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Digital riches are not in little boxes

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Posted on 9th August 2009 by Judy Breck in Biography, Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Literature, Networks and Schools We Have Now

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classroomLaptops

In its front page article titled “As Classrooms Go Digital, Textbooks Are History,” the New York Times mentions in passing the fabulous opportunity to multiply the riches of education letting students access their subjects online. The reporter, Tamar Lewin, does a thorough job of hitting all of the key points from the traditional edu power players: the schools and the publishers. We learn that when classrooms go digital state standards are mapped and textbooks are online instead of printed. The school/publisher mindset is to serve up subjects in little boxes: standards, textbook chapters, curricula, etc. So, the challenge for the usual edu suspects has been to keep the stuff students use in those boxes while somehow making the tools youngsters use to access them digital.

The misfit here is that online knowledge resources are networks. When you put a piece of a network in a box, what you can learn from it shrivels. It is clipped away from its cognitive connections. We are left with kids who are connected on Facebook to dozens of friends and features — and for their “digital” study of a subject they are served up a little virtual box with a bit to learn in it that fits the standard of their grade and semester. Online networks of ideas are like critical thinking: they are in context and connect to related ideas. Here are a couple of samples; textbooks these are not; boxes they are not. They are networks:
Astronomy Picture of the Day
Trial of Zacarias Moussaoi
The Walt Whitman Archive

David Wiley writes about digital textbooks and new business models

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Posted on 8th July 2009 by Judy Breck in Open Content

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Professor David Wiley, leading innovator and advocate of open online learning, is writing terrific posts at Wired Campus as July guest blogger. His column today, “Digital Textbooks Call for New Business Models,” picks up on what I wrote earlier about the coming of free learning resources. Here is some from the Wiley vision:

In the online era, the competitive nature of educational materials has disappeared. While Selma is running calculations in the online chemistry laboratory, another million students can be using it too; while Nick is exploring genetics in the online simulator, another million students can too. It’s just like when you read the news on CNN.com while a million other people do. An online educational resource is different from a physical educational resource because every student on the campus can use the same online resource at the same time. We don’t need to ask each and every student on the campus to buy a copy — though that’s what publishers of online textbooks ask students to do.

Science Commons video fundamentally important

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Posted on 17th December 2008 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Findability, Networks, Open Content and Uncategorized

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Science Commons is a project of the Creative Commons. Along with posting this video, project text overview, Making the Web Work for Science, explains:

Science Commons designs strategies and tools for faster, more efficient web-enabled scientific research. We identify unnecessary barriers to research, craft policy guidelines and legal agreements to lower those barriers, and develop technology to make research, data and materials easier to find and use.

Our goal is to speed the translation of data into discovery — unlocking the value of research so more people can benefit from the work scientists are doing.

Two kinds of open educational resources (OER)

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Posted on 15th November 2008 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression and Open Content

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The advent of the cloud has fundamentally changed the meaning of “open” content. Open used to mean opening doors to your content so that visitors could come in and use it. Open now means placing your content “out there” in the cloud where it is integrated into the global whole.

An example of the first kind of open content is when a university places a course, for example a syllabus and lectures on French history, on to university webpages — letting anyone online visit those pages to study its course materials.

An example of placing content into the cloud is for the French history professor to write a post on her blog with a new nugget of knowledge from her research into Napoleon — and then to publish that post. By publishing the post she releases it as a node into the open cloud where it can network with all the other Napoleon nodes out there.

For OER to be open in the cloud, it must be unbundled with its cognitive content linkable at the node level. I would bet my beret that the opening into the cloud, like the Napoleonic nodes example and their connected patterns, is the Waterloo of education assets held closely to the chest by academic institutions.

Image: The Emperor Napoleon in His Study at the Tuileries, Jacques-Louis David, National Gallery.

Science online and open begins to replace crazy old model

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Posted on 21st August 2008 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression, Emerging Online Knowledge, Networks and Open Content

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A Boston Globe article today by Carolyn Y. Johnson is headlined Out in the open: Some scientists sharing results. This is the unbundling of publishing down a path that ignores peer review. Once again, network laws that energize emergence are impelling this remarkably revolutionary trend. Like textbook print publishers, the peer review priests can do little but watch as their old model — now perceived as crazy (see below) — becomes obsolete.

