EdTech Factotum Newsletter #1: The 3D printed OSS WordPress edition

5 min read
Friday, May 12, 2017

Welcome to the first issue of EdTech Factotum!

Each week I'll be sending links & commentary to three articles that resonated with me. All will be focused around themes of educational technology, open education and online/blