Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Toxic Presence

I'm not sure how to go about it just yet, but surely it is time to mount a campaign to put the toxic local newspaper in our little city out of business.

The Guardian has it right:

"In its purest form, a newspaper consists of a collection of facts which, in controlled circumstances, can actively improve knowledge. Unfortunately, facts are expensive, so to save costs and drive up sales, unscrupulous dealers often "cut" the basic contents with cheaper material, such as wild opinion, bullshit, empty hysteria, reheated press releases, advertorial padding and photographs of Lady Gaga with her bum hanging out."

As the result of a biased, addled and apparently self-serving campaign, the Times & Transcript has managed to convince City Council to get rid of the best police force in the country.

Not even counting the increased costs of a private police force (which needs buildings, cars, and pensions, all not considered when counting the cost of policing to the city) the change in policing will result in costs of millions, maybe hundreds of millions, to citizens in the form of increased crime, corruption, and increased insurance costs.

None of this matters to the Times & Transcript, or its owners the Irvings, which are much more concerned about salaries being kept "to Maritime levels" for various public services (and, of course, their own employees). That's why they never did publish my letter on the subject - or any letter supporting the RCMP - prior to the Council decision.

This is just one of a series of campaigns undertaken by the newspaper over the years to ensure that New Brunswick in general, and Moncton in particular, remain on the threshold of poverty. The newspaper is opposed to all forms of public services, constantly railing against expenses on things like the Firehall (which they felt should have vinyl siding and absolutely positively no art), the Dieppe swimming pool, and even Enterprise Greater Moncton.

Rather, the newspaper - which is almost entirely supported by car dealership advertising (not surprising given that it is owned by an oil company) - does constantly argue for wider (and straighter) roads, against crosswalks and bike lanes, against, indeed, anything that would deter its editors from racing their minivans wherever they please (they also love ATVers, and constantly make excuses for their destruction of trails and private property).

This has to end.

Because what seems to happen time and time again is that bits of New Brunswick - like the Moncton of today - seem poised to rise above being service stations and cheap labour for The One Big Company only to be dragged back into the mire.

The Times & Transcript is able to get away with this because it is basically the only local media in the city. This has to end. An alternative needs to be created. Something needs to be done.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Building Complex Events

A complex event is one consisting of many parts. A conference is an example of a complex event: there may be one conference, but there are many individual sessions. People may attend the conference as a whole, but what they actually attend are the individual sessions (and parties, and keynotes, and meals - each of these can be an event).

Online Events Daily supports complex events. It does this by creating a system of 'parent' and 'child' events. These parent-child relationships are defined in the child, and consist of a pointer to the parent. In Online Events Daily, every child event is an individual free, open and online event.
Parent relations are defined using three elements:
  • event:owner_url - this is the top level domain defining the owner of the event. Updates harvested via RSS-Events must originate from somewhere in the owner_url domain.
  • event:identifier - each event has its own identifier. Identifiers are managed by the event owner and may be whatever the owner wishes. It is expected that each identifier will be unique within the owner's domain.
  • event:parent - the value of a child's event:parent element is the value of the parent's event:identifier element.
Diagram
 of Complex Events

As you can see, this defines a hierarchy of events, with child events pointing to their parent events. In Online Events Daily, a parent does not have to have an event:access value, so long as it eventually has children. To create the event hierarchy, it is easiest to create the parent event first, then create the child events, pointing to the identifier of the parent event.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Online Events Daily

Create Your Own Events

Though my system is not yet ready for prime time, it's up and running and ready for some live data. Not everything works, but almost everything works, and I'd really like to get people's feedback and opinions.

Here's the site: Online Events Daily

Here's the dynamic version of the front page. This site lists free and open live online events that are taking place now. You can have your events listed here, provided they are:
  • Live - they have to take place in real time, preferably with a live text or audio chat.
  • Open - they have to be accessible to anyone. Yes, you can require a registration, but no, you can't require pre-registration. Why? The whole idea is to allow people to see what's on now and go there, without planning.
  • Free - you cannot charge for admission.
OK, your event satisfies these conditions? Great. Here's how the system works:

You create RSS-Event feeds and post them on your website. I harvest these feeds and display the events here.

The idea is that I can harvest RSS-Event feeds from many places, bring them all together, organize them chronologically, and let people know what's happening right now.

RSS-Events is a format specific to this site (though I hope it will spread). So this site also gives you a way to create your own RSS-Events feed. Eventually, though, I hope you'll just create them yourself, from the template. Here's a sample RSS-Events file. The RSS-Events schema is available here.

First, create an use account on this website. Click here to create your account. Come back to this page when you're done. (Note, OLDaily registrations will not work here; you need to create a new account.)

Second, create a sample event. Use this form to create your first event. This is a detailed form intended to guide you through the process.
The form is intended to be used only once or twice. I don't want you to always use this form. There are more convenient forms further in, and as I stated above, I would rather you created your own RSS-Events file. One step at a time, though.

Third, once you've crearted an event you'll gain access to the event management services.
- List your events and edit them
- Create New Event

Fourth, when you look at your event list, you will be able to find out your person number (it will be stated near the top of the page, like this: "You are person number: 8808"). This person ID can be used to create three separate pages:
  • Event Listing - http://events.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?format=events&person=8808
    Use this listing to look at all your events, or copy the page and post it in your blog or on a web page.
  • Standard RSS Listing - http://events.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?format=rssplain&person=8808
    This is ordinary RSS and can be used to create an RSS feed that will be aggregated by Google Reader or other RSS readers just like normal.
  • RSS-Events Listing- http://events.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?format=rssevents&person=8808

    This feed lists your events in RSS-Events. Place this feed on your website and tell me where it is (email me at stephen@downes.ca (eventually I'll just make a form). Then you can add events to the feed just by editing the feed, and they'll show up automatically.

    Note that for security purposes, your feed must be in the domain identified in owner_url. So use a general domain (like, say, http://www.tyourname.com/ ) as owner_url, then post your feed under it (like, say, http://www.tyourname.com/yourevents.xml )
You might wonder, why do I do it this way?

First and foremost, I want you to own your own data. By keeping the events feed on your site, you control it. Want to change the title, URL, date? Just change your feed.

Second, I don't want to monopolize event listings. Yes, I know, good business sense says that I should gather all the data and keep it for myself. Like Facebook. But I think we get a better system if everybody can aggregate events and create event listings.

Finally, yes, I will eventually harvest iCal and hevent, etc. And I'll produce ical and hevent, etc.
Why didn't I use those formats to begin with? Because, honestly, they are too limited. I wanted to include things like access URLs, online environments, hosts and presenters, etc., which you can't do in those other formats.

Also, I wanted to create complex events. More on that as I get more written.

Now again, note, it's not fully automated yet. I have to update the front page and do the harvests manually, which means you won't see stuff happen right away. But, have fun with it, and send me email at stephen@downes.ca if you have any complaints or suggestions.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Managing Metadata with Resource Profiles

Paper prepared for an upcoming conference.

Abstract

Existing learning object metadata describing learning resources postulates descriptions contained in a single document. This document, typically authored in IEEE-LOM, is intended to be descriptively complete, that is, it is intended to contain all relevant metadata related to the resource. Based on my 2003 paper, Resource Profiles1, an alternative approach is proposed. Any given resource may be described in any number of documents, each conforming to a specification relevant to the resource. A workflow is suggested whereby a resource profiles engine manages and combines this data, producing various views of the resource, or in other words, a set of resource profiles.

Resources and Resource Descriptions

Educators employ a wide variety of resources. Even in pre-internet days, educators would employ books and notes, classrooms, maps and diagrams, guest speakers, field trips, and more. In the internet era, educational resources can include all of these and more, including online resources, presentations animations, simulations, synchronous events, web quests, online mentoring, multi-user games, and more. Indeed, while some resources may be more or less pedagogically explicit, almost any resource may be used for educational purposes, and when it becomes so used, it becomes (by definition) an educational resource.

