A place where stories, thoughts and ideas come together

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

In Paris for the next few days

On 30 Sept- 1 Oct , I'm going to attend the European Conference of Knowledge Management in Paris. The conference is organised in cooperation with the Institute of International Management of CNAM.
Looking forward to meeting all these people, but especially Karl Wiig!

I will be happy to see again some of the veterans of ECKM which I had the chance to meet in Bled, Slovenia at the first two editions: Fergal McGrath, Meliha Handzic, Bill Martins, Chiara Cannavale. And to meet two Romanians: Liviu Cotora, from Integrator, and Mihaela Munteanu, from my hometown's University.

Paris, here I come! In case you want to meet me in Paris, drop a line here and I will contact you asap. I'll be there from Wednesday, 29 sept till Saturday, 2 oct. And I hope to discover some new Plazes!

|| Gabriela 11:23:00 PM
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Monday, September 27, 2004

Richard Stallman and Software patents

If I shouldn't finish another paper till down, I'd blog this on tens- maybe hundreds- of lines:
this evening at my Institute, Richard Stallman in person spoke about the danger of software pattents. In the last week, I spoke about the event to several friends. They asked me who's Stallman. I told them he was the guy behind the Free Software movement, and even if they didn't know his name, they all heard about Free Software.

I was expecting an angry guy: he wasn't angry at all, inspite of his colourful shirt and his long hair. He was cute and bright and calm, and he made his point with a lot of humour.
I've block-blogged most of the speech - meaning I took notes in the old-fashioned way.
Of course my MP3 stick let me down after few minutes!
God knows when I'll find time to really blog it here! Till then, just a few lines:

The event, titled " Software Patents Danger or Opportunity ", was organised by Centre de Recherche Public Henri Tudor together with the Luxembourg University and the GNU/Linux User Group Luxembourg.

We had 2 guest speakers:
Pierre Kihn, from an attorney co - "Protection of Innovations with Regard to Software"
Richard M. Stallman - "The Danger of Software Patents"

I expected Mr. Kihn to present something long and boring, and to play the pro patents role. Instead, he made a short, balanced and apparently neutral presentation.

Stallman spoke more than 2 hours, and he was really great! To make a long story short, he's doing lobby for the EU Directive "computer-implemented inventions", that would force the European Patent Office to word patents clearly, avoiding their later misinterpretation and twisting. While the European Parliament agreed upon, the European Council of Ministers rejected it. Working together with the Confederation of SME Associations in the European Countries, Stallman is lobbying in order to make some small countries (could he put it more transparent in a tiny country like Luxembourg?!) to change their vote in the Council of Ministers.
The Dutch Parliament already forced its Minister to change his vote.

Stallman suggested that if we win this war, maybe it won't be another one. And he closed his speech with "Join us! And join us now!"

Could this be possible? Could people ever win the battle vs.the establisment ? Can we really change the world, make it better? Defend our ideas, as long as it is necessary to get them accepted? I might sound foolish, but I think there's still hope.

And listening to a guru like Stallman tonight was really good! I'm deeply impressed, probably because I expected all kind of unrealistic SF statements, and I discovered a rational, responsible, wise person who takes action playing by the rules. Only if they were more like him in this whole wide world!
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Thursday, September 16, 2004

The way we learn (out) today

This morning on the bus I was reading a paper of Stephen Downes on Educational Blogging (yes, he really caught my attention and I keep on reading his articles;-). It was mentioned in a Romanian blog dedicated to e-learning several days ago. I printed it with the intention to read it in my off-line time (which seems to downsize every day!).

There was a mention of the high-profile blogging experiment, Weblogs at Harvard Law. It mentioned some names of Harvard bloggers, and I was curious to see if they are still blogging. A google search for "redhead harvard blog" sent me directly to The Readhead Wore Crimson. I read a few posts, than I fall on a note on things happening in Sudan. This is how I got to the Passion of the Present site. I visited it before- got there from Joi Ito's - I think.

