EdTech news we're reading this week: open source textbooks and a radio education

4 min read

chalkboard

Putting a Dent in College Costs with Open-Source Textbooks

Ann Carrns in The New York Times

A new report from The Student Public Interest Research Groups (Student PIRGs) suggests that college students could save an average of $128 per course if traditional textbooks were replaced with open source electronic options. The College Board reports that the annual cost of books and supplies costs sets students back by an average of $1,200 to $1,300 each year.

Open source textbooks can be download electronically, printed at low cost if needed, and rearranged to suit the syllabus and lesson plan for a specific class. Professors often aren’t aware that high quality open source textbooks exist in their subject area.

Read the article...

Now This Is An Example Of A Truly Educational Radio

Linda Poon on NPR

In Sierra Leone schools have been shut down to stop the spread of Ebola. That’s left a million school-aged children with no classroom to go to. In October, the government partnered with UNICEF and other organizations to launch an educational radio program. Teachers are writing and recording hour-long lessons that are then aired on 41 different government radio stations every day.

Radio is the most common way for Sierra Leoneans to get their daily information, but only around 25% of the population owns a radio. To add interactivity to the radio lessons, students are encouraged to text their questions. However, many poor students can’t afford a phone.

Read the article...

Professors question traditional four-year residential college model

Jason Song in the LA Times

Mitchell Stevens, a Stanford University education professor, believes that large prestigious universities like Stanford aren’t adopting to the changing trends in higher education and learning environments. Where the traditional university model meant attending a four-year institution, taking classes in person, and paying a large tuition, more students are now turning to options that better fit into their lives, like online courses and two-year colleges.

In 1988, 39% of students attended community college, but by 2008 57% of first-year undergraduates were attending two-year colleges. Some private colleges, like Harvey Mudd College - in Claremont, CA - and Davidson College - in Charlotte, NC - have been exploring options around the “flipped” classroom. Flipped courses allow students to watch course lectures via video and then spend classroom time discussing and interacting with peers and professors.

Read the article...

How do I podcast with my students on a tight budget?

Jeff Bradbury on TeacherCast

Do you have a 1:1 Apple Macbook Air classroom interested in podcasting? Maybe you’re just an Apple user with a desire to record lectures, interviews, thoughts. This post has some great recommendations on getting ready to podcast. Bradbury lists microphone recommendations for personal use and for use with a classroom. He also includes software picks for editing the podcast. And did you know that Known is a great platform for releasing a podcast? Upload each show as an audio file, include any shownotes or related resources, and build a stream for your next podcast.

Read the article...

Of Teachers and Educational Technology

Suren Ramasubbu in The Huffington Post

Ramasubbu believes the introduction of technology into the classroom hinges on the attitudes, beliefs, and skills of the teacher. In this post he shares and summarizes some of the data around technology adoption in the classroom. A study from Maine found that math performance in middle school students taught by teachers trained in laptop use increased dramatically.

In another study, only 39% of teachers cited “moderate” or “frequent” use of technology in the classroom, despite a growing population of teachers familiar with technology.

Read the article...

The web is stronger with diverse voices. You are welcome here.

2 min read

Final stop

The web is the most powerful communications medium the world has ever known. We've never been more connected, which means we've never had the opportunities for learning, for tolerance and for a mutual, global understanding.

But we lose those opportunities if the conversations we have online, and the content we discover, comes from a narrow set of viewpoints.

Over the past six months, we've seen people ejected from online spaces for not using their real names (even when they were using the names they have chosen for themselves, and even, in the case of Native Americans, when they were using their given names). We've seen peoples' content removed because other people disagreed with it. And we've seen content removed because it doesn't adhere to a narrow set of corporate guidelines.

This is not what the web was supposed to be.

We think a diverse set of voices, and diverse content, are important for democracy.

We don't have plans to censor content on our service (although we must adhere to US law). We won't force you to use your real name or identify yourself in a way that you aren't comfortable with.

Most importantly, you don't have to trust us: we'll give you a full export of your content at any time, and to the best of our knowledge are the only service that will give you everything you've posted as static files, as HTML, as JSON, and as a complete SQL database export. Our platform works just as well on your own server as it does on ours.

To the diverse voices of the web, I would like to say: you are welcome on Known. Click here to create your free site, or click here to get our code to run on your own server.

Let's all learn from each other and make a richer web.

5 easy JavaScript libraries to help make your website shine

3 min read

It's sometimes easy to forget that the web is a rich platform that lets you add multimedia and manipulate its content to your heart's content - if you have the technical ability. We thought we would round up some of the easiest to use JavaScript libraries. While these do require pasting some HTML code, you don't have to do very much, and we think they're a great way to get started customizing your own website.

All of these libraries work with Known Pro, which allows you to add JavaScript to your Known site.

