This is a blog of populist and liberal information and ideas, advancing the cause of truth and justice while fighting the ugly tyranny of right-wing oppression in Oklahoma and its surrounding environs.

Open Source? Of Course!

Image from minnesota.pubicradio.org

(Pictured right is a segment of the Minneapolis light rail system. I'm back in Oklahoma and will resume writing about political issues with my next post.--Kurt Hochenauer)

Is there growing interest in using open source scripts and applications in higher education? I think this is true after attending the MERLOT Conference in Minneapolis last week.

As I mentioned in previous posts, MERLOT stands for Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching. The organization helps college professors and instructors incorporate new technologies in their online and onground classes in a variety of ways. It serves as a clearing house for technology-related learning objects and resources. It publishes JOLT (Journal of Online Learning and Teaching). It holds annual conferences that bring together educational technologists from around the world.

There is little doubt that collaborations and business relationships between technology-related corporations and universities continue to dominate how American faculty and students create and advance knowledge in the virtual world. This partnership will continue to thrive, but I sense more administrators, faculty, students and informational technologists are becoming sympathetic to the open source model.

Why wouldn’t they consider open source given the uneven economy?

College tuition continues to rise across the country at astronomical rates, and some of that money obviously goes to support needed technology opportunities for students. As students pay more and more, it is only natural that administrators and faculty might look to get as much technology for the buck they can. Administrators at public colleges also have a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers as well. That responsibility should at least include considering the low cost of open source.

Open source is a free system of scripts and software. Some popular open source platforms include Moodle, which is perhaps the most popular course management system in the world, and the content systems Drupal and Joomla. There are also free open course scripts that focus on operating a business. The script that provides the foundation for the popular browser Firefox is free software.

The beauty of open source—and I’m an open source proponent—is that you can modify the script to fit your purpose. The only requirement is that your modifications must be made available to anyone else using the particular script. What this means is that faculty, students and information technologists can work together in an education environment to design systems and software. They can network with other universities across the country as well.

Corporate course management systems are more administration centered. One MERLOT keynote speaker, Bernie Dodge, said administrators often simply dump a lot of money into technology systems in order to solve a problem because they are looking for a quick fix. But is this sustainable? What about developing informational systems that involve all stakeholders?

Operating a large Moodle site, of course, is not without its costs. It requires developers and script administrators in ratio to the overall use of the script, but it is less expensive than corporate systems now on the market. Louisiana State University recently moved to Moodle, and one Louisiana educator told me in an elevator at the conference that the entire state was moving to Moodle. San Francisco State University recently moved to Moodle as well. The El Paso School District also started using Moodle.

Moodle and open source scripts are not, in their essence, anti-corporation or anti-money. In fact, people use open source scripts to make money all the time, and there are a plethora of opportunities to make money with open source in educational applications.

But when the basic scripts and the ensuing updates are free, then universities are already ahead of the game before they hire their first programmer.

The open source model also reflects the growing interest in sustainability. The scripts can be maintained locally, and you know exactly what type of product you are getting. You can then work together as a community to make your system better. As students work on systems, they learn the computer languages they will need to succeed in our digital world. They can use this knowledge to go into the corporate world or not, but at least they have a choice.

Are Blogs Changing Academic Discourse?

Minneapolis

How can we use blogs in the college classroom? How should we archive the best blogs in our culture? Who should rank blogs according to their academic and cultural validity? Should we allow only corporations to rank blogs according to traffic? How will blogs continue to influence academic and cultural discourse?

These are just a few of the questions discussed at this year’s annual MERLOT Conference in Minneapolis, which I’m attending this week, as blogs continue to change the ways in which we read and write.

As I mentioned in my previous post, MERLOT stands for Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching. The organization helps college professors and instructors incorporate new technologies in their online and onground classes in a variety of ways. It serves as a clearing house for technology-related learning objects and resources. It publishes JOLT (Journal of Online Learning and Teaching). It holds annual conferences that bring together educational technologists from around the world.

