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Learning as a social event

One of the participants in the upcoming knowledge co-seminar, Ismael Peña-López, wrote on the visit of John Seely Brown at UOC as part of the institution’s Innovation Forums. He pondered, “is there anything more in ‘open’ and learning than Open Educational Resources?”

From Ismael’s notes:

Tinkering — enjoy fixing, experimenting — as a learning platform. We have to legitimate tinkering.

In the Digital Age, there is a culture of participation: tinkering, building, remixing, sharing. To create meaning by what one produces and others build upon. And sometimes this meaning creation happens without the original author of the work used as a basis for further meaning creation.

The Long Tail in Learning: leveraging and supporting each segment differently, supporting the rise of an ecology of learning/doing niches.

Cristóbal Cobo responds:

I love the challenge of John Seely Brown, who defends the idea that real learning is basically a social event, and therefore the value is within the group learning process (either in person or virtual). Brown adds other qualifiers as chaotic learning, distributed, interactive tools like facebook or where secondlife applications become a substantive value. In addition, he uses as a successful example for the education of tomorrow through “communities of practice,” underpinned by open source (Firefox, Linux, Apache, etc..). This makes me think of the gamble initiated by Yasuaki Sakyo at the Shibuya University in Japan, whose model is community education, open and absolutely horizontal [via educationfutures].

In the world of cut-and-paste learning and creative, new knowledge production, we need to look at how new social tools and environments create new meanings. In this new society, how can institutions that resist communities of practice built on social technologies (i.e., nearly every school) remain legitimate nodes of teaching and learning?

A couple more interesting articles by Seely Brown:

Five predictions for 2008 and more

Education Futures is back from winter break! Regular postings will now resume.


Photo by darkmatter

Looking forward to the rest of this year, here are my predictions of the big stories in the global education world for 2008:

  1. Largely driven by the moderate success of OLPC, Linux will emerge as the platform of choice for K-12 technology leaders. The OLPC will demonstrate that not only is Linux different, but it can also be used to do new and different things. Instead of using new technologies to teach the same old curricula, new technologies will be used to teach new things.
  2. Web 2.0 will continue to democratize the globalization of higher education as more students and professors embrace open communications platforms. This means university administrations will have a harder time “owning” their global agendas.
  3. Because of the influences of #1 and #2, education-oriented open source development will boom.
  4. Chinese orientations toward the rest of the planet will change during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The Chinese widely view that the award to host the Olympics is a sign that their country is progressing positively –and of international acceptance. During the Olympics, however, much of the international attention will focus on revisiting the Tienanmen Square Massacre, the government’s treatment of political prisoners, the annexation of Tibet, the mainland’s relations with Taiwan, catastrophic ecological destruction throughout China, and many more sensitive topics. Unless if the Chinese can distract the world with Olympian splendor, they will have to endure international condemnation. What will this do to the millions of Chinese school kids who were drafted into generating national spirit under the false assumption that the world thinks China is doing a great job? Will China reorient its education system away from the West?
  5. India’s the place to be. As more U.S. companies quietly continue to offshore their creative work to India, India’s knowledge economy will boom. The world will take notice of this in 2008.

Here are predictions for 2008 from elsewhere:


Business and Economy


Media and Technology

Open Seminar 2.0: A hemisphere of innovative knowledge


“Version 2.0” of the open seminar “From Information to Innovation Knowledge” will kick off on January 24, 2008. Partnering institutions include the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota, FLACSO-México, FLACSO-Ecuador, and FLACSO-Chile. Confirmed guest lecturers include Dr. Nora Sabelli at SRI International and Ismael Peña-López at Universitat Oberta de Catalunya.

University of Minnesota students may join the co-seminar by registering for EdPA 5102 section 2 (“Knowledge Formats”). All others should contact Ana Karla Romeru at FLACSO-México for information on how to participate.

