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Blogs

What I’m Reading on 10/12/2014

How to Clean an Enameled Cast Iron Pot “We’ve all been there — kitchen mishaps happen. Here are the best ways to clean your Le Creuset and other enameled cast iron pots.” tags: bs cast iron Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here. © Robert S. Sutor for Bob Sutor,…

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Photo: Autumn Rainbow on Cranberry Lake, NY Adirondacks

© Robert S. Sutor for Bob Sutor, 2014. All rights reserved. Permalink | No comments Categorized under: Photos. Tagged with: Adirondacks, Cranberry Lake, photos. Twitter: bob_sutor

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What I’m Reading on 10/11/2014

Reddit may launch new cryptocurrency – Hypergrid Business “Reddit, a major tech-oriented social network and news site, has revealed plans to launch its own cryptocurrency backed by shares in the company.” tags: bs reddit Chemistry Nobel to 3 who made it possible to see the life of molecules – LA Times…

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What I’m Reading on 10/09/2014

Geographically Distributed Agile Teams | Disciplined Agile Delivery “The majority of agile teams are geographically distributed in some manner. This article explores how geographic distribution affects agile teams.  To do this we address a series of questions:” tags: bs distributed agile Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links…

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What I’m Reading on 10/06/2014

The Future of Data-Driven Innovation | U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation “On October 7, 2014, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation will gather some of the nation’s most influential leaders to focus on the revolutions that is changing the way every business operates in today’s world – data.” tags: bs…

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What I’m Reading on 10/05/2014

Silicon Valley’s Diversity Problem – NYTimes.com “Tech companies should care about these numbers. Many studies show that companies with gender and ethnic diversity tend to be more creative and more profitable, because varied perspectives help them design products and services that appeal to a diverse, worldwide audience.” tags: bs silicon…

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What I’m Reading on 10/03/2014

iBeacons: List of hardware compatible with Apple’s iOS and Android – OZO “We know very little about iBeacons. Information keeps trickling down from Apple thanks to some detective work in the documentation. But Apple still hasn’t released an official guide. This hasn’t stopped some companies from exploring the technology and…

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What I’m Reading on 10/02/2014

Why Windows 10 isn’t named 9: Windows 95 legacy code? | PCWorld “To save time, some third-party Windows desktop developers used a shorthand to check the version name (not number) of Windows they were installing their app to. Instead of coding apps to check for Windows 95 or Windows 98,…

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What I’m Reading on 10/01/2014

As PayPal Spins Off, Apple Pay Signals New Era at Cash Register – NYTimes.com “If doubts remained about the far-reaching implications of Apple’s entry into the market, they were almost surely cast aside on Tuesday. In a surprise announcement, the e-commerce giant eBay said it would spin off PayPal, long…

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Photo: Fall color on the Grasse River in the NY Adirondacks

© Robert S. Sutor for Bob Sutor, 2014. All rights reserved. Permalink | No comments Categorized under: Photos. Tagged with: Adirondacks, photos. Twitter: bob_sutor

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Photo: Copper Rock Falls on the Grasse River in the NY Adirondacks

© Robert S. Sutor for Bob Sutor, 2014. All rights reserved. Permalink | No comments Categorized under: Photos. Tagged with: Adirondacks, photos. Twitter: bob_sutor

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What I’m Reading on 09/24/2014

At in-store clinics, $4 checkups for Wal-Mart workers | Marketplace.org “You can’t buy a lot for $4—maybe a cup of coffee or muffin. But at about a dozen Walmart stores across the South, $4 will get employees a visit to a nurse practitioner at an in-store clinic. It’s part of…

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What I’m Reading on 09/19/2014

All Points North – Growing a Great Garden in the Adirondacks “Growing a garden in the Adirondacks can be challenging, but it does not have to be if you take the proper steps before laying your seeds in the ground.” tags: bs adirondacks gardens Adirondack Museum | Adirondack Journal —…

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What I’m Reading on 09/16/2014

IBM’s New Watson Analytics Wants To Bring Big Data To The Masses | TechCrunch “Watson Analytics is a cloud application that does all of the the heavy lifting related to big data processing by retrieving the data, analyzing it, cleaning it, building sophisticated visualizations and offering an environment for communicating and…

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What I’m Reading on 09/11/2014

String reference guide for Swift | LearnSwiftOnline.com “Like in many other languages, strings in Swift are defined by the use of “double quotes”.   If you are coming from Objective-C most of this page will be familiar, some may look a bit strange but in general, things just got much easier…

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Vision for citationstyles.org

So awhile ago, I registered the citationstyles.org domain name, and Rintze Zelle and I, with some help from the team at CNMH, moved CSL hosting over to that domain.

