Should MOOC-platforms be open, portable and interoperable?

While working at the Peeragogy Handbook I’m having some discussions about the business models of xMOOCs, the Massive Open Online Courses on platforms such as Coursera, Udacity and edX. The xMOOCs are, for now, free. The building of the courses is rather expensive – so what’s the return? Also, just like in the media industry, there are questions about the impact on the traditional university business model. Will more people apply and pay for a traditional education because they got really interested after participating in a free online course, or would fewer people want to pay as there are free alternatives (promotion vs substitution effect)?

One of the possible business models might be that the enormous amount of data accumulated during the courses get monetized so that recruiters can make a more efficient selection of candidates. Or maybe testing-for-a-degree will be an added service which would not be free.

However, one should refrain from jumping to conclusions. Maybe major universities also support these xMOOCs because they truly want to spread knowledge worldwide as a service to humanity. Monetizing these efforts would be a way to do this on a durable basis. While peer2peer courses seem to be more of a ‘reciprocal gift’ nature, in the gift economy there might also be reputation and network-building effects which lead to financial returns. All this in itself is not necessarily detrimental to the learning experiences.

Of more immediate concern for those engaging in MOOCs is the openness of the course material. Can the material be accessed and used in other contexts, or are there technical and legal restrictions? It’s interesting to note that the Stanford Class2Go is a platform which explicitly wants to be open, portable and interoperable.

  • It’s open. The platform is open source so that anyone who wants to can collaborate with us. We would love to have others use the platform, or to work together with similar efforts in other places.
  • It’s portable. We believe strongly that valuable course content shouldn’t be tied to any one platform. Documents are already portable; the videos are outside our system (on YouTube) and the assets themselves can be repurposed as faculty see fit. And our exercises and problem sets, instead of being trapped in a proprietary database, are in the Khan Academy format, so they can be used elsewhere.
  • It’s interoperable. We don’t want to build or maintain more than we have to. We’re standing on the shoulders of developments from Khan Academy, Piazza, YouTube, MySQL, Python Django, Amazon AWS, Opscode, and Github.

I think these three characteristics are important ones when evaluating MOOCs as part of a broader peer2peer learning project – but this does not mean more closed models should be avoided at all cost.

Radically Local | Flong

” “Commons-Based Peer Production”. It’s a revolution in how things are made, by whom, and in what quantities. In some ways, the future looks a lot like the past. These blacksmiths are making a local solution to a local problem. And we’re going to be seeing a lot more of that.” And this was a presentation for the World Economic Forum, in China.  Just imagine how we can use the web and virtual spaces to work with global teams, in order to produce on a very local level… 
via Diigo

Let’s meet at MetaMeets

On November 30 and December 1 the conference “MetaMeets 2012. The Art of Creation : Virtuality meets Reality” takes place (‘s-Hertogenbosch,The Netherlands).
MetaMeets is a seminar/meeting about virtual worlds, augmented reality and 3D internet, this year’s topic will be The Art of Creation : Virtuality meets Reality. Virtual worlds and 3D internet have been developing continuously. Mobile and browser based worlds have been created. Mesh format uploads have provided huge progress in content creation through open source programs like Blender and Google Sketchup. Machinima creation has grown and improved with special interfaces and innovations in visual possibilities, making films shot in virtual worlds a professional tool for presentation to a mainstream audience. MetaMeets has chosen this year to shine a light on this versatile digital canvas by taking its participants interactively into the Art of Creation. The programme will begin with a few lectures on the current state of virtual worlds and their new developments. Subsequently, we will have workshops exploring methods of accomplishing each of the key steps in 3D creation. The workshops will range from creating a virtual world on your own server, creating 3D content, creating (motion) pictures of it, and even printing 3D objects as real world 3D models. We also will have an interactive roundtable discussion based on the movie The Singularity is Near that is released this summer for dowload and availible on dvd. The last day’s machinima workshop will feature an evening presentation of that day’s machinima creations and a selection of related machinimas from around the world. Starting the week before Metameets, there will be an installation on display at our partner’s venue (Nerdlab, Digitale Werkplaats). This installation is the artistic fruit of the workgroup Konnect, which has been exploring ways to create art content using natural interaction devices (like MS Kinect). Martijn Verhallen (Curator Nerdlab), Philippe Moroux (SL artist: Artistide Despres), and Marc Cuppens (SL machinimator: Marx Catteneo) are the creative forces behind Konnect.
I’ll give a talk at the conference about stuff such as 3D-printing, drones, DIY and Maker culture, and how all this ties in into the virtual worlds environments.
MetaMeets poster

Discovering Makers (and Leanpub, and Readmill)

