Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

Richard Baraniuk on open-source learning (the thought behind my evokation)

"Rice University professor Richard Baraniuk explains the vision behind Connexions, his open-source, online education system. It cuts out the textbook, allowing teachers to share and modify course materials freely, anywhere in the world."

Without rehashing the thoughts I put down in a previous blog, "Make it inexpensive", this is the wave I want to catch. Having worked a bunch of years in libraries, I appreciate the challenge of getting the right bit of knowledge to the right person at the right time. Collaborations like Connexions, MIT's OpenCourseware, iTunesU, Appropedia (for appropriate, sustainable technologies), and others provide an incredible resource for helping expand education to the many.

But the barrier to entry remains the skills needed to access the information, a****s its value, and formulate an educational program from it. It is the old time library patron walking in, staring at endless drawers of card catalogs, and not knowing where to begin. How many people come to the door, but don't enter. Let's open the door and invite them in.

In my evokation (and yours if you want to collaborate), I'd want to provide a space where open source educational materials can be aggregated and evaluated and organized into suggested programs of study. (On the technical side, each course/lesson/homework would be treated as an object that would have both curricular and user feedback traits allowing appropriate materials to bubble into programs of study and rise or fall with user feedback).

I know, it sounds ... boring. A mother or father surfs in to get supplemental algebra help for their child in a British Curriculum. At that is boring, useful, but boring; however, we as parents or educators can accept the cost.

Yet, we could do more. What if we had a kids section with programs of study that may be more appropriate to them ... My younger daughter wants to be a princess when she grows up. Why not? Program of study - history of nobility, heraldry, history of fashion, etc. Or if she changes her mind and wants to become a pirate ... history of pirates, sailing ships, fencing, how to train a parrot, etc.

In grad school, a great teacher of mine took me under her wing and one of the first things she did was give me a reading list to make sure I knew enough of the right sorts of things. (If you ever want to talk about theater and playwriting, you can see if it took).

Wouldn't it be remarkable, if we could put the right sorts of reading lists and video lists and audiio lists and computer simulation lists into the hands of children and adults worldwide? What do you think? Are you interested? Want to collaborate? Want to mentor? Want to just cheer us on?


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Comment by NickDutch on March 24, 2010 at 9:45am
Some changes are already about to be implemented with the dawn of the new web that is to be context driven, the thing to do is to make sure that you use that technology to inspire people.
Comment by Peggie Scott on March 24, 2010 at 2:47pm
I am more than happy to be in the cheering section. Here, in Liberia, your concept could be a huge help and resource to teachers and schools - if they had computers and reliable Internet access. We will be using good old books for a while and, hopefully, when we're ready for you, you'll be ready for us.
Comment by Mark Mulkerin on March 24, 2010 at 3:20pm
@Peggie I certainly take your point. Living in Singapore, I've made friends with a fair number of domestic workers from the Philippines and access to the internet presumes you even have electricity in the home which is the exception for many, not the rule. That said, I guess I'd ask how those sorts of resources would be useful in your context or what infrastructure would need to be in place to make use of it? I suppose the other question is that assuming the good old books are meeting some educational need, what are the areas in which it isn't fully serving your community? I appreciate your thoughts.
Comment by Greg Stevenson on March 24, 2010 at 6:56pm
The following is a letter I sent to our recently elected Prime Minister. I have been sending it to political leaders in New Zealand for the last dozen years.

Congratulations on your decisive win.

Interestingly enough the weekend after sending you some advice (below) on how to improve the education system I get the attached MOE tender doc**ent in my GETS inbox.


Looks like the labour led government had already been doing some thinking on the subject. (Only nine years after I originally submitted this to all political leaders in 1999 – things move slowly in this country)

The Key things (no pun intended) that need to be added to the Learning Management System Project as attached is.
1. To make it compulsory for all registered teachers to submit to it as part of their continued registration requirements.
2. Attach GNU licensing to submissions.
3. Provide peer review rating systems for submissions.
4. Provide Training workshops especially to older teachers.
5. Implement a system of paid sabbatical leave for teachers to work from home to essentially do the meta tagging for such a system to work.

Improving New Zealand’s Education System

The following are my thoughts on how NZ can improve their Education System and how NZ Government can put more substance to the policy shift to a "Knowledge Based Economy".

My ideas are based almost entirely on what is proving to be the most successful business development model the Information Technology sector has ever experienced. Its catch phrase often called "Open Source". It is the principal behind how a Computer Operating System called "Linux" has become capable of going head to head with a Microsoft's Windows operating system. It is very much a "David & Goliath" story.

The principle is that individuals give away the best of their efforts with the common end of improving a system.

I believe this principle can be used to dramatically improve many systems, but that the Education system lends itself well to the idea. The key reasons for this are that (most) Teachers regard their job as a Vocation and that the premise behind "Education" is, the transfer of knowledge.

