UPDATE (30-11-13): Here is a recording of Richard Stallman’s talk at the University of Lincoln. He spoke for over two hours and then took questions. My recording pauses at 1 hour 15 mins as the batteries ran out on my recorder and I switched to my phone. Only a couple of minutes was missed in the change over. The quality of the recording throughout is good. Stallman’s talk will be familiar to anyone who has followed his work and it provides a broad and structured introduction to his arguments. A key point for me during the evening was from 2:13 to 2:18hrs, when a member of the audience was asking Stallman about the need for innovation and progress. Wasn’t non-free, proprietary software acceptable if it results in the saving of lives, as in the health industry? Stallman said that he would chose freedom over progress and innovation. “Freedom is more important than these things!.. Sometimes people sacrifice their lives for freedom!”
Stallman’s views are difficult to fully take on board because their implications are so far reaching. Although he is well known for his role in the history of computing, his talk was not primarily about technology but about power and the relationship between citizens and the state. His views follow a liberal (libertarian?) tradition of arguing for liberty and freedom, but are combined with strong socialist reforms to ensure a redistribution of wealth and guarantee equality and inclusion in society. He also makes recurrent moral and ethical arguments – often phrased in terms of good and evil – that I interpret as attempts to cut through the complexity of moral philosophy and speak to common sense.
In person, Stallman is odd, funny, sincere and forceful in his views. I’m not convinced that he fully understands the implications of his arguments as truly revolutionary but at this point in time I think they are. I think there’s a need to study his work from the point of view of political philosophy and work with him to fully connect his arguments with liberal and socialist traditions of thought and political action. For sure, it would lead to effective critiques of his views and in doing so help strengthen his arguments and make them more forceful and compelling.
Eminent computer programmer and software freedom pioneer Richard Stallman will be giving a free public lecture at the University of Lincoln.
Stallman, often known by his initials RMS, is best known for creating a computer operating system composed entirely of free software. He pioneered the concept of ‘copyleft’, which uses the principles of copyright law to preserve the right to use, modify and distribute free software, and is the main author of free software licenses which describe those terms, most notably the GNU General Public License (GPL), the most widely used free software license.
Since the mid-1990s, Stallman has spent most of his time advocating for free software, as well as campaigning against software patents, digital rights management, and other legal and technical systems which he sees as taking away users’ freedoms.
Stallman said: “There are many threats to freedom in the digital society. They include massive surveillance, censorship, digital handcuffs, non-free software that controls users, and the War on Sharing. Other threats come from use of web services. Finally, we have no positive right to do anything in the Internet; every activity is precarious, and can continue only as long as companies are willing to cooperate with it.”
Tom Feltwell, from the University’s School of Computer Science, said: “Richard Stallman is very highly regarded and we are incredibly pleased to have him speaking at the University of Lincoln. His talk will be extremely interesting and non-technical so we would love to see members of the public come along to this special event.”
Stallman’s talk on ‘A Free Digital Society’ will take place at 6pm on Friday, 29th November in the Jackson Lecture Theatre, Main Administration Building, Brayford Pool Campus, University of Lincoln.
During my attendance at Dev8D last week, I used the time to start pulling together some ideas I’ve been knocking around for a few months now. Most of the projects I’ve helped set up or led over the last three years have involved working closely with developers working in higher education and ever since JISCPress, we’ve been growing a culture where student developers, either on bursaries, employed part-time or full-time recent graduates (i.e. their first ‘proper job’) are core contributors to the project. My point here is that through these projects I have been able to observe how young hackers learn their craft and make the transition from a formal education in Computer Science to learning on the job (i.e. apprenticeship).
I use the word ‘craft’ deliberately. I think our work is much more closely aligned with craftsmanship than with engineering but I was unsure how to articulate this until I read Pete McBreen’s Software Craftsmanship. McBreen argues that a focus on craftsmanship is to return to the roots of software development:
Good software developers have always understood that programming is a craft skill. Regardless of the amount of arcane and detailed technical knowledge that a person has, in the end, application development comes down to feel and experience.
