Thursday, September 20, 2007

A quick and dirty PLE demo

So whats been cooking in Manchester? We've been making a prototype personal learning environment with a some interesting features. (We being Ian Bell, Greg Bouteiller, Mathieu Perrin, Eric Raffin, Ashish Ughade and myself.)

Now I and some of the above are looking for funding to transform this prototype into a production quality product. This could be from a grant awarding body, in which case what you see here surfaces as open source software in a year's time. But we aren't OSS proud, hey, make any suggestion. With what we (and our friends know) a savvy web company could clean up in the educational market.

And what you see here is just the tip of the iceberg folks! We have a whole bunch of ideas to support very large populations of registered users, to help develop students' metacognitive skills, and so on.

Warning, what you do see below is PROTOTYPE and this is visible to any astute observer. But it's certainly good enough to be proof of concept and for small group use now. And somehow after a few months work, we realise how little we like FLEX and RIAs, the interface will be going back to good old HTML, CSS, Javascript and AJAX with a dash of Flash for editor implementation.

Here are three five minute screencasts demoing the PLE; unscripted and single-take after a day long struggle in getting hold of reasonable quality screencasting technology. So, please forgive any imperfections, and look past them to the system itself:
  • Part 1 where I talk about the background to PLE, and show some of the social networking facilities in the prototype: Individual profiles, friendship, communities, manipulating community membership. Pretty standard stuff these days.

  • Part 2 where simple searches are illustrated, for communities in this case, but we could also search for users. Search facilities so far are pretty basic, but enable navigation around the social network of users and communities. Then this screencast moves on to constructing a learning plan, shows how linked resources can be incorporated into the learning plan.

  • Part 3 Shows how learning plans can be transformed by one or more users into representations of what they are learning. Learning plans and their transformation into media rich expressions of learning fit well with HEFCE's emphasis on the use of a diversity of media for learning purposes. Together with social networking facilities, learning plans and their transformations constitute the core of the PLE. They also fit well with the education 3.0 approach discussed elsewhere in this blog, particularly when ideas of the use of open educational content are paired with a PLE like this.
And if you are a funder with moolah, spondulicks, Russian oil rubles, folding money, or just plain cash to burn please send me an email. Just google my name and you will find an address.

Thanks! Enjoy!

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Liberating biotechnology: Watch this video

I chanced on A LAMP Stack For The Life Sciences. "What's this?" I thought, "Surely a non-problem, a LAMP stack is well known" (its an open source computer science thing that underpins much of the Internet) "Why is there a video on it?" So clicking on I found a marvelous Google Tech Talk by Richard Jefferson of CAMBIA on biological innovation for open society.

CAMBIA's mission is thus
"CAMBIA is an independent, international non-profit institute. For more than a decade, CAMBIA has been creating new technologies, tools and paradigms to foster collaboration and life-sciences enabled innovation. These tools are designed to enable disadvantaged communities and developing countries to meet their own challenges in food security, health, and natural resource management."
Jefferson maintains that if you really want to change the world its identify a method that allows others to do things. And this is what his talk boils down to (with excuses for gross simplifications):
  • Change the biological innovation system by working around the patent system with open licences.
  • Provide tools for people to use in their own situations; thus, e.g., empower ordinary farmers by giving them plants which provide a soil constituent analysis, e.g. leaf tips turn orange if there is less than a certain level of nitrogen in the soil, enabling the farmers to then decide what to do, take out a loan to buy urea or plant plants to increase the nitrogen levels in the soil.
OK, there is a mass of interesting stuff there but suffice it, in the interests of saving me time writing this to just quote Jefferson's abstract from the video:
"It is commonplace to regard health crises, sickness, malnutrition, famine and natural resource collapse as overwhelming problems of our world, typically associated with poverty. Rather, they are symptoms of a more fundamental failing in how we deal with the world, and to whom we give the tools to engage. Four billion poor people are not just a problem, they are world's greatest resource for problem solving. What we lack are the norms, the tools and the mechanisms to harness and empower their commitment, their drive, their local knowledge and their creativity. But this is within our grasp. In this presentation, I will outline the real origins of Open Source - not the recent phenomenon in software development, but the very foundation of all of civilization: plant and animal domestication and breeding. Virtually every key element of productive, economically savvy Open Source innovation was developed and presaged by millenia of plant breeders and farmers who created the wealth upon which society is based. The engine room of civilization has been agriculture, but the fuel has been shared innovation. The problem is not solely multinational corporations gaming the patent system and the associated business practices. It is also the failure of public sector to engage creatively with their responsibilities. I will describe how the patent system has evolved (if indeed we can grace such an accretion of carbuncles with that glorious biological process) and how business practices and models are groaning under the weight of its excesses. I will also describe the enormous potential of modern informatics to parse and integrate this information so that anyone can understand and appreciate the landscape upon which innovation must operate, and can guide new business models that use shared and accessible tools to create myriad applications, products and services."
Watch it, or even, just run it in a background video.... it's truly fascinating.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Education 3.0

