Wednesday, 28 June 2006

Telcos, Media, Portals and their parallel in distance education

From my own unpublished work:

The role of the University, according the Dearing Report (Dearing, 1997) is “to enable society to develop and maintain an independent understanding of itself and its world”. Laurillard (1999) interprets this definition in seven components as:
society --> working beyond the nation state
develop --> carrying out research
maintain --> being responsive to change
independent --> without reference to politics or profit
understanding --> formalised knowledge to enhance action
itself --> human sciences
its world --> natural sciences

The interesting point of this interpretation is the additional meanings Laurillard assigns to "understanding". To her, academic understanding, as distinct from common experiential understanding, is a result of a "reflective" process. The pedagogical underpinning of this interpretation is that the university's role is more just the transfer of knowledge.

Brown & Duguid (1995) take the community's perspective. They argue that a central part of what Universities do is to grant degrees, as a kind of gatekeeper of qualification for the community. The general community's experience of universities is of a degree granting body.

However, what a degree really represents or may misrepresent is a complex issue. One of the most valuable aspects of a degree is not what can be assumed about the knowledge possessed by the holder of the degree but the experience of scholarly or professional community that it signifies. For example, certain assumptions may be made about a degree gained from an institution with strong research programs in the field compared with one from an institution that does not.

The research role of universities as knowledge creation agent is highly valued by academia and promotion is largely related to research activities. Until recently, teaching performance has been ignored in the reward structure in many Australian universities. It appears to be widely assumed that there is a strong link between research success and the quality of degrees granted by an institution. Nonetheless, the problem of maintaining quality of teaching programs has gained far greater attention in institutions with a strong research focus in the last decade, clearly as a result of trends in mass education.

Brown & Duguid (1995) summarised that universities provide:
1. teaching and learning
2. enculturation of students into a community of scholars and/or a profession
3. creation of knowledge by conducting research, developing and testing new knowledge and new ideas
4. a degree granting mechanism

Note: The ideas presented above were based on 1990's thinking.

Here is some ideas related to Telcos, Media and Portals by Leo Hindery at the Convergence 2.0 conference, summarised

broke it down into three columns using a powerpoint slide: Portals (AOL, eBay, Google, MSN, Yahoo!), Content Providers (ABC, NBC, Disney, et al.) and Non-Broadcast Distributors (Cable, RBOCs, Satellite, Wi-Fi etc.) Hindery points to the portals column and says that the $225 billion market cap represented by those five companies can be directly linked to lost money in the valuation of the companies from the other two columns. This imbalance, he says, will correct itself.

He predicts that fully two thirds of the $225 billion comes from advertising dollars. The problem, as Hindery sees it, is that the portals built their fortunes on non-proprietary content. The content providers will encroach on the portals territory and steal back the lion's share of the money the portals have accrued. He said of those 5 portals listed above, 4 would fold eventually, or be acquired.

Here are two reasons that Leo Hindery is wrong:
From Cable Guy Says Portals Are Toast
The fact is, right now, most people look to their broadband provider as nothing more than a pipe. They want the pipe separated from the rest of the content and services that are offered. Fewer people are using the email and web space their broadband providers give them -- knowing they can just get a Gmail or Yahoo mail email address and webspace and take it with them when they eventually switch broadband providers. People generally don't like their cable company or their phone company. It's rare to hear anyone talk favorably about them. The less beholden they are, the happier they are. Of course, at the same time, Hindery seems to (again, like a traditional cable guy) completely discount the fact that people go online for communications just as much, if not more, than content. People aren't going online to get Disney or Time Warner content -- but to email with people, to instant message with people, to read and post to blogs. It's about communications (what some like to call "user generated content" these days)

From Cable Dreams
But Hindrey is also missing that the business model of controlling proprietary content due to massive capital outlays and control of distribution channels is, well, no longer the only game in town. There's a new distribution sheriff in town, and his name is search. His deputy is the open Internet. Get used to it. It's not going to go away.

Return to education, and distance education in particular.

Can higher education institute still claim the high ground of "to enable society to develop and maintain an independent understanding of itself and its world"? How long will education institute remain as the gate keeper of qualifications? Or more significantly, how important is qualification when determining the success of an individual? Is there any change in pavements for "a cultural enculturation of students into a community of scholars and/or a profession"? Is that better done in a campus or is that better done in the workplace? Is teaching compatible to research? Can these co-exist within a higher education institute or be better separated out?

Are there any parallel between the potential change of roles of education institutes and the role of telcos & media? Is there any equivalent of "portals" (Google, Yahoo, etc.) in education space which will disrupt the "business model" of higher education institutes?

Sunday, 25 June 2006

Angry/negative people can be bad for your brain

Another must read article from Creating Passionate Users on April 17, 2006. How have I missed it?


Mirror Neuron - 2

I have some opportunity to read some of the articles provided by Graeme Daniel wonderful WWWtool post and am fascinated by the implications.

The must read article is the "original" piece MIRROR NEURONS and imitation learning as the driving force behind "the great leap forward" in human evolution by V.S. Ramachandran in the June 2000 issue of Edge. Ramachandran opens by asking a few puzzling questions:

1) The hominid brain reached almost its present size — and perhaps even its present intellectual capacity about 250,000 years ago . Yet many of the attributes we regard as uniquely human appeared only much later. [snip]
2) Crude "Oldawan" tools [snip] emerged 2.4 million ago and were probably made by Homo Habilis whose brain size was half way (700cc) between modern humans (1300) and chimps (400). After another million years of evolutionary stasis aesthetically pleasing "symmetrical" tools began to appear [snip] And lastly, the invention of stereotyped "assembly line" tools (sophisticated symmetrical bifacial tools) that were hafted to a handle, took place only 200,000 years ago. Why was the evolution of the human mind "punctuated" by these relatively sudden upheavals of technological change?
3) Why the sudden explosion (often called the "great leap" ) in technological sophistication, widespread cave art, clothes, stereotyped dwellings, etc. around 40 thousand years ago, even though the brain had achieved its present "modern" size almost a million years earlier?
[snip] [my emphasis]

... any given mirror neuron will also fire when the monkey in question observes another monkey (or even the experimenter) performing the same action, e.g. tasting a peanut! With knowledge of these neurons, you have the basis for understanding a host of very enigmatic aspects of the human mind: "mind reading" empathy, imitation learning, and even the evolution of language. Anytime you watch someone else doing something (or even starting to do something), the corresponding mirror neuron might fire in your brain, thereby allowing you to "read" and understand another's intentions, and thus to develop a sophisticated "theory of other minds." (I suggest, also, that a loss of these mirror neurons may explain autism — a cruel disease that afflicts children. Without these neurons the child can no longer understand or empathize with other people emotionally and therefore completely withdraws from the world socially.)