Though any resource, including non-digital resources, may be described digitally, using (for example) the Resource Description Framework, it should be apparent from their diversity that a single metadata profile will be inadequate to the task of describing the full range of educational resources. Moreover, even the attempt to encompass all required metadata in a single document produces an unwieldy, and mostly unused, set of elements. Moreover, there is no clear and obvious way to encompass the contributions of multiple authors, especially in the case of matters of opinion. Therefore, resources should not be described with a single document, but rather, with a set of documents, with each document addressing a particular aspect of the resource and authored by the person or entity in the best position to address that aspect.

Three Types of Metadata

For any given resource, a large number of types of metadata may be provided. Existing specifications are illustrative of the types of metadata that may be created. For example, Dublin Core provides documents with bibliographic metadata. VCard and similar formats suggest approaches to author metadata. EXIF and other media-specific data suggest approaches to technical metadata. This list could be extended indefinitely, but in general, there are three major types of metadata, identifiable by the distinct people or entities that author them.

First Party Metadata is metadata related to the creation and nature of the resource itself. It is authoritative metadata authored by the creator or the owner of the resource. One set of examples of first party metadata include bibliographic metadata, which describes the resource authorship, publication data, version sets or editions, and related information. Another set of examples of first party metadata includes technical metadata, describing the authoring tool, technical specifications and formats, appropriate player software, dimensions and size, and related information. A third type of first party metadata is licensing metadata, as described (say) in ODRL or Creative Commons.

Second Party Metadata is metadata related to the use of the resource. Second party metadata is authoritative when generated by the person or entity that actually uses the resource. Interestingly, while second party metadata is widely created and used on the internet, most of it is hidden and stored in proprietary formats. An excellent example of second party metadata is the Page Rank, named for Google founder Larry Page, which is a measure of the times a resource is accessed through a search, the number of times the resource is linked by other resources, and similar criteria. Another type of second party metadata is found in the form of server logs, which reveal access data, page referrers, software and computing environment used, and more. Another example is the Scholarly Works Usage Profile (SWUP)2 Second party educational metadata can include context of use (for example, in a course or program) and assessment data relative to the resource.

Third Party Metadata is metadata related to the evaluation, description or classification of resources. Third party metadata is typically authored by an entity or agency independent of both the resource author and potential resource clients or users. Such metadata would typically be created by librarians or reviewers and is authoritative relative to the assessment board, classification board or archival agency. Content rating metadata, such as PICS, is an example of third party metadata. Classification and indexing data, including Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal classifications, constitute third party metadata (even if authored by the resource creator, as the resource creator may be non-authoritative with respect to classification). Educational metadata, such as semantic density, classification against educational standards or curricula, typical age range, and similar evaluative criteria, constitute third party metadata.

Distributed Metadata and Resource Identifiers

As suggested above, it is expected that the metadata describing a resource may be located in multiple files, and hence, may be located in multiple locations. There is therefore a need to identify a single resource across a number of different files. This need exists independently of resource profiles, and typically one of two major approaches is used: either an identity-based approach, using a registry, such as Purl, DOI or Handle; or a location-based approach, such as URI. Obviously, a combination may be employed, as Handles, etc., can map to URIs.3

That said, it does not follow that there must be one universal system for resource identifiers. Any given resource may have any number of identifiers, with identifiers created by specific agencies for particular purposes. By analogy, we can consider the case of people, who while they may have non-unique names or titles, may have any number of unique identifiers from specific agencies such as Social Insurance Numbers, driver's license numbers, passport numbers, and more. It is common for publishers to assign their own identifier, and common for repositories to assign unique identifiers for resources acquired from numerous publishers. An identity is just another piece of data, which has as a property a mechanism for accessing the resource it identifies.

Educational Metadata

The specific purpose of an educational standards organization should be to specify that metadata unique to educational purposes. There are three major types of educational metadata: educational standards metadata, educational properties metadata, and educational use metadata.

Educational standards metadata describes a resource's relation to an educational standard. An educational standard may be described with curriculum metadata (for example, as documented on the old BECTA curriculum metadata page4), course description metadata5, or competencies metadata, as for example employed by Metadata for Architectural Contents in Europe (MACE)6. The purpose of educational standards metadata is to map the current resource to one or more elements in an index or taxonomy, and is therefore typified by the Catalog-Entry fields found throughout IEEE-LOM.

Educational properties metadata describes properties of a resource that may be relevant to the selection of a resource. IEEE-LOM includes a number of educational properties metadata elements under the general Educational metadata heading, including interactivity type, learning resource type, interactivity level, semantic density, intended end user role, typical age range and difficulty.7 It should be apparent that these do not exhaust the list of potential educationally-relevant properties. Additionally, the value space provided in IEEE-LOM does not exist the possible desired set of value spaces.

Educational Use Metadata describes what is expected or intended to be the context of use of the resource. In IEEE-LOM some educational use metadata is specified in the Relation element. However, additional specifications, such as IMS Simple Sequencing and IMS Learning design, describe educational use in separate documents. Arguably, IMS Content Packaging is an additional form of educational use metadata. The implementation of a learning resource in a specific environment, with the application of specific system tools or resources, as described in Learning Tools Interoperability, also constitutes a source of information about the resource.

While the data produced or used to created these three types of metadata may be suggested or produced by the resource author or through the use of a resource, each of these forms of metadata depends on a third party evaluation of the resource in question. Such metadata therefore constitutes third party metadata, and is not regarded as authoritative if proceeding from a resource author, but rather only if it proceeds (or is verified) by a third party registrar or agency. You can tell the Library of Congress where you think your book belongs, but it is the librarian, not you, who decides.

Using Resource Profiles

The single-document approach to metadata suggests that what can be known about a learning resource can be collected in a single place and used as an a priori form of document indexing in a single repository or library. By this point it should be clear that learning resources need to be described by multiple entities, in multiple ways, using descriptions that are widely varied in nature, authorship and location.

The distributed model of metadata described in this paper is intended to be leveraged to form descriptions that are, first, current and regularly updated, and second, tailored to specific user needs. In this way, the resource profiles approach recognizes that the consumers of learning resource metadata have as many distinct perspectives, interests and needs as the authors themselves.

When a resource is newly created, very little is known about it. While the developer may express opinions about its applicability, difficulty or educational relevance, these are properties that can only be verified through experience. As the resource matures through use and repurposing, its metadata matures as well. If a resource proves to be popular, more and more sources of information become available - it was used here, it was reviewed there, it was linked over there. Thus, the aggregation and storage of metadata describing a given resource needs to be ongoing. This becomes especially important as a resource ages and may fall out-of-date. Recent information will be significantly more relevant than metadata produced on the day the resource was created.

When resource metadata is collected from various sources into a particular repository, specific resource profiles of that resource may be created by combining different elements of the metadata files. While a single all-encompassing profile could in theory be produced, by conjoining all elements of all files describing the resource, such a profile is neither anticipated nor desired. Rather, what is expected is that profiles corresponding to specific needs will be created by conjoining only selected elements from different metadata files. A programmer who is implementing a resource in a technical framework will want technical and educational use metadata, while a subject matter expert will be more interested in second party metadata along with educational properties and educational use metadata.

A resource profiles enabled repository or data store, therefore, will be enabled with a resource profiles engine that selects elements from different files and combines them to form new, and possibly unique, descriptions of a given resource. The definition of a particular type of description is termed, in general, a 'profile'. Each profile may serve a particular purpose, and is composed of a set of one or more rules or procedures for the selection of data values from one or more possible types of input files, and one or more procedures or rules for the presentation of those values to the user.


