Kahn Academy – DIY OER to Educate the World

Last Friday was an interesting day. I was tipped off by a colleague, Paul Leman, about the Kahn Academy when he sent me a link to Glen Moody’s blog post. At first sight the Kahn Academy looked like a fantastic resource, with 1000+ videos on various topic for students of all ages. But being one who never takes things on face value, I wanted to check things out and see what others were saying about this resource. That’s when I found David Wiley’s post which explained how there was no Creative Commons license attached to the content. I had a look and he seemed to be right. David had written to Sal Kahn the creator of the Kahn Academy previously, but he decided to drop him a further email. Then, as is evident from the comments David received on his post, everyone was immensely pleased to see that by the end of that day Sal had acted on David’s call and prominently displayed the CC license on the Kahn Academy homepage making it an OER for reuse, remixing, sharing, etc. I immediately embedded this video in my Daily Interests blog under the title Education for the World until I had time to write in more detail.

Now I have to take my hat off to Sal Kahn for a truly immense resource. What he has achieved with the Kahn Academy is nothing short of incredible. Single handedly generating instructional videos covering subjects including:

What a wealth of information. This has to be place in the category alongside Academic Earth and Udemy.

This story excites me on a number of levels. Perhaps one of the most significant is the difference anyone can make by openly publishing knowledge online to freely educate others. It’s an approach I’m trying to take myself to make a difference, however small; it is something that I passionately believe in. More power to anyone and everyone doing the same.


Institution talks about going OER

In this Youtube video members of Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand talk about going Open Educational Resources (OER) as a policy decision:

JISC Web 2.0 videos

JISC is funded by the UK HE and FE funding bodies to provide world-class leadership in the innovative use of ICT to support education and research.


Here are some useful videos provided by JISC about Web 2.0 and social media:

Social Media

Microblogging (Twitter)

Collaborative Document Writing


Experiment and discussion

I’ve recently written a couple of blog post that are receive a bit of attention, the first was about the changing role of education and the second about Nurphy a new online service for conversations. I’ve decided to see if I can combine then by asking question about one on the other and seeing what happens. It’s a bit of an experiment really.

So, here goes. I’ve posted the following up as a conversation that anyone can join, once registered with Nurphy. Will people be willing to sign up for an untested service at this early stage? I’ll find out. The conversation starts here.

Whatever, I’d still like people’s opinions about the following.

Is the rise of the Professional Amateur Pro-Am, the increase in open educational resources (OER), personal learning environments (PLE), and greater significance of informal learning and research going to lead to a move away from an emphasis on institutional, formal learning?

As people are able to continually express their skills, abilities and achievements via social media, will formalized accreditation, with potentially out-dated assessment systems, be less relevant?

Or are formal learning and research institutions able to adapt quickly enough to the new requirements of society?

Open research – Professional Amateurs – Science in Action

I recently wrote a post that touched upon openness of and elitism in education. I just wanted to express a few more quick thoughts on this, though it is something I intend to return to with a more in-depth look at open education and resources.

I feel the elitism of universities doesn’t lie with who is allowed to become a students, it is more related to the fact that resources are securely tied up within universities making those resources inaccessible to the majority. Resources in this context could be books or journals (hard copies or online with paid for institutional subscriptions), the academic discourse, the talents of faculty, the research equipment and facilities, past Ph.D. theses, etc. In addition, it relates to the subjects and specific topics that are deemed to be worthy of teaching or researching, or what the funders deem so.

Universities deal in the currency of degrees, a passport in society. Why in times of recession, such as at present, should it be that otherwise capable individuals are denied their chance of a degree passport because the government puts a squeeze on the number of places available in order to balance the books? A further point is the question of assessment, and is it really a useful measure, or is the ongoing presentation of someone’s work, either within a university or indeed outside it (informal learning), a better reflection of their capabilities and abilities? Indeed, evidence is beginning to accumulate indicating that those who present their work using social media place themselves in a more advantageous position for employment. And shouldn’t publicly funded research be in the public domain anyway? I’ve previously written about Open Notebook Science.

I can envisage how much of this could be opened up to greater access, but I was having a problem with scientific equipment and facilities and how that might be liberated.

There have been some interesting examples where institution based science projects have reached out to the public for assistance. There was SETI were you signed up and your computer were utilized while it was on (and you weren’t using it) to process data to search for extra-terrestrial life. Then I recall a project were public volunteers were called for to look for new astronomical bodies in tens of thousands of photographs of space; these were provided online and after doing a test to see how accurately you could assess the images you could process the live data. It was discovered that humans were much better at seeing differences in the data than if the processing was done electronically with image recognition.

Therefore, in a rather detached way people were participating in scientific research.

