Monday, January 21, 2008

What an "Effort" is

Nice idea from Kay Ramme, to create an Effort page. I created the same on Education project wiki page. To be continued.

Friday, January 11, 2008

a teacher's viewpoint

Today i had the happy experience to teach (OpenOffice) in the very primary school where i was as a kid. The kids today had no problems with OpenOffice and we even started to make a video tutorial (not finished due to lack of time). Later i had the opportunity to talk with the schools computer teacher.

Curious, i asked about her opinion toward OpenOffice because i noted that OpenOffice was already installed on all computers in the computer room.

She told me that she would prefer M$-Office to be (additional) installed due to several reasons:

* Her knowledge and teaching material (books) is M$-Office only.

* The kids are often supervised by parents instead of teachers when in the computer room and the parents know only M$-Office and will not understand why the school can not afford M$-Office.

* The schools after the primary school (kids go here from 6 years old until 10 years old) will mostly not have OpenOffice installed but M$-Office instead. Same argument for possible workplaces after school.

* Some teachers like to print out documents in the school's Computer room. The documents are -of course- made with M$-Word from the teachers private computer and there were problems printing them out with OO.Writer.

While i have my own opinion on some of this points i must admit that all of them are valid arguments from the teachers perspective.

I will do my best to make OpenSource Software (like Open Office) more attractive for the school and it's teachers but i think in the end it does not count how much better OpenSource software is .. what count is the opinion of the people involved.
Sadly, changing someone's opinion is so much harder than changing a piece of code.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Electronic bytes of random ink splotches

I read the Year end summary of the Education Project a couple of times today. One of the reasons could be that I was reading up this book as well and somewhere along the line I realized that it is really true about what is said about the education system in India (articles like these notwithstanding) - that students are taught how to answer questions and memorize facts not to "learn" the subject. That is an aspect which I think is reflected in the observations (of Peter Junge) in terms of why is a tough bit to slip into the curricula and thus encourage adoption.

I've observed that the reason is not adopted by teachers and adapted to their teaching pedagogy is that there is that resistance to (re)learning skills. And this is perhaps where the VBA bits and Macro Development work could come in handy. Those ideally allow credit based courses (3 credit based optional courses are becoming popular in India) to be created around these activities. A 3 credit course is (if I recall well) around 20 hours of study and practicals ie theory and hands-on. Surprisingly, Microsoft tends to not address this area and focus more on using IDEs and developer environments along with MSDN to be entrenched within the system.

The one aspect of the Education Project that would be required to be addressed with some amount of firmness would be the extent of co-operation the other Projects and sub-projects within would be willing to provide to this Project. Or, given that the Education Project during its formative years is going to be working with a larger number of projects by guiding potential contributors, there has to be acceptance of the significance of this effort. Additionally, there has to be a close cohesion between the effort of creating "Certification" modules (or syllabus) which can be adopted. Modules for certification would also allow creation of a subsystem of entrepreneurs around with a strong focus on learning services.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

First results for Education project

First, Happy New Year 2008 and Seasons Greatings to all !

Co Lead, with Louis Suarez Potts (Sun ) of Education project, since two months, I replaced Sophie Gautier (Linagora) and I think the New Year is a good occasion to provide the first results.

Education project has an exceptional potential, but everything had to be done. The first urgency was to organize a bit.

We did big progress, because people help a lot, and I'd like to thank people like Raphael Bircher and Nicolas Jeudy for the big work on the website, and Ben Bois for the Logo !

Thanks to Frederic Diaz, Frederic Ollivier and Guy Veyssiere too, for a lot of little things, not always visible, but extremely important.

After some times, of brainstorming, I have analized the situation, and this blog entry is a draft. Of course, I'll reformulate correctly my proposal on the next IRC meeting

1) The begining :

Education Project is an incubator project, officialy created around April 2006.

Existing actions before I joined the project :

Louis Suarez Potts forwarded important infos on the mailing list, and this is an extremely helpfull begining: all the direction pointed by Louis are open and interesting tracks, and I fully agree with the ideas behind this.

For Further informations, see message 1 and message 2 from Louis.

Sophie Gautier explained me all informations concerning French project are available on fr mailing lists archives. e.g. a french dedicated book for secondary school has been written, in collaboration with SCEREN.

2) Actions started since November 2007 :

- New website creation ( currently work in progress )
- Wiki page
- Dedicated welcome in english. Same in French
- an IRC channel has been created, to facilitate the contact with newcomers,
- Weekly meetings (most of the time)
- A common blog for active contributors to Education Project
- fr-educ mailing list has been created, and is very active

3) The current situation of in Education System ( French Education system is reference here, but things should be similar elsewhere )

Feedback :

After asking teachers and professors who returned feedback, I discovered several important issues. Some points below are feedback from Peter Junge from RedFlag 2000.

- acceptance is low in Education System ( all locales are concerned ). At least it is not what expected.
- there are important MS Office compatibility issues, causing a brake for migrations: companies, administrations ask for .doc e.g. , and one little default in the conversion becomes redhibitive for acceptance.
- is not much used in Education, because not the first in place, VBA compatibility issues .. etc
- there is intensive lobbying from Microsoft e.g. in most of the places, and introduce in schools ( all levels ) seems to be extremely complicated

The main causes of the problem enounced above (please help to improve the list):

- installation of is an issue (e.g. network install on Windows, in most of the cases, is not well known)
- some issues reported since a long time, but never fixed, are a reason to not migrate to e.g. : issue 972 : misalignement of equations in formulaes
- compatibility issues ( a lot are reported ) with MS Office format, or new MS Office format

As you can see above, the problem is complicated, and will involve other projects from and lead to define precisely Education Project place in

4) Development :

One of the main idea behind Education project: find developers. Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay helped a lot and proposed very interesting ideas.

