Tuesday, December 26, 2006

a challenge to connectivism

George Siemens has invited me to present to the Connectivism Online Conference that he is organising in February 2-9, 2007. Thanks George, for being prepared to listen to a critical voice.

I'm collecting my thoughts at the learning theory evolves wiki so go there for more detail. Find links to George's original paper and other resources here

Here is a summary of my current position on connectivism (subject to change as I learn more). I'd rather see the discussion start now than wait until February so please post your comments and criticisms here or on the wiki (after joining)

A challenge to connectivism
Networks are important but haven't changed learning so much that we need to throw away all of the established learning theories and replace them with a brand new one. How do we test whether a new idea is an interesting speculation or something more substantial? A good learning theory should:
  1. contribute to a theory/practice spiral of curriculum / learning reform,
  2. provide a significant new perspective about how we see learning happening
  3. represent historical alternatives accurately.
Connectivism fails on the first count by using language and slogans that are sometimes “correct” but are too generalised to guide new practice at the level of how learning actually happens.

Connectivisim does contribute to a general world outlook but we already have theories and manifestos for that view (systems theory, chaos theory, network theory, cluetrain manifesto), so we don't need a new -ism in this respect.

Finally, connectivism misrepresents the current state of established alternative learning theories such as constructivism, behaviourism and cognitivism, so this basis for a new theory is also dubious.

Monday, December 25, 2006

a flower for seymour

This logo flower is out of Seymour Papert's first book Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas. I've sent it to the flowers for seymour flickr group and have also signed the MIT card.

I used George Mills MSWLogo to make it, which is built on top of Brian Harvey's Berkeley Logo.

How to make the flower using logo:
First make a quarter circle
to q_circle :size
repeat 90[fd :size rt 1]

Then use the quarter circle to make a petal
to petal :size
q_circle :size
rt 90
q_circle :size
rt 90

Then use the petal to make a flower with 10 petals
to flower :size
repeat 10[petal :size rt 360/10]

Then add a stem and an extra petal to make a plant
to plant :size
flower :size
bk 135 * :size
petal :size
bk 65 * :size

Finally, save it as a gif
to saveplantgif :size
setactivearea[-100 -200 100 100]
plant :size
gifsave "flower.gif

an atheist celebrates

I try to keep my religious view (atheism) out of educational lists but it is hard when others introduce them there. To respond is likely to cause offence but to ignore it, to not challenge it, seems like complicitly in mythology and also wrong. Atheists have as much right to propagate their world view as Christians. I'll compromise by posting to my blog rather than the list.

Recently, some educators have asked me to pray for the recovery of Seymour Papert, who was seriously injured in Hanoi, Vietnam, when hit by a motor cycle.

I didn't pray. Fortunately, Seymour is now making a slow recovery. I hope that those who have been praying don't claim the credit because in all likelihood Seymour is an atheist. I don't know that for sure and it's really up to him but I would be very surprised if a pioneer of AI was not an atheist. Certainly, his close collaborator Marvin Minsky has attracted hate mail for describing the human brain as a "meat machine"

I think the flowers for Seymour project is much better way to go. Check out the fractal fern, done with logo.

At any rate I was inspired by Daniel Dennett, my favourite living philosopher, who also had a recent near death experience and said this (Thank Goodness!) about those who prayed for him:
What, though, do I say to those of my religious friends (and yes, I have quite a few religious friends) who have had the courage and honesty to tell me that they have been praying for me? I have gladly forgiven them, for there are few circumstances more frustrating than not being able to help a loved one in any more direct way. I confess to regretting that I could not pray (sincerely) for my friends and family in time of need, so I appreciate the urge, however clearly I recognize its futility. I translate my religious friends' remarks readily enough into one version or another of what my fellow brights have been telling me: "I've been thinking about you, and wishing with all my heart [another ineffective but irresistible self-indulgence] that you come through this OK." The fact that these dear friends have been thinking of me in this way, and have taken an effort to let me know, is in itself, without any need for a supernatural supplement, a wonderful tonic. These messages from my family and from friends around the world have been literally heart-warming in my case, and I am grateful for the boost in morale (to truly manic heights, I fear!) that it has produced in me. But I am not joking when I say that I have had to forgive my friends who said that they were praying for me. I have resisted the temptation to respond "Thanks, I appreciate it, but did you also sacrifice a goat?" I feel about this the same way I would feel if one of them said "I just paid a voodoo doctor to cast a spell for your health." What a gullible waste of money that could have been spent on more important projects! Don't expect me to be grateful, or even indifferent. I do appreciate the affection and generosity of spirit that motivated you, but wish you had found a more reasonable way of expressing it.

But isn't this awfully harsh? Surely it does the world no harm if those who can honestly do so pray for me! No, I'm not at all sure about that. For one thing, if they really wanted to do something useful, they could devote their prayer time and energy to some pressing project that they can do something about. For another, we now have quite solid grounds (e.g., the recently released Benson study at Harvard) for believing that intercessory prayer simply doesn't work. Anybody whose practice shrugs off that research is subtly undermining respect for the very goodness I am thanking. If you insist on keeping the myth of the effectiveness of prayer alive, you owe the rest of us a justification in the face of the evidence. Pending such a justification, I will excuse you for indulging in your tradition; I know how comforting tradition can be. But I want you to recognize that what you are doing is morally problematic at best. If you would even consider filing a malpractice suit against a doctor who made a mistake in treating you, or suing a pharmaceutical company that didn't conduct all the proper control tests before selling you a drug that harmed you, you must acknowledge your tacit appreciation of the high standards of rational inquiry to which the medical world holds itself, and yet you continue to indulge in a practice for which there is no known rational justification at all, and take yourself to be actually making a contribution. (Try to imagine your outrage if a pharmaceutical company responded to your suit by blithely replying "But we prayed good and hard for the success of the drug! What more do you want?")

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Galileo was right but the doubt lives on


Video of US astronauts giving tribute to Galileo as they drop a feather and hammer on the moon

In the YouTube comments they are arguing whether the video is a fake or not! Here are some sample comments from the sceptics. Maybe it's just a joke:
This looks like it was set up to answer all the questions about rather it was real or not. WHy would someone do a video like that? It reminds how we keep suddenly getting more video footage of the Pentagon being hit by a plane when people start to question rather a plane really hit. This footage keeps coming up to prove it happened and yet....no plane is EVER seen in the video.... Question the facts - Demand the Truth!

It would be alot cheaper to build a giant studio than to send a crew to the moon, guess you didn't think about that. We are idiots for being doubtful we landed on the moon ? And why are you so sure we did land on the moon, because you where told so ? Guess you must believe in Jesus also, it says so in the bible. Think about that.
Anything is possible. Nothing is easy.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

guidance, challenge, play

Play is OK but is not enough.

We can't expect children, without guidance, to rediscover the best efforts of the most advanced human minds over thousands of years. But we also don't want to shove it down their throats (rote learning) because that doesn't lead to deep or meaningful understanding, either.

