Bebop. A BuddyPress plugin for curating personal collections of (teaching) resources

We finished our JISC-funded Bebop project today. One of the main outcomes is a BuddyPress plugin that allows a user to import content they’ve uploaded on other sites, such as Flickr, Vime, YouTube and any site with an RSS feed, into their BuddyPress activity stream. What’s especially nice, is that the user can select which content appears in their activity stream, so it effectively allows them to curate collections of shared resources as part of their profile. There’s a good reason for this, and you can read all about it over on the project blog.

BuddyPress, Bebop and building the staff directory

The Bebop plugin and documentation

p.s. this was a nice outcome of the project, too: The benefits of code review

Open bid writing

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 ;-)

Open Education and Sustainability

I’ve just given a 15 minute presentation as part of a session on ‘sustainable practice in OER‘. My slides are below. I’ve presented as one of a number of speakers on this subject before, discussing the more obvious ideas around sustainability that have arisen from leading the ChemistryFM project. I didn’t really go over them again today, preferring to think about sustainability in the wider social context and beyond the specific outcomes of our project.

A few ideas that we, in the Centre for Educational Research and Development (CERD), are working on and leading at the University of Lincoln, are included in the slides below, but I’d like to highlight them here so you don’t miss (or dismiss) them based on the outline in my presentation.

The main message about sustainability that I tried to push across in the presentation is that for OER and Open Education in general to be sustainable, we need sustainable societies and a sustainable planet. These are, arguably, not sustainable in their current form, so how can Open Education both contribute to sustainability in general and therefore become sustainable in itself as a paradigm of education?

Following Prof. Mike Neary’s lead in my department, I suggested that the ideas of ‘student as producer’, ‘pedagogy of excess’ and ‘teaching in public’ are attempts to not only change education at the university so that it is sustainable (among having other positive attributes), but can also be usefully adopted by advocates of open education and help develop a wider framework of sustainability for the ‘revolutionary’ changes in education which proponents of Open Education keep referring to.

Under those three headings, I have highlighted a couple of other ideas worth engaging with by ‘open educators’. They are ‘mass intellectuality’ and ‘commonism’, both of which have been developed in the area of political critical theory. The best thing to do if you’re interested in these terms, is to follow the links in the presentation, some of which I also include below.

There’s no certainty that any of this will achieve our goals of sustainability, but personally I am satisfied that it is a practical and intellectually rigorous direction to pursue with all the critical energy I can manage.

On ‘Student as Producer’ see the book chapter that Mike and I wrote and read about how this is starting to be developed as a core principle and practice at the University of Lincoln.

On ‘Pedagogy of Excess’, Mike and Andy Hagyard, who also works here in CERD, have a book chapter due out in September. If you want to read a draft, I’m sure they will oblige, so please do ask.

On ‘Teaching in Public’, I have a few notes from a presentation, and we have just got the go ahead from the publisher, Continuum, to write a book on this subject, which all members of CERD are contributing to. I will be writing about Teaching in Public in the context of open education, thinking about Burawoy’s statement that “students are a teacher’s first public”.

On ‘mass intellectuality’, we write about it in the Student as Producer chapter (see above), but are drawing on a history of this terms’ development in political critical theory. Most sources seem to lead back to Negri and Hardt, which draws on the work of autonomism, which has developed Marx’s ideas around the ‘general intellect’. I would strongly recommend Dyer-Witheford’s book, Cyber-Marx: Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High Technology Capitalism, for a good discussion on both the ‘general intellect’ and ‘mass intellectuality’, especially how it might relate to open education. We drew on this book for our book chapter.

On ‘commonism’, again, see this article by Nick Dyer-witheford, where he attempts to elaborate the idea. I think that those who are advocates of ‘the commons’ and P2P might like the ideas that are developing around ‘commonism’.

