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Sunshine and I moved to New Zealand to be a part of what we saw from Australia as a progressive society that has continuously lead the world in things like Treaties, decolonisation efforts, sustainable energy use, banning Nuclear warships into its harbors, applying political pressure on countries testing Nuclear weapons in the Pacific, not sending troops to Iraq, signing the Kyoto protocol, big time adoption of Moodle, and leaders in the development of Open Educational Resources. Of course now that we live here there are hidden details not easily seen from afar, but generally speaking this is a place where progressive action is possible.

Our local news paper reports that Warrington Primary School, not more that 20 kms North of Dunedin, have been quietly chipping away at the idea to migrate all their computers to GNU/Linux and then ask the Ministry of Education to pay their school the savings afforded by not using Apple or Microsoft software in the school. Even better still is that the Ministry are supportive of their action, and the Commonwealth of Learning, upon hearing the news, is extending them support too.

“It’s not just the financial savings. It’s the philosophy behind ‘freeware’, and reducing ‘e-waste’. If a laptop crashed now, it would have to be sent to the North Island for software to be reinstalled. But we can repair systems at the school with a disk, and we aren’t especially savvy.”

I can only hope that the tertiary sector around here will take notice of what this little school is setting out to achieve, and start asking itself why it is not also rebuilding old computers and giving them to people in need; why it is not saving some of the copious amounts of money spent in software licensing and using it to train locals how to be self sufficient and more sustainable; and why it is not teaching business and community how to access and operate free software that might save people and business hundreds if not thousands of dollars, not to mention to reduce computing waste and create new business opportunities in system support and hardware service and sales.Oh, and did I mention that all this helps market ourselves as progressive, which attracts unforeseeable support and resources?

At the very least the tertiary sector should be offering some educational support for free software alternatives, and to my mind it should be of a positively discriminate type to counter the cornered market we have allowed oursleves to become.

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Janet Hawtin  over in the TALO email forum alerted readers there to Microsoft’s campaign to get their OOXML format made an international standard for office type documents. We already have a standard! Its called Open Document Format and we should use that. See this website for more info on why we should say NO to OOXML.

Microsoft is currently trying to make the ISO National Bodies believe that its Office Open XML (OOXML) format is a good standard. This website discusses why this broken proprietary standard should never be accepted by ISO.

New Zealand will be considering the two formats at a workshop in Wellington 23-24 August, and from that will be collecting stakeholder views. Details below.

Meeting Notice Standards New Zealand Office Open XML Workshop

23-24 August 2007

      • Workshop purpose The purpose of the workshop is to provide a forum for discussion to assess New Zealand stakeholder views, and guide Standards New Zealand’s vote on the Office Open XML draft standard.

Meeting details The workshop will be held at Standards New Zealand, Wellington.
Date: Wednesday 23 August 2007

Thursday 24 August 2007

Time: 9.30am – 4.30pm (both days) 

Venue: Standards New Zealand

Level 10

Radio New Zealand House

155 The Terrace

Wellington

          A light lunch will be provided on both days.
      • RSVP Please RSVP to Craig Watkin by 20 August 2007
      • Address:  Private Bag 2439, Wellington 6140
      • DDI: 04 498 5904
      • More information If you require any further information please contact Michelle Wessing, General Manager Standards Development on 04 498 3957 or email michelle.wessing@standards.co.nz

If you are unable to attend, or nominate a representative to attend on your behalf but would like to provide comments, please forward these to Craig Watkin no later than 17 August 2007. These will be circulated to the workshop participants prior to the meeting.

I’m hanging out in New Zealand statistics tonight, trying to find any lead on what NZ actually spends on software imports. We all have a hunch that its big, and some have a theory that raising awareness of free and open source software would help reduce what ever it is..

So far I have found Information and Communication Technology Supply Survey of 2005/06. Thanks to a google chat and a failing on search prowess on my part. But this report seems to only look at exports! Impressive as the export stats are I can’t seem to find a clear answer to my question.

Closest I get is:

Total sales of information and communication technology (ICT) goods and services rose 7.9 percent to $17.6 billion in the 2006 financial year.

Which is a staggering amount for a country with a population just over 4 million… but what does total sales of ICTs measure?

So, am on the hunt for a nice clean answer. How much does New Zealand spend on software imports? Actually, I could get more specific but I suspect the answers will somehow get harder to find.. how much does New Zealand spend common office software?

Of course it doesn’t help that many computer sales are made with software bundled, a quick chat to my local computer sales person revealed that even if I wanted free software options it wouldn’t reduce the price tag on a new computer 😦 in fact the only tangible difference that free software makes to off the shelf computers that I can see is the ability to go for a “home edition” at a lower price, and adding OpenOffice to it later to make up the “pro” difference..  I have no idea what Vista’s impact will have on this little price saver..