Alan Kay suggests a three point solution to this problem:
1) guidance
2) challenge
3) play
"Human beings (even really smart ones) have a hard time coming up with ideas that are better than mediocre. For example, if you put a piano in a classroom, the children will explore it, and develop a "chopsticks culture" with it, but they won't invent for themselves how to play a keyboard instrument (it took centuries for experts to work it out). But every child can be taught to play the piano. Similarly, the children will not invent or discover important ideas in mathematics by themselves. But every child can be taught a powerful version of the calculus of vectors, and many other kinds of advanced mathematics. And both of these can be taught as a kind of play.

If you give children a medium to explore, they will generally wind up doing stories and games with it (in large part because that is how nature has set all of us up to learn when we are children). For example, Etoys is used widely in a number of places in the world. The places that emphasize "creativity", "discovery learning", "free exploration", etc., all wind up with lots of stuff done by children, but virtually all of it uses simple animations and multiple tasking to act out stories and games. This is no surprise (it took humans 100,000 years to invent math and another 2000 to invent science). If we are interested in having children learn non-obvious powerful ideas -- e.g. in math and science -- we have to scaffold their learning and discovery by careful curriculum design.

This teaching doesn't have to feel like the kids are being put in a lock-step chain gang. It can be much more like teaching and learning an established sport or musical instrument. There are parts that are almost impossible to invent, and thus have to be shown and practised. But with these parts there are large elements of free joyful play.

We suggest using at least 3 phases for each idea.

- The first is a guided creation of something interesting -- for example, how to make a robot vehicle on the screen that will follow edges. This can be done in a number of ways including Socratic leading questions, but basically it is giving the children something they would not think up for themselves. But as David Ausubel pointed out "People learn on the fringes of what they know".

- Now that the children know something, they can be given a specific challenge -- such as "Come up with a car and a road where the car will stay on the road". There are 5 or 6 ways of doing this and most children working singly or in pairs will find one of them. A few of these are elegant, and a few children will find these. Sharing the solutions as demos gives the children a sense that such problems are not only solvable, but there is more than one solution.

- The third stage is open play, where the children now know enough to think of many different fun ways to use what they've just done (and many of their ideas will be in the forms of games or stories). For example, some of the "middle of the road" solutions lend themselves to making a multilane racing track with multiple vehicles and using the random number tile to generate random speeds to make the race difficult to predict."
I like what he is saying, that he uses timely multiple approaches, but also think that the importance of effortful study is being missed out here.

"Point of view is worth 80 IQ points" explained

"Point of view is worth 80 IQ points"

I didn't understand what alan kay meant by this for a long time. The bit about IQ points distracted me because it's not politically correct to talk about IQ as a way to measure intelligence.

So, maybe this slogan could be improved?

What he is saying is that if we can look at things in new and different ways (multiple representations), then we will understand them much better. If we use the computer in this way (as a rich, powerful medium rather than a mere tool for word and number crunching) then remarkable things will start to happen. Hence, the computer revolution hasn't really happened yet.

I found a couple explanations of this slogan by alan kay on the web. It becomes a lot more powerful when he adds the historical context, in Roman time you had to be very smart to multiply two numbers together.

explanation one:
At PARC we had a slogan: "Point of view is worth 80 IQ points." It was based on a few things from the past like how smart you had to be in Roman times to multiply two numbers together; only geniuses did it. We haven't gotten any smarter, we've just changed our representation system. We think better generally by inventing better representations; that's something that we as computer scientists recognize as one of the main things that we try to do
. explanation two:
what is special about the computer is analogous to and an advance on what was special about writing and then printing. It's not about automating past forms that has the big impact, but as McLuhan pointed out, when you are able to change the nature of representation and argumentation, those who learn these new ways will wind up to be qualtitatively different and better thinkers, and this will (usually) help advance our limited conceptions of civilization

Reference (for later):
Minsky explains the same concept better in 18.8 Mathematics made Hard (Society of Mind)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

join the Free Software Foundation

Microsoft is stepping up their campaign to undermine linux (by claiming patent rights against the linux kernel and subverting Novell to the dark side). The centre of the resistance to this move is the Free Software Foundation. The fight back, led by Eben Moglen, is based around changing the GPL license, ie complex legal manouevring. One way to help is to become a member of the FSF, which involves a yearly donation. I just joined.

Some of the ways to become involved are:
  • increase your understanding of the huge battle being waged over intellectual property - recent changes to Australian copyright law, Digital Right (Restrictions) Management issues, increasing invasion to privacy by companies like MS spying on computers through their automatic updates
  • understanding the importance, history and dynamics of the battle over software rights - proprietary, free (Richard Stallman), open source (Eric Raymond) - many blogs and books, eg. Benkler's The Wealth of Networks, are now being devoted to this topic
  • You don't have to be a software hacker to get involved. Publish your own work under the Creative Commons license scheme, developed by Lessig and others.
  • DIY by using linux and free software, it is becoming more user friendly all the time. I have recently installed Ubuntu linux on a second computer and it was relatively hassle free process. btw see my blog about Mark Shuttleworth, amazing biography!
  • join the FSF
  • join the pirate party of your country. I have joined the Australian pirate party, which is ridiculously small but which is based on the Swedish pirate party which gained 34,918 votes, or 0.63% of the popular vote in their September 2006 elections - they needed 4% to get someone elected
Raise awareness, get involved, support those who are battling for the rights of free software.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

the economic quirkiness of information

A commodity is something that you sell and/or buy. For example, MS Office is a commodity. Open office is not a commodity, its' cost is free.

Information aka "intellectual property"

Digital information differs from physical commodities, such as cars and pizza. The marginal cost of information is zero. Marginal cost is the cost of producing an extra copy.

For non digital information such as books and magazines the marginal cost of the information is zero too. Even though the paper and ink have cost, the information itself costs nothing to reproduce.

This is the first quirk of information. Having it does not interfere with sharing it. Digital information is a nonrival good. If you eat my pizza or drive my car then I am deprived. However, if you read my blog then that doesn't prevent me and others from reading it at the same time.

So, why do we charge for information, above and beyond the cost of delivery of that information to the user? How does this work? eg. that MS charges good money for every copy of Windows and MSOffice that it distributes and becomes very wealthy in the process, since the marginal cost to them of all those copies is zero, apart from the packaging.

This is an artificial economy based on the general idea that we need to reward the creators of good software. Otherwise, it is argued, in our society, where money is important, there is no incentive for MS to produce and to keep improving MSOffice. It doesn't make economic sense but is written into Law: proprietary rights of publishers, copyright law, patent law.

However, it has already been shown in practice that the free and open source model of software production also works very well. Linux is a more reliable operating system than Windows. There are many such examples, too many to be ignored. FOSS is a well established, alternative and successful model of software production.

