Archivio per ottobre, 2007

Usare Google al meglio

imageSiamo praticamente tutti utenti di Google. Però saper usare il motore di ricerca al meglio non è da tutti.

Google Guide è una guida completa al motorone di ricerca, pensata sia per principianti che per esperti, inclusa una comoda guida rapida tascabile ed una, ultrarapida, apposta per gli adolescenti. 🙂

E’ in inglese, ma essendo rilasciata con una licenza Creative Commons BY-NC che ammette i lavori derivati, sarebbe simpatico tradurla in italiano, almeno le schede rapide…

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OpenEd: week 9

I started to read the Italian edition of Free Culture but I realized I would not be able to finish this book in time. I further admit that Lessig’s book had not fascinated me too much… So, lately I shifted to one of the Benkler’s papers. I previously appreciated this author for his paper proposed in week 8, thus I chose it.

The odd title, “Coase’s Penguin…”, is a little pun: the penguin is of course the Linux logo while Coase is the Nobel-prized Ronald Coase who in the late ’30 wrote “The nature of the firm”, in which the motivation of the emergence of firms (intended as managed organizations) was explained. It’s the well known theory of the transactional costs, aiming to explain why the economy is mostly based on firms and hierarchic organizations rather than self-employed individuals operating in the market.

According to Benkler, the emergence of the free software movement represents a sort of third way of being in the market: the commons-based peer production. Starting from the free and open source software movement, Benkler identifies this strategy as peculiar to the information goods and analytically exposes the features and the problems of this solution.

It’s a very interesting discussion, from which I can extract a couple of points that in my opinion are very related to OER development and management:

1) The nature of the projects.

In the past weeks we learned about various models of OER projects. The main ones are driven by academic institutions, mostly funded by foundations, directed to offer high-quality, complete and “branded” coursewares. This model is more like the “firms model” in economy rather than free software model, because individuals are often engaged by their organizations, not on a full volunteer basis. Anyway, they works inside the organization, under the direction of the institutional management.

On the contrary, Wikipedia and other similar initiatives rely directly on individuals, independently of their eventual affiliation to any organization.

There are some hybrid cases, i.e. the OU OpenLearn LabSpace provides a development environment for individuals, based on original courses, but open to remix. The Connexions project is a repository of LO, open to contributions by anyone.

Anyway, it is important to note that only Wikipedia has presently a large-scale, worldwide dimension, while the others are generally valuable but still limited projects, still largely dependent from the main funding. We discussed about this issue last week, when we cope with sustainability issues.

The key point is: if we were able to identify the properties of successful large-scale commons-based projects, we could apply them to OER projects.

Benkler identifies some of these properties in:

a) motivation of the participants. It is necessary for a project to identify and offer to individuals some forms of rewards, especially non-monetary. In fact, in the volunteer peer-production monetary remuneration is not so important as hedonistic and socio-psychological rewards (besides it is often difficult to pay due to budget limitations…). For example, guaranteeing the visibility of the authors could be a better way, compared to anonymous contributions. If an author could acquire reputation through participation, it would be a valuable socio-psychological reward.

b) structure of the project. Peer production are best fitted with project that are modular, high-granular with a low-cost integration of the pieces. They should be modular for allowing individuals to indipendently author a small piece, the dimension (granularity) of this piece should be minimized for admitting occasional, small-sized contributions from everyone and, finally, these pieces should integrate without a high, centralized effort. Of course, the integration relates also with quality, which is attained mostly by peer-review. So, I want to add one more constraint, related to the size of the community: peer-reviewing is usually well done if the number of reviewers is high or they are very specialized (but this case would lead to rise integration costs…)

It seems the identikit of Wikipedia!

But OER are not only encyclopedias: more structured productions are neeed too, as textbooks or coursewares. Unfortunately, they have not all these characteristics… Maybe that in these cases, the “firm model” is more suitable, providing the necessary information and control for coherence and consistency. Furthermore, educational resources have often to be more contextualized than an encyclopedia entry. This implies the need for additional efforts and/or for specialized roles for participants.

As stated by Yu-Chun who addressed this book too, maybe “participants who take charge of the consistency for some contents are necessary”.

2) The intrinsec efficiency.

