Monday, November 28, 2011

Creating Long-Term Memories from Online Coursework by Strengthening Fragile Knowledge

Creating Long-Term Memories from Online Coursework by Strengthening Fragile Knowledge


From coursework students amass material that forms long term memories. Online learning management systems often restrict access to course content soon after the semester ends. I argue that the resulting fragile knowledge is the modern counterpart of shallow knowledge that has been the bane of writing since its inception. An examination of popular learning management systems like Blackboard and the University of Central Florida Webcourses implementation reveals tactics that students, instructors, and software developers may deploy to ensure long term retention of course materials. Lessons learned from electronic portfolios and user-centered design inform a free, open source software project that uses the Moodle course management system as the backbone for individual repositories of not only the content of online courses, but also the situated context in which the content was created.

How do students remember what they learned in a course after the semester is over, and perhaps decades later? Some content is internalized; other information may be recalled from textbooks, handouts, notes, and transcripts. Until recently, all of these records were stored on paper. Online courses, on the contrary, are digitally native, and pose new opportunities for facilitating the long term usability of course content. They also sport new hazards that may result in spotty, fragile knowledge, and potentially complete forgetting, as digital records are deleted or become inaccessible, or are stored in formats that become deprecated. For instance, we presently accept PDF, HTML plus CSS, and XML as file formats for our data.

That is, we are cool with having to save stuff from websites as these kinds of files. However, the default settings encourage long term forgetting by short term neglect of exporting before end of semester and start of next. That is, most LMS users are not encouraged to archive discussion and email before the start of the next semester, at which point they become fragile knowledge, regardless of whether the computer languages encoding them persist. Consider these requirements:

  • I want to be able to recall coursework after the semester is over (long term).

  • I want to be able to remember everything I learned in every course of my college education, whether it happened in face to face classrooms or online (comprehensive).

  • I want to be able to access that knowledge at any time, with minimal preparation and no incremental or maintenance cost, indefinitely (automatically recalled).

I have confidence in the preservation of my prior years of course work before online courses, for I have written notes and kept annotated books used in them. They can be scanned into electronic formats, run through optical character recognition systems, turned into movies as long as I still have the file cabinet of notes and bookcase of notebooks. How about what I am learning online, am I taking adequate steps to preserve it for reuse in ten, perhaps twenty years, when I am deploying my retirement job plan?

In Why Don't Students Like School? cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham presents a popular model of human cognition with three parts: environment, working memory, and long-term memory (Willingham; Baddeley). This model, which localizes memory as a phenomenon within the human brain, leaves questions about how the environment, especially the Internet and other storage media, sustains brain-embedded long term memory, and in turn, fosters the growth of deep knowledge of a subject. Willingham's model of forgetting, reproduced in Figure 1, is symptomatic of a lack of consideration of the role played by machines in human cognition (55).

Figure 1: Willingham's model of forgetting suggests environment-based componentss of LTM mediated by working memory (55).

It must be assumed that

the mind exerts its influence on the environment. Yet embodied action besides unidirectional awareness is absent from the model. That is, there is no arrow going from working or long term memory towards in the sense of influencing, having an effect upon, intentionally controlling, the environment, as in Figure 1b, and it is here that we discover our hidden, forgotten relation to electronic computing machinery, and the potential to be creators of the very machinery.

Kittler is correct in stating, “Understanding media – despite McLuhan's title – remains an impossibility precisely because the dominant information technologies of the day control all understanding and its illusion. . . . What counts are not the messages or the content with which they equip so-called souls for the duration of a technological era, but rather (and in strict accordance with McLuhan) their circuits, the very schematism of perceptibility” (xl-xli).