Mirror neurons can also enable you to imitate the movements of others thereby setting the stage for the complex Lamarckian or cultural inheritance that characterizes our species and liberates us from the constraints of a purely gene based evolution. Moreover, as Rizzolati has noted, these neurons may also enable you to mime — and possibly understand — the lip and tongue movements of others which, in turn, could provide the opportunity for language to evolve. (This is why, when you stick your tongue out at a new born baby it will reciprocate! How ironic and poignant that this little gesture encapsulates a half a million years of primate brain evolution.) Once you have these two abilities in place the ability to read someone's intentions and the ability to mime their vocalizations then you have set in motion the evolution of language. You need no longer speak of a unique language organ and the problem doesn't seem quite so mysterious any more.

Wow! Human become human when our brain has developed the mirror neurons. With mirror neurons, human no longer depends on "a purely gene based evolution". We evolve by "learning".

Without the knowledge of mirror neuron, I wrote about how I thought we learn in Learning Design and Learning Design - 2. I proposed that we have an internal world view which is the overall accumulated experience we have since birth. It turned out a better explanation came from mirror neurons:
Mirror neurons were discovered in monkeys but how do we know they exist in the human brain? To find out we studied patients with a strange disorder called anosognosia. Most patients with a right hemisphere stroke have complete paralysis of the left side of their body and will complain about it, as expected. But about 5% of them will vehemently deny their paralysis even though they are mentally otherwise lucid and intelligent. This is the so called "denial" syndrome or anosognosia. To our amazement, we found that some of these patients not only denied their own paralysis, but also denied the paralysis of another patient whose inability to move his arm was clearly visible to them and to others. Denying ones one paralysis is odd enough but why would a patient deny another patient's paralysis? We suggest that this bizarre observation is best understood in terms of damage to Rizzolatti's mirror neurons. It's as if anytime you want to make a judgement about someone else's movements you have to run a VR (virtual reality) simulation of the corresponding movements in your own brain and without mirror neurons you cannot do this. [my emphasis]

So our ability to learn, ie learnability which is based on mirror neuron, is deeply linked to our empathy system - the ability to put ourselves in someone's shoe when we see things happen to them.

Translating this to learning design, if I may, would be to provide deep empathy links to subject matter and use demonstrations.

From Memory and the Brain
Although most adults have likely seen and held over 10,000 pennies during their lives, few can pick the correct picture. The reason for this is simple: We don't really care enough to memorize what an exact reproduction of a penny looks like since a penny has such little personal value. With over ten thousand exposures to the stimulus, the response is still inaccurate without a personally motivating linkage to details in the coin. There are two groups of people who can make an accurate identification of the penny. They are either professional coin collectors or penny-pinchers. When there are emotional "hooks" planted for the learner, the probability of subsequent recall increases dramatically.

One way of establishing an emotional link, and be able to break the link *after* achieving the learning outcome is to use role play simulation (such as those powered by Fablusi). With proper orientation and debriefing, de-roling and reflection, the learning is deep and memorable.

Saturday, 24 June 2006

The flat world and the future of developed countries

The concepts bring forward by Thomas Friedman's book The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century has been labelled "lemming-like" advocate of changing global economic conditions [Lemmings Marching to the Flat World Drum Beat]. As I have commented earlier, the opposite view (spikiness) is more appealing to me and would offer better direction as to how developed countries should prepare our next generation.

From CIA - The World Factbook:

The restructuring of the economy and resulting efficiency gains have contributed to a more than tenfold increase in GDP since 1978. Measured on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis, China in 2005 stood as the second-largest economy in the world after the US, although in per capita terms the country is still lower middle-income and 150 million Chinese fall below international poverty lines.

With huge amount of untapped cheap labour, China (India and many developing countries as well) will continue to be the world's sweat-shop and factory, producing commodities at costs unmatchable by developed countries. With the size of the economy comes the impact on the world's global economy too. So the question is "how developed countries can remain at the top of the economic food chain and maintain the current standard of living?"

David Warlick made a great point:
I maintain that it isn’t necessarily programming or even engineering, although I agree with Alfred Thompson’s comment that exposure to and understanding of the engineering and even the programming are critical. We do not need to dominate these areas, however, in order to remain prosperous or even in a position of leadership. We do need to be figuring out those contributions that we are uniquely good at. [my emphasis]

One of the direction suggested by David is our astounding capacity for play. ... We should master responsible joy, and export that. ... I believe that it is the creative arts that we should be emphasizing, every bit as much as the technical arts.

One of the comments (by Andrew Pass) posted in David's blog put it this way:
I’m not exactly sure what you mean when you write that we should export creative arts. [snip] However, if you mean that we should lead the rest of the world in the ability to develop innovative ideas, projects and technologies, I fully agree.

However, this will take a lot of work. As you know creativity is spurred by asking questions and then developing answers to these questions.

Now this is linked to education and how developed countries should prepare the next generation if we want to maintain our standard of living. Andrew continued to questions the practice of current education system asking if teachers have been encouraging our students to ask questions.