McBreen distinguished software craftsmanship from software engineering and computer science, not as their opposites but as a different tradition “that happily coexists with and benefits from science and engineering.” He compares the software craftsman to the blacksmith, both of whom transcend science and engineering and benefit from improvements in their tools, materials and understanding. For McBreen, GNU/Linux is an example of software craftsmanship that thrives due to the dedication, skill and craft of the people who contribute to the development of the operating system.
‘Software engineering’ was born out of a so-called ‘software crisis’, identified at a NATO conference in 1968. It was determined that the way out of that crisis was to apply an engineering approach to large scale state of the art defence projects. Since that time, argues McBreen, “the needs of the US Department of Defence have dominated the conversation about software engineering.”
software engineering is not all that relevant to many projects. Software engineering was created to solve the problems of really large groups working on multiyear projects. Most modern software development, however, is done in relatively small teams.
Not surprisingly, the practise of software craftsmanship is often allied with agile development, which emphasises the human aspects of software development, the creative and variable processes involved in creating software that meets human needs. Both share a concern with quality and both encourage continual reflective critique of one’s work in order to improve the software and oneself. In his book on Crystal Clear, for example, Alistair Cockburn identifies ‘reflective improvement’ and ‘osmotic communication’ as two of the three minimum requirements for a Crystal Clear project. In practice, reflective improvement refers to workshops and end-of-iteration discussion about how the work is going and how it might be improved. Osmotic communication refers to how flows of information between developers should be unobstructed by locked doors, walls and corridors. It’s about sitting developers in the same or adjacent rooms so that they absorb information about the project with as few barriers as possible. Access to information, a safe environment where people can respectfully speak their minds and close collegial working are highly valued. At times, developers will program side-by-side or in pairs at one workstation, so as to review each others’ work. He refers to this as ‘peer code peering’.
Both reflective improvement and osmotic communication can be enhanced by the choice of tools developers use and the feedback they provide to her. Craftsmen in all trades rely on their tools to provide feedback – a joiner’s plane, a responsive power drill, etc. Many craftsmen will make their own tools to improve their responsiveness. Cockburn notes that one of the most important tools developers can use is an automated regression test suite, which allows the team to continuously test their work and provides feedback to each developer about the quality of their code. Feedback from a Continuous Integration (CI) suite of tools can be usefully presented by ‘information radiators’, dashboards which typically provide status information of servers, the number of use cases delivered and the number of tests passed. Although, Cockburn doesn’t use the term, I think that reflective improvement and osmotic communication refer to the ‘learning environment’ that the software craftsman creates so as to improve their understanding of their work and further develop their craft.
References to the importance of learning from others and from one’s work are made throughout McBreen’s book, as well as an entire chapter at the end of the book called ‘Perpetual Learning’. There, he outlines how to create a ‘learning environment’ by building a library of books for developers to read, as well as ensuring that they take time out each week to practice or learn something new. Like Cockburn, he emphasises the importance of workshops and a series of seminars where developers discuss their work. In addition, McBreen suggests that developers are encouraged to attend and present at conferences and write papers about their work as well as take on the role of instructor where they are able to do so. Craftsmen continually undertake self-directed learning, preferring non-proprietary, open source tools that are sustained by a community and made freely available to learn from, but more importantly, software craftsmen learn from each other, with master craftsmen mentoring journeymen and apprentices.
In a more recent book on software craftsmanship, Apprenticeship Patterns, Hoover and Oshineye also devote a chapter to ‘Perpetual Learning‘, offering further practical advice to aspiring software craftsmen. They list the following:
Expand your bandwidth: Read books and articles, engage with your peers via conferences, social media and mailing lists, join user groups, study from open educational materials on the web
Practice, practice, practice: Take the time to practice your craft without interruptions, in an environment where you can feel comfortable making mistakes. i.e. ‘deliberate practice’ They borrow the term ‘code katas’, whereby programming exercises are repeated again and again until they become ingrained in the individual.
Breakable toys: Budget for failure by designing and building toy systems that are similar in toolset, but not in scope to the systems you build at work. i.e. build something personal to you, that you will learn from. Develop your own CMS or game that you can afford to break while learning.