1 Stephen Downes, Resource Profiles, November 23, 2003. http://www.downes.ca/files/resource_profiles.htm

2 Benoit Pauwels, Exchange of usage metadata in a network of institutional repositories: the case of Economists Online, Academic Online Resources: Assessment and Usage International Symposium, Lille, 27 November 2009, Slideshare, http://www.slideshare.net/bpauwels/exchange-of-usage-metadata-in-a-network-of-institutional-repositories-the-case-of-economists-online

3 Andy Powell, Pete Johnston, Lorna Campbell, Phil Barker, Guidelines for using resource identifiers in Dublin Core metadata and IEEE LOM, Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/metadata/dcmi-ieee/identifiers/

4 Metadata guide for tagging, Curriculum Online, BECTA, 7 November 2003. http://industry.becta.org.uk/display.cfm?resID=40282

5 M. Pezeril, Course description metadata (CDM): A relevant standard for technology- supported learning, Experience-BVased Quality in European ODL seminar, September 21, 2006, http://www.e-quality-eu.org/pdf/seminar/e-Quality_WS2_MPezeril_article.pdf

6 OUNL, with contributions from partners, Integration of Competence Metadata in MACE, 30 May 2008, http://dspace.ou.nl/bitstream/1820/1764/1/Mace%20Deliverable%205.5%20-%20Integration%20Of%20Competence%20Metadata%20In%20Mace.pdf

7 Wayne Hodgins, et.al., Draft Standard for Learning Object Metadata, IEEE 1484.12, 15 July, 2002, http://ltsc.ieee.org/wg12/files/LOM_1484_12_1_v1_Final_Draft.pdf

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Religion Card

Responding to James Morton, who argues, "Canada is a nation rooted in faith."

No. Canada WAS a nation rooted in faith. But with 4 in 10 Canadians no longer religious (by your own statistics) we cannot say that faith is any more a foundational value in this country.

What has allowed Canada to remain peaceful and harmonious is that, for the most part, we have managed to keep matters of faith out of the public sphere. We were founded from the very beginning with a potentially divisive Catholic-Protestant split, and in more recent years have seen large influxes of Muslims, Hindus and Jews. And, of course, atheism has risen dramatically in recent years.

The purpose of public policy, at least in this our peaceful and diverse society, is to enable people of many faiths to interact together under a single legal and social framework. This very much means that no particular religion can or should have the means to impose its particular view on society.

This is not to say that people can not or should not live and represent their moral and spiritual values. Nobody has a problem with that, not even the atheists.

Rather, it means that if you advocate "policy x" because your religious views compel you to do so, your advocacy of "policy x" will have to be on the basis of its own merits, not because "Canada was founded based on the principles of religion y". Indeed, people - excepting those of your particular creed - will find such a tactic (in this country, at least) divisive and an attempt to seed racial and religious disharmony.

To advocate otherwise is to emperil the basis on which this country was founded, a basis that enshrines freedom and diversity of race, language, faith and opinion.

Play the religion card with great caution. You may be religious; I don't care. But when you try to cram religion into government, I get very very upset.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Three Models of Knowledge Production

Harold Jarche weighs in with a much improved version of the model describing personal knowledge management, which now has these as intermediate stages between gathering and distributing:
- Filtering (separating signal from noise, based on some criteria)
- Validation (ensuring that information is reliable, current or supported by research)
- Synthesis (describing patterns, trends or flows in large amounts of information)
- Presentation (making information understandable through visualization or logical presentation)
 Customization (describing information in context)




That said, while this is a much better model than this, I think it stays true to the original 'filtering' vision, where you go from data to wisdom through successive filtering processes. And while there are different ways to think of knowledge - processed, procedural, propositional - this model I think adheres to a more basic view.



Here's what I think. The picture being presented by Jarche and his colleagues adhere to a 'mining' model of knowledge management (from which we get phrases like 'data mining'). But it's just one perspective, and arguably not the best. It should be contrasted with some alternatives:

  1. knowledge production as mining - on this view, data is like a raw material that is searched for and retrieved. It can be filtered, assessed and remixed, but is elemental. You add value by creating more and more refined metals, alloys, compounds and materials out of what was there, but you can never create anything that is different in nature from what was there in the first place, but you can be very sure of what you have, and the value is derived in the reliability of the process and the difficulty of obtaining such pure resources. The model is like the mining of ore to create gold to make jewellery. This is the Jarche / PKM view, at least as described thus far.
  1. knowledge production as construction - on this view, data is like a raw material, but you work with it with your hands, and create something new out of what you have been given. While you cannot add material over and above what you have been given, you add value to it by giving it form and function. Knowledge construction gives you the ability to create abstractions, to treat raw materials as signs and symbols, and to make meaning out of data. the model is like the mining of clay to make bricks to build houses.
  2.  
  1. knowledge production as growth - on this view, data is like a raw material that serves as a nutrient or growth medium. It is absorbed into the system - a plant or animal - and integrated into an existing organism. The raw material isn't itself transformed or reshaped into something new, but rather nourishes and contributes to the growth of the organism, which in turn creates something new and unexpected. The model is like soil that grows a plant that in turn produces a flower.

The different approaches each stress different aspects of knowledge (or, arguably, are the result of different stresses).

The mining approach stresses accuracy and purity. Getting the right data, getting accurate data and validating data are of critical importance. It is an approach that is going to focus of 'best' - as in "best practices" - or on demonstrated reliability.

The construction approach, by contrast, is focused on sameness and identity.  Because the construction approach combines material with form to satisfy purpose, the elements being worked stand in a representational relation to the world. They mean something. And this meaning must be consistent, must be the same, from instance to instance. Standards-based, meaning-based and representational systems, such as the Semantic Web, are illustrative of construction approaches.

Finally, the growth approach is focused on creation and creativity. The 'knowledge' produced from the input is contained in the state of the system as it grows and produces. The flower that absorbs water and nutrients from the soil, carbon from the air and genetic information from the seed produces new knowledge in the form of a flower that reflects all three of those inputs as they are organized into complex and interactive living systems.

The organic model is the only one of the three in which knowledge and wisdom are not 'outputs' of the process, the only one in which knowledge and wisdom remain as properties of the knowing system. The flower is not the 'knowledge' of the flower, it is an artifact that serves a purpose - to attract bees, to assist propagation, to beautify a house, to feed a cow - and from which the knowledge that is contained in the plant can only be inferred.

The organic model is also the only model in which there are not 'consumers' and 'producers' of knowledge and wisdom. In the mining and construction models, the output of the system is some sort of refined or constructed product, which is then in turn consumed by some knowledge-seeking agent. However, according to the organic model, each agent is the sole source of its own knowledge, and it cannot pass along that knowledge per se, but rather, passes along artifacts, such as flowers or seeds, which can become the raw material for other entities in the system to create their own knowledge.

By contrast, the first two approaches will focus much more on information and literacy skills. Because the process of producing knowledge and wisdom from data is essentially transformative and evaluative, an emphasis on those capacities is required. As Brodie and Brodie argue, citing Laurillard, "the more enduring qualities are the skills, attitudes and ways of thinking derived from the course."

In the case of human knowledge, of course, elements of all three models are present. We filter and refine, we build and represent, and we grow and create. And aspects of each inform elements of the other.

Filtering, for example, is not merely a matter of selecting the best and purest. It is also a matter of selecting the most salient, the most relevant and the most important. We filter naturally, as when the senses ignore extraneous information to present us with a world of objects, sounds and shadows. And we filter deliberately, when doubting a testimony or refusing to be fooled by a mirage. Filtering and refining are matters of growth and learning, which is why a vintner can detect differences in wine that would elude a casual wine-taster.

Constructing and representing depend not only on our natural ability to associate one object with another in our minds, but on our ability to filter and select those properties worth representing. The logic of semantics allows for infinite was of describing the world, but in fact we agree upon roughly consistent sets of properties and objects, with words and phrases to describe them. Semantic ability, again, while manifest in the artifacts, such as words and descriptions we share with the world, is actually located in the brain (some even say innate in the brain).

Growth and creativity, meanwhile, would be futile without some means of selecting and filtering resources, and meaningless without some way of creating representations and constructing meaning. Even the flower, which attracts the bee, acts in a representative manner; the flower, to the bee, means nectar. The association present in the bee's memory is what makes the representation possible, but the plant, too, depends on that representation in order to attract the bee to help it spread pollen. A creative act is never a random act, never a pointless act; it is always informed with a sense of refinement and purpose.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Here Is Where I Grew Up...