As I’ve suggested in an earlier post, however, I have some rather ambitious plans for expanding that site. Following is a bit more fleshed out idea of what I have in mind.

Mendeley has put some resources into a promising new WYSIWYG CSL creation and editing interface. At this point, it’s far enough along to show a lot of promise, but is still missing a number of key CSL features that it really needs to be functional with real world styles. But I expect this will come soon enough.

I would really like to host this new application at citationstyles.org, and to use it to create a community supported style creation and editing repository. So imagine a few example use cases:

  1. Sarah the chemist starts a manuscript she wants to submit to a journal. She does a quick search in her local application (but which is in fact searching a remote repository) for this journal style, but finds it doesn’t exist. The interface includes a link to “create new style”, which brings her to citationstyles.org. Once there, she is prompted for some information about her style that helps the application narrow down exactly what she’s looking for, and presents her with four options that it thinks might be close to what she needs. Upon inspecting the example output, she realizes that her journal style is exactly the same as a style for another journal. Rather than create an entire new style, then, she simply clicks a button, enters the new title and other metadata, and the style is ready for her and others to use.
  2. A variant of the first case, where Sarah finds a style very close to what she needs, but with some important differences. She clicks a button to edit the new style based on this existing style, which presents her with a pre-filled style. She quickly identifies what she needs to change, does so, and then goes on her way. The entire process take her three minutes.
  3. John the psychologist realizes there’s a mistake in the community version of the APA style. He goes to a page for that style, and enters a comment with the relevant information. Another user who has taken responsibility for this (this user could be someone from the publisher or journal itself, BTW), quickly makes the change, and it is instantly available to hundreds of thousands of users of a numbers of different bibliographic applications.
  4. A group of scholars form a new open access journal. They want to make it easy for their users to create consistent citations and bibliographic entries. The new editor goes to citationstyles.org to create a new style, simply bases it wholesale on Chicago, and in two minutes is done: the journal’s styles is available for any to use.
I could add more, of course, but I think this suffices to get across the idea. It is based on my strong belief that academic users—whether they be beginning undergraduates, or senior scholars—really don’t ever want either to:
  1. create styles … unless they don’t exist
  2. edit styles … unless their styles don’t work
In other words, people don’t want to bother with these esoteric details unless they must. And crowd-sourcing the maintenance and evolution of these styles is the sane, practical, thing to do. I want citationstyles.org to be based on this notion. Neither I nor Rintze, however, have the time or skills to realize this vision. So we’d welcome help to make it happen.

Categories: Blogs

Content Ownership and Sharing in an LMS

Michael Feldstein has a post on the new Repository API in Moodle, and explains that it enables easy import and export of content to/from course sites. But, he suggests, this may well be a solution to a more fundamental design failing; as he puts it:

A fundamental flaw in LMS design is that the course, rather than the student, owns course documents. While it’s great that Moodle makes it easy to export course contributions to places where students can hold onto them after the course gets archived, this mechanism relies on students making specific efforts to save their work. I would prefer to see a system in which the canonical copies of student-created course documents (or faculty-created course documents, for that matter) live in the users’ private file storage space and the course instance is granted permission to access them.

I think is exactly right, but I see two issues. First, who owns group created/edited documents? I doubt this is an unresolvable issue, but it does add a layer of complexity to the discussion.

Second, I’d want to consider a broader notion of sharing. Consider an example:

I teach a large-enrollment introductory course that is part of the University’s “Top 25″ initiative, which seeks to reorient these sorts of more typically lecture courses around principles of inquiry-based learning. We have a team of people who teach this course who worked at figuring out new course modules that we could share among instructors. But the sharing happens (or not, as it were) through a wiki, and the kind of content we have up is not available in a fully ready-made form such that each of us can simply take it and go in our individual courses. Sharing just takes too much work as it is.