Use the source: Seek out other people’s code and read it. Start with the applications and tools you use every day.
Reflect as you work: Become a reflective practitioner of software development. This involves regular introspection into how you are working.
Record what you learn: Keep a record of your journey in a journal, personal wiki, or blog. A chronological record of the lessons you have learned can provide inspiration to those you mentor, since it makes your journey explicit, but it can also give you a vital resource to draw upon.
Share what you learn: Early in your apprenticeship, develop the habit of regularly sharing the lessons you have learned. i.e. keep a blog, run workshop sessions, be part of a community of learners.
Create feedback loops: Create mechanisms for regularly gathering more or less objective external data about your performance. i.e. automated regression tests, information radiators, exams and certifications, pair programming, and asking your peers what they think.
Learn how you fail: Seek to identify the ways in which you tend to fail and try to resolve those that are worth fixing.
In his book, The Craftsman, Richard Sennett chooses to focus on open source software development as a modern form of craftsmanship (“the skill of making things well”). The value of Sennett’s book is its breadth of scope. While making no reference to McBreen’s earlier book, Sennett situates open source hacking and the development of GNU/Linux within the social and economic history of craftsmanship and our relationship with technology. For Sennett, Linux is a “public craft” and open source hackers are a “community of craftsmen.” In terms of learning this public craft, he compares ancient pottery making with open source hacking and finds that only the speed between problem finding and problem solving differentiates the two. In programming, and especially open source programming, the velocity at which we can learn can be much greater than in traditional, material crafts. Our tools and the open, distributed nature of developer communities enhance our opportunities for learning. ((Sennett’s observations also help us consider software craftsmanship together with learning theories such as cognitive apprenticeship, situated learning, and constructivism.))
In The Nature and Art of Workmanship, David Pye does not make reference to software development but does develop a very useful framework for identifying and understanding craftsmanship, which complements much of what Sennett and McBreen describe. For Pye, craftsmanship is the workmanship of risk; that is, work that is constantly at risk of error in the process of creation. A simple example of this is writing with a pen. In contrast to the workmanship of risk (craftsmanship) is the workmanship of certainty; that is, workmanship where the quality is always pre-determined and is usually found in quantity production, and always in fully automated work. An example of this would be modern printing. The workmanship of certainty is most common in modern, industrial society, but has existed in some form for hundreds, if not thousands of years. All types of workmanship exist somewhere on the axis between risk and certainty and furthermore are subject to varying degrees of regulation or freedom.
What distinguishes the degree of risk or certainty for Pye is the extent to which the workman’s tools regulate his work. Pye argues that a pure form of workmanship of risk is hardly ever seen in any trade; for centuries people have developed tools to help regulate their work in some way (e.g. jigs) and guarantee some degree of certainty in the quality of their work. Regulation of work does not necessarily lead to certainty as some tools such as a lathe can be used in combination with a free hand, producing unique objects that are nevertheless regulated in some respects such as their size but not their form.
A simple way of asking whether it is workmanship of risk or certainty is to ask, “is the result predetermined and unalterable once production begins?”
In the drawing above, I have speculated that software craftsmanship as McBreen describes it, would be called workmanship of risk by Pye, with regulation introduced by tools such as Integrated Development Environments (IDE), Continuous Integration (CI) suites and the general operating system environment the developer is working with. Although regulated, like almost all workmanship of risk, the software craftsman often produces something bespoke to the users’ requirements, iteratively working towards the desired result through the writing and refactoring of code. Agile software development recognises that the result of most software development cannot be predetermined and that projects run best when they remain responsive to the users’ feedback. Software Engineering, on the other hand, aims to eliminate as much of the risk as possible and pre-determine the outcome of the design and programming effort, which both McBreen and Pyritz both identify as a form of Taylorism.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers defines software engineering as “the application of a systematic, disciplined, quantifiable approach to development, operation, and maintenance of software”. Pyritz questions whether the Taylorist model of scientific management is even viable in software development, quoting Humphrey, who asked ‘Why don’t they practice what they preach?’
