Open Ed Jam

Open Ed Jam brought together educators, computer scientists, librarians, non-profit organizers and this student, all of whom are STEM education and open advocates.  The speakers whose talks that I went to were very inspiring and provided refreshing insight to topics that were obviously important to their success.  Beatriz Busaniche is a founding member of Wikimedia Argentina.  Her perspective on Creative Commons made me aware that not everyone agrees on what is considered to be truly open.  To paraphrase the main point of her talk,

Every photo, note, lyric, video, recording, that is being created at this moment and those to come are protected by copyright and will not enter the public domain for decades.  Monopoly is not necessary to create innovation.  Open source software is a great example of this.  Creative Commons licenses are a patch for the copyright problem, because it is my belief that the public domain should be the rule, not the exception.

Until her talk, I had never considered such a strict definition of openness.  Her association of the word monopoly to copyright I had never encountered as well as her opinion that Creative Commons licenses that include non-commercial or no-derivative restrictions are not truly open.  It was refreshing to have my long-held views of Creative Commons licenses challenged as every discussion I have had regarding them has yielded nothing but agreement.  -a dangerous thing, in my opinion.

Free Not-Free

Busaniche elaborated on this, stating that there are appropriate uses for non-commercial and no-derivative restrictions and gave examples of each.  Busaniche cited Creative Commons licensed music recordings as an appropriate application of non-commercial restrictions as one might wish to allow small-scale use of a recording, but would like to disallow record labels from selling it.  In the case of no-derivative restrictions, she cited columns or articles as being an appropriate application of no-derivative restricted licenses as this would prevents anyone from copying 90% of your article while adding something to the text that you did not, indeed, say.  In hindsight, these seem like obvious applications, though I had not quite envisioned such specific uses for these license restrictions.

Walter Bender, former head of MIT’s Media Lab and founding member of Sugar Labs, gave an excellent keynote address on the second day of Open Ed Jam.  Sugar is the user interface for the Linux operating system of the XO laptop, the laptop that is being given away to children across the planet as part of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC)  initiative.  Bender outlined some of his principles and how they apply to his Sugar project.  He told a story about recruiting engineers from across the world.  During their interviews Bender asked the engineers about a great learning moment that they have had.  Bender said, never was their answer “lecture,” rather, their response was unanimously something similar to, “solving a problem I was passionate about.”  Bender proceeded to explain to us how this philosophy has been engineered into the XO laptops.  When a child receives a laptop, they also receive a screwdriver and the responsibility to keep the laptop working.  The provided screwdriver is the only necessary tool required to completely disassemble the XO laptop.  Bender told us about a YouTube video of an 8 year old boy who disassembles the XO all the way to the motherboard and puts it back together.  Because all of the software that runs on the XO laptop is open source, their recipients can not only make hardware repairs, but software fixes too.  Written in Python, Bender stressed that  one does not have to be an experienced developer to write software for the XO.  He said, much of the software patches are contributed by children.  How incredible is that?!

There were also a few break-out sessions that were really interesting and practically apply to my work regarding OER.  One was presented by two Mozilla representatives who presented on Mozilla’s WebMaker tools. This set of four software tools was designed to teach people how to create content for the web. X-Ray Goggles is a tool that allows users to look at the source HTML of websites in order to learn how certain functionalities are achieved. It also allows users to create a copy of their favorite sites and change elements within them such as text and images. Thimble is a browser-based what-you-see-is-what-you-get HTML editor that is easy to use and designed for those new to web design. Popcorn Maker allows users to upload video content or search popular video hosting sites for content to be used in a video mash-up. In similar fashion to the previous, Appmaker allows users to use predefined app functionalities to create their own mobile apps. I found the Mozilla tools to be especially interesting because they provide all the necessary tools to learn basic web development while introducing their users to open technologies. Lately, Stacy and I have been searching for an elegant way of displaying content in the most universal way possible. So far, putting content into mobile-friendly webpages is the only universal and elegant solution that Stacy and I have found. There is a problem with this; however, and that is the learning curve for people who wish to write HTML but have no experience doing so. These tools are a great way to introduce those unfamiliar with HTML to the basics of web development. Beyond uses for our current OER project, I can see these tools being useful in workshops for students who would like an introduction to web design, outreach events, or Maker events hosted perhaps in the CLC. //

One of the most exciting break-out sessions that I went to at Open Ed Jam was lead by Mark Barnett, a former K-12 teacher. Mark Barnett drives the “GeekBus” to schools, libraries, and community centers within a 150 mile radius of San Antonio teaching K-12 students about microcontrollers, 3D printing, programming, and STEM in general. Mark told us that he lead our session as if we were normal students of the GeekBus. He presented us with a problem for which we were supposed to develop a solution using a set of tools that he provided us. Our task was to emapthetically design a video game controller to be used by a very specific person with very specific needs. Mark asked us to design a game controller that could be used by a teenage boy with muscular dystrophy who has little control over his left hand, either of his arms, or legs. Using a Makey Makey as a keyboard emulator we used some of Mark’s materials as well as anything else that could quickly be pulled together to make prototype game controllers for our scenario. We were given nearly 30 minutes total to brainstorm, draw, and construct our prototype. In the end, each group had made a working game controller and presented its features and the group’s design logic to the other groups. Mark told us that he typically gives his students a couple hours to complete a task similar to that which he gave us. He said that the students continually amaze him with their inventiveness and their ability to understand and carry out such complex engineering tasks.

Mark’s obvious passion for K-12 STEM outreach got me thinking about how we could bring something similar to his GeekBus project to OU. With the CLC opening soon, I couldn’t help but think of ways to utilize that space to achieve this goal. It would be a great place to host workshops, hackathons, or Maker events, on topics like using microcontrollers, basic programming, 3D printing, and the like. Workshops could be for university students who want to step outside of their degree program to be introduced to a new skill, children attending a summer camp, or teachers searching for new ways to teach STEM topics to their classes.

Two recent articles have been published by The Rivard Report on, Return of the GeekBus, and Highlights of Open Ed Jam.


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