Open Source alternatives – check out

I have a great team of people working in our School Library who all contribute to our collective learning about Web 2.0 and new ideas for learning. Chris is our AV tech and he has been a real find – he’s young and uses these tools in his everyday life so knows his stuff. He was using GIMP today to alter a PDF document (an amazing poster created by one of our students for our Project Global Cooling concert. It needed a couple of minor changes.) Today he alerted me to, a website that provides you with open source alternatives to programs you have to purchase. They’ve just introduced a new category in their software directory for open source alternatives for educational and science software. Here’s what they have to say about this;

“The software listed will be for students as well as school administrators. Also there will be software that focuses on elementary school and high school (k12), college and university. Simulation software and educational games will also be included in the new category.”

They’ve just launched this with four products: Moodle, Sakai, Flight Gear and Octave. They provide clear, detailed outlines of what the software offers and have a ratings system so that their readers can provide input.  No doubt this list for education will grow. One to watch and add to your delicious or diigo account.




Blogging serious for your health – join Twittercise!

I’ve been talking a lot recently about trying to get balance in my life – kinda feel like things are a bit out of control and I need to work smarter not harder (favourite saying of my husband!!) This is looming larger as I face the prospect of the start of term two tomorrow and all that that will bring with it. We have our Project Global Cooling concert on Saturday the 19th of April and this is going to mean full on commitment for the next two weeks along with parent teacher nights and the expectations of my job. To top it all off I read Will Richardson’s latest post that referred to a New York Times article (In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop) about bloggers who have suffered heart attacks and died recently. It seems that the pressure of posting regularly and pipping other bloggers at the post may have contributed to the deaths of two prominent bloggers in the technology arena. These are bloggers who get paid per post. I don’t get a cent yet feel some of that pressure. I have to admit this is self inflicted as I set myself the onerous task of trying to write a post a day this year- sometimes I do think I am my own worst enemy.

I’m about to set myself another onerous target and announce it publicly here. All this blogging has led to a sedentary state of affairs and all that comes with it. I used to be an avid exerciser (are you getting any clues about me yet- my obsessive compulsive addiction to things- I’m learning things about myself as I write!!) I used to be proud of my biceps and triceps but no more. Something needs to be done. I have an impressive set of weights in my back room but haven’t been near them in months. Time for change. Tomorrow sees a new lifestyle that marries with my networked life. I’m introducing Twittercise and encourage you to join me, particularly if you live in Australia or have a complimentary time zone. I’m going to tweet on Twitter when I’m starting my Twittercise session and hope it may prompt some of you to get out of your seats and do a bit of good old fashioned exercise. It may be walking the dog, doing sit ups, or pumping weights. Whatever works for you. We have to recognise that the sedentary online lifestyle is doing our health no good. Balance is very important and a healthy body and lifestyle contribute to this (as well as the regular blog post!). Hope to see some of you readers joining me. I’m jennyluca on Twitter – look for the tweets – probably around 7.00 – 7.30 Melbourne time all going well. Our new approach to our networked life starts tomorrow!! 

Google Docs – offline option coming with Google Gears plugin

I’ve been spouting to anyone who’ll listen about the great things Google are doing to provide free options rather than having to fork out hundreds of dollars on software like Microsoft Office. It’s going to be revolutionary for schools once people realise the benefits of a system that allows you to store your documents online, access them from any computer anywhere in the world and have the abilty to share the document with others so that many people can collaborate on the one document. It’s another leveller and will enable schools with limited budgets to save money that they they then move to other areas of need – perhaps the purchase of more computers to enable their students to access what Google now offers everyone. I love the idea of storing documents online – major computer crashes will no longer be the major disasters they can be if you’re storing on the Web rather than your hard drive.

One of the drawbacks had been the fact that you needed an Internet connection to access your documents -there was no offline functionality. Well, Google have adressed this and an offline option should be available in the next few weeks. Google Gears, which currently operates with Google Reader, is going to be enabled to work with Google Docs to allow offline functionality. tech2news around you has said this about the new development;

“Over the next three weeks or so, Google will turn on the feature for all word processor users, giving them the ability to view and edit documents while offline. During the same time period, Google Docs’ spreadsheet will gain offline ability for viewing, but not editing, documents.

