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The Longest Now

OER awards: an annual celebration of free knowledge
Monday April 30th 2012, 8:07 am
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,international,Uncategorized,wikipedia

This week I returned to the hack that Jutta Treviranus and I and a few others put together at the OER Hackday for an annual awards ceremony celebrating the world’s best educational materials — where ‘best’ includes openness, accessibility, and flexibility. Right now it seems the focus will be on materials that are:

Open and accessible

  • open and gratis: available for anyone to use, online or offline, at no charge
  • educational: useful for both K-12 students and autodidacts of all ages
  • repurposable:  licensed to allow use and reuse as widely as possible
  • accessible: available in many formats and languages, usable by all sorts of learners

Modular and editable

  • modular: available as collections / libraries, with sections and components marked for easy remixing
  • annotated: with tags and categories, structured data and metadata.
  • clustered: with links to similar works and information on how it has been used or modified
  • editable: published and maintained in a way that makes it easy for users to share revisions and variants.

These are still draft ideas; your thoughts are welcome.  This will be the first year of the effort; we will likely allow submissions that do not meet all of these guidelines. Each focus describes a spectrum, at any rate.  For example:
Ease of reuse may range from highest marks for “public domain” to lowest for “single copy for personal educational use”.
Accessibility may range from “in major free archives, designed for many extremes of ability” to “on a public website, no DRM”.

Submissions: The awards will allow for direct nomination of great materials by curators in each category, but this year aims mainly to bring greater attention to existing contests in narrow fields, and to recognize the curatorial work they do.  So many entries will be the finalists and winners from those existing contests.   Some of the free knowledge awards and events we mean to ask to participate:

Categories: There are a variety of formats and a variety of topical fields to consider. We will have a limited set of categories for the contest, and map the intersections of formats & fields onto them.  This year we may not distinguisn text and physical media from software and digital media in the categories.  We are aiming for enough cross-discipline competition to be valuable without making judging impossible.

Location: We are still discussing where and how to hold a ceremony honoring the winners, or perhaps a number of small events recognizing the year’s most excellent work at other major gatherings honoring developments in education, knowledge, and collaboration.  Assuming we do this in person and not virtually, relevant events include:

July 12-15: Wikimania, DC.
August ??: Stockholm Challenge.
Oct 16-18: Open Ed, Vancouver.
Oct 22+?: oXcars, Barcelona

Stay tuned for updates on this front.  And send in your favorite places to find amazing data, books, art, media, and other free knowledge.

Metaresources for learning and finding knowledge
Sunday April 29th 2012, 11:33 pm
Filed under: unfinished draft

Conan the Cybrarian (web 1.0 linklist)
Literacy and Learning Resources (doc list)
700 Ed+Tech events, late 2011 (doc list)
OER for German Schools (doc)

<unfinished draft>

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Malagasy, Yoruba, and Amharic wikipedias are growing rapidly
Sunday April 29th 2012, 11:16 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,international,popular demand,wikipedia

A few updates from the African-language Wikipedias, courtesy of Ian Gilfillan’s blog. [HT to Don Osborn]

The last year has seen tremendous growth in Malagasy, Yoruba, Amharic. Malagasy is a popular language among linguists and historians, who make great Wikipedians; and both Yoruba and Amharic have extensive historical literary cultures.

Swahili and Afrikans projects are still quite solid, but their growth has slowed somewhat. And among the very small languages, Setswana grew from almost nothing to over 400 articles as well, thank to the Tswana Wikipedia challenge suppoted by Google. So if you have been looking for an afrophone wiki to get involved with, now is a great time to start.

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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?

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Wikipedia Zero
Saturday April 28th 2012, 1:40 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,international,metrics,popular demand,wikipedia

Free access to Wikipedia on mobile devices.

That is Wikipedia Zero in a nutshell. With a current focus on making this possible through mobile partnerships in the developing world. It’s a bold and lovely project, a focus of Wikimedia outreach this year, and deserves wider visibility.

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Mission of the day: Sister Project Committee mesh
Thursday April 26th 2012, 2:30 pm
Filed under: international,metrics,wikipedia

There have been many threads about sister projects since I recently reraised the idea of fixing our process for reviewing new project proposals.  The past two weeks saw a dozen brainstormers, a few etherpads with notes on how to form a related committee, 2 ideas for how to stage and review proposals to replace the current dated process, and a few serious new project proposals raised.  Thanks to all of the enthusiastic participants, it brings back the visceral joy of being on a knowledge frontier that characterized the earlier days of Wikipedia.