Finally, here are today’s slides:

Towards a manifesto for sharing

One of the conclusions I’ve come to over the course of the ChemistryFM project is that sharing doesn’t need institutionalising. I don’t think we need to develop policy and processes for sharing the work we do. I’ve been drafting the final report for the ChemistryFM project this week and have written that “the overall approach taken throughout the project was to not treat it as a project.” Basically, despite being Project Manager, I’ve just let the teachers and students get on with the work we said we’d do and prompted them simply to remind them of obligations we have to finishing the project on time.

The idea of formalising the process of sharing teaching and learning materials is something I’ve found myself increasingly resisting throughout the project. Academics don’t need more constraints on their working practices, they need less. They need more freedom to share and a hand in doing so when they’re hesitant about how best to share their work; they need support when they’re unclear about how to license their resources.

I’ve been reminded of a paper by David Noble where he argues that universities are responsible for “the systematic conversion of intellectual activity into intellectual capital and, hence, intellectual property.” He goes on to bemoan

the commoditization of the educational function of the university, transforming courses into courseware, the activity of instruction itself into commercially viable proprietary products that can be owned and bought and sold in the market. In the first phase the universities became the site of production and sale of patents and exclusive licenses. In the second, they are becoming the site of production of — as well as the chief market for — copyrighted videos, courseware, CD–ROMs, and Web sites.

Of course, the OER movement is in part a reaction to this very commoditisation of education and an effort to counter the transformation of courses into commercial courseware.

I worry though that by institutionalising OERs, we’re producing constraints that go against sharing. Scaling up the production of OERs to an institutional level where sharing is considered in terms of an IP Policy, business case, marketing and ‘best practice’ will kill the potential that already exists to share. We have the Internet, we have the licenses, we have an abundance of resources to share. We don’t even need to measure success in terms of resources shared. Rather, we should be measuring the success of the OER movement by our willingness to resist the systematic conversion of intellectual activity into intellectual capital. To justify OERs in terms of a business case is just another way of creating capital out of immaterial labour.

In terms of our contribution to the academic commons we’ve already argued that the teacher-student relationship needs to be defined by an alternative organising principle where the student is a co-producer in the construction of mass intellectuality.

this requires academics and students to do more than simply redesign their curricula, but go further and redesign the organizing principle, (i.e. private property and wage labour), through which academic knowledge is currently being produced… creating a teaching, learning and research environment which promotes the values of openness and creativity, engenders equity among academics and students and thereby offers an opportunity to reconstruct the student as producer and academic as collaborator. In an environment where knowledge is free, the roles of the educator and the institution necessarily change. The educator is no longer a delivery vehicle and the institution becomes a landscape for the production and construction of a mass intellect in commons.

When there’s equity between teacher and student, then sharing will come naturally, it will be unstoppable and grow exponentially. When teaching and learning materials are evaluated, packaged, branded, standardised and archived, they’re turned into learning objects consumed by objectified ‘learners’. That is, if they ever get as far as becoming learning objects as each step in their production is another barrier to sharing.

Scott Leslie has got it right when he says, “if you want to share, you will”. If we help create a desire, (a compulsion is what I feel), to share in both teacher and student academics, then any existing barriers will be irrelevant. We do that, not by institutionalising sharing, but by showing the humanity in sharing; the joy of giving and receiving; the immaterial wealth of knowledge that already exists and the pleasure of creating social relations that resist the organising principle of private property and wage labour.

I’m currently reading Do It Yourself. A handbook for changing our world. It’s basically a book about taking direct action. There’s a section in there on ‘popular education‘, which I think the current debate around the institutionalisation of OERs, as clearly seen from the comments and pingbacks on Scott’s post, could learn from. It’s written by the Trapese Collective, and walks through the key aspects of popular education:

  1. A commitment to transformation and solidarity
  2. Learning our own histories and not his-story
  3. Starting from daily reality
  4. Learning together as equals
  5. Getting out of the classroom
  6. Inspiring social change

There’s no emphasis on technology or networks or even the conscious act of sharing. The emphasis is on grounding education in the reality of our social relations, the struggle of daily life, the hierarchical relations between institutions and people, and between academics and students. The desire for autonomy is also a desire to re-instate the commons, to break the enclosures that currently inhibit sharing. The conscious act of sharing is both a move to resist oppression and a drive towards autonomy. After all, we share our work in education so that one-day we might become free through education, don’t we?

