Friday, July 23, 2010

OEH: Open Education Hardware?

I have been very interested in the work that has been going on around the $100 laptop and Negroponte's "One Laptop Per Child." Unfortunately, this program has not been a success, and I think it has to do with the business model. Building an inexpensive computer is a hard thing to do here in America.

Access to computers and networks should be as fundamental as access to education. In some parts to the world, they are one and the same, or at least hand-in-hand. Wide-spread access to technology and networks is bringing teacher training and medical information to parts of the world where it is desperately needed. Access needs to be expanded. Not only in places like Africa, India, and China, but even here in Humboldt County, California where the infrastructure supporting much needed distance education is insufficient to meet the needs of the surrounding communities. One thing that stands in the way of this dream of open access for everyone is the cost of adequate and appropriate technology; low cost computers and access to networks.

There are very few in the computer industry who really want a $100 laptop. There is very little initial profit in that. Although, I wouldn't mind selling that contract to China or India. And speaking of India, it looks like they are the ones who are really going to make this happen. They have come out with a $35 tablet computer prototype running Linux. There is a real question about who will manufacture these computers. The Indian government is talking about subsidizing the manufacturing end. I think this is a good move. I would like to see a foundation take this on. A consortium, as in the case of the Sakai Foundation working with UNESCO and a couple of other stake-holder governments, could make this work. If we can have open source software like Linux and Sakai, why not open source hardware? And like the software model, no one will make money off of the hardware, but a company could do quite well for itself by selling support services to governments, schools, and other institutions.

I am glad that India did not wait for companies like Microsoft or Apple to come up with a "solution" because these companies are not interested in the problem and can't understand the problem; they are too busy protecting their brand and their bottom line. Let them. India is going in the right direction and leading the way.
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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Just Another Cell in the Brain?: The Internet and Education

Internet Map. Ninian Smart predicts global com...Image via Wikipedia

Recently, Robert Wright, journalist and author of various books including The Evolution of God and Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, penned an op-ed in the New York Times in which he contemplates the Internet in all its ubiquitous (albeit Big Brotherish) glory. Wright suggests:

" is weaving humans into electronic webs that resemble big brains — corporations, online hobby groups, far-flung N.G.O.s. And I personally don’t think it’s outlandish to talk about us being, increasingly, neurons in a giant superorganism..."

While Wright's rhetoric seems a bit Huxley-esque, his message in a nutshell is that the overall social impact of the Internet won't necessarily be a sinister one. Nor does Wright kowtow to technology extremists who praise the Internet as if it's the Second Coming.

While it can be difficult to see what, exactly, is so great about being another cell in a cosmic, web-like superbrain, Wright makes a compelling case that stands in stark contrast to Internet denouncements that have recently been proferred by the likes of Nicholas Carr, author of the now-infamous article, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" (as well as an accompanying book just out--The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to Our Brains)

Wright argues that while sure, we waste a lot of time on the Internet, these temporal inefficiencies are negligible when we compare them to the incredible social efficiencies that enable any user, anywhere at any time to connect with like-minded people and to disseminate, search for, and digest information on just about anything.

For education as a whole, the implications of these efficiencies cannot be overemphasized. While some are hesitant to embrace the open education movement, let us conceptually stand for a moment at the intersection of education and the Internet. Imagine a library that is so vast, it defies mapping, a digital, ethereal, tangled web of people and information that, when properly channeled, has the ability to make self-education a reality for anyone who is willing to learn?

It is these things that we should consider before we write off the technology that some have too readily dismissed. Of course, with every technological blessing, there will be roadblocks, and with the Internet, it's minefields of frivolous distraction. But not all distractions are created equally, and sometimes it is precisely distraction that will lead to new fields of inquiry.

After all, perhaps the ultimate goal of education is to foster a passion for continued learning that extends beyond formal schooling, no matter what the subject. And no one can deny that the Internet is perhaps the one medium that has most furthered this goal for the greatest amount of people globally.

This guest post is contributed by Kate Cunningham, who writes on the topics of online university rankings. She welcomes your questions and comments at her email Id:

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Thursday, July 08, 2010

What is Blackboard Building Now?

The second Death Star under construction in Re...Image via Wikipedia

There is a notice in Inside Higher Ed on Blackboard's purchase of Elluminate and Wimba entitled "Blackboard's Big Buy." It begins:

Blackboard announced on Wednesday it is buying out two software companies in an effort to bolster its real-time collaboration features and satisfy a generation of professors and students increasingly shaped by social media.

How kind of them. They are not doing it to further squelch competition and wring more money out of its customers, but to satisfy a generation of students and professors. If anything proves that capitalism's relationship to innovation is a myth, this is it. I used to hear the lack of innovation argument as an argument against opensource. Monopolies destroy innovation by removing competition. A free market needs to support a free play of ideas and invention. Even Blackboard benefits from that.

The cost of these tools in this economy is unconscionable. All that "vendor lock-in" does is drive costs up because there is no incentive for making the tools widely available.

We had a year long pilot with Wimba Voice Tools and could never get it to work. They then wanted to charge us for a year to further test it. We asked "why would we pay for a pilot of something that is not working?" They are a perfect fit into the Blackboard juggernaut.

Blackboard has a history of acquiring tools and then either not supporting them fully and letting them die or causing them to disappear altogether. I am a former user of Blackboard and the two things they just don't get are customer service and collaboration. In their attempt to created a social bookmarking tool ala Delicious Bookmarks, they took this beautiful idea of sharing and tagging bookmarks and subscribing to other user's bookmarks, and turned it into a locked-down, password protected proprietary tool: utterly useless. They did not acquire Delicious Bookmarks as a tool - they just copied the idea, something for which Blackboard would have sued anyone else back into the Stone Age.

If I sound bitter it is because I was a really big fan of Angel Learning:

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Saturday, July 03, 2010

Fast-tracking: Alternatives to College

I am reading Kamenetz's book "DIY U" and found this relevant article.

Fast-tracking: Alternatives to College: "Based on a few years of observation, we noticed that there was little or no correlation between academic performance, as measured by grades and the type of college a person attended, and their real on-the-job performance. That was a genuine surprise, particularly for me, as I grew up thinking grades really mattered ..."

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