As anyone with a creative inclinatin will tell you, asking question is only the first step. Innovation is not just asking the right question. Innovation is about finding a solution. But innovation is not success or economic sustainability. A solution which solves a real problem at a better price is a potentially successful economic proposition. Developed countries should enable our next generation to be great solution providers solving pressing real world problems at acceptable price point. The implementation may be left to the sweat-shop, as demonstrated successfully by many brands such as Nike.

Failure is the mother of success (is it?). Developed countries should also cultivate a spirit of entrepreneurship and an environment for our next generation to take risks (in creating new solutions) and be rewarded. Penalty of failure should be low and limited. Opportunities should be ample and easily accessible. Education should encourage diverse angle of attack to the problem.

Education should encourage vigour in dealing with hard science subjects, compassionate views on social and human subjects....

ok, I am too carried away. I'll continue my journey of learning ...

Friday, 23 June 2006

Is $100 laptop project flawed?

By Andrew Donoghue

This is the question raised by Tony Roberts, chief executive and founder of U.K. charity Computer Aid International.

Even for charity work, there is a competition for "attention" as pointed out:

the OLPC project is also distracting from other worthwhile technology projects in the developing world.

So the $100 laptop project is a competition for Tony's own Computer Aid effort which has just celebrated shipping its 70,000th PC to the developing world.

Any project of such scale has impact beyond the immediate consequences.

First of all, the $100 laptop project will use Linux and hence will have an impact on distribution of OS of the installed computers. Together with China adopting Linux and distributing its own laptop to their students nation-wide, the installed OS in computers will shift significantly towards Linux.

As the installed base change, the focus of software development will shift as well. At the moment, it seems that most new ideas and software are oriented towards web-based, hosted solution (Web 2.0 applications) making the issue of installed OS more a non-issue. So I don't buy into Tony's argument that Nicholas Negroponte has misunderstood adoption of technology in poor country.

Some comments on the post argue that when millions are dying from hunger, the poor countries do not care about technology.

Again, this is not a black and white issue. While there are lots of people under the poverty line are struggling just to get food, many want to improve their livelihood and want to contribute to the well being of humanity. Education will make a difference and the $100 laptop will be important.

Technology, in fact anything else, is not cultural neutral. Introducing laptops into poor countries will also imply importing the cultural values into such countries. I also wonder if there is anyone who has looked at the impact from this angle. Please enlighten me.

Wednesday, 21 June 2006

An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist,...

by Paul A. Kirschner, John Sweller and Richard E. Clark via HeadsPaceJ

from the Abstract

Evidence for the superiority of guided instruction is explained in the context of our knowledge of human cognitive architecture, expert-novice differences, and cognitive load. While unguided or minimally-guided instructional approaches are very popular and intuitively appealing, the point is made that these approaches ignore both the structures that constitute human cognitive architecture and evidence from empirical studies over the past half century that consistently indicate that minimally-guided instruction is less effective and less efficient than instructional approaches that place a strong emphasis on guidance of the student learning process. The advantage of guidance begins to recede only when learners have sufficiently high prior knowledge to provide ‘internal’ guidance. Recent developments in instructional research and instructional design models that support guidance during instruction are briefly described.

Some of the key quotes I find interesting follows:

The authors based the argument on Human Cognitive Architecture which consists of sensory memory / working memory / long-term memory.
Inquiry-based instruction requires the learner to search a problem space for problemrelevant information. All problem-based searching makes heavy demands on workingmemory. Furthermore, that working memory load does not contribute to the accumulation of knowledge in long-term memory because while working memory is being used to search for problem solutions, it is not available and cannot be used to learn.

Another consequence of attempts to implement constructivist theory is a shift of emphasis away from teaching a discipline as a body of knowledge towards an exclusive emphasis on learning a discipline by experiencing the processes and procedures of the discipline (Handelsman et. al., 2004; Hodson, 1988). This change in focus was accompanied by an assumption shared by many leading educators and discipline specialists that knowledge can best be learned or only learned through experience which is based primarily on the procedures of the discipline. This point of view led to a commitment by educators to extensive practical or project work, the rejection of instruction based on the facts, laws, principles and theories that make up a discipline’s content accompanied by the use of discovery and inquiry methods of instruction.

Despite this clear distinction between learning a discipline and practicing a discipline, many curriculum developers, educational technologists, and educators seem to confuse the teaching of a discipline as inquiry (i.e., a curricular emphasis on the research processes within a science) with the teaching of the discipline by inquiry (i.e., using the research process of the discipline as a pedagogy and/or for learning).

The worked example effect was first demonstrated by Sweller and Cooper (1985) and Cooper and Sweller (1987) who found that algebra students learned more studying algebra worked examples than solving the equivalent problems. Since those early demonstrations of the effect, it has been replicated on numerous occasions using a large variety of learners studying an equally large variety of materials (Carroll, 1994 Miller, Lehman & Koedinger, 1999; Paas, 1992; Paas & van Merrienboer, 1994; Pillay, 1994; Quilici & Mayer, 1996; Trafton & Reiser, 1993). For novices, studying worked examples seems invariably superior to discovering or constructing a solution to a problem.

This 16 page long article is followed by another 6 pages of references.

Is photo cropping safe?

Save the image on the left to your disk somewhere you can find later. Then get an EXIF viewer and look at the thumbnail of the image. You will be amazed, I promise.

I used EXIFpro which is a shareware. For more demonstration, go to Tonu Samuel's site.

Teachers, this may be one way to find out the source of the photos submitted from your students. You may not like what you find!

Monday, 19 June 2006

The need of jargon

Jargon is
a characteristic language of a particular group
[], or

The specialised or technical language of a trade, profession, or similar group
[] or

has also come to mean inflated, vague, meaningless language of any kind. It is characterized by wordiness, abstractions galore, pretentious diction, and needlessly complicated word order.

It is generally agreed that using jargon in a piece of writing is bad writing. However from a teaching/induction point of view, we like our learners to become familar with the jargons of the trade/profession they are induced into.