However, I then heard the repeat of the Friday 25 September Science in Action programme* on BBC World Service at 4:32GMT on Sunday morning. (Sometimes I’m awake in the night or wake up early.) Listen to the programme. The significant part where this blog post is concerned is the DIYbio article. The article talked about people who are undertaking scientific research, bio-engineering in this case, in their own homes using inexpensive equipment, some bought secondhand on Ebay(R) for a fraction of its cost new to a research lab. They are able to design and create new biological parts, devices and systems. Integral to this approach is the support from online communities, DIYbio.org for example, sometimes with professionals voluntarily assisting these communities.

Clay Shirky has talked about the increase in mass amateurization, without being amateurish. This is the breaking down of the dichotomy between ‘experts’ and amateurs, with the creation of a new category – the Professional Amateurs or Pro-Ams. Charles Leadbeater in his book We-Think talks about how mass creativity has seen sites including Wikipedia and Youtube, and the Linux operating system rise in prominence and signal a shift in the way we and society can organise ourselves; participation becoming the key element.

All of this, for me raises the question, “Are universities, education systems and society more generally getting ready for the future of learning and research?”

* This particular programme doesn’t seem to be archived, though you can usually listen to the previous two recent episodes, so I guess you’ve probably got a couple of week to hear it before the link is broken.

Flat Structures vs. hierarchy via XtraNormal – Text to Video

I’ve had the text of a script produced for some weeks (or months) about flat structures versus folder hierarchies. I’ve been wanting to put it up as a video, but haven’t had the time to produce it. Then, recently, a colleague Paul Wigfield told me about a text-to-video service he’d come across called Xtranormal. I was interested in the idea and wanted to give it a try. The text for my video came to hand and I pasted it in.

Xtranormal is very easy to use. You just drag the icons onto the script to change camera angle, place pauses, change expressions of your chosen character, or make the character move. I also decided on an English Male voice. A 3D movie is the end product.

The rendering can take a little while, and you need to register to save and publish your final video. That done and you’re supplied with a URL and embed code. Also, put in your YouTube account details to enable a one click upload to YouTube. (My first video is just processing in YouTube right now.)

The text of my script:

Flat structure vs folders

Tying in with my tagging video, I’ll now present the argument for adopting a flat structure approach as opposed to nested folders within uSpace. To illustrate this, I’ll be drawing on examples from Clay Shirkey and Michael Wesch.

Clay is an author of and speaker on social and economic effects of internet technologies.

Michael is a lecturer in anthropology investigating the impact of new media on culture and society. He lectures about YouTube and has made several influential videos available from there. He was announced US professor of the year 2008 last November, and has been nicknamed The Explainer.

When considering how to store and categorize information many people immediately think of using a structure of folders to compartmentalize the information. However, information specialists are concluding that there are better ways of doing this, and that we’re locked into old, outdated ways that are a poor fit for the electronic world of today. If we just consider for a few seconds some of the terminology we are using; we have “files” that we put into “folders” on our “desktop“, these hark back to how we dealt with paper.

Perhaps the simplest way of demonstrating this point is by considering your own bookmarks or favorites in a web browser. You bookmark stuff until your list gets too long, then you start categorizing into folders, but does this thing go in this folder or that folder, it can’t be both. Now you have a tidy set of folders. You start bookmarking new stuff and end up with a list of links that aren’t in folders again. Eventually you think I’ll put these in my folders. But what do those folders mean, and where does this thing go? Inevitably things get stuffed into inappropriate folders never to be found or used again. Information locked away. Then along came social bookmarking and freed us from this inappropriate system of saving our links; but that’s a different story for a different video.

So how we should categorize information on the web is by using a radical break from traditional approaches, rather than an extension of them.

People are beginning to realise that tagging offers a better way than pre-categorizing information into folders, as tagging metaphorically allows the information to be located in multiple places, which using folders does not. It’s only recently, in the passed 2 or 3 years, that this has started to become clear. This is the way Google Mail and Google Docs allow you to categorize things so they effectively ‘reside in multiple places’ at the same time.

Because of the explosion of available information on the web it’s more difficult to locate the information of interest to you, and for others to access the information you provide. You don’t want to restrict access to your information, you want to open access out. I’m still not sure enough people are currently getting this concept, even though Google Search has shown us that we don’t need categories or hierarchies; after all most research now starts with a search. So by predefining that information sits in one place, a pre-created folder, and using a categorization system that may not be appropriate for our potential information consumers we’re actually restricting access. Indeed, by leaving that information “out in the open”, giving it keywords by tagging it, and letting other people tag it, you allow more access to that information. This is what people who are handling lots of digital information are concluding. And this is the way that many web2.0 services are designed to operate. Also adopting this approach means that the consumer can group and categorize information in a way that makes sense to them, by using tag groups for example. They can pull out streams of information tagged in a specific way, so if they were interested in “supernovae” for example they could have anything with related tags delivered straight to them as soon as it is published.

So a flat structure with appropriate tagging is a more organic way of organizing information that presents the content consumer with more control to access and manage that information.