Waraku Education

Ideas, experiments and observations as they occur [and I have time] relating to teaching and learning in a secondary school - special focus on ICT.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Upping the anti

The Linux.conf.au started today in Melbourne. The Education Mini.conf had two presenters that were to deliver via Second Life. Leigh Blackall from Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand and myself from Grant High School in Mount Gambier, South Australia. There were three different Second Life Venues to be used and the presenters at the live venue in Melbourne were going to present at the venue simultaneously with Second Life. DNS issues in Melbourne meant that the Second Life participants and the Melbourne venue could not come together.

Image 1 - My avatar is in the foreground of the image as I waited to hear news of what was happening in Melbourne.

Bugger. The good side is that I met a bunch of people, got a lot of experience in playing within second life and Leigh got to present to the group that dropped in via this virtual medium. The people at the venue in Melbourne would not have got this, bugger for them.

I've been thinking about Leigh's presentation which was about institutional change, largely from the top down. He talked about changing the way that the institution dealt with IP so that the rules facilitated openness and collaboration. He is encouraging teachers to have a strong online presence which was helpful for credibility, collaboration and improving the institutions Google ranking and public profile. He is looking for a mass of about 15% of the staff initially to be active and believes that when this is achieved that there will be significant changes to the organisation that follow. In the mean time there are communication issues within the institution. He stated that the changes where prohibitive to many teachers - too much of a shift.

My presentation ended up going ahead. Melbourne could hear me, I couldn't hear them. Janet did a great job of text chat which gave some feedback to me as I was speaking amongst all of the ums and r's. I imagine podcasting and radio broadcasting to create the same feelings. It is very difficult to speak when there is so little feedback.

My presentation was aimed at tackling this issue of creating more openness with the students and so bottom up. Providing collaborative infrastructure and support for students to use gives power to the students to learn despite the methods used by their teachers. I have seen on numerous occasions that where students are using tools or showing preference to work in certain ways then teachers want to take notice and optimise on it because they can see the opportunity for better learning. This is upping the anti and might even work better in conjunction with Leigh's plans.

Good on the organisers of the education.miniConf for giving this method of delivery a go. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and while everything did not work I personally gained a lot. I found that I need practise talking to an imaginary audience if I do more of this.

In the second image my avatar, Wati Voss is presenting to the audience in Melbourne via Hazelbyte Hax.

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We're in for a hard time

Economic oversteering is the latest Mark Shuttleworth post. He does a great job of explaining the current economic climate and it is clear that the next few years are going to be painful. This is a time of finding ways to improve productivity and reduce expenditure.

With the issues around Vista (instability and resource requirements) and Office 2007 (interoperability) there are many saying that the effort to roll out these products is not worth it. Pain without gain. In this article "Windows Vista, Office 2007 Expelled From British Schools" they report
The agency said U.K. schools can consider using Vista or Office 2007 software only when they are buying new batches of PCs. Even then, however, they're advised to take a long looked at alternatives based on Linux and other open source products, such as the OpenOffice.org desktop package.
Makes sense.

At the end of 2006 the following report was published, commissioned by the EU as I understand it. Study on the: Economic impact of open source software on innovation and the competitiveness of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector in the EU

It is 287 pages long. The main recommendation relating to education is found on page 216.
9.5.5. Education: avoid lifetime vendor lock-in for students
The reason it seems desirable to promote the use of FLOSS in education (ICT education and more generally all educational activities that have a bearing on the cultural relationship with information technology) is threefold:

1. It is obviously likely to have a strong impact on the future usage of FLOSS products and the build-up of the related skills.

2. It builds up essential ICT skills rather than the knowledge of specific applications from specific vendors (leading to the current locked-in-for-life situation, where vendor lock-in applies not only to organisations but to individuals who have typically not chosen their software but been provided it for free by schools).

