Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Open Minds Momentum

Has Open Source in Education reached a Tipping Point-- “the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable?” Anyone attending the K12 Open Minds Conference would be hard pressed to argue otherwise. “Let’s Declare Victory!” and move on to the next steps was certainly the tone starting with the PreConference Summit (lead by Bryant Patten and Donna Benjamin) and Large Scale Deployment (lead by Steve Hargadon) in Indianapolis, Indiana.

In his book, “The Tipping Point”, Malcom Gladwell, outlines what it takes for an idea, movement, or product to achieve a moment of critical mass: The salesman; The maven; The connector. The K12 Open Minds Conference was an opportunity to witness the incredible energy and synergy when those 3 forces come together in one place. Having students, teachers, tech directors, school leaders, who use open source software for teaching and learning converse and collaborate with the developers of those tools truly created an Open Minds energy throughout the conference. If you missed it, perhaps you can still pick up a few tips, tools, or resources with my takeaways from this conference.

  • I got a chance to meet teachers like Michelle Librach who lead sessions like Audacious Audacity targeted at teachers. While fellow teachers walked away with practical tips on how to use open source in their classrooms, open source developers got a chance to witness first hand the fruits of their labor.
  • I overheard NCOSE award winner, Eric Harrison, humbly admit that he sometimes thinks it's surreal that hundreds of classrooms are benefiting from increased access to computers using K12LTSP -- a project he helped develop.
  • I listened to open conversations about open standards between Walter Bender, developer of open source software, Sugar, and students from Illinois Math and Science Academy who started the first high school chapter for OLPC.
  • I got a sneak preview of the G-Phone which reminded me of of the authentic opportunity that projects like Google’s Summer of Code provide students to contribute to an open community as they develop authentic 21st century skills. “Let’s not stop with getting kids to work WITH open source… let’s get them to work ON open source development.” advocated Bryant Patten’s (director of National Center for Open Source in Education). “Can you think of any better assessment of the new ISTE NETS for Students than having a student contribute to an Open Source Project? “
  • [Photo credit: ISTE NETS for Students]

  • I applauded when keynote speakers reminded us of the the fact that we need to develop the spirit in inquiry in today's students.

    - Alex Inman, advised teachers to “Be quiet. Stop talking and give your students the opportunity to to experience the power of inquiry. Let them DO something. Let them create”.

    - Chris Lehman, also stressed the importance of inquiry at his school, The Science Leadership Academy – “a project-based environment where the core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are emphasized in all classes”.
  • - Dr. David Thornburg, encouraged the use of Open Source (and Duct Tape) to promote creativity in K12 schools and challenged us to prepare the type of student who could repair a moon buggy with duct tape while wearing oven mitts.

  • I was inspired by those in the trenches like Randy Orwin (band teacher turned network administrator) who’s passion for student learning drives every decision he makes, whether it be “hardware purchases, open source adoption, or filtering”. While some open source evangelists get bogged down trying to decide whether to spend their energy on convincing commercial product developers (like Inspiration) to release a Linux version of their product or convincing educators to adopt a “pure” open source alternative like Free Mind, Randy asks “what’s the best decision I can make for 5th graders right now.” This approach gives Randy more time to develop truly pragmatic educational implementation of the open source products he believes are truly best for student learning. I can’t wait to try the “Nanogong” module that adds audio accessibility to Moodle or the other tips Randy shared such as how to turn a Moodle branded page into a bright, exciting, colorful, entry point for first and second grade students.
  • I learned a myriad of tips and tricks for supporting Open Office and other Open Source tools in real classrooms.

    Thank you , Randy, for the Open Office tip about adding clipart libraries such as (WP Clipart) and (Open Clip Art) to Galleries by categories instead of using the Insert Picture method. The ability to see clipart thumbnails and drag them into Open Office documents will remove one of my biggest barrier to Open Office adoption by teachers! And a big thanks for sharing Solveig Haugland's open office blog -- what a teacher friendly resource for anyone using Open Office.

    Also, thank you to Andy Mann and Laura Taylor for being willing to expand your session to include both free and open source software, but to also include lots of invaluable experience about which tools make the most difference in Real Classrooms with ReaL teachers. The enthusiasm and experience you shared from Indiana's InAccess is invaluable to us.
I think the diversity of the audience was one of the strengths of this conference. Yes, it offered plenty of ‘genuine geek time for those genius brains” to network and collaborate. I can’t wait to see what emerges from conversations between folks like those between Robert Arkiletian (developer of a K12LTSP app called FL-Teacher Tool) and Benoit St. Andres (from Revolution Linux). Watching developers collaborate to improve the tools we're excited to use in education has me looking forward to new products and updates.

But mostly this conference brought students, teachers, school leaders, network admins, and developers together to promote open resources, technology and teaching practices in education. And when visionaries like Australia's Donna Benjamin bring the spirit of The Cape Town Open Education Declaration and her incredible facilitation skills to such a group, then the mavens, connectors, and salesmen of Open Source in Education are tipping the scales. And perhaps the next step in this collaboration efforts the TRUST as described by our last keynote speaker, Dr. Brad Wheeler, "build the trust to get the leverage we need to enable greater things to happen on the edge." I am leaving this conference revitalized and hopeful that that our school and industry leaders and network administrators will continue to build the infrastructure and systems we need to leverage the great things that open source developers and teachers are making happen to continue the Open Minds Momentum.