Benkler stresses a very important point about matching of resources and human capital. His theoretical conclusion is that

the widely distributed model of information production will better identify who is the best person to produce a specific component of a project

If it was true, we could obtain the better resources from the “crowds”! We have to admit that Wikipedia has effectively showed evidence of the average high quality of its entries, indirectly confirming this theory.

According to the author, this efficienfy is more effective in remixing and derivating from “information inputs”. Thus we can connect with the importance of lowering copyright: in this vision intellectual property rights are limits to this process. We need more openness to have the opportunity of widening the range of intellectual inputs!

I’m aware this is mostly theoretical , but it is important for demonstrating that peer-production is not only a sort of hobby for altruistic people but it can be grounded on a sound socio-economical theory. Be aware that contributors to Wikipedia are not only volunteers but they can have a role in the knowledge economy.

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Il motto del film, un pochino rivisto: Tutti possono cucinare bloggare!

Il film è bellissimo. Non servono bambini come scusa per andarlo a vedere :-).

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Straniero in terra straniera

Immagine di Straniero in terra straniera

OpenEd: week 8 or the sustainability…

…of this course :-)! We talked about this issue, this week. Even with the best will in the world, it seems that an open course with 60 students worldwide blogging every week on such profound topics is unsustainable for a single instructor… and I strongly empathize with David on it…

I also reflected on my personal sustainability in attending this course. I admit I undestimated the workload, not being a full-time student… (to be more exact: I am a minimal-time student!!)

I know, I must now write about sustainability of OER :-).

Well, I want to make a comparison with Open Source software and, particularly, of OSS for education like LMS and LCMS. A well known case of success is Moodle. Well, do you know there are and web sites? is not a mirror of but it is a distinct site, dedicated to services related to Moodle, i.e.. hosting, support, consulting, installation and so on.. Please take note that these are pay services, offered by a network of Moodle Partners, commercial firms that “contribute directly to the ongoing development of Moodle software via funding or expertise”. So the circuit is closed… Of course, you are always free to download Moodle free but you may also well decide to buy some services from a Moodle Partner, knowing that a part of your payment will be spent in the development of your preferred software. For me, it’s a good model of self-financing!

Could this model suitable for OER, too? Maybe, but we should think to which “services” we can offer via parallel commercial structures funding the developers.

What if MIT started a network of localized point-of-presences worldiwe, offering pay tutoring and, maybe, some form of certificates, based on OCW? A sort of franchising for OER?

Do you find I’m a little trivial thinking only to money? Maybe I receive some criticism from Elisa, who agrees with the Downes point of view that “money is only part of the problem”. Yes, it’s true, but I guess money is the most important part!

Another example is the SLOOP project (I blogged about it in week 5…). It’s an interesting project, very near to OER. It was funded by the European Union but now the funding period is expired and the staff have trouble about the future… Is this project able to survive as a volunteer community? I love SLOOP but I honestly do not bet on its unfunded survival.. This is, indirectly, an answer to the question about government funding: yes, for example, in Europe there are a lot of EU funded projects for education and some of them are related to OER. But they all work within the “project paradigm“: the project starts and we hardly work, it ends and… let’s try to start another one… In my opinion it’s not a very sustainable model!

A final consideration on the paper I liked very much this week: Common Wisdom. It seems to me that the author has identified a very subtle problem when he points out that contributing with a few sentences for Wikipedia is a peculiar “affordance” of that specific model (the wiki) but collaboratively authoring a textbook requires much more coordination and effort, because of the need of coherence of the internal structure. So, we need a stronger motivation from a smaller groups, for successfully obtain a complex OER such a courseware or a textbook, while an encyclopedia can be authored by a very larger group, without a strong committment. I guess these different affordances are critical for sustainability of OER: maybe the encyclopedia model is the more sustainable?

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Contro il ddl Levi-Prodi, il ROC, la Internet Tax

E’ sorprendente come una clamorosa idiozia come questo ddl, abbia già tanti nomi!

Questo post si accoda alla (spero) già lunga lista di altri simili: credo sia doveroso da parte di tutti noi blogger testimoniare CONTRO questa assurdità!

Che si voglia limitare con anacronistici ostacoli burocratici ciò che la tecnologia è riuscita a liberare è veramente un paradosso indegno di un paese civile!  O c’è dietro qualcosa di peggio?

In ogni caso: cari (in tutti i sensi ;-)) politici, ripensateci!!!