Twemoji

Many of us use emoji on our iPhones and Android devices, but they don’t always display as well on the web. Twitter had to solve this problem for their users, and collaborated with The Iconfactory on over 800 well-drawn emoji glyphs. They also made an easy-to-use JavaScript library that automatically handles emoji, so they always look great, no matter which device your readers use.

JuxtaposeJS

You’ve probably seen these on the web. A Northwestern University Knight Lab project, JuxtaposeJS lets you easily compare two images, side by side, with a slider between them.

SoundCiteJS



The modern web supports multimedia in lots of different kinds of ways. With SoundCiteJS, you can take a snippet of MP3 or OGG audio - whether uploaded using Known’s audio plugin, using FTP to a third-party server, or on SoundCloud - and play it inline. Suddenly, you can make your text real with clickable environmental audio, quotes, music and more.

By the way: we could list all of the Knight Lab projects here, but we’ll stop with this one. Visit their website to see all the incredible things they do.

Highlight.js

If you’re a developer, sharing source code is essential. Unfortunately, while your Integrated Development Environment highlights your code to make it easy to read, you immediately lose that formatting when you publish it to the web.

Highlight.js solves this problem by highlighting your code. It even automatically detects which language you’re using, so there’s no need to use any extra markup. Once you’ve installed the library, you can paste your source code inside the HTML <code> tag anywhere on your page.

Bonus: there’s no need to add this code to Known - it’s built in!

MathJax

If you’re sharing scientific or mathematical content, there’s every chance that you’ll want to include a formula or two. Unfortunately, on the web this is usually ugly, inaccessible to screenreaders, and incredibly hard to do. Furthermore, TeX, the formatting language most often used by scientists in academia, isn’t usually supported by web browsers.

MathJax changes that by allowing you to use TeX in your content as well as MathML and ASCIImath. The formatting is beautiful and it uses web fonts so it’s responsive and accessible. It even works on legacy web browsers like Internet Explorer 6.


These are just a handful of libraries to get started with. Are there any others that you would recommend for people who are just getting started adding dynamic content to their own websites? Let us know in the comments.

EdTech news we're reading this week: granny clouds, leaving the LMS, and more

3 min read

Afghan women on the internet

Power up your reading devices, it's a three-day weekend! To kick off your Saturday (or maybe finish your Friday) we've rounded up five articles that caught our eye this week, each touching on different aspects of technology in the classroom.

Technology in schools: Future changes in classrooms

Jane Wakefield on bbc.com

Desks facing forward, students staring at a lecturing teacher at the front of the classroom. Does this sound like the classroom of the future? Even if you replace the blackboard with a whiteboard and swap out textbooks for tablets, little has changed in education since Victorian times, argues Marc Prensky. Parents are wary to let their children serve as guinea pigs for a radically different curriculum, one that could focus more on problem solving, creative thinking, and collaboration.

The flipped classroom, where teachers become a guide for students watching lectures at their own pace, is one idea that could bring a radical change to standard educational curriculum. New to me was the concept of the "granny cloud," retirees from the UK who have been mentoring students in India via Skype. This School in the Cloud project was described by Sugata Mitra at TED in 2013.

Read it here.

Techniques for Unleashing Student Work from Learning Management Systems

Justin Reich on KQED's MindShift

Justin takes on a subject closely aligned with our work on Known, student blogging, connected courses, and getting away from the LMS. In this post, he breaks down how he taught T509-Massive: The Future of Learning at Scale, a class at Harvard last fall. Rather than force students to use an LMS, for Massive students were encouraged to create their own websites, blogs, and Twitter accounts. The content that they publish across the web is aggregated on a course hub where it can be seen in one place. As the network grew, colleagues from outside classroom could share resources or thoughts with Massive as well, using the hashtag.

Read it here

The Evolution of Learning Technologies

informEd and OpenColleges

The OpenColleges InformED blog has put together an interactive infographic on learning technologies. Travel in time from hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt, to the quill pen of 700 AD, and past the Dynabook networked computer created in 1968.

See the infographic here

Museums and Online Learning: a student's perspective

Maddy Windel on Center for the Future of Museums

Freshman Maddy Windel - a student from a rural public high school in Arkansas - describes her experience participating in the pilot of Museum Mash-Up. The Museum Mash-Up course is an online class developed by the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. It was the first online class for Maddy. As a student in Arkansas, she is required to have an online course credit for graduation, and the art focus appealed to her. Maddy recounts what it was like to go from a close-knit in-person learning environment to an online classroom and what she thought of the digital art experience.

Read it here

What question(s) do you ask yourself before integrating technology into instruction?

Matt Renwick on Reading by Example

Educator Matt Renwick asked his community, "What questions do you ask yourself before you involve technology in instruction?" Here, he shares a handful of their responses.