Blogs continue to change the academic landscape. An increasing number of college professors and instructors require students to blog as class assignments. Academics, in general, are increasingly using blogs to convey significant course and research material. Professors can lecture on blogs, for example, and then open up the discussion to their students.

One session at MERLOT this year was titled “Using Blogs to Enhance Course Writing Activities.” The presenter, Nima Salehi, talked about ongoing blogging projects in the classroom.

Students in one class were given a set of assignment directions that included this statement about netiquette: “All comments posted to blogs should remain polite, analytical and free of comments that might be construed as negative personal attacks. Disagreement with ideas in reviews should be presented within that context and supported by referencing other materials or examples.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could get people within the political blogosphere to follow this basic netiquette?

I often use blogging both to lecture and as a class assignment in my online courses. The question I find most pressing is how you focus student blogs on course content. Many students coming to college think of blogs as personal diaries. But personal blogging is just one aspect of the blogosphere, which increasingly is home to a substantial academic discourse.

This leads to another pressing question. How do we archive the best blogs in academia and our current culture for future generations? I have had some interesting discussions about this issue with online instructors, librarians and information technologists at the conference this week. Many academics with an interest in technology still find there is a bias against blogs, but that is quickly changing.

So how do we sort through and archive the massive amount of material now produced by blogs? What blogs should be archived? Who decides what is important?

There are no easy answers to these questions, but this much is clear: Academic blogs and other intellectual web-based material is changing the way we understand and communicate knowledge.

Moodle, Sloodle, Second Life?

minneapolis

I’m at the 2008 MERLOT Conference in Minneapolis this week so Okie Funk will be bringing you the recent developments in online higher education in the next two or three posts. I’ll get back to politics—though it has been increasingly difficult to separate educational issues from politics under the President George Bush administration—next week.

MERLOT stands for Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching. The organization helps college professors and instructors incorporate new technologies in their online and onground classes in a variety of ways. It serves as a clearing house for technology-related learning objects and resources. It publishes JOLT (Journal of Online Learning and Teaching). It also holds annual conferences that bring together educational technologists from around the world. It works in conjunction with leading universities and major technology companies.

In the past, I have given presentations at MERLOT related, in part, to the larger implications of how we empower students in online classes to create Web-based knowledge centers or learning objects. A pressing need, as I see it, is to develop academic systems and protocols—big and small—to generate more content-oriented Web material and digital texts as more and more students take online courses.

This year, my presentation is more pragmatic. I’m scheduled to give a three-hour workshop Thursday on the course manage system Moodle, which is based on open source programming. Moodle is a widely popular course management system that allows professors to teach online or supplement their regular onground classes. I use Moodle in my own courses.

Open source programming is a system of free—that’s right FREE—scripts that are essentially based on the computer language of php and its interaction with databases. Moodle is one of the most popular scripts, which is used by millions of students and faculty. One of the most important aspects of Moodle and other open source scripts is that developers/professors can modify and improve particular systems, and then, if significant, these improvements become part of the main script.

But the focus of my workshop is more pragmatic. How do you create a course and teach on Moodle? How do you add discussion forums and wikis? How do you create exams? How do you keep a grade book on Moodle that allows individual students to view their progress in particular courses?

There is also a major workshop exploring the use of Second Life in educational systems. I have tentatively tried to engage my students with learning opportunities on Second Life, and interest is quickly growing. Moodle now has a connector, titled Sloodle, which allows the two systems to work together. Some universities, including the University of Texas, now offer courses on Second Life. Second Life’s growing popularity as an educational site is one of the hottest issues in online higher education right now.

Here’s the description about the Second Life workshop:

“Communities of Practice emerging in 3D Virtual Worlds such as Second Life are creating learning experiences heretofore unavailable to teachers and learners. The SaLamander Project at The University of Oregon is a MERLOT Community with a mission to collaborate, find, index, and discuss aspects of the 3D Virtual World "Second Life" that have educational value and share in the research, development, and training opportunities associated with those factors. This workshop requires that participants feel reasonably comfortable navigating in SL.”

Are we ready for the future of online education?

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