As I wrote about a few weeks ago, my role at BCcampus has undergone a bit of a focus shift back to supporting & researching educational technologies in BC with an emphasis on open source technologies. And there are some exciting things happening in BC that I am going to be a part of.
One of the projects that I have begun sinking my teeth into post-opened conference has been the work done by Grant Potter, Brian Lamb, Tannis Morgan and Valerie Irvine, the former BCNet open education working group. Once BCNet announced the end of the group, Mary Burgess and I talked about how BCcampus could provide support for the open education work this group is doing, and I’m very happy that I’ve been given some time & resources to support this group.
The main project on the go right now is (what I’ve called) the BC open education infrastructure project. This is basically the FIPPA compliant (hosted on EduCloud at UBC) Sandstorm instance that I wrote about a few weeks back. I’ve been able to get in and kick the tires a bit more and am able to see a few clear potential use cases for the technology.
In a nutshell, Sandstorm aims to make the deployment of web applications as easy as installing an app on your smartphone. One click installs of popular open source packages like EtherPad and WordPress direct from an app repository/store .
At a high level, here are some of the ways I think this could be useful to my work, and to the system as a whole. These are things that are driving me to work on this project.
- A simple way for an instructors to deploy open source applications. Instead of having to use the LMS, which may not have the tools you need or even like working with, or impose a pedagogical way of working that you don’t want, Sandstorm provides an app marketplace where instructors can pick and choose the tools they want to use with their students. Need a collaborative document editor? Hit a button and you’ve got an Etherpad instance set up. Need an instance of Git? Discussion forums? Pick from a few different alternatives, install and share with students. And all the data stays on a locally hosted server under local control. No corporate data mining of students information. Unbundling the LMS.
- A system wide sandbox platform. This is my own use case, as one of the projects in my portfolio will be to revive a system wide sandbox process to allow people to experiment with open source edu focused applications. A BCcampus instance of Sandstorm might make it easier to manage that process.
- A way to distribute education related open source applications. I’ve been thinking of ways to get Pressbooks Textbooks into the hands of more people, and making a one button install of Pressbooks in something like Sandbox seems like a doable project. Get an instance of Pressbooks into the Sandstorm app store has the potential to get it in front of more eyes and deployed. There are other open source tools that are edu focused that I think could be included, like Candela, TAO, Open Embeddable Assessments, Omeka, and Scalar (to name just a few). I envision an edu section of the Sandstorm app store. It’s premature to be thinking this way, considering the relative newness of Sandstorm, but, this is why we experiment and play.
- A powerful tool for students to work with the tools that they want to work with. Give a class a Sandstorm instance and let them decide how they want to collaborate, communicate and work together using the apps in the toolbox.
This work is obviously heavily influenced by Jim Groom & Tim Owens Domain of Ones Own which is, at its heart, about autonomy and control; about giving people the ability to control their own data and their own digital identity. It is also about recognizing that technology is not neutral, and that the systems we set up within our institutions (looking at you LMS) impose a way of doing things that may not be the way that our faculty want to teach. We should, at the very least, try to provide systems that support technology enhanced pedagogical models outside of the narrow confines of the LMS.
But what really excites me about this project is the chance to work with some of the most forward thinking edtech people in the province. And that is putting a big spring in my step.