annoying web ads: I won’t get into a rant against web-advertising. I am one of those people that pays to make my learning environments ad-free. For instance, I pay about $20/month to turn the ads off in my Ning groups, and I pay a smaller fee for my Wikispaces pages. For those in K-12, it’s great that you can turn off the ads in both of these services for free.

2. High cost of wireless data plans: It’s remarkable how many of my students have mobile phones. Even when I visit K-12 classrooms, the number of cell phones is high. For now, I can only dream of the possibilities for mobile learning. Our data plans in Saskatchewan and throughout Canada are simply too expensive to do anything creative. And beyond that, we’re not even at 3G yet. Maybe someday.

1. DRM: If DRM has done anything for our education system, it’s helped to nurture authentic, problem-based learning activities in our hacking communities. DRM does not work. It will never work. The system has to change. We are now seeing the power of an emerging, decentralized era. See Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails.

That’s it. Would love to hear your thoughts.

Grad Course Movie Trailer – Take #1

Here is the first draft of the movie trailer for the Grad course I’ll be teaching in January 2008, EC & I 831. It’s important to note that all of this footage was taken from The use and building upon the public domain and Creative Commons will be important topics for this course. In my opinion, teachers should begin to demonstrate the learning potential of existing archives like these, and encourage students to participate in copyleft licensing.

Hi quality version here.

There’s a lot of this course that is invisible at the moment, but some course information is available at the course wiki. MUCH more to come.

Open Social: Social Applications Across Platforms

Open Social is launching tomorrow, and it’s being announced all over the web and via twitter.

In a nutshell, Open Social is an open web API that can be supported by two kinds of developers:

    “Containers” — social networking systems like Ning, Orkut, LinkedIn, Hi5, and Friendster, and…
    “Apps” — applications that want to be embedded within containers — for example, the kinds of applications built by iLike, Flixster, Rockyou, and Slide.

Open Social is very similar to the Facebook Platform announced a few months back, however, Open Social is a standard that can work across all adopting services.

My favorite part:

Open Social — by making this exact same kind of opportunity available to any other social network or container and every app developer and site on the web, in an open and compatible way — will prevent Facebook from having any kind of long-term proprietary developer lock-in. Developers will easily write to both Facebook and Open Social, and have every reason to do so — in fact, 100+ million reasons to do so.

When proprietary standards are threatened, I am a very happy guy.


Apple, Open Up

I’ve had many computers in my life. I grew up with the Commodore Vic-20, the Coleco Adam, the Apple ][ series. In particular, I spent most of my adolescent and teen years on an Apple //c, in fact, this same computer took me right through my early University years.

Apple //c

I remember exploring my computer as a kid. My //c had a few hardware issues along the way, and instead of asking my parents to fix these issues, I turned first to my own experimentation. Without any knowledge (or thought about safety), I took my //c apart numerous times and was always able to fix any issues.

So in a sense, maybe this has been Apple’s strategy all along. If you keep things locked up, eventually adolescent boys will want to “get in”, play around and fix things to make them work better. It seems to be working. After all, it took only a 13yr old hacker to unlock the iPod Touch. OK … I’m thinking that hypothesis is quite unlikely.

My New iPod Touch - PerfectioniPod Touch. I must admit, Apple designs beautiful products (even the //c was amazing for its day). Out-of-the-box, I was able to do the following with my new device:

    – play music, podcast and video files,
    – browse Youtube directly,
    – browse iCal (calendar) events, contacts,
    – browse the web via Safari, and
    – use a few other basic applications (e.g., clock, calculator)

Things I could not do out-of-the-box include:

    – checking mail through Mac Mail mobile application,
    – adding calendar items,
    – viewing weather data,
    – using a notes application,
    – browsing a mapping application,
    – checking the status of my current stocks, and
    – add any third-party applications.

The iPod Touch is capable of using virtually all iPhone applications, but these have been disabled. I understand Apple’s business model, and I assume that they are doing this as to not cannibalize the sales of their iPhone. However, in doing so, they are missing out on a huge opportunity for educational uses of these devices. More so, we’re missing out (i.e., faculty, teachers, students) on what this could bring for mobile learning

Within about a week of owning my iPod Touch, I felt that I could no longer be locked down. It is my right as the owner of this device to use it in anyway I wish (of course, without harming others). I understand that it is not within my rights to distribute the code. Therefore, I am not distributing it, but simply, linking to it.