Draft of existing cases. See examples

Everything is reported on the wiki page, in a sort of Todo list (please help us ! )

Strategy for the project

Please have a look at the First draft

Proposed Roadmap for 2008 ( to be improved and rewritten)

A) To improve and to structure the Education Project :

- describe and improve Education Team ( people , photos, skills .. etc inventory, and write a dedicated page on the website, to give us a face )
- connect with other projects, to define the exact place of Education project
- create the dedicated association, to collect funds for expenses in Education project
- find sponsors and partners
- continue to improve the website: add tools management, localization, define rules for tools hosting, ..etc

B) Documentation :

- start from basics about the project
- write documentation for Windows (i.e. Linux or Mac OS X ) installation, dedicated for schools environments. [ needs important energy ]
- write a documentation for newcomers, explaining how use efficiently and take care of the feedback
- PCIE/ECDL : European Computer Driving License / Passeport de Competences Informatique Europeen ( Note: extremely important for the project )
- Certification : Education project can contribute, to analyse what is different between user needs and education needs
- Help for OO.o Curricula in University , proposed by Michael Huai from RedFlag 2000
- create a DataBase (Raphael ? ) for tools and videos available on the site

C) Development

- improve the welcome for students : be present at FOSDEM 2008 , doing workshop for code
- continue to identify schools using, and improve the partner's list
- continue to ask for feedback, and valorize the work people did for
- work on issues like issue 972, documenting everything, and keep traces for newcomers
- test moodle for content management (courses)
- find peers professors / students for applications in developement
- propose applications : e.g. fix little bugs, and create a cws

D) French part :

- continue to improve the academic contacts network, and the visibility of the project
- be present at Solution Linux 2008 ( Paris )
- valorize important tools, and contributors ( OOoHG , Dmaths, DSciences .. etc )
- localize the website
- PCIE/ECDL : European Computer Driving License / Passeport de Competences Informatique Europeen
- start to work with volunteers
- work with Pole de Competences , SCEREN and CNDP

That's all for today :-)

Thanks again to Sankarshan Mukhopadhyay to have read my draft before publication.
Driving innovation through Education or FOSS as a science

It's just the first week of the new year and 2 blog entries caught my attention. They are related and perhaps intertwined in the context of what I write, work for and whom I work with. While I will not be able to provide as erudite reasoning as Louis the combination of these two entries do provide some kind of shape to the amorphous ideas that have been bothering me about the notion of "education" and thereon FOSS projects having "education as a project".

The fun thing about education is that the moment it is uttered there are various ideas that come up. These range from aspects of pedagogy to aims and objectives of the process of education and thereon to the "public commons" aspect of knowledge as a whole. Not a single one of these perspectives are trivial, but for countries in the BRIC regions education provides a means to attain, sustain and increase technical excellence. This is because the very basis of improvement of conditions is based on innovation and more precisely user-focused innovation. This means that to a somewhat disproportionate extent, innovation is driven by science. The interesting bit over here is that FOSS could be thought of as akin to science and thus participating in FOSS development similar to the process of scientific discovery. I use "science" in the widest possible sense of the term and not the limiting notion of "science", "humanities" and the like. Given that FOSS development and contribution takes place through a predefined workspace that is peer reviewed and transparent, the results of a FOSS contribution can stand up to as much critical scrutiny as a scientific breakthrough can.

So, how does that relate to education ? For me, projects like, Mozilla, GNOME etc who focus on contributions to their codebase and projects by reaching out to academic institutions are not merely doing the obligatory "let us create more potential contributors" work that till now has been the corporate social responsibility of proprietary companies. It goes above and beyond that towards inculcating a spirit of collaboration that is mandated through the curricula that drives such contributions. It interleaves concepts of classic pedagogy of "chalk the talk" with the much more recent "show-n-tell" method of actually doing things.

We love stories and students love them more than ever. Projects that provide students the stories to work with and provide tools to create their own stories have a far greater chance of buy-in from students, their parents and the teachers. Getting changes incorporated into age-old (and tested ?) curricula is difficult. I sometimes get reminded about one of the greatest reformers from my land and how inspite of personal example it took a longer time for his work of social reform to set in and be accepted.

For various logical (and a smaller set of illogical reasons), institutes are loathe to change status quo on their curricula. And to a small extent, every small technology whim and fancy should not mandate that the curricula be changed. An aspect of the projects that encourage and motivate potential contributors have to be that they provide a real life example of the building blocks that are taught in the classroom. Learning that sodium goes up in flames in contact with water is so much boring when one can toss a lump of it into a lab sink and watch the fun. Chemistry, Physics, Electronics etc are disciplines have for long being widely and gleefully accepted because they allow a feeling of tangible results. Theory can be translated into first-hand observations (I have enough scars from lab experiments to vouch that the method works).

It should be a thing that the Education Project should be thinking about.