The general practices of industrial software engineers are poor by almost any measure”. Why? “The educational system does not provide graduates with the practical skills they will later need. . . . Few software organizations are willing or able to provide the remedial training their new engineers need. Today’s software organizations have few if any role models who consistently demonstrate effective work habits and disciplines.
In learning to become software craftsmen we need role models, too. Both McBreen and Sennett emphasise the importance of apprenticeship and slowly learning by doing with others. This is what JISC’s DevCSI offers to the sector, running regular hack days, DevXS and the annual Dev8D conference. This year over 250 developers attended Dev8D to learn from each other.
While I was at Dev8D, I issued an informal survey asking developers a number of questions about their working environment, how they learn their craft, the tools they use and an assessment of their skills. I shall provide a summary of the responses in another post [UPDATE: here it is], but I am encouraged to do further research in determining how developers (working in tertiary education) learn their craft and how opportunities for learning might be improved.
Another related project I started while at Dev8D was Hacking the University, a simple website intended to collect short interviews with developers working in universities. It is inspired by The Setup and I hope that over time, it will provide a record of the people working in this community and add to the recognition of the work they do, how they learn and how their working environment impacts upon their work and learning.
If you are a developer working in a university, please consider contributing to Hacking the University and telling others about your approach to your craft.
Last week, I submitted a bid to JISC’s OER Rapid Innovation programme, proposing some work to turn BuddyPress profiles into both a consumer and producer application of open content. You can read the bid on Github. It’s the first time I’ve written a bid on Github, having previously use Google Docs to write bids that are publicly accessible during the bid writing process. With software development projects such as this latest one, it made sense to use the same source code repository that will be used to manage the project code as the bid writing process is an important part of the project’s history and code benefits from proper documentation, including in this case, a Use Case. With the exception of having to format the text for the final PDF submission, it was a nice way to write the bid, too, working solely with a text editor and knowing that the documents were properly versioned and backed up on Github.
I see no benefit to writing bids such as this in private, other than hiding the process by which I write grant applications. The projects I propose and the outputs they generate are all open source and usually promote some variation of openness (open access/source/education/data), so why not start with the writing of the bid? Perhaps someone will be generous enough to contribute in some way or even learn something from being able to see the bids in their raw state. It also stakes a claim on the nature of the proposal, too and with a CC license, the idea is sufficiently ‘protected’.
Sometimes there is a lot at stake when proposing a project (e.g. people’s jobs) and, I’ll admit, I didn’t share the Orbital project bid as I was writing it. In hindsight, I don’t think it would have changed anything had I opened up the bid writing process on that occasion either.
It would be nice to write a bid using Github with a partner institution. There are tools which allow you to visualise the activity around the Github repository, which might be interesting to look at. Perhaps something might be learned about how academics undertake this part of their work. It is an exercise I seem to undertake several times a year and a reflective part of my work that I actually enjoy. I was also thinking that Etherpad would likewise be a nice tool to use for collaborative bid writing, because you can literally play back the entire authoring of the document. A version of Etherpad was developed at the DevXS conference, which uses Github as a back end, offering us the best of both worlds it seems. We run our own Etherpad-lite server here at Lincoln, so I should look at how we might integrate it with Github.
One aspect of this latest project proposal is that we work with Matt Gold and his team on the CUNY Commons In A Box project. Matt and I have talked in the past about collaborating on an open data project and this will be a nice rehearsal for something bigger that I hope we can work on together. On that occasion, Matt, we should write the bid together over Github 😉
Just a heads up to say that we’ll be advertising for a Web Developer to work on Orbital, our JISC-funded ‘Managing Research Data’ project. The post, starting in March/April, will be a 12 month, full-time, grade 5 (c.£21K) position.
The Web Developer (‘you’) will be working in the Centre for Educational Research and Development, alongside Nick Jackson, Lead Developer on Orbital, and also benefit from being in a team that includes staff in central ICT services and the Library. Orbital builds on and extends previous work we’ve been doing over the last couple of years, so if you’re interested, you should read through our projects pages.
