Posts tagged: Open Source

WCLM – Westren Canada Lab Managers Meeting ’09

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By , May 25, 2009 10:03 am

Last week, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Western Canada Lab Managers Meeting, so while I have put this in with the other conferences, it is an odd fit. But as I was able to take away from the expererince some insight as to what others are doing with regards to their enterprise, it works as a conference for me. So what was this take away? Well first, I was happy to see that many Computing Science programs are starting to look seriously into mobile development – on the iPhone and on Android. I also like some of the ideas around virtualization. Some of the managers are looking into ways of virtualizing desktops to help green their operations and of course there is quite a bit of server virtualization. The challenge with desktops as opposed to servers is that on the desktop, you need to be able to handle discrete inputs and displays as desktops are not designed to be headless – something that makes server virtualization much easier. A number of departments are also going toward Linux, moving away from Windows only environments for their introductory labs.

What makes this interesting for me is that the mobile development is one of those items within the Horizon Reports that are suggested as trends and technologies to watch. I really doubt that the managers would have ever seen these reports, but I do like how “by hook or by crook”, the writing is on the wall for the exploration of mobile technologies. Linux and virtualization is another idea that is hinted at through these reports. It is refreshing to see how the reports and the activities in the field are lining up.

Ubuntu Studio

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By , April 25, 2009 9:25 pm

After finding this UbuntoStudio distro, a Linux switch might be even more of a viable fall back.

How (if barely) Moodle is Web2.0 and others are still 1.0

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By , April 3, 2009 8:04 pm

Today my takeaway idea came from two amazing keynotes and snack/lunch talks – that even though Moodle might be a packaged as a service by some corporation or a self hosted/supported service, there is one thing that will keep it separate from propriety LMSs. Moodle can be modified without having to worry about what the economic viability of that modification will be. This means things like language packs, can be rolled out because it is needed by a particular install, without having to worry about what the ROI across Moodle as a whole would/will be. Even in the enterprise, this is going to be the tipping feature for Moodle. So even though instructors may have no more “freedom” than they would under commercial systems, the back end admins have the freedom that they need. This is the important thing for instructors to realize.

This freedom for the back end admins will allow them to bring features to the instructors much faster. From typing into legacy systems to bringing in the latest and greatest web2.0 app, these changes can be made to the system core in Moodle rather than as cludges and hacks in commercial systems. This remixability makes Moodle simple and transparent (ala web2.0) as opposed to commercial systems that are complex and obfusticated (ala traditional education).

Huh?? Yeah… I mixed those up on purpose. Commercial LMSs seem to match the basic ethos of the traditional educational systems that we are working in now. Open Source LMSs are the remixable systems that are akin to what “we” hope educaton will become over time, whether it wants to be or not.

Well it’s Friday and time to turn the brain off…

Obama and his fruit

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By , January 22, 2009 7:03 pm

Well it seems that Obama will be able to keep his Blackberry, and now is wondering where the Macs are in the US government. It seems to me that in his new-found uber-celebrity, Obama, by merely indicating his preferences in an unsolicited fashion, preference for just about anything is the best advertising that a company could never pay for.

Much has been written about Obama’s tech savviness as well as that of his staff and supporters (Google), and to my eyes, it seems that news like this might bring about a new “director” of technology. What I think it might show is that the user is in the end the most important element of the equation.

PS3 Supercomputing

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By , December 23, 2008 7:37 am

Remember way back in 2003, when the PS2 was king? Back then a few folk got together and built a PS2 supercomputer. I don’t know if those systems went beyond a proof of concept, but there is now a PS3 cluster that has. The team has even been kind enough to put together a resource to describe how to roll your own.

Now all those PS3s that are going to be got for Christmas have a greater purpose.