Utilizing Web 2.0 social technologies, Skype and Adobe Connect platforms, the course will connect the three FLACSOs with the University of Minnesota for both synchronous and asynchronous learning. Course content includes discussions of:

  • A New Paradigm of knowledge production
  • Tools for information and knowledge management
  • Collective intelligence
  • Learning technologies (including open sourcing of education)
  • Knowledge, innovation and new context-creating workers
  • Human capital development
  • Complex systems
  • “2.0” technologies and beyond

The Minnesota sessions will be facilitated by Dr. Arthur Harkins and myself. Dr. Cristóbal Cobo will coordinate the course among our Latin American partners. For more information on the project or our co-seminar approach, please email me at

Buzz is starting to appear regarding the MediaWiki-powered Free-Reading is…

an “open source” instructional program that helps teachers teach early reading. Because it’s open source, it represents the collective wisdom of a wide community of teachers and researchers. It’s designed to contain a scope and sequence of activities that can support and supplement a typical “core” or “basal” program.

Tom Hoffman notes that despite’s quiet launch,

this demonstrates that Wireless Generation is making a serious play. It also underscores a good reason why, as Doug Noon points out, the curriculum hews to the post-NCLB status quo on reading pedagogy.

I agree that the research base on the site is perhaps too centered on behaviorist and education psychology tradition. The curricula, however narrow, remains open –and could serve as another signal of a shift in curricula and textbooks toward open formats…

Planet 2.0 meets the USA

This has been a quiet blogging week due to FLACSO México‘s visit to the University of Minnesota. The visit has been very busy, and highly productive.

This morning, Education Futures contributor Dr. Cristóbal Cobo (read his blog) presented his ideas at a University of Minnesota’s Institute for New Media Studies and Digital Technology Center research breakfast on his new book, Planet Web 2.0: Collective Intelligence or Fast Food Media (English translation). The event was also webcast by the University’s Supercomputing Institute. (A link to the recorded video will be posted when it becomes available.)


A debate followed the presentation on the roles and values of online technologies. Most puzzling for academicians in the audience was how might reconcile the need for producing peer-reviewed, “academic” publications with freely available, open material. Whereas a journal article might solicit a handful of readers, an open document might bring in thousands more (for example, Planet 2.0, which was issued under a Creative Commons license, has already registered over 61,000 downloads in the first few weeks since its release). Our promotion and tenure process, however, recognizes only publications that appear in traditional print media. Why?

At the end of the event, Dr. Cobo was approached regarding an open sourced effort toward translating the book from Spanish to English by the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies. Planeta 2.0 approaches…!

Does state-mandated free software permit freedom?

Tailing the news that India is making Linux compulsory in schools, the Russian government is working to create a national operating system for schools:

Russian OS is to be installed on every school computer in Russia by 2009. Furthermore, every pupil will get the opportunity to operate the applied software produced in Russia, Leonid Reiman, acting Minister of Communication stated at a press conference. Experts and market participants consider the terms within which software is to be developed quite reasonable. According to Mr. Reiman, that might significantly reduce Russian dependence on foreign software…

Again, I ask, can we expect free software to correlate to freedom? By soliciting bids for the selection of a sole distribution vendor to develop and implement a monolithic, Russian OS, is Russian OS an effort to boost software freedom or is it an effort to increase state control?

Linux Today reader Artem Vakhitov notes that the project is probably not as ambitious as the Minister stated. As he understands it, “several Russian Linux vendors and solution providers, including ALTLinux, formed an alliance to jointly participate in a bid to develop and implement a FOSS operating system and necessary software packages for Russian schools.” There is no guarantee that the government will actually move ahead with the plan. (See the ALT Linux statement…)

Open Minds: Open source in education

Somehow, this conference stayed off my radar until now. I would love to go, but I will be en route to China around the same time…! Oh well, maybe next year…


The Open Minds Conference is the first national K-12 gathering for teachers, technicians and educational leaders to share and explore the benefits of open source in education. Virtual Learning Environments that provide 24X7 access to teaching and learning resources, cutting-edge and easy-to-use desktop applications, coupled with powerful management tools and low-cost computer strategies make the classroom of tomorrow available today!