Google Docs’ third component, an application to make slide presentations, will remain for now without offline access. However, Google has plans to extend the offline access to it and to other hosted services in the Google Apps suite, of which Docs is part.”  

Any work done offline will be automatically synchronised with Google Docs servers when you reconnect with the Internet.

This makes selling the good news about Google Docs a whole lot easier. I hope the message spreads and that people in the wider world who don’t operate in these networks find out about what is possible now. That’s why it’s vitally important that we as educators who know these things spread the word. Google Docs is an ideal way to set up collaborations between groups of students within a school, and collaborations with classrooms outside of your school both locally, nationally and globally. I hope to explore these possibilities with students at my school this year.  

School’s out Friday – migrating penguins!

Thought we should revisit April Fools’ Day for this week’s School’s out Friday post. This was the effort from the BBC – a really well put together promo for a supposed documentary about a colony of Penguins with the abilty to fly who migrate to the rainforests in the Artic winter.  If you want to check out other online practical jokes that took place this April 1st, follow this link to April Fools’ Day on the Web

Personal Learning Networks – finding the right balance

I’ve posted recently about how I’m finding it difficult to achieve the right balance between my online activities and my real world life. I think things have exacerbated for me because it’s been school holidays and I’ve had more time to expand my Personal Learning Network. I’ve been more active on Twitter and have been able to access networks at different times of the day, rather than the couple of hours a night that is the norm for me during the school working week. There have been others posting about the same thing – it seems there is too much to learn and too little time.

David Warlick wrote about needing a zipper for his PLN so that he could control it and allow himself time to do things like play his guitar and veg in front of the TV. Jeff Utecht picked up on this and has written a very useful post where he outlines the stages of Personal Learning Network adoption. I love the diagram he has produced to explain these stages and hope he doesn’t mind that I insert it here (notice that he has given it a creative commons licence so everything should be fine!);


I’m definitely at stage 3 but think I’m starting to move into stage 4. No doubt this has been prompted by members of my family using the words ‘internet addiction’ and the fact that my kids are over my blog and sick of seeing me with my computer at all times of the day and night. I’m also just so tired – the school holidays are nearing an end and I don’t feel rested at all. I’m in an almost constant state of thinking about how we apply these ideas into our educational settings; I toss ideas around and try to make sense of the vast amount of knowledge that I’ve been exposed to. I’m loving it but realise that balance is important – roll on stage 5!

Transformativeness – new word for me but it makes sense

For a long time now I’ve struggled with how to interpret the fair use provision when it comes to Copyright law. It’s a vexed issue for we educators, and particularly those of us who work in school libraries. I’ve been having my students create Digital Stories for awhile now and have tried to impress on them the best way of accessing music and images from the web is via sites that put their content out there under Creative Commons licencing. They find this difficult however, particularly when it comes to music. Very often they know just the right song that fits the message they are trying to convey. Here in Australia, there is a clause related to use of music and sound recordings in student work;

“There is no general provision that allows people to copy for personal or private use. However, the Copyright Act does contain provisions which students may sometimes be able to rely on, including when they want to use music and sound recordings in films and videos they make as part of a course of study. In particular, a student may be able to deal with copyright material for research or study, provided the use is fair. An example of fair dealing for research or study may be using music in a film which is to be submitted for a school or university project, but which you do not intend to show outside the classroom or distribute further.” (Australian Copyright Council p.3)

Tonight I was following the discussion on Twitter when Kristin Hokanson alerted me to her post about copyright confusion. This in turn led to Joyce Valenza’s post  for the School Library Journal entitled, ‘Fair use and transformativeness: It may shake your world’. After reading it, I can say my world has been shaken. Joyce attended a meeting at which Renee Hobbs and Peter Jazsi outlined an interpretation of fair use that she had not considered. Her understanding at the end of the session was this;

“I learned on Friday night that the critical test for fairness in terms of educational use of media is transformative use. When a user of copyrighted materials adds value to, or repurposes materials for a use different from that for which it was originally intended, it will likely be considered transformative use; it will also likely be considered fair use. Fair use embraces the modifying of existing media content, placing it in new context.” 

