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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