Archive for June, 2007

Open Source Assessment

June 8, 2007

In Half an Hour: Open Source Assessment, Stephen Downes commented on what “…the ideal open online course would look like. …[his] eventual response was that it would not look like a course at all, just the assessment.” And he goes on to talk about that assessment in authentic assessment terms.
His reasoning was: “were students given the opportunity to attempt the assessment, without the requirement that they sit through lectures or otherwise proprietary forms of learning, then they would create their own learning resources.”

This ties into two threads of conversation I’m having with Theron. The first is how the university could use Web 2.0 ideas to respond to a Governor’s order to close during a flu pandemic, I wrote an emergency packet for this event. (Theron noted that the skills in my packet are the skills we’d want students to have when they leave the university, so we jokingly re-purposed the packet “Open in case of graduation…”)

The second thread is the project we are kicking off for the our ePortfolio competition. (As the links might change, here are three pointers into the work: the 2006-07 contest and the portfolio of its results and the 2007-08 pre-announcement.) The 2006-07 contest asked students to make a portfolio to document some aspect of their learning, and we got some very interesting (and diverse) results. The idea of the 2007-08 contest is that students are to find a problem facing WSU or their community and develop a solution to that problem, then document their learning in a portfolio.

To help prompt students to join the contest, we are collecting short summaries of students at WSU who have already done similar work in the context of classes. In a distance degree course, Decision Science 470, students were challenged to find a problem within their workplace, form teams around the problem and solve it. (Students saved a dairy plant from closing, found new ways to manage inventory, and improved performance of call centers.) In Human Development 410, distance students were challenged to find an problem in their community that mattered to them and learn about the policy and political aspects of the problem in order to understand and become an “engaged citizen” around the issue.

What is missing in Stephen Dowens analysis above, that we had in the courses, is an idea of how to leverage the group of learners to enhance their learning. In the John Seeley Brown notion of repair technicians always having their radios on and thereby becoming a community of practice, the course can be a hub for a community of practice. The designs for the courses above were a set of prompts that scaffolded some open activities (e.g., interview a member of the community who has expertise in your problem but who’s perspective differs from yours, ask how they organize to advance their political goal.). Students share their work on the activities (we used threaded discussion, but Web 2.0 solutions might have advantages), and feedback among peers is encouraged and structured with a rubric. As Stephen suggests, the final assessment is open and the evidence for the assessment is some form of synthetic response (aka portfolio or essay) to the course’s overarching question.

This design does not depend on a central role of the instructor, in fact, we have a growing body of evidence that students can use a rubric to provide peer evaluations that agree very well with faculty assessment (agree as well as faculty agree among themselves). In the case of pandemic, this means that the course could proceed and succeed in the absence of the instructor.

So, given Stephen’s open assessment model, what is the role of the university? I think its role is to make occasions for learners to form communities of practice and networks among themselves as a collection of experts. It might credential, based on these open assessments, but its graduates would have portfolios of authentic work that would be open to evaluation by employers and others outside. Further, because the graduates would be members of communities of practice, they would have reputation that would help third parties assess their knowledge and skills. Web 2.0 thinking lets us have conversations about how such a university might be decentralized, either in time of crisis, or to serve a distributed community.


DIGG user revolt, FON, and Social Networking

June 6, 2007

It started for me with an exploration of the plugin for Firefox. I found an option to “Show related tags and users.” To explore it, I thought, I’d grab a URL from

I took this from BBC News

Attempts to gag the blogosphere from publishing details of a DVD crack have led to a user revolt.

But the article itself is interesting. Seems that a hacker cracked the code for the digital rights management (DRM) on HD DVDs. As word spread, users posted the news on DIGG. The “…controversy [DIGG] has become embroiled in centres on a decision by the Advanced Access Content System Licensing Administrator (AACS), the consortium behind the DRM for HD-DVD disks, to gag websites and bloggers that published information about [the] software key…”

Interesting problem for the AACS. Much like the problem faced by the recording industry and music sharing. They can go to central services like DIGG and demand they cease posting the links, but going to each member of the blogosphere and serving papers is harder.

Showing my age, it reminds me of the Vietnam war and US attempt to eradicate the Viet Cong. We destroyed villages (by analogy blog sites) but the guerrillas melted into the jungle (by analogy the Web) only to re-emerge or regroup later.

And in the process of the exploration above, (contrary to my preference of frequenting establishments with free wireless) I was at a restaurant that didn’t have WiFi, but some enterprising resident in the apartment above was offering FON, who’s site claims:

“FON is the largest WiFi community in the world. FON is a Community of people making WiFi universal and free. Our vision is WiFi everywhere made possible by the members of the Community, Foneros. We share some of our home Internet connection and get free access to the Community‚Äôs FON Spots worldwide!”

FON provides you a access point and setup such that you can restrict use of your access point to FON members (Foneros) or users who pay FON $3/day. The access point owner gets a cut. It seems FON is a European phenomenon, judging from the maps they have of access point locations.