Open Source Software: An Interview with Richard Wyles of Eduforge

Eduforge is an open source community which originated in New Zealand. I conducted this interview with Richard Wyles, one of its co-founders, via email.

TF: How and when did the idea for Eduforge originate?

RW: In late 2003 I was involved in putting a funding proposal together focused on selecting and then contributing to e-learning application software for use by the New Zealand tertiary education sector. We started by investigating learning management systems and now the project team is very active in the Moodle community. With a consortium of 8 institutions (which has now grown to 20), we recognised at the project proposal stage that we needed an online project space with particular features to enhance transparency and collaboration.

We looked around but there was nothing that was a close fit so we developed Eduforge initially just using the GForge code base.

TF: What are its aims and objectives?

RW: The primary goal of Eduforge (http://www.eduforge.org/) is to establish an environment that brings together educators and education technologists to collaborate, share ideas, and develop open source software for education. The challenge is to make the site useful and friendly for technologists and educators.

TF: What geographical area is it intended for?

RW: It’s an international resource for anyone, although admittedly some language packs are more developed than others. Initially we hosted Eduforge here in New Zealand but have shifted the site to the US to eliminate latency issues that some users were experiencing.

TF: Could you explain what you mean by “latency issues”?

RW: When we had the site hosted at our facilities in Wellington, New Zealand then users in South Africa and elsewhere thought that Eduforge was slow. That’s partly because the SA network is not as developed as European and the US. Because Eduforge has a lot of dynamic publishing caching techniques are less useful.

In short, since most Internet traffic is routed through the States we thought we’d eliminate the extra hop down and back to NZ. It has made a difference to our international users.

TF: Who are the target members, eg teachers?

RW: Anyone undertaking research or projects related to education. This includes instructors, learners, researchers, education technologists and others. The site is oriented towards supporting open source, standards and content. Some projects are focused on software development for education but many projects simply use the collaboration tools.

TF: What is the membership level currently?

RW: Approximately 700 and growing week by week.

TF: Are you the founder? If not, who is, plus what is your role plus some biographical details please

RW: Co-founder really. At the time I was working with Ken Udas who is now the Director of the SUNY Learning Network, in Albany, New York. Together we bounced around ideas on what we needed, recognised that there was a common need for such a resource, and therefore developed it with an international focus.

I am currently the E-Learning Director at the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, a specialist distance learning provider with approximately 35,000 students. However, my primary role is the Project Leader for the New Zealand Open Source Virtual Learning Environment project (NZOSVLE), and I’m involved in a number of related open source initiatives in education. I’ve been involved in enterprise level Internet projects for around 8 years now both within and outside education. I very much support the open source ethos and potential it has to positively transform our societies.

TF: Does the reality of how it works in practice match the vision you had?

RW: It’s very pleasing that we have delivered a resource that others are finding useful. Naturally the vision continues to evolve as you learn and as new technologies develop. For example, Planet Eduforge ([http://planet.eduforge.org/]) wasn’t part of the original scope. Planet Eduforge is an RSS aggregator of interesting blogs related to open source, standards and content in education. It’s a great resource. Next up will be an online academic journal with an international peer review board.

So, while it’s totally consistent with the original vision, we’re committed to continuously improving the services across Eduforge.

TF: How does its function differ from, or are similar to, other sites or organizations, eg that of SchoolForge ?

RW: Eduforge uses a combination of Gforge, PHP Wiki, and Serendipity code bases to deliver a suite of project and communication tools. It aims to be part of the landscape that is supporting open source, standards, and content in education.

So, in many ways the philosophies are aligned with those of SourceForge although our membership structure and procedures are significantly different. There’s many other initiatives out there like [http://www.opencourse.org/] or the Shuttleworth Foundation (http://www.tsf.org.za/) which is doing an enormous amount with open source for education, focused on needs in Africa.

Eduforge is probably more akin to an education focused Sourceforge with the tool-sets it offers.

TF: Do you think that open source represents a viable and sustainable alternative to commercial products for use in schools, given support issues?

RW: Dropping the total cost of ownership for e-learning infrastructure clearly assists sustainability for all concerned. However, it’s true that few organisations are currently geared towards the open source paradigm. Support models need to be developed that provide the necessary expertise, quality assurance and service delivery.