3. It is likely to install an attitude towards information technology that favours the ability to create and actively participate rather than just consume – i.e. the scenarios under which FLOSS is most likely to deliver a strong positive economic and societal impact, by encouraging collaborative prosumer usage and a reflexive attitude on usage and the technology that supports it.
There are some specific references to productivity gains here. "It is likely to install an attitude towards information technology that favours the ability to create and actively participate rather than just consume" is clearly one of those. The technology on its own will not do this IMHO but we are talking about a creative attitude, a thinking process of can do and how can we make this work. Is it my hobby horse of hacker thinking?

There are short term and long term economic advantages. The short term is that schools spend less on software. As the students use this software and leave school, the long term advantages are seen in businesses around the country.

So there we have it. Economic and productivity improvements possible for Australian Schools - doing our bit to reduce the hard time ahead.

All the best for Linux.conf.au starting today in Melbourne. I am sure that the Education Mini.conf happening today will be talking about openness in education not only in terms of software but more broadly in terms of content and collaboration.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

I feel like an ant

I love TED and the presentation "How do ants know what to do?" by Deborah Gordon affirmed that once again.

Bill Kerr is sceptical about Web2.0 but I reckon that it is the best thing since sliced bread. The last few years has seen my professional learning simply soar. I am frustrated with school workshops where they bring in highly paid presenters where we could be accessing international level ideas for free whenever. What a waste of school finances, state finances and my time. Various conferences are not much different although the F2F networking is cool. Web2.0 connects me with a network of ants that let me know what is going on in small byte sized packets that are easy to digest.

A bit like the ants in "How do ants know what to do?" I touch antenna and crudely determine what people are talking about and this guides me in what direction I could be looking in and what task I might need to perform. A bit simplistic - fair enough. I don't read anywhere near all of my email or RSS feeds. I look for trends and things that are out of the ordinary.

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Is the FOSS debate null and void?

George Siemens posted "Is the IT department Dead?". He pointed to a review of a book written by Nicholas Carr titled The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google.

I am interested in this from three perspectives.
How this thinking impacts on
  1. ICT in schools
  2. IT as a subject of study
  3. skills and careers in my community
Some comments from the review

"The IT department is dead, and it is a shift to utility computing that will kill this corporate career path."

Carr's rationale is that utility computing companies will replace corporate IT departments much as electric utilities replaced company-run power plants in the early 1900s.

Carr explains that factory owners originally operated their own power plants. But as electric utilities became more reliable and offered better economies of scale, companies stopped running their own electric generators and instead outsourced that critical function to electric utilities.

I reckon that Carr has a point and that this thinking has implications for the skills debate we have going at the moment.
He says even IT professionals are indistinguishable from one company to the next. "Most perform routine maintenance chores — exactly the same tasks that their counterparts in other companies carry out," he says.
Maybe the job of IT professional has become just plain dull?
Carr offers a grimmer future for IT professionals. He envisions a utility computing era where "managing an entire corporate computing operation would require just one person sitting at a PC and issuing simple commands over the Internet to a distant utility."
The nature of software programming is evolving and morphing. We are currently lamenting the shortage of high level ICT skills but the future need for these skills does not seem to be there. The number of people involved does not seem to be a need in the future. The smarts will be few and involved in managing these large utilities it seems.
He not only refers to the demise of the PC, which he says will be a museum piece in 20 years, but to the demise of the software programmer, whose time has come to an end.

If nothing else, this supports my previous posts "The return to mainframes and terminals" and "Google releasing package for office". The PC will be dead and the terminals will be very portable. This also points to the importance of having and developing sound connectivity infrastructure.

In some ways it makes the FOSS debate in schools null and void. Certainly Linux OS with Firefox because they are free and provide that terminal like apparatus needed to access the online services. So where is the need for other productivity software like Open Office, GIMP, Inkscape, Thunderbird, etc when the technology is emerging for us to just do it online?

To me this also confirms my opinion that MS Vista is a non-event. What are these buggers thinking over there in lala Redmond land?