If you have a favorite project concept, ideas from an existing sister project, or related strategy proposals from our brainstorming two years ago: please bring them up again now on Meta to give the discussions a well-rounded and practical focus.

I’ll try to summarize these threads and proposals today.   I am eager to see us start to actively incubate new project ideas that experiment with gathering new types of knowledge.  As a community we have the infrastructure to do this today, we just need a little more flexibility and guidance for how we empower enthusiastic project founders to create a new workspace and gather their initial community and visionaries.

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Context of the day: Digital Public Library vision and participants
Thursday April 26th 2012, 11:50 am
Filed under: chain-gang,international,popular demand,wikipedia

I am spending most of the day in literacy and library discussions, helping define the audience of the Digital Public Library [of America].  It is a fantastic project.  And I am warmed by the society-spanning groups that come together aound this vision for the evolution of libraries.

We should to bottle this type of shared sense-making, social diplomacy, and brainstorming.  “How do we solve the collective action problem for all of us who share these common goals?”  It must unfold from an institution-managed process to one that is low-cost, almost entirely online, and driven by the passion of its crowds.  That would revolutionize planning for many walks of modern life.

I will be posting discussion transcripts where I can; keep your eye on #dplawest for pointers.

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Awesome 1-yr Wikipedia Fellowship open at Harvard’s Belfer Center
Thursday April 26th 2012, 10:55 am
Filed under: international,meta,popular demand,wikipedia

Wikimedia and Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs are looking for a Wikipedia Fellow to work on-site in Cambridge, Massachusetts for a year, on topics related to international security.  From the full jobvite posting :

The Wikimedia Foundation and Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs are accepting applications to be a Wikipedia Fellow at the Belfer Center, for one year starting July 1, 2012.

This is a full-time position, tasked with

  •  improving the quality of WP articles related to international security:
  • liaising between the Wikimedia community and Belfer Center experts, facilitating resource sharing;
  • coordinating projects and events, online and in-person, to support improving Wikimedia projects.
  • working with faculty, staff, and fellows at the Center to increase understanding of and participation in Wikipedia and other free content;
  • sharing this experience at Harvard with the global community of Wikipedians, and among academics, via articles, blog posts, and multimedia.

How will YOU use 12M bibliographic records?
Thursday April 26th 2012, 7:57 am
Filed under: %a la mod,citation needed

Harvard Libraries recently released bibliodata from their collections – 12 million works in all – under a CC-0 license, which lets other sites and researchers reuse that data in any way possible.

This is the biggest release of bibliographic data of its kind — four times the size of a similar release by the British Library in late 2010.  (Without an explicit release under a free license, such collections of metadata are covered by ‘database rights‘).

How would you reuse these records in your own work and dreams?  Some quick ideas:

  • WP or Wikisource could create 12 million stubs with those records
  • Open Library will improve and update its own metadata collection, which was built from scraped subsets of such data
  • We can write scripts that autogenerate “lists of works” for authors and authors or categories for works
  • We can automatically find mismatches between our person-data and title-data and those in MARC
  • We can publicly clean up mistakes in the MARC catalog and suggest updates
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Cardboard Cutout Khomeini
Wednesday April 25th 2012, 4:47 pm
Filed under: Rogue content editor,Too weird for fiction

Still venerated: Ruhollah Khomeini, iconified in larger-than-life cardboard forms. Shown here on MehrNews, and parodied on its own Blogspot.

The landing-strip military welcome for the cutout, complete with roses and a band, is a nice touch. “Too strange for fiction” wins out over “photoshop”.

via Jacob Rus.

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Inspired by life: architecture + biology + design
Tuesday April 24th 2012, 11:52 pm
Filed under: Glory, glory, glory,international,poetic justice,popular demand

I had the great fortune of attending a workshop recently with a provocative MIT architect, Neri Oxman, whose artistic work I have seen showing up in museums across Europe and the US – it is truly awesome.

I was struck by the excellent practical end results produced from designs with varying textures/ colors/ qualities that are defined by artistic parametric equations. The group’s past prototypes include some armor and body sheaths – presented as art, not as fashion – that were very much what I was looking for years ago when I wanted better load-bearing clothes.