Qualche link:

  • Punto Informatico
  • Petizione su petitiononline
  • Un altro video di Michael Welsch

    Michael Welsch è  l’autore del celeberrimo filmato “The machine is Us/using us” (che ad oggi ha collezionato su YouTube 3 milioni e mezzo di viste..).

    Ora si ripresenta, insieme ai suoi studenti della Kansas University, con un video intitolato  “A Vision of Students Today” dove ripropone i temi ormai forse un po’ stereotipati del rapporto tra i nativi digitali, la scuola e l’università.

    Come nell’altro video, non è il contenuto ad essere in primo piano, ma la forma. Ancora una volta, un esempio di straordinaria efficacia comunicativa, ottenuta con mezzi “poveri”.

    Come mi piacerebbe saper realizzare cose del genere!! 🙂

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    W le primarie

    Ultrasintetico pensierino, a futura memoria: le precedenti primarie, quelle “di Prodi” per intendersi, ci hanno condotti qui e, sinceramente, non è granché.

    Ora vediamo queste dove ci porteranno…

    Non ho partecipato e non ho grandi speranze.

    Ma mi auguro di sbagliare.

    OpenEd: week 7

    This week I’m really late with my assignment. I read the main papers and saw the CC video (thanks to Alessandro for the Italian version!) but I’m not able to answer in a convinving way to our questions.

    My strongest feeling is that this field is still too complicated, so, for example, I don’t think that CC is missing some options! I guess we should simplify, if possible also unify licences, not create one more flavour of copyleft! Please take a look to the compatibility grid, also proposed by David, if you are still not convinced..

    Why the open education movement should need a special license?

    Last week I was almost sure that CC-SA and/or CC-NC were good choices for OER. Now I have some more doubts, but I’m still sure that OER need some protection against uncontrolled wide commercial use. I now see that Stian, for example, shares my strain on this point.

    About a possible “non-attribution” CC license, it could be an interesting option (a CC-SA only, for example), but, are we sure that remixing and reuse are so heavily limited by a little citation of the original author?

    On the contrary, as stated by Leigh, maybe that CC-BY could be the “basic” license for OER, until we’ll surrender to the power of PD!!

    I realize that copyleft IS a limitation (one of its mottoes is “some rights reserved”, isn’t it?) but I still think that some limitation is required.

    I want to dedicate a final comment to the reflection on the “openness” of most courses, made by Alessandro. I often discuss of it with faculties: in our universities the physical classroms are open, anyone can attend a lesson, without requiring enrollment, while virtual classrooms are mostly closed! Isn’t it an inconsistency? In the case of Moodle, why not make courses open to the “guest” account? Guests cannot participate in any activity, i.e. they cannot “disturb” the classwork, while they could access resources and see “what happens” in the course: a valuable opportunity for colleagues..

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    Naufraghi raccomandati

    L’edizione regionale di Genova della Repubblica di oggi dà largo spazio alla notizia del salvataggio di uno skipper ligure e della fidanzata, rimasti per nove giorni su una zattera nell’Oceano Indiano (versione nazionale online).
    Pare che, per il lieto fine della vicenda, sia stato determinante l’intervento dall’Italia di Sergio Giglio, l’armatore della barca, ma non solo…
    Nell’articolo infatti, si legge:

    “Sergio Giglio, presidente di Confindustria Piacenza, non era più riuscito a collegarsi con il telefonino satellitare. Non avendo notizie neppure nei giorni successivi, la situazione è precipitata e Giglio ha provato la carta Bersani, chiedendo al ministro, che è di Piacenza, di occuparsi della vicenda”

    Da bravo moralista bacchettone, mi chiedo:

    1) Se l’armatore non fosse stato di Piacenza come Bersani
    2) Se non fosse stato il presidente della locale Confindustria e di conseguenza non avesse avuto facile frequentazione con Bersani (beh, questa è facile, in questo caso non avrebbe avuto una barca del genere… 😉 o no?)
    3) Se Bersani non fosse stato ministro
    …. che fine avrebbero fatto i nostri poveri naufraghi?

    Evidentemente, qui da noi, anche per essere salvati in mezzo al mare è necessaria la raccomandazione di un ministro… Attenzione, voi che andate per mare, premunitevi! Altro che dotazioni di sicurezza…

    Però, ora nessuno si azzardi a dire che questo governo non fa niente per i cittadini in difficoltà, eh!!! 🙂

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