Archive for October, 2006

OpenLearn LearningSpace and LabSpace launched

October 26, 2006

It’s official… the Open University has now taken centre stage as one of the world’s biggest players in Open Educational Resources – launching 900 study-hours worth of learning materials freely available under the Creative Commons license immediately, and many thousands of hours of material in hundreds of different content areas to follow over the next 2 years.

Excerpts from the official Open University Press Release:

The Open University’s commitment to broadening access to education is being taken to another level with the launch of OpenLearn, its major new open content initiative. The OpenLearn website will make educational resources freely available on the internet, with state-of-the-art learning support and collaboration tools to connect learners and educators.

The site [OpenLearn] is live from today (Wednesday, October 25). This £5.65 million project, generously supported by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, will cover a full range of subjects from arts and history to science and nature, at all study levels from access to postgraduate.

Available to learners and educators throughout the UK and worldwide, the project will be of particular significance in The Open University’s efforts to widen access to hard-to-reach groups and tackle educational disadvantage both within the developed and developing worlds.

We had a great kickoff event in London yesterday, with key addresses from Bill Rammel MP, the Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education; Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law at the Stanford Law School, Marshall Smith, Director of the Education Program for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, which sponsors OpenLearn, and Brenda Gourley, Open University Vice Chancellor.

I went down there with a strong contingent from KMi: Simon Buckingham Shum, Peter Scott, Alex Little, Michelle Bachler, Elia Tomadiki, and Ale Okada, all in place to enthuse about and demonstrate the three KMi technologies that form a key component of the companion LabSpace environment: Compendium, FlashMeeting, and MSG.

Stay tuned for upcoming developments in this space. The basic OpenLearn site is built on top of Moodle, and the key is not how it looks today, but where it is going. Take a look at Tony Hirst’s blog entry about this for a glimpse of some great new ideas, and check out the OpenLearn LabSpace companion site!

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Desolation Row, or was it 115th Dream?

October 19, 2006

Well, not quite, but it had that Dylan-esque, slightly-surreal feel about it, and if it hadn’t been a real sequence of events and observations, would have sounded like a few songs I can think of. What am I talking about? The following little vignette:

There we were, walking through London the other evening near the Islington area… I had just recorded a product testimonial for the QVC shopping channel… was deep in conversation; vaguely aware of the commotion of two ambulances in the street; glimpsed a bicycle crumpled in the road, dented wheel spinning; sidled past a couple of deaf street-cleaners wearing bright yellow reflective jackets, sweeping up broken glass, gesturing to each other in fluid sign-language across 30 feet of road; rounded the corner, accosted by a man carrying a big old vacuum cleaner cradled in his arms, saying “do you know anyone who wants to buy an old Hoover?”

Hey, trust me, I couldn’t MAKE this stuff up! Or if I could, I’d be writing songs instead… Hmmm… the last time I did this walk was the crazy day a whale found its way up the Thames (blogged it on 21st Jan)… Now, QVC… that’s a great story for another day: and you thought Amazon was big…

Geolocation: geonames ontology published

October 16, 2006

From Bernard Vatant via Tom Heath

…. the 6 million and growing
geographical features in the data base of Geonames [1] are now
described by a OWL ontology [2], and the RDF description of each
instance, including names, type, of course geolocation elements, is
now available through Geonames Webservice, adding to an already
impressive pack of services [3]. The ontology is very simple, and
leverage elements of the wgs84_pos vocabulary [4]. The feature types
are described using a simple SKOS vocabulary, which has been embedded
in the OWL ontology.

If you add that, thanks to Google Maps API, the geonames features can
be created and edited through a wiki-like interface [5], this as Web
2.0 as can be.

Comments welcome, either here or in the Geonames forum [6]



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Slocum’s comment environment (for teaching)?

October 10, 2006

Tony Hirst pointed me (via an Ajaxian article) to Jack Slocum’s fantastic blog comment environment.

Why is it fantastic?

Three main reasons:

1. It looks good: blog commenting right now is a little haphazard, and looks positively stone-age compared to what we know modern tools are capable of

2. It brings order to chaos: comments can be contextualised ‘at the point of sale’ so to speak, i.e. placed where they are intended. This is exactly the strength of D3E, the Digital Document Discourse Environment of Simon Buckingham Shum and Tammy Sumner (open source and downloadable from SourceForge).

3. It pushes the envelope on interactivity in blogs-as-forums: communities of discourse are very important to the blogging world, but right now a little bit of ‘detective work’ is still needed to ferret out the ebb and flow of conversation, and this will help ease the detective work.


The main one for me is that the granularity of the commentary may become an overwhelming burden, i.e. it may become hard to see the wood for the trees, so to speak. For example, someone’s comment about paragraph 2 may be really important as a rebuttal to someone else’s comment about pargraph 4, and they even miss each other. But time will tell, and I daresay future iterations will adress that: this is clearly an experiment worth doing!

What does it have to do with teaching?

Tony Hirst’s “heads up” was precisely so that we could begin looking at this kind of capability to enhance the ebb and flow of discussion/debate in a teaching context, e.g. in the next iteration of OpenLearn. Great idea.

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