Unlocking and adding third party apps to the iPod Touch is incredibly simple. The process is automated through downloadable software called iJailbreak. There is a slight possibility of “bricking” your device, but this can be corrected through a firmware restore process. Once the jailbreaking process is complete, you will now have many of the iPhone apps on your iPod Touch. Additionally, you will have greater control of your device, will be able to automatically (and easily) install any new apps and also be able to FTP in to your device.

The only thing that was not resolved by the Jailbreak process was the Calendar function, the ability to add events to your Calendar from the Touch. While it has been widely reported that this was a bug and that Apple had intended to allow this functionality, the “fix” shows pretty clearly that this was intentional. Enabling this feature involves nothing more than getting into plist code, and changing a preference to “true”.

So, Steve, why do we have to play these games? The iPod Touch is an amazing product. For just over $300, Apple has designed a beautiful mobile device which features rich multimedia, web browsing, email and data entry. For the price of 4-5 fat clients in a classroom (an approach that is popular in my parts), you can equip 20 students with these devices. There is so much lost potential here. C’mon Apple, open up!

Update: Even an easier, one-step iPod Touch/iPhone hack has been developed. Simply point navigate your Touch/iPhone to Read about this here.

More Great Mac Apps

I recently wrote about some of the Mac Apps I use on a daily basis. Here’s another list, most of these apps are very useful to me, but I don’t use them quite as often.

Delicious Library: This is one of my favorite apps for keeping my personal library organized. I have hundreds of books in my office and I am lending out books quite often. With this application, I am able to inventory my books using an iSight webcam or a Bluetooth barcode scanner (I use the latter). You could also do it manually. Then, I am able to lend out books easily to people by dragging and dropping the book to the individual I lent it to. It even send notifications via email for those that keep my books way too long. :-) It’s one of the few apps I pay for, and it’s worth the money if you need this sort of thing. It also syncs well with LibraryThing.

Handbrake: Handbrake is a free, multi-platform, DVD to MPEG-4 converter. This will rip DVDs to a number of formats. But if you are looking for something just does DVD to iPod specifically, check out Instant Handbrake or iSquint.

Jing: I should have put this in my last list because I use it every single day. Jing is a screencast tool that makes screencasting incredibly easy, it’s fast, simple, uploads the produced videos for you automatically, and even copies the link to your clipboard. I use this daily to send quick “how-to’s” to teachers and students via email, any of my Ning groups or via instant messaging. It’s a new, free app, but it’s quickly become essential for me.

Skitch: Screen capture on the Mac has always been a weak feature. Skitch works very much like Jing, but works with still images. You can edit screen captures and they are kept online for you. This is another great free app.

Chicken of the VNC: To see my office Mac from home, I regularly use VNC (Virtual Network Control). This is a very useful app which is easy to use once set up. It’s free and open source.

SubEthaEdit: I haven’t used this as much lately, but it’s a great “text collaboration engine”, most suited for programming. It runs over the OS X “Bonjour” network. I just noticed that this is now software you have to pay for (it used to be free).

Flip4Mac: This free tool allows you to play Windows Media files via Quicktime.

Scratch: I haven’t played with this much yet, but will be introducing it to my undergraduate students this semester. Scratch is free visual programming environment designed for kids. This has great potential for the classroom.

Senuti: Senuti (“iTunes” in reverse) is a free app that allows you to transfer songs from your iPod to your computer.

Well, that’s all I can think of right now. If there are others you know of that are worth noting, please comment!

80 Open Education Resource (OER) Tools for Publishing and Development Initiatives

I received notification of this resource from Jimmy Atkinson quite some time ago, but I finally have found some time to explore it.

“… the list below — arranged in alphabetical order — includes 80 online resources that you can use to learn how to build or participate in a collaborative educational effort that focuses on publication and development of those materials. Although some choices focus solely on publication, development, or tools used to accomplish either effort, some provide multifaceted venues that offer communities a space to collaborate on one or all of these efforts. Collaborators can include institutions, colleges or universities, educators, students, or the general public.”

There are many excellent resources here. I am sure many of you are familiar with most, but there were a few that I had not heard of. Thanks Jimmy!