I believe a co-ordinating neutral entity can hugely assist collaborative consortium or cluster deployments. For example, the NZOSVLE project now has 20 partners. Six institutions, representing approximately 50,000 students, have their open source e-learning infrastructure supported on an education “server farm” thereby lowering costs for hardware and support even further. The benefits are that we can apply the appropriate expertise and collaborate on common services such as e-portfolios, webmail, learning object repositories etc.

The key is to have a light structure that connects consortium partners or users with a common need, technology service providers and the open source communities from which core code is being adopted and contributed back. This approach can deliver superior service levels compared to some of the experiences some organisations have with commercial vendors.

In addition, what we’re finding is that collaborative models start to deliver benefits elsewhere such as professional development and course development.

In summary, a resounding Yes! Not only does open source help deliver an economically sustainable ICT investment pathway, but it enables a far more innovative environment for delivering educational outcomes.

TF: Do you have links with other such organisations?

RW: I wouldn’t describe Eduforge as an organisation as such. It’s simply an open access toolkit of resources to support communities of interest. In that sense, it’s only as strong or as useful as those participating and contributing to the community.

Registered users will have links to all sorts of organisations.

TF: Can you suggest 3 strengths/benefits of the service?

RW: Strengths can also be perceived as weaknesses. Our key challenge is that there’s a lot of functionality to support projects at all levels. There’s blogs, wikis, document management, CVS or Subversion, Tracking, project management Tools, forums, file management etc. While this set of tools can be highly useful it can also be a little daunting to people who aren’t familiar with all of the tools. That said, you can simply select which tools you want in your project space. So, one strength is the range of functionality.

The real strength though lies with the community members that contribute to Eduforge and use the site for their projects. There’s a lot of innovation going on.

A third strength I believe is the fact that we’re not organisationally aligned. It’s open access to anyone with an interest in education.

TF: Can you suggest 3 weaknesses of the service?

RW: There’s always work to do to build up resources and improve the tools. For example we recently replaced the journal system with a fully featured blogging system. Also, the List Serv was quite clunky so instead we’ve further developed the forum tool so that you can reply to an email straight to the forum without logging on.

Wiki functionality is fast developing. I think we can improve our current wiki system based on PHP Wiki.

In the end though, the community is as strong as its members. I’d like people reading the interview to have a look around Eduforge — where they see areas that need building up perhaps either let us know or help out.

TF: How is the service financed?

RW: In late 2003, the Tertiary Education Commission, an arm of the New Zealand Government implemented a contestable fund for e-learning capability. We were successful with a proposal to select and further work on an open source Learning Management System suitable for the NZ education environment. We selected Moodle in early 2004 and the project team has been very active in the Moodle community ever since.

Eduforge was, sort of, a foundation part of that project as it allows us to collaborate across geographically spread consortium partners.

Of course it’s now turned into a major project in its own right. Recently we received some much appreciated help from the eXe project (http://www.exelearning.org/)

TF: How will the service be developed/extended?

RW: The next initiative we have is to establish an online academic journal or journals that can be accessed via Eduforge. I’m also keen to further develop the RSS feeds area on Planet Eduforge.

TF: Is this an idea whose time has come?

RW: I certainly believe that we’ve hit an inflection point when it comes to using open source solutions in education. There’s some really major projects going underway with some large enterprise level deployments. Open source is a proven, viable alternative to commercial systems.

The Eduforge team would like to be part of the landscape that continues in this direction. Open Source is a real driver for innovation in education and it’s a lot of fun to be involved.

Thank-you for the opportunity for the interview.

Richard Wyles and the team at Eduforge.

[https://eduforge.org/blog/blog.php?/archives/120-Origins-and-Objectives-of- Eduforge.html]

Garmin OpenCaching Is A Hit With Cachers

Garmin has created OpenCaching to encourage and help promote the growth of geocaching while expanding the worldwide community of cachers. OpenCaching is a completely free online community for creating, sharing and finding geocaches around the world. Now anyone can freely enjoy the caches along with the helpful information, such as tips, cache descriptions, previous attempts, etc. According to Dan Bartel, Garmin’s vice president of worldwide sales, by making it free and easy to download every detail of every cache, Garmin is broadening its reputation for ease of use even further into geocaching by creating the most intuitive experience possible. Opencaching.com will introduce more people to this great activity and show them just how exciting geocaching can be for them, their families and friends.