But still, there must be a clear clean stat out there on office software imports? Even one for operating systems? What about content and learning management systems? I just want a figure to start from…

Who wants to help me gather some pros and cons about Moodle and Blackboard? Or point me to some?

  • Feature Rich
  • Usability (Staff and Students specific)
  • Total cost of ownership
  • Staff required in terms of development expertise
  • Support (internal / external skill sets) also Service Contracts / Timely off site support
  • Training and education to all OP staff
  • Migration options / interoperability between each / course loading
  • Hidden costs?
  • etc

Off the top of my head (and not being a fan of any LMS) I have:

  • Moodle’s design suites sequencing of learning activities more readily than Bb
  • Moodle is the development base for many NZ tertiaries developing open educational resources (SCORM doesn’t always ensure successful transfer between LMS’s)
  • More NZ Polytech’s use Moodle so finding experienced staff to support Moodle will be less of a hassle
  • Bb is giving us grief with hyperlinking within the system (have been told that its because we are doing something that Bb was not designed to do – but hyperlinking is pretty common hey)
  • Bb is uncool.. LOL

George Siemens has been running an online conference over the recent days, and I joined in this morning before work. I got to listen to David Wiley’s talk about Openness and the Future of Education which was really great listening. This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to listen to David talk (though I’ve been a fan of his work since 2001) – and it is totally worth listening to, especially if you’re involved in educational resource development.

One thing I really had to grab were these two slides where he looks at the disconnect between typical educational environments, and typical communication environments (yellow being where education is today):

But these slides here, out of context of David’s talk really don’t do justice to the range of issues that David talks about. Copyright, learning objects, resuability, social media.. You really have to watch the Elluminate recording if you can.

I’m pretty impressed with George’s running of the show. He has set it up centrally through Moodle in such a way so as to be as painlessly open and easy to join as possible. The lay out of this moodle is efficient and easy to navigate, the recordings of the presentations are available almost directly after the talks and are easy to find once archived, and George is keeping everyone up to date with what’s happening through his blog and through email as well as a few other tricky new tools. Each day has only a few hours of talks on reasonably regular time settings (afternoon in North America time/not ungodly morning time here in NZ) making it easy to see who, what, when and where the presentations are. The talks run through Elluminate which sadly excludes many linux buddies that haven’t worked out how to get Elluminate running – but George is making the audio recordings and the screen recordings available soon.

Louise von Randow made brief comment about the recent NZ Herald headline of Microsoft insisting that instances of MS Office be uninstalled from hundreds of New Zealand school computers because of outstanding license fees.

The spokesperson for the schools clearly has little motivation to see the bigger picture and more carefully consider free and open source software. Instead of being defiant towards Microsoft and announcing contingency plans for the staged uptake of open source software…

Mr Le Sueur said NeoOffice was littered with problems, and its website warned that users could expect lots of bugs.

And the Herald reporter didn’t see any need to go further into such an investigation and instead focused on the Ministry’s stance:

“The ministry could not justify the extra $2.7 million being given to Microsoft for software that would not be used,” said Mr Maharey.

So, how much does New Zealand education spend on license fees for software? Are there alternatives? Yes! how much would New Zealand education save if just 1/3 of the computers used free and open source? A quick look at the Openoffice website suggests that OpenOffice is available for the Macintosh Operating System.. but how much does that operating system cost us and who much does it limit us?

I’m no open source zealot, but I recognise the need for better awareness of free and open source software in Australia and New Zealand. I recognise the obscene amounts of money shipping out of Australia and New Zealand for software alone, and I’d like to see our local IT capabilities improved through participation in open source projects. But I use what’s available to me, and that is mostly determined by:

  1. Free
  2. Easy to use
  3. Web-based
  4. Open source

and in that order.

I haven’t needed to spend money on software since… well ever! Where I used to rely on pirate software, starting my own business raised my concerns of such legal liability, so I started looking for legally free, easy to use and if possible open source – not because I wanted to be able to code (but it is great to have that option should I want to some time), but because I’m inspired by the development model and would like to support it in some small way. I’m still on that path to full independence and it is very rewarding and empowering to be free of software license concerns, and the crippling legal restraints.

Here’s my list of software I use everyday:

Actually I use a whole bunch more. Sadly, video editing and flash animation continue to evade being made free and open source. There are options – Blender possibly being one, but I continue to rely of Microsoft’s free (for Windows users) Movie Maker for video and Macintosh’ iMovie. The point I want to make is that by my estimates I have saved myself at least $1000 per computer with my software preferences and have more capability than your average and basic Microsoft, Adobe and Macintosh user.. I can sit down at ANY computer and start work on just about anything without relying on pirate software, out of date software, or pricey software.