The title of this post is ‘towards a manifesto for sharing’. If we were to write such a manifesto, what would it contain? Feel free to start writing it in the comment box below. Thanks.

Pencils and Pixels: Publishing OERs using WordPress (and EPrints)

I’ve spent much of today trying to finish off a site for anyone interested in learning how to sketch.  Pam Locker, a Principle Teaching Fellow and lecturer on the Design for Exhibitions and Museums degree, had produced (with her colleagues) ten, good quality videos on learning how to sketch and wanted to make them widely available. We discussed Creative Commons licensing and how we might publish them on the web and, well, this is what I’ve ended up with… For me, it’s a kind of rehearsal for the HEA/JISC-funded Chemistry.fm project.

[As I write, I've still got to upload a couple of videos and podcasts, but it's complete enough to discuss here].

Pencils and Pixels

http://pencilsandpixels.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/

All the original materials are in our Institutional Repository (IR). <– that’s the direct link which you might want to have a squint at. Although the IR transcodes video for preview on the web, we weren’t satisfied with the quality of the web versions for display on the WordPress site. Due to the nature of the content, it’s important to be able to see considerable detail on the screen and so we looked around for third-party hosting that would accept 50 mins+ videos at 2Mbps each. I ended up opting for a Vimeo Pro account.

So, at this point, we have all the original source materials in the IR, as well as copies of the high quality videos on Vimeo which we could use to embed on a WordPress site. From the IR, you can preview and download the videos as well as download all the accompanying support materials as a .zip file.

The WordPress site consists of fourteen pages. One Overview page, is a parent page for all ten videos and their related resources. It’s basically a map of resources linking to the individual files in the IR. There’s also a License page and a page with information on how to Download all the OERs. In addition to the license page, I’ve added the CC license code to the theme footer. This could have been achieved with a plugin but I just hard coded it in the theme. The site also has the Dublin Core for WordPress plugin (actually, it’s activated across all blogs on our WPMU platform – hell, why not!) and the OAI-ORE plugin for WordPress is activated, too. I wrote about these plugins recently and following a comment from Andy Powell, updated the DC4WP plugin to reflect current standards.

Because much of the content is constructed using WordPress pages and not posts, I also used the RSS includes pages plugin, which does exactly that. Then, I adjusted the publish dates of all the pages so that they are included in the RSS feed in the right order.  Actually, ‘right order’ is questionable here. I’ve opted to publish them backwards so that when someone subscribes to the feed they get the course dumped in their reader in one go, with the first video first. By default, they would be in reverse order and I guess Tony Hirst would say that’s a better way of doing it and I should use his daily feed plugin to drip feed the OERs. Ack! I dunno. Personally, I like the way you can click on the feed and get the entire resource ordered correctly in Google Reader :-) Go on, tell me what I should do…

OERs in Google Reader

In addition to the embedded video, I also created versions of the videos for the iPhone/iPod Touch. I used WordPress posts for this because you can add categories to posts and from the category, you get a nice feed which can be subscribed to separately from the main feed (which also includes the video podcasts). I added a clearly visible link to the video podcasts on the front page and a link on the Download page.  The main feed and the podcast feed are both auto-discoverable.

As well as these feeds, I also created an XML/RDF block of links in the sidebar to advertise to geeks the OAI-ORE Atom resource map and other stuff. A bit pointless, but you might like to have a look.

I also thought that it might be nice to watch the videos using Boxee. The site RSS feed doesn’t really work (you can’t control the embedded video), but there’s a Vimeo app for Boxee that can be used to subscribe to any particular user’s videos. This works nicely, although if I start using the account for other, unrelated videos, it’s going to get cluttered. I guess you could run a search for ‘Pencils and Pixels’ which would only pick up the videos we want. I need to think about Boxee and other broadcasting applications a bit more. I’d be interested to know how you might have approached this project differently.

Pencils and Pixels on Boxee

UPDATE: I forgot to add (maybe because it’s just so trivial with WordPress), that the Pencils and Pixels site also has the Media RSS and WPtouch plugins activated. It will look really nice on your iPhone, Android, Blackberry and maybe other phones, too. The MediaRSS plugin should allow me to embed media in the RSS feed. I wonder whether it can improve the Podcast feed but I think that by default, it’s only set up to work on images. I’ll work on it. I’ve also used FeedBurner to enhance the podcast feed. The nice thing about this is that you can quickly prepare the feed for submitting to iTunes, which I’ve done and it should appear in the next few days. A direct download link for iTunes is here ;-) UPDATE: Here is the approved iTunes link.

iTunes

The FolkSemantic Widget for OER discovery

I like this. A widget that analyses the content of your web page and suggest related Open Educational Resources (OERs), using FolkSemantic, a collaborative website that allows you to “browse and search over 110,000 OERs”. You can see the widget in the sidebar of this blog under the heading of ‘Related Educational Resources’ –>

So, if I dump a load of text relating to ‘physics’, say, you should see physics-related OERs… Does it work? :-) Some random tests on other blog posts, suggests it is a bit hit and miss, but is certainly matching some OERs to the content. I wonder if we could use this approach to find related documents on the JISCPress project?

Physics (Greekphysis – φύσις meaning “nature“) is a natural science; it is the study of matter[1] and its motion through spacetime and all that derives from these, such as energy and force.[2] More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the world and universe behave.[3][4]

Physics is one of the oldest academic disciplines, perhaps the oldest through its inclusion of astronomy.[5] Over the last two millennia, physics had been considered synonymous with philosophychemistry, and certain branches of mathematics and biology, but during the Scientific Revolution in the 16th century, it emerged to become a unique modern science in its own right.[6] However, in some subject areas such as in mathematical physics and quantum chemistry, the boundaries of physics remain difficult to distinguish.

Physics is both significant and influential, in part because advances in its understanding have often translated into new technologies, but also because new ideas in physics often resonate with the other sciences, mathematics and philosophy.

For example, advances in the understanding of electromagnetism led directly to the development of new products which have dramatically transformed modern-day society (e.g., television, computers, and domestic appliances); advances in thermodynamics led to the development of motorized transport; and advances in mechanics inspired the development of calculus.

Physics covers a wide range of phenomena, from the smallest sub-atomic particles, to the largest galaxies. Included in this are the very most basic objects from which all other things are composed, and therefore physics is sometimes said to be the “fundamental science”.[7]

Physics aims to describe the various phenomena that occur in nature in terms of simpler phenomena. Thus, physics aims to both connect the things we see around us to root causes, and then to try to connect these causes together in the hope of finding anultimate reason for why nature is as it is.

For example, the ancient Chinese observed that certain rocks (lodestone) were attracted to one another by some invisible force. This effect was later called magnetism, and was first rigorously studied in the 17th century.

A little earlier than the Chinese, the ancient Greeks knew of other objects such as amber, that when rubbed with fur would cause a similar invisible attraction between the two. This was also first studied rigorously in the 17th century, and came to be calledelectricity.

Thus, physics had come to understand two observations of nature in terms of some root cause (electricity and magnetism). However, further work in the 19th century revealed that these two forces were just two different aspects of one force – electromagnetism. This process of “unifying” forces continues today (see section Current research for more information).

Physics uses the scientific method to test the validity of a physical theory, using a methodical approach to compare the implications of the theory in question with the associated conclusions drawn from experiments and observations conducted to test it. Experiments and observations are to be collected and matched with the predictions and hypotheses made by a theory, thus aiding in the determination or the validity/invalidity of the theory.

Theories which are very well supported by data and have never failed any competent empirical test are often called scientific laws, or natural laws. Of course, all theories, including those called scientific laws, can always be replaced by more accurate, generalized statements if a disagreement of theory with observed data is ever found [8].1

  1. Source: Wikipedia []