The second quirk can be described with the phrase, "on the shoulders of giants". After Newton:
"If I have seen further it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants"
Information, when shared, inputs and outputs onto itself and in this way can be further developed. This is how progress through innovation and creativity happens. All innovation and creativity is a derivative work, built on the work of others. There is no such thing as a brand new idea.
"The crux of creativity is variation on a theme" - Hofstadter
I don't have to work out the theory of Darwinian evolution from scratch because Darwin and others have already done the hard thinking. Once an idea is "out there" it takes on a life of its own and can be further enriched. In copyright law this is called "derivative works". It is illegal for me to make a variation of Mickey.

Hence, we can view information ("intellectual property"), especially digital information (bits), as different from other commodities like cars and pizza.

Firstly, it's important that information be shared as much as possible because that is good for the creative and innovative development of society. This is the "on the shoulders of giants" factor.

Secondly, it's possible for information to be shared fully because it is nonrival. Anyone can make a copy for zero cost and the holder of the original copy still has full access to the information.

These two facts make digital information different from other commodities.

We would be better off treating software like maths and science knowledge. Bits are becoming our new main medium of discourse. We need to keep the bits free.

There doesn't seem to be any real evidence that proprietary rights, copyright law and patent law actually contribute to an increase in society's innovation and / or creativity. Innovation and creativity comes from non market forces and from market forces who do not depend on Intellectual Property rights. For example, see my article, software patents stink

Here is a thumbnail sketch of the growing multilayered battle over information:
hardware - tampering with hardware to prevent copying (DRM, TPM)
economic - locking in users to proprietary brand, eg. MS schools agreement
standards - locking in users to use particularly formats, eg. *.doc rather than *.odt
legal - copyright law strengthened
software - spying on users computers through automatic updates
cultural - demonising those who resist all this as "pirates"

Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, pp. 35-41

Friday, December 15, 2006


the blue shows ubuntu growth, cf. Red Hat and SUSE, more graph details here

I'd rather use the Operating System developed by Mark Shuttleworth than Bill Gates

Check out his amazing biography
  • successful IT entrepeneur / venture capitalist (digital certificates and internet privacy)
  • first African Cosmonaut
  • founder of The Shuttleworth Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to social innovation in Africa with a particular focus on education
  • founder of the Ubuntu project ("Linux for human beings")
  • founder of HBD Venture Capital, "Here Be Dragons", which legend has it was used to describe uncharted territory on early maps ...
  • promoter of the Hip2BSquare brand, which aim to make mathematics and science sexy to pupils who are choosing their subjects for high school
"My current project, aims to produce a free desktop OS for the world. Everything you need on a single CD"
Why is the default desktop in Ubuntu brown?
Yes, that's rather unusual in a world where most desktops are blue or green, and the MacOSX has gone kitchenware. Partly, we like the fact that Ubuntu is different, warmer. The computer is not a device any more, it's an extension of your mind, your gateway to other people (by email, voip, irc, and over the web). We wanted a feel that was unique, striking, comforting, and above all, human. We chose brown. That's quite a high risk choice, because to render brown your screen has to render subtle shades of blue, and green, and red.
Likes: spring, cesaria evora, slashdot, chelsea, finally seeing something obvious for the first time, daydreaming, coming home, sinatra, sundowners, durbanville, flirting, string theory, particle physics, linux, python, mp3s, reincarnation, snow, mig-29s, travel, lime marmalade, mozilla, body shots, leopards, the african bush, rajhastan, russian saunas, weightlessness, broadband, iain m banks, skinny-dipping, fancy dress, flashes of insight, inexplicable happinesses, post-adrenaline euphoria, fast convertibles on country roads, clifton, the international space station, artificial intelligence.

Dislikes: admin, legalese, running, wet grey winters, salary negotiations, public speaking.

design for the creative spirit

Personal Mastery: If a system is to serve the creative spirit, it must be entirely comprehensible to a single individual.

The point here is that the human potential manifests itself in individuals. To realize this potential, we must provide a medium that can be mastered by a single individual. Any barrier that exists between the user and some part of the system will eventually be a barrier to creative expression. Any part of the system that cannot be changed or that is not sufficiently general is a likely source of impediment. If one part of the system works differently from all the rest, that part will require additional effort to control. Such an added burden may detract from the final result and will inhibit future endeavors in that area. We can thus infer a general principle of design:

Good Design: A system should be built with a minimum set of unchangeable parts; those parts should be as general as possible; and all parts of the system should be held in a uniform framework.
- Design Principles Behind Smalltalk by Daniel Ingalls
A enormous amount of time is spent learning a new upgrade, learning the user interface (which can vary between different apps and systems), agonising about whether to use Windows or Linux (is it worth the time to learn a new OS when you are locked in at work), should I use proprietary or standard data formats? (send a *.doc attachment or an *.odt attachment?)

Smalltalk seems to be an attempt to do everything within the one program, for example, in the discussion about user interface:
Operating System: An operating system is a collection of things that don't fit into a language. There shouldn't be one.
Is this a good idea or grandiose? Or both? It would be nice to have less mess.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Squeak entry points

I am taking a hard look at squeak. I've installed Ubuntu linux on a second computer and am playing with squeak there. But it is available on all platforms.

This post is not a rationale about using squeak, what it can do or the philosophy behind it (later) but some notes about resources, where to look first, where to start etc.

One reason I'm doing this is that the documentation on the site is messy, not very well organised.

Etoys and SimStories in Squeak by Alan Kay (simple interactive online demonstration)
Etoys are computer environments that help people learn ideas by building and playing around with them ... SimStories are longer versions of Etoys that string several ideas together to help the learner produce a deeper and more concerted project.

Video of squeak being used in the classroom in Spain. Extremadura is a rural region in the South West of Spain. Linux and Squeak are being used throughout the whole region by government policy.

Etoys tutorials
"You will have the most success if you go through these tutorials in this sequence: Paint, Handles, Make your own car"

Basic squeak development tools - systematically lists the tools that ought to be learnt first

A self-study course in squeak, could be a good place to start

Squeak for non native speakers - introductory booklet, 39pp, screenshots are version 2.7, so it might be a bit dated

Learning squeak step by step
- introduction to squeak programming, for beginners

Squeak FAQ

Squeak cookbook, this is mainly a list of recipes to do different things

The Newbie Page - patchy but some useful things for newbies like myself in there

BOOKS (I haven't bought any yet)
Conn and Rose. Powerful ideas in the Classroom. How to project book. Grades 3-8 ($15)

Ducasse. Squeak: Learn Programming with Robots ($28). There is a wiki, BotsInc devoted to this book which includes examples, screenshots and sample chapters.

The full list at Squeak books in print includes three other books, which are more expensive (39, 54, 57 dollars respectively). Of course, they might be better but I thought they were rather pricey.

Monday, December 11, 2006

bug one

Microsoft has a majority market share in the new desktop PC marketplace.
This is a bug, which Ubuntu is designed to fix

Microsoft has a majority market share | Non-free software is holding back innovation in the IT industry, restricting access to IT to a small part of the world's population and limiting the ability of software developers to reach their full potential, globally. This bug is widely evident in the PC industry.
Steps to repeat:
1. Visit a local PC store.
What happens:
2. Observe that a majority of PC's for sale have non-free software pre-installed
3. Observe very few PC's with Ubuntu and free software pre-installed
What should happen:
1. A majority of the PC's for sale should include only free software like Ubuntu
2. Ubuntu should be marketed in a way such that its amazing features and benefits would be apparent and known by all.
3. The system shall become more and more user friendly as time passes.