[The young MIT biological engineer Barry] Canton is part of a peaceful insurgency in science that is beginning to pry open an endeavor that still communicates its cutting-edge discoveries in much the same way it has since Ben Franklin was experimenting with lightning. Papers are published in research journals after being reviewed by specialists to ensure that the methods and conclusions are sound, a process that can take many months.

“We’re a generation who expects all information is a Google search away,” Canton said. “Not only is it a Google search away, but it’s also released immediately. As soon as it happens, the video is up on YouTube and on all the blogs. The old model feels kind of crazy when you’re used to this instant information.”

Openness has always been an integral part of science, with scientists presenting findings in journals or at conferences. But the open-science movement, with many of its leaders in the Boston area, encourages scientists to share techniques and even their work long before they are ready to present results, when they are devising research questions, running experiments, and analyzing data. In such open forums, the wisdom of the crowd could offer the ultimate form of peer review. And scientific information, they say, should be available without the hefty subscription fees charged by most journals.

It is an attempt to bring the kind of revolutionary and disruptive change to the laboratory that the Internet has already wrought on the music and print media industries. The idea is that opening up science could speed discoveries, increase collaboration, and transform the field in unforeseen ways.

Via Joho the Blog

Whither education? A 3-part policy

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Posted on 12th June 2008 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

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suckling.jpgToday on the front page of the New York Times there are two stories about education: one about approaches various Democratic supporters are pushing; one about Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings’ campaign to preserve No Child Left Behind. There is nothing new for education proposed from either camp! The drawing of the baby suckling the mobile is on the same New York Times front page, with an article headlined: “So Young, and So Gadgeted.” While our toddlers grab onto their networked future lives, politicians bicker over their tinkering with the past sort of education.

If I were a candidate for office, this is what I would propose:

No more pencils, no textbooks, no more searching gobbledygook.

The policy that little rhyme sets out is 3 major steps, to be accomplished in 3 years. Too much too soon? I don’t think so. Let’s start at least talking about moving education into the future so it will be ready for babies the age of the one in the drawing. I propose that candidates for elective office support this 3-part Education Policy:

“No more pencils refers to the basic device a student uses to work with educational resources. The first major new education policy is to provide every student and every teacher with his or her own mobile device for interacting with the Net and, as support for the devices, to provide free wireless connectivity at all schools, libraries, and other learning environments. Children can use pencils to draw, and we will teach them handwriting. But the priority will be to get a mobile device into their hands to use for learning.

“No textbooks, is quite literal here. All educational resources will become digital and open online within three years. Printed textbooks will be removed from all schools from preschool through college. The purchase and use of printed resources of any kind will no longer be authorized or funded for educational systems. At first these materials will be replicated online for free, open access. Over time the open educational resources that are the core of the new learning will be improved to become network-native, taking advantage of network platform techniques for enhancing interfacing, connectivity, and context. They will all remain open and free to use for anyone connected to the Net.

No more searching gobbledygook means the frustrations and misperceptions of searching quality materials online will be cleared away as education teaches itself how to implement findability and networked learning. I know that searching gobbledygook may seem like a strange phrase, but that is exactly why I used it. The online world—and discussions about it—have been pretty much gobbledgook so far as education is concerned since the Internet first came along. We need to understand and take advantage of the vast online knowledge resources our kids could be using, and to optimize them so they are finable in context.

The long tail graph can be both the students and their subject

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Posted on 23rd February 2008 by Judy Breck in Connective Expression and Networks

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longtailgraph.jpgGerrit Visser has posted a comment on Smart Mobs titled Approximating the Community Structure of the Long Tail. The post points to an analysis by Akshay Java on ebiquity which is the source of the graph shown above. The discussion in both posts looks at communities. Java explains:

Social Networks and Web graphs exhibit certain typical properties. The classic work by Barabási–Albert showed how nodes in such network link preferentially — popular nodes often gain disproportionately larger share of the links. This is also known in other fields as the 80/20 rule or simply the “rich get richer phenomenon“. Another early work by Steve Borgatti studied social networks and found that they exhibit a core-periphery property. A small set of (popular) nodes form the core and the rest comprise of the peripheral nodes.

A HUGE KEY to the new education of our connected world is that networks express long tails of BOTH students AND what they are learning! The community long tail is what the chart copied here from the ebiquity post is supposed to illustrate. The same chart illustrates the learning subject content long tail with equal veracity.

