Two years ago when I was first thinking more about a passion for sharing educational resources, I remembered hearing about a conference called OpenEdJam in San Antonio, TX. It was different than others because it wasn’t just for educators, but also for free software enthusiasts, hardware ‘hackers,’ (makers), and policy makers to come together around developing education that truly sets students ‘free as in libre’. In 2016 the conference was renamed to LibreLearnLab to better reflect the three primary strands of the conference and moved to Boston/MIT.
Day 1: Richard Stallman and more!
As background, in the 1990’s I got into using Linux on my computer because I was interested in the idea of free software and the possibilities. Alas, I never focused enough on programming to learn any language in a meaningful way, and once college started with studies etc I just used graphical tools in linux because there just wasn’t enough imperative to use the command line etc. So, I was familiar with the history of GNU/Linux and the free software foundation, etc – including their enigmatic founder Richard Stallman. What I didn’t know when I submitted two presentations in July to LibreLearnLab was that Richard Stallman would actually be keynoting! I had been excited enough to see Andrew Marcinek the former director of Open Education for the US DOE. Yet there he was speaking on Saturday morning with a wide-ranging speech about his belief in free software. He made the point that using services or proprietary software such as Google Apps removes freedoms because now the software is telling me what I can do with it only, instead of me telling it what I want it to do. It’s a simple statement with a world of implications. He also touched on other issues such as how he never uses cell phones because the act of having it in your pocket means you can be tracked for potentially nefarious purposes. This line of reasoning was extended to using cash only instead of debit cards, never using Facebook or social media, etc. In addition, I’d forgotten but was quickly reminded that he hates the term Open Source although I have to admit I’d been using exclusively when talking about software that has code online available to be shared.
The next presentation for me was one by Dan French on his transformational leadership. There was a lot of good information about his change model executed in Vermont, but the most exciting for me was his adoption of the Open Organization model from the book The Open Organization and forking it to make it more relevant for Education. True Open Source/Open Educational Resource leadership and resourcefulness at its best!
My presentation on OpenEd and how we’re helping encourage efficacy research on Open Educational Resources was fairly well received and I had a great time meeting teachers and non-educators from across the country. We at OpenEd are working on including more Computer Science resources in a way that makes sense as well as ways to incorporate Spanish resources.
Sunday morning started with the highly engaging Stefania Druga and her efforts to create and maintain Maker Spaces across Africa, Europe and the US. She notes that she laughs when people in more developed countries talk about their budgets for Makers Spaces, noting that that could have created 5 maker spaces in other parts of the world because everything gets reused! I also loved anecdotes about turning a webcam into a microscope!
My next session was by Dr. Felix Alvarado and a colleague Desiree Pallais. They have taken Guatemala’s published online curriculum published in PDF and put it online at http://cnbguatemala.org/ . He made the point that it’s all well and good to put curriculum online but 1) Putting it in PDF makes it difficult to modify/adapt 2)The ‘last mile’ to getting it in teachers hands is also difficult. This is especially potent in a country with little infrastructure and thus he has started the OSI in Washington DC to help raise funding and awareness. The idea is that eventually the curriculum in the Wiki can be more seamlessly shared across spanish-speaking countries as well, but there a number of technical and marketing barriers to help that happen first.
My second presentation was on Open Learning Objectives, and a vision of what that can/will look like to have standards that are open to all for revision and input.
My final session was an amazing one all about Rasberry Pi – which to be honest I haven’t really had much of a chance to play with. Two kids/moves/jobs in two years will do that to ya 😉 . It was great to see how even at a Boys and Girls club kids were able to be learning about the advantages of playing/tinkering and LEARNING can happen on very little budget. I greatly enjoyed seeing this hands-on session but didn’t take any notes because my computer battery was running low. (Hence more pics in the Storify for it!)
This kind of conference was a great experience for me personally and needs to happen more. Most of the #GoOpen talk in my experience is not very technical – it’s usually more from educators who don’t know about the hardware/software platforms underlying the curriculum. Likewise, the free and open source software movement doesn’t know much about what teachers actually want and need. With Google classroom and Chromebooks beginning to take over education, there is an opportunity to have those devices themselves be open source software catalysts – imagine if kids started writing even little Chrome extensions that then grew more complicated into web-apps and the like… or teachers were able to automatically tag their shared Google Docs as Creative Commons.
It was definitely the most technical conference I’ve presented at and I was able to hold my own for the most part. It motivated me more to keep picking up how to modify/program but also to not become a full blown programmer and to stay more on the education side of things… there are not that many of us that know both the details of the tech and the pedagogy implications. Perhaps more in Math than other subjects as well but regardless, it’s something I’m committed too. I am very excited to see where the OpenLearningObjectives project will go and look forward to finding more hooks to the FOSS community as my work with OpenEd.com continues!
Feedback for LibreLearnLab next time/throughout the year?
- have three strands of presentations – OER, FOSS, Admin/Leadership
- Help promote presenters of these kinds of ideas at other ed-tech conferences such as at ISTE, NCTM, INACOL, CUE, etc
- Suggest the hashtag #OERFOSS to better encapsulate the ideas?