sleeping alone and starting out early

an occasional blog on culture, education, new media, and the social revolution. soon to be moved from http://jennamcwilliams.blogspot.com.

Archive for the ‘sakai’ Category

putting the "our" in "open source": on the dearth of women in the open source programming movement

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on August 4, 2009

In case you haven’t seen it yet, I wanted to link you to Kirrily Robert’s keynote at this year’s O’Reilly Open Source Convention. Robert’s keynote, “Standing Out in the Crowd,” focused on the dearth of female developers in the open source movement. She offers this image from the 2008 Linux Kernel Summit:


Image credit: Jonathan Corbet, lwn.net

Robert writes:

This is a normal sort of open source project. I’ll give you a minute to spot the women in the picture. Sorry, make that woman. She’s on the right. Can you see her?

While women are a minority in most tech communities, Robert explains, the gender disparity in open source development is more pronounced than in other technology disciplines. While women make up between 10-30% of the tech community in general, they comprise about 5% of Perl developers, about 10% of Drupal developers, and (according to an EU-funded survey of open source usage and development, called FLOSSPOLS) about 1.5% of open source contributors in general.

Robert surveyed female developers to find out why women seem to be so reluctant to contribute to open source projects; the most common reason was some variation of “I didn’t feel welcome.” She points to a pair of innovative projects whose members have actively worked to recruit women. One is the Organization for Transformative Works’ (OTW) Archive of Our Own (or AO3); the other is Dreamwidth, a blogging and community platform forked from the LiveJournal codebase. Both projects focused on recruiting women, not to be inclusive but because they felt it was essential for the success of the projects.

The entire talk is worth a read-through or a listen, but I want to highlight one key point from the set of strategies she offers for recruiting diverse candidates: Find potential users of the application and teach them programming, instead of recruiting good programmers and teaching them about the value of the application. She says:

If you’re working on a desktop app, recruit desktop users. If you’re writing a music sharing toolkit, recruit music lovers. Don’t worry about their programming skills. You can teach programming; you can’t teach passion or diversity.

I’ve been thinking about this very aspect of the open education movement since the Sakai 2009 Conference I attended last month. Sakai offers an open source collaborative learning environment for secondary and higher education institutions, emphasizing openness of knowledge, content, and technology. This embrace of openness was evident in every aspect of the conference, except for one: The notable lack of educators in the panels and audience.

If you want a good open education resource, you need to start by recruiting open source-friendly educators. Otherwise, you run the risk of developing a highly robust, highly functional tool that’s limited only in its ability to offer the features educators actually want.

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Posted in distributed cognition, feminism, open education, open source, pedagogy, sakai | Leave a Comment »

some thoughts on Sakai 09: here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the doors…

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2009

I’ve been liveblogging day one of the Sakai 2009 Conference in Boston, MA. One key theme in all of the panels I’ve attended so far is this:

We (designers, programmers, educators, faculty, administrators, students) need a shared language for talking about open education, open technologies, and Sakai.

Which makes me wonder: Why is there such a dearth of faculty and, specifically, education faculty at this conference? My sense so far is that the majority of the 500-odd attendees of this conference are in administration, technical support, and Information Technology. A few presenters are also faculty members, but this is generally a split role–IT folks also teach part time.

If it’s true that we need a common language, if it’s true that we need to think about how to support adoption of and deep engagement with the tools made possible through Sakai, then we need a wider variety of people at the table. A common language cannot be devised until everybody starts talking.

Sakai is an ambitious and admirable project, and designers and programmers have developed a robust system that supports a wide range of interaction types. What’s missing seems to be the conversation about pedagogy. Presenters have pointed to the tool’s affordances, but I wonder how much work has been done exploring what kinds of learning experiences are supported through Sakai, and how the results of Sakai-based courses compare to those of offline courses of courses that work through other types of collaborative learning environments.

Where are the education folks? Were they not invited?