Education 3.0 is an interesting approach that views Web 2.0 as an enabling technology for change in HE. While the approach has no particular name in the UK or Europe, it has been labeled Education 3.0 in South Africa. The material below is in part about the approach at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town; my one-time home town.

The material itself is drawn from an upcoming report on Web 2.0 and Higher Education by Tom Franklin and myself. The report, for the Observatory for Borderless Higher Education builds, with JISC's kind permission, on our earlier Web 2.0 report for JISC. The new report will be published on OBHE's site early next week. Ostensibly the new report is only available by subscription, but there is a ten day trial access scheme that will enable non-subscribers to reach the report. Alternately your institution may already be a subscriber.

From here on is a quote from the draft report. Numbers from 118 onwards refer to footnotes in the report; these are reproduced at the end of this post.

We have examined how Web 2.0 can be used to support learning and teaching within the current higher education system, here we briefly look at a more radical view that Web 2.0 technologies will enable a radical transformation in the nature of higher education itself. In "The genesis and emergence of Education 3.0 in higher education and its potential for Africa" 118 Derek Keats and Philip Schmidt of the University of the Western Cape (UWC), South Africa, explore how developments in social networking and technology, and developments in legal and economic understanding may lead to change in educational institutions. Characterising three stages of education they describe:

  • Education 1.0 as being in a didactic style,
  • Education 2.0 as Education 1.0 enhanced by use of Web 2.0 technologies.
  • Education 3.0 as "characterized by rich, cross-institutional, cross-cultural educational opportunities within which the learners themselves play a key role as creators of knowledge artefacts that are shared, and where social networking and social benefits outside the immediate scope of activity play a strong role. The distinction between artefacts, people and process becomes blurred, as do distinctions of space and time. Institutional arrangements, including policies and strategies, change to meet the challenges of opportunities presented. Education 3.0 as used here embraces many of the concepts referred to by Downes (2005)119 in his concept of e-learning 2.0, but complements them with an emphasis on learning and teaching processes with a focus on institutional changes that accompany the breakdown of boundaries (between teachers and students, higher education institutions, and disciplines)."

These concepts are widespread. In Europe there is a groundswell of interest in whether Web 2.0 will act as either a transformative or an enabling force in changing universities by blurring the boundaries between individual universities, by blurring the boundaries between higher education and open education, by giving rise to the need for other qualification awarding bodies at HE levels, and by changing learning and teaching practice. For example, there may well be a future role for third-party accreditation organisations awarding qualifications to individuals for learning based around open content educational materials and individual contributions centred around that material.120 At least in the UK, there is also a strong opinion that there is too much capital invested in universities and too much societal dependence on the degree awarding function of universities, and that the large amounts of useful research performed in universities for Education 3.0 to significantly affect how universities function in relation to each other and to society in general. In this view, adjustment to Web 2.0 and the increased co-operation between students that it enables may simply consist of working out how the concept of individual assessment and award of degrees on (mostly) individual work can be reconciled with increased student co-operation and group work.

However in the less developed countries there may be strong reason to change HEI models, coupled with less societal inertia. In this context and in relation to Education 3.0 Keats and Schmidt discuss challenges to HE in Africa. These include skill shortages that lead to lack of critical mass in different subjects in individual institutions. The authors point to web connectivity and Education 3.0 as being able to address this challenge. However the authors also point to lack of funding that affects computing facilities and available bandwidth. We note that there are, in South Africa at least, efforts to reduce the high cost of bandwidth. Keats and Schmidt discuss free open source software as part of the solution to high costs. While Keats and Schmidt note that UWC is not at a stage to address Education 3.0, there are various UWC initiatives that could lead to the establishment of UWC as a Education 3.0 institution. These include:

  • The development of open source software for educational purposes via the UWC established African Virtual Open Initiatives and Resources (AVOIR) project 121 and the Free Software Innovation Unit (FSIU) 122. AVOIR received ZAR3.7M of funding from International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in 2004 123. AVOIR has a variety of other African universities participating in the project 124 as well as participants iAfghanistan, India and Philippines.
  • The Free Content and Free and Open Courseware Project 125 currently being established inside UWC.
  • The Rip-Mix-Learn Research Group that considers both educational experience and assessment in higher education courses which make extensive use of open educational resources, and in which students create significant parts of the course content themselves. The interdisciplinary group focuses on five UWC courses which use a range of technologies and tools, including podcasting, on-line discussion forums, and peer assessment.
  • Collaboration in the NetTel@Africa programme, where "The overall goal of the NetTel@Africa is to make the provision of ICT more efficient and ubiquitous to the citizens of targeted countries. Achievement of the goal will require improved policy and regulatory reform and increased private sector investment in ICT (telecommunications sector)." 126
  • Action under an HP Digital Publishing Grant127 to promote the use of digital materials for learning, including the use of wikis for the development of wiki books by students. The HP grant includes membership of the Chameleon Federation 128 which is dedicated to using digital publishing to improve education. The federation is composed of HP and 24 participating universities in Australia, Brazil, China, France, Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Singapore, South Africa, Switzerland, Russia, the UK, and the USA.


118 Keats, D., and Schmidt, P. (5 March 2007 ) "The genesis and emergence of Education 3.0 in higher education and its potential for Africa", Vol 12 No 3, First Monday. URL: Last accessed 1 August 2007. We would like to thank Derek Keats for referring us to this article, and Philip Schmidt for commenting on our interpretation of the article and associated research.

119 Also referred to elsewhere in this report: Downes, S. (17 October 2005) "E-learning 2.0", eLearn Magazine, ACM. URL: Last accessed 1 August 2007

120 One author (van Harmelen) had a conversation in May 2007 with Patrick McAndrew, Director of Research and Evaluation for the Open University’s Open Content Initiative, with both agreeing on the possibility of a third party organisation awarding certificates based on a learner reading open content and posting contributions on a blog centred around that material.

121 African Virtual Open Initiatives and Resources. URL: Last accessed 1 August 2007.

122 The Free Software Innovation Unit, University of the Western Cape, South Africa.
URL: Last accessed 1 August 2007.

123 International Development Research Centre. URL: Last accessed 1 August 2007.

124 “Other universities participating in the project are the University of Jos (Nigeria), Universite Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar (Senegal), Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Kenya), University of Nairobi (Kenya), Makerere University (Uganda), University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Catholic University of Mozambique (Mozambique) and The University of Eduardo Modlane (Mozambique). In addition, a number of other universities are collaborating with the AVOIR project through other means of support, including the University of Ghana Legon (Ghana), the University of Port Elizabeth and Peninsula Technikon (South Africa)." Tectonic (25 October 2004) "UWC gets R3,7million for free software development", URL: Last accessed 1 August 2007.

125 The Free Content and Free and Open Courseware Project , University of the Western Cape, South Africa. URL: Last accessed 1 August 2007. We are told that this site is currently being redesigned and all existing content will be reposted during August 2007.

126 NetTel Africa. URL: Last accessed 1 August 2007.

127 Witkin L., and Vanides J., "Digital Publishing boosts higher education", Hewlett Packard. URL: Last accessed 1 Aug 2007.

128 Chameleon Federation. URL: Last accessed 1 August 2007.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Using social software in education

Some time ago I uploaded a couple of sets of slides to slideshare. I looked back at them today and still like them, so I'm also posting them here. The presentations can be seen full screen and/or downloaded via slideshare.

The first for a presentation in connection with a study written by Tom Franklin and myself, for JISC on Web 2.0 in Higher Education. You can also obtain our report. An updated version or the report will shortly appear on the OBHE site (more details on this blog in a later post).

The second set of slides was a talk I gave at a recent Mimas conference:


Monday, August 13, 2007

Reviving this blog

This should not appear in Emerge's Elgg... sorry if it does, my feeds are messed up!

I've been quiet for a while and this blog was dead, even though I saw a steady trickle of visitors via the stat counters, something which continually amazed me.

But I will resume posting, probably in a shorter more slapdash styleee...

And probably mixing my life and my technical interests up a bit more than before.

Coming soon too a new look, less of this techie black!

Importing from my blog to Elgg

Thanks to Scott Wilson, I learned a little Elgg trick which will enable imports of posts from my non-Elgg blog to Elgg.