Thanks to Miguel Guhlin for noting this on his blog, otherwise I might’ve never known! Is anybody going to this?

The m-learning potential of the Nokia N800

I purchased my third hand-held device on Friday. My first was a Newton MessagePad 2000 (which I later upgraded to the MP2100). The second was a Handspring Visor Platinum. The new device is a Nokia N800 Internet tablet.

Nokia N800

The N800 is a WiFi device with an 800×480 (!) touchscreen strapped on, and can support up to 16GB of SD flash memory. It runs a light/mobile flavor of Debian GNU/Linux. This means that developers can readily tap into a large library of open source tools. The user interface could use some help. As Sean Luke points out, my old Newton is still superior in many areas.

The N800 has some great things going for it.  I particularly enjoy:

  • The huge screen on a small device, allowing me to view Web pages as they’re intended to be viewed
  • WordPy, a competent offline WordPress editor (one wish: it needs a means to upload/incorporate images from the N800)
  • The option of using a Gecko/Mozilla or a Opera-based browser
  • The community-supported Claws mail
  • Skype!
  • Having a mobile device with an option to use a proper command line interface!

The N800 is not marketed to be used as a m-learning device, but I cannot help myself from comparing it to the Ozing and Noah m-learning devices reviewed last May. Where the Chinese devices fell short on application quality and developer accessibility (at least the Noah NP890+ runs a Linux variant), the N800 has an active, open source development community. Perhaps the Chinese companies will learn from Nokia and open their software to more developers and platforms? Or, perhaps others will leapfrog the Chinese to exploit the m-learning potential of the N800…

Games in the Classroom (part three)

Twenty years ago, playing games over a distance might have meant that you played turn-taking games like chess over email, and you were cutting edge. I remember people playing chess through snail mail! You would make your move and wait for a reply.

What is happening now is taking place in real-time in virtual environments that are interactive and look better than many films. Decisions, actions, and communications happen like they would in a face-to-face conversation, but they are done through a proxy, that is first and second-person perspectives with an avatar: a graphical representation of yourself in the game space.


Here is my avatar in Second Life.

He is a mix of Yoda, Pei Mei, Zatoichi, Master Po, and Real Ultimate Power. I would have liked to have made him old, but this is only possible if you learn to use some tools outside of the game to create more specialized characters. There are many who do this custom avatar creation, and the cool thing is that you could make your avatar something other than a person. Maybe a virus or a mailbox.

In fact, many people are already creating a comfortable living creating products for in game use. If you have not seen it yet, there are already success stories of people capitalizing on the new economies that virtual worlds have created.


In this Business Week article, one school teacher in Germany has made substantial gains flipping virtual property!

Imagine that you have the tools and access to build in these environments. In Second Life you do. You can visit models of the Sistine Chapel, Yankee Stadium, or even visit government agencies like the Center for Disease Control. You can build what you like on your virtual land.

What make this kind of play appealing is the ability to play and communicate when you want, and the possibility of meeting people from all over the planet. The prospect of building models and interacting in this environments should be very appealing to educators. This is an extension of the diorama. (Tomorrow I will talk about a project using these ideas in the classroom).

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A question on linking open courseware to faculties

The Online Education Database published their list of “Top 100 open courseware projects.” This list demonstrates that there is a lot of content available, encompassing in the fields of agriculture, arts, architecture, archeology, audio & video, biology, botany, chemistry, civil engineering, economics, electronic engineering, general engineering, Earth sciences, geography & geology, history, languages & linguistics, law, literature, mechanical engineering, paleontology, physics, political Science, psychology, and the social sciences.

Quality among open courses vary significantly, and most open courseware do not plug into the Web 2.0 “wisdom of crowds” that can enhance quality and provide avenues for new knowledge production. Furthermore, most faculty distance themselves from online publishing and knowledge dissemination. Even worse, few faculty (at the undergraduate level, at least) as concerned about generating new knowledge with students.

My question is, how can open courseware and academics/professionals be retooled jointly to create open, new knowledge-producing spaces for students and life-long learners?