The content side of network behavior is at least as exciting for education as the community side. Something almost magical happens when an open network becomes the structure into which cognitive stuff is imbedded: the ideas act just like the communities of the students who seek to learn them. The idea content goes into 20/80 formations and exhibits the long tail—yeah, like the students do.

Just as there are some 20% of the students who learn 80% of the ideas, 20% of the ideas are about all that 80% of the students learn about a subject. Most kids studying American history learn about Washington, Jefferson, John Adams and Franklin—but only a scattered number have access to Paine, Knox, Sam Adams and Greene.longtailgraphrev.jpg

Here is a dirty big secret we are just beginning to understand: Education has been institutionally cutting off the long tail of content for decades. Standards are satisfied when students score well on 20% of ideas in a subject; the other 80% are not even included in standards. Textbooks do not have room for more than about the 20% of the main subject material. As students move through grades, they get to learn a higher percentage of their subjects, but the tail just gets a little longer each year.

Because content for learning that is open online is imbedded into a network, the ideas that form the content can and do interconnect cognitively and in context. A student can follow the network from George Washington to his generals Knox and Greene. The long tail of learning content is not cut off.

Harvard Crimson describes green light for academic publishing

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Posted on 14th February 2008 by Judy Breck in Open Content

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A story this week in The Harvard Crimson is headlined: Motion To Allow Free Online Access To All Harvard Articles details the move:

While its ways are sometimes criticized as opaque, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences took a big step towards openness yesterday, passing a motion that will allow Harvard to freely distribute scholarly articles produced by FAS professors.

The motion, which passed easily at yesterday’s Faculty meeting, grants Harvard a non-exclusive copyright over all articles produced by any current Faculty member, allowing for the creation of an online repository that would be “available to other services such as web harvesters, Google Scholar, and the like.”

Professors can still submit a written request to waive the application of the policy and maintain control of their copyright even if the policy is applied, allowing them to have the articles published in scholarly journals.

Robert Darnton ’60, director of the University library, emphasized the motion’s importance in opening up Harvard’s resources.

In a Crimson article last October 31st announcing Darton’s appointment as the new library director, he was quoted as wanting to “move into the world of digitized information” and to “shape the scholarly landscape in flux, and make it happen for the public good.” He emphasized at that time that “libraries are not ‘warehouses of printed paper,’ but ‘dynamic cultural centers.’” This article in the New York Times anticipated the vote.

PLOS toasts with Bartering Chimps and Banqueting Mice

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Posted on 10th February 2008 by Judy Breck in Open Content

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library_vert.jpgThe blog of the PLOS (Public Library of Science) has just celebrated a landmark: the publication of the 1,500th paper since they launched in December 2006. The blog post describing their remarkable progress is called Bartering Chimps and Banqueting Mice, based on the titles of two of 39 papers published in January 2008.

While speculation percolates on about open scientific publication, the PLOS has moved from pioneer to prover of the pudding.

Peer-review will now be reviewed by bloggers

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Posted on 23rd January 2008 by Judy Breck in Open Content and Uncategorized

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Since almost the earliest days of the Internet, education establishment voices have complained that open online education risked a pot full of faulty materials. They have routinely cautioned students against false online information and used this mistrust as a fundamental reason not to embrace the Internet in teaching and learning, or at least to do so skeptically.

Today a new project that launched online, BPR3 Bloggers for Peer-Reviewed Research Reporting, is a means for the pot to keep up with what is going on in the kettle, and to point it out when black smudge takes the shine off of the kettle. BPR2 identifies itself as: . . . the news blog for ResearchBlogging.org, which strives to identify serious academic blog posts about peer-reviewed research with an aggregation site where others can look to find the best academic blogging on the Net.

BPR3 is using the open Internet to review peer-review. Founder Dave Munger explains why it is being launched:

The system of peer review, the bulwark of academic publishing, has served scholars for centuries. The principle behind the system is simple: If experts in a field find a research report noteworthy, then that report deserves to be published.

But who is an “expert”? And who decides who the experts are? . . . .

A Wired Campus report on BPR3 says:

The idea, writes co-creator Dave Munger, is to allow researchers to learn about new peer-reviewed research without relying on press releases or news reports.