Future projects promise to include living structures and buildings… and, I hope, a line of designs suitable for the public. Work like this deserves to be shared, and should not be hidden in museums and universities.

From the Oxman files

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Decentralized smarts, twenty-four eyes, crystal power: the amazing Cubozoa (box jellyfish)
Monday April 23rd 2012, 10:36 pm
Filed under: citation needed,Glory, glory, glory,indescribable

Cubozoa, or Box Jellyfish, are remarkable creatures. Among jellyfish – the oldest multi-organ creatures on the planet – they are some of the most highly developed in terms of nervous response, memory, and sensory organs. Some cubozoa species are among the most venomous creatures per weight on the planet, using a very effective poison for hunting.

They have a ‘neural ring’ which help coordinate their nervous system, the closest thing to a brain that jellyfish have been observed to have. They have some capacity for memory and to learn from experience.

They live largely in mangrove lagoons, where as many as 25 different species of Cubozoa may occupy different ecological niches, and forage at different times of day.

And they have 24 eyes, 4 of which are ‘true eyes’ with corneas and retinas – two of which can see color! They have been observed to navigate by visual cues out of the water, such as trees on shore. The 20 lesser eyes sense light more simply, and some point straight up at all times, thanks to a keen adaptation: they grow small gypsum crystals within their bodies at the base of their ‘eye-stems’, which act as a plumb bob to keep the eye pointing skyward.

In general I am no great fan of jellyfish – and can’t quite believe I am writing about them – but in this case the eyes (and angels) have it. Cubozoa are amazing.

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Managing the Scholarship Dilemma of well-funded communities
Saturday April 21st 2012, 5:37 pm
Filed under: international,metrics,Uncategorized,wikipedia


I have been dealing recently with reimbursements for OLPC community events, more difficult this year than in years past.   Among other things, this year we asked event organizers to cap travel support at $150 per person, to avoid having a few all-stars soak up available funds.

Within Wikimedia, in contrast, it is becoming the norm for some well-respected community members to get full rides to multiple conferences each year.  This made me reflect on how different communities set expectations of scholarship and support, and the long-term implications for the movement.

Expanding travel scholarships always seems like a good short-term idea, but has negative side-effects; raising what I think of as the scholarship dilemma – something most strongly affecting large communities that are flush with funds.  A similar dilemma exists within academia and other communities, but this essay focuses on grassroots and volunteer communities.

Too much of a good thing?

The progression from benefit to dilemma goes something like this:

  1. Early community events are a shared hustle: whoever can come and is passionate about them makes them happen, helps find funds for themelves and their proposed speakers,  and the whole event powered by love and enthusiasm.   Special guests are encouraged to find their own funding; reimbursements and support for travel and lodging are reserved for those who absolutely can’t come without it.  Some outside supporters may offer limited scholarships to the needy.
  2. With experience and perhaps central organization, this gets easier every year.  Sponsors return for many years running.  The movement itself enjoys the events and starts finding funds to bring people representing the diversity of the movement.  Local branches of the community start funding travel for a few people from their region.
  3. The movement becomes well-funded, and starts supplying most or all scholarships from their central organization/foundation.  They begin hiring many of the core community members, and funding attendees who are contractors or staff.  The major meetings become a place to hold in-person business meetings for core parts of the movement, and those start applying for their own pools of travel funding.
  4. Suddenly, getting travel support of some sort is a prize that everyone who would like support, or thinks they may deserve it thanks to their good work, applies for.   It is a minor status symbol, rather than a sign of need.  Expectations start to be set that certain ‘core’ or active people will always be at such events – or will at least be funded to get there.

Herein lies the dilemma: some great participants can’t come on any given year for financial reasons. And most people enjoy in-person meetings.  On the other hand setting expectations that you can get scholarships if other people want to meet you can split the community, and may mean that when funds inevitably become tighter, people stop showing up.  The sense of pulling together to make the first conferences happen — that everyone should be able to raise their own funds, or share the cost of the event —  is lost.

More on unwanted side effects and possible solutions, after the jump.