The trick, which should really be more widely known:
1. login to Elgg
2. go to your profile
3. click on resources under your photo on your profile page
4. click on Feeds on the lhs side of the page
4. add the address of an RSS or an Atom feed for your blog (see notes 1 and particularly 2 below)
6 click on Publish to Blog (next to the Feeds you clicked)
7. tick the checkbox next to your newly added feed, and add a tag for Elgg to tag your incoming posts with, then click the update button.
[ Added: Hmm :-( seems update has to be pressed after making a
post on the foreign blog, probably each time an import is needed ]

Thats it! Thanks Scott!

Note 1: Don't know what RSS and Atom are? Try this little video.
Note 2: It probably is a good idea to only import posts pertinent to Emerge. I am using a feed for posts in my blog which I tag as emerge. That way you wont get an entry about Tony Wilson, should I make one.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Some usability references from a course on interactive system design

I'm just about to start teaching a course that I teach at the University of Manchester each year (alas for the last time this year due to various internal factors). It's a course on participatory interactive system design that uses a largely experential learning approach.

Each year we choose an interactive system to design, and mostly run the course as a design exercise dealing with all the contingencies of real world design. This year I've made the choice, we are going to be exploring an educational/community support system. More about this later.

There are some other activities to accompany the experiential learning component, and this year, as part of some pre-course warm exercises, I asked the students to bookmark references that they found pertaining to usability.

Today I looked at the result, about three hundred bookmarks in From about 36 students. Weyhey! Go students go!

I'm of course making some last minute preparations, so no time to talk more about the course. But I will return to it in future posts, under the tags appearing below. (One of these days I must get my tags into the sidebar here, maybe this will be impetus...)

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Friday, January 19, 2007

Seven sites in seven days 8-14 Jan 07

Some silence has ensued, mostly because I've had my head in strategy and tactics for online community development. One of the slides I produced (with a small modification suggested by my friend and colleague Tom Franklin) appears above. Because of this community focus, I'm devoting almost all of this week's seven sites to Communities of Practice (CoP) material.

  1. CPsquare is the CoP for CoP facilitators, theorists, and practitioners. One of the useful pages is "The reification of our practice: our resource base", with links to various articles on practice. Some of the remaining links on this page come from this resource base.

  2. Weaving Together Online and Face-To-Face Learning: A Design From A Communities Of Practice Perspective describes heuristics (here meaning common experiences) of particpants in mixed mode online and F2F learning communities / CoPs.

    The abstract reads "Weaving together online and face-to-face learning improves the quality of working in both media. Based on the observations of nine different experiments that went through a similar process of weaving together these two media we share our observations of outcomes and an evolving design framework from a community of practice perspective. Arguing that weaving participation using different media in succession is different from blended or hybrid learning, we suggest that careful design of an online ramp-up can make a face-to-face event more potent, and the subsequent online collaboration more productive. Key elements of this design process are inclusion, interaction, and social structure designed for the negotiation of meaning. We offer heuristics that help trace the threads from first online contact to the development of productive relationships at later phases in an emerging community of practice."

  3. Continuing the on-lin off-line theme, phase change occurs in the transition between on-line and off-line meetings by CoP members. One group of CoP practitioners made notes of various kinds (text, including a poem, drawings, images) on the phase change they experienced, and the growth that is enabled by the phase change. Chapter 3 deals with the synergistic effect of phase change.

  4. The Foundations of Community of Practice Workshop Final Handbook (from 2004). A participant course handbook for the training supplied by Etienne Wenger and CPsquare colleagues. A good start for anyone thinking of doing some CoP training themselves.

  5. I like the how to guide provided by Teasing "readers" of an online forum to communicate.

  6. Anyone interested in cross cultural CoPs might turn to Cultural Crossings: Using Stories to Inform Your Learning Journey. As a taster, the authors provide ten strategies useful (or, perhaps, essential) for building cross-cultural CoPs. They are:
    • Common goals and commitment
    • Communication protocols
    • Learning about self
    • Importance of emotions
    • Cultural brokers
    • Feedback
    • Resolving conflicts and misunderstandings
    • Surfacing and owning assumptions
    • Respect and openness
    • Importance of trust
    The authors recommend that "Successfully applying these strategies ... will help people build trust, which is the bedrock of deep, sustained relationships."