In a book-based cognitive milieu, human action brings forward pages before the eyes for attentive reading, that occurs in working memory, the “site of awareness and thinking” (Willingham 55). What is learned in order to be remembered is perceived through reading or hearing by viewing graphic media (papers, books) motionless reading, reading them aloud, or listening to them be read. In a computer-based cognitive milieu, human action brings forward pages for attentive reading in working memory through the agency of programmed control in addition to print-based media. It is getting things out of the computers for appropriate attentive awareness that new problems for thinking exist. Theories of extended cognition include the active roles performed by inanimate objects and processes external to the human brain to be parts of our thought processes, and therefore may play a role in long term memory (Clark; Clark and Chalmers). Thus the role played by the environment goes beyond supplying props that serve as reminders for human brains to recall memories from their depths. This opens space to cast the problem of knowledge that traditionally divides among rote, shallow, and deep knowledge typical to humans with a fragile component as well. The term 'fragile knowledge' appears in research to describe some of the problems students have learning to program computers, identified as “knowledge that is partial, hard to access, and often misused” (Perkins and Ray 2). While computer-based information systems boast many features unavailable to printed records, they can also be more fragile than hard copies, especially in the case of content generated from online course work. Research suggests that, in addition to segregating content within an enclosed, proprietary software system, few, if any, Learning Management Systems (LMS) encourage users to save content before it becomes hard to access (Jafari, McGee, and Carmean). Thus, the outcome of online learning may often be fragile knowledge. How material is saved to long-term 'off-site' memory depends on the degree to which the operation is automated, in which the LMS delivers records to each learner as an end-of-semester zipped archive via email, for example, and the degree to which the learner actively saves them from within the learning portal. The University of Central Florida LMS, UCF Webcourses, only generates text files and copies of attachments from email and discussion threads when requested by the user. However, a mandatory online training program urges instructors to compile discussion groups, student records, and mail when the course ends, and provides step by step instructions. Ironically, instructors are not urged to remind their students to do the same. Moreover, course materials displayed as HTML frames and Flash animations are not easily saved. Furthermore, access to the course is blocked a few days after the end of the semester. As it will be explained in this text, the system-centered design of UCF Webcourses precludes optimizing recollection from the export file through representation in a situated context meaningful to the student. Instructors, on the other hand, are provided with instructions on how to create a course backup that captures the look and feel of the course interface they set up. Instructors are limited to recontextualizing the course content when the backup is loaded back into Webcourses and they can access it. This backup file is in a compressed, proprietary format that is useless until loaded back into same UCF Webcourses system from which it was generated. I can imagine a more open system in which instructors can then load the backup into their personal Webcourses-equivalent system for planning future courses, sharing with colleagues, or transporting to another environment. If students could also save the course skeleton, along with the data exported from discussions and email, then they could reanimate it, sustain it, and have it ready at hand indefinitely. This ideal fulfills the promise of lifelong learning where online coursework seems to fail in comparison to traditional, paper-based learning.

Given that ideal scenario, what is feasible? What long-term archiving options for course content do other popular learning management systems offer? What recommendations can be made to software designers and configuration administrators to facilitate creation of long-term memories from online coursework? Finally, what best practices may students be advised to immediately adopt to maximize the lifetime value of their educational investments? This topic has not been explicitly addressed as a research topic; however, related studies on the fragility of knowledge sharing in distributed communities may be applicable (Gächter, Von Krogh, and Haefliger; Jones). General studies of LMS provide hints at how to identify and overcome the fragility of knowledge created in online course work, especially those that focus on user-centered design and best practices (Selfe; Jafari, McGee, and Carmean; Blythe; Clark and Mayer). Electronic portfolios (ePortfolios or EPs) form a third area in which useful ideas for bolstering fragile knowledge from online coursework (Whithaus; Estes; Indiana University; Barrett and Abrami; Bas and Eynon; Love, McKean, and Gathercoal). “The potential of EPs are nothing short of revolutionary as a dramatic expression of the possibilities of e-learning from cradle to grave as epitomized in the slogan 'E-portfolio for Life'” (Abrami and Barrett).