If we were to summarise our technologies and interests I guess they would be #agile, #opensource, #opendata #LAMP, #php, #codeigniter, #mongoDB, #OAuth, #APIs, #HTML5, #CSS3, #github and moving towards #RDF and #LinkedData.
Just seeing these hashtags listed together should cause your heart to beat with excitement 🙂
When we advertise in January, you’ll see that the job spec is actually a pretty standard affair. What I want to emphasise here is how interesting and fun the job will be.
The key section in the Job Description is what you’d be working on with Nick:
Development and implementation of a set of web services, which re-use and develop our previous, JISC-funded work as well as other initiatives (e.g. SWORD and DataCite DOIs).
Documented source code will be made available under an open source license by the end of the project.
Development and implementation of mechanisms for managing and transferring data, including the use of MongoDB, OAuth, read/write RESTful APIs, SWORD2 interoperability, and integration with the administrative functions of EPrints.
That actually summarises a lot of work.
I’m managing the project and try to run things with as little hierarchy as possible within a university environment. You’ll always know the project priorities and will be trusted to self-organise and deliver on time, working to two-week iterations and, roughly, monthly releases. I regularly reflect on how we work and our overall working environment. For Orbital, I favour the Crystal Clear agile methodology, as does Nick. You’ll be encouraged to reflect on this with us, too.
We work hard, and not always 9-5pm, but we work at a pace that is sustainable over a long period of time. We take our work seriously but, in the spirit of hacking, are always looking for ways to have fun, too. We recognise that we’re fortunate to be working in a diverse and intellectually stimulating academic environment, but are user/product focused at the end of the day. You’ll be working directly with our users, who are Researchers in the School of Engineering and Siemens, and staff in the Library and ICT. You’ll need to be showing them refreshed, working software every couple of weeks and iteratively improving Orbital, based on their feedback and requirements. There may also be times when you’ll be asked to talk publicly about your work and you’ll be encouraged to blog about it every so often, too. I expect the project to produce one or two conference/journal papers, and you’ll be named as a contributor and can take as active role in that as you like.
I hope this sounds like an interesting job. At £21K, I recognise that it will probably attract younger developers looking to gain experience, though of course, we welcome applications from anyone whatever your age. By the time the post starts, we’ll have set up a decent dev/staging/production environment, hosted in the cloud, and relying on Github and Jenkins to keep things versioned, integrated and tested. Nick will have been developing Orbital for a couple of months or more and laid the groundwork for someone to start coding quickly in a supportive environment.
If you’re thinking of applying and don’t live in Lincoln, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s a decent small city, and a relatively cheap place to live. The campus is modern and sits by a Marina in the middle of the city. You can walk to work. I love the place. Oh, and you can choose your own hardware for development, within reason. Most of us use Macs, but whatever suits you. I’ll ask the successful candidate what they prefer when we offer them the job.
If, after reading around the project website, you’ve got any questions about the post, please do get in touch. Thanks.
* Wondering what the hell ‘web scale’ means? Something like this.
Recently, I posted on the LNCD blog about our work on data.lincoln.ac.uk. You might find it interesting.
One of the by-products outcomes of our recent ‘proper’ projects is data.lincoln.ac.uk. This is simply a site that documents the data we are warehousing in our MongoDB datastore (called ‘Nucleus’), and the programatic methods by which we (and the public) can access that data. Most of the data is licensed for public use, but where appropriate (e.g. personal data), a secure access token must be requested. Currently, outside of our own projects, the only people needing/wanting secure access tokens are some third year computer science students who are using data.lincoln.ac.uk as the basis for their dissertation projects and require access to their own personal event data.
Our approach to publishing open data at the University of Lincoln has been to do so in a way that was immediately useful to the work we were doing…
Google gave us Knol (we didn’t need it), now it’s taking it away (meh…), and instead has given us Annotum, something far more useful than Knol was ever going to be. Annotum is a free (as in speech and beer) theme for WordPress that turns a site into an open access publishing platform suited to scholarly journals. It’s more than just a theme though. It comes with several built-in plugins, too, which extend the functionality of WordPress significantly, including the introduction of a new workflow based around peer-review.
When I first read about Annotum this morning, I was both pleased and disappointed. Pleased to see that finally there was a decent attempt to turn WordPress into a journal publishing platform and disappointed that it didn’t come from the academic community itself. We’ve seen the utility of WordPress for scholarly publishing for a few years but never concentrated our efforts enough to actually deliver what Google and partners have done (significantly, the lead Developer, Carl Leubsdorf). Thankfully, Annotum is not only an open source theme for WordPress (and, perhaps more significantly, available to use on WordPress.com right now), but development is also taking place on Github, which is about the most collaborative development environment there is. It’s begging for academic input from developers, publishers, users and tinkerers like myself, with no barriers to participation from what I can see. I’ve made a couple of suggestions to start with. There’s a number of people doing work on scholarly publishing (e.g. #jiscPub, #scholarlyHTML) and I’m sure their work would make Annotum better for all of us.
Yesterday I had another academic ask me if I could help them set up a scholarly journal and so I pointed out the OJS system that I run. To be honest, while OJS is the gold standard for blind peer-reviewed open access scholarly journal publishing, the barriers to entry are high and, well, I agree with this guy. As of today, I’ll be recommending that we look at Annotum before jumping to OJS. I’m pretty sure the response will be positive from my colleagues.
I offer this as one response to my previous post. Much more needs to be done to ‘reverse imagineer’ EdTech, but this will be my practical focus for the foreseeable future and the nexus of where theory is put into practice, where pedagogy meets technología: “The processes and practices of doing things, understanding things and developing knowledge”? (Selwyn 2011, p7)
A new group
In January, I wrote about how I had written a paper for the university about the role of technology in the context of Student as Producer. The paper included a recommendation that a new team be convened to “further the research, development and support of technology” at the university. January feels like a long time ago now, and I wanted to write about what’s been happening since then, because it’s all good 🙂
Following my presentation of the original paper to the Teaching and Learning Committee, I was asked to provide more detail on what the proposed team would do and a justification for the budget I had outlined. Both papers were written on behalf of and with the co-operation of, the Dean of Teaching and Learning, the University Librarian, the Prof. of Education, the Head of ICT and the Vice President of Academic Affairs in the Student Union. The second paper went back to the T&L Committee and, following their approval, then went to the university’s Executive Board in early April.
I began the paper by outlining what the team is for:
The team will consolidate and extend the existing collaborative work taking place between Centre for Educational Research and Development, The Library and ICT Services ((Since writing this, I’ve listed examples of our existing work in a recent blog post. You can add JISCPress and ChemistryFM, this WordPress platform and our e-portfolio system to that list, too.)) and invite staff and students from across the university to join the team. The team will offer incentives to staff and students who wish to contribute to the rapid innovation of appropriate technology for education at the university, through work-experience, research bursaries and internal and external applications for funding. Through our experience of the Fund for Educational Development (FED) and Undergraduate Research Opportunity Scheme (UROS) funds, we know this is an effective method of engaging staff and students in research and development. A core principle of the team will be that students and staff have much to learn from each other and that students as producers can be agents of change in the use of technology for education.
I then went on to argue:
The Student as Producer project is anticipated to take between 3-5 years to fully embed across the university. During this time, significant changes will occur in the technologies we use. In just the last five years, we have seen the rise of web applications such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Web 2.0 in general. Aside from such applications, networked infrastructure has developed considerably, with access to broadband now widespread and the use of smart phones and netbooks rapidly increasing. For a student at the University of Lincoln in 2011, high-speed networks are now ubiquitous across the city campuses and such networks themselves are now the ‘learning landscape’, in which the university is but one part.
There is a strong argument for shifting away from the idea of ‘educational technology’ to address technology straight on, recognising that any technology can support and enhance the research, teaching and learning process, and that the use of these technologies increasingly lies outside the institution’s control. We would argue that it is not the university’s role to compete with or determine the use of any technology but rather support access to technology in the broadest terms. This can be achieved through incremental improvements to infrastructure (e.g. network capacity and ease of use), supporting staff and students (e.g. training, workshops, courses) and personalising and integrating the services we do provide so that staff and students have a useful and enjoyable experience of technology at the university and understand how it fits within their wider networks. In particular, we should consider whether Blackboard can be better enhanced through mobile applications and the integration of other popular services such as Facebook. It is a key technology for the support of teaching and learning and if extended through the work of the proposed team, could be a platform for innovation. All of this work should be informed by a broad understanding of the social roles of technology and the objective of producing critical, digitally literate staff and students.