  7. So I've dried up on the CoP bookmarks. "That's only six links" you say. True, so how about a quick link to Applied Empathy: A Design Framework for Meeting Human Needs and Desires. Sounds good, huh? And it generally is an interesting take on a Maslow-like hierarchy of needs (Participation /Engagement /Productivity /Happiness /Well-Being) that might be fulfilled in product design. I can't say that I fully mesh with the vacuum cleaner as exemplar in a hierarchy of fulfilled needs, which makes me think that, as applied, the hierarchy is not a hierarchy per se, but rather a list of categories where a product may be ranked as to how it contributes to particular categories. If we were dealing with a hierarchy, I think that there may be rather different products that hit my well-being spot. How about a fully functioning National Health Service that runs with BUPA-like efficiency? Ahh, dream on...
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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Seven sites in seven days 1-7 Jan 07

Best of my week's bookmarking on e-learning, social networking, web, and techie stuff. This week I focus on ICT for the developing world; the field of Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D).

Actually, I bookmarked some of these links at other times, but hey, you're not paying for this service are you?
  1. May as well kick off with a biggie, The United Nations development Programme's Information and Communications Technology For Development.

  2.'s "Real Access criteria are used to frame the analysis of all issues surrounding ICT access and use, including the 'soft' aspects that are often overlooked. They are designed to anticipate or detect the reasons that ICT development initiatives, government e-strategies, or grassroots projects fail to achieve their goals or highlight how and why these projects succeed.

    There are twelve inter-related Real Access criteria that can be used to improve the way that ICT-based development policies and initiatives are planned, researched, monitored and evaluated. Each criterion is set out below, with a short description and a set of example questions that can help frame thinking about how to apply it to ICT projects and policies."

    These criteria are:

    • Appropriateness of technology
    • Affordability of technology and technology use
    • Human capacity and training
    • Locally relevant content, applications, and services
    • Integration into daily routines
    • Socio-cultural factors
    • Trust in technology
    • Local economic environment
    • Macro-economic environment
    • Legal and regulatory framework
    • Political will and public support

    Besides looking in depth at these criteria, I also recommend checking out the 12 Habits of Highly Effective ICT-Enabled Development Initiatives.

  3. I notice that here and here that has also done some consultancy for my home city, Cape Town. In fact, further browsing reveals that they are based in Cape Town and Kampala.

    Indicative of some of the scale of the South African problem: Shanty town on fire, Langa, Cape Town. Image Victor Geere, CC licence here.

  4. Still on the Cape Town connection, the University of the Western Cape is well set on open source software for technological infrastructure UWC has developed KEWL.NextGen, an open source LMS. I look forward to the UWC moving to brower based PLEs to complement KEWL!

    appears to be the umbrella FOSS site at UWC, and there is a related FOSS product kGroups as indicated here:
    "This collaborative workspace (also known as KGroups) is an implementation of the KINKY application framework that was developed to build KEWL.NextGen. KINKY, kGroups and KEWL.NextGen are Free Software (Open Source) and available under the GNU General Public License."

  5. Anyone interested in ICT4D will ponder the role of communications in ICT solutions. UWC's Centre of Excellence for IP and Internet Computing has a Broadband Applications and Networks Group (see via the sidebar menu) that takes an interesting approach of semi-synchronous communications. They write:

    "We work with multi-modal semi-synchronous communications. Multi-modal means that communication consists of multiple modalities, e.g. text, voice and video. Semi-synchronous means that communication occurs in real-time (synchronous), store-and-forward (asynchronous) or anywhere in between (semi-synchronous). Instant Messaging is a good example of an application that has many of these features. |

    We are interested in all these forms of communication because they appear ideally suited to bridging digital divide gaps where there is a large variation amongst power provision, networks, end-user equipment, communication and temporal modalities, and human computer interfaces BANG research explores how to build communication infrastructure that enables, and even automates, communication across such a wide variety of issues." has done some work with students in BANG, here.

  6. I found an interesting tool for those interested in Africa here, one that uses a novel user interface to access large amounts of information. Choose a country in the right-hand sidebar, and a theme such as national ICT strategies, or telecommunications in the left-hand sidebar, and be presented with a well selected list of links and short descriptions sorted by area, e.g. analysis, legislation, presentations. The link above is for Kenyan telecommunications.

  7. I'm not sure about the One Laptop Per Child initiative, considering the infrastructural issues, or the amount of work needed to remove infrastructural issues. Nonetheless, I think that the project will at the very least push forward the boundaries considerably, and I hope that Negroponte and colleagues succeed in every way. Here's a piece on the current state of the prototype. Interesting hardware. I want to see a similar One Handheld Per Child initiative one of these days.

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Another year, another PLE page

As we roll into 2007 (duh, wake up Mark, we are in 2007 already), I've made a new page for a new year in my PLE wiki pages. The first person to feature on the 2007 page is.... (hey, click the link to find out, I'm not doing it all for you :-D )

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