- https://launchpad.net/bug1.html
  • Mark Shuttleworth wiki
  • Mark Shuttleworth blog

Saturday, December 09, 2006

what should schools teach?

In part 2 of the alan kay video he came up with a simple yet profound analysis of this question.

From anthropological research of over 3000 human cultures, he presented two lists, the first were universals, the things that all human cultures have in common. This list included things like:
  • language
  • communication
  • fantasies
  • stories
  • tools and art
  • superstition
  • religion and magic
  • play and games
  • differences over similarities (?)
  • quick reactions to patterns
  • vendetta, and more
He then presented a list of non universals, the things that humans find harder to learn. This list was shorter and included:
  • reading and writing
  • deductive abstract mathematics
  • model based science
  • equal rights
  • democracy
  • perspective drawing
  • theory of harmony (?)
  • similarities over differences (?)
  • slow deep thinking
  • agriculture
  • legal systems
Schools ought to be mainly about learning the hard to learn things.

Friday, December 08, 2006

alan kay's plans for world conquest

Video of alan kay's talk about children first and the $100 laptop at EuroPython2006 (part one).

I'm gradually coming to understand that Alan Kay and the 100 dollar laptop group are planning to conquer the world by putting children first!

Society says we care about children. Our deficient education system shows that we don't really care about children.

His story about the tremendous impact that Papert's method of drawing a circle had on his thinking ...
repeat lots [forward 5 right 5]
...as an illustration that vectors and differential calculus can be taught to young children is both charming and naive. This is how a mathematician conquers the world!

The aim of the $123 laptop is to create a radical discontinuity in the operating system and user interface, "to change the balance of software and hardware in the world". He anticipates sales of 16 million laptops in 2007 and 50-100 million in 2008!

He explains that 50% of the price of a western laptop goes to sales, marketing, profit and distribution and another 25% goes to Microsoft software profits. They further trim the cost through display innovations and using flash memory rather than a hard disc and voila! $123.

I liked the bit where he points out that the hardest issue will be the messiness of people, not the hardware, the software or the pedagogy.

His clever illustration of how we mis-perceive the world (rotating a table) resonates with the other messages in a haunting manner
We see things not as they are but as WE are
He can see a world which is not dominated by Microsoft. Once again he is doing a transformation from the science of perception to the economics and politics of world domination. I hope it works!

Towards the end of part 3 of the video he says that both the $100 laptop and Mark Shuttleworth's Ubuntu Project are python based and that there are many times more python developers in the world than Squeak developers. This is why he is presenting to a python conference.

Guido van Rossum's report of the presentation, includes some good comments in response. In one of the comments, Alan Kay says:
We have had good results over the last 10 years with one of these (called Squeak Etoys)which has features that allow it to be localized to many different languages, used as a "WYSIwiki" on the web, and to dynamically share in real-time for mentoring and collaboration.

The next wave of projects in the 3rd world will be large enough to create real problems in distribution, localization, maintenance, extensions, etc. I think that the more widely established open source communities (like Python and Ruby) are better set up to provide the large number of programmers needed to help spread these ideas by the millions. Neither Python, nor Ruby, currently has a children's environment, and the poor quality of the DOM in the browsers means that it will be a very long time before a children's environment as good as Squeak Etoys will be built there.

However, since our new file format uses OpenDoc (with code hidden) the "player/authoring" kernel plugin for this content could well be written in Python or Ruby. And this would make things much better for the children of the world for the above reasons.

BTW, Squeak does have a very good foreign function interface, and we do use OpenGl, etc., heavily in our Croquet system. So I'm not suggesting that Python be used because of something that Squeak can't do (and has obviously already done). I'm suggesting this because I'd like to see the dominant communities in open source get interested in children and to start from current best practices.

alan kay video part 2
alan kay video part 3

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Ruddocks copyright FAQ

News today that Attourney General Ruddock has modified some of the worst aspects of the new Australian Copyright Law. His FAQ. We are now allowed to sing "Happy Birthday" in public without on the spot fines, record programs to watch them later (but not allowed to keep them or show them to any public audience - bad luck for teachers who tape a good show for school), you can copy music you buy to your ipod (wow!) and you are allowed to listen to it with a friend but not allowed to lend it to your friend, let alone make them a copy, but you are allowed to lend it to a family member (well, yes, we do need to teach our young people the importance of family!!). Even if you have bought a CD you are not allowed to make a copy if it has a TPM on it (technological protection measure). No backups allowed for your own property.

Some of the worst elements have been removed but the Attourney General's FAQ churns my stomach because it means that a generalised fair use provision has been abandoned in favour of a futile attempt to define each and every case. We can no longer sloppily assume that what we are doing is "fair use", it is now being defined in exact terms in each and every case - in practice, impossible, the law cannot achieve that. We are now locked into an FAQ lifesyle wrt copyright where we go cap in hand to the Minister asking is it alright to do what comes naturally and which is core to teacher's work - copying, modifying and distributing information.

I think we need an overview of what copyright ought to be about from our perspective as knowledge workers, starting from these sorts of big picture perspectives:

1. Copyright as the natural, inalienable right of the owner
2. Copyright as a balance between the rights of the owner and the rights of society
3. Copyleft, expand the commons

Attourney General Ruddock supports (1). I don't and this has not been the historical rationale for copyright.
In fact, Mr Ruddock said his reforms made Australia a world leader on copyright reform.

"Australia's approach is in contrast to those countries which have a general 'fair use' right or which put levies on equipment for private copying," he said in a statement.

"Many countries have not yet tackled the issue of fair use in the digital environment. Australia's approach is fair and certain for all concerned."
- from The Age Report, FAQ address copyright concerns
Note the use of the words, "fair and certain" - ie. trying to achieve certainty where it cannot be achieved and where you need to have a safety valve fair use provision.

This is exactly what google was warning us about in their submission to the australian copyright act - that there would be an attempt at certainty where it is not possible to achieve certainty.

Google presents a very strong and convincing case for maintaining fair use ("safety valve") provisions as well as exceptions.
... it is difficult to identify all current problems ... and impossible to prophesy future problems . An exclusive list of specific exemptions will inevitably run afoul of technology's rapidly changing reality ... such boundaries are inherently artificial and are not in accord with the nature of creativity ... Creativity is sui generis (of its own kind, unique in its characteristics, cannot be included in a wider concept) and contextual. An arbitrary limit on the number of words that can be copied ... runs roughshod over the way innovation arises ..."