For the uninitiated, geocaching is a fun activity that combines the 4 E’s of all successful outdoor ventures – exploration, exercise, education and entertainment. It is a high-tech treasure hunt where participants of all ages explore the outdoors while hiding, discovering and documenting their access to containers of various shapes and sizes that are filled with treasures. These treasures include collectables, trinkets, bits of cleverness and logbooks for signing in and letting fellow cachers know you were there. Creating a cache is as easy as cleverly hiding a container in a public area, saving the GPS coordinates and uploading them to a website. Finding the location of a cache is as simple as searching the website and downloading those details to a handheld GPS device. This is where the fun begins, because being at the site coordinates doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve found the geocache.

OpenCaching.com gives both creators and seekers a way to quantify the “overall awesomeness” of any given cache. While every cache has its enjoyable elements that make it unique, everyone has personal favorites that defy traditional descriptions. For that reason, OpenCaching.com lets users rank the overall awesomeness in addition to size, ruggedness of terrain and difficulty to find. These four factors are displayed in a color-coded, interactive bulls-eye for each cache, giving geocachers a distinctive visual of the fun that lies ahead. Cachers themselves can rate these factors, turning the bulls-eye into a graphic representation of peer reviews.

The strength of OpenCaching lies within the geocaching community which ranges from diehard cachers to classrooms trying it for the first time. Everyone, regardless of experience, has access to the same information and is invited to get as involved as they want. OpenCaching will work with any GPS device or software package that can read GPX files, regardless of the manufacturer. So, pack up and head out on your geocaching adventure.

Applying For Jobs In A Nursery

A lot of people are now looking for jobs in nurseries. This sudden burst in nursery jobs was caused by the like burst in the number of nurseries due to governmental initiatives to improve childcare. As more people are now considering jobs in nurseries, how to get one has now become a frequently asked question. Here are some tips on how to apply for jobs in a nursery.

Applying to jobs in a nursery is a step-by-step process. In general, there are no strict qualifications to become a nursery worker. In short, anyone can work in a nursery. But as more people are now applying for the same jobs, childcare centers will naturally prefer qualified candidates. The qualifications that some childcare centers look for differ based on the job level you are applying for. Nursery nurses and officers may be expected to have a CACHE Diploma in Child Care and Education, an NVQ/SVQ Level 3 in Early Years Care and Education, and a BTEC National Diploma in Early Years. On the other hand, those who are applying for a nursery assistant post may have better chances with a certificate in Child Care and Education, an NVQ/SVQ Level 2, and a City and Guilds Level 2 Award in Early Years Care and Education. But if you are after a senior position, also known as the nursery manager post, you will need an advanced CACHE Diploma in Child Care and Education, an NVQ/SVQ Level 4, or a CACHE Professional Development Award. Some nurseries may also require prior nursery work experience for nursery nurses, or even administrative experience for nursery assistants.

If you have these qualifications, the rest of the application process can be a breeze. You just have to be assertive and careful at the same time. Remember that child care and education is now a very active field. A lot of people have set their sights on the same job you are eyeing. To make sure that you, and not someone else, get the job, make sure that you dress yourself up to impress. Not literally, though. It all simply starts with your CV.

Before sending in an application as a response to a posting for a job in a nursery, prepare your CV or Curriculum Vitae. Some companies may not require CV’s, but preparing one is like going the extra mile. Some companies may also require it, so it pays to have it ready. In preparing your CV, there are five things you should remember. First, don’t send a CV without a cover letter. The cover letter should include an introduction of yourself. It is also your more direct and personal message to the employer why they should hire you.

When your cover letter is ready, back it up with a well-composed CV. A well-composed CV equates to being three things: clear, concise, correct. Be clear and specific about the information you write in your CV. This will help the companies get a better idea of your background. However, make sure to be concise. Don’t overload your CV with information that the readers will be put off. Finally, make sure all he information in your CV are correct. Don’t put in things that are untrue. This might ruin your chances entirely.

To write a CV effectively, also keep the job that you are applying for in mind. Look at the job description, then match yourself to the job by highlighting the traits, skills, and background you have that will help you do the job well. The fourth thing to remember in preparing a CV is that the physical look of your CV also matters. Make sure that your CV is neat, clean, and free from errors. Finally, make sure that you place your contact information in your CV, and in a part where it can be easily seen so employers don’t have to look for it.

