Open Source


I blogged (and ranted) a bit earlier about my personal experiences with online education tools like WebCT and Blackboard, and, inspired by Meredith Farkas’ post on DrupalEd, talked about how some of the functionality that she discussed could potentially lead to more of a sense of online community than I experienced with either WebCT or Blackboard.

Well, I checked my feeds this morning, and saw that Michelle Boule had written a similarly-themed post on ALA TechSource’s blog, entitled “Unsucking Online Education, Part Two,” (Part One can be found here).

If you’ve had any experiences with either WebCT or Blackboard, I dare you to not dive into the article after this teaser:

WebCT and Blackboard are archaic structures that resemble how students learn in face-to-face environments. Continuing to build online education in ways that resemble the face-to-face environment harms our students and reflects poorly on us as educators. We should know better than to create a hostile learning environment. WebCT and Blackboard are still the norm in instructional design, but there is hope.

Amen. From your keyboard to library school administrators’ ears.

Advertisements

I’ve been enthusiastically (and probably very naively) posting about open source for awhile now; however, I came across an article on linux.com that brought me down off of my fluffy little conceptual cloud, and I thought it was important to add Bob Metcalfe’s point to my stream of inexerienced positivity:

Metcalfe hasn’t swallowed the full glass of open source Kool-Aid. “It’s the sustainability long-term of the open source model that I worry about. Who will take care of the software after the novelty wears off and the volunteers lose interest and get real jobs?”

Something to ground me. For a bit, anyway.

Meredith Farkas recently posted about DrupalEd, and from what I have gleaned from her post and from the DrupalEd website, I have learned enough to become very curious.

One of the main issues with my library school is that, though it serves a twelve-state area, providing (very affordable and weekend-intensive) classes, the software that serves as the school’s connective tissue, Blackboard, does little to foster a sense of online community…something that a school that revolves around distance education should, in my opinion, have as one of its primary focuses.

If I had not been lucky enough to take some face-to-face classes with several people who I made friends with and have maintained contact with (largely through other online applications, such as Gmail), I believe that I would have gone through the program feeling alienated, isolated, and alone.

I’m hesitant to expand on the issue much further, as I don’t have the technological wherewithal or the student affairs background to pull out each individual issue and explain how I believe DrupalEd would succeed where Blackboard (or WebCT, or other less flexible software packages) have failed. Additionally, I was just about the opposite of a whistle-blower on this issue during my time in library school, and I believe that, in order for my complaint to be fully legitimate, I would have had to attempt to affect change. I can fall back on the “I didn’t have time to” excuse (I worked full time throughout most of my grad school career).

However, looking back, I wish I’d spoken up and tried to offer a solution…a solution that I believe DrupalEd could someday be. The features just about speak for themselves:

  • a personal workspace;
  • a group workspace;
  • the ability for site members to create informal working groups;
  • the ability to create formal class spaces;
  • a podcasting platform;
  • a WYSIWYG text editor;
  • wiki functionality;
  • personal and class blogs;
  • rss feeds for the entire site, individual courses, individual terms, and individual users;
  • personal image galleries;
  • personal file repositories;
  • the ability to create private, invitation-only groups;
  • social bookmarking, with searching within bookmark descriptions;
  • spam protection;
  • assignment calendars by course;
  • event calendars for site-wide events;
  • configurable user profiles with searchable text descriptions;
  • the ability to create lists of “friends” among site members;
  • the ability to find the missing sock in the dryer.

Everything I’m seeing here (especially the part about finding your missing socks…how awesome is that?) could translate into an incredibly personalized-to-your-institution, welcoming, vibrant online community.

I hope that someday I’ll be able to either gain sufficient knowledge to be able to come back and assist my (hopefully very welcoming) library school in implementing DrupalEd or something close to it, or be able to watch as others take on the implementation.

First off, I’m not a techie, so please read my comments in that context. I am basically technologically literate, and I love to play and tinker with techie toys, but I do not live, breathe, or speak “tech geek,” as is, I’m sure, about to become painfully obvious. 

I’m in the middle of trying to design a website for my Capstone portfolio, which is to demonstrate my “mastery of the SLIM program’s ‘Outcomes and Values’.” Finding the “artifacts” (papers, presentations, etc.) that demonstrate my (relative) mastery of each individual value turned out to be the easy part. Designing a web portfolio that showcased these artifacts in an easy-to-navigate, aesthetically pleasing way…not so easy.

As I’m very much not a website designer, I decided that my best route would be to find some free templates that I could manipulate in Dreamweaver MX 2004, giving, of course, credit to the original designer. After a digg search for “Dreamweaver templates,” my first “hit” was for Aptana, a product similar to Dreamweaver, but open-source and free of charge. However, as I thought I’d already decided upon Dreamweaver to manipulate the given templates, I moved on. I came up with several websites (openwebdesign.org and opendesigns.org, which have a few overlapping templates) that seemed to fit the bill. 

 Upon opening several chosen templates in Dreamweaver, however, I noticed that they weren’t displaying properly. And it wasn’t just one template, it was all of them. Since many of them had custom-designed Flash buttons included as part of the package, I assumed that this was the problem (as that was largely the part of the website that was displaying all sorts of wonky) and, after a few clumsy attempts to fix it, promptly gave up.

Curious, and frustrated with my inability to get Dreamweaver to do what I wanted, I decided to see how Aptana would fare with my chosen templates. I downloaded the application for Windows, which went relatively smoothly, and I figured out how to open the templates quickly. The source code displayed, I made a few modifications to the display elements, hit the “Run Configuration” button to display the site, and…voila! The site displayed exactly as it had when I viewed the template initially, including the changes that I’d made to the code. Additionally, I noticed that as I moused over different elements of the source code (title, content, href), I received a brief pop-up explanation of the element’s function (ex: href’s “pop-up” stated that it was the “path or URL for the linked object or document”). How cool is that? And that’s just after five minutes of just playing around, not messing with the documentation or anything!

Take this with a gigantic block of salt, as I am about as far away from a Dreamweaver expert as you can get, and I’m even farther away from being an Aptana expert. However, I am impressed with my five-minute tinkering.

 More updates later, so you’ll know if the bloom stays or fades on my newest “rose.” 🙂

Okay, I’m officially jealous. Texas Women’s University is using Koha to teach their library school students about library automation

Like DRM (Digital Rights Management), open-source library software isn’t a subject that I’ve really learned about or discussed in library school. With this in mind, I put together a list of the sources that have (so far) been the most helpful in keeping me up to date on recent developments:

“Librarians stake their future on open source.” Michael Stutz, December 21, 2006, on www.linux.com. Article mainly discusses Evergreen and its release, also Koha.

Evergreen – An open-source ILS developed for the Georgia PINES library consortium.

LibLime: A company that helps libraries adopt open-source software; provides support for both Evergreen and Koha.

 oss4lib: A blog where members post news about open-source software in libraries.

I’m sure there are some more that I’ve missed, but those are what I have for now. Also, I’d highly recommend playing around with the Georgia PINES OPAC. The layout, the search options and results…they’re all great. Really. If my undergraduate alma mater’s OPAC had looked and functioned like that, I would have been much happier when it came time to do research.