What we should object, in writing, is the "wordiness, abstractions galore, pretentious diction, and needlessly complicated word order". When we are writing a piece for audience outside the community, we should try to avoid jargon - to a certain degree.

Some jargons refer to procedures (CPR in first aid for example stands for Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation, which when fully spelt out still means nothing to those without first aid training!), other refer to a theory (Newton's law of motion). Jargons, in fact, are short-hands.

Jargon is a necessary part of an efficient communication - provided they are part of a communication to the correct audience.

Mirror Neuron Research: Implications for Education.

by Graeme Daniel

19/06/06 issue of WWWTools for education opens by

Every so often, there arises a topic which grabs the imagination, not so much for its current implementation in educational practice, but rather by virtue of the exciting possibilities it seems to present.

Graeme is refering to Mirror Neuron, which fires both when an animal performs an action and when the animal observes the same action performed by another (especially conspecific) animal. Thus, the neuron "mirrors" the behavior of another animal, as though the observer were himself performing the action [from wikipedia]

The list of articles to read is long and I have not had the opportunity to read them yet. However anyone interested in the scientific basis of learning should give these articles some attention and time.

Sunday, 18 June 2006

Meta knowledge

Let say information is a node. In this information age, let say it is important to know how this piece of information is linked to other more important things, like social value, morals etc.

If we over-emphasis on the knowing the links (know-who, know-where) without really putting any effort in knowing the information itself (know-what and know-how), here is an example of how it may look:

Pointing out "know-who and know-where are important things in this highly connected world" is an important message by itself, however we should not under-estimate or under-mine the need of know-what and know-how in our education system.

Thursday, 15 June 2006

Internet Neutrality

Being able to transmit any kind of content is important, to the well being of Internet as a whole and to eLearning in particular. If the US Telcos have their way, we can surely bet all innovation will NOT come from US anymore.

The need to lobby the US government to set up laws to make Internet packets both "content" and "source" aware is to protect the Telco's outdating business models. This has been explained clearly here.

Is Google, or any large content provider, really having a "free" ride? Absolutely NO! The issue is about Backbone interchange. Let me explain.

Most people, including me, is connected to the Internet via a "last-mile" provider (or an ISP). We pay a fee, either based on bandwidth, volume of traffic or both in order to get and send data packets. The ISP does not need to care whether the packets is incoming or outgoing except for billing purposes as long as the packets are delivered within their own network. There is NOT marginal cost for the ISP to carry these packets on their network. (Hence, in my opinion, it is fair to base the fee on a monthly flat rate depending on the "quality of service" rather than based on volume.) Of course, there is a huge investment upfront to build the network with the capacity to handle the traffic. Most of the fee we pay to the ISP is for paying back their initial investment and profit! If the demand is higher than the capacity, the network simply slows down! Remember those days when the Internet was *really* slow due to under capacity? Internet won't die under heavy load. The service level just drops and becomes unacceptable!

However, when a packet comes from a source *outside* my ISP's customer base or when I want to send a packet to someone outside my ISP's customer base, the packet needs to go to other ISP.

Carriers generally will have backbone interchange agreements with other carriers. What kind of deals are made, I don't know. I suppose they will negotiate hard in order to have the best profit for themselves.

If an ISP is stupid enough not to enter into any backbone interchange agreement, the customers will not be able to exchange data packets with those who are not within the network. I guess this ISP will die the next day due to lack of customers.

Now, back to the issue of "large" content provider. OK, Google may have its own backbone joining their data centers (Rumour has it that Google is actively buying dark fibre!) it still needs to enter into backbone interchange agreement with other Telcos. In a fair negotiation, the deal should be fair and Telcos should have covered their cost in the deal. Unless it is a win-win situation, there will be no deal anyway.

The need for Telcos to connect to Google's backbone is as much as Google needs to connect to other backbone. The network value is based on the number of nodes in the network!

Come on US Telcos, do you want to see your domestic traffic being routed to Korean before coming back to US because your US customers choose to connect to Korean's ISP for better experience and while you die from lack of customers? Do some studies to see how Telcos in countries with *real* competition managed to survive and posper, throw away your outdated business plan and participate in this new world. It is never too late! OK, your government may be stupid enough to pass those laws for you. It will just mean a slower and more painful dead!

Guinness: World's Largest Photo

from Wired News:

On Wednesday, the six photographers with the nonprofit Legacy Project unveiled their massive camera at a news conference. They hope to have a photograph completed by July 8.

The reason that this is announced in a news conference is:
  • The massive camera refers here is a decommissioned Marine Corps hangar, and

  • The photograph is a 31-by-111-foot black and white photograph on a piece of white fabric.

  • By the way, Guinness World Records has created two new categories for the project -- world's largest camera and world's largest photograph -- and will certify the records once the photo is complete.

    Well, using a large room (or a hanger) as a pinhole camera is NOT new. Back in April, I reported about a teacher in Hong Kong converting her classroom into a pin-hole camera.

    Education leads in innovation! Hurray!

    Tuesday, 13 June 2006


    I used some videos from youTube to illustrate the power of open content on 15th May, 2006. That particular video has been viewed over 5 million times over past few weeks and have almost 350 variants. See this link.

    Here are some which I think particularly interesting. This is, I believe, is inspired directly by the video and an original composition and original lyrics.

    Someone else took the sound track of this MTV

    and put onto the original video to produce the following video:

    The original video was taken on the upper deck of a bus from Kowloon to Yulong. Someone wondered, what would the journey like if it had not happened. Enjoy.

    Monday, 12 June 2006

    DIGITAL MAOISM: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism

    By Jaron Lanier via BoingBoing

    This is a definitely very thought-provocative piece, so are the comments in the Reality Club to the article.

    I wrote about meta-meta-meta data over 1 year ago (I should finish the work!) noting that metadata is a "derivative" from the original data, usually with a purpose. "Metadata", as in Dublin Core, is for discovery of resources. So is inverted index used by major search engines.