Inspired by Dough Peterson's My Childhood Community, I have collected some Google Street view images from my old home town. Here is where I grew up, the small town of Metcalfe, Ontario, about a half hour south of Ottawa. I was here from Grade 4 (moving from a suburb of Montreal) to Grade 12 (ages 10-18).


As you can see, Metcalfe is a small farming community. It is about twice as large now as when I gre up. The forest to the north west of the town was a source of adventure, as was the creek that flowed though the centre of town and out to the southwest.

Here is where we lived:

You have to look closely but there's a house down that laneway. It has white aluminum siding and red shingles. We put that on when I almost burned the house down in 1974 or so. That's when we expanded the original 100 year-old farmhouse (I guess it's 140 years old now) to include a new living room and more bedrooms - and added insulation so we wouldn't need to use the wood stove. It looks like the big elm at right still survives. I almost died one day when, about 40 feet up, I slipped and almost fell.

I moved that front lawn more times than you can count. We had a baseball diamond on it, which my father and I built, backstop and all. I planted the hedge in front and many of the trees (my mother would have planted the rest).

Here is the Anglican Church that was just a few houses down from me.

I went to this church for a bit, and was confirmed here, but it didn't really take and when they asked me to stop teaching Sunday School (my classes were heavy on Bible study, light on references to God) I drifed away.

My best friends, Charles and Harold Newin, lived in this old house across the street from the Church. It would have been an old rectory. They moved back to Ottawa in 1974 or so, which was sad for me.


We were all enthralled by the creek, would dream of taking a raft down it (and made numerous rafts). We wrote stories about travel and adventure. If you look at the porch to the left (it's out of sight, you can only see the edge of the eave) you'll see a hollow in one of the steps created by a rocket I built and launched there.

This is downtown Metcalfe.





The store on the right with the Coke sign was Anna's Confectionary. Anna was a tiny 80-year-old woman who ran the store and was taken advantage of by all the other kids (not me though, I really liked Anna and she once let me in the back to see her house, which looked like it was from the 1880s). After Anne died it became Metcalfe Pizza and a new coat of paint covered the spray-painted (no doubt by a customer) "Anne's" on the side.

The double building on the left had apartments in it. I knew a few people in that building over the years. One girl, Kathy, lived there and was in my class when I was in grade 4. her family moved away - and she showed up 30 years later as the wife of one of my colleagues at NRC who lives in Fredericton. Small world.

Beside it, the single house with the proch, was the location of Bab's Groceteria (Bab's standing for Betty Allan Barry). I liked Bab's and would go there for groceries. I once begged them for a job, and was finally given a position sorting a huge pile of buttons, which lasted about two days.

The vacant lot losted the "brick block", an apartment block that was abandoned even when I lived there. I drank my first alcohol in the Brick Block (caribou, a mixture of white wine and vodka) and had my first, um, intimate moments there.



This is the rest of downtown. The bridge over the creek is new - it had green-painted metal railings when I was a kid. To the right just after the bridge was Stanley's Store, which I also liked. It was kind of half way between Bab's and Anna's - lots of candy, but groceries too. On the left the houses have been removed and the town now has Albvert Bouwers's park (he is the Reeve who built it) complete with a completely useless  little bridge over the creek. Bouwers lived next to us and his family - like a lot of people in Metcalfe - was from Holland. One thing they brought with them was an inclination to build little gardens, bridges, and perfectly manicured landscapes.

The store with the Green roof at the corner of Victoria and Alberta was MacLaren's Grocery. Don MacLaren was a non-nonsense business owner who catered mostly to the farmers in the region and didn't put up with any nonsense from us kids. So I didn't hang out there at all and didn't like it.

The brick building across from MacLaren's was a hardware store, but it had closed even before I moved there.

Up the road a bit was the Township Hall.





The library was around back, and that's where I went in. It was a tiny library and I read a good proportion of its collection, including my first science fiction books, including John Christopher's series, The White Mountains, and Arthur C. Clarke's A Fall of Moondust.

Metcalfe is no longer a town and Osgoode is no longer a township. Both are now considered a part of the City of Ottawa. By everyone, I suppose, except the people who live there, who had no say in the change.

Going up Albert Street (now called the Eighth Line Road) we see the United Church on the left.























I didn't go to the United Church. My mother was originally United (my father Anglican) and we went to the United Church when I was in Montreal, but I went to the closer church in Metcalfe. I always thought it was odd that they had their own little cups for communion.

A block up Alberta Street was Metcalfe Public School.




















It looks the same today as i did when I first started attending it in 1968 (though I have some memory of an expansion to the back, to replace the portable classrooms, like the one I was in in Grade 5).

The office was in the centre recessed area, and when you go on those doors (I never did, I went in the blue doors) you will see a trophy case. You might see my public speaking prizes from 1970 and 1972.

Just up Albert Street we see the Separate school, St. Catherine's School, and across from it, St. Catherine's Church. The priest lived in the house on the near side of the church. He is the one who told me about football.

Further up Albert Street we see the Metcalfe Community Centre. It was originally a wooden barn-like structure, but it burned down one night after a social event. But they saved the ice-making plant, by far and away the most valuable part of the building. The new community centre took the entire resources of the Village to build, and was built during the winter - that's how important it was. One of the walls collapsed when it was being built and a man died.

I spent a lot of time in the Community Centre. I played all my hockey there. I was a Metcalfe Jets fan and attended all the games, even acting as a goal judge (until the day I called a close one againt the home team, and never acted as goal judge again - but I can see it today as clear as day, the puck was over the line, and was scooped out by the goalie).

Beyond it is the Curling Club, looking like a mini version of the old arena. That's where I played my one and only game of curling (and won, leaving me with a perfect record).

Finally, Osgoode Township High School. The big sign on the gym wall is new, but otherwise it is as it was when I attended. Again, it was expanded while I was there to remove some portable classrooms. I went there for four years, always entering through the main door by the gym, past all the trophies and the OTHS double-blue society names. All that had been discontinued by the time I got there, so despite being an honour student, and winning various events (like public speaking, three more times) you won't see my name anywhere in the school.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Online Learning Environment - 1999

This is documentation for a learning management system I built at Assiniboine Community College between the years 1995-1999. It does not refer to a currently existing system, as development on OLe was ended when no development money was forthcoming and I left the College to work at the University of Alberta. There is more documentation of the same system in my 1997 presentation, later published as a paper, Web-Based Courses: The Assiniboine Model (Wayback version here).

MS-Word Version



What is OLe?


OLe (Online Learning Environment – pronounced oh-lay) is an internet based system for distance education course delivery.

It has two major components: first, a content component, consisting of online texts, graphics, and multimedia, and second, a communications component, consisting of an array of tools for discussion and collaboration.

OLe also supports online registration, online tests and exercises, quick quizzes, and a variety of other tools and utilities.

Behind the scenes, OLe also provides course instructors with a variety of options: online test marking, dynamic pages, class scheduling, personal profiles pages, and more

And because of its modular design, course development on OLe is efficient. A set of course building routines generates course structures in seconds. New courses may be constructed out of components of existing courses, or developed from scratch.

Because it is designed primarily as a distance education delivery system, OLe benefits from established methodology in that field. It is much more than a conferencing system, and much more than a set of web pages. Content and communications are integrated, allowing students to be paced through learning materials and discussion.

OLe is scalable. Any number of new courses may be added to the system. If enrollments are too large, a new course section with a new instructor may be created in seconds.

And OLe is portable. Written in PERL, the standard language for programs on the internet, OLe may be run from any internet server. And because OLe is modular, it is distributed. This means that a course being offered on one machine may access course components located on another machine. This means that any number of institutions may share OLe resources.

OLe Components


OLe is essentially structured as follows:



Courses on OLe use the same registration system and users in the OLe system each have their own Custom Home Page, from which they access all of their courses. Each course has its own home page, from which course content and discussion tools are accessed.

Behind the scenes, OLe has the following structure:



Instructors access the system through their own login page and enter their own home page. From there, they may access student data and update student records. They may also update many course components or build a new course.