I presented a list of risks that I thought would present themselves if we didn’t take this approach:
Poor co-ordination: Poorly co-ordinated investment in technology to support strategic objectives, resulting in competing interests in limited resources.
Disjuncture: Growing disjuncture between student expectations and institutional provision of technology and support.
Inertia: No locus for technological experimentation and innovation.
Unattractive to potential post-graduates and staff: Technological provision compares poorly to other institutions, putting off new staff and post-graduates.
Loss of income stream: Under-investment in ‘seeding’ projects that may attract external income.
Business As Usual: During a period of significant change in Higher Education, our progressive T&L Strategy is hindered by poorly co-ordinated technological development.
Student as Consumer: Technology remains something ‘provided’ by the university, rather than produced and informed by its staff and students.
Finally, I provided more detail about the costs. After taking into account existing budgets available to us and anticipated external research income, the total I asked for was £22K/yr to pay for an additional 12-month Intern position and a contribution to the staff and student bursaries we want to make available. This was approved.
I was pleased with the outcome as it means that our current work is being recognised as well as the strategic direction we wish to go in. In terms of resourcing, we will have at least one more full-time (Intern) post and hold a £20K annual budget which will be used to provide grants and bursaries to staff and students, pay for hardware and software as needed and pay for participants to go to conferences to discuss their work and learn from the EdTech community at large. This doesn’t include any external income that we hope to generate. The nature of our applications for research grants is unlikely to change other than we hope to have more capacity in the future including both students and academic staff as active contributors to the development, implementation and support of technology for education at the university.
Team? Group? Network? Place?
The core members of the group (i.e. CERD/ICT/Library) met for an afternoon last week to discuss the roadmap for getting everything in place for the new academic year. We began by discussing the remit of the group (as detailed in the two committee papers), which is principally to serve the objectives of Student as Producer, the de facto teaching and learning strategy of the university. We spent a while discussing the nature of the group; that is, whether it was a team, a network, a group or even a place. In the first committee paper I wrote, I described it as “a flexible, cross-departmental team of staff and student peers”, but have since come to refer to it as a ‘group’, as ‘team’ does not reflect the nature of how we intend to work, nor the relationships we hope to build among participants, nor is a ‘team’ inclusive enough. I’d like to think that we’ll develop a network of interested staff and students and even attract interest and collaboration from outside the university, but I think it’s too early to call what we’re doing a network, although we are networked and working on the Net. We’ve given ourselves a couple of weeks to come up with name but whatever we call it, we agreed that in principle we’d govern the group by consensus among us. Ideally, though not always in practice, the Net can help us create flatter structures of governance, so we’ll try to shape the way we work around this ideal. My role will be to co-ordinate the work of the group by consensus.
UPDATE: We decided upon LNCD as the name for our group. It’s a recursive acronym: LNCD’s Not a Central Development group.
All participants will be encouraged to write about their work in the context of Student as Producer, building on the progressive pedagogical framework that is being implemented at the university, theorising their work critically and reflexively. We’ll support this approach, too, building a reading list for people wanting to think critically about EdTech and an occasional seminar series where we’ll discuss our ideas critically, reflexively and collegially.
