The Longest Now


Context for the day: sunshine, clarity, reflection
Saturday April 28th 2012, 2:27 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,meta,metrics

A friend yesterday reminded me how valuable and important it is to take time to step back and reflect on one’s direction and focus. And how we should all do this more often. The meta-context was the value of sabbaticals, and the possibility for organizations to do the same thing. (For instance, from recent threads here: the chance for olpc pilots to reflect on their shared vision and principles, while considering how to pool resources; for wikimedia organs to reconsider their purpose; for OER visionaries to review what they want to help society accomplish.)

Today is an excellent day for this reflection – warm sun, tesselated waves, clear skies. I mean to see what I can sort and extrapolate from the wealth of raw individual ideas and motivations that I have seen over the last two weeks.

This context makes me want a more orderly family of terms to describe the form of analytical thought that includes strategy (military, corporate planning), systems thinking (systematics, synergetics), lateral thinking (thinking hats, parallel analysis), and pattern analysis (I Ching, oblique strategies, mesh decomposition). Now… where to file feature requests like this for one’s own language?



Hacking Open Education, Take 2
Thursday April 19th 2012, 10:18 am
Filed under: %a la mod,chain-gang,international,meta,metrics

Hewlett Hack Day last Friday was an energetic stone soup affair. Erhardt Graeff, Andrew Magliozzi and I planned it with Amar and Nathaniel from Berkman, and Josh Gay. Erhardt emcee’d the event, and Meredith Beaton, Una Lee, Becca Nesson, and Matthew Battles all helped make it happen. Some 40 people attended over the course of the day.

The past two days had seen the development of two dozen project ideas, many of them hackable, by the Hewlett grantees. We spent the first hour condensing those and some new proposed hacks down to 10 that seemed compelling and doable. People self-selected into groups to tackle these (in hindsight: we should have set a max team size of ~6). 7 projects were attempted, and 6 produced a hack – a pitch or minimum product that could inspire others to move it forward. At the end of the day, everyone gave 2-minute pitches to a panel of judges (a schoolteacher, a highschool student, and two berkman staff) who reviewed the results for hackability and near-term usefulness for OER.

Result: two new github repositories, a ‘Learning metacognition via Poker‘ course up on P2PU, a mobile app for ‘Free Pencils’, a hackable version of FreeRice for standardized test problems, a plan for a high-profile annual OER Awards, a wireframe for a cleaner student portfolio platform, a new OER WikiProject on Wikipedia, and a draft design for Octocat a variation on github for OER materials. The PokOER concept drew the most attention – almost ten team members and three different ideas merged – and many hackers agreed they would love to take a P2P course on the topic. And a hack to make it easy to generate your own Mozilla-friendly badges made partial progress, including testing and filing helpful bugs against the badges API.

The Free Pencils and OER Awards projects won judges’ awards’. They were specific and partly implemented (Becca garnered the admiration of all for producing a working prototype in 4 hours), and addressing particular needs raised in the brainstorming the day before. Their hackers have free passes to the Open Ed conference in Vancouver, thanks to sponsorship by hackday participant David Wiley.



Hacking Education with Hewlett’s OER Grantees
Wednesday April 18th 2012, 11:32 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,international,meta,popular demand

A few months ago, Colin Maclay got me thinking about how to make this year’s Hewlett Foundation OER grantees meeting different in good ways. Last week I spend three days at the event, and was honored to meet the many remarkable people and projects there. I have been to one of the past grantee meetings, and it is a warm family of practice — I knew many of the groups and people in the room through my own work in open education. Two newcomers worth special note:

The organization I was happiest to meet was the Saylor Foundation — I have been a fan of theirs since discovering them last year; their work addresses the heart of a core problem in the world of educational resources: a free comprehensive collection of texts drawn from all manner of sources — whatever is useful and to hand. Aside from the typical modern-charity peccadillo of feeling organizational ownership of what is a universal mission, and articulating a vision in which they accomplish it through sweat and brand, I find their approach humble and excellent.

My favorite invitee was CoolCatTeacher Vicki Davis, who shared some pointed advice and wit, contributed in most of the sessions I attended, and shared my penchant for live transcription. (We commiserated about how funny it was to be at an event highlighting collaborative creation, where most attendees had computers but were shy of using etherpads or shared docs.) She was not a grantee; Berkman, in their take on this rotating annual event, invited about a quarter of the total guests from a variety of backgrounds, for pursuing in their own way more universal access to education. Her prolific writing and multitasking online, has inspired me to spend much more time writing. But more on that in a future post.

I also met the pedagogy lead for Intel’s global education program – a teacher full of good ideas and strong support for making OER the norm in primary school – and part of the Metalab team working on narrative tools.

I spoke to the grantees about the needs of content Builders, along with Hal Abelson and Ahrash Bissell, and took part in a variety of brainstorming sessions. My favorite moment was a debate about whether free knowledge and educational resources are (as I maintain) civic infrastructure, worth investment by cities and locales the way roads and libraries and wiring are. An unresolved question there: how a local government would identify what part of that global problem is theirs to locally provide or fund.

On Friday I helped plan and run a Hack Day after the traditional meeting ended, something new for this sort of gathering. It was great fun, and refreshing after a few days of simply talking to move one or two ideas closer to realization. I wish most of every conference were like this, since we still managed to get in our share of discussion, presentation, show & tell, and otherwise sharing inspiration. Thanks to the Berkman team for their creativity in the organization, and to the organizers for inviting me to take part. Open education is an idea ready for global adoption, and one we should pursue mindfully, in norm and nuance, as a society.




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