Online Registration System


The Registration Information Gathering System allows OLe to gather new student information, create new student files, and send registration information via email to a designated Registrar. The system is launched automatically when a user attempts to access OLe components.

New users are taken from the Login Page to a new user information page, from which, if they choose, they may be sent to a registration page. Online forms collect basic information, which is used to generate the student’s database.

From the Custom Home Page, users may elect to register in a program or a course (if they are not previously registered in a program, program registration is selected automatically if they choose to register in a course). More information is collected to fill out student data, and email is sent to the designated Registrar.

Users who enter the registration system are either sent back to where they tried to enter OLe, or to the Custom User Page if they entered directly via the Login Page.

The Custom Home Page


The Custom Home Page is the user’s primary starting point. From this page, all other OLe services may be accessed.



What’s New provides links to new pages, marked assignments

Your Message Centre is a personal one-to-one messager

Discussion Lists on a variety of topics

Your Online Courses links to home pages for each course

Options include course and program registration

Instructors have a link directly to their Instructor Page

Links and email contacts

Course Home Page


The Course Home Page is the starting point for any given course. Students may access any of the course tools, contact the instructor, enter the course content where they left off, or view the course table of contents.



What’s New in this course

Your Progress shows you where you are and takes you there, or view contents

Instructor information and messaging

Discussion lists for this course

Links back to your Custom User Page

There may appear to be fewer links and resources on this Course Home Page than on similar pages in other systems. This is because much of the interactivity in an OLe course is embedded within the course content.

The Course Home Page is streamlined, providing only the most important links to other components. This focuses the student on the course content, rather than the communications tools or other distractions. It also makes the page easier for students to use.



Course Contents Page


The Course Contents Page serves a variety of functions. It gives the student an overview of the course in a single page. It also allows the student to view any part of the page. It reports on a student’s progress. And it provides links into any online exams or exercises.



Each of the Unit Titles (pictured, at left) expands into a display of the component unit modules. Clicking on a module opens a display listing each page in the module. By clicking on the page name, the student may go directly to that page.

Student progress is depicted by the status report (pictured, at right) for both units and their component modules. Clicking on the status report takes a student to a listing of exams or exercises in that module or unit. This is a direct access to required work, which allows the student to challenge a course (where appropriate), and also to marked versions of submitted work, where grades and comments may be viewed.

Static and Dynamic Content


One of the most innovative features of OLe is its use of two types of content: static content, and dynamic content.

Static Content is content which does not change over time. It is analogous to a course text, a handout, or any other resource material a teacher may have available in a classroom.

Dynamic Content is content which changes from time to time, reflecting either events of the day, instructor style or interests, or the interests and aptitudes of the class. Or, another way of describing dynamic content is this: it is the set of learning instructions a teacher would provide on a day-to-day basis, instructions which are emulated in distance with a Study Guide or Course Manual.

Each module of a course is composed of a combination of static and dynamic content. From the Course Home or Contents page, a student is taken into a set of dynamic pages. Following the instructions page by page, the student is eventually linked into static content as appropriate.

Static pages always return a student to the place they entered. This means that the same static pages may be used more than once within a course, or for more than one course, with no danger of the student getting lost. Indeed, students may enter static pages located on another machine or on CD-ROM.

Dynamic Pages


As mentioned above, an instructor may change the content of dynamic pages from time to time. This means that an instructor may react to a particular class (or even a particular individual) by amending instructions or providing access to resources as needed. Originally set up and configured by the Course Generation Tool, the system generates the following pages:

Welcome – a ‘splash page’ welcoming the student to the module

Introduction – a brief description of the module contents and relevance to the course content as a whole

Objectives – a statement of the module’s learning objectives

Evaluation – a description of how the student will be evaluated for work completed in this module

Resources – a list of resources (texts, videos, etc.) required to complete the module

D1 … Dn – generic dynamic pages

Congratulations – closure and a link to the module assignment or test

The table of contents page pictured below illustrates a typical set of dynamic pages in a given module:

Static Pages


Static pages contain the content of a given course module. Static pages are similar to the resources one might expect to find on a CD-ROM based course. For any given topic, static pages provide information (such as the presentation of concept or idea), examples, and exercises.

Static pages may link into a variety of tools. For example, a static page may recommend participation in a discussion list, or it may suggest that a student write a journal entry, or an online exercise form may be provided.

Static data in OLe is stored in its own directory, separate from other course pages, and is organized hierarchically. This allows an instructor to create a link to a very general description of the concept, or a particular aspect of that concept.

An instructor may determine how much, or how little, of a given set of static data pages a student should view at a given time. This allows the instructor to pace delivery, and avoid overwhelming a student with too much information at a time. For review, however, a student may be given access to an entire set of static pages.

For example, the link from Dynamic page c to static page c allows the student access only to the shaded area in the static data set pictured below:



Content Pages


The primary design criteria for content pages are simplicity and clarity. Pages are for the most part designed to fit the computer screen. A few simple navigation buttons are available, directing the student through the material.

This approach differs from most online courses. In other courses, the entire range of communication and navigation tools is available on each page. We feel this distracts the student from the content and takes up valuable screen space.

Pages employ wide margins and reasonably large text for easy viewing (this is especially important for delivery over non-standard media, such as Web-TV).

Standard images – such as the background tile and navigation buttons – are the same on every page. The system administrator may change these globally with minor modifications. Indeed, as the course is delivered, these will change to reflect the season.

Communication Tools

As mentioned above, an array of communication tools is employed on OLe to facilitate discussion and interaction between instructor and students. These tools are for the most part embedded in course content, although links to some of them are provided on the Custom User Page and the Course Home Page.

For the most part, however, communication tools are accessed on an as-needed basis from static or dynamic pages. This means that a student does not need to interrupt his or her learning to seek the appropriate tool; it is provided when necessary.

The illustration below depicts a typical sequence of dynamic pages linking into communications tools:



In order to keep the student from getting lost, most tools pop up in their own window when they are invoked, and disappear when the student is finished. This means that the student never leaves the current page.

The next few pages describe some of the communication tools used by OLe.

Comm Badge




Comm Badge is a personal messaging system. It is designed for quick one-on-one communications. It was developed because, in cases where many students share one internet account, email does not provide enough privacy.

On opening Comm Badge, users may view a list of messages, compose a new message, search through a list of users to send a message, reply to a message, delete messages, or quit.

Comm Badge links may be located anywhere in static or dynamic pages. Comm Badge links may be pre-addressed, so the student need not look up the instructor’s address. Thus, the only work a student does is to type the message and click ‘Send’.

The primary design criteria for Comm Badge was simplicity. It is intended to establish communications even for very novice users.

Future options for Comm Badge will include the ability to save messages (both those send and those received) and to email messages to a regular email address.

Clist


Clist stands for Convergent Discussion List. It is an online discussion forum in which users may post messages for others to read, and read messages others have posted.

Clist provides separate forums, each dedicated to a distinct topic. A link to Clist may specify a particular topic, or a user may select from a list of topics. Each user has his or her own list of topics, so users do not view discussions outside their course (or even discussions among people more advanced in the same course).

Clist is a very flexible program, intended to be used in a wide variety of situations by both instructors and students. A full search capacity is included for both content and authors. Messages may be sorted in several ways. Topics may be merged, and messages may be merged. Messages may be quoted in other messages.

A Clist topic is added to a user’s list of topics simply by linking that user to the topic. So, for example, an instructor may send a Comm Badge Message or What’s New Message (see below) with an embedded Clist link. Alternatively, when a student is ready for a new topic, the link may be embedded in a dynamic or static page.

An instructor or student may create a new Clist topic at any time either by creating a link to a topic which does not exist or by selecting the ‘Create New Topic’ option on the CList screen.

Notebook




Notebook is a tool which is intended for quick off-the-cuff comments by students. This makes it ideal for use as a journal or notebook. A notebook consists of a set of pages (a new page is created for each Notebook entry) through which a student or instructor may peruse.