Here are more good reasons why New Zealand should tell the likes of Microsoft to stick it.

I wonder what sort of attention that title will bring? I’m actually rephrasing other people’s dismissal of my arguments regarding Share Alike… so please read on to get a clearer picture.

I have recently discovered the seemingly incurable headache of copyright ideology within the free content circles. I have a problem with Creative Commons Share Alike – or not so much a problem with the license, but a problem with a user generated content publishing platform that uses that license as its default and practically speaking its only workable option!

I’m talking about Wikieducator in this instance, but I guess my issues will apply to any platform using a copyleft legality. Copyleft as it turns out, seems to be a type of free and open copyright license that aims to grow free content. In otherwords, as the Share Alike plain English statement goes:

  • Share Alike. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same, similar or a compatible license.

So you should be able to see the intent of this. It is to stop free content becoming closed by third parties. It is a mechanism that some believe will grow free culture. But does it?

What are my issues then?

Share Alike (SA) does not work in education because:

1. Our tertiary and vocational education institution is sometimes in a
training partnership with a business or industry that may require us to mix
learning content with commercially sensitive content (such as blue prints to
machinery, patented product designs, or anything that the partner still
perceives is necessary to remain restricted in access and copy). If we were
to mix any SA content with the partner’s content and redistribute (even on a
small scale) we would be expected by the SA content provider to re-release
the derivative under the SA license, but the partner would understandably
not want to do this because they perceive (rightly or wrongly) that doing so
would result in a loss of income and competative advantage. Result? We will
not mix SA content. To keep things simple, we will use SA content at all
because we will never be able to tell at what point we may find ourselves in
this position.

2. Our tertiary and vocational education institution works with a local
Maori Iwi (clan) named Ngai Tahu. At times we may be working with culturally
sensitive materials that the Ngai Tahu leaders prefer to restrict access and
copyrights to only Ngai Tahu people. We may wish to mix materials in with
that, [such as generic training resources on say – chainsaw maintenance, but with local context] but cannot re-release under SA because of the valid concerns of Ngai Tahu.
Replace the Ngai Tahu example with any culturally sensitive
group or individual and (rightly or wrongly doesn’t matter) we have the same
situation. SA is not usable.

3. We have a large database of materials created long before CC or copyleft
existed. Photographs, video and audio of people demonstrating things. These
people signed release forms for using their image and recording for specific
purposes, and the release did not mention anything about the right for a 3rd
party to remix. We can’t mix SA content with these recordings, because we
don’t have the right to re-release the derivatives under anything but a C or
CC BY No Derivatives – due to the old release contracts.

I want to make a strong reinforcement of what I am trying to say here. SA doesn’t work for educational content. Software is different, encyclopedic articles are different, the needs and purpose of education are very different to the success flags of free software and free reference materials. But I don’t expect that will be clearly understood unfortunately. The problem is compounded by a majority of education and elearning developers who – despite claims otherwise – think of educational content as text books and more or less static content. The 3 examples above are only 3 of many more I can think of, but hopefully it goes some of the way towards articulating where these differences lie.

Now, if you refer to the Wikieducator debate (largely between myself and one or two others, with the odd support for me) my efforts to articulate the issues are largely dismissed as illogical rhetoric. I am at a loss at to how it is rhetoric – or why people would think that I would want to use rhetoric or even want to have this argument! The 3 scenarios above are common, almost daily concerns for me and the people I work for – so how can it be rhetoric?.. I guess I need to get the people I try to represent to speak for themselves on this rather dense issue.. but the frustrating thing is that for anyone who works in my type of environment, these situations are obvious! Why my argument is illogical is of more of a concern however. Either I am missing some very important point in the counter arguments, or I am a very poor communicator when engaged in discussion lists. Which is probably why I am writing here now, in the relative comfort of my blog.

But I feel savaged! Listen to this surprise interview sprung on me by a Wikiversity participant. I joined the audio broadcast to listen to Alex Hayes talk, but when Alex didn’t show, the host turned the recorded mic on me. I knew the host had things to say about me and my arguments against copyleft in education, so I agreed to talk and brought the SA issue up – hoping to be enlightened somehow as to why my argument may be illogical or rhetorical. I didn’t expect the savage and unethical treatment though! I truly do not think these issues are being heard or properly considered. And that is why I think some proponents of copyleft hurt free culture.