Posted in conferences, education, pedagogy, sakai | 5 Comments »

Sakai 09 Panel: Closing the Deal

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2009

Closing the Deal: Seeing Sakai Adopting as a Sales Process
Sarah “Intellagirl” Smith-Robbins, Senior Director of Emerging Technologies, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University
Roger Henry, Instructional Technology Consultant, Indiana University


Roger and a Back Story

Roger is, first of all, awesome. He started his presentation by trying to figure out what kinds of support people at IU would need to adopt OnCourse, which is what Sakai is called at IU. He met with faculty, administrators, deans, and staff to try to find strategies for encouraging adoption; and he also reached out to Kelley Executives affiliated with IU’s Kelley School of Business. He explained that he presented some of his ideas about the results of this at last year’s Sakai Conference in Paris.

Also, Roger added that there’s more backstory to last year’s Sakai presentation in Paris–he was trapped there for three weeks.

“But don’t worry,” he added, “I consoled myself.”

Sarah’s Presentation: The difference between higher ed and executive ed

First of all, Sarah is awesome. She points out key aspects that differentiate traditional higher ed from executive education. Here are her key points about the differences:

  • The “students” are different (for one thing, they don’t want to be called “students”).
  • The learning goals are different. in a traditional classroom, the instructor defines the learning goals; in executive education, students come to the program with needs.
  • The courses are different. The topics are usually very narrow and specialized to a specific business issue. They also bring their own culture, instead of integrating into the IU culture that’s already established.
  • The expectations for Return on Investment (ROI) are different. If you have students who are working adults and paying for their own education, they have different expectations than the typical undergrads. In executive education, the transaction is linked to economic value. “I think we’re going to see more of this kind of expectation among students, as well,” she added. “We’re already seeing students push bak and say ‘This isn’t directly related to the job I want, so I’m not going to take it.'”

The Circumstances

  • Exec ed clients aren’t students in the university system.
  • Most companies are looking for online learning solutions and have failed. (Sarah explains: People find software, then try to solve a problem instead of identifying the problem first and finding software to solve it.)
  • Exec Ed courses are short and constructed on short notice.
  • University faculty aren’t typically able to build unique settings for Exec Ed

OnCourse: The Solution

  • Supported by a large university system
  • Available globally 24/7 (and also scalable)
  • Familiar to faculty
  • Flexible enough to accommodate a range of learning experiences

One significant shift, Sarah said, was offering a new kind of learning experience. Typical corporate approaches align with the “death by PowerPoint” approach–everybody sits in a room while somebody talks at them and everybody just tries to get through the day.
“So the first question people ask,” she said, “Is ‘Can I upload my PowerPoints to it?'”
This is one of the key issues they address on a regular basis.

Sarah tosses up Here Comes Everybody and I swoon with joy. Seriously, you guys, read this book.

“Promise Tool Bargain,” she says. At which point I link you to every blogpost I’ve written on exactly this framework.

Sarah points out the promise of OnCourse, and Roger stands up to talk about the tool. He is, he explains, a choral conductor by training, and his research focuses on how the tools we use shape our practice.

“Most of the problems I hear at IU,” he said, “are tied to using the tool.”
A lot of questions, he said, are also about what will happen when things go wrong.

He points out that a big part of offering the tool is linked to ensuring people that when problems arise, they will be resolved as quickly as possible (and gives the example of a flurry of emails that went out last night at 11:30 about a problem somebody was having; it was solved by the morning).

Another key, Roger said, is managing expectations: “We’re not selling a perfect tool.” It will break, it will slow down, it will go down for maintenance, and the key is to be as responsive and communicative about these things as possible.

The Bargain
Sarah speaks to the bargain: “Faculty have to engage with learning the tool in a new learning paradigm. They can’t use a lecture format and expect it to be as good as or better than a classroom.

“Using a tool that is so transparently requiring participation can cause some issues with the expectations, both of faculty and exec ed students.”

Another part of the bargain, she said, is being honest about the weaknesses and problems with the tool as well.

Sarah said she uses the “promise, tool, bargain” paradigm to approach faculty issues.
Example: When faculty says “my students are not participating” Sarah asks where did the bargain break down.

Did you not promise they would be evaluated on their participation? Are you giving them lame questions? Are you using the wrong tool to facilitate the discussion? Have you explained to them the requirements and the energy required to put in in order to get a good conversation out of it?

Another example: If a CEO says he talked to someone on the phone and got an unprofessional interaction, she asks: Did we promise to offer professionalism at all times?

***my thoughts***
Of course I’m thrilled to hear Clay Shirky mentioned–and, especially, the “promise, tool, bargain” paradigm that I love so well. Though Sarah and Roger pointed to the value of this framework for engaging executive clients, this approach has tons of potential for bringing people in to the open education movement that Vijay Kumar pointed to in his opening keynote this morning.

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Sakai 09 Update: lunch was awesome

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2009

The food was okay, but what really rocked was the conversation I had with a guy named Aaron Watters, a software engineer from Rutgers University. Here’s the main thing: He’s a computer scientist and he said it’s not too late for me to learn programming!

This, you guys, is my secret dream: getting under the hood of the open source movement for the purpose of opening up education. Aaron recommended that since I have experience with html code, I could try working with building dynamic websites with php.

“You’ll know you’re a real programmer,” he said, “when you enter the pupal stage. It’s the stage where you stop eating, stop sleeping, stop talking to everybody for about three weeks.

“And when you emerge,” he said, a magical expression on his face, “you’re a real programmer.”

I want what he’s having.

Except, of course, that it happened to Aaron when he was 14. I’m more than twice that age. Do you guys think it’s too late?

Posted in awesome, conferences, creativity, sakai | 1 Comment »

Sakai 09 Panel: Faculty Success Stories

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2009

Encouraging successful teaching with technology

Description: To foster innovative teaching and learning with technology, Indiana University’s technology services (UITS) widely shares stories of successful teaching and learning with technology. The sharing process relies on principles of Appreciative Inquiry, strategically chosen communication channels, and a sustainable system to generate stories.

Presenters: Michael Morrone, IU; Jan Holloway, IU; John Gosney, IU

Indiana University calls its Sakai program OnCourse and these IU faculty and staff have worked to collect stories of faculty uses of the tool. Their data collection strategy was to gather stories.

This panel, presented in clear language with good use of multimedia materials, makes the important point that institutions need to have a common language for discussion technology use–and that this language needs to extends across departments, programs, and expertises. This means that IT guys, designers, faculty, and students need to be able to communicate easily.

Michael Morrone:
“When I started doing interviews, I learned that faculty use Sakai in a lot of different ways. There’s a lot of good energy that needs to be harnessed so Sakai can be harnessed.”

Michael starts with the following clip from Star Trek to suggest that we shouldn’t be slaves to our technologies.


“There’s a big divide and a lot of diversity in the way faculty come to the use of tehcnology. We talk about technology in very different ways, even among the faculty. When you start looking at faculty vs. technology, the divide in how we talk is even bigger.”

How do you get across the river?
Michael Morrone shows a photo taken from his office of a river and asks: How would you get across the river? Then he asks: How would you get all of us across the river?
One person can cross in tons of ways; lots of people cross in lots of different ways. If we all wanted to get across the river, we have to have a shared language. We have to be able to talk about the problem in the same way.

One of our hopes for today’s session is to find out how we can get ppl at our institutions to talk about teaching and learning with technology in similar ways. If we can do that, then the teaching with technology doesn’t become something we fear. It becomes something we embrace.

How do we do this?
“We did it with stories.”


Why stories?

Stories brand tehcnology mission through shared language
“People don’t like to think of a university as a business. They don’t like to think of students as consumers. But you have to brand because if you don’t, people think about you how they want to think about you. Successful corporations have an image and an identity, and “your technology has to have an identity on campus.”