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


“As an example,” said Mr Coroneos, “a family who holds a birthday picnic in a place of public entertainment (for example, the grounds of a zoo) and sings ‘Happy Birthday’ in a manner that can be heard by others, risks an infringement notice carrying a fine of up to $1320. If they make a video recording of the event, they risk a further fine for the possession of a device for the purpose of making an infringing copy of a song. And if they go home and upload the clip to the internet where it can be accessed by others, they risk a further fine of up to $1320 for illegal distribution. All in all, possible fines of up to $3960 for this series of acts – and the new offences do not require knowledge or improper intent. Just the doing of the acts is enough to ground a legal liability under the new ‘strict liability’ offences.”
- New Copyright Laws Risk Criminalising Everyday Australians (Peter Coroneos is chief executive of the internet industry association)
It looks like the new australian version of copyright law is going through the parliament rapidly, without significant modification despite the various insightful submissions by google, Linux society, the IIA, the Queensland UT Copyright reform group and many others

It has now passed through the House of Reps and is due to be voted on in the Senate in two weeks.

The new australian copyright law is significantly worse than the US version (which is not good) and so there is no requirement for such a bad law arising from Australia being a signatory to the Australian-US Free Trade Act.

I downloaded the 'risk analysis for teenagers' (pdf) from the iia (internet industry association) site and it does confirm that teenagers will soon face hefty legal penalties, fines of $6600 are typical, for their current everyday behaviour - backing up or downloading music, recording music on their mobile phones and then sharing with friends, burning music on a CD and giving it to a friend, incorporating popular music into a video and uploading to You Tube, recording spontaneous song as video on a mobile phone and posting to MySpace

Download 'risk analysis for teenagers' (pdf) and others covering families, small businesses and industry from here

Welcome to the new world of Australian e-criminals, or is it i-criminals?

There is also an informative podcast interview by Brian Fitzgerald of Peter Coroneos available from the iia site.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

africa map game

I've released version 1_1 of the africa map game on the africaGame wiki, here. There is an executable version there too if you can't be bothered downloading game maker. Thanks to Roland and Sandra for their feedback.

Improved Version 1_1. The names of the countries appear as you return them and a sound plays, there is a "what's left" button, the difficulty buttons are moved off the screen during game play and the 4 islands are different colours and now have templates to assist their location.

As well as the african students (who like it) I showed the SOSE faculty at school and Barry came up with a great idea for an extension: A colonial history of Africa. This could be an adaptation or extension of the map game. Go back in time and start off with an old map of Africa, carved up by the colonial powers. Then over time the map changes, the names of the countries change. Could be a good way to represent important historical events in Africa. How to incorporate general knowledge and colonial history into the game play?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

fair use under threat

There are 3 positions on copyright:
  1. Copyright as the natural, inalienable right of the owner
  2. Copyright as a balance between the rights of the owner and the rights of society
  3. Copyleft, expand the commons
I support (3), then (2) if (3) is not immediately possible and am opposed to (1) in all circumstances. Some people believe that copyright law is mainly about the first position. But Lessig has pointed out that historically the second position has been the dominant tradition and that only recently, with the new ease of copying digital works over the internet, has the first position become strengthened through law.

The music industry and the movie industry support the first position. In today's world this means that they will have to control our machines and invade our privacy. Because the first position means that these industries will have to have control over our CD and MP3 players, our VCR and DVD players. As well as being an invasion of the natural rights of the consumer to control their property (do you own the machine you buy?) it also kills innovation. Rip, mix and burn is creative work. See the Linux Australia submission by Rusty Russell to the Australian Copyright Act 2006.

The second position is legally more complicated because it involves balance and consideration of both the rights of both the owner and the rights of society.

In this context the issue of "fair use" is being debated in the Australian Senate. I've read some of the submissions and the one from google was very helpful in understanding this.

The common, although vague understanding of fair use is that it's alright to duplicate a part of a book, CD or video for educational or research purposes because that serves a useful social purpose.

Apparently there is some danger that the whole notion of a generalised fair use clause will be thrown out and replaced by a series of specific "exceptions". For instance, the Australian Copyright Councial is lobbying for this. Note the use of the word "exceptions" which implies that copyright is by default "owners exclusive rights" and not a social balance between owners rights and society's rights.

For example there are fair dealing provisions for research and study in relation to the reproduction of literary, dramatic and musical works. But the general concept of "fairness" has now been replaced "with strict rules that limit copying of most hardcopy and electronic documents only to specific amounts. One page more than this amount, no matter how obscure or difficult the book is to obtain, and you risk liability." (see copyright jails by Brian Fitzgerald)

Google presents a very strong and convincing case for maintaining fair use ("safety valve") provisions as well as exceptions.
... it is difficult to identify all current problems ... and impossible to prophesy future problems . An exclusive list of specific exemptions will inevitably run afoul of technology's rapidly changing reality ... such boundaries are inherently artificial and are not in accord with the nature of creativity ... Creativity is sui generis (of its own kind, unique in its characteristics, cannot be included in a wider concept) and contextual. An arbitrary limit on the number of words that can be copied ... runs roughshod over the way innovation arises ..."
It's disturbing that fair use is under threat.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

information wars

I posted the following to one of the Victorian IT teachers lists. My fear is that teachers won't get involved politically, that they will grumble about crazy copyright laws but just try to work around them rather than challenge them directly. Hope I'm wrong. My belief is that the intellectual property wars are escalating and that it's necessary to get involved. I'll be writing more about this.
It's about information which makes it more central to our profession than drugs or alcohol prohibition.

In this thread people are saying that they will break the law because it is an ass and turn a blind eye to students breaking stupid laws. Fair enough. However, I feel we have a broader social problem which requires political action when copyright laws exist which turn citizens into criminals.

To look at the US experience:
"According to the NY Times, 43 million Americans downloaded music in May 2002. According to the RIAA, the behaviour of those 43 million Americans is a felony. We thus have a set of rules that transform 20 percent of Americans into criminals ..." Lessig, Free Culture, 199
It's not going to go away. Copyright law is being strengthened in Australia as we speak.

How do teachers feel about the ethical dilemma of teaching copyright law in our courses and encouraging or turning a blind eye to students breaking that law when our employer has a clear expectation that we, as teachers, will not indulge in criminal activity and we can be sacked for doing so. Wouldn't happen you think? Check out some of the things that have been happening in the USA which is a bit further down the track on this issue than us. eg. a young student, Jesse Jordan, prosecuted for $15 million dollars damages for wilful violation of copyright law in 2002

I've recently joined the pirate party of australia, which is ridiculously small at the moment, but, nevertheless, I feel obliged to become political on this issue, based on my understanding of the information wars, which have already started, and which will intensify in the future.

The pirate party originated in Sweden and obtained 34,918 votes, or 0.63% of the popular vote. It's platform is reform of intellectual property laws - copyright, patent and the closely related issue of privacy

Information wars: commons v. proprietary, well, isn't it natural for teachers to support the maintenance or expansion of the commons (and not their restriction which is the way the Law is going), since our profession is based on the free and generous sharing of information?

Nor would it be wise IMO to just assume that the side that supports the maintenance / expansion of the commons will just win because that is "sensible" and the other side is ridiculous and laughable. It is laughable but common sense does not always win.

innovation talks

Some people think money talks but for me innovation talks louder, much louder. I'm writing this and still haven't done my tax.

