“Open-Source Has Already Won”

I hope Steve Hargadon will forgive me for stealing something he said at EduBloggerCon last June (I can’t remember the context anymore, to be honest) for my title, but as I have been reading The World is Flat and thinking about technology and open-source, I have been turning Steve’s statement around in my head.

Thomas Friedman interviews executives from Microsoft in The World is Flat. They seem fairly assured of their ability to compete in a world of open-source software, and they have one good reason to believe in their consumers will continue to purchase their products: the vast majority of consumers don’t know any better, or they are not compelled to learn about alternatives.

Most of my colleagues at work use Internet Explorer. It comes bundled with Windows, after all, which is the operating system our school computers use. I like Firefox enough that I am willing to download it myself. Our school recently migrated to Google Apps for e-mail, and the first thing most of my colleagues did was configure Outlook to use as their mail client. I’m not faulting my colleagues. At what point did anyone sit down and show them all that Firefox and G-Mail can do? I don’t fault our Instructional Technology department either. Teachers are notoriously resistant to technology, and when did they have time to show the teachers these alternatives to Microsoft?

Open-source software has a lot of possibilities that I’m really excited about. But the vast majority of the public who uses computer software remains uneducated about open-source software and shows no inclination to learn.

Did you know…

  • An open-source office suite that easily competes with Microsoft Office is available for free? It’s called Open Office. MS Office 2007 is listed at $399.95.
  • An open-source photo editor that easily competes with Adobe Photoshop is available for free? It’s called GIMP. Adobe Photoshop CS3 is listed at $649.99.
  • In fact, a lot of, if not most of the software you use probably has an open-source counterpart?

Open-source is gaining ground, but only among those savvy enough to know anything about it. As large as our ed tech community sometimes seems, I am reminded on a daily basis that we’re really just a few lone voices crying in the wilderness. It is my hope that we can make Steve’s statement come true, and I have already seen encouraging signs:

  • After years of trying to compete with WordPress after a disastrous move toward tiered pricing, Movable Type recently announced that it is open-source. Actually, it’s my opinion (and I’m not alone in this) that MT could no longer viably compete unless they went open-source.
  • The journal Nature announced two years ago that Wikipedia‘s error rate is about the same as that of Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  • Microsoft’s Office 2007 suite changed the file extensions to Office OpenXML. Files are now a lot smaller. The user interface in Office is totally different, too. One could argue that among the many reasons for these changes is that Microsoft wanted to stay viable in light of the many alternatives to Office that are now available. After all, all of the open source or online office suites and word processing programs I can think of are compatible with Microsoft’s older extensions — anyone smell a move toward phasing the older extensions out, making it harder for the competition to play nicely with Microsoft Office documents?
  • In the first two years of its existence, Firefox managed to erode IE’s market share by 10 percent. When IE 7 was released, who could fail to notice that one of Firefox’s most popular features, tabbed browsing (which is also available in other free, open source browsers), was now included in IE?

All of these things mean that community-built, open-source software is definitely winning some battles, but the war is still raging.

I recently e-mailed my daughter’s school to let them know their website was really problematic in a variety of ways, only to discover they felt they had done a great deal of work on the site. It hadn’t occurred to me before, but after our exchange, I decided to check out the site in IE. It looked fine. When I told them their site was actually not rendering properly in Firefox, they were dismissive. In fact, I think the exact words were “I’m glad you can see the real website now.” As of this week, they still have not fixed the site so that it renders properly in Firefox. I don’t think they know how. And I don’t think they intend to learn. After all, most of the people using their website are probably using IE.

It is my hope that there will come a time when that kind of thinking won’t cut it. I just checked the site in Safari, and it looks the same as it does in Firefox. So essentially, that means Mac users can’t look at the site unless they use IE for Mac, which is no longer available for download from Microsoft and will not be updated. So it’s acceptable for a school to create a site only Windows users surfing on IE can view?

Only in a world where open-source hasn’t quite won… yet.

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Thank You, Betsy

As my husband increasingly needs to use our home desktop for his own writing, I found that I did not have enough time to work effectively from home or to pursue my various interests. I am not faulting my husband — in fact , it is precisely because I wanted to be supportive and encouraging of his burgeoning career as a journalist that I curtailed my computer use at home. I decided the only thing to do was to save money for a laptop, and I also decided that if this blog or any other information I had provided had been useful, perhaps donors would be interested in helping me save. I have been sitting on this announcement because I haven’t really set any balls in motion yet, but it is my intention to apply to go back to school and earn an masters in Instructional Technology. Therefore, it became more necessary than ever that I have a computer, preferably a laptop, in order to pursue my studies.