Why stories? “Humans thrive on stories…. Stories are a way to start dialogue, to get people interested. This is a way to create conversation, intrigue, dialogue. Once we start doing that, then together, we start constructing the language that will work for us as a community.”

Morrone showed this video of Randy Isaacson, associate professor of Educational Psychology at IU South Bend, who uses Oncourse CL to teach his students about metacognition.

Key points from the video:
1. You have to have experienced faculty.
2. You have to use technology in tons of different ways.

John Gosney is up next: Once we gather the stories, how do we get them out to the IU community?
A key strategy is a “multi-channel approach”

  • OnCourse “announce” listserv/other mailing lists
  • Teaching center consultants
  • Weekly “e-news” (264k distribution including Big Ten and beyond)
  • Internal communications (uits.news.edu, podcast portal)

Second video: Kathy Lay, Asisstant Professor of Social Work.

**side note: I am a subscriber to the uits.news.edu listserve and I NEVER read it. Though I imagine I will start reading it now.**

Getting faculty engaged: some strategies

  • Developing “grassroots” faculty conversations (faculty-to-faculty)
  • Normalize IT use (comparisons and conversations give people baselines and ideas)–we don’t want it to seem so complicated that it becomes onerous. Indeed, Gosney points out, even being cutting edge may not always be necessary–a cutting edge tool requires work to learn, and that’s not always useful.
  • Change nature of conversations so that language is highly relevant to teaching and learning as opposed to “tool based.”

Gosney makes the important point that video often works much better for faculty than text. “And the technology is very inexpensive, simple to use…and once you film it, it’s incredibly easy to upload in Sakai.”

Question: Communications seem very one-way (listservs, email communications, etc.). Can you talk about thoughts about how you might foster more discourse on these topics?
John: “My boss (Stacy Morrone) brings up a very good point.” We set up a one-way conversation to limit negative comments–not because we didn’t want to hear it but because we didn’t want to foster” a negative space. “I think a real challenge is trying to get that ongoing kind of discussion, and we can blanket the universtiy, and in many cases we do…but until we get that kind of grassroots level faculty-to-faculty communication…that’s what we’re really after. And once that starts, the rest kind of takes care of itself. It’s a real challenge getting this communication and sustaining it.”

Think / Pair / Share
Current practices for showcasing teaching with technology
Process for identifying best practices
Identify possible stories that are appropriate for your institution
Identify other criteria / guidelines for stories at your institution
Should success stories be housed intra-university? How?

**my thoughts**
I’ve been working with OnCourse at IU for the last several weeks with my advisor, Dan Hickey. Despite my engagement with a variety of classroom and other educational communities, I find OnCourse somewhat onerous in terms of developing fluency with its features. Stories in themselves are helpful, but they can’t magically lead to engagement with the technology itself. I see OnCourse has a lot of .pdf’s and other “getting started” materials, but I’m not positive this is sufficient, especially for faculty who are anxious about working with new technologies.

I happen to be the kind of person who doesn’t read instruction manuals or watch instructional videos–if I can’t figure it out on my own, I don’t bother. I’m going to spend some time working with OnCourse after this conference, then I’ll get back to you.

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Sakai 09 Megasites panel: my reach exceeds my grasp

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2009

Liveblogging Sakai panel: MegaSite Lessons Learned

Session Description: This session will present examples from three universities demonstrating the unique challenges associated with mega sites– single sites serving hundreds, even thousands, of students. What kinds of needs are we being asked to meet at this scale? Which tools are the best fit? What customizations were employed? Finally, what do mega-sites need from 3.0?

Presenters: Diana Perpich, University of Michigan; John Leasia, University of Michigan; Stephen Marquard, University of Cape Town; Margaret Ricci, Indiana University; David Martinez, Polytechnic University of Valencia.

Margaret Ricci: “Mega Sites or, as I call it, shoving a round peg in a square hole. Doing this makes Sakai do things that…it’s a big stretch.”