    Other metadata exist in many different forms to serve different purposes. RSS is another form serving the need of aggregators, which Jaron refers to collectives. To him, wikipedia is also a collectives, many anonymous authors aggregates information into a collection.

    Metadata are themselves data and hence can further aggregate, recursive infinitum in fact.

    Jaron warns about the lost of personality in the layers of layers of meta-ing. Using wikipedia as a specific example:

    For instance, most of the technical or scientific information that is in the Wikipedia was already on the Web before the Wikipedia was started. You could always use Google or other search services to find information about items that are now wikified. In some cases I have noticed specific texts get cloned from original sites at universities or labs onto wiki pages. And when that happens, each text loses part of its value. Since search engines are now more likely to point you to the wikified versions, the Web has lost some of its flavor in casual use.

    He also points out the success of some meta-blogs such as Boing Boing being
    run by identified humans, which served to aggregate blogs. In all of these formulations, real people were still in charge. An individual or individuals were presenting a personality and taking responsibility.

    In our field, we appreciate Stephen Downes effort because his OLDaily is a selection of pieces by him. We are looking at the world through a lens we have trust in.

    In one way, aggregates/collectives are network, linking different pieces of information together. Collectives which carry "personality", such as Boing Boing and OLDaily have significant added values.

    We get the maximum benefit from the collective only if we follow the links to the nodes and dig into the nodes. We learn from the nodes, NOT from the collectives. Collectives serve as a guide, a special viewing platform for us to see the world.

    Learning is about experiencing the "stuff". Knowing-where and knowing-who are strategies that can help us find the "stuff" which may be of interest. We don't need to know everything to be able to do something, e.g. a pilot is not an airplane designer or a jet-engine engineer! We need the right level of metadata in order to satisfy our curiosity, need and work.

    Saturday, 10 June 2006

    Open source in School - it is up the the director!

    via Couros Blog

    Peter Rock, a teacher in a West African school, attempts to bring open source software/philosophy into his school context have been abruptly blocked by his administration.

    From Peter's Director's point of view, a committee's (whose members are hand-picked by the Director) unanimous recommendation is just a recommendation and can be revoked at ease. Unfortunately, the Director also adapted a personal attack tactics:
    You have expressed strong opinions against Microsoft, obvious from comments made by teachers and students, statements posted on your classroom door, etc. In accordance with Personnel Section 5.032 e) Code of Professional Ethics, "All staff should refrain from proselytizing for a personal, political, or religious belief." Therefore, you need to refrain from placing undue focus on your personal beliefs concerning the philosophy and practice of Microsoft.

    and misquoted the offending act which is a poster on Peter's classroom door:
    The best reason to give a child a good so that a child will have a happy childhood, and not so that it will help IBM in competing with SONY... There is something ethically embarrassing about resting a national agenda on the basis of sheer greed.

    Hey, Microsoft is NOT mentioned in the quote!

    Mignon McLaughlin of Around the Corner has written a supportive post:
    This is Peter's moment to resist authority. More importantly, it will be a time to measure the committee's acquisition of the capacity to resist authority. The consequences are hurtful, but they are nothing when one is committed to the good of all, to ensuring the survival of the organization and the people who make it up. Simply, Peter must decide now if he is willing to be martyred for the decision of the group he led for two years, or if he's going to capitulate. Fighting to lose means accepting defeat, that the stick will be used. Yet, it's the only way to achieve victory in the hearts of the people who have placed their trust in him.

    Personally, I believe that one must be in there in order to change "there". The Director has drawn out the ACE card and hence was quite determined to reject the committee's proposal. The Director's credibility will be at sake ONLY if Peter can demonstrate that the Director's decision is not made with good intention for the organisation. It is not about flighting based on personal belief. It is about efficiency and best decision for kids in the future. Again, future is future and we don't know the outcome yet.

    Friday, 9 June 2006

    USB drives and potential danger

    Since the laptop program, some schools have moved on to abandon the laptop and instead ask the students to carry a much cheaper and lighter USB drive. Students can use the public desktop computers (or some laptop with wireless) in the campus. By plugging the USB drive into the provided computers, students can save their work and bring them home.

    Slashdot has an article on Social Engineering Using USB Drives:

    Security experts collected 20 old USB thumb drives and filled them with images and other data along with a trojan that would collect sensitive information and e-mail it back to them. Early one morning they planted the thumb drives around the entrances to the credit union as well as other public places where the employees were known to congregate. In very little time 15 of the 20 USB drives were plugged into company computer systems and started e-mailing usernames, passwords, etc. back to the auditors.

    and in the comments:
    Imagine you are walking into work early, and find an open folder on the floor, with some papers strewn around and a CD or DVD in with it. Imagine the paper is an application to put on a SIGGRAPH demonstration, and on the CD is a WINDOWS directory, a LINUX directory, a BSD directory and a SOLARIS directory and each directory has a file named SIGGRAPH_presentation.exe or there is a SIGGRAPH_presentation.jar, (eliminating the need for multiple OS versions), with a README about how to execute it. You figure, "What the heck - I love cool graphics."

    Now, while you are watching a cool graphics demo, it checks if you are logged in as root and, if you are, installs a nasty payload. If not, it could simply start emailing every file it finds in your home directory, or delete them, or encrypt them.

    Students are curious, at least we should keep them curious so that they can learn. This kind of social engineering is very easy on students.

    Disabling autostart of USB drive IS NOT the solution. As noted, the user action will trigger the virus/trojan.

    Make the USB drive non-executable does not help either. Students can just copy executable files to the harddisk and then execute! Make harddisk not readable is also NOT a solution. Students may need to test out program!

    Any idea to solve this problem?

    Wednesday, 7 June 2006

    Connectivism and the nature of learning

    Stephen Downes OLDaily points to Connectivism: Danger or Opportunity which points to George Siemens - Connectivism White Paper. Back in Feb 2005, I commented in my post Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age that (based on one of George's early paper):

    These theories [Behaviourism, Cognitivism, and Constructivism] do not address learning that occurs outside of people (i.e. learning that is stored and manipulated by technology). They also fail to describe how learning happens within organizations.