Road map and tools
We will be up and running by the start of the next academic year. Over the summer, we’ve got a timetable of work that we plan to do to ensure we’ve got a clearly defined identity and the tools in place to support the nature of our work. By the end of September, we’ll have a website that offers clear information on what we do, what we’re working on, how to get involved and the ways we can support staff and students at the university. The site will allow you to review all aspects of our projects as well as propose new projects which can be voted up and down according to staff and students’ priority. There will be an application form for you to apply for funding from us and a number of ways for you discuss your ideas on and offline. We’ll be continuing our current provision of staff training, but will be looking to re-develop the sessions into short courses that are useful to both staff and students. The 2009 Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World report recommended that
The time would seem to be right seriously and systematically to begin the process of renegotiating the relationship between tutor and student to bring about a situation where each recognises and values the other’s expertise and capability and works together to capitalise on it. This implies drawing students into the development of approaches to teaching and learning. [Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World, p.9]
This is very much what Student as Producer is aiming to do through embedding research-engaged teaching and learning across the curricula and the approach we plan to take around support and training for the use of technology in teaching and learning. We’ll be working with the Student Union and the Principle Teacher Fellows across the university to identify ways that students and their tutors can be encouraged to support each other and we welcome the input and collaboration of anyone who wishes to adopt and advocate this approach. We’ll be designing some posters, flyers and business cards over the summer so that people around the university know who we are and how to get in touch in time for Fresher’s Week.
For the Geeks, you might be interested to know that we’ve decided upon a set of tools for managing our work online in a distributed environment where most of us work in different parts of the university campuses. We’ll have a dedicated virtual Linux box (as well as our usual development servers) and the main website will be run on WordPress using our own custom CWD theme. We’ll be migrating all of our code to Git Hub very soon and we’ll be using Pivotal Tracker to manage our development tasks in an agile and open way. We’ll be using our existing combination of Get Satisfaction and Zen Desk to manage peer-to-peer user support and bug reports and we’ll also be looking at alternatives such as User Voice and the Open Source Q&A tool to provide a way for you to suggest and vote for project ideas. Notably, through the use of their APIs, most of these tools integrate well, so that we can create tasks in Pivotal Tracker from bug reports made with Zen Desk and associate those tasks with commits on Git Hub. We’ll be using Twitter just as we always do, and we’ll be using Google Groups for longer discussions around each project (as well as regularly meeting face-to-face, of course). For projects that don’t involve writing code (which we certainly welcome), we’ll be looking at tools that assist with resource development and document control, such as digress.it, MediaWiki, Git Hub, Google Docs, EPrints and Jorum, depending on the nature of the project. We won’t be prescriptive with the tools we adopt, using whatever is appropriate, but with an emphasis on those that offer decent APIs, data portability and good usability. Proprietary software lacking APIs and with poor usability (we can all think of a few) won’t get much of a look in. Finally, through RSS and widgets, we’ll be presenting a coherent picture of each project on the main website.
There’s quite a bit to do but we know how to do it. If you’ve got any suggestions (a name would be useful!), ideas or even want to join us, for the time-being, leave a comment here and we’ll get back to you. Thanks.
We’ve recently started providing staff training on using Google apps and one of the questions that always comes up is around privacy and security. Following one of our sessions, one member of staff is using Google docs to manage a large number of sensitive documents, with several other colleagues. The sharing of folders and documents with different people is proving very useful. Recently, that member of staff asked me about whether it was possible to encrypt files stored on Google docs so I had a look around to see what the situation is. I knew that transport encryption is available (i.e. https) and that there was no feature in Google docs to encrypt a file, but wanted to provide a thorough response to my colleague.
As I said, Google doesn’t provide the facility to encrypt data held in Google docs. You can however, encrypt a file and upload it to Google docs for online storage only. To read the file, it has to be downloaded and decrypted. I tested this with a .pgp file.
I searched around on the web for a few more clues and there’s the suggestion (last comment) that the data is ‘sharded’ across multiple servers and when you click on the name of a file, the data is brought together into the file for you to work on. I haven’t found any official confirmation of this technique being used.
There’s a Google docs employee on Get Satisfaction that has responded a few times to people’s questions around this area. These replies offer some clarity:
In summary, there is no encryption of data on Google’s servers, but Google are using the same systems to manage their private corporate data and they comply with international (including the UK) data privacy policies. Introducing encryption is technically feasible but would introduce many negative consequences to the features they provide (slower, no collaboration, etc.)
If you’ve got any other, officially confirmed, information on the security of Google docs, please do leave a comment. Thanks.