I’d like my LMS to make it really easy to share teaching resources among faculty; ideally not only within just a particular LMS instance at a single university, but across universities. Why can’t I, for example, create a course module and make it public? Why shouldn’t I be able to easily borrow work from colleagues at other institutions? And by easily, I don’t mean having to force them to export some damned package, email it to me, and then make me import it. I mean single-click sharing. What if, for example, I could search for particular concepts in my area of geography, and get a list of modules from both my colleagues here, but also other colleagues elsewhere, and simply click to use it in and/or adapt it to my course?

So that’s a use case: I really want to contribute to and borrow from my colleagues’ work in ways that go far beyond what’s now possible. What does it take to make that possible? Am not exactly sure, but think it’s likely to require rich metadata and structured content authoring. Sakai 3 will, for example, have a template system that allows for wizard-like creation of new content. I could imagine using those templates to layer RDFa metadata into the content itself, and then somehow collecting that metadata and exposing it through some sort of API (SPARQL?).

Categories: Blogs

CSL Status and Next Steps

So it’s been a few months since version 1.0 of the CSL specification was finally released. Where do we stand now?

Quickly:

  1. We’ve got a completely 1.0-compliant CSL processor in the form of Frank Bennett’s citeproc-js, which is backed up by an extensive test suite. This has just recently been folded into the Zotero trunk code, so should be rolled out to Zotero users in the coming months.
  2. The Mendeley team is also planning to use citeproc-js, though I haven’t heard any update on timeline.
  3. Mendeley has also started work on a WYSIWYG online style creator. This is really important.
  4. Ron Jerome has been working on a PHP port for use in his Drupal biblio module; it’s not done, but he’s made good progress
  5. Sente has support for CSL import
  6. a new app called Peaya has CSL support, though I know no details (in fact, hadn’t ever heard of it until just a bit ago, which bothers me)
  7. Andrea Rossato is updating his wicked fast Haskell implementation to be 1.0-compliant; usable, among other things, with the really nice markdown processor Pandoc
What do I take away from this? That the idea of CSL is gaining traction: that citation styles are too much work to be worth the hassle for every application creating their own language and associated styles, and that users don’t really want to think about citation styling; they want stuff to “just work.”

So here’s my vision of where I’d like to be in another year or two:

  1. “CSL support” is considered an important feature by users
  2. A complete and beautifully functional online CSL creation application is up and running, and the result is an explosion of good, correct, and up-to-date styles. Right now we have a bit over 1,100 the last I checked; I’d like to see this increase to cover virtually all current journal styles. To do this right means it has to be really easy to both create new styles, and comment on and subsequently edit existing styles.
  3. Wide and deep (e.g. fully compliant) support for CSL across a range of applications and application types (online, desktop, etc.). This not only includes correct formatting, but also making it really easy to find and use the styles noted above (and passing around files by email does not count).
  4. I’d also like to see progress on the thorny problem of document interoperability, as well as adding RDFa support to formatted bibliographies for full round-tripping

But there’s still some distance between that idea and the current reality. For one thing, there’s not as much collaboration on CSL among developers as I’d like. Ideally, everyone that implements CSL should have some sort of public commitment to, and benefit from, future CSL development. At minimum, this should involve participating in development discussions. But beyond that, we need people to help with:

  1. web design for the citationsyle.org site
  2. finishing the style creation application and repository (PHP and JQuery skills needed!), and figuring out how best to exploit this in applications
So continual progress, but still a fair bit of social and technical work to do!

Categories: Blogs

Sakai 2 and/or 3?

My institution is entering the Sakai community at a time that is both awkward and exciting. Sakai is now a two-product world. Sakai 2 is well-developed and stable: the LMS we have now. Sakai 3, on the other hand, is the emergent next-generation LMS: incredibly promising, but not yet ready for wide-scale deployment.

Given our roadmap to transition over the next year or so and have Sakai fully deployed in the Fall of 2011, the obvious question all of us that attended the Sakai 2010 conference were asking was: should we just look to jump straight to 3? Ultimately, after all the discussions, we ended up with about four different possibilities:

  1. do Sakai 2, and effectively ignore Sakai 3
  2. do Sakai 3, and ignore Sakai 2
  3. run Sakai 3 for the nice new social-networking features to act as a kind of portal with Facebook-like features, but run Sakai 2 in “hybrid mode” for the more traditional LMS functionality that may not be ready when we need it
  4. similar to the above, but run the two instances completely separately
Each approach has its trade-offs. The first ensures a longer transition to Sakai 3, where I think many of our faculty and students would really like to at least experiment with it ASAP. It would also insure another, somewhat abrupt, transition. The second is probably not realistic in our time-frame; some LMS functionality that some faculty will need will likely not be ready by Fall of 2011.