Once you submit your CV, and it passes employer standards, expect to be called for an interview. The interview is not a test. It is a way for the employers to know you personally, and to gauge you in terms of your personality and confidence. The mere fact that you were called for an interview means that, technically, you are qualified for the job. You’re one step away from a rewarding and fulfilling job in a nursery.

Technology in the Classroom – Ways to Integrate Educational Technology Into Your Teaching Practice

Here are some technology things that you could do with your students. Not everything may be feasible (i.e. cost factors) or appropriate (i.e. security or privacy issues):

  • some of the things we’re already doing,
  • some of the things we’re thinking of doing, and,
  • some of the things are simply wishful thinking, but great ideas have to start somewhere…

How do you integrate technology into the curriculum? Do you have any ideas to add to the list?

Class Set of Laptops

  • Get a company to donate a class set of laptops when they upgrade their equipment. (The company can receive a charitable donation tax-credit.)
  • Set up a wi-fi hotspot in your classroom so that students can blog online during independent reading and writing workshops.
  • Purchase digital copies of textbooks to have a paperless classroom. Use text-reading software (i.e. Kurzweil) to highlight and take notes in the textbook.

Non-Traditional Reading and Writing

  • Teach students the differences between formal, informal, and colloquial language and explore text messaging, chat rooms, and msn-speak as forms of colloquial language.
  • Evaluate the evolving nature of language and develop word-attack skills by examining how words get accepted into everyday language (or the dictionary). For example, Google is now a commonly used noun and verb.
  • Use text-reading software (i.e. Kurzweil) to allow students to access difficult texts.

Blogging

  • Have students set up personal blogs as a medium to publish their writing portfolios.
  • Explore how Google is a popularity contest. Publish work in an e-zine article directory to understand how to build inbound links. Post comments on other blogs to build inbound links.
  • Explore copyright issues. Publish work in a blog or an e-zine article directory will inevitably end up with your work scraped onto another blog without proper attribution. Explore how that feels and the ethics of using other people’s content without consent.

Computer Safety

  • Discuss cyber-bullying: ways to protect yourself, how to respond when it happens, and how to avoid accidentally cyber-bullying when blogging.
  • Explore computer safety: password strength, viruses, trojans, phishing, etc.
  • Learn about online dangers and ways to protect yourself.

Classroom Website

  • Make hand-outs and homework assignments accessible on a classroom website.
  • Use a secure website as a communication tool for marks for both parents and students.
  • Introduce your students to HTML and web design.

Making Money Online

  • Introduce students to the business of making money online.
  • Explore advertising online – how it works.
  • Fund raise by selling stuff on e-bay.

GPS and Mapping Technology

  • Geo-cache with your students.
  • Use GPS technology or mapping software (i.e. Google Earth) in math class to construct larger geometric shapes. (i.e. construct a circle that has a radius of 5 city blocks.)
  • Apply GPS technology or mapping software in Geography.

The Internet as a Global Village / Community

  • Find a class to pen-pal with and correspond using blogs, email, or IRC chat rooms.
  • Use a wiki for students to synthesize and evaluate knowledge gained in a content-subject like History or Geography. They can track how their understanding of concepts grow. Demonstrate how our understanding of a subject-specific topic evolves over time (i.e. a dynamic and digital KWL chart)
  • Publish student work in English and in their first language online so that relatives overseas can celebrate in their success.

Technology as a Teaching Tool

  • Use a data-projector in class to do modeled and shared readings.
  • Use a data-projector in class to do shared writing: the modern equivalent of flip-chart paper
  • Use dynamic geometry software (i.e. Geometer’s Sketchpad) to explore math concepts.

Music and Technology

  • Buy songs (i.e. itunes) and allow students to DJ their own school dances.
  • Critically examine popular music to determine whether mainstream music is appropriate at a school dance (i.e. Soulja Boy – Crank that)
  • Create your own pod-casts. Students can use free sound-editing software (i.e. audacity) to mix in free sound effects (i.e. ljudo.com) with their digital recordings of their voices.

Class Projects

  • Send an object around the world and invite people who find the object to leave a message online in the classroom blog.
  • Explore the video making process: scripts, recording, editing, post-production
  • Explore YouTube as a medium to publish content.