The word transformative is key here. The suggestion is (I think!) that if a student uses an image or piece of music and adds value to it by maker it richer as a result of its association with what they have produced then the use is fair. I can relate this to the digital stories my students have produced .Often they will use a commercial piece of music but its connection with the images and intention of the students’ work is transformative to that music selection – it means something else other than what its lyrics may have been originally intended for. I may have this completely wrong and please correct me if I have, but that is my understanding of what transformative means.

Joyce summed up her article by condensing her understanding to these points;

  • The Multimedia Fair Use Guidelines describe minimum rules for fair use, but were never intended as specific rules or designed to exhaust the universe of educational practice.  They were meant as a dynamic, rather than static doctrine, supposed to expand with time, technology, changes in practice.  Arbitrary rules regarding proportion or time periods of use (for instance, 30-second or 45-day rules) have no legal status. 
  • The fact that permission has been sought but not granted is irrelevant.  Permission is not necessary to satisfy fair use.
  • Fair use is fair use without regard to program or platform. What is fair, because it is transformative, is fair regardless of place of use. If a student has repurposed and added value to copyrighted material, she should be able to use it beyond the classroom (on YouTube, for instance) as well as within it. 
  • Not every student use of media is fair, but many uses are. One use not likely to be fair, is the use of a music soundtrack merely as an aesthetic addition to a student video project. Students need to somehow recreate to add value.  Is the music used simply a nice aesthetic addition or does the new use give the piece different meaning? Are students adding value, engaging the music, reflecting, somehow commenting on.the music?
  • Not everything that is rationalized as educationally beneficial is necessarily fair use.  For instance, photocopying a text book because it is not affordable is still not fair use.
  • Joyce is speaking from an American perspective but I think there is much to be learned from her article. We are living in transformative times and our students are active creators now that there are accessible tools making creation relatively easy – if only copyright law could follow suit and provide us with clear (read easy to understand) guidelines that will benefit the learning taking place in our classrooms today.

    (sorry about formatting problems in this post – it’s late here, I’m tired and haven’t got the energy to sort them out!!) 

    Professional Development – not shameless self promotion.

    Are you like me? Is your head swimming with everything that is now possible in our world as a result of the Web and the ease of transfer of information? We are so connected in today’s world. I can get onto Twitter and make connections with educators around the world and share ideas – I can find out what’s new and add my two cents worth to the conversations taking place. I read feeds coming to me in my Google Reader and am in awe of educators who are willing to share their knowledge to empower others. I am thankful to software developers who are willing to provide open source products that are making our lives easier to manage and our classrooms more interesting. I feel like I am in a constant state of professional development and what has it cost me? Time and an internet connection. What has it cost my school? Nothing this year – I haven’t been to one PD session and yet I feel like my knowledge attainment has been exponential.  How will this benefit my school? Plenty. I have knowledge and am willing and eager to find ways to share it – writing this blog is one of vehicles I am using (just hope some are reading!). 

    I’ve been mulling this around the last 24hrs after reading Liz Davis’ post where she reflected on how she wondered if alerting people to her blog posts via twitter was an act of shameless self promotion. The post resonated with me because I’ve shared these thoughts – is what I’m doing a way of grandstanding? Look at what I know- nah nah na nah na! I’ve talked it over with friends who aren’t a part of this network and they tell me they are learning from what I am writing so I feel like what I’m offering is worthwhile and not self serving. I think people who are blogging about educational technology should be giving themselves a bit of a pat on the back – what I’m finding from my reading and conversations is on mass Pofessional Development for free!

    One of my colleagues in the Library I work at passed this YouTube video from Charles Leadbeater onto me today. It’s called ‘We think’ and is companion to a book he has published exploring the potential  of the Internet in today’s world. It fits with what I’ve just talked about. Our world is changing and the way we attain knowledge is central to the change. Our students are going to benefit from this – no longer is knowledge in the hands of the few. It’s open to all to consume and produce – the playing fields are opening up and the game is on!