OpenSim – open source multi user blah blah (sl). dave is in love.

The living archives project is running on apace… and I think we’ve finally come across the solution to the one snag that has been driving me crazy. How do we get kids into a virtual space… a virtual space we can control… where we can do what we want. Where the kids can control the world. Where kids can work in there if they are 11 years old. And could work with their parents. Or their teachers.

Well… I’m sold. Today the fantastic Ian Truelove introduced me to my last best chance to get some kids into a virtual world. I grabbed the software… followed the instructions… jumped onto the IRC channel for some very friendly advice and voila. An ‘ open simulation ‘ server on your own desktop. A virtual world that you could serve up to a single class (no bandwidth issues). A virtual world you could use for a special project. A virtual world that you could measure every damn bit of data you’d like. Want to upload more images? Go ahead… it’s your server.

ok… so what’s the catch. It isn’t quite a clean and wonderful as the SL grid. I saw my feet scoot under the rock a time or two… and the flying is still a little odd. I haven’t yet tested it with anyone other than me… I expect there will be a bunch of other pitfalls down the road of this little journey. But tonight. Tonight i celebrate!

An Open Source BSD licensed virtual world. I’ll worry about server strain and potential crashes tomorrow (no crashes yet however, after a couple of hours of uptime and no idea what i’m doing).

The folks at Second Life said they wouldn’t accept my pre-teens. They said that the ‘conversation we had no longer applied’. I now have to thank them for forcing me to go out and find the open sourced alternative.


Notes on ‘Scientific’ research in education and NCLB

While doing any research, I get incredibly distracted by side ideas that pop up. I’ve decided to use my blog as a place to take some of those notes for ideas that may be the start of future research, or may prompt someone else to go down that road. Today we started with an article called “School Reform 2007: Transforming Education into a Scientific Enterprise” by Barbara L. Schneider and ­Venessa A. Keesler College of Education and Department of Sociology, Michigan State University. Annual Review of Sociology Vol. 33: 197-217 (Volume publication date August 2007)
On scientific research and NCLB
It’s a very compelling review of how we got to a Scientific view of educational research and how “random assignment field trials” are de rigueur inside the educational field right now. I was particularly interested in how the US Federal educational people have released a report detailing how they like this to be done. (p. 3586) It goes on to say that one of the effects of this has been that
NCLB (No Child Left Behind) places two key ideas at the center of school reform: performance and scientific evidence.”

The problem with this is that projects like this

emphasize incentives for outputs (student achievement) rather than the inputs that we know matter, such as raising teacher educational expectations, helping students spend more time on task, engaging students in challenging material, providing students with frequent and positive feedback, and helping students learn to be strategic in reaching their goals.

This is a critical difference for me. Focusing on the results of an activity sort of leave aside the process by which those results were achieved. I always think of the way calculus was taught to me. We never saw hide nor hair of a practical real world example of what made calculus so integral a part of the sciences. The work by which i ‘understood’ it, that is, could prove my mastery by doing problems had little or nothing to do with the way that those things might be achieved in an ‘applied’ way. Nor did I learn very much about how to learn something ‘like’ calculus for myself. I learned to remember a basic set of values, that did not really represent the base set that professional mathematicians would use, nor did it really make any contextualized sense to me. It was, in effect, an alienating activity.

Research Results from NCLB and possible explanations

The Harvard University Civil Rights Project also sponsored an extensive study on test score gains during the first years of NCLB. Comparing fourth and eighth graders’ National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and mathematics achievement test results prior to NCLB (1990–2001) to its initiation through 2005, Lee (2006) finds that achievement did not significantly improve. Moreover, racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps between advantaged whites and disadvantaged students have not changed significantly. State tests, however, appear to show greater gains, which suggest several alternative hypotheses: The states may be setting the bar on their tests too low; NAEP may not be as good an instrument as state tests for assessing year-to-year progress; or students may have no incentive to do well on NAEP tests so that trying to equate the tests, even if one could make the test items comparable, would be biased in favor of exams that are incentive based (Loveless 2006).

I particularly like the way this quote lays out some of the possible explanations for the results. It could be that they learned more, could be that the State reps have changed the rules to make the results look better.