Each post itself is peer-reviewed — registered bloggers on ResearchBlogging.org can report post that don’t fall in line with the site’s guidelines.

This, evidently, is part of the growing effort to ease communication in the research community, à la Big Think.

It seems likely that good results will occur here, as so often when the best of analog and online learning work together. The pot and the kettle can will keep a virtual eye on each other.

Associate Press covers open courseware movement

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Posted on 30th December 2007 by Judy Breck in Open Content

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A report titled Internet Opens Elite Colleges to All by Associated Press education writer Justin Pope describes the open courseware movement. This AP story appears in this link to the New York Times and was carried this weekend by numerous other print and online publications. The scope that open courseware has achieved is described in this paragraph from the story:

“MIT’s initiative is the largest, but the trend is spreading. More than 100 universities worldwide, including Johns Hopkins, Tufts and Notre Dame, have joined MIT in a consortium of schools promoting their own open courseware. You no longer need a Princeton ID to hear the prominent guests who speak regularly on campus, just an Internet connection. This month, Yale announced it would make material from seven popular courses available online, with 30 more to follow. . . .”

Justin Pope does an excellent job of highlighting the impact of open courseware on different kinds of learners: college students, teachers, online learners outside of the United States (with crucial implications in developing countries) and self-learners. The facts and implications described in this report demonstrate that what was begun at MIT as an Internet experiment has morphed into a fundamental movement within 21st century education.

Plush toys and laptops

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Posted on 2nd May 2007 by Judy Breck in Open Content

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The fellows in the image are from a blog called The Art and Craft of Toy Design here. If you go to their webpage and play the YouTube video you can watch them interact with a laptop in a game for small children. The blog is based at the Parsons New School for Design. I found the link on the website I had just posted about Harry Potter’s toothbrush. Open educational resources online link to each other and form weblets of learning. Very cool stuff, especially when you run into Harry and plus lions and monkeys.

These proposals are echoes when we need ideas

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Posted on 25th April 2007 by Judy Breck in Mobile Learning and Open Content

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In a New York Times front-page story today titled Billionaires Start $60 Million Schools Effort we learn that the founders of SunAmerica and Microsoft are pumping millions from their billions into the 2008 elections to advocate these three echoes of every campaign in memory and farther back than that:

The project will not endorse candidates indeed, it is illegal to do so as a charitable group but will instead focus on three main areas: a call for stronger, more consistent curriculum standards nationwide; lengthening the school day and year; and improving teacher quality through merit pay and other measures.

It not exaggerating in the least to say that the above 3-plank education platform would sound perfectly appropriate for the elections of 1988, or 1948, or 1908. Yet times have changed as the 21st century has arrived. New ideas for education are needed and can work if we make that happen. Here are two ideas for giving our kids a chance to learn with the communication/connectivity tools of their time: using the Internets open education resources and putting knowledge and learning collaboration in students hands via mobile devices.

The beautiful blue yonder of digital education

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Posted on 9th February 2007 by Judy Breck in Subject Sampler

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The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Safety Topics page here is a marvelous, focused online mini-school for pilotsand it is free. Take online courses on topics for small plane pilots and general aviation subjects. Click into background webpages and related links. The informative modules are ideal for adaptation to mobile phones. This content network takes you into the beautiful blue yonder of digital education. Transportation Via Scout Report

The next perfect storm will hit education

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Posted on 26th October 2006 by Judy Breck in Schools We Have Now

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“Resistance is futile,” believes Richmond: although existing educational institutions are not generally embracing a digitally transformed future, “the educational sector will be dragged into the future kicking and screaming by the next perfect storm.”

The above statement by Todd Richmond is from his presentation on October 19th at the DIY [Do-It-Yourself] Media Seminar held at the Annenberg Center. You can read the report of the event here. What Richmond is say is that the same chaos that blew away the infrastructure of the music business is about to hit education. My favorite bit from the article is this idea:

The precipitating phenomenon that could turn open educational resources into a detonator of change would be the advent of digital learning objects that go viral, the “holy grail” of DIY media production; Richmond cited the Chinese Backstreet Boys video, viewed one and a quarter million times on Youtube, as an example of “going viral.”

Why not Do It Yourself to make a bunsen burner experiment for the mobile screen that is so cool it goes viral? That’s going to happen, and education ain’t never going to be the same. And that is a beautiful thing.