Scott Leslie posts on who is using open source course management systems and makes the suggestion that the open source community advertise itself, and become more accesible to the mainstream learning community. Have we reached the tipping point for OSS yet? I noticed that as of today, there are 29 Canadian organisations using Moodle; mostly academic and many in the K-12 sector. Atutor’s clientele seems more eclectic, while dotLRN has fewer installations posted, but the international Greenpeace site is pretty impressive, and yes it includes RSS feeds.
I have been trying to organize a group of independent consultants and micro-businesses here in Sackville. This is a small town with a population of 5,000, plus the 2,400 students at Mount Allison University. I think that micro-businesses are very important because many of us have options on where we can live, as our clients are distributed, and the Internet has made distant/virtual work much easier. We could attract more "free agents" to our area, without significant infrastructure additions.
Having a number of micro-businesses in a small community provides a diverse and more stable economic base than having larger, single focus firms. The closure of a few micro-businesses would not have the destructive effects as the closure of a single distribution centre, as happened here a few years back. As in nature, diversity in economies helps with adaptation and growth.
My aim over the past six months has been to find out how many people in our area work as non-retail, externally focused knowledge workers. I’ve set up a discussion board, but there hasn’t been too much activity to date. I have a list of about 10 people/companies, but I’m sure that there are more.
I think that as a group we can do a few things:
1. Show that we are significant contributors to the local economy (anywhere from $500K to $2M, is my estimate)
2. Share information on being free agents, and help each other. So far our monthly coffee meetings have generated some good conversations.
3. Look into creating a virtual storefront to share our stories, and perhaps attract others who would like to move to a lovely small town, with heritage homes and a great community to raise kids and enjoy the arts.
4. Lobby the three levels of government. If they are going to continue to play the economic development game, then we should have some input.
I’d love any comments, or ideas on how to grow the Sackville SOHO Society.
I have generally been against the use of technology for technology’s sake, and this includes laptops in schools. An article in Syllabus has raised a good point to make me question my anti-laptop stance. According to the author, having laptops available to all students provides more opportunities for advanced students. "As the schools embrace full access to online resources, they are importing services and resources. They are also giving kids access to online Advance Placement (AP) courses that are produced and distributed by colleges and corporations. These school districts could never afford to support as many AP students as is possible electronically." Perhaps I’ve been wrong.
Thanks to Stephen Downes’ OLDaily for pointing this out. The PEW Research Centre states that 44% of American Internet users put content online for free. I think that there are a couple of inferences that one can make. First, that it is possible to have content online without paying someone. Second, that if you are going to launch a business that offers content for sale, then it has to be better in some way than all of the free content out there. As I’ve said before, just putting content online is not a viable business model.
RSS (really simple syndication) is a means of keeping track of the web logs that you read. It’s a push technology so you don’t have to keep checking for news, it comes to you. I use bloglines, a web-based aggregator, and my blog subscription is publicly accessible. There are many other services available, free and for a fee, some which use client software on your computer.
If you’re interested in the use and future of RSS, go to Stephen Downes’ discussion: "So, RSS could succeed. It will probably succeed. But it is important to keep our focus on what it does well: it allows an individual to scan, filter, and pass forward. That’s all it ever has to do. The network will do the rest."
Rob Paterson, on PEI, writes about the systemic problems facing island society, in a letter to the Provincial government. “When a business is in real trouble, it is because it has a systemic problem. Trimming here and there will not save it. So it is with us. Prince Edward Island has a structural problem related not to its physical assets but to its human capital.”
This letter is worth the read, as Rob’s view is that the root causes of complex problems cannot be addressed by focusing on the symptoms. This is also the view of human performance technologists. Rob’s points are pertinent to one of my projects, where we are making recommendations on how to grow the New Brunswick learning industry. Our key for sustainable development is to find out what is at the root of the problem/challenge. For PEI, Rob says that many children are already challenged before they enter school, because learning and literacy skills are developed prior to age four. All of the interventions to develop literacy and learning skills after this age are treating the symptoms, not the root cause of the problem.
This is the same kind of root cause that I am looking for. What are the core components of an industry that will ensure sustainable growth? Is it infrastructure, government policy, access to capital, R&D, marketing & branding, an educated workforce, etc.? My suspicion is that the basics are the most important part. For instance, I moved to Sackville because there is a university, a local hospital, a good elementary school and cheap housing. I have stayed here because of high-speed internet access and two relatively close airports.
Are there basics that need to be addressed in order to grow an industry? In the case of PEI, Rob makes the point that early childhood interventions are critical for a sustainable society. Are there other pieces of the puzzle critical to grow a small industry, or should we focus on the region or province instead, and let industries grow in what we have cultivated? This is one of my current challenges, and I would appreciate any feedback.
Jay Cross of the newly renamed Emergent Learning Forum, discusses social networks and their value for corporate learning. This is the frontier of the Internet, building on the writings of Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point)and others, on how loose social ties are more important than strong ones for learning, as they introduce ideas and people outside of our usual social circle. Social networks, communities of practice, expertise locators, etc. have more potential and utility in this medium than centralized systems such as LCMS. If you have an interest in this field, then join the Forum, it’s free.
This new version of my website launched today. It was built using an open source CMS (content management system) called Drupal. The learning curve was steep for me, until I got over the first hurdle of understanding Drupal’s concepts, especially "books". The great support team at Tantramar Interactive (see bottom of page for a link) here in Sackville, really accelerated the process. This effort took place in spurts over the span of a week.
I would recommend this kind of a website to any small business that uses the web to communicate. Being in control of your content, without too many technical hassles, is wonderful. I’m told that Drupal has the added advantage of being able to survive being "Slash-dotted". This is when thousands of people hit your website all at once. Somehow I doubt that this will happen to me in the near future 😉
Scott Leslie writes about the growing reliability of three open source systems in Ed Tech Post. If you are starting the selection process, then beginning with these three would be a good short list:
About a year ago, I started writing about open source technologies for learning applications, and created a blog to inform my clients and colleagues. It is still available on the QuickTopic site.
I am interested in the new business models that open source software is spawning. I intend to stay abreast of developments so that I can advise clients when it would be appropriate to use an open source system versus a proprietary one. There are pros and cons for either decision.
I am currently working with a colleague on the installation and testing of ATutor and ACollab, both developed by the University of Toronto.