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The Ellsberg Paradox, school and trust

Leigh posted "Fear paralysis, Ellsburg paradox and what’s in a name" and referred back to a previous post "What’s in a name? Why some succeed and others fail". Basically the Ellsberg Paradox means that we will tend to choose in favour of things that we know about, hence Leigh's words 'Fear paralysis". He believes that this is a factor that inhibits people choosing FOSS. I agree. People tend to favour the things that they know about and have learnt with which is why it is important that schools provide the chance for students to experience FOSS as well as the proprietary products in school. I think that we should be learning with the free stuff first so that the risk is in taking up the stuff that costs a lot.

As I watched the short video that Leigh pointed to about the Ellsberg Paradox it triggered some thinking about one of the fundamental things we are trying to teach in school. We have this innate mechanism which inhibits our ability to go into the unknown and yet education is really all about taking people into the unknown. Taking a risk, moving into the unknown, conducting experiments and the like. This to me points to the importance of teachers being trust worthy.

In my post "Play with Stuff" I talked about challenging kids and the whole post was about taking risks. I think that having seen the video, the Ellsberg Paradox is the mechanism that we are wanting to play with and learn to control so that we can get to a point where we are more likely to venture into new ground.

As my grandfather often said, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained".

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Students as volunteers

Adrian Bruce has a posting in response to his reading of Stephen Covey's 'The seven habits of highly effective people'. He uses a graphic talking about treating others as volunteers. It states 'Imagine what we could achieve if management treated every person on staff as if they were a volunteer'

Adrian's spin on this was ‘ Imagine what an organisation could achieve if every person on staff was treated as a volunteer rather than a subordinate’.

What about this? 'Imagine what we could achieve if teachers/schools treated every student as if they were a volunteer'.

The root of this comes from my experience teaching in the Pitjantjatjara Lands some 25 odd years ago. The bottom line was that while students had to be at school by law, the reality was the students voted with their feet.

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Playing with stuff

Two related posts

This conversation is very much about developing creativity or hacker thinking

Things I like to do:

Have students take apart old computers. I do not allow
  • CRT monitors and computer power supplies to be disassembled because of the electrical charge that could be stored in the larger capacitors in those devices.
  • disassembly of computers with leaking capacitors
  • stress that capacitors are not to be bashed
Have students try to making working computers from old computers/bits.

Students get a real kick out of the disassembly of FDD, HDD and CD drives. The magnets and shiny platters in HDD are particular points of interest.

Removing the cover on a HDD and seeing it work on a live computer

Doing things with kids that are psychologically and physically challenging. eg. Taking young kids down the side of the Valley Lake from the the Potters Point Lookout (Mount Gambier). It is very challenging for kids and sometimes we get tears. The realisation that turning around and going back could be as hard as continuing on down is a hard lesson. Understanding that the only way of succeeding is for us to make it work. When we have completed this descent kids generally feel great pride in their achievement but do not want to do it again and then after a while generally/always change their minds and want to do have another go.

Letting my kids drive the car.

Taking my grandson camping and playing with the fire.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

FOSS in education prediction for 2008

Why 2008 will be a bad year for Microsoft’s Ed Tech market share, January 1st on ZDnet.

The author makes the following points
  • FOSS provides a solution for students to continue with their education outside of school unencumbered by cost and legal issues
  • School administrations are looking for ways to cut costs and FOSS may help
  • There are a growing number of people familiar with FOSS and Linux and these tools are becoming easier to use making the management issue more manageable
  • As students become accustomed to using FOSS in school, they will demand its use in the workplace
The last point is important and reinforces my thinking for the past few years. We should be filling our school networks with the free stuff. I'm happy for the proprietary products to be there as well but I think it is poor form that schools are paying for it.

In addition to filling the school network with the free stuff, consider giving away a copy of the OpenEducationDisc to all students as they enrol. This facilitates students being able to freely and seamlessly continue with their school work at home and helps our young people and their families stay legal.

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