Category Archives: Open Source

A Different Kind of Tea Party

One of the reasons I love to teach is because I love to learn. During my ed tech class last week, one of my students introduced me to Alice, the programming language, and also talked about Storytelling Alice, the programming language geared towards middle schoolers, particularly girls. I had only a vague knowledge of Alice and none at all of Storytelling Alice. I had hoped to spend some time with both this week, but my own programming got in the way. I also stumbled because Storytelling Alice doesn’t have a Macintosh version. Using it would mean dragging out the Windows machine. But, I ended up doing that anyway since I loaned it to a student so it is up to date and ready to go. So, maybe this weekend…

Meanwhile, in one of those serendipitous events, I got an email today highlighting webinars being sponsored by Georgia Tech that focus on Alice. I was going to email the link to my students but thought there might be a wider audience. Here’s the link to the Tea Party website and the link to the webinar schedule.

Shakespeare Would Have Approved

I’m in the midst of an amazing trip to England that included a visit to Stratford-Upon-Avon, the hometown of William Shakespeare.  On the flight over, I read an excellent biography of the bard by Stephen Greenblatt.  As I read the book and visited the various Shakespeare sites in Stratford, I was reminded how heavily Shakespeare borrowed from the existing literature of his day.  In fact, most of his plays are based on well-known stories or historical books.  Shakespeare Online has a good listing of the various sources.  It shows how well read he was despite being without an Oxford education.

But, it also underscores the importance of artists being able to draw on exisiting works.  The genius of Shakespeare was his ability to take existing stories and add both new twists and poetical language to make those stories his own.  If he were alive today, I think he would approve heartily of the notion of a creative commons where people contribute their creative works to the greater good.

Here’s some good news:  all of Shakespeare’s writings are in the public domain and available at Gutenberg so you and your students are free to draw on them for your own work.  When I was still teaching English, I had my students write their own stories and poems based on Shakespearean themes.  Now, I would open that assignment to include audio and video productions as well.

And for your reading pleasure, here’s one of my favorite sonnets, mostly because of its ironic tone:


My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red, than her lips red:
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound:
I grant I never saw a goddess go,–
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet by heaven, I think my love as rare,
As any she belied with false compare.

Watching the World Change In Front of My Eyes

Readers of this blog are aware of my interest in promoting open education resources.  Last year, I was a formal member of a Joint Commission on Technology and Science subcommittee related to this topic.  This year, there are no formal members besides the legislators, but the public is encouraged to attend.  The meeting yesterday had a variety of great presentations, and as I left, I realized I had been watching the world change. 

Aneesh Chopra, Virginia’s Director of Technology, talked about how the state has been innovating.  I have never seen him present before, and he was nothing short of inspirational.  I’ve added his weekly podcast to iTunes.  He described a school he had visited where the textbook indicated that cathode ray tubes were a primary part of televisions.  This textbook was being used in a community in which the plant that used to make cathode ray tubes had been closed because, of course, cathode ray tubes are not used in televisions any more.

Stewart Smith from the Community Ideas Station filled us in on their efforts to digitize and distribute their vast collection of multimedia through a project called eKlips.  The materials are available for free.  I can’t wait for some free time to poke around.

I was pleased that Dr. Richard Baraniuk from Rice University was able to teleconference in to talk about the Connexions project that he spearheaded nearly ten years ago.   I had recommended him to the committee after seeing him present at NECC.

But, it was the last presentation that was most interesting in terms of watching the world change because we got a glimpse into a business struggling to figure out how they would survive in this new world. .  Pearson spent some time discussing their plans for bringing textbooks into the 21st century.   They were led off by former Virginia Board of Education President Kirk Schroder, an entertainment lawyer who is also a registered lobbyist for Pearson.   His take on open education resources was that they were fine for higher education, but for K-12 with the pressures of high stakes testing, they were too much of an experiment.  I took public issue with what I felt was a rhetoric of fear; it’s the same kind of argument that software companies make against open source products.  The idea is that if you pay lots of money, you automatically get a better product and more support. But, then, as a lobbyist, Schroder’s job is to discourage the state from going down the path of open education resources, so his rhetoric is not surprising but a bit disappointing.   A quick check of Pearson’s 2007 financial highlights (pdf) shows a 1.2 billion dollar operating profit with some 4oo million dollars coming from their K-12 sector.  I think they could still make a profit and put some of that money into more public-minded partnerships with open education foundations. Continue reading Watching the World Change In Front of My Eyes

My “Best of NECC” Post

I know I’m late on this but I spent the weekend getting caught up on my real life and doing some prep for this week.  But, I wanted to highlight some of the things I learned at NECC.  NECC is always overwhelming for me and all the digital stuff (blogs, wikis, flickr, twitter, etc.) really just make it worse.  Too much noise.  So, my strategy this year was to pre-register for sessions and to volunteer, both in an attempt to make NECC smaller and more manageable.  It turned out to be a good strategy…I didn’t have to worry about getting a seat and I had a chance to really connect with new people. I found the poster sessions at which I volunteered on Monday morning terrific. The presenters were all HP grant winners, and their enthusiasm about their students ‘ learning was intoxicating! Real teachers, real students, real stories with some excellent action research to show that their students had not only been engaged but learned something as well.

At the last minute, I ended up doing two hands-on workshops to fill in for another presenter. While it took away from some of my own time at NECC, I found the experience quite enlightening and encouraging. Both the sessions focused on a tool and its connection to content. In my hurry to pull together the sessions, I focused on the tool with less concern about the content. (In my defense, one workshop had participants making videos in just three hours so I was a little worried about getting it done.) What I am pleased about was the excellent feedback I got from the participants. Most were happy with the experience, but several reminded me that there had been content and that was really why they came with their interest in the tool being a secondary concern. Good for them! I certainly agree and was reminded of how easy it is for techies like me to fall into the tool trap, forgetting that we are dealing with educators. If I have a criticism of NECC, it sometimes seems to be more generally focused on technology tools rather than how teachers might make effective use of them in their classrooms.  Maybe that’s the point of a tech conference, but for those of us who have to go back to K-12 teachers, the difference between twitter and plurk are probably not that important.

The best session I attended was the Technology Leadership Forum. Its focus was on emerging technologies but most of the speakers were from school divisions that had adopted the technologies so they could talk about how the tools intersected with teaching and learning. I was particularly intrigued by Camilla Gagliolo’s presentation on using Nintendo DS2s in the elementary school.  I’m not a gamer but may have to invest in one of these as they have curriculum related software and some potentially powerful applications.  (OK, see how easy it is to slip into the tools discussion!)

The keynoter for the forum was Richard Baraniuk, Rice University, talking about The Future of Open Courseware.  This is a topic close to my own heart since I sit on the Board of Directors of the Virginia Open Education Foundation (VOEF), begun by Mark Burnet, who is even more passionate about it than I am.  Rich began Connexions, an open courseware compendium.  It’s an amazing collection of online materials, mostly written in the form of textbooks.  They can, if you like, be printed and bound, for the cost of about $20!  It’s an amazing example of collaboration, and I found myself babbling to him about our Virginia project.   I sat on a Joint Commission on Technology and Science Committee last year where we discussed the possibilities of open source textbooks and this year, the work continues with anyone who is interested encouraged to get involved.

VOEF has established a pilot site where we are collecting resources related to Virginia standards.  If you’re intrigued and would like to get involved, just send me an email and Mark and I would be happy to talk to you.