A wonderful article by David Wheeler about software innovations created a number of thoughts and perspectives for me on this theme

I have a strong curiosity about computers in general, not only software, but software is a vital part of computing
"Software primarily impacts us because of its ubiquity and changeability, as the computers that software controls become ubiquitous and the software is adapted to changing needs"
Philip Armour said it this way:
Software is not a product. It is a medium in which we store knowledge. Historically there have been 5 such media: DNA, Brains, Hardware, Books, Software.
Wheeler provides a tantalising outline of a large number of software innovations. I'd love to be savvy about all of these. When I teach and learn about computing I try to reflect on the impact this has on the uptake of "the fundamentals" (for want of a better word).

This is my view of teaching. That it has to have hooks to engage the learner in the modern world. But also at a deeper level it has to mesh with the more fundamental computing concepts that lurk below the surface. Fads that don't mesh lower down are not of much use. One reason I'm slow to catch on to some new ideas (eg.mashups) is that I haven't figured out how to relate them to the "fundamentals". On the other hand Game Making using a programming language can be both engaging and address the fundamentals of programming. Web applications are both interesting and can be related to the fundamentals of markup language, internetworking using datagrams, remote procedure calls, distributed hypertext etc. One reason I'd prefer not to teach some fundamental ideas is that I find them hard to make them engaging (eg. Relational Data Base). But certainly, I acknowledge RDM and Codd as important.

But I'm mainly looking at Wheeler's article from the perspective of my own learning, my own desire to understand computation more deeply. If there are other spin offs from that, eg. I might teach better, then that is incidental to the sense of satisfaction I get from simply understanding computer science at a deeper level. I'm moderately obsessive about this.

So, when Wheeler makes this heroic effort to outline just about all software innovations, including a time line, then I'm very engaged by his list. I see it as a partial curriculum to further direct my own understanding of computation.

For instance, he mentions Object Oriented Programming (1967), Regular Expressions (1968), Remote Procedure Call (1981), Design Patterns (1991) and Refactoring (1993). They are some of the items on his list of which I am already aware but need to know more. His assertion that they are true innovations (not fads) is motivational for me to make the effort for those items and to spend some time there and not elsewhere. It's important to be able to find out what is innovation and what is not and by my reading Wheeler is an authority whose lead I can follow with some confidence.

To become expert in any field requires studying history, the individuals who made that history and the environments in which they worked. Wheelers review provides a thumbnail outline of all of these things. It is a brief contextual history of software innovation, which provides a good starting point for further study in particular areas of interest.

He briefly reminded me of the importance of studying mathematics, that a "mathematical algorithm is fundamentally what any software patent is". I've written about this before in reviewing a Steve Yegge article about using wikipedia to learn maths.

Some things at first appear to be missing so don't forget to check out his "further consideration" list at the end which includes such items as algorithms, complexity theory, recursion, operating systems, googles "page rank" algorithm and open source / free software. I wondered about some of these and thought he was being a bit too exclusive in his main list

Wheeler demonstrates that proprietary interests and patents are very marginal to the software innovation process. I'm glad that the world is like that. Money doesn't have to rule the world and here is a very important field in which money does not rule the world. For me, that's a strong affirmation of the true nature of humans, that we are innovative creatures more so than money making creatures. The history of software innovation shows that!

Wheeler also talks about what is not software innovation but also important, things like:
  • hardware innovation (eg. the electronic digital computer, transistors, integrated circuits, ethernet)
  • social and legal change that parallels technolgical change, as the original innovation moves into the mass market or non market
  • software standards
It's a great article that has made me think about a variety of issues.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

new game design tool

Fascinating blog by Ian Bogost about a new game design tool being developed by Eric Zimmerman, James Gee and Katie Salen.

I chatted to Tony about this who was disappointed that they weren't using existing tools such as Game Maker for their research.

The way I see it is that game design and programming are different sorts of things and that student game development is more stuck at the design phase, where students usually just try to build a clone or slight variation of an existing game. Students don't usually do original game design work.

My current thoughts are:
  • by taking the work out of learning programming and visual representation they hope to focus more on the design aspects of developing a game, which they see as the rules of the system - the demands of learning to program can be a drag / brake on design elements, particular for students who find programming difficult
  • I think it would be a huge step forward if we had better tools to teach and communicate about design - the bit they say about rules being central is impt I think, I've been fumbling around looking at UML (visual rep) and design patterns (which might be a bit like rules)
  • some people use UML diagrams as a programming blueprint although Martin Fowler, the author of UML Distilled (my review) doesn't like this approach, it is still an approach, ie. diagram input --> code output - they might have something similar in mind, but using rules not a visual
  • in industry the designer (the ideas) are more important than the programmer and there is a division of labour in the production process
  • it seems to be a new sort of approach, different from the 3 Ecks:
    1. have students build games from scratch;
    2. have educators and/or developers build educational games from scratch to teach students;
    3. integrate commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) games into the classroom

what lies beyond gun, car and run in games?

Game design is a field about which I have a lot to learn. But I do get the impression from some experts (Zimmerman, Koster) that currently there is a market driven commercial log-jam from which something more creative and interesting than gun, car and run will emerge. We don't know what.

Eric Zimmerman, interviewed by Gamasutra:
Gamasutra: Any gaming trends that are exciting or bothersome?

Well, I could talk about the increasing homogenization of the field of commercial games. That's sort of an old song, but I still think it's true. If you go to E3 where Sony and Nintendo have their booths and stand everywhere, you can see hundreds of screens at once, and they almost all look exactly the same in the sense that they're all 3D spaces with a horizontal plane in the middle and an object in the lower center of the screen. It might be the barrel of a gun, a vehicle, a person running. And it's amazing, considering how with today's technology we can really put almost anything on-screen, that there's such a structural homogeneity, both terms on aesthetics and in terms of content, but especially in the structure of the gameplay... it's shocking. But it's also hard to innovate. And as I said, that's both a business dilemma and a creative or design dilemma....