2009 Predictions

By , December 18, 2008 4:51 pm

Whoa… 2008 saw me put up almost a thousand posts, not to shabby. But I think that would have been higher if I wasn’t able to tweet at least a few of the things that would have otherwise been given a one liner post. And as I see the calendar is almost ready to show 2009, it’s time to look forward to 2009 and look back at what I predicted at the start of 2008 (ok, late 2007) to see what I got right in my predictions. So first, the looking forward:

  • Rise of mobile data/3G in Canada – we see mobile data as being very important everywhere else on the planet and come 2009, we’ll be less than a year away from Vancouver 2010. This means that we’ll have all manner of international handsets roaming around on the various networks starting in 2009. To make them happy, Canada’s mobile data network and rates will have to improve. But at least our data speeds are not that bad right now. Having more players in the wireless market will certainly help as well. It also seems that the telcos are pricing SMS rates way too high and this is going to lead to people using generic data instead – IM or other means of chat.
  • A change in form factor preference – Everything seemed to be getting smaller and smaller all the time, hence the rise of the netbook. But it doesn’t look like netbooks are doing so well (especially with smartphones rising and pico projectors not far behind). I’m thinking that the iPhone is going to get some pretty cool accessories that will allow it to connect to all manner of additional devices.
  • Mobile UIs – Part of this change in form factor preference is going to be a marked improvement in the way that mobile UIs are constructed and the way that data is presented on a mobile screen. This is key to getting people away from thinking that they need to see everything on the small screen the same way that they do on the desktop. If this doesn’t happen and netbooks manage to get 3G modems and long battery life, this point might be mute. We might see an early example of this idea looking at how various SNS have “just enough info for the road” via their mobile portals, the trick is to do the same thing for the office/classroom.
  • Technology abandonment – I think we are going to see a drift away from little tech gadgets (aided by the economic situation) and a move toward more “appliance like” technologies – TVs that handle downloads, photos etc. With so many gadgets and UIs, people are only barely scratching the abilities that are available – though this is likely as not a reflection of just how many “features” get tacked onto a gadget. To go with this, there will likely be a trend in gadgets to better fit the broad spectrum of users as opposed to the early adopters. We saw a bit of this already with things like the Selphy printers.
  • Photo/Video convergence – With the Nikon D90 and the Canon 5DMkII there is even less to compromise between systems to create quality images, moving or not. Of course this does not mean that the average level of content produced is going to be any better, just that there are now fewer compromises. This new breed of devices is going to make broadband sharing even more important as people will find value in their relationships as opposed to their material wealth as a result of the economy (who am I joking?? It just sounded noble). As these files are also increasingly “ready to go” and disc is cheap and sharing easy, there will be an increase in personal story archiving.
  • Rise of mLearning and mobile linked services – Services like Evernote allow mobile devices to become sensors for less mobile or desktop devices, this setup allows people to capture their world and then bring it back for further reflection and processing. We already see quite a bit of this with the mobile versions of SNS. This will get rid of the “edit on small device” problem and as many of these services are already web based, they are likely to be cross platform. This will certainly help people get used to the idea and as acceptance spreads generally, it might find it’s way into classrooms as teachers start to think of mobile devices as collection and communication tools as opposed to annoying toys.
  • Net neutrality and Copyright – boring topics that will come to the floor as changes here will impact the “utility like” perception that many people have of their broadband connection as well as the feeling that they should be able to do within the walls of their home what they want with that which they pay for (EULA be damned!).
  • Microblogging going more mainstream and perhaps becoming the search jump point – I’m starting to think that the Semantic Web might turn out to be Web4.0 and not 3.0. I think the “realtime web” is going to be an important step between the semisolid web that we currently have in Web2.0 to the fully fluid, intelligent (knows before you do) web that some might argue that a semantic web might be. Some might call this Web2.5 as it is leveraging 2.0 technologies… but I think this is a definition that will only be seen years down the road. I can certainly see Google and others putting twitter or, more likely, identi.ca updates (tweets are not “creative commons” where as dents are) right underneath the sponsored results so that a searcher will be able to see just how relevant the results are to their original query. This will also make advertisers much more responsive to what the consumer needs are, maybe allowing Google to charge more for that slot.
  • “This is me” – hopefully via OpenID, but more likely under one of either Google Facebook’s systems, a single account system will become more widespread. You choose which provider you trust the most and keep all your account info there. I don’t mind having accounts scatterred everywhere, but every now and again, I feel that nagging… why do I have to create another account! I just want to see what there is here! If I’m feeling this, I’m sure there are many more folk… and a great number of them who are less tech savy/patient who are not using some of the really cool tools out there because they can’t be bothered with yet another account. I’m thinking the way to get this to abolutely boom is if a bank would start using this system. Granted you’ll then have a very vulnerable point of failure, but then again, if not the banks, who else out there is motivated to create some manner of “next to iron-clad” system to protect credentials. With this, I can see there being better ways to update the various SNS out there and to interact with them at the most basic level. The walled garden model of the SNS is fine as a means to contain specialized tools to manipulate information, but the inputting of the raw info (thinking status updates) should be much easier to do from a single point. Socialthing, Ping.fm and hellotxt are certainly a start along this path. This might end up being really important if there is a new “cooler” SNS that emerges and people are wanting to transition from one to another. Otherwise this will be a tools for those of us who have more than one place where we play.
  • The depression/recession/retrenchment – This is going to likely change things around as to how people think about upgrades  and on how fast companies update models – just look at what is happening to the auto industry. I think we might see the lowest replaceable unit return to something less than the entire machine for computer systems if the troubles continue. I know this is already the case – your Win/*nixtel box looses a power suppy and you can get another – but finding one that will fit a Dell/HP what have you might be a chore at your local computer shop. This is one idea… the other is that we might not see the same number of new models this year as the old models get blown out at bargin prices (ever dropping if deflation takes hold).