As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows… i’m not super fond of this kind of research. I think that it has its place among the strata that represent the work done in education. I think that a drastic increase in test scores related to class size would be significant. (Interestingly, this article sites research that shows it has little to no effect) It should not, however, carry the day on anything. Any test, or any research, no matter how ‘randomized’ is immediately ‘framed’ by the person who has defined the research questions. The common response to this is that there are ‘rules’ governing the framing of research questions that reduce the risk of this. I agree, some research questions are awful. Some less so. Some very interesting.

The underlying assumption that truth is sitting there, waiting to be discovered, however, informs this kind of research. It assumes that THERE IS A PERFECT education system out there to be discovered. That there will be a solution if we look hard enough. This is highly unlikely. The unified educational theory that will support all students is a windmill, nothing more. It is an artifice that looks like universal education, and is mostly normative. It is designed by those in power, designed to serve the skills that those people value. This is not a statement about their intentions… just a necessary result of the way we are socialized. I think the things I think are important are important. You, likely, do the same. It is difficult, in a multicultural society, for that to work for everyone.

Any time that you use money as an ‘encouragement’ for schools to ‘perform’ you are running the risk of simply having the rules of the game change from under you. To quote the old expression… “teaching to the test creates great test takers”

Three things to remember when thinking about educational reform

1. Most educational reforms are about political grandstanding
2. Scale is important… what works on a small scale may not transfer to a larger scale
3. Few reforms receive continual support.

Hess (1999), in a study of school reform and school politics in a stratified random sample of 57 urban U.S. school districts from 1992–1995, offers another perspective on the failure of reforms of the 1980s and 1990s. First, most reforms, he contends, are not serious attempts to change teaching and learning but are more about political grandstanding, especially for those in high-level school decision-making positions. Second, some small-scale reforms fail when placed in larger settings, suggesting either that they work only in certain situations or that the requirements to bring specific interventions to scale remains unknown. Third, few reforms receive continual support. Those who engage in reforms are quickly churned in the process. Principals and teachers may invest in reforms that quickly fall out of fashion, and they are then left feeling defeated after having committed resources, time, and personal psychic energy to a wasted effort. Or some veteran teachers simply wait out the latest proposals, sticking to their own methods until the reform efforts fade. These teachers can become a source of inertia for change, leaving reforms to inexperienced professionals who often lack institutional memory on why certain interventions have or have not worked. Hess (1999) concludes that the professional and political interests of urban school leaders need to be linked to the long-term performance of their schools, a diagnosis that is consistent with the prescriptions offered in NCLB. Article quoted from Hess F. 1999. Spinning Wheels: The Politics of Urban School Reform. Washington, DC: Brookings Inst. Press

An introduction to my blog – Two years in review

After reading the post “eight things i hate about the edublogosphere” i thought that it might be nice to give new people a sense of what is written here on this blog. My two year anniversary is just about now (If you are about to say “that’s not what it says on your blog, read about how I saved my blog from oblivion after a full server crash through use of google cache). So if you have nothing better to do, have some strange interest in the work done on this blog or are a potential client/employer 🙂 and you’d like to get a better sense of what I’ve been writing about for two years… read on.

The Feedbook.
This was as close to the ‘first post’ that I ever made on this blog. It was, in a sense the reason I started it. I had an idea I wanted to write/talk about, and edtechtalk wasn’t really the right venue for it. A feedbook is a very simple concept. Use feeds from people who are relevant to the target curriculum as the ‘textbook’ for a course. Keeps material current, takes away the ‘fading curriculum’ problem, and keeps people on their toes. I like it… Seems some other people liked the idea too.

Disposable Learning Objects
This is an idea that keeps coming up in my practice all the time. A simple idea that really works. Record everything and post it. This quick tutorial on how to make cables is what I go back to everytime i forget how to make an ethernet cable. It’s far from perfect, but it doesn’t need to be perfect. That’s the point. It’s disposable. If it stops serving a purpose, or it becomes obsolete… it’s no big deal. Too much curriculum is tied to the amount of money that it cost to produce it. If a textbook is expensive, or a training item or piece of proprietary software cost alot of money, it’s FAR more likely to stick around long past it’s usefulness. A quick learning object, made at the time of learning, is easily disposed of when no longer useful, and to my mind, a far better record of work done.