Why and how to build free collaborative services.
Friday April 20th 2012, 10:07 am
Filed under: chain-gang,popular demand,wikipedia

Here is an edited/clarified version of a mailing list thread many weeks ago, in which Wikimedians were discussing starting a Q&A site, or setting up a hosted solution for same.

I drafted a post about this to reprise here, but am just now finishing it off.

It is a disappointment… that Stack Overflow uses proprietary software
(not least because it is so wonderful) because in all other respects, as
a community, they do a great job. I have had wonderful experiences with
them and would urge anyone to get behind them.

I like their spirit and community too. I would be happy to see a StackExchange site for Wikipedia/MediaWiki questions exist. [that was the context of this email thread.] But it won’t contribute to the global free toolchain for collaborative knowledge, which we are part of. So the templates and environments for discussion that we build by customizing those tools will have only limited long-term value.

} Sure, they do things slightly differently — but that doesn’t mean
} they do things wrong.

From the perspective of Wikimedia’s mission, they are indeed doing things wrong. [.From the perspective of running a small business, they may be doing just fine.]

Effective access to collaborative knowledge is important to a harmonious society. As a result, basic knowledge-sharing tools and toolchains should be free, for any sort of use, customization, and improvement. The universal value of a Q&A system is directly tied to the importance that good free tools should be available to set one up.

We want to support these free toolchains, which is why we release all of our own code. This is also why, when there are good free versions of proprietary tools, we should support them and help them grow. That support is one of the ways we contribute to long-term knowledge development, in everything we do.

Whether we host the result ourselves is a totally separate question. Both OSQA and Question2Answer offer hosted services. But any solution we use must be one that we could choose to host ourselves, if necessary.

Thomas wrote:
} the main advantage is that your putting it under a name and community
} who are already experienced at doing really good QA – so your seed of
} volunteers is going to be that much better! SE have nailed that vibe.

I agree that they have a good shared vibe. Quora have as well. It is a valuable thing, and also one deeply rooted in human nature, like wiki editing. 🙂

For precisely the reasons you mention, it is important for us to have a better in-house QA tool. We need a better channel for the people who are in that zone to shine on Wikipedia — beyond simply manning the Reference Desk and similar pages in various languages (which many hundreds of them already do), or removing themselves to other sites where inter-article linking to WM articles is difficult, answers are not directly editable, there is a new framework for logging in, messaging, &c.

We have some stellar community groups to seed such a site with ourselves — and this will offer a place for many more who like Q&A work but not other wiki editing to become involved in a rewarding way.

Taking the Steel Blogger Challenge
Thursday April 19th 2012, 12:29 pm
Filed under: Blogroll,chain-gang,citation needed

Much of my work recently has been about community creation, capacity, identity, energy, and relation to partnership-building and vision-setting. And how to listen carefully and plan well for that hindsight-enabled possibility-space we call the future. This affects everything from how we define the future we want to live, how we chart our own course in groups of all sizes, to how we raise funds, forge volunteer or sponsor relationships, and enable those around us to do work we’d like to see done.

I got excellent feedback on these ideas at last week’s OER meeting, where most projects wanted to be community-driven or maintained. A few people asked if I was writing a book, with varying levels of arm-twisting. So I’d like to get into better writing shape. Inspired by Cool Cat Teacher’s tireless blog and ideastream, I have been thinking about ways to publish thoughts and essays dozens of times a day. I enjoy writing short essays, and linking them to practical works or implications. I do this in some format – often on email lists or in response to private requests – every day. But I don’t currently do it methodically, publicly, in an archived or editable way. And there is a backlog of practical thoughts in my unintentionally-private tomboy notes about how my current communities could work better / internally and together.

So in the spirit of doing ten thousand times whatever you want to eventually do well, I am taking on a personal Steel Blogger Challenge – publishing a post for every day this year. Retroactively. That gives me a bit of catching up to do. I don’t know quite how to coordinate this with tweeting and writing essays of various lengths – the ideal length here would be 100-200 words to capture the idea, with a few links, but editable. And I’m not sure how to make my writing editable, though I would like to let you all make revisions and post updates and links and cross-references.

And for the first time recently I feel let down by my blogging platform. I want a better way to publish many times a day, in many formats at once. Including quick personal notes, 140-char summaries, blog posts, longer monographs. Preferably with wiki-style versioned editable backend for every format. If you have toolchain suggestions, please let me know.

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.

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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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