In an open ended, user-generated virtual environment, you get that exciting feeling that you can build your own world. You just start creating objects and scripting them, following the tutorials and getting help from community members. It’s a kind of ‘makers ethos’ which increasingly permeates the ‘real world’. Of course, there always was something like DIY, but these days people ‘hack’ about anything. 3D printing, drones, hardware hacking using Arduino, biotech hacking and the DIY building and using of drones – it’s all becoming affordable and increasingly popular. It’s also evolving far beyond the hobby-activities, and something like a new economy is emerging between the ruins of the financial & economics & social crisis. The individuals and teams working on those DIY-project experiment with new ways of running projects. The boundaries between users and builders, between the providers of infrastructure and builders, between the builders themselves often seem very different from the hierarchical and corporate-like organizational structures. The founder of Second Life, Philip Rosedale, experienced what the possibilities and limits are of virtual worlds, and currently (Reuters video) he is very involved in how work and collaboration will change in the future (think co-working spaces, companies-in-coffeeshops, exchange of labor through social networks, and telepresence robots). This being said, Rosedale firmly believes virtual worlds teach us something profound which still needs time to be seen for what it can be. It seems to me that the technological evolution is increasingly empowering individuals and small teams to make very sophisticated stuff on a global scale. I’m two years late in discovering the (free) book Makers, written by Cory Doctorow. How did I find it? I wanted to buy the e-book Model for the 21st Century Newsroom – Redux, but it turned out that the author, Paul Bradshaw, offers it for free, via Leanpub. The Leanpub site offers the possibility to use the Readmill-app, which allows for social highlighting. One of the free books I got access to via Readmill, was Doctorow’s Makers. The combination Leanpub/Readmill demonstrates this ‘new thinking’ in making things – in this case books. Leanpub has a lengthy Lean Publishing Manifesto. Doctorow himself, in the ‘About this download’ section of his book, attacks the legal departments at ebook publishers – because they don’t believe in copyright law. They say that when you buy an ebook, you’re really only licensing that book. They can claim that because of the confusing and unreadable license agreements people click on, but the buttons on their websites say “buy this book” – which is problematic, as you can give away to whoever you want a book you own, but this fundamental right is far from universally recognized in the weird world of the ebook-publishers. So the way the book Makers is published, is in itself a demonstration of what that book is about, and of what this new emerging economy is about: the joy and the urge of making, regardless of the economic and financial environment. Here, I’ll let Doctorow explain it himself:

Download, print, fire: gun rights initiative harnesses 3D technology |

“Project aims to let anyone print a gun in their own home, raising new concerns about the legality of homemade firearms” There really was no reason to believe people would only use this technology to print cute toys and cool components for race bikes. via Diigo

Quants aren’t like regular people. Neither are algorithms.

“Everyone there was a “Quant.” No one cared what the underlying company represented by a given stock actually did. Apple or General Motors, CAT or IBM… Everything boiled down to a set of statistical observations that, when assembled into the proper algorithm, delivered a portfolio that beats the market.” I just love the title of that conference: Alpha Generation – Using News Sentiment Data via Diigo

The Crisis in Higher Education – Technology Review

“While MOOCs are incorporating adaptive learning routines into their software, their ambitions for data mining go well beyond tutoring. Thrun says that we’ve only seen “the tip of the iceberg.” What particularly excites him and other computer scientists about free online classes is that thanks to their unprecedented scale, they can generate the immense quantities of data required for effective machine learning. ” via Diigo Great. So all the things I do on the Coursera-site serve a higher purpose – learning the machine how we learn.

Python in four weeks. Or in eight!

The Mechanical MOOC is in full preparation of the Python programming course. As reported before the mMOOC combines several existing open courses, such as the MIT Opencourseware, Peer 2 Peer University, OpenStudy and CodeAcademy.

During the preparation the learners are introduced to those other platforms. The first instalment was interesting: I was aware of the MIT Opencourseware (the semester-long course Introduction to Computer Science and Programming by Prof. John Guttag), but the mMOOC points out that MIT also offers a four week Python-course, A Gentle Introduction to Python teached by Sarina Canelake. Actually, that course will be the basis for the mMOOC, but they’ll cover it in eight weeks. Indeed, why hurry!

Mimicry beats consciousness in gaming’s Turing test – tech – 25 September 2012 – New Scientist

“The idea is to design more realistic virtual characters, which, in turn, should make video games more compelling and software simulations used for training more useful. In the future, the software could drive physical robots capable of navigating the real world in a human-like manner.” Okay, the bots are not ‘really’ intelligent and language is much harder to crack. But still, it’s a nice result, this  human thinks.  
via Diigo

The Fab Charter

“Fab labs are a global network of local labs, enabling invention by providing access to tools for digital fabrication” Bruce Sterling has some comments on Beyond the Beyond
via Diigo