I’ve learned something important in this session: There is a good deal of information about Sakai that is out of my range of understanding. It’s possible that this session was just misplaced–I suspect I’d have a better sense of the connotations of megasites once I have a sense of a regular old normalsite–and it’s possible that the panelists were rushing to make up for Vijay Kumar’s keynote going 15 minutes over schedule. It’s also possible that my next session will be chosen to give my confidence level the powerboost it now needs.

Posted in conferences, liveblogging, sakai | 4 Comments »

Sakai 09 Keynote: Vijay Kumar

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2009

Keynote: “Learning OUTed: Open Ubiquitous Transformational”

Vijay Kumar is MIT’s Senior Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education, Director of the Office of Educational Innovation and Technology, and a member of the Advisory Committee for MIT’s OpenCourseWare project. He was also an editor of Opening Up Education, a new and key text for the open education movement. (Dr. Kumar’s full bio can be accessed here.)
“My god,” Dr. Kumar says, “I thought…this is our Woodstock!”

Remarking on the number of new attendees, Dr. Kumar said:
“There’s at least a 50% growth (new users) and that speaks volumes of the strength of this community–which is why it’s a particular privilege for me to be here because Sakai’s an important marker for something I’m quite passionate about: the open education movement. And yes indeed, it is a movement.”

Kumar identified the open education movement one that’s both global and accelerating. He notes MIT’s OpenCourseWare project as a key momentum-driver, but a wide range of other proejcts too, including work in the k-12, publication, and textbook sectors in addition to higher education. “We need to make sure,” he adds, “that this movement doesn’t die or meet the future that so many movements have faced.”

Going back to the title: Learning OUTed:

“I think one of the most significant impacts that this growing education movement has had is really making learning very ,very visible–learning in all its flavors…in all its diversity… and suddenly attention is shifting in focus. I think this is the really sustainable impact of the open ed movement.

“For me, what’s significant, why I think this is indeed a really dramatic movement, is because it’s become part of the discourse of educational change–nationally, globally, whether it’s at the micro level or at the level of national or international crusades.

“The fact that this has become a part of the discourse for educational change…is what really signifies the impact of this movement–that this movement is really something to be reckoned with.”

Pointing to Opening Up Education, the book he recently edited, he asks this question: “How can we advance teaching and learning by taking full advantage of open education?”

Kumar points to the “iron triangle” of access, quality, and cost–if you want to increase, for example, access, typically either the quality suffers or the cost has to go up. He points to the need for gatekeeping if you want high quality.

“One of the things about open education is that it offers the opportunity to do better things with more quality at lower cost and increased access. It makes the iron triangle much more flexible. It has the ability to render the previously inflexible triangle flexible.”

The implications of the iron triangle are much more significant for developing companies and large institutions, he said, but also relevant in developed countries.

Open Education Vision Elements

Kumar points to two areas where Open Education has the most vision-changing promise:
Blended Learning: “When we talk about blended learning–and this isn’t a new notion–I’m talking about how open education enables intelligent combinations of the physical and virtual, formal education with informal education…”this is one of the transcendental promises of open learning.”

Boundary-less Education: “I am not talking just about traditional geographical and political boundaries, but boundaries that are much more subtle Between disciplines, between research and learning, between on campus and off campus….in fact, there’s a lot of talk about lifelong learning. I’m talking about all the boundaries that exist between these sectors…between living and learning. And the possibilities of open education presents the transcending of these boundaries in multiple ways.”

Dr. Kumar points to multiple examples from MIT, including OpenCourseWare, the Spoken Lecture Browder, an iLab, an open-ed project based at MIT but open for use in multiple sites (therefore boundary-less). Labs in general are expensive, he points out, not just in terms of actual cost but also in terms of the learner’s time. One of the criteria of good courseware is that it is efficient on learners’ time. iLabs offers a strategy for addressing latency–the phenomenon of a class followed by a lab two or three days later (during which time learners lose information).

One issue he points to is the problem that a lot of learning materials (esp. on blogs) is difficult to package for ready use. We need to consider viability and appropriateness of converting material into open resources.