Read it here

Build awesome PHP web applications using Known as a framework

4 min read

You probably know Known as a simple web tool that lets you publish on your own site and syndicate across the web. It's also a great way to get a PHP web application up and running quickly and easily.

A quick, non-technical overview

Known is designed to make it easy to build an application without worrying about how your data is stored in the database, and takes care of a lot of really common tasks like user creation, logging in and logging out, and creating APIs. That way you can spend your time building the things that are unique to your application, knowing that everything else is dealt with.

One reason that's useful is that sometimes developers need to be able to make a working prototype very quickly in order to test an idea. Known gives you a full framework to play with, which removes the need to worry about infrastructure decisions. Furthermore, its plugins can be used by application developers to add features like Facebook integrations.

Technical details

Here are a few of the technical characteristics of Known as a platform that make it useful for developers.

  • The entire codebase is namespaced and object-orientated
  • It has a great MVC framework with flexible templating
  • Data is abstracted: use your choice of database engine
  • Plugins make integrations simple

Let's go through those in detail:

100% namespaced, object-orientated back-end, with MVC

PHP started as a procedural language, and many PHP-based projects have inherited this legacy. Known is fully object-orientated with namespaces, and is PRS-0 compliant.

It contains object primitives for things like entities (objects you can store), pages (endpoints that can be accessed using a web browser or other application), users and events. You can pick those up without ever having to use Known's front-end, but you can also use its fully-granular templating engine.

If you want, you can also use Known's page routing engine, which allows you to assign URLs to their controllers using regular expressions. Known pages include support for CSRF prevention, and can be used as an API endpoint out of the box.

The template types in Known can easily be toggled, so while Known ships with a responsive HTML interface out of the box, you could use Known as an API back-end and talk to it entirely in JSON.

Data abstraction

Out of the box, Known supports MySQL and MongoDB database back-ends. To the best of our knowledge, it's the only platform that lets you flip between these interchangeably. That's already cool, but because the database management layer is extensible, it's easy to build support for other platforms. Database engines like Postgres or CouchDB wouldn't be a stretch.

Dealing with database objects is super-easy, too. For example, to create a new blog post, you'd extend the Entity class:

namespace MyPlugin;

class BlogPost extends \Idno\Common\Entity {
    // Any custom logic
}

Then you can add arbitrary data to the object:

$post = new \MyPlugin\BlogPost();

$post->title = "This is my post title";
$post->body = "Some body text";
$post->mood = "Happy";
$post->tags = ['tag one','tag two','tag three'];
$post->arbitrary_metadata = "Arbitrary value";

To save it, you just need to call the save method:

$post->save();

The framework will take care of saving in an appropriate format, regardless of data back-end. Known takes care of the schema, so there's never any need to make your own tables. That also means that you can upgrade the framework without ever having to worry about data migration.

A great plugin framework

The same plugins that make it easy to syndicate content to Twitter and Facebook, for example, can also be used as development libraries. There's no need to create your own social media integrations, even if you're building an application with a very different core use case to Known. You can tell the system to programatically load the plugin, and then access its easy-to-use methods to authenticate a user with the network and call its APIs.

Permissive license

Known is available under an Apache license. You can always get the complete source code on GitHub.

And more!

Known's features also include features like a robust event framework, support for microformat parsing, search, and a web client with full proxy support. There's a lot to play with, and it's growing all the time.

And of course, you can get a free Known site here.

Why you should start a website as a college student

3 min read

College Student Website

Recently The Productivity Show – a podcast from Asian Efficiency – interviewed Thomas Frank about his experiences as a blogger.  Thomas is the creator and main author of College Info Geek, a website dedicated to helping students become more productive, successful, and all-around awesome.

When asked about college students and personal websites, Thomas shared why he believes it's essential for college students to create a site for themselves and how they can get started. "What I want college students to do, at the very least, is go out and buy your domain name right now, and just point it at something."

A hub for your online presence

He continued, "But I think it looks really good if you take the time to actually set up your own website where you have your resume, you can maybe have a portfolio of the work you've done, you can have links to anywhere you want to be contacted or any of your social profiles on the internet...And then it becomes the hub of your online presence, and you were the one who built it, so it's very much like your thing."

Thomas doesn't believe college students have to blog to have their own websites, but he says that blogging is an interesting addition. It's an opportunity for students to show their writing on topics where they're trying to become a known figure or where they're trying to become recognized for their expertise in the area.

Blog to become a recognized expert

Thomas says, "Anybody in a college major wants to become known as an expert in some field related to that major because that's how you're going to get jobs...When you blog, you're teaching people or you're chronicling your experience but whatever you're doing, you are creating content around that area, and you're tying your name to it. And that can only help you build a brand and get a job and achieve your goals. It can also help you become a better writer, become a better communicator, become more visible online just because you're making more content. So I really think it's a net positive, and - having done it as a student - it doesn't have to be a huge time sink."