Rhizomes, habitat and Emergent Training Communities.
This is the main focus on my educational work right now. I’ve written several posts on rhizomes as a model for describing knowledge and paths to learning. This pageflakes page from my presentation at the Futures of learning conference was a draft try of some of the things I mean regarding this. It’s a tough topic to sum up in a paragraph…

The idea is that all things are connected ( 😛 ). Knowledge, by its nature, works very much like a biological rhizome. There is no ‘central bit’ no ‘important core’ no ‘Truth’ that holds it together. If you look at any one ‘thing’ that you would like to believe or know, it’s contextualized by all the other things around it that one needs to know in order to be able to understand a thing. Learning, then, should be structured to take this into account and take adavantage of the way that technology now allows us to work that way. We need to create special ‘habitats‘ that may allow an ’emergent training community’ to form. I should have an article or two written about this by early fall. Hopefully that will explain it better.

Membership and communities.

This is tied up in the emergent training community stuff. I’ve written a fair amount around membership and people’s responsibility to their communities. Also on how to see communities by membership.


project over at educationbridges. post 1 and post 2 We were hired by the nord family foundation to do a review on the viability of using wikis as textbooks for northeastern Ohio. Some very interesting discussions in the audio over at educationbriges. Conclusion? It’s possible… I would use drupal books (or something similar) or a wiki. And for fun… a post on why i think wikis are bad as a CMS.


I’ve written scads of posts on knowledge, what it means to know and what learning means. Something that underpins most of my thinking. I don’t ‘believe’ in ‘Truth’. I put my trust in the assessement of context. Truth ‘may’ exist… i don’t think that the search for (or the teaching of) one truth is particularly useful. Also… my favourite post that never got any attention.

Online debates.
I’ve been part of a bunch of fun debates online. I’ll drop three in here. The Kathy Seirra debate, the LMS must die one with Leigh, and one where i critiqued Jay Rosen and actually got a response. And also… the worst post I ever made that got the most attention. Oh… and O’reilly and web 2.0.

Tech Stuff
There have been several posts that have been ‘how tos’ or generally catelogued my work with a given tool. I’ve talked about my struggles trying to stay current with three operating systems in Linux, Mac Windows I’ve settled on Ubuntu for my main machine… but still use mac and PC for some things. I did an intro to elgg… we still have a couple of wicked projects that came out of our early toying with elgg at and i also wrote an intro to getting a blog up before edublogs made that kinda moot, and a quick review of embedding flash into moodle . I have plans for a ‘getting a server up and running’ post soon, as I’ve spent a chunk of time in the last 18 months learning how and don’t want to forget 😛 .

wow… I meant to post about 8 links… and should stop before I post everything I ever blogged. As Karyn mentioned recently… I’m really passionate about this stuff… and put alot into these posts (other than editing bonnie would add)… so i guess it’s hard to leave any out.

I hope this serves as a bit of an introduction to the things i’ve been thinking. And, if you made it this far… thanks for reading my blog 🙂

habitat – a place for communities to build

I’ve always been very fond the the ‘habitat for humanity’ concept… at least what follows from the title itself. The idea that humanity thrives given the right kind of habitat… and that the bequest of habitat is a charitable… indeed a community even that should be participated in in order to support ‘humanity’ inside of every community.

In casting around last spring… looking for a way to talk about online communities and particularly looking at trying to encourage the growth of community in the variety of ways in which I participate in that quixotic venture, I came back to the idea of ‘habitat’. I settled and decided I’d found the right concept after talking to a new friend of mine who is working on tracking the density of ocean floor dwellers based on the given habitat that surrounds them. It seems that random bits of the way a place is structured has a great deal of effect on who is going to come and hang out in that particular area.