I got the feeling that our group was more attracted to the last two options, both of which would present faculty and students with the new face and the unique features of Sakai 3, and allow a more incremental and seamless transition to the next-generation LMS functionality as it became available. I also personally gathered that the ultimate decision will have to come down to facts on the ground, as they evolve. In short, we probably ought to concentrate on Sakai 2 now, but monitor the progress of Sakai 3. If the project moves at the pace projected in the roadmap then running 2 and 3 together in hybrid mode may well be a viable option. If not, running them separately initially might make more sense.

Another related important question will be what we use for portal functionality. Sakai 3 could hypothetically serve as a nice, flexible, portal interface. It is substantially more ambitious than the traditional LMS model. Certainly some of our people were thinking about this idea. And other institutions have as well. UC Berkeley, for example, is deploying Sakai 3 as its portal system for the coming Fall. But such a move at my campus would likely require a rethink of what our portal functionality should provide, and unlike Berkeley, we already have a portal constituency on campus. So I can imagine some political challenges as well.

Belorussian provided by PC

Categories: Blogs

Sakai 2010 Conference: Impressions

Having just recently been involved in Miami’s decision to move from Blackboard to Sakai, I was asked to attend the annual Sakai conference along with our some of our IT and instructional design staff. I just got back last night. Here’s some thoughts and impressions.

For some background, I’m an academic whose focus has nothing to do with technology. Nevertheless, I have years of experience in working with open source communities on issues related to academic (mostly research) authoring (see, for example, my work on CSL, which is an outgrowth of work for OpenOffice). But because this work is not central to my academic position, I have tended to avoid investing cash and time resources in attending related technology conferences. With Sakai, though, it’s a little easier to justify my involvement, since it has direct impact on my teaching, and on the broader teaching and learning community at my institution. Aside from a talk I gave at a Code4Lib conference a few years ago, then, this is my first edu technology conference.

So what did I think in a nutshell? I was deeply impressed. The Sakai community is diverse, smart, passionate, and energetic. The sense of mission the community has is almost palpable. It is clear that there is a lot of deep thinking that happens in this world, and that there is a lot of discussion and community engagement around that. At the same time, this seems to be a quite pragmatic community as well. They know what they want to do, and they seem to know how to get there.

In particular, my respect for the Sakai 3 effort continues to grow. Before we made the decision to go with Sakai, I had already spent a lot of time looking at the project: downloading and running the current code, looking at the technical design, reading through the more user-oriented design documents, and talking to the Sakai product manager (Clay Fenlason) about the process by which they were realizing this ambitious vision for a next-generation LMS and collaboration system. So I was already really impressed with Sakai 3 before the conference. But at the conference, you can see how all this works is materialized.

I watched a demo of the NYU pilot project (see, for example, this session description), for example, that will be going live in the coming months. Because the lead Sakai 3 UI designer was in the room as well, we could have a collective discussion about details of the work, both now and in the future. What became clear in these and other discussion is that there are some really sharp people working on this project. At no time did a question come up where I got the impression that these people had anything but an absolutely clear focus on what they were doing.

I also went to a session that explained all the work and thinking behind this diagram.

This diagram represents a year of intense work of pedagogical experts from around the world, trying to imagine (and re-imagine) the core principles that should drive the design of a next-generation LMS. The idea is that nothing concrete moves forward with Sakai 3 without justification in these principles.

Here’s an image from the session:

Sakai design lens discussion

The session drew broad participation. It wasn’t just instructional designers or pedagogy people in the room. The guy you see in the right foreground with the dark blue shirt is Clay, the product manager. There were also a number of programmers in the room involved in the discussion as well. This is really good to see, as there are sometimes obvious disconnects between more user-focused design people, and programmers. There were even a number of faculty participating in the session as well. This is what the Sakai world means when they say that Sakai is by educators for educators.

I was also struck that the design principles noted above, and the way that Sakai 3 is proceeding more concretely, is fully consistent with the educational mission of Miami. This is software that should beautifully enable more student-centered, integrative, learning and research collaboration in ways that are simply not possible in current generation LMSs. So my hope is that my institution fully embraces these possibilities, and contributes what it can to realizing them. Now is the time to think big!

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