The student version of Notebook provides a form on the left hand page, into which text is entered. On pages which have previously been created, the text is displayed. Instructor comments are displayed on the right hand side. This allows the instructor to react page by page to the student’s work.

The instructor view, pictured above, provides a form for comments on the right hand side and the student’s text on the left hand side.

Students are not restricted to one notebook. They may have any number of notebooks, each devoted to a different topic.

Links to Notebook are embedded in static or dynamic pages. A link may specify a notebook topic. A new Notebook is created if a student enters a topic for the first time.



Online Forms


Online forms are the most common of internet interactivity, and OLe supports them as well. Forms may be embedded into any static or dynamic page. Forms input is sent to a program which creates an page with forms input and creates a link which allows both instructor and student to add and view comments later.

Pictured below is a typical online form:



Additionally, many static pages contain self-test quizzes. Input from a self-test quiz is not stored on a web page. Rather, it is evaluated on the spot and answers are displayed to the student. Self-test quizzes are typically multiple-choice or true-false quizzes.

Instructor Options




Instructors have a home page which in many ways resembles a Custom User Page. From this page, an instructor may edit his or her personal profile, as pictured above, or enter a given course, as pictured below:



In a given course, the instructor may access the class list, or define course dynamic pages.

The Student List




In any given course, an instructor accesses student data by means of a student list, pictured above. The student list page also allows the instructor to view any or all of the students’ major types of information: location, program, and the like.

The instructor may view student information, and from that page, select a student’s course records. On this page is provided links to the students exercises and exams, as well as the student’s course plan (or schedule) and grade sheet.



Dynamic Page Editing


Going the other direction off the instructor’s Course Page, an instructor may edit dynamic pages. A list of all dynamic pages in a given course is presented, sorted by unit and module. Selecting a page by title, the instructor then works on an editing screen to edit the page. See the illustration, below.



In development are a number of tools and aids for instructors. Specifically, this page will contain a number of buttons which allow them to select, and embed into the page, any of the tools described above, links to external URLs, and links to static pages.

The dynamic page generation program creates dynamic pages as they are edited and stores them as web pages, automatically adding headings, backgrounds, and links to other dynamic pages.

Typically, an instructor would not revise every dynamic page every day. They would be revisited from time to time on an as-needed basis. However, instructors who are leading a group of students through a paced course offering can edit pages just before students arrive at them.

The Build Menu


One of the advantages of OLe is that new courses may be built very quickly and changes may be made in existing courses, or the entire system, easily and efficiently. The key to all this is the Build Menu, pictured below:



From this menu, an administrator may define major system pages (such as the login information page), change display formats (such as banners, text fonts and colours, or background tiles) on the fly, or create or edit new course components, including courses, sections (which are like individual classes), units, modules, instructors, and other data.

OLe Design Team


Conrad Albertson – HTML Programmer, software design assistant

Stephen Downes – Webmaster, software design, instructional design

Susan Hawkins – Content Specialist, English

Tranna Homenick – Content Specialist, English

Jerr Kerr – Project Coordinator

Dave Perkins – Content Specialist, Computer Systems

Bonnie Proven – Project Coordinator

Pih Ha Voon – Content Specialist, Mathematics

Original links accessible via the Wayback Machine.

My Campaign For Mayor

In October of 1995 I ran for Mayor of Brandon (Manitoba, Canada). The fact that I had lived in the city for only ten months made the gesture a little audacious; the fact that the incumbent mayor was running unopposed made it necessary.

Yes, folks, my campaign headquarters was the local pub, the Double Decker. This is my candidacy announcement press conference. I am visible at the very top of
the photo.

Right from the get-go I knew I was in for a tough run. The incumbant was very conservative, the city's newspaper was very conservative, and quite naturally each tried to portray me as a wide-eyed radical. Pictured right, the Brandon Sun's obviously unbiased photograph...





From the Brandon Sun. The announcement in the bar left an image too obvious to overlook. But, dammit, my head does not look like a Christmas tree.


My candidacy prompted another candidate to run, a university student who went by the name of Gorf. Though I was happy to see an additional face, he detracted a bit from my own campaign and we split the protest vote. There he is, pictured left. I am in the centre and incumbant Rick Borotsik is at the right.

Here I am at the same forum addressing an audience of about 500 or so people. Brandon's one electorial forum is sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce (I know there's only one because I lived in the city through three elections) and held at the Royal Oak Inn. Borotsik, lower middle, looking bored (ah the skills of the career politician), is clearly the focus of this newspaper shot.




The Brandon Sun's cartoonist depicts the forum. Gorf has a bag over his head because of his reluctance to be photographed. For my efforts - proposing a virtual city hall and plugging Brandon into the technology industry - I am caricatured on television. Oh well.



Ooo yeah, it's the love connection...



All good things come to an end, and the end came with a thud election day with
the result that I got 1600 votes, about eleven percent of the poll. It's funny - I had never really expected to win the election, and went into the pub election night knowing I would be sent down to defeat, but when the actual moment arrived, there was no escaping that sad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I've run in elections before, won some and lost some, and losing is always the same, no matter how faint the hope. It's tough.
But look... I did get 1600 votes, which in a city of 40,000 people is pretty good for a newcomer, and my primary objective, of ensuring that there was an actual campaign, was achieved. And Brandon didn't forget; next two mayoral elections were properly contested, allowing me to sit on the sidelines and cheer the winners and losers.

(Originally posted in 2001)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Police in Moncton

Letter to the Editor, Times & Transcript
(We'll see if it ever gets published)
(Update: As of March 23, it is still unpublished)

Moncton is a hub city and draws people from around the region for shopping, events and medical services. Thus its policing costs are higher on a per capita basis. This is part of what it costs to be a hub, and if you cut back that cost, you threaten Moncton's role as a regional service centre.

This is just one of the facts completely overlooked in the Times & Transcript's misguided campaign against the existing RCMP service in the community. Another fact overlooked is value for money.

Yes, you can hire fewer officers, and pay them less money. This is what other cities in the region like Saint John and Halifax do. But you pay for such shortsightedness. According to Statistics Canada, Halifax has about 50 percent more crime than Moncton, and Saint John has 60 percent more. The differences are even greater when we look at violent crime, with Saint John almost twice the rate of Moncton.

The news coverage also misrepresents how many police serve in the Moncton region. Though we are told Moncton has too many officers, Statistics Canada reports that, at 115 officers per 100,000 population, the Moncton region has the lowest coverage of any metro area in Canada between 100,000 and 500,000 in population. That's significantly less than the 177 officers that were employed by the city and town police forces at much greater cost before the RCMP took over.

And where are we going to get savings? As noted in the article, "In 2008, Moncton residents paid $269 per capita for Codiac, while Frederictonians paid $210 and Saint Johners paid $272." If we consider that we're not getting a police subsidy, and if you consider that RCMP officers are higher paid, the Codiac RCMP service looks like an incredible bargain.

You know, people are quick to forget what Moncton was like before the RCMP. Ask around, and you'll hear stories about organized crime. Recall, according to the city's own web site, that the "1970s were marked by the unprecedented level of crime in Moncton. Two policemen were murdered, people were kidnapped, and there were even gang-style assassinations." Is this what we want to return to? As late as the 1990s, organized crime had a foothold in the city and the City police force was in such bad shape the province had to intervene.

The only people who would benefit from the elimination of the RCMP in Moncton are the criminals. This newspaper is playing a very dangerous game with the lives and livlihoods of Moncton citizens when it advocates for an end to quality policing in the city. Citizens should take a very hard look at the statistics and the recommendations from the Perivale Taylor report. They argue that the current RCMP is the best and most efficient option available.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Social OS and Collective Construction of Knowledge

Forward written for El Proyecto Facebook y la post-universidad. Sistemas operativos sociales y entornos abiertos de aprendizaje (The Facebook Project and Post-University. Social OS and Open Learning Environments), Editors: Alejandro Piscitelli, Iván Aidaime, Inés binder.