    Then I failed to see how organisation has emotional, mental or physiological states. Any decision made by an organisation is a consequence of decision(s) made by people and these people's previous experience. While I acknowledge that these decisions may be stored external to the people making it (e.g. as rules in the organisation's processes or policy), this is NOT the same as the organisation learning.

    My problem with connectivism is still related to the basic notion of "what is learning" and can "learning" be the same as knowing/understand/whatever-you-want-to-call without the ability of taking some actions based on the result of the learning process. I am holding a book on Physics. This does not make me a physicists. Librarians moving volumes of books in Physics daily. This does not make them physicists too. The jump from "owning, linking to information nodes (connections) and creating more such connections" to claim that this is "learning" is too big a jump for me.

    George's viewpoint opens up a number of new ways or thinking to design and facilitate learning. Know-what, know-how are not sufficient in this fast changing world. Know-where and know-who are no doubt very important today.

    In Learning Design - 1, I tried to understand how we developed our understanding of the world around us - the internal world view we have developed since birth. We, being a social animal as well as for the sake of survival, need to participate in community. As a member of a community, we develop language to communicate within the community. We externalised our understanding via language, initially transmitted between generations through oral stories and later by print. These externalised information, collectively, form the base of the combined intelligence of the community. Unless someone is able to make use of the combined intelligence and EXECUTE the information, these information remains as they are, information.

    With the advent of communication and digital technology, we interact with more people beyond the immediate physical reach. We simultaneously participate in many communities. We cross-pollinate and build much more complex internal representation of the external world. If human is a node, information is a node, database is a node, we are building more and more links (connections) between all these nodes. Does this make us any wiser? When a decision needs to be made, we still depend on the information/understanding/knowledge/wisdom that we have access at the moment of making the decision. Yes, we may be able to access more information, ask more people for help. However, the decision is still made based on the amount of "thing" encoded inside the organ between our ears. Nothing more, nothing less. All the external connections help us to build a better internal view of the external world and consequently help us to make better decision or perform better. The connections themselves ARE not learning.

    Tuesday, 6 June 2006

    School recess: The next educational battleground?

    by Dave Munger of Cognitive Daily

    The Washington Post reports on the decline of school recess periods:

    For many kids today, the recess bell comes too late, for too little time, or even not at all. Pressure to raise test scores and adhere to state-mandated academic requirements is squeezing recess out of the school day. In many schools, it's just 10 or 15 minutes, if at all. In some cases, recess has become structured with organized games -- yes, recess is being taught.

    Evidence from psychologists suggest otherwise:
    "This is the one time during the day that they have the freedom, or the power, to control what they will be doing in terms of decision-making, in terms of negotiation, in terms of conflict resolution with their peers," said Audrey Skrupskelis, associate professor of early childhood education at the University of South Carolina in Aiken.

    Dave asked for comments from his readers.

    Some are unaware of the shortening or removal of recess. Others believe it may be a good idea, at least to avoid bullying. Some agree with the agreement that children need free time to develop.

    The root of reducing recess is the overloading of the "curriculum" assigned to schools. It seems that whenever there is a social problem (drug, HIV, traffic safety,...), the solution is to educate and then it is dumped to the school. Another is the increasing liability put onto the school. Children get hurt in play time, bullying (I am not endorsing bullying, but it is something we need to learn to handle!) and other accidents happen during free time. Solution - no free time!

    Collaboration Software

    Fred Han (Manager, Marketing / Business Development of sent me an invitation to have a look at the beta.

    The interface is pretty easy to use. It allows text chatting and sharing of whiteboard. You can take a snap shot of your desktop, upload to share with your collaborators and annotate as necessary.

    It seems to be a good tool.

    Monday, 5 June 2006

    Transcript of an interview with Google

    [OK, I promise this will be my last post today. I have work to do!]

    It is not very often you can read the transcript (or description) of an interview for a job with Google. Well, this guy turned down the offer.

    google contacted me about a position with the print team. i was well paid and was doing well at the company i was with at the time, but i agreed to interview with google anyway. the head of global print operations was under a lot of pressure due to the lawsuits, etc. yet, he needed headcount. the job was for a permanent position — why else would they go through a grueling 2 days of interviews for a contractor? but when i pressed him on salary and asked him to match what i was making and i anchored at an amount, he buckled and made it contractual instead. he waffled, so i said no thanks.

    So go and read the post.

    Here is a comment which I think is important:
    All nitpicking aside, the Google interview process can be painful. I was approached by Google for work internationally, and went through a 12 person interview process. All the feedback I got was very positive (inside source), and the final stage of the interview process was with a very high level person in the company. She determined (probably fairly accurately) that I didn’t have the experience they needed for that particular position. End of interview process.

    What is the reason for all these 11 interviews if only the last one matter? It is a waste of time! Is it really so important to have that many interviews?

    Stories of two hens and how they related to good education

    by Christopher D. Sessums

    [I found his site more often off-line than online, so the quotes here are more than "fair use"!]

    Henny-Penny was pecking corn in the yard when something hit her on the head. She deduced that the sky was falling and being the good citizen that she was, she decided to run and tell the king. On her way she met up with several friends, shared her news, and together they raced to tell the king their finding. On their way to the king they ran across a fox who convinced them to take a short cut through his cave wherein all but Henny-Penny was killed.


    the story of the Little Red Hen takes a different tack. In this tale, Little Red Hen finds a grain of wheat while scratching in the field. She reckons that the grain should be planted and asks her barnyard mates, “who will plant the grain?” Her friends disavow themselves of any such responsibility and the hen plants the grain herself. The wheat grows, needs threshing and milling and the hen inquires of her friends who will help with said tasks. None of her friends are interested in helping her so she does it all herself. Finally, the hen bakes the flour into bread and asks her friends who would like to eat the lovely bread, wherein all her friends agree that they would love to; however, the hen denies them this opportunity and eats it all herself.