There is a long tradition going back to Plato's Phaedrus criticizing print-based knowledge of potential shallowness (Baron). Written symbols, like painted figures, are mute, fixed in visible space. Humans remember what they have read, and are able to go back to the original source, if they know what they are thinking about. If not, they are just fooling themselves, and their knowledge is shoddy, shallow, defective (Plato 561-567). Willingham formalizes the ancient Greek notion by distinguishing between rote, shallow, and deep knowledge, asserting that “understanding is remembering in disguise” (88). Shallow knowledge relates to incomplete understanding of the material in question, but the onus is on the human to learn more and keep practicing the knowledge already gained, for which reading is the best alternative in a busy world. Background knowledge requires quick recall from long term memory to sustain thought in working memory. “As far as anyone knows, the only way to develop mental facility is to repeat the target process again and again” (115). The mental techniques of chunking and process automatization provide means of stretching the capabilities of the fixed, innate working memory each human possesses. Willingham does not venture into explaining the role in augmenting intelligence that the built environment may play, especially the active, dynamically aware artificial intelligence of internetworked electronic computing machinery. Some of the awkwardness of Willingham's theory can be avoided by loosening the strict separation at the boundary of the human nervous system as the source of working and long-term memory. For over a decade, Andy Clark and David Chalmers have been arguing for 'the extended mind' in favor of the strict division of mind and external environment. Extended cognition acknowledges that cognition can be borne by devices and in the very structure of the environment as well as that which we limit to human brain activity, similar to the main idea of Donald Norman's Design of Everyday Things. Active externalism opens the study of the distributed cognitive environment that includes the embodiment of external computing resources:

In effect, explanatory methods that might once have been thought appropriate only for the analysis of 'inner' processes are now being adapted for the study of the outer, and there is promise that our understanding of cognition will become richer for it. . . . Does the extended mind imply an extended self? It seems so. . . . To consistently resist this conclusion, we would have to shrink the self into a mere bundle of occurrent states, severely threatening its deep psychological continuity. Far better to take the broader view, and see agents themselves as spread into the world. (Clark 10-18)

Extending cognition into the built environment may also require rethinking the way working memory fetches information from long-term memory to account for the work done by external cognitive mechanisms, such as 'the Internet'. Where critics like Baron extend the question of trustworthiness of writing to electronic media, my focus is on 'shelf life' of content exposed in an online course (132). What connects this discussion to online coursework is the risk to easy recollection, and threat of permanent loss, of memories supported by active externalism.

The term 'fragile knowledge' appears in research to describe some of the problems students have learning to program computers, identified as “knowledge that is partial, hard to access, and often misused . . . the person sort of knows, has some fragments, can make some moves, has a notion, without being able to marshal enough knowledge with sufficient precision to carry a problem through to a clean solution” (Perkins and Ray 213-214). Although similar to the critique of writing found in Phaedrus, in which it is argued that “written words are of [no] use except to remind him who knows the matter about which they are written,” fragility arises from the idiosyncrasies of the medium itself (565). Computer-based information systems boast many features unavailable to printed records, but they can also be more fragile than hard copies, particularly when system-centric design decisions foreclose the ability of users to manipulate the system to meet their personal needs. While the problem seems obvious, the fact that a premier institution like the University of Central Florida fails to safeguard its students' educational accomplishments beyond the close of each semester points to social and cultural, not just technological, roots to the problem.

Cynthia Selfe emphasizes the importance of situated knowledge approaches and user-centered design in Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century, invoking Donna Haraway's 'coyote' way of knowing and Andrew Feenberg's insight into “considering such sites in terms of their underdetermined potential for political, economic, and social change—a potential which can be exploited by interested and knowledgeable social agents determined to make a difference” (154). Writing in the early days of online coursework, she implicitly recommends community-driven, user-centric, open standards, open source approaches to computer-based communications facilities. Feenberg describes the situation as one in which “the technical code is the most general rule of the game, biasing the play toward the dominant contestant. . . . Tactics thus differ from outright opposition in that they subvert the dominant codes from within by introducing various unexpected delays, combinations, and ironies into the application of strategies” (113). Casting this problem into the language of strategies and tactics in the asymmetrical power relations between technological innovators and subjugated users explained by Feenberg, I may propose options that seem subversive and may verge on prohibited by university policy or LMS End User License Agreement (EULA).

