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Re: [school-discuss] New Software Needed?

Aloha Gary,

having just read through your various openslate project web pages i was surprised that you have not attracted more subscribers.  Your ideas sound good, "revolutionary" even, but where are the participants?  You somewhat allude to this problem when you mention that one of your greatest mistakes was to assume that the value of your project  was self-evident, when, alas, it apparently wasn't.   Regardless, as i see it, what is ultimately needed is organization and cooperation within the OpenSource community.  All of these one-off implementations, stand-alone efforts, isolated projects...who should you bet on?  Why should anyone listen to anyone else? 

The sort of program you advocate could revolutionize education, but a revolution requires cooperation among the revolutionaries. Cooperation is what's missing. Only increased cooperation among opensource developers can lead to a more complete realization of the abstract promise that a revolution in education will be brought about by computers. 

For such cooperation to thrive there needs to be a framework established.  Something like SourceForge, but education specific, ie SchoolForge.  I still continue to believe that SchoolForge is the perfect vehicle to realize the sort of global synergistic program described in: http://www.asymptopia.org/index.php?topic=Documentation that could lead to increased opportunities for funding, recruitment, collaboration, student opportunities, etc etc... in short, the bootstrapping-into-existence of a win-win-win situation that would not occur naturally, but with careful engineering could be developed into a successful, self-sustaining program with benefits for everyone involved, from children to universities to industry.  Or? 

Best Regards,
Charles Cosse

On Sun, Mar 23, 2008 at 4:53 AM, <knowtree@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
Joel Kahn <jj2kk4@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:

> I asked:
> > > Are there any particular kinds of software
> > > that still need to be written to help with the
> > > special needs of homeschooling families/groups?
> Jim Wildman answered:
> >I think everything I would have ever wanted is available.
> And Gary Dunn responded to Jim:
> >You need to raise your expectations. Almost nothing
> >I want is available, commercial or FOSS.
> Could you elaborate, Gary? Your site at openslate.net
> provides some clues, I think, but I would like more
> details about what you believe is lacking. Not that
> I'm about to jump in and write it overnight--certainly
> not all by myself--but I think it would be useful to
> understand the dissatisfactions that exist. After all,
> "dissatisfactions" should really be just another way
> of saying "opportunities." :-)

The question of what software I want that I have not found is difficult to
answer because I cannot describe what does not exist. I do have some ideas,
but to begin with I offer a conceptual answer, then I'll describe the core
application of Chalk Dust.

Walk into any medium to large business office today and you will see
computers on every desk. Little that matters to the business gets done
without the aid of computers. This is quite different than the way things
were thirty years ago, when computers filled large rooms in the basement
and were only used for core transactional processes such as accounting and
inventory control. Roughly ten years ago experts began to criticize the
computer revolution, insisting that the promised savings never showed up.
Today, nobody in management would consider doing their job without a
computer. When the network goes down, people wander around the halls,
frustrated at not being able to work.

There is a range of sophistication to the solutions used. At the low end,
the computer is little more than a fancy typewriter, but even in that role
it saves a tremendous amount of time over the way things got done thirty
years ago using typewriters and typists. At the high end, companies use
complex applications that automate every detail of essential business
processes. In between are valuable analytical tools built with
off-the-shelf software, applications like spread sheets and databases. Also
in the middle are specialized applications that automate routine but
complex tasks such as project management and statistical analysis. The glue
that holds it all together is mail.

Visit a high school today and you will see most things being done the same
way they were thirty years ago. Teachers illustrate lectures by writing on
chalkboards. Students may or may not capture what is said and what is
written on the board. Homework exercises come from textbooks or photocopied
hand-outs. Parents pull their hair out getting their children to bring the
worksheets home in usable condition, and many that get completed never make
it back to class. Where computers can be found they are mostly a subject of
study. When they are used to facilitate education they rarely get beyond
that minimal level of sophistication, word processing.

The driver for office automation was savings, getting more done faster with
fewer people. I believe that similar gains through automation have not
appeared in education because educators believe they cannot reduce the
number of students in school, and teacher unions are strongly opposed to
reducing the number of teachers. The only place where computers have made
any headway is in the office; specifically, student records management.
Grades and attendance do not contribute to a student's education, they are
non-value-added waste imposed by bureaucrats.