** what dave’s been doing professional while not blogging — skip if not interested **’
I’ve been working on the Virtual Research Environment at UPEI, trying to do a little training on community support. We got our heritage canada grant for working with students… detailed in last grant. Working with a variety of people to convert some nice open source tools into nicer tools for kids. Working with the folks at edtechtalk to make the umbrella organization pay for itself. Am building an ‘enterprise’ server at work. I have three articles i need to write. I’m looking very hard at a few Phd programs. for personal stuff see bon’s blog
** end of catching up with dave **

This, then, in simple terms in what I’ve been trying to do with communities. I’m trying to figure out how one goes about creating a ‘habitat’ that will make it more likely for community to form and more likely that that community will do the kinds of things that were intended… that prompted the creation of that habitat. I realize that it is not exactly a mind numbing concept. But at this point I’ve been a part of the attempted creation of… oh… probably 50 communities online and have seen a few successes and by far a larger number of communities that failed to thrive over the long haul. There are several personal factors that lead to the successes of those communities… One particularly charismatic or talented or famous individual is enough to hold a community together for a while… but, I’m coming to believe… the ‘way’ that the habitat is structured has a far greater effect on the success of that community.

We’ll take a little trip here… to try and identify the things that I’m talking about. When i first started exploring MUVEs I’d been astonished at the desire to replicate the real world in the construction of buildings. If, in Second Life (curse them) for instance, you are trying to attract people to drop by your building… why would you put glass in your windows? Glass servers a great practical purpose in my house… keeps out the cold while allowing me to see out. In second life, however, it could be seen to server a ‘security’ purpose… to allow you to see out without allowing people to come in… but if you are actually trying to let someone in, I can’t imagine why you’d do it. So, putting the glass in the window frustrates me… it will not, probably, frustrate someone else who’s thinking is more in line with the creators of that building. They might very obediently drop to the ground (assuming they were flying in the first place) open the door and walk into that building to look at how much it resembles the real world. They might feel comforted by this. They might return to this feeling of comfort and find that the types of people who end up in this building have similar outlooks to them.

This is habitat in action. It’s the same way that the ‘look’ of a coffee shop, or bar or store attracts likes… or at least attracts people to what they think they should like… which is an entirely other conversation. 😛 But as we take this little nugget of information and turn it back to a specific study of community what have we learned. They way a ‘home’ for a particular community is structured could be important to the types of people that turn up there. Again… we’re not exactly breaking the Senator Stevens barrier here.

If we were then, to list the types of things that are going to effect the amount of traffic, the recurrence of traffic, the ‘qualities’ of that traffic, the number of times people break the boundary between casual membership and membership, the direction in which the work done at a particular community follow the intentions of the drivers of that community, we’re going to find that a great deal is going to depend on how that particular habitat was structured.

So… as many of us agree that communities can create very nice results… and most of those who agree with that also agree that communities are extraordinarily difficult to ‘create’ (if it even makes sense to say ‘create a commmunity’) I’m arguing that a careful attention to the construction of habitat can increase the chances of a community forming. This post is starting to stretch out… but lets try following an example for a short while and see how that would work.

I want a community to study Aberlard with. (just the book I happen to be reading)

1. Find an existing one. This is much much easier than starting your own.
2. Join some other communities (if you’re not part of one now) get a sense of what ‘membership‘ means.
3. Decide who you’d like to have in your community… describe that person or those people
a. Like my friends X… she’s studious, but doesn’t take herself too seriously. She likes to ‘build’ knowledge as a partnership with other people and doesn’t feel the need to ‘own’ ideas. Ask her how much time in a week she might devote to such a community. Ask her what kinds of communities (if any) she’s currently part of.
4. Ask yourself how those people need to be supported. Some people need a clear description of things like posting policies… others find this restrictive and overly authoritarian
5. How much to show and not to show. Some people are intimidated and irritated by a cluttered work space. Others find simplicity overly trying. (in that… why can’t they just put the @#$%ing links on the front page where i can find them. The difference between a tumblog and a wordpress blog is a good example of the difference.

tired now…. there are a bunch of other issues, but this should be enough to illustrate what i mean. The thing is… community building through careful attention to habitat is a very simple idea. It’s just that it never occured to me that that was what I was doing. And now that I’m starting to pay attention to it… I’m noticing that my builds are going better. Thought I’d pass it on 🙂

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