... there are great huge, unsolved problems in games. In other words, the subject matter that we see depicted in games is relatively narrow. Scott McCloud talks about what he thinks about what comics could depict or could do as a medium and what they have done, and he sees it like we've seen a little narrow slice and there's this whole huge world, and I think it's even more true about games.
Eric Zimmerman and Katie Salen are co-authors of Rules of Play. I haven't read this but I liked this review by K. Sampanthar "kes_sampanthar" at amazon, which outlines the following interesting parts of the book:
- Reiner Knizia - writing about how he designed the Lord of the Rings Board game
- Richard Garfield (Sibling Rivalry), Frank Lantz (Iron Clad), Kira Snyder (Sneak) and James Ernest (Caribbean Star) - design board games for the book and each of them describe how they went about designing. (Note: James Ernest's game Caribbean Star is available as part of a game collection he released from his company Cheapass games - check out "Chief Herman's Next Big Thing" )
- There are game design exercises that students or teachers can use to learn more about each of the concepts. These exercises are split into 3 categories: game creation, game modification and game analysis.
- Complexity, Emergence, self organization as they refer to games
- Probability and Randomness (luck) in games
- Information Theory - uncertainty, noise and redundancy
- Systems of Information - public and private information
- Cybernetics - Feedback loops and game balancing
- Game Theory - Cake division and the prisoner's dilemma
- Conflict and Cooperation
- Interactivity
- Flow - Entrainment, reward schedules, behavior theory and addiction
- Edward De Bono's L Game
- Narrative play - story arcs etc..
- Simulations - games as simulations
- Metagames - the larger social context of games
- Open Source Games - like Icehouse
- Game modifications - Alterations, Juxtapositions, Reinventions
- Blurring the boundary between "real" and "play"

Sunday, November 12, 2006

software patents stink

After an incredibly useful review of software innovations, David Wheeler critiques software patents:
  • most of the important software innovations were never patented
  • many software innovators oppose software patents
  • the majority of professional programmers (10:1 ratio) believe that software patents impede software development
  • the majority of professional programmers (2:1) believe that software patents should be abolished
  • statistical evidence shows that as patents increase innovations decrease
  • patents cause serious problems in creating and implementing standards
  • all W3C standards are royalty free
  • patents are often awarded for non innovative ideas
  • there are no incentives for anyone in the patent process to reject bogus patents
  • patents increase customer costs
  • patent examiners have a poor database of prior art
  • the reason the internet protocols took hold so quickly is because Cerf and Kahn made no intellectual property claim
  • research shows that companies which are increasingly patenting software are also decreasing their R&D
  • the vast majority of software patents are obtained by firms outside of the software industry
  • software patents prevent new ideas from becoming available to end users
  • the only group that is unambiguously aided by software patents are patent lawyers
  • software patents have nothing to do with software innovation

League of Programming Freedom
Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure
Patently absurd
Patent nonsense

Saturday, November 11, 2006

pirate party of australia

I've just joined the pirate party of australia

It has to be done. There is a huge and intensifying worldwide battle raging over freedom of information. If you support freedom then there is really no choice but to become actively involved in this battle. The politicians will only listen to those who are organised politically.

The draft manifesto is here. The manifesto is still being debated and needs improvement. The subheadings are:
  • Development as a technologically advanced open society
  • The spreading of culture and knowledge must not be hindered in any way
  • Copyright
  • Patents
  • Privacy
  • Open source software in publicly funded sectors
The pirate party originated in Sweden and gained 34,918 votes, or 0.63% of the popular vote in the September 2006 elections. It is now establishing parties on other countries. See the wikipedia article for more details.

Here is a video interview of Richard Falkvinge, the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party.

related posts (by me):
every parent wants to protect their children
the culture of fear, apathy and play safe
the school administrators dilemma
censorware and fascism connection
free culture: introduction
free culture: creators
free culture: pirates
lessig slide

declining enrolments in IT courses

The glass is half empty

I don't have hard figures (would love to see them, they are not readily disclosed) but there has been consistent talk for some time about declining enrolments in IT courses in South Australia, Victoria, NSW and I presume the other states as well.

I find this astonishing, that serious study of such an important literacy for this century is on the decline.

This goes hand in hand with integration of ICT into the curriculum, which in general does not work very well because students end up being taught IT by non specialists. ie. they are not taught IT.

This is further compounded by generational factors - many students come to believe that many teachers don't have anything to teach them about IT. Unfortunately, some teachers seem to believe this too.

Students come away from the senior school course counselling process with the belief that universities would prefer they learn maths at school and wait until they get to uni before doing programming.

Some governments (India, China) have a policy of positively promoting science, maths and IT but in egalitarian Australia all subjects are regarded as equal and IT is hardly even regarded as a subject.

There is a current energetic discussion at the South Australian teachers IT list about the best way to refloat the sinking ship. This has taken the form of arguing about preferences for the best IT course, with options like:
  • focus on important computer science principles (the fundamentals, not the fads)
  • more emphasis on programming, which the new curriculum statement has allowed
  • keep the current emphasis on data base, well established resources here
  • more multimedia, students find this interesting
  • web programming is motivational
  • game making, tap into student motivation
It's an energetic and informed discussion and different teachers have made very good points about why their course preference is either better or necessary

One comment which I found the most interesting was:
> The core computing knowledge hasn't changed much over 26 years
From a computing science point of view I think this is not far from the truth.

I like this article by David Wheeler which, in a way, supports what was said:
Too many people confuse software innovations with other factors, such as the increasing speed of computer and network hardware
even though some significant innovations in the past 26 years are documented, such as distributed hypertext (1989) and design patterns (1991)

However, the factors of faster, more powerful computers (Moores Law), the growth of the internet / www and mobile communications have created an overall very different cultural and working environment for everyone, including teachers of IT. Some examples:

open source software development
- as well as producing great software offers us a collaborative development model
wikipedia - another tremendous success story of online collaboration - just this week I discovered a student at my school who has authored 14 wikipedia articles, completely on his own initiative
blogs - used selectively in combination with RSS feed provide new opportunities for connecting and discussing common interests, educational or whatever
open courseware - the premier technology institution in the world, MIT offers all its courses on line for free, http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html - how long will it be before this sort of thing is extended to secondary education? For example, why doesn't the ED support the delivery of a game making course to all those students who want to do it but don't have a teacher in their school to offer it?
better search - for the first time in history there is the potential for students to independently find all of the material that is delivered to them in school

I think the major blocks for everyone (students and teachers) to be able to teach the course they want or to learn the course they want are cultural and institutional hangovers from a previous mode of course delivery limited by the geographical tyranny of distance. That era is now coming to an end, the quicker the better from my perspective.

The glass is half full.


Some people would probably say in response to the above that face-to-face teaching is still the best available model.

I'd reply that our current model is very much an industrial model. One teacher: twenty+ students in a classroom, on a site and that just doesn't work all that well for quite a few of the students

Specifically, in this blog I have been critical of the "glass half empty" mindset which IMO has characterised some of the current discussion amongst SA IT teachers. As enrolments in IT decline there is more struggle around the idea of the "best" IT course to retrieve the situation.

I definitely see that discussion as healthy - it's great that different teachers are being passionate about their preferred method of teaching IT and arguing their case.

But this discussion shouldn't be confined locally just to SA IT teachers when the technology already exists so that potentially all of these courses or parts of them could be delivered to students at a distance.

Of course the fact that the read/write web is censored by default in SA schools does not help things. Certainly teachers can plan and collaborate professionally around the world using blogs, wikis, podcasts and VOIP for voice and chat. This can be extended to students.

It is just the local accreditation mechanism and small pond mentality that is holding things back.