Kumar adds: There’s a lot of assumption that making something available is making it usable, but unless we have ways to show the pedagogical underpinnings of a course, the educational value of some material is debatable–is in fact suspect.”

Design, Kumar explains, “is a very, very important influence in who participates in this open education revolution, and in terms of the kinds of choices we enable, and in terms of the kinds of things that can happen.” Just having things open is not enough, he explains, unless the design allows access.

Readiness for Opening Up Education: Organizational Cultural Factors
Running out of time, Kumar offers final comments in the following categories:

  • Scarcity vs. Abundance (reliance on situated learning / push teaching vs. demand pull learning)
  • Sense Making (ordering the digital disorder, pedagogical shifts [individual learning=collaborative, social learning], codevelopment of knowledge with learners)
  • Accountability and Accreditation (massification implications for Quality and Preparation; Distributed; Open Knowledge and Learning)

Kumar ends with this quote:

“we are seeing the early emergence of a meta-university–a transcendent, accessible, empowering, dynamic, communally constructed framework of open materials and platforms on which much of higher education worldwide can be constructed or enhanced.” Charles M Vest, President Emeritus, MIT

**My thoughts**
Vijay Kumar is a big name in the open education movement, especially for anyone who’s done any reading or conferencing. I’m already a convert to the open education movement and therefore found his talk fascinating; but there was a mass of newbies in the audience, and this was a moment to grab and convert the fence-sitters. Even if it’s true (and I’d be willing to believe it) that everybody in the audience is already a fan of open education, I wish Kumar had spent more time galvanizing us around the notion of community. As Michael Korcuska noted, attendees came from all over the world. We’re meeting for the first and, for some of us, the only time–we’re converging in the name of open source, open technology, and open education. Let’s value, admire, and rally around the ethos, the spirit of open education, that brings us together. Kumar pointed to this in discussing the newly flexible iron triangle, but while that hits me right in my logic center, I’m also here to get hit in my passion center.

Okay, that’s the mini-critique. What I’ll add is that Kumar is a fascinating, smart, excellent speaker whose ability to talk about complicated, difficult issues in the economics of education is impressive. Mind-blowing, really. As noted in the Twitter conference feed,

You can follow Sakai tweets with the hashtag #Sakai09.

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Sakai 09 Opening Remarks: Michael Korcuska

Posted by Jenna McWilliams on July 8, 2009


What follows is a liveblog of the opening remarks for the 10th Sakai Conference, July 8-10, in Boston, MA.

Opening remarks began with Michael Korcuska, the Executive Director of the Sakai Foundation. (Here’s his Sakai blog.) Some key points are below.

Keywords: collaborative, “software that is as good as any commercial product that’s available.”

As good is not good enough” says Korcuska. “We want to make something that won’t just change the economics of an institution but something that will change how an academic community can choose its mission.”

“It’s not only a project..it’s also path. It includes free and open source softwar– not free as in no cost but free as in free from restrictions. We believe this kind of freedom is especially important to the mission of education.

“The Sakai path is the path of self-determination in many ways, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a lonely path. Sakai is also a community. We believe we have a great…strong community, and this community is the real strength of Sakai. It’s the reason why Sakai is helping so many organizations around the world today and why we know it’ll be even better than it is today.”

A few key points:

  • Sakai 2.6.0 is ready (released post conference)
  • Sakai 3 is starting to take shape
  • New product development process (more visibility)

Tons of newbies are here, according to an informal poll Korcuska ran. That’s kinda cool, huh? Especially since it’s my first Sakai conference too.

Sakai Fellows, 2009/2010

  • Ian Boston, University of Cambridge
  • Jean-Francois Leveque, Universite Pierre et Marie Curie
  • Nicolaas Matthijs, University of Cambridge
  • Mathieu Plourde, University of Delaware
  • Manice A. Smith, Three Canoes Consulting
  • Steve Swinsburg, Lancaster University

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