Nonetheless, they represent the boundary on which local, situated solutions of the sort recommended by Selfe form as communications between instructors and students. Other research into the fragility of knowledge sharing between human groups examines the forms of innovation, and the typical dynamics that arise under each.

In the private-investment model, innovators privately fund innovation and then use intellectual property protection mechanisms to appropriate returns from these investments. In the collective-action model, public subsidy funds public goods innovations, characterized by non-rivalry and non-exclusivity in using these innovations. Recently, these models have been compounded in the private-collective innovation model where innovators privately fund public goods innovations. Private-collective innovation is illustrated in the case of open source software development. (Gächter, von Krough, Haefliger 893)

Most learning management systems are produced under the private-investment model. While actions can be taken to rhetorically motivate policy change for both preserving and permitting access to online course work environment—via the sort of 'coyote knowing' Selfe recommends—practical software solutions can be designed and implemented using free, open source software to replicate undependable public higher education resources. That is, community managed software projects such as those hosted on, referred to above as 'private-collective innovation', have the potential to support a lifetime knowledge repository for learners as much as the public higher education institutions of various states and countries in which formal learning initially occurs. But first, I want to further define the problem by examining research on existing learning management systems, with the hope to find insight on their archival features.

Stephanie J. Coopman analyzed the Blackboard LMS, which dominates the industry in part through its acquisition of competitors WebCT and ANGEL, because “little research has examined how learning management systems structure participants' experiences and replicate or diverge from traditional pedagogy” (1). Her article does not address the archival features of any of these systems, but is relevant nonetheless when participants' experiences include future activities intent on recollection of knowledge gleaned from pedagogy. It focuses on the implications of design decisions evident in LMS on communications among students, and between teachers and students. Her insistence that with performance metaphors, “knowledge becomes a process involving all learners (including instructors), rather than an object or thing produced by instructors for students.” In contrast, when a learning management system (LMS) emphasizes textual metaphors, the collaborative, dynamic potential of an online course may be diminished. This point, however, can be extended to the topic of creating long term memories from online coursework because, with performance-oriented, collaborative metaphors, students may be encouraged to take more responsibility in ensuring that they are creating knowledge from their coursework, rather than just consuming the texts produced by the teacher. Moreover, Coopman's suggestion that “blogs might hold the greatest potential for breaking out of the traditional discussion board mode” because of their stronger integration of multimedia context, and potential reach outside the confines of the LMS environment, again points in the direction of migrating content from the LMS to other, more persistent and readily accessible virtual locations. Coopman concludes her study with a critique of the hierarchical, system-centric design of Blackboard, in which control over the user interface, features, and policies of the LMS are in the hands of designers, engineers, marketers, and university administrators, leading to a “black-box effect to the infrastructure of Blackboard Inc.'s learning management systems.” She contrasts this student-as-user model to open source software systems like Moodle, which “allows tech-saavy faculty to actively participate in refining the course delivery platform,” thus allowing instructors and students more of a voice, if not an active role, in the evolution of their institution's LMS.

Moodle is a software package for producing Internet-based courses and web sites. It is a global development project designed to support a social constructionist framework of education. Moodle is provided freely as Open Source software (under the GNU Public License). . . . Moodle can be installed on any computer that can run PHP, and can support an SQL type database (for example MySQL). It can be run on Windows and Mac operating systems and many flavors of linux (for example Red Hat or Debian GNU). . . . The word Moodle was originally an acronym for Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment, which is mostly useful to programmers and education theorists. It's also a verb that describes the process of lazily meandering through something, doing things as it occurs to you to do them, an enjoyable tinkering that often leads to insight and creativity. (

Despite Moodle's self declaration as a lazily meandering process, its constitution as a global, private-collective, free, open source software project strengthens the otherwise subjugated student consumer user experience of private-investment, proprietary, commercial LMS providers. Awareness and change seems more likely to happen in less hierarchical, more user-centered systems.