    In many cases, if we consider our current state of public education, the sky is always falling, graduation rates are falling, test scores falling, etc. Perhaps it would be worth inquiring who is responsible for this news? What facts are being used to clearly determine that we are indeed in a crisis situation? Is it possible that reporters and researchers are generalizing about a large population (e.g., students) using insufficient samples? When in a crisis mode, we tend to react without putting much thought into the consequences of our actions a la Henny-Penny.

    The tale of the Little Red Hen also reminds me of educators who successfully integrate appropriate technologies into their classrooms. I have witnessed and heard tales of teachers working hard for their students, inspiring them in wholesale ways while their teammates, colleagues, and administration idly standby refusing to get involved, yet insist on taking credit for student success. Perhaps this is where the real crisis lies.

    See the relationship?

    Good, I have nothing to add!

    But Christopher has, in his another post

    Education is both about passing on what is known and inviting learners into the unknown in an effort to promote creativity and meaningful change.


    A large part of the issue is how schools are designed. In most cases, schools are defined as delivery instruments and not as learning communities (or learning ecologies) where learning is not only the responsibility of students but also the teachers. Teacher colleges have made this all the more difficult by training educators to be delivery agents rather than provocateurs; mail carriers rather than artists or learning designers.

    I am inspired!

    A Moral Mess

    We proudly quote Issac Newton's famous words whenever possible:

    on the Shoulders of Giants [see the argument of source of this quote]

    But teachers condemn students building their ideas on others when these are not properly quotes. (well, I understand there is a difference between blindly copying and pasting. But just bear with me.)

    I have argued that Language is intrinsically “recursive condensation of information”. As a community is negotiating a concept, the details of the concept is examined, discussion, debated and eventually come to an agreement (or an agreement to disagreement). The concept will then be given a term, or jargon. As exchange progresses, the importance of the complex concept behind a term is faded into the background and become transparent to those involved. A large collection of information has condensed into a term. Copying, mixing and sharing IS within our culture, every human culture!

    When DJ Danger Mouse took the vocals from Jay-Z’s The Black Album and remixed it with the Beatles’ White Album to create The Grey Album, he was breaking the copyright law. Or was he climbing up on the shoulders of giants. [source]

    An artificial "immoral" argument is set up to block some creative activity to protect the business model of some businesses. Laws, which should reflect the accepted "norm" behaviour of the community in which they apply, are put in place to enforce the "intellectual property" of the creator of the work. Initially the compromise was simple. To "encourage" creativity, copyright is given so that you are NOT allowed to exactly copy verbatim the created work. So you are free to copy (as in writing it down again in your own handwriting). You can see lots of art students "copying" great works of art in museum all over the worlds. Then more rights are created: broadcasting rights, performance rights, movies rights, ....

    Who have benefited? Not the creator! Only those who have bought the right? Lots of intelligent people (for example Lawrence Lessig) has argued that this copyright regime does not encourage creativity - in fact, it hinders creativity.

    On 31st May, the most popular Bit Torrent tracker site, The Pirate Bay (TPB) was down following the raid by the Swedish police and servers being seized. On 4th June, TPB was back online again. It seems that in Sweden, it is a legal operation!

    Apparently, TPB servers did not host any "copyright-ed" material. TPB servers host information for people to find material (albeit "illegal" copies). "Knowing where is the crime" is not a crime by itself - otherwise all law enforcing agencies will be in big moral trouble, if not legal!

    People involved with TPB has given speeches. Here is a great read: The Grey Commons - strategic considerations in the copyfight. This speech also talked about how antipiracy lobby used less than ethnical methods:

    Things escalated in March, when Sweden’s anti-piracy lobby organization – AntipiratbyrĂ„n – managed to arrange a raid at a Swedish ISP alleged to host unlicensed material. The raid was conducted in an unlawful manner and it was discovered that the anti-piracy lobby had in fact paid an infiltrator for several months to upload copyright-protected material and place hardware at the ISP. This got public when a group called Angry Young Hackers hacked their webpage and mail, exposing their mail conversations about the infiltration, held with their American bosses.

    Yes, the struggle between copyright owners exerting their rights and information wanting to be free is a "life and death" struggle. Some legal holes needed to be plugged in order to stop one side to die. The question is which side: "the business model of outdated publishers and IP owners" or "the creativity of human being".

    Politicians take note please. I know votes are important to you. Think careful which side you should be on, the winning side or the losing side.

    Business models have died before, human creativity never. I know which will be the eventual winner!

    Saturday, 3 June 2006

    Physics students / teachers - a quiz for you

    Photo from Oops

    In each of the photographs below, estimate the time the human in the photo will still be alive.

    Google Notebook

    If you are like me spending a lot of time researching on the Internet, you will appreciate using Google Notebook.

    My daughter is good example. So what she does? She will highlight a paragraph of info from a web site, copy it in word, hop onto the next site and so on. In this process she usually forget to copy the url from which she extracted the data.

    The added disadvantage in this process the burden of carrying the data saved in a portable device. Google’s latest offer Google Notebook is a God sent service to students.

    Google Notebook enables you to save text and images from web sites into an online notebook. After saving it in the online notebook, you can add a few memos before
    saving it. You can share it with the public.

    This free service can be easily installed in your browser as an ‘add
    on’ tool.

    Friday, 2 June 2006

    Interesting comments to When Security Exploits Have Exploits

    Techdirt has this piece today:

    A popular scam these days among some script kiddies is to lock up important data on someone's computer unless they pay an extortion fee to release the data. Of course, it should come as no surprise that these exploits have exploits of their own... as one security firm discovered this week, releasing the universal password that will unlock your data should you happen to get caught by one of these scams. Apparently, all you need to know is: mf2lro8sw03ufvnsq034jfowr18f3cszc20vmw. Of course, it's not surprising to find out the a script kiddie scam has exploits, but it does suggest a different kind of race for some security companies. Instead of just focusing on patches, look for ways to break the scam software itself. [my emphasis]

    The commenter agreed with my emphasis (or I just highlighted what they have commented!)