My vision for the Open Slate Project is to transform education as we know
it today by integrating automation into every process at least as well as
businesses have done. Honestly, I cannot describe the end state in much
detail because it has not been created. Where we can begin is with what we
already have, and with that we can start to build the foundation upon which
what will come can be built.

Having said that, let me try to get more specific by describing the core
application for the Open Slate Project, call Chalkboard. It is all about
communicating ideas, and is the enabling technology for Chalk Dust


Start with a network whiteboard application. Keep in mind that the slate is
intended to use a pen as its primary input device. Chalkboard's content
area will be designed to combine recognized or typed text and graphics,
much like the Apple Newton's Notes application.

Add in a presentation feature; everything that today would be projected on
the screen at the front of the room is received live on the students'
slates. Everything received is saved to an automatically created file. Now
eliminate the blackboard and the big monitor at the front of the classroom;
they are unnecessary when every student has the image in front of them. Now
move the teacher physically closer to the group, which is possible because
the teacher can still control the presentation and scribble on the virtual
blackboard right from their chair.

The Chalkboard client display has layers, like the Gimp. The lower layers
are what comes from the master client, usually the teacher. The student can
add additional layers for taking notes. Think of them as acetate sheets
laid over a printed page. Each one can be transparent or opaque, to combine
or isolate ideas.

During class, the teacher can call up any student's Chalkboard. They can
open a private chat line, voice or text, and highlight their comments by
marking up the student's page, again with a non-destructive overlay. The
teacher can also designate any student Chalkboard as the master, which
makes its Chalkboard appear on all the others.

The main Chalkboard window is cumulative, in the sense that content is
added progressively to a single page. In most cases, one class period would
generate several pages, not necessarily representing any time sequence.
Chat programs are serial; they capture input in a sequence. This is a
valuable alternative, so Chalkboard should have a mode which operates more
like a conventional chat program.

Everything that happens in class, on the board and the audio, is captured
and saved on a server. Chalkboard can access this data by day or by class.
All recent data and perhaps all display content can be stored locally on
the student's slate, to allow students to do homework and review class
sessions anywhere, anytime. This is automatic, to eliminate "Oops, I forgot
to get my homework." These records can be used by students who miss class
and should be available to download over the Internet.

Chalkboard will have a scripting language, like the Gimp. This language
will make possible interactive animated courseware. Scripting can be done
by hand using a simple text editor, or with an authoring tool. This is
intended to be the enabling technology for Chalk Dust applications. It
should be equally capable at testing.

Think about a student typing up a term paper or book report on Microsoft
Word. If they are fortunate their teacher will allow them to mail in the
doc file as an attachment. Now imagine the same work being done in the
environment provided by Chalkboard, where ideas flow easily between the
teacher and fellow classmates.

There is little if anything in my description of Chalkboard that is not
available today. Some of it is in the Gimp. Some in IRC clients. There is
Sodipodi and Inkscape. All we need to do is dig into them, pull out the
required bits and pieces, and assemble them with a little fresh glue.

In closing I must confess that this description of Chalkboard is given in
the context of classroom teaching and overlooks the requirements of
homeschoolers. I have only just begun to learn about homeschooling, and do
not feel qualified yet to address those needs. I do believe that Chalkboard
will be useful to homeschoolers, and that incorporating their requirements
will make it even better.

Chalkboard is only one application (or a family of applications that work
together, modular vs. monolithic). I envision many other specialized
applications directed at specific subjects, all with a common user
interface and drawing from a common pool of data. At a minimum, such an
application would know who is using it and provide monitoring and
performance data back to the teacher. The metrics chosen should be equally
valuable for monitoring the performance of a class, a teacher, and a
student, eliminating the need for separate attendance and grades. All of
this data should be available to parents, which will eliminate the surprise
and stress of failure notices and bad report cards.

To paraphrase a statement about business management, the way we run schools
today is like driving a car while only looking through the rear view
mirror. I know we can do better, and welcome anyone who believes so, too.

Gary Dunn
Open Slate Project

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