open source

The Teacher as DJ – Rip, Mix, Burn


The notion of Teacher as Disc Jockey goes back at least to the time Apple’s iTunes introduced the concept of Rip, Mix, Burn to the world. Since then trainers, educators and instructional designers have been inundated by reports on social media, Web 2.0 and collaborative learning while fending off rising demands to crank out more educational media in less time, with less money. Now the prevalence of open source media and courseware has exceeded a critcal mass with thousands of open source courses being distributed by organizations like Open Courseware Consortium and ccLearn.

With that in mind educational technologist Scott Leslie of Victoria, BC, has gven an excellent talk on the current state of web-based open source tools and techniques available to teachers who need to rip, mix and burn a new course or presentation. Using the metaphor of the DJ, Leslie’s basic work flow follows these steps:

  • Search – finding the PLE diagrams
  • Sample – grabbing ones that weren’t already easily saveable
  • Sequence – tumblr? how to get in a mediaRSS feed
  • Record – my own PLE diagram
  • Perform – cooliris and wii controller?
  • Share – blog it

The reader should be cautioned: If you are not familiar with Web 2.0 concepts in teaching, this talk will be the proverbial ‘drink from a fire hose‘. Leslie presents dozens of sites and tools that designer and educators can use in the preparation and dissemination of a whole course or simple talk. Having considerable experience with these methods, Leslie suggests that we pick and choose among the sites and services for those that match our objectives and personal style.

“You may find the metaphor of ‘educator as DJ’ doesn’t work for you – fine. Maybe it’s ‘educator as mashup artist’. Maybe it’s ‘educator as painter.’ maybe it’s ‘educator as architect’. But…

I URGE you to seek out the metaphor YOU ALREADY BRING to your teaching practice, because inevitably you do. Becoming conscious of it is important not only because of how it lets you expand on it, but because the act of teaching IS the supreme metaphorical act; just as metaphor allows us new understanding by using a familiar vehicle that conveys attributes to a specific tenor, so do you as teachers seek to help your learners move from their existing understanding to somewhere new.”

Leslie’s talk is presented here in both slide and video formats. Notes and references are also included.

Will Open Source Textbooks Mean More Opened Textbooks?


One of the students in Michael Wesch‘s video “A Vision of Students Today” holds a sign that reads “I buy hundred dollar textbooks that I never open.” Well, a small group of renegade publishers plans to fix that on both counts.

Flatworld Knowledge is one such attempt to “open source” the textbook industry. Founded by ex-pat textbook publishers, Flatworld is offering textbooks free of charge:

Our books might feel like your current book – for a minute. They are written by leading experts and are peer-reviewed, edited, and highly developed. They are supported by test banks, .ppt notes, instructor manuals, print desk copies, and knowledgeable service representatives. There the similarity ends.

Instead of $100 plus, our books are FREE online. We don’t even require registration! Students enter the URL they’re given by their instructor and start reading. It’s that easy. No tricks. No popup ads. No “a premium subscription is needed for that”. In fact, our free online books go beyond what standard print editions provide with integrated audio, video, and interactive features, powerful search capabilities, and more..

Even better – include the book where the rest of your course is! If you are an instructor using an Course/Learning Management System (like Blackboard, Angel, etc.) you will be able to integrate our book (and our instructor supplements) directly into your LMS (beginning March 09). Yep. Still free.

It is what it is. Just great books, by great authors, at a great price – zero. But we are NOT an eBook publisher… Don’t want to read online? Don’t. Read “Convenient Choices” below to learn about the convenient and affordable choices we offer students.

Flatworld allows students to read the books online for free, download audio or PDF versions, or buy printed copies:

Some will read online. Some won’t. Some want print books. Some don’t. We’re not smart enough to figure it out. So we won’t. Now there’s a novel idea. Let instructors adopt the best book for their class. Let students adopt the best format and price for them.

Kayo doesn’t read books online. She orders the black and white softcover for about $29 bucks. It shows up in a few days. Too bland for her friend Sam – he orders the color edition for $59. Not Sharon. She commutes everyday, so nothing but the audio book on her iPod will do. Then there’s Chaz. He’s indecisive. He decides, well, not to decide. He’ll order the self-print .pdf chapters when he needs them for $1.99 per chapter. Cool. And don’t forget Tessa. She never has enough time. She’ll cut to the chase with our mp3 study guides, mobile flash cards, and online practice quizzes with feedback. That’s convenient. That’s choices. That’s Flat World Knowledge.

Textbooks can be built to order and customized for a particular class or application:

Use our books “off-the-shelf”. After all, they’re crafted to meet market needs. But when was the last time you thought of yourself as “the market?” We thought so. So go nuts. Use our “build-a-book” platform. Drag-and-drop chapters into a new table of contents that suits your syllabus. Don’t cover the last chapter? Trash it with a click. Beginning Summer 09, you will be able to edit Flat World open textbooks down to the sentence level. Replace our example with one of yours. Add a paragraph on your pet research topic. When you’re done, click “adopt” and we’ll give you a special URL for your students. If they buy a print version, it’ll be of your unique book. Thank you print-on-demand technology! And thank you, Creative Commons. That’s our open license that allows you to do everything above and more, without any special permissions.

The current catalog is small but interesting. Titles like “Introduction to Economic Analysis,” “Risk Management for Enterprises and Individuals,” and “Project Management in a Virtual World” are available. The feeling you get from visiting their web site (and thinking back on buying textbooks in college) is that they are on top of an idea whose time has come.

Another novel venture called Scitable by Nature Education is offering mix-and-match articles on genetics that are coupled with social networking tools and content uploads from instructors and authors so that custom course materials can be dynamically fashioned as needed by teachers and presenters.

It will be interesting to see if these ideas and others like it spill over to other technical and scientific subjects and maybe even get adopted by corporate training departments that always seem to need training materials on fundamentals and industry standards.

SAGE – Advanced Tool for Mathematics


SAGE is a free open source package designed for symbolic mathematics. It should be useful for instructors and students who need to apply tools and techniques more commonly found in programs like MatLab, MathCAD and Mathematica.

“Sage can be used to study general and advanced, pure and applied mathematics. This includes a huge range of mathematics, including algebra, calculus, elementary to very advanced number theory, cryptography, numerical computation, commutative algebra, group theory, combinatorics, graph theory, exact linear algebra and much more. It combines various software packages and seamlessly integrates their functionality into a common experience. It is well suited for education, studying and research.
The interface is a notebook in a web-browser or the command-line. Using the notebook, Sage connects either locally to your own Sage installation or to a Sage server on the network. Inside the Sage notebook you can create embedded graphics, beautifully typeset mathematical expressions, add and delete input, and share your work across the network.”
A feature tour of SAGE can be found here.