So lets see how I did from last year:

  • SNS (Ads, Buyout, search) – I kinda was right here. There were no buy outs (though there was certainly value given to Facebook and others)kinda, buyouts didn’t really happen, but Facebook was given a value. Social search, which I’m again thinking about didn’t really find a popular vector, but they may have now.
  • LMS changes – Blackboard did integrate a building block for Facebook, and with BB Connect, there has been some appreciation for the social element of student life online. Other systems likely have similar modules. BB has also started to look into a mobile friendly version for BB NextGen.
  • Technology literacy continuing to lag – I can’t really tell this as much any more, not being in the Faculty of Ed. But I can tell anecdotally that based on one course that has a representative sample of all Science disciplines that literacy is serviceable for most web services and for the creation of basic content, it actually is not too bad. But I wonder what the skills of those that didn’t make it to university are like. I’m betting it’s not as high. It also doesn’t help as schools (I’m looking your way Edmonton Public) are wasting money on SmartBoards rather than PD and projectors… model for students!
  • Technology fractionation – this seems to have happened as more niches to “drop in a gadget” have opened up. But at the same time, there are many more gadgets that have  been abandoned because they are “too hard” or they got set the first time and then forgotten (think about how many times one updates the photos on thier picture frame… and how often they even get turned on). The interesting example here seems to be the phone (which now refers to the cell and not the land line – those still exist!) where people seem to be looking for new features as they find a need for it. Some people grow into their phones, others find the basic talking stick and are happy.
  • HD media wars – Bluray won… what can I say? But what is really shocking is how fast prices for players have fallen below the PS3 and/or $200. Now, at least in my house, the only reason to buy the DVD is if it is going to be used at school. But even there, DVD players, disposable as they are will likely start to get replaced by BD players.
  • Net neutrality – Got this one, both Canada and the US saw this come up in the news as the “management of the network” vs the “management of the content” debate rages.
  • Blogging – Almost got this one. Not everyone started writing, but people certainly all started to dump all manner of bloggable content into  SNSs and microblogging via status update seems to have exploded quite nicely.
  • Canadian data rates – Well, it took most of the year, but they did come down and look to keep falling as new entrants come online. The only rates that didn’t fall are those for SMS (think twitter stopping SMS updates to Canada – I really hope Google doesn’t get stung by the rates such that they stop the service here as well).
  • Casual gaming – yup Wii was on top all year. Interesting games and an accessible interface makes up for technical specs as people happily bowl, golf and get fit with the little white box.