Thomas says that as a college student with his own website, he really hit his stride with blogging about 11 months into it. He had been focusing on writing two to six blog articles a month, spending about one to two hours on each article.

He goes on to discuss how writing helps college students to solidify their knowledge of a topic better. Thomas found that things he wrote about and things he taught were much easier to recall than things he had just read about while studying.

You can listen to the full interview at The Productivity Show podcast site, and you can learn more about Thomas and his writing at collegeinfogeeks.com.

How can we help? Introducing Known consulting services!

2 min read

 

Since we launched our open beta in September, we've been blown away by the community that's grown up around our central product. We're excited to talk to people who use Known in all kinds of ways, from teaching literature classes to marketing their small businesses, every single day.

Known is a product of our backgrounds. I co-founded and was the software architect for Elgg, an open source community platform that's been used by Oxfam, the World Bank, Harvard, Fortune 500 companies and multiple federal governments. I was also the CTO of latakoo, which powers on-location video delivery for organizations like NBC News. Erin has been a design consultant for companies like Microsoft, eBay, Intel and Coca-Cola. Together we have extensive experience in building software, understanding users and creating delightful products.

People are reaching out and asking for our help beyond Known itself, so we've decided to meet that need by offering a range of consulting services. We can create customizations for your Known site, but we can also help you understand your organization's product needs - and help you build it - regardless of the platform. Most importantly, we adapt our services to your requirements.

To learn more, check out our consulting page.

Known 0.7.1 has left the building

1 min read

We've just released Known 0.7.1 for self-hosted users.

This is an interim bug fix release, which solves a number of key problems that people were having with self-hosted Known. Specifically, this improves support for root-level domains that also use www aliases (eg, both mydomain.com and www.mydomain.com). It also improves support for pasting HTML from other sources.

You can download Known 0.7.1 in two different archive formats: .zip .tgz

If you prefer, you can get a free Known site on our fully-managed service.

Here's how Known Pro makes sharing across all your social media accounts a snap

2 min read

Our Known Pro pre-order customers got hold of our product last week, and we're already getting some great reviews. What people seem to like most of all is the ability to share across an unlimited number of social media accounts, so I thought I'd give you a quick glimpse into how that works.

First, you connect your accounts. You can connect an unlimited number of accounts per service. For example, you might have a personal Twitter account for yourself, as well as a company account, and an account for your main product. Known Pro also supports unlimited Facebook Pages and LinkedIn Company Pages.

Adding them is a breeze:

 

 

Once your connections are added, all you have to do is pick a content type to post:

 

 

Then just enter your content, as well as the social media accounts you want to syndicate to:

 

 

Hit "Publish", and your content finds its way to the social media accounts of your choice, as well as to your Known site. Here we've shown a status update, but full blog posts, photos, links and check-ins all syndicate.

This is just one feature in Known Pro. We'll be opening it up for new customers very soon - in the meantime, you can join the waiting list.

Announcing Known 0.7, named for Miriam Makeba

2 min read

When Erin and I were talking about releasing Known, we decided we wanted each major version to highlight artists and creatives. Our first ever open source release, 0.6, was named for Katherine Dunham.

The latest version of Known contains many improvements, including the ability to have unlimited accounts per social media service, as well as static pages, syndication to webhooks, and hundreds of fixes and enhancements.

I'm drawn to artists who use their unique voices for justice. Miram Makeba arguably introduced western mainstream audiences to African music, and used that platform to fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa. While in the United States, her South African passport was canceled, leaving her exiled from her country. She became a citizen of the world, and was granted honorary citizenship in ten countries.

A singer and international civil rights activist

Miriam Makeba's song Pata Pata made her famous in South Africa. Harry Belafonte helped her enter the United States, where she found further fame. They jointly won a Grammy for a live album, and performed at a birthday concert for President John F Kennedy, who insisted on meeting her afterwards. Her music was soulful and deeply rooted in her cultural history.

But she found that even in the United States, political ideals are not always compatible with a popular career. Her marriage to Black Panther Stokely Carmichael - who fought against institutional racism here - led to her losing her tours and record contracts. It wasn't until Paul Simon invited her on the Graceland tour decades later that the effective boycott against her music in the US ended. In the meantime, she lived in Guinea, and toured across Europe and Africa.

She was outspoken against South Africa's racist apartheid regime, publicly called for Nelson Mandela's release, and spoke at the United Nations on multiple occasions. It was Mandela who eventually invited her back to South Africa.

She passed away in 2008, after performing in a benefit concert in aid of fighting the Camorra, a long-standing criminal network in Naples.

Download Known 0.7 Makeba

You can get Known 0.7 in .zip and .tgz archives. Our source code is always available on GitHub.