    I thought it was illegal and against the DCMA to reverse engineer software?

    The script kiddies could sue the security firm for this!

    This would kinda be like saying "I was robbing a bank, and the security guard hit me on my way out, I'd like to sue him."

    apparently if a burglar trips over your couch and breaks his ankle, he can sue you for damages in the U.S.

    I know a guy in PA that shot a burglar in his home. The burglar fell down the stairs after he was shot and broke his leg. He sued the guy for medical costs, pain and suffering and emotional distress and the burglar won.
    Messed up legal system? YES

    The right to sue - Priceless

    who wants to guess how long it is before Techdirt is reporting the story of the ransomware creators suing under the DCMA?

    A man was on the roof of a school in California (25+ yrs ago), in the progress of committing burglery. The roof's access ladders were protected by "Authorized personnel only" signs. He tripped over, and fell through, a skylight in the dark, landing in the building below - breaking his back. He sued, saying that the school district should have placed warning signs to alert persons on the roof to the presence of the skylight. Not only did he win, but his case went all the way to the Supreme Court, AND WAS UPHELD!!

    A security guard hitting a bank robber is well within his legal rights, and it's *mostly* ethical (it's his job and what general society expects him to do). To me, reverse engineering software (even malware) is not within anyone's legal rights, even though it may be considered ethical.

    It seems that the opinion is divided whether the Ramsonware writer can/should sue the security company under the DCMA law in USA. Another angle is to look at the business case. If the ramsonware writers can gather a sufficient political power (like the record companies), they can lobby the USA government to pass a law to protect their business model - Ramson collection! OK, they should agree to pay the tax first!

    A-list edublogger

    From OLDaily, Stephen Downes wrote:

    [Jay] Cross writes about the A-List blogging set, "The A-list blogosphere is an immense echo chamber," and comments, "The training and development world sometimes suffers the same narrowmindedness." Well maybe. And I certainly agree with him when he says we should consult "non-traditional sources." But who is featured in the ADETA Newsletter? Jay Cross, George Siemens, Harold Jarche. Maybe these are non-traditional sources - but to me, they are at the heart of the education blogosphere.

    I am sure I am not a A-list blogger, so my comment/view probably won't be picked up and never make to the mainstream and hence will not produce an echo. A-list bloggers are read by many people (like Stephen) and his view is discussed by people like me (and other A-list bloggers). That is why A-list bloggers are A-LIST bloggers. A-list bloggers move ideas in big way! The signal needs time to propagate. So, it looks like a big echo-chamber when the idea came back to them.

    Many A-list bloggers are leading thinkers. Their views may be advance of the time. When the mainstream journalists pick it up, the views are new to the journalist and get reported. - another possible explanation of the echo.

    Echos or not, it is ideas that are useful that count. Under different situation, different ideas work. Stephen is doing a great job by providing a lens (through his selection) to let us see the infosphere. That's another crucial role of a A-list blogger!

    Teaching Students about Plagiarism: An Internet Solution to an Internet Problem

    by Eleanour Snow

    Here is a number of points which I like to highlight:

    The standard definition of plagiarism is a person's use of other people's ideas or words without attribution. Most professional academics think they have a pretty good idea of what that means. However, evidence suggests that the definition of plagiarism and how we view it is not entirely clear (Price 2002). There are degrees of plagiarism—from a deliberate attempt to mislead to an inadvertent use of a familiar phrase. Faculty members do not always agree on what contitutes a serious breach of ethics and what implies incidental plagiarism (Robinson-Zanartu et al. 2005). As a consequence, responses to plagiarism, generally left to the discretion of the faculty member, vary widely.

    If the faculty themselves are unclear what is plagiarism, how can we expect students to be clear.

    Universities are increasingly turning to electronic plagiarism detection as a way to catch and deter plagiarism, and such technology can be very effective. A study at Harvard University (Braumoeller and Gaines 2001) concluded that one in eight students plagiarize even when they are sternly warned not to; however, when they were warned that a plagiarism detection device would be used, plagiarism nearly disappeared: Only 1 in 151 students turned in a plagiarized paper.

    Does the plagiarism detection program itself work? Or is that due to the threat of being detected has become creditable?

    As a technologist, I know if software does no have magic power. Software does what we program it to do. If faculty has not clear understanding of what is plagiarism, the programmer will be even worse!

    Anyway, the paper suggested a viable solution:

    involves educating students about academic norms and expectations in writing, designing assessments that minimize the opportunity for and possibility of plagiarism, and enforcing a strict policy to discover, punish, and re-educate plagiarists. [my emphasis]

    Among the suggested solution, the design of the individualised, context-based assessments is the key.

    Thursday, 1 June 2006

    SCORM - production to delivery

    Sasha Philippov from sent me an invitation to test out their DocBook to SCORM converter.

    I don't have any docBook format course at hand, so I won't be able to test it out.

    Although I am the first member of the choir announcing the death of learning objects, I still think that different tool serves different purpose. SCORM packaged courses support different LMS as long as the LMS is SCORM-compliant. That's a good point.

    To create a SCORM course, you can use DreamWeaver extensions, or use RELOAD

    For those who cannot afford to run a SCORM-compliant LMS, you can use my SCORM courseplayer which is available at While courseplayer is not open source, but you are free to use. Courseplayer will enable you to put your SCORM course on a CD or use a simple webserver to host your course.

    ps For the additional features supported by Courseplayer, see my SCORM paper site.

    More web site graphs

    I have captured some websitegraphs from flickr.

    I think they are amazingly beautiful.

    From capturing this blog, I noticed that the applet moves the pattern based on some kind of force dynamics. The pattern will spread out automatically as the pattern stabilise.

    The input to the applet is the html page, or actually the tags.

    As a result, almost every website displays a different graph.

    The symmetry created by the force dynamics creates such a beautiful pattern. Amazing!