As a lead to how to improve the transfer of knowledge I present these assumptions

1. "Teachers" are NZ's Education Systems biggest resource.
2. Computers are an effective Education Tool.
3. An individual Teacher cannot be an expert at everything.
4. Virtually every NZ School has Internet access to some degree.

A practical system of implementing the principle of "Open Source" would be.

1. Create a resource using Current Computer and Internet Technology. This would consist of developing a (or improving an existing eg. http://www.cwa.co.nz/eduweb/index.html) single Internet based Web Site containing a database. It should be structured to be a representation of the current school Curriculum from pre-school to end of secondary school. eg. Geography topics divided by year 0 (preschool) to year 12 (7th Form). The site would have read access by anyone and a structured write access by registered teachers.

2. Make it compulsory for every registered Teacher to take an approved one day training course on the principle of "Open Source" and the practical aspect of writing and retrieving information from the database.

3. Make it compulsory to publish to this database, at least one Lesson Plan per teacher. The copyright to this lesson plan would be in line with the GNU copyright, which is that anyone can use the lesson plan as long as acknowledgment to the original Author remains intact.

4. Teachers could apply to take a one year paid sabbatical whereby they read submissions, a****s, and create abstracts where necessary and file all submissions appropriately in the database. Only one sabbatical per teacher.

5. An
Comment by Greg Stevenson on March 24, 2010 at 7:12pm
Opps seems like there is a limit to the length of comments
full entry here
Comment by ninmah on March 24, 2010 at 7:28pm
Mark -- I love this idea. Just in time references that kids can find, right when they want them. I'm definitely in the cheering section on this!
Comment by Jan Lampe on March 24, 2010 at 8:17pm
definitely a good idea, but without some sort of hardware it is not going to work... basically, your post answers to my thoughts about the advantages of cheap personal laptops in school:


without cheap content, the wh*** thing is pointless - great work, let me know what i could do.
Comment by Ian MIchael Bollinger on March 24, 2010 at 8:46pm
I love seeing Richard's ideas presented on EVOKE! Most of my professors wrote the books to their own cla**** anyway, why not have them supported by their respective academies with Connexions resources? Seems simple and economical enough; worst case scenario, the money students would be saving on not purchasing books could be shifted over into tuition costs or to cover any lab fees! Regardless, if there is a place for open source learning, or at least reformation of publication standards in the information age for that matter, to take root; than I can only hope its here.
Comment by Mark Mulkerin on March 24, 2010 at 10:41pm
@Greg I like it. Could a student feedback mechanism also be included to help highlight some of the best? Also, have you looked at the Creative Commons copyrights? A lot of the open source educational materials seems to be operating under that ...

@ Ninmah Thanks! Cheers are appreciated.

@ Michelle If you want to help out, great The challenge as I see it is getting the knowledge to your door in a form you can use it. If you'd be interested in working on the form you can use it side of things, that would be great. A lot of the material is arranged by teachers or technical people for teachers or technical people (nothing wrong with that), but our target community wouldn't be those who are already effectively served by those databases and sites. It would be folks like you and me. With that in mind, I'd love your thoughts on how you could see yourself using such a site for your son (or yourself) and maybe ask some friends/other parents how they'd use something like that. I'd hate to build it and have no one come.

@Jan No doubt. Adding the infrastructure to connect up unserved or underserved communities is needed. Any thoughts are useful, but given you are studying international econ and development, perhaps any thoughts on how some specific programs of study to help developing countries ...

@Ian Absolutely - if knowledge is power, why not make it the most abundant, cheapest form of power there is. And I suspect you are right, some one in the administration will find a way to charge more - perhaps a shiny new building to house the distance learning center ...
Comment by Greg Stevenson on March 24, 2010 at 11:27pm
@Mark When i wrote this, Creative Commons didn't exist. Hence the GNU licensing concept I mention would more appropriately fall into Creative Commons now. I think some of my subsequent lobbying of the government mentioned creative Commonsas I presented different variations on the same theme to various ministers opposition leaders etc. All getting the standard reply. Thank you for your input, I will be passing this on to the appropriate member of my staff. We all know what that means. :-) I have a draw full of those replies. Since the time of my orginal email there has been the following open source project gather momentum and a fork of it I have suggested as the basis of such a system. http://www.jumpbox.com/app/dspace or http://www.urgentevoke.com/video/open-source-repository-for
As for opening it up for students. I personally wouldn't. This is intended to have techniques of teaching that would include notes on simplification of concepts for less bright students, special considerations for lower socio-economic students, changes to adapt for cultural bias etc. It is to teach the teachers. Students having access and seeing the techniques of teaching specifically being used on them could conceivably get an inflated or deflated sense of self you would want to avoid.


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