So for education… what does this mean? Maybe the Wii will see it’s way into more schools as other institutions bring it online for therapy, personal archiving will help the push for more digital storytelling as the tools to create these stories become far easier to use (though we are still saddled with the problem of assessment). The stories around net neutrality and copyright will find their way into schools – who are very controlling of their networks (rightly or wrongly) and where copyright is already a muddied topic. People will also become annoyed when their children have timelines imposed by “the law” on content that they download from school… this is likely going to deter more teachers and instructors from doing anything online as it won’t be worth the legal hassle and depending on the content/service level/what-have-you might disadvantage students trying to access material from home/off campus. This was the reason why teachers didn’t use the ‘net back when I was going through my B.Ed. but back then it was a dialup/broadband debate, not traffic shaping.

Turning to microblogging, if teachers/instructors turn their students loose there before sending them off to Google for research, they will very quickly find a community that is interested, at least peripherally, in that topic. And they might find that there are resources that are linked there that are far more useful than what the search engines pull up because there are “experts” (accredited/pro-ams/geeks) who are sorting the information as opposed to algorithms.

So this is one of my last posts for the year (expect a couple of POW). If you read all this and I don’t hit your eyeballs until the new year – all the best to you and yours and if you only read me on RSS – drop into the site in the new year, there might be a new look.

A Couple of Open Courses

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By , December 2, 2008 1:48 pm

There are quite a few courses now that are open to the world. The first one that I spotted online was George Siemens” course that explored the idea of working/learning/creating beyond the classroom. Today, I spotted another, and this (story, course) one is a little more ambitious – using the RPG framework to create a learning environment.

I remember doing something similar the last time I taught a grad course – but I remember having to do it out of necessity as there was no text for me to use and very little in the way of an outline for the course to go on, so I turned to online tools as ways to get my points across. It’s good to see that I was on the right track back then.

Rob Miles free C# text

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By , October 22, 2008 12:11 pm

I thought I had posted this yesterday, but I guess it didn’t make it up. It is free, but not open… but does/will that matter?

Fennec, nee Mobile Firefox

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By , October 18, 2008 5:48 pm

There are finally some details on the Mozilla site – how to install on the Nokia N810, general info and the project wiki.

Opening closed doors in Higher Ed

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By , October 1, 2008 9:38 am

There is some talk in the edblogoshphere right now about Open Education, and I have to admit that I haven’t been following it very closely for a lack of time of late. But regardless if the release of this book is responsible for it or not, I found something interesting in the executive summary (TOC and sample chapters) that almost exactly describes what many people working in PD or ID in Science Faculties likely feel:

Change Education’s Culture and Policy
…higher education places a high premium on originality, whereas adapting or improving another’s educational materials is rarely understood to be a creative or valuable contribution. Thus, while scholars are expected to build on the work of others in their disciplinary research, teaching is largely treated as a private, highly territorial enterprise.

If teaching isn’t seen as a dirty “add on”, I really agree with this statement. It is often an intensely territorial enterprise, motivated by what seems to me to be a remnant of the way that researchers are trained and socialized into their profession. Academics are socialized to be “islands” that on occasion will allow visitors from other locations, and then only to certain parts of their territory, and while there are often bridges or links constructed, it seems that these are as often as not, for show only. I don’t think that there is anything really wrong with this – research is the way to get grants and grants are the way to get more research done, and if you give everything away you are not going to get the grants, so there is no research and no job. It is a vicious cycle to be sure. It seems that the same (or at least a similar thing) seems to happen for teaching resources.

I think a reason for this might be that profs are worried about being “outed” for holes in their teaching, and given academic freedom, some might feel that they are allowed “not to collaborate”. But what I hope is the truth is that teaching, as a secondary function of academic life, it is not treated as the science/art fusion that it deserves to be. It is often (or feels to be) the case that teaching is not considered to be something with legitiimate scholoarly practice behind it. Because of this, it is might be kept hidden as not to tarnish the sheen of peer reviewed academic work that profs want to show the world, and specifically their chairs.

A potential solution to this is to look at how teaching is rewarded through the review process, or to make a priority, the planning and design of courses. This means more than just a committee that looks at the syllabus, it means looking at the individual assessment and content items of a course to make sure that they are inline with the vision of the department. It means helping instructors find their own style in the classroom – and potentially their own classroom of need be. It also means looking for more than the textbook or individual research for content.

I have heard many times that this is indeed the case, that departments are truly interested in their courses, but judging from what I see, that assurance is truly only lip service for many universities.

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