Our organisation has a draft intellectual policy that is considering the use of the Creative Commons Attribution license. No link I’m sorry – so you’ll have to take my word for it. It is going through internal consultation at the moment. It is not considering the Non Commercial restriction – nor the Share Alike at this point, as it’s intent is to limit the restrictions on as much as possible, and see that we are contributing to educational development as widely as possible. In saying that though, the draft provides a mechanism for individuals and other stakeholders to place restrictions if they wish. They would have to fill out a one page form or something to indicate restrictions on a particular resource, and so the 3 situations I use above to argue why copyleft is impossible in same instances, can be catered for. CC BY content can be sampled, remixed and the derivative even made restricted if the user wishes (with proper attribution of course) but not the other CC licenses. At this point we are not concerned by possible cases of publishers benefiting from our works without giving back, we might be pleased that someone finds a way to make financial gains from our work, but we are also confident that our work will remain ahead, and more usable than restricted derivatives.

At this point I’d like to insert the personal belief that the legal mechanisms of Copyleft are not what grows free culture. As the All rights reserved sector experiences, there is not much that can be effectively done to prevent pirating and unsanctioned use of content, and so the same might be said for Copyleft. Dave Wiley’s story, and Steve Downes’ comment suggest that in some way too. (Certainly David’s article Why Universities Choose NC and what we can do about it shows an appreciation for the difficulties of winning institutional bye-in to free culture). I believe that free culture is growing from itself regardless of the SA and similar clauses. A quick look at Flickr’s Creative Commons database shows a preference for CC BY over CC BY SA by more than 1 million images. Of course I am guilty as always of over simplifying the issue with this little opinion, but I do think it might be an interesting consideration – that free culture is growing regardless of any legal mechanism. I wonder what other Creative Commons data bases reveal? In this age of information explosion, the competitive advantage goes to the content with less restriction. If the only restriction is the requirement for attribution, then I would bet that such a resource will be reused well before another with a restriction of some sort like share alike… and reuse brings attribution – possibly the only thing of worth with content these days.

Now if we start using the Wikieducator platform to develop resources, we have to accept the Creative Commons Share Alike license. A license that is considerably more restrictive than the Attribution license we are preferencing. For the 3 or more reasons outlines above we can not be comfortable with the Share Alike restriction, so using the Wikieducator Platform compromises the re-usability of the resources we contribute. Now, that would not be a problem for the original works, but some of us are actually thinking to use the wiki as a development platform! No more word documents, no more powerpoints, development straight into a wiki. We don’t have a wiki of our own (problems with IT on that) and one of our own doesn’t benefit from the collaborative potential of the more neutral and internationally reaching Wikieducator, Wikiversity etc. It makes more sense to join forces rather than reinvent wheels.

But the default and effectively only license option is a preventative concern. I believe that Wikieducator should use the CC BY license by default, with the option to turn something into SA if agreement can be struck by the contributors. At the moment SA is the default, with possible consideration of the idea that BY will be supported if the contributors to a particular resource agree. But that’s not workable. We need to start with a BY because BY can be turned into SA more readily – or a quick derivative made and turned into SA. This is much more difficult when going the other way. Which is precisely the intent behind Copyleft generally. To make it difficult to do anything other than share alike. And that finishes the impasse – that is not usable in many educational contexts we find ourselves in.

Unfortunately for the discussion, as evidenced by the discourse and treatment of my contributions linked above, the two perspectives don’t seem to be able to find an agreement let alone an appreciation of each other’s position. Shaggy from the TALO email list linked to some history in the debate and shows that it has been going on for longer than when I inadvertently joined the mosh. Now I want out – and will sadly have to reinvent a wheel so that it roles in a way that gets me and my organisation out of this copyright mud and into Open Educational Resources that are as reusable as WE need them to be. Hopefully the MediaWiki developers will find a way to bring the two wikis (ours and the rest 🙂 together in some way, so the shared vision of open educational resources can build and be reused quickly.

From Michael Nelson via email:

The GNU/Linux operating system Ubuntu has formed a screencast team and is generating a bunch of videos on how to install and use the software. The second they create a screencast on how to create a screencast in Ubuntu is the second I install it. I can use Firefox, OpenOffice, GIMP, Audacity and Scribus pretty well now. I am almost there, almost free. Just a video editor, screenrecorder and Blender 3D animation to go.  I wonder how long before there is a viable alternative to Flash?

Derek Chirnside points to a gem of an application – Scribus.

Scribus brings award-winning professional page layout to Linux/Unix, MacOSX, OS/2 and Windows desktops with a combination of “press-ready” output and new approaches to page layout.

Here’s my quick screenrecording of myself finding my way through the application. At first glance its beautiful! Great application for creating fliers, fancy layout handouts, posters, and books.


Click To Play

An even better screenrecording
comes from Jason Scott.

Copyright

Creative Commons License
All original work licensed Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.