In February, 2004, Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg launched a web site called ‘thefacebook’ as a service to help Harvard students network with each other.[1] The name was taken from sheets of paper profiling students and staff that were distributed to new students. [2] Harvard has an elite reputation, a close-knit community, and the networking one does is almost as important as the learning. Within 24 hours, a thousand people had signed up, and after a month half the Harvard student body had a profile. The service soon spread to other elite schools, Stanford and Yale, and was eventually offered to schools across the United States. The name was shortened to ‘Facebook’ in 2005 and a phenomenon was born.

Facebook was not the first social networking site – arguably that honour belongs to Friendster or Tribes – nor even the first social networking service designed by Zuckerberg. Indeed, if we focus on the community aspect of social networking sites, we can see predecessors in The Well, launched by Stuart Brand in 1985 [3] and in the Globe, a community launched in 1994 by Cornell students Stephan Paternot and Todd Krizelman. [4] By the time Facebook came along, the idea of connecting people through the use of profiles, status updates, and forums was well established.

It may seem hard to comprehend in a world where it has 350 million users [5] and where people compile ‘friend lists’ of thousands of people, but Facebook became successful because it tapped into genuine need, by focusing on authentic community. The social networking site was defined, in its early years, by its exclusivity. People without a university email address were not permitted to join. Membership was restricted to students, staff and alumni. Facebook, in other words, cleaved tightly to an existing community, drawing upon strong connections in the physical world to create strong – and exclusive – connections in the virtual world.

This strength continues to play an important role in Facebook’s success in the years since it opened to the public at large. Facebook allows family members to create their own private groups, for example, and functions as a “virtual living room” for far-flung extended families. [6] Activists and social organizers, too, have seen the value of transferring existing communities to online venues; in this, Facebook’s groups and networking features have made it an ideal venue to support social mobilization. Ethan Zuckerman, for example, talks of Facebook activism in Egypt; where one in nine has internet access, the country’s 800,000 Facebook members have spawned numerous activist groups. [7]

The structure of Facebook is therefore a reflection of society itself. How are we to understand this? What insights about ourselves can we glean from the organization of Facebook contacts? Some structures, such as the university, the family, the activist group, are obvious. But we are able to look at ourselves through a new lens, taking advantage of new ways to visualize Facebook data. [8] Will we see, as danah boyd does in her examination of MySpace, not just social organization, but social divisions, and in particular, class distinctions? “It breaks my heart to watch a class divide play out in the technology,” she writes. “I shouldn't be surprised - when orkut grew popular in India, the caste system was formalized within the system by the users. But there's something so strange about watching a generation slice themselves in two based on class divisions or lifestyles or whatever you want to call these socio-structural divisions.” [9]

If there is a sense, though, in which Facebook can become popular by mirroring existing communities in society, there is a sense in which it can draw upon that popularity by exerting its own structure into communities. As Schimkus and Gruffat remind us, [10] Lawrence Lessig writes in Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace that architecture in cyberspace is law, it is control. As he writes, “Architecture regulates behavior; its constraints are simultaneous; but its constraints get enforced not through the will of the state, or through the will of a community. Its constraints get enforced through the physical power of a context, or environment.” [11]

Consider the effect one small change creates in the entire social networking community and how it is perceived. Facebook requires that members have an email address from an elite institution to join. Years later, we see social divisions reflected in the choice of social networking service. Danah boyd observes, “The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other "good" kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we'd call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities. MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, ‘burnouts,’ ‘alternative kids,’ ‘art fags,’ punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn't play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm.” [12]

If our architectures are intrinsically politically, as Schimkus and Gruffat say, then what will be the political organization revealed in the global graph? What will our social network architectures reveal about our society, in general, and what changes will we impose on our society, in general? Lessig writes that freedom, privacy, and free flow of content were built into the original design of the internet, but that this is changing. “Technologies are being layered onto the original architecture of the web that change this original design. Architectures that make it easier to identify who someone is; architectures that make it easier to know from where they come from; architectures that make it simpler to control the content that they use.” [13]

* * *

We are, of course, cognizant of control in other, more physical, forms of architecture. Dan Lockton, for example, illustrated the ‘architecture of control in design’ in his blog and dissertation. [14] Subtle changes, such as sloping seats, creating barriers or clearing paths, can guide and manage user behaviour through design. And control may be even more gentle, through the shaping of language. George Orwell illustrates this through his design of ‘Newspeak’. He explains, “Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.... Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller.” [15]

But the excesses of control in language suggest that more nuanced approaches are desirable in architecture and in software. Language can be used to guide, suggest or cajole. It allows for the possibility of dialogue, exchange, conversation. The cold edge of technology doesn’t sit well with the warmer forms of interaction found in more human enterprise. Language allows, and arguably encourages, engagement and even empowerment. Technology looks like language, but behaves more like architecture, a duality that may lead us to expect more from its intervention than is warranted, as suggested by Cobo. [16] If we are to understand what technology can do, he argues, we need to understand what it can do, and crucially, what we can’t do with it.

Technological literacy has much in common with its logical and linguistic counterpart, critical literacy. It is a set of tools, skills and aptitudes that allow one to manipulate the design, and not just be manipulated by it. If is more than just a defense, it is additionally a way to project one’s own intentions into the world. It is a matter of learning not simply as being shaped by the world around one oneself, but of shaping oneself through the process of shaping the world. Creating words, creating design, creating software, creating communities: these are all ways we create our own learning, and shape our own thought, our own knowledge, in the most liberating manner possible. As Seymour Papert would say, “people construct new knowledge with particular effectiveness when they are engaged in constructing personally-meaningful products.” [17]

Of the ‘products’ a person could create, perhaps the most challenging is his or her own learning. This is an idea I explored with Diego Leal through the delivery of EduCamps in Colombia, where participants in Bogota and Medellin created their own learning through participation in creative Web 2.0 activities. [18] And the idea was extended and put online with the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge course I ran with George Siemens in 2008 and 2009. [19] This leads Leal to propose “an unstructured collective learning experience that seeks to make visible the possibilities of some social software tools in learning processes and interaction.” [20] The intent is to help people not simply to learn about the tools, but to develop a capacity to work with the tools, to build a creative capacity, and hence not just technical knowledge but rather technological literacy.

The development of a technological literacy, though, is uneven. In the divide between a world where we control technology and a world where we are controlled by technology lies what Henry Jenkins calls the “participation gap.” [21] It is the divide between those who can create and have created using digital technologies and those who have not. This is not simply a digital divide, not simply a division between those who can access technology and those who cannot, but rather, a divide between those who have been empowered by technology and those who have not. And it is a gap we see not only at the base level of simple web constructs such as web pages or Twitter profiles, but even more so at the higher reaches of social engagement, in professional discourse and communities of practice. To begin to learn is to begin to participate at the periphery of a community of practice [22]; to become learned is to reduce the participation gap between oneself and fully engaged members of that community.

It is no wonder, then, that Dolors Reig writes that one of the most important tasks of educators is to extend and enlarge participation in new media and in these online communities. [23] Students need to access the basic skills required to use technology, and to take advantage of online services to extend their participation into the wider community. New technologies allow them to reach into these networks independently of any institutional constraints. And they create the possibility of new forms of participation – of blogs and Twitter posts, for example – beyond the more traditional modes of conference presentations and academic papers. And it will be the responsibility, not only of educators, but of professionals in those communities, to embrace this new reach. “Things as important as the power of minorities, the long tail, the diversity and opportunity for innovation, growth and not as a threat, depend on it.”

