Wednesday, July 16, 2008

SELF: Building Knowledge in Freedom

Summary of a talk by Wouter Tebbins at the Free Knowledge, Free Technology conference.

There is an abundance of free software today. So why aren't people using it?
- lack of awareness
- perceived lack of (internal) tech support
- lack of qualified teachers - eg. not even 10 percent of NL teachers could give examples
- lack of education and training materials

The SELF project was an attempt to respond to this. It was intended to bring people together, to foster the collaborative development of educational materials, and do develop community and a critical stance. Seven institutions were founding partners, under the European Union's Sixth Framework.

SELF has produced:
- a selection of open standards for SELF
- a legal policy for SELF, including a definition of 'educational materials' (those materials in education that can be used without restriction, modified and distributed freely)
- a survey of existing educational materials on free software
- a qualifty assessment framework - guaranteeing qualify is impossible in a community platform, but you can have quality indicators (there is a session on this)
- a platform for resource distribution

The SELF platform - here it is - is a place to distribute the educational materials. It allows users to create, remix, translate and modify educational materials collaboratively. Unlike Wikipedia, which has a linear version history, SELF allows for the creation of 'plural views' on the same topic, as well as different levels of instruction on the same topic, or different pedagogical approached. There is no 'neutral point of view' as there is in Wikipedia.

What is a 'learning material'? We see it as a composite object, consisting of other objects, which may includes lessons, tests, bibliographies, ac tivities, etc. Those various components compose the learning material. The idea is that lessons produced in one place - on copyleft, say - can be reused in various learning materials. The format for learning materials used is SCORM.

SELF promotes the idea of exchanging learning materials with other platforms, so materials can be imported or exported. So if you had systems like Moodle and Sakai, you can export materials from self and import them into the LMS. Or the other way around.

(diagram on SELF workflow)

One of the main challenges of community driven content is quality assessment. We think the way forward is to have people perform activities in the SELF platform, and then from those activities, infer quality. For example, the number of times people put a material on a bookshelf, or use it in a course - that suggests the popularity of those materials. Over time, the people who produced those resources will build up a reputation.

SELF can be downloaded as free software: http://savannah.nongnu.org/projects/self-platform

Work to be done includes platform development, server maintenance, creation of learning materials, research into quality assessment, maintenance and application of legal policies (eg., what happens if people begin uploading restricted materials), and communication.

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