I remembered Lessig's refrain which he applies to draconian copyright law. I think it also applies to our current industrial model of education. It is the dead hand of the past that is keeping kids tied down to one teacher, one classroom, set curriculum, set accreditation, the bell rings, go to next lesson etc.
  • Creativity and innovation always builds on the past.
  • The past always tries to control the creativity that builds upon it.
  • Free societies enable the future by limiting this power of the past.
  • Ours is less and less a free society.


the battle for freedom of information

Yochai Benkler describes the battle over the institutional ecology of the digital environment:
To what extent will resources necessary for information production and exchange be governed as a commons, free for all to use and biased in their availability in favor of none? To what extent will these resources be entirely proprietary, and available only to those functioning in the market ... We see this battle played out at all layers of the information environment: the physical devices and network channels necessary to communicate; the existing information and cultural resources out of which new statements must be made; and the logical resources - the software and standards - necessary to translate what human being want to say to each other into signals that machines can process and transmit. It central question is whether there will, or will not, be a core common infrastructure that is governed as a commons and therefore available to anyone who wishes to participate in the networked information environment outside of the market based, proprietary framework
- The Wealth of Networks, 23
Benkler is pointing out that this battle over the freedom of information is operating over many different layers:
physical layer - companies tampering with hardware to prevent copying (DRM)
cultural layer - it's natural to share things which can be easily copied, such as CDs, with your friends
economic layer - some companies have Know-How (eg. google), others are more dependent on exclusive rights (eg. Disney)
legal layer - extension of copyright law,
logical layer - eg. whether software conforms to W3C standards, censorware in schools, code is law

He is bringing out attention to the fact that this battle is already raging all around us and that there is no guarantee that the commons, the free distribution of information, will be expanded. The battle has to be fought.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

teaching respect for the law

Teacher: You can't copy the music from that CD that you bought because it would be breaking copyright law
Student: But I bought the CD it's my property, I can do what I want with it
Teacher: No you can't, it is your property but it's not legal to make another copy of your property because that would deprive the company the privilege of selling that new copy to a new customer
Student: But I just want to copy it for my own use. And, at any rate what sort of weirdo would I be if I don't share my music with my friends? (thinks to self: this teacher is weird)
Teacher: I realise that but the law doesn't take that into account
Student: But that's stupid
Teacher: Part of my job is to teach respect for the law. At any rate it's out of my hands, the network manager has refused to copy the music file that you bought. btw you can be fined $1000 for copying that track that you bought.
Student: But the law is stupid
Teacher: ?????????

So this is how we teach copyright law and respect for the law in school?

Thanks to Donna Benjamin of Creative Contingencies for providing the following information about the new copyright legislation currently before parliament:
New Copyright Legislation is currently before Parliament.

Browsing through the current submissions to the legal and constitutional committee is an interesting exercise that shows the conflicting interests at work in copyright legislation.

Note there are submissions from Google, and the Copyright Advisory Group to the Schools Resourcing Taskforce of the MCEETYA, ARIA, and the Musicians Union of Australia.

Interestingly - a couple of film and video clubs have highlighted the issue raised above - hobbiest film makers would like to be able to include audio tracks from CDs they own, but there is currently no way for them to do so, and so they submit they would like to be able to do this.

Copying a CD in Australia is an act of Copyright Infringement. But it is not currently a criminal act.

Once the legislation is passed, copyright infringements will be deemed criminal, and for the first time, and as the first place in the world we will have enforcement provisions that carry on the spot fines of $1000 per infringement.

However the new legislation allows some level of format shifting exceptions which will legitimise copying a CD for use on an iPod for private and domestic use. There is some concern that this will not expand to cover student use at school, as that is neither private nor domestic.


Monday, October 30, 2006

catholics storm school heaven

Fascinating vodcast interview of Greg Whitby, executive director of Catholic Education in the Parramatta diocese, by Leigh Blackall, about:
A 24-hour school with no traditional classrooms and where students use mobile phones and laptops to learn is being built in Sydney ... The school will be referred to as a "learning community" and teachers will be known as "learning advisers" ... They can also have access to their work and lesson material at any time on the internet. Staff will provide online tutorials from 8pm to 10pm...Technology would be a major focus of the school that will boast a "meshed wireless environment" ... "It will be an e-learning environment using m-learning [mobile technology] tools." This could mean a student might be sitting in the playground carrying out school work via a mobile phone. Laptop computers will be another learning tool ...The traditional lesson timetable, where students might move from maths to science to English class, will be overhauled. There will be integrated lessons where students will still learn according to NSW Board of Studies guidelines, but may be taught in mixed age groups...
- quotes from evolution of schools, Sydney Morning Herald article
Here are some quick notes I took from the vodcast interview:
  • kids today learn differently
  • the mass production model does not work
  • how can we improve the learning outcomes for every child
  • create a different built environment, open spaces
  • it doesn't look like a school, no classrooms
  • engage staff in the learning journey
  • learning 24/7
  • "learning advisors", not teachers
  • all teachers are team members
  • kids negotiate their learning
  • no traditional timetable
  • free up the working life of staff
  • current models of teaching enslave teachers
  • currently we ring a bell and tell staff when to eat
  • staff need to demonstrate they have improved learning outcomes rather than mechanically put in hours
  • recognise staff as professionals who can make intelligent decisions ... this has been missing for so long
  • the traditional schooling process deskills teachers

My initial thoughts:

Futures: Is this a first? Has anyone else tried this? This is a great initiative! How interesting that catholics schools are the first to try this!
Technical: The meshed wireless environment is a leaf out of the 120 dollar laptop idea
Built environment: It would be nice to teach in a school that does not look like a gaol or a brick shithouse
Language: school will be referred to as a "learning community" and teachers will be known as "learning advisers" - this is specious brave new world freedom talk, which hopefully won't turn into a substitute for the real thing
Freedom: Former slaves find it hard to deal with freedom, lots of issues will arise, some teachers and students will be seen by some to go "too far" or "too fast". What will be the attitude to taking risks? There is a strong culture of risk avoidance in our society. How will they be dealt with, what development / growth model will be in place, how will leadership be exercised?
Assessment: Learning outcomes will still be tied to NSW Board of Studies guidelines, this will prove to be a major sticking point, the more progressive teachers will want to review and alter this. In a negotiated curriculum without tradional subject areas all sorts of hard to measure learning will be occuring. It will often not be detected through traditional assessment measurement. This will create pressure to role back innovation.

TALO discussion link
I particularly liked the contributions from Teemu Leinonen to this discussion.
(a) in rebutting the web2.0 hype and other jargon:
"Of course it is great if people see the light under the brand of "web 2.0", but still, we should more think about the process of learning and less the tools and the widgets used in it.

And if we do we may actually find out that we still need "teachers" who are committed to help the development of their students, "group" that are creating culture and maybe even "schools" that will be the places for all this. :-) "

(b) and his critique of the 24/7 school:
"Probably it is not a surprise for anyone that I also do not find the 24/7 school necessary that good idea at all.

I think the model of the school is totally based on a modern corporate culture where the company claims to own all their employees time: here is a laptop and a phone for us to reach you any moment we may need you. We expect that you are there always for us. BTW if you have a dog why don't you take it with you in your office - this way you are not spending too much time in woods with so bad network connection.

The hidden curriculum is not too hidden, at all. The school will train perfect corporate robots. Is this what schools are for?"