Archives For Open source

Kurt Steinhaus is Deputy Cabinet Secretary of Education in New Mexico. (He’s also a marathoner who ran 4:38 at the 2007 Duke City Marathon.) The title of his talk is “Enjoying T-Time by the Sip or by the Gulp?”. His slides will be available on the conference wiki.

Kurt wants us to take action in three areas:

  • 21st Century Skills
  • Robust support systems that function “just in time.”
  • Innovative teaching and learning to keep pace in an increasingly digital world.

Kurt visited Minnesota a couple weeks before his keynote (something I’ve never seen before) and stopped to visit some schools.

What trends did he see?

  • Relentless, intense passion
  • Support system (technical and teching and learning)
  • More school-wide integration

Kurt observed some transitions underway in Minnesota and elsewhere:

  • From purchased licenses to Web 2.0 and open source
  • Application-based to Web-based and mobile learning
  • Isolated and offline to collaborative and online
  • Copyrighted content to shared content
  • Submitting reports to blogs and web publishing

What is the future of technology in education? It’s already here, it’s just not in every school yet.

How can we move forward?

  • Step 1: Where are we?
  • Step 2: Reach a broad consensus on a clear message (vision or goal).
  • Step 3: Meet them where they are and use your “bag of tricks” to move resources toward achieving the vision.

Kurt talked about how to advocate for your vision. Prepare a “One-pager” that you can give to key decision makers. Include the following things and customize your one-pager for each audience.

  • Name
  • Compelling vision
  • Brief overview of history
  • Rationale (why is this essential)
  • Funding request (include recurring and non-recurring costs)
  • Research base

Also, develop an “elevator pitch” that you can deliver to a decision maker in 30 seconds in any setting. One of Kurt’s recommendations: “Make your friends before you need them.”

I’m an enabler

12 Nov 2007

I hear my share of horror stories from educators all over the country about innovative things they’d like to try with their students, but are unable to because of overly restrictive policies from their IT departments. Whether it’s blocked URLs or an unwillingness to load a particular piece of software on a teacher’s computer, IT departments have a lot of power to “regulate” the educational environment.

The IT department is an easy target, but most of the IT directors I know are doing their best to provide a stable computing environment for all the students and staff. The districts I know tend to run pretty lean in the tech department without a lot of extra staff to experiment on new technologies themselves. But most isn’t the same as all. Some IT directors are lazy. They refuse to consider anything new as they trot out the same old excuses about lack of money and time, network security, and the risk of rusting their servers’ router belts if they run open source software. There are some dinosaurs out there, and I’m afraid there’s not much that can be done with them.

But I choose to be an enabler. I choose to find teachers who are excited about technology so I can give them cool tools and see what they do with them. I choose to collaborate with teachers to find ways to maintain a stable network while the teachers experiment with online video, podcasting, and who knows what Web 2.0-ish site they find. I choose to trust teachers to make good decisions about what constitutes an educationally appropriate web site. I don’t have time to do all of that myself, and I’m not willing to be a bottleneck.

Enabling innovation doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind. No one’s letting the inmates run the asylum around here. There has to be a wide open communication channel between IT and the teaching and learning department. (I meet regularly one-on-one with the Director of Teaching and Learning in my district so we can work in unison on initiatives.) Saying “yes” is so much more fun than saying “no,” so I don’t understand why any IT director wouldn’t want to be on the same side as the teachers and learners.

I write this less than a week after the voters in this community rejected three levy requests for additional school funding. Some nasty budget cuts lie ahead for us, and there won’t be nearly as much money in the tech budget as there would have been had the levies been approved. Now more than ever we’ll need to work together to set priorities and move the district forward. I want to be one of the ones moving forward, not holding us back. I’m more happy being an enabler.

Fellow ADE Simon Elliott has got a huge list of free OS X applications on his web site. A huge number of the apps are open source and look like they could be of great use in the classroom. Looking through the list, I see quite a few that I use on a regular basis like WordPress, Cyberduck, Audacity, VLC, and Adium to name just a few.

An article at about a new open source library circulation system caught my eye recently. We’ve had quite a battle getting a new library system going at work, and although I don’t usually use this space to beat up on vendors I feel compelled to name names. Think long and hard before buying InfoCentre from Sagebrush. OK, I’m done. I feel better.

Koha has been around for quite a while, and I almost installed it on a test server a couple years ago. The article mentions a newcomer called Evergreen, and it looks pretty promising too. With two good options out there I think it’s time to give serious consideration to moving away from the expensive, proprietary library systems.

We almost have our InfoCentre system running acceptably now, but our media specialists are so frustrated that I think they’d be willing to consider other options. And here’s another situation where our move toward a virtualized server infrastructure pays off. We can create two fully isolated virtual test servers for Koha and Evergreen without having to scrounge up any real hardware. It’s not the highest priority at this point, but I’ll post some observations about both systems when I get around to trying them.

koha, evergreen, ils, library, infocentre

Here are the links for the open source tools that I mention in my talk at the TIES Conference.

Update: Here are a few more links to products that came up during the session.

ties, ties2006

TIES time again

28 Nov 2006

It’s that time of year again. The TIES Conference starts this Saturday and runs through Tuesday. I’m doing a day-long workshop called Podcasting A–Z that should be a blast. We’re going to cover the full range of podcast production techniques including recording, editing, and publishing. I’m also doing an updated version of the Web 2.0 talk I did at NECC and a new one called “Open Source Tools You Can Use.”

For the record, I encourage all conference-goers to use the “ties2006” Technorati tag.

ties2006, ties

I’m doing a talk at this year’s TIES Education Technology Conference called “Open Source Tools You Can Use.” Here’s the description:

From tech support systems to graphics applications, there are hundreds of free and open source applications that will fit easily into your school’s technology environment. Participants will learn about the open source software model and get a “top 10” list of open source applications.

Now I’ve got plenty of ideas in my head about what apps will constitute my top 10 list, but I’d like to hear from you. What open source applications would make it on your All-Star team?


This isn’t a political blog, and I don’t intend for it to become one. But I just can’t ignore the technology angle that’s brewing in our upcoming U.S. election. I’ve been concerned for some time about the potential for fraud and errors associated with the current state of electronic voting devices. Jon Stokes at Ars Technica has an excellent article summarizing the latest information about voting problems and potential problems with these machines.

Party affiliation is irrelevant here. It’s likely that thousands of voters next Tuesday will have their votes miscast or not accepted at all. While I don’t discount entirely the possibility of carefully planned attempts to manipulate the results of the vote, I’m also reminded of what Napolean said, “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.” My bigger concern is that large numbers of voters will be disenfranchised by simple technical glitches that won’t be properly handled by poorly trained (however well-intentioned) election judges.

Others have called for a government-sponsored project to develop open source voting software and hardware. I think that’s the only solution that has any hope of producing a secure, reliable, and trustworthy system. I would also recommend the Verified Voting Foundation as a good source of information on this topic.

Please read the Ars Technica article and be prepared to stand up for your right to vote next Tuesday.

electronic voting, midterm election, verified voting foundation, election 2006