Friday, 13 April 2007

One Moodle Per Child?

Jamais Cascio has posted about an IEEE article on the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative. The idea is to give 100 million children in the developing world their own laptop. They've designed a ruggedized, cheap, easy-to-use laptop for about $150 and the first experiments are now taking place in Nigeria.

Jamais highlights one issue raised in the article "Felsenstein notes that teachers will (rightly) see these laptops as a direct assault on their authority, and many will be banned from classrooms, leaving the kids to use the machines unsupervised."
Jamais believes a generation growing up hacking it's own machines outside of the institutional confines will be a boon to a developing nation. I'm not sure I disagree.... but I adoption is the achilles heel of a project I desperately want to succeed. IThe laptop is a physical by-product of a revolutionary meme. The alien memetic virus is guaranteed to create an institutional allergic reaction.

What happens when the laptop is banned from the school for causing disruption and challengin the authority of the teacher (who isn't getting any training)? Without a network, how useful is a participatory culture device?

All of this gets me to thinking about the role of Moodle in this endeavour. The laptops are built on a constructivst model. They encourage experimentation, production of artifacts, sharing wtih others... all of the wonderful ideas we espouse in the Moodle community. But we also provide tools to reinforce teacher authority (roles, grading, quizzes, etc) to both encourage adoption and to meet the needs of teachers where they are. We introduce new concepts by disguising them as the old, like memetic camoflauge.

Of course, this means we have a wide variation in the levels of use. Most Moodle teachers use it to post static resources with little thought to how to change their teaching. They use the technology to amplify their old, inefficient methods. A smaller number use it to slightly modify their delivery, moving some tasks out of the classroom. And then a very few understand the potential revolution and transform their classroom practice in extraordinary and powerful ways.

The compromises made by Moodle have made it easy for schools to adopt, providing the potential for transformation while not demanding it. I wonder if the OLPC demands too much transformation to be accepted. The lack of training, content, and the radical philosophy for radical philosophy's sake smack of academic hubris. If it's pushed outside of the classroom through institutional reaction, we will have lost a huge opportunity to help catalyze the development of the poorer nations.

I desperately hope I'm wrong, and we see a flowering of participatory education in OLPC nations. But I've been involved in too many educational institutions to be optimistic.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Open Content

In Feb, I gave a talk at the MoodleMoot in Albuquerque about developing open content like open source software. Right now there are two primary models for developing creative commons (or similar) content. First, a single author develops a piece of content and shares it with the world. Comments and suggestions for improvement are fed back to the author, who then makes changes or not. Second, the wiki model, allows anyone to develop edit or author, with limited version control or QA. So what you see one moment may be different from what the next person sees.

In this presentation, I argue for a middle way, mirroring the open source development process. Anyone can contribute, but only trusted members of the community can commit patches to the main release. There is a punctuated release cycle to release a new version, which has been quality checked and used by the beta testers.