Several people made generous contributions, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciated them. However, a reader of my husband’s work, Betsy, had a laptop she no longer used and decided to donate it to me. I am now the proud owner of an Apple iBook G3. I believe that this laptop will enable me to do anything I might need to do for school, and it was always my hope that I might indeed be able to purchase an Apple with my savings. I had a website that sold used Apples bookmarked, and I had been saving with the goal of purchasing a used Apple — more affordable to me than a new one — from this seller. However, Betsy’s generous donation made all of that unnecessary. Therefore, I would like to tell those of you who donated towards my laptop savings that you have two options: 1) allow me to use your donation for other items I need for my classroom (supplies, decorations, etc.), or 2) request a refund for your donation. If you donated, and I do not hear from you, I will assume it is OK to apply your donation to other classroom needs.

I want to highlight a website called DonorsChoose.org. If you are like Betsy, and you have an item you no longer use and wish to donate for educational purposes, please check out this site. You may find a teacher who needs exactly what you have, and you can be helping not just that teacher, but also his or her students with your donation. You can also choose to contribute funds towards purchasing the items the teachers need. Your gifts are tax-deductible. You can also look for teachers in your state so you know your gifts will benefit students close to home. Please check out their site for more information. I would have used the site to request help, but it is limited to public school teachers at this time, and I am currently teaching in a private school.

Thanks again, Betsy for your generosity. I can’t wait to get to work!

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Some Thoughts on The World is Flat

The World is FlatI have been reading Thomas L. Friedman’s The World is Flat as part of an online PLU course.  Really the course just gave me a good excuse for reading a book I had been wanting to read for some time.

I am still finishing the second chapter about various flatteners that have brought us to the point where we find ourselves today, and I could not help but be struck by his comments regarding blogs.  Is it just me, or does he seems somewhat more concerned about the negative aspects of blogs and blogging in comparison with the other flatteners he discusses?  He says at one point, “A blog is your own personal virtual soapbox, where you can get up every morning, and, in the form of a column or a newsletter or just a screed, tell the world what you think about any subject, upload the content to your own Web site, and then wait for the world to come check it out” (117).  Perhaps the word “screed” just jumps out at me, but I see this comment as somewhat negative.  Yes, some bloggers write screeds, but I don’t read many blogs like that.  He praises the bloggers who were able to expose “Rathergate,” but in the next breath he adds that “no one is in charge, standards of practice vary wildly, and some of it is downright irresponsible” (117).  I know that what he says at true, but part of me wonders if he isn’t worried because bloggers are, as Charles Johnson quoted on the same page describes them, “an army of citizen journalists.”  It just makes me wonder if Friedman feels threatened by bloggers.

I have to say I have found the book engaging and intriguing, and frankly, I have learned a great deal from the book.  I know one thing — it is critical that educators help students prepare for entering this new flat world, and I don’t think all of our schools are doing enough.

Another curiosity I have about this book — when I posted on my reading blog that I was reading this book, a reader who had never commented on my blog before left a comment suggesting I read alternative theories by two other authors, criticized the length of Friedman’s book, and then left.  A quick Google search unearthed four pages of extremely similar comments.  She has not, at least not in the comments I have read, really explained her passion for convincing others not to read this book, or at least not to take it as the last word, but she clearly has some kind of agenda.  It would not surprise me to see her comment here, as I think she monitors Technorati or Google for blogs discussing this book, and it is my hope that rather than leave her standard comment, she will be willing to engage in a discussion of her particular concerns about this book.

At any rate, as I progress through the book, I do intend to post my thoughts about it here.

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Georgia’s New Graduation Requirements

Georgia is making changes in its requirements for graduation that will go into effect beginning with next year’s ninth grade class (the class of 2012). What follows is a table I adapted from my daughter’s school counselor’s publication for high school transition:

Current Rule Proposed Rule
4 tiers with different requirements: College Preparatory (CP), College Preparatory with Distinction (CP+), Technology/Career (TC), and Technology/Career with Distinction (TC+) One common set of requirements for all students
22 total Carnegie units required for CP and TC, 24 units required for CP+ and TC+ 23 total Carnegie units required for all students
4 units of English required for all students 4 units of English required for all students
4 units of math required for CP and CP+, 3 units of math required for TC and TC+ 4 units of math required for all students
3 units of science required for all students 4 units of science required for all students (the 4th unit of science can be used to meet both science and elective requirements)
3 units of social studies required for all students 3 units of social studies required for all students, all courses are specifically identified
1 unit of health/PE required for all students 1 unit of health/PE required for all students; 3 units of JROTC may be used to meet the requirements
1 unit of computer techology and/or fine arts and/or technology career preparatory and/or foreign language required for all students; 2 units of foreign language required for CP and CP+ students 3 units required from CTAE and/or foreign language and/or fina arts; foreign language is not required for any student to graduate, whether CP or not
5-6 additional elective units depending on tier (CP, CP+, TC, TC+) 4 additional units of elective units for all students

Basically, Georgia is doing away with Technology/Career diplomas and building one set of requirements for all Georgia graduates. I would like to know more before I criticize the new set of requirements, but I have to say that I’m not sure this is a good idea. Tech/Career prep programs often provided a good alternative for students who didn’t plan to go to college. I have the following questions:

  1. Do the new requirements mean that Georgia is doing away with TC-level academic classes? Back when I was teaching in public school, there were “Vocational track” classes for students who didn’t intend to go to college. Therefore, will students who don’t intend to go to college still take what are essentially CP-level academic classes?
  2. Students entering college will still have to have two units of foreign language in order to get into college. I understand that these units will have to come from the electives requirements. Will this be a problem for students who have to take foreign language? What do our colleges think of changing this requirement so that foreign language is no longer required for graduation?
  3. What do my peers currently teaching in Georgia public schools (or elsewhere for that matter) think of these changes?