User-centered design is the subject of Stuart Blythe's earlier work in the design of online courses, before the unified LMS swallowed the individual efforts of instructors deploying a mixture of individual technology systems like web pages, email, and chat. He criticizes technology designs modeled on academic discourse because “curriculum is designed according to formal specifications (procedures) and consideration of existing technologies (published materials), rather than than apparent examination of users' experiences with them.” (334). The goals of the segregated university course are bounded by the formal specification of the academic calendar, and terminates as soon as the letter grade is assigned. Under existing technologies – published materials, written text, paper – it is assumed that students collect course handouts, take notes, and obtain the assigned texts. No thought is really given to what students do with those materials after the course is over; however, it can be assumed that these printed materials will persist for the long term, provided the student does not throw them away or sell the books (throwing away notes is more serious since obsolete versions of textbooks can be easily obtained). According to Blythe's reasoning for user-centered design, “we need to understand ways that our own students at our own campuses and in our own classes produce the knowledge necessary to succeed in a Web-based course. Otherwise, we risk designing unusable courses.” (336). The scope of this understanding needs to extend beyond the scope that is the concern of the system-centered view, to the scope of creating deep knowledge through solid, long-term memories of the course content. The system-centered LMS spits out an export file without keys to recreating the context that makes the content meaningful.

In “Managing Courses, Defining Learning,” authors Ali Jarai, Patricia McGee, and Colleen Carmean note that “transportability, or the ability to move content between systems, was seen by administrators as a system necessity at the institutional level and as a current weakness at the level of institutional data and the individual user” (52). Therefore, they recommend that any next-generation LMS should explicitly address issues of archives and storage: “Students want to be able to access and store content over the duration of their degree work, to have access to material for all their courses in one location . . . [and] to be able to return to a former course and locate materials and resources that were useful to them” (56). The design of most systems, both commercial and open-source, is based on frameworks developed in the mid-to-late 1990s that segregate data within servers located on campus, limiting access to current faculty and students, and typically for the limited duration of the academic semester a course is active. “Thus there is a need for a personal L/CMS, something that establishes access above and beyond current institutional systems” (64). Based on personal experience in the design architecture of Oncourse and ANGEL, the authors propose the 'Jafari model', whose five design requirements are “lifelong, outsourced, global, comprehensive, and smart” (66). The system relies on distributed web services that inter-operate with existing applications such as WebCT, ANGEL, Facebook, MERLOT, and others. It is learner-centric rather than course-centric, “with the learner's e-portfolio being the foundation and the connecting point to the system. . . . [L]earners no longer need to worry about the interruption of access to their learning accomplishments and collections, including e-portfolios, after leaving campus or about whether a campus will end maintenance of their learning and portfolio collections” (66). Figure 2 depicts the proposed architecture, including its integration with existing educational and social networking technologies.

Figure 2: The Jafari Model integrates the LMS into a heterogeneous digital ecosystem where data sharing is implied (Jafari, McGee, and Carmean 68).

As appealing as the Jafari model for a future learning management system may be, the reality is that institutions have already invested a great deal of resources standardizing on an existing system that restricts access and does not allow customization beyond what its interface settings permit.1 Layering additional information systems alongside the learning management system may be a more feasible solution to improving the hardiness of knowledge based on online course content. Electronic portfolios are gaining popularity as a means for longitudinal, distributed evaluation of student work in addition to or as replacements for standardized, high-stakes testing (Whithaus; Love, McKean, and Gathercoal). As Carl Whithaus opines in Teaching and Evaluating Writing in the Age of Computers and High-Stakes Testing:

These new evaluation systems will acknowledge that students must learn how to become more effective communicators through interacting with others. Describing what and how the students learn through using multimodal and multimedia skills will replace focusing on deficits judged by outdated print-based standards. Finally, distributing a work to multiple readers means that various audiences will read student compositions and judge student skill levels and competencies for particular purposes. A single electronic portfolio will represent students' skills across disciplines because it will contain multiple genres. (150)

