MOCSL Tools and focusing on user empowerment

So Day 3 at Open Ed 2007 is underway. DJ RSS just rocked the mic with a free form exposition on openness, free tools, mashups and remix culture.

The conference has been really worthwhile on a number of levels – opening my mind to how the needs for localization might be reconciled with the ongoing divergence of needs between leanrers from developed and developing world, and opening my heart to the moral imperative that is OER.

But there was one low point for me, which was learning that funding for COSL’s “Making Open Content Support Learning” toolset had not been renewed in this current round of funding.

Funders will fund what they fund, not much I can do about that; I just wanted to write this post so that I could say publicly what I’ve said privately to a number of folks here, which is that I am really sad to hear about this, because I think these tools and this effort were really promising and important, because they focus on individual learner empowerment in the networked world of OER resources, something you can probably tell from the short movie on client-side tools that I released yesterday, I believe to be an important aspect of improving the chances of OER content efforts to effect learning across the internet as a whole. Funded or not, I plan to continue pointing people to these tools, evangelizing them and their like, and finding my own ways to continue working on these kinds of learner-centric tools. And hopefully this post is understood in the spirit it was written, simply the honest words of an often impolitic blogger . – SWL

My OpenEd Demonstrator – Augmenting OER with Client-Side Tools

Back in June I submitted a paper proposal to OpenEd 2007. In August, the day before I was to go camping, I heard back that while my proposal hadn’t been accepted, I was invited to participate in a ‘Demonstrator’ session (basically a Poster session set up at the end of Day 2).

I have to admit that I was a bit crushed at first. But very quickly I turned this around; not only did I realize that this was a good decision by the organizers in terms of my proposals’ content and the general tenor of the accepted presentations, I also realized that doing a ‘demonstrator’ in the right way would give me an opportunity to reach a wider audience than doing a straight presentation.

So the result is this 10 minute Flash movie demonstrating a few of the ways learners can augment their experience of OERs (in fact the web in general) using client-side (mostly) tools that they control. This idea of client-side tools (by which I mean extensions, bookmarklets and Greasemonkey scripts) really appeals to me because it starts to shift the locus of control back to the learner and away from centrally provisioned server tools. The point in doing this? Well, in addition to simply raising awareness of these techniques, the point in presenting this specifically at OpenEd is as a small challenge to what I see as a past tendency towards monolithic (and not mashup friendly) content in some of the formal OER projects, and to counter what seems to me like the chauvinism that people are going to consume your OER courses on your site, in the way you dictate. In my mind, OERs will really start to succeed when they can augment our experience of the learning space that is the entire internet, instead of sitting off to the side and requiring learners to self-identify that they want an OER. As I say in my final slide “People need their OER even when they are not on an OER site!”

Was this a successful experiment? Well, in my mind, not totally. I really wanted to show more examples, for instance like WikiProxy, of Greasemonkey scripts that dynamically link to supplemental resources without a lot of semantic underpinnings. You know, loosely connected. But I couldn’t get WikiProxy working properly, ran out of time in my own development efforts (but more on this soon) and as much as I think the new OER Recommender by COSL is a good illustration of this technique, it felt kind of superfluous to demo this where it was actually developed 😉

I also think one can validly challenge the extent to which the techniques I demonstrate actually enhance learning. I think they do, but I can see how others would disagree. So my question to you – what other ‘client side enhancements’ have you found that learners can use independently to augment existing coontent and improve their learning experience on the web. I am really interested to hear more ideas!

There are other pieces that I didn’t get to show but that if you are interested you can find out more in my links for the presentation. Specifically, how you can perform some of these tricks in other browsers (through things like Turnabout and Creammonkey), how organizations can distribute these tools through mechanisms like custom toolbars, customized portable apps on cheap thumb drives and how yoyu can turn Greasemonkey scripts into proper extensions. Enjoy! – SWL

Familiar Taste – Greasemonkey script to help you remember what you’ve tagged

So after about the 100th time of trying to tag a site in that I’d already tagged before (early onset alzheimer’s?!? More likely the effects of my misspent youth), I thought to myself “Someone has got to have already built something that queries in the background and lets you know if you’ve already tagged a page.” And sure enough, someone had, using Greasemonkey.

This script (great name!) displays a small piece of text on the screen with the tags you used (and optionally, how many other folks have tagged it to) on any page you visit that is already in your links and then gently fades away (the fade time can be configured). I use the extension for Firefox already, and this would seem like a natural addition they could build into it, but until then, this script does exactly what I want. – SWL