You can check out this section of the Georgia DOE website for more information.

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The Freedom Writers

The Freedom WritersSoon after The Freedom Writers, a movie based on the book The Freedom Writer’s Diary by Erin Gruwell and her students, was released to theaters, I viewed the movie and posted a review here. I know some educators don’t like this kind of movie in general and didn’t like this movie in particular, but I enjoyed the movie and found value in using it in the classroom in order to teach the power of written expression and finding one’s voice. In addition, I think the movie is a great way for my students in particular to understand a broader spectrum of the American experience. Finally, as the movie centers around how Gruwell’s students were affected by a work of literature, I think the movie shows the profound connections we can make between literature and our own lives if we avail ourselves of the opportunity. I think the movie would work well in an English class, but I like to use it in writing courses as well.

The question is, what can you do with the movie? When my students viewed the movie last year, we used it as a springboard for discussion about several important issues, including racism, anti-Semitism, and abuse, and how these issues impacted the characters in the movie. We frankly discussed Erin Gruwell’s sacrifices and the fact that she did move on to working with the Freedom Writers Foundation and no longer teaches.

If you are interesting in using the film in your own classroom, there are many resources available to you:

Please share other resources you know about in the comments.

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Flip Video

OK, probably everybody and their grandmother (well, maybe not their grandmother) has already heard of the Flip video camera, but I hadn’t until today. One of my students has a father who is a major broadcasting executive, and he was sent one to check out. My student brought it to school. She said, “Hey, Mrs. Huff, you want to see something I think will interest you?”

The Flip video recorder allows users to take up to 30 or 60 minutes of video (depending on the model you purchase) and upload the video directly to Google Video or YouTube. It might work with Teacher Tube, too — I’m just not sure.

I think the Flip video camera will have some interesting applications for education, and if you order three or more from their website, you can get an educator rebate.

Flip Diagram

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Blanche DuBois Syndrome

Yet another female English teacher has made the news after having sexual relations with sexually abusing a student.

I’ve written about this problem before, but it occurred to me that at the time, I didn’t mention one of the reasons I am concerned about the issue, as the post is centered around the larger and more important issue of child abuse. But… is it just me, or does it seem as though an inordinate number of female teachers who victimize male students are English teachers? Or do I just have that perception because I notice it more when the teacher is described as an English teacher? I mean, sheesh, I don’t want my profession to become the butt of jokes — “she was an English teacher, wink wink, nudge nudge, know what I mean?”

Wikipedia’s article “Sexual harassment in education” has some interesting and appalling statistics.

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Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet

I just finished writing UbD units for Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet at the UbD Educators wiki.  As I finished writing the unit for Hamlet and saved the page, I lost half the work I had done, and I am still not sure how it happened, so I had to re-do it.  Word to the wise — when working with anything you’re doing online, save and save often.  When, oh when will I learn to do that?

Shakespeare Set Free: Teaching Hamlet and Henry IV, Part 1In order to successfully steal the Hamlet unit, you’ll need to purchase a copy of Shakespeare Set Free: Teaching Hamlet and Henry IV, Part 1.  I have the edition published in 1994, and I haven’t seen the latest edition, so if you know the difference between the two editions and would care to share in the comments for interested parties, I would appreciate it.  I think the Shakespeare Set Free series is a great resource for educators, but I don’t do all of the performance activities.

While we’re discussing good resources for teaching Shakespeare, don’t forget the Folger Shakespeare Library’s website, which has a large repository of lesson plans contributed by teachers.  If you can get them for your classroom, the Folger Shakespeare editions of the plays have pretty good explanatory notes and glossaries, too.  A Way to Teach has a great selection of Macbeth lesson plans and Tempest lesson plans.

If you are looking for Shakespeare video, you might check out Shakespeare and More over at YouTube.  They have a large selection of Shakespearean video.   Speaking of video, if you were looking at older posts about teaching Romeo and Juliet, you will have noticed the videos don’t work.  I’m sorry about that.  I’ll need to go back and revise the posts so that the video isn’t necessary, as the videos are no longer available at YouTube.

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Born With a Desire

If you are interested in reading my first post at the Faculty Room, “a cooperative blog presented by Big Ideas and published by Authentic Education,” it was posted today: “Born With a Desire.”  Please read it and let me know what you think in the comments.

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