To bring this vision to fruition, argue Douglas Love, Gerry McKean, and Paul Gathercoal in “Portfolios to Webfolios and Beyond: Levels of Maturation,” institutions must progress through five stages of process maturity in their approach to storing and evaluating student work, from rudimentary, scrapbook-like, printed portfolios to an ideal level at which assessment, evaluation, and reporting is based on authentic evidence that involves students, teachers, and other evaluators, including potential employers. At the third level, dubbed 'Curriculum Collaboration Between Student and Faculty', “employers can view the student's showcase portfolio, including contextual clues from the institution, syllabi, assignments, help, resources, and assessment criteria” (30). At the fourth level, 'Mentoring Leading to Mastery', “additional heuristic value comes from the student's ability to generate her or his own portals for displaying work samples and achievements” (31). In parallel fashion, Whithaus differentiates between database-driven ePortfolio systems, which arrange and present a students' work following programmed patterns, and design-driven systems in which the thoughtful organization and presentation of the portfolio contents by the student forms an integral part of the demonstration of mastery (15).

The connecting thread is that such ePortfolio systems allow students to gather and store not only their compositions, but the real world context in which the work is situated, the aforementioned “contextual clues from the institution.” Additionally, “they may scaffold attempts at knowledge construction” (Abrami and Barrett). Making a connection to the maturation levels of ePortfolio systems suggests that a LMS may also exhibit different degrees of maturation with respect to not only how it presents information to the student within the course portal, but also how it presents information to the student after the course is finished, that 'cradle to grave' perspective. In this context, a LMS that has a function for exporting a threaded discussion as a text file provides less support of scaffolding knowledge construction than one that integrates the discussion into the overall course syllabus, related assignments, lecture notes, and readings, all of which are animated in an always available lifelong learning management system. The pressure is on LMS designers to provide either long-term access to course content, or streamlined tools for exporting course content to other systems, such as ePortfolios, and on university administrators to allow students to utilize such facilities.

Where do we go from here? All users—students taking online courses, and instructors teaching online courses—should take the immediate corrective actions of utilizing all opportunities to export dynamic course content, such as discussions and email, and copying context-defining content such as syllabus, calendar, announcements to a storage location that will not be affected by the administrative policies built into our institution's learning management systems (UCF Webcourses). My long term recommendation is for the automatization of services otherwise requiring 'manual' (that is, intentional) human intervention, for example manipulating a web browser to save content from online coursework out of the care of proprietary learning management systems so they can be reanimated. Until Webcourses permits students to save a backup of the course layout as it does instructors, into a format that can be easily imported into another LMS, then a bit of subversive sharing is in order. Feenberg tactics become instructor sharing Webcourses backup with students who run custom software that translates it into Moodle version of the course for lifelong retention (see Note 3). Of course, if this option is prohibited by university policy or LMS EULA, then students will have to recombine manually exported content from Webcourses to reform the course structure and content not exportable via the student interface via Moodle's user interface. As a long term strategy, students and instructors possessing the programming skills and time can develop free, open source software (FOSS) projects that together implement a lifelong learning management system that can readily be used to save content from all popular learning management systems in use by accredited universities. The term FOSS is typically associated with software licensed under the GNU General Public License (GPL) developed by Richard Stallman. Known as copyleft, the license ensures that four freedoms are maintained: the freedom to run the program for any purpose, the freedom to modify the source code (which entails having the source code readily available), the freedom to redistribute copies of the program, and the freedom to distribute modified versions of the program along with the modified source code (Stallman, 18).

This 'Jafari model' inspired vision (Figure 2), from which technical requirements may be specified, includes what I have proposed above as “scaffolding knowledge construction” that integrates the exported discussion and email into the overall course syllabus, related assignments, lecture notes, and readings, all of which are animated in an always available lifelong learning management system. Recall the three criteria I specified at the beginning: the solution must be long term, comprehensive, automatically recalled. A 'hacker-grade', pre-consumer model meets these overall requirements in the following system integration:

  • Moodle API integration offloads background LMS to a reliable third-party FOSS project.

  • Common LMS attributes (static syllabus, calendar, materials, assignments, dynamic announcements, discussions, email, etc) handled by Moodle to reproduce context of original online course.

  • MySQL provides shared database for use by third-party services (other free, open source project applications) and custom programs.