But if meaningful change is to be enabled, if the premise of participation is to be realized, then it will be necessary to extend practice beyond the traditional reach of institutions and community networks. To the extent that we rely on existing institutions, we depend on an earlier-style “broadcast” form of communication, on in which the learner is the passive recipient rather than the active contributor. The participation gap widens. This, writes Alejandro Piscitelli, is what we have seen in much learning technology to date: “because it relies on broadcast models of Web 1.0, strengthening the culture of unilateral top-down world of books and quality content - fixed and unchanging, produced exclusively by adults and experts - ends up getting exactly what it says it wants to avoid.” [24]

Instead, learning online needs to rely on an ethos that has aggregated under the name “edupunk” in recent years. Coined by Jim Groom, [25] edupunk “is student-centered, resourceful, teacher- or community-created rather than corporate-sourced, and underwritten by a progressive political stance.” It is not simply an end to reliance on institutional structures, it is a kicking down of those structures, treating them not so much as scaffolds that lead to greater empowerment and participation, but rather as the embodiment of the forces that limit these, that keep the learner subservient. The role of edupunk is to create one’s own learning, using whatever materials may be at hand, to advance one’s own agenda, and not a logic and language of participation delivered intact from the existing community. Patricipation is essentially transformative, not only of oneself, though it is that, but also of any community or network in which one participates.

This is the light in which we should understand our participation in social network services such as Facebook, argues Piscitelli. It is not to use Facebook “as an educational tool”. Rather, it is to model, in the best edupunk style, the subversion of Facebook as a tool with which to learn. “it shows in practical state what we often glimpsed, rarely wanted to accept, let alone recognize: we do not know what we want to teach. And this for infinite reasons, being one of the most important the fact that ‘how to learn’ is constantly changing and cannot be taught once and forever.”

* * *

This, then, is the frame against which the essays in this volume are set. It is an exploration not only of Facebook, but of new technologies in general, not as devices that we may use to ‘deliver’ an education to our students, but rather, as a logic and a language that may be learned, to create a new literacy, that we may leverage in order to help ourselves learn. Each of the papers in the first two sections of this book explores this theme, approaching it from one direction or another, understanding Facebook as an architecture expressed in computer code, a community with its own ethos and set of values, or a language that can be learned and understood critically. The logic of participation as primary to learning is evident at all stages of the discourse, expressed as construction or creativity or communication, as well as the perils of the participation gap, the disempowerment we create when we treat ourselves and our students as passive observers.

How do these considerations become manifest in practice? The remaining essays in this volume explore this theme.

Consider video, for example. Film and television have been a part of education for decades and have had an impact that has been widely derided as unimpressive. Nadaner, echoing a conclusion reached by many others, writes, “While imaginative uses of television may augment visual thinking, constant exposure to fast-paced programming may inhibit the basic cognitive processes of attention, reflection and analysis.” [26] The faculties developed by the creation of video, though, is another matter. Maria Balestrini explores the creation of short videos in the Facebook project using mobile phones as a way for students to learn both an audio-visual language as well as the technology of recording devices. [27]

Using the technology simply to rewrite the rules of engagement of the traditional classroom also creates an interesting dynamic. Heloisa Primavera describes a scenario in which the number of course textbooks is reduced and where students are encouraged to explore new and much more diverse sources of information. This requires, they discovered, a new way of studying, one where students were encouraged to create abundance, to share liberally, to create – and then live in – a flow of content and information, and to think creatively and opportunistically.

Finally, we are faced with the possibility of the “post-university”. This is a possibility that has occurred to many as they explore digital alternatives. Can we imagine a world where universities are “irrelevant”, as David Wiley, a professor in the United States, suggests? [29] The Facebook Project, suggests Ivan Adaime, is a look at what this post-university would look like. [30] It is a way of looking at learning beyond the traditional transmission model, a model where instructors (and books) broadcast and students passively receive. The Facebook Project surprises, he writes, because of the level of engagement and commitment displayed by the participants. But the project, he writes, is not a model for others to follow, but a journey, which others may wish to undertake.


[1] Sid Yadav, ‘Facebook: The Complete Biography’, Mashable, August 26, 2006. http://mashable.com/2006/08/25/facebook-profile/

[2] Sarah Phillips, ‘A brief history of Facebook’, The Guardian, July 25, 2007, http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2007/jul/25/media.newmedia

[3] George Por, ‘The Well: Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link’, Netweaver, August 1, 1985, http://cgi.gjhost.com/~cgi/mt/netweaverarchive/000013.html

[4] Jonathon Lawrence, ‘A student created company is the talk of the web’, Cornell University Chronicle Online, April 11, 1996. http://www.news.cornell.edu/chronicle/96/4.11.96/webgenesis.html

[5] Clara Ciuffoli and Guadalupe López, Participatory audiences: Facebook as a paradigm of 2.0 literacy, this volume.

[6] John D. Sutter, ‘All in the Facebook family: older generations join social networks’, CNN, April 13, 2009. http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/04/13/social.network.older/index.html

[7] Ethan Zuckerman, ‘Revolution, Facebook Style’, New York Times, January 22, 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/magazine/25bloggers-t.html

[8] Ignacio Uman and Carolina Venesio , ‘The challenge of selecting, indexing and mapping information. Graphical tools to visualize Facebook’, this volume.

[9] danah boyd, ‘Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace’, Apophenia Blog Essay. June 24, 2007. http://www.danah.org/papers/essays/ClassDivisions.html

[10] Roberto Schimkus and Carolina Gruffat, ‘Architecture is the policy of the network. Facebook and its rivals’, this volume.

[11] Lawrence Lessig, ‘Architecting for control’, Internet Political Economy Forum, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, May 11, 2000. http://www.lessig.org/content/articles/works/camkey.pdf

[12] danah boyd. Ibid.

[13] Lawrence Lessig, Ibid.

[14] Dan Lockton, ‘Architectures of Control in Consumer Product Design’, MPhil Technology Policy dissertation, Judge Institute of Management, University of Cambridge, 2005. http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/wpawuwpot/0512009.htm

[15] George Orwell. Nineteen Eighty-Four I, 5, 1949.

[16] Cristóbal Cobo, ‘What if new technologies were not the answer?’, this volume.

[17] Mitchel Resnick, Distributed Constructionism, Proceedings of the International Conference on the Learning Sciences, Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education, Northwestern University, 1996. http://llk.media.mit.edu/papers/Distrib-Construc.html

[18] Diego Ernesto Leal Fonseca, Educamp Colombia, edu.co.blog weblog, Nobember 18, 2008. http://www.diegoleal.org/social/blog/blogs/dotedu-dotco/index.php/2008/11/16/educamp-colombia-1

[19] Stephen Downes and George Siemens, Connectivism and Connective Knowledge, web-based course, 2008. http://connect.downes.ca

[20] Diego Ernesto Leal Fonseca, Learning in a connected world: When to do (and to learn) is to click, this volume.

[21] Henry Jenkins, ‘Combating the Participation Gap: Why New Media Literacy Matters’, Distinguished Lecture, UC Berkeley School of Information, February 6, 2008. http://www.ischool.berkeley.edu/newsandevents/events/dls20080206

[22] Alison Fuller, Heather Hodkinson, Phil Hodkinson and Lorna Unwin, ‘Learning as Peripheral Participation in Communities of Practice: A Reassessment of Key Concepts in Workplace Learning’, British Educational Research Journal, 31:1, February, 2005, 49-68. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1502156

[23] Dolores Reig, A world of endless media. Changes in learning, Facebook and the apotheosis of expressive applications, this volume.

[24] Alejandro Piscitelli, ‘Edupunk, ignorant teachers invisible education and The Facebook’, this volume.

[25] Stephen Downes, ‘Introducing Edupunk’, OLDaily, May 29, 2008. http://www.downes.ca/post/44760

[26] Dan Nadaner, Toward an analysis of the educational value of film and television, Interchange, Volume 14, Number 1 / March, 1983. http://www.springerlink.com/content/j0011r78j78621r6/

[27] Mara Balestrini, ‘From chalks to mobiles: cell phone short films to think transmedia images and narratives’, this volume.

[28] Heloisa Primavera, Coaching, peer to peer production and neolearning, this volume.

[29] Elaine Jarvik, Universities will be 'irrelevant' by 2020, Y. professor says, Deseret News, April 20, 2009. http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705298649/Universities-will-be-irrelevant-by-2020-Y-professor-says.html

[30] Iván Adaime, ‘The Facebook Project and the Post-university’, this volume