Well, I'm on the run and I do not have much time for reflection, but the fact we are just sitting here in a nice office, working and blogging and doing mind gymnastics when other people are treated like this turns me mad. What could we do more than just spreading the word? Because this is definitely not enough. I can put the green ribbon on my weblog. And then? Can we do anything to stop atrocities like this to happen?

The idea that triggered my post is that everything is connected to everything: ideas, people, events, sufferings, joy. I read once something that sounded like this: "every time you're touched by the wing of a butterfly, a star is blinking up in the sky".
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Open everything everywhere

In his speech on DEX online is the first dictionary of the Romanian language transfered online by a team of volunteers. The idea belongs to Catalin Francu, a Romanian working for Google, who coordinated the project. It took 3 years till completion. The dictionary has more than 65000 words, about 150 people contributed with editing, reviewing, comments.

The Open Courseware MIT project - also mentioned by Downes in his presentation. Luc Chu is a young Chinese working at MIT and he started a huge project for translating this Open Courseware in Chinese with the support of volunteers who happened to be doctors and lawyers and so on. Luc stated "we think that collective minds are better than a genius translator" . These people were contributing their time, and they were better qualified than any genius translator. Nobody would have been able topay them for this, and they probably wouldn't have taken the job. It seems there can be motivation beyond money.

Recently, I was asked to study the motivations of people participating in Open Source projects.
I read a lot about Open Source projects, but the findings of a FLOSS study on motivation(PPT,PDF) surprised me too. The reasons for contributing in such a project vary a lot, from "scratching an own itch", to participating in a new form of cooperation, working on something perceived as really useful and interesting, or even limiting the power of large software companies.

It looks like the Net became the means to find your own place in this crazy world. A place where your contribution is needed, and where your skills can be put to work. And where you can experience flow!

Many people are unhappy at their workplace - they perform tasks they don't believe in and don't care about. During their free time, they become open source contributors - not only coders are wanted- just have a look at sourceforge - translators, technical writers etc are also needed.

After being considered a threat for the human kind - with people not talking to each other and in danger to become depersonalized, after this isolation from the own local community that happened because of the TV and the computer and especially the Internet, the Internet is the means that gives people the chance to become part of the wide world, find like-minded buddies and projects to contribute to anywhere in the world. I was amazed to see there are almost 200 religion-related projects on sourceforge, with thousands of people working on them....

Internet provided the means for finding people who share the same interests. And because we have several interests- we belong to more than one group. We bring information from one to the other, overcoming education, language, social status, or no matter what other barriers. An osmosis and diffusion of knowledge is possible this way. The only danger is that there will be people - actually an important part of the humanity - who could be left out of this evolution - simply because they do not have the means to access Internet or they don't have the necessary skills to do it. Speaking and writing about the digital divide won't build bridges over it. We have to find better ways to solve this problem!
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Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Reflections on online discussions

Via the onlinefacilitation list on Yahoo (again!) - an announcement made by Bill Williams- I found out about a debate going on at the International Forum of Educational Technology and Society: "Formal online discussions: reflections on process".

Of course I registered! It seems I can't get enough online participation- the more I get, the more I want to get involved!

The discussion started yesterday today and will formally end on 24 September.
There is a pre-discussion paper available for download.

Maybe it's worth it to note that IFETS is a Learning Technology Task Force unit endorsed by IEEE Technical Committee on Learning Technology!
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Monday, September 13, 2004

A 13 megabyte version

Before starting to download the MP3 I was pointing at in the last post - I just found out from Stephen Downes' site that there's a 13 megabyte version of his talk available, created by Rod Savoie. Sorry, the correct link is .

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Sunday, September 12, 2004

Food for thought

I left my poor blog starve to death these days. According to Suw, it should be easy enough to resurrect it. Hope it still works! I'm not good at all at managing my priorities - I kept on posting drafts with one-two ideas and a link, but never succeeded to come back and write comprehensible sentences for publishing them. Someone called me a procrastinator - well, this is what I am. I always want to do more things than I'm able to in a limited time period...But let's come to the point that made me blog at 1 am:

Few days ago, I found a message on the onlinefacilitation discussion list at Yahoo, talking about Stephen Downes' "fantastic presentation" on Reusable Media, Social Software and Opennes in Education at a conference in Utah and pointing to both the PPT and the MP3 files. I downloaded the PPT and it made me curious - a "Blogger of e-learning"? what could this mean? Then Friday afternoon, after finishing my presentation about Open Source Communities I was working on for the last few weeks, I downloaded the MP3 and copied it to my MP3-USB stick, to transfer it on my laptop at home. But waiting in the bus station, I thought it could be nice to walk a bit- it was a beautiful Indian Summer day- and listen to the presentation. I intended to walk for 10-15 minutes, but after one hour I was still walking and listening, carrying the heavy laptop on my shoulder and totally charmed by what I heard.

What was it all about? The presented paper was titled "The Turning Point". I have the feeling that this is what we were looking for when at BlogWalk2 we agreed there was a bit more behind the "blogging metaphor", but we were not able yet to express it.

It's about open vs.closed - and not only regarding learning matters. For me, it was the perfect timing -I had my head full of features of the Open Source culture. What Downes says is that we have the chance to turn toward a new approach in learning, and to transform the current broadcasting- where learners are actors and are obliged to play a pre-written role - in conversations. I read about markets being conversations (The Cluetrain Manifesto), about blogging as conversations(finding your identity in conversations with others - Lilia Efimova), and I had in mind the extraordinary examples of Barbara Ganley (who changed totally the learning style of her students using blogs as support and stepping out of her teacher role to become one of them) and of Lee Bryant (who's company managed to grow a knowledge management system organically, by talking to extensive numbers of people involved) at BlogTalk 2.0.

That story of the Little Prince goes the same way. (If I would like to get education, I would look for a friend and I would make a long trip together with him. This way we would come to know what do we need for life!)

All we have done by now was to transpose the old methods of teaching and learning to the digital space provided by Internet. And most of us were feeling that this was not enough. It is useful, because it supresses time and distance constraints, but it's not enough.
Downes says "In general, new technology is introduced in two stages... First, it duplicates existing products and services... Second, it obliterates them..." We are still in the first stage, but advancing toward the second will force us to make some choices. While the traditional media and the traditional learning system will struggle to keep their advantages, there is a chance for us to be able to build a new type of learning that's open and conversational.

Asked what would be his definition of e-learning, Downes says e-learning should be like electricity, like water, and not like LEGO. It should be available in the wall, and it should be changing every day.

He brings a lot of examples of open models that eventually replaced the closed ones, claiming that we need simple, decentralised and open learning software (a "Blogger of learning content"). "Otherwise LMSs will eventually kill learning, instead of fostering it."
"We need diversity, symbiosis, backpropagation and emergence."
"Instead of organizing learning, we should find out how networks re-organize themselves."
"Nobody can learn only by listening, nobody can teach only by speaking."

And here comes what he points at as the second stage: we have to gain our voice and start speaking, we have to gain access. Learning has to become something people do for themselves. This is why we need open structures.

This speech of Downes gave me wings: I was constantly asking myself how the world would look like if people would be encouraged to learn what they want, how they want, and when they want. To pick up their own masters. To be able to find friends to do parts of the travel with.

Blogging made this possible - nobody can dictate you what blogs to read, nobody can force you to make a post if you're not ready with digesting your thoughts. We can see the signs of this new type of learning - some people are doing it already, and - accidentally or not - most of them have something to do with blogs. Is this something for the grand public? Not yet. But, as Downes says, it's important to start by giving an example yourself. "We need to contribute what we know to begin this atmosphere of learning. What that does, it's to create the marketplace, the model and experience of sharing, a part of the network. And that's really all you have to do. You don't need to rewrite the world- you just need to contribute a bit of it. Feed forward!"

I found the speech really great, and having the MP3 record made it even more interesting- it was really as I was there at the conference, blogging it live! And by sharing this with everyone, Stephen Downes really made his point and gave us an example!

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