  • Third-party and custom project code parses backup file from Webcourses and imports into Moodle to recreate context of the course (syllabus, calendar, announcements, discussion group sequence, and additional content not archived by student interface). Otherwise user reconstructs his or her representation of the original online course by manually creating structure and copying content from Webcourses into the Moodle interface.

  • Third-party and custom project code parses exported discussion and email transcripts from Webcourses and imports into Moodle.

  • Third-party and project maintenance tasks refresh hyperlinks stored in Moodle data to ensure long term soundness.

The project can be started immediately in the free, open source software development community, using the author's current UCF Webcourses for supplying exported content. The combined lifelong learning management system begins to sensibly store online course content in a strong form that can be revisited for decades. Preserving the content and context remediates fragile knowledge trapped in the original LMS. Students create scaffolding for long term memories by reconstructing representations of their online courses in their own LMS. Using of formal course documents like the syllabus and calendar, communication mechanisms like assignments and email, and discussions, to support remembering the context of their learning, and leveraging the existing export capabilities of popular learning management systems to facilitate the transfer of dynamic content generated in discussions, blogs, email. Hyperlinks are reminders introduced in ancient information technology media, which like their counterparts in images and writing, have structural fragility. A language may be forgotten or a book may be lost. DNS changes, whims of remote archive maintenance, and other forms of 404 errors destroy memories of online learning. Maintaining the integrity of hyperlinks prevents externally, indirectly stored, reminder-based extended cognition from becoming fragile in the future, and consequently enfeebling its human host. Once the project has been established and users begin to employ it, other useful enhancements will arise through feedback forums associated with the project. Even if the proposed solution ultimately fails to provide added value to the default exported data files from the original LMS, the exercise itself is a useful example of a user-centered design initiative that may spur change in the hierarchically controlled, proprietary systems that currently dominate the online education market.

Works Cited

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Selfe, Cynthia L. Technology and Literacy in the Twenty-First Century: The Importance of Paying Attention. Carbondale, IL:Southern Illinois University Press, 1999. Print.

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Willingham, Daniel T. Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009. Print.

1In rare occasions an institution may change to a free, open source LMS whose exports students import into their own instances of the LMS. Typically, the institution uses a proprietary system like UCF Webcourses that exports an indecipherable wad of binary data as a backup method. It would have to be reverse-engineered to be read into a Moodle system as if from a Moodle backup file. This will be a key conversion to implement in any software project that attempts to do this. Such 'coyote-thinking' may violate EULA or even United States law.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sourceforge and Free Open Source Software



What is it? It is a global free, open source software development community.


Define FOSS: four freedoms, GPL, FDL, CC, shareware, freeware

Teachers & Students

Exploring Sourceforge: Find useful software: long tail, bazaar

Exercise: find projects related to other presentation topics [4-5 minutes]

Example: text to speech (examine espeak file speak_lib.h)

Teachers & Students

Course Design Practices

  • Integrate existing projects (audacity, espeak)

  • Create custom applications

  • Create mini-lessons, learning objects that link to Merlot (GPL or FDL)

Example: audio virtual reality electronic literature (symposia symposia.cpp)


Digital Humanities Assignment Component

  • Create projects related to coursework

  • Evaluate projects for a course task

  • System-level examination of license and copyright notices for FOS compliance


Development (smaller percentage of students have commit rights)

  • programming

  • bug fixes

  • testing


Service Learning opportunities (majority of students document (Yeats))

  • manuals (espeakedit)

  • web sites

  • wikis

  • bug reports (user-centered design)

  • feature requests (user-centered design)


Unrestricted Public Record of Achievement: For portfolios, applications, resumes

Teachers & Students

Raymond, Eric S. The Cathedral and the Bazaar. (Rev. ed.). Sebastopol, Calif.: O'Reilly, 2001.

Stallman, Richard. Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman. Boston: GNU Press. 2010.

Yeats, David. “The Role for Technical Communicators in Open-Source Software Development.” Technical Communication 55.1 (February 2008): 38-44.

If there is one takeaway, it is to read Yeats and realize that in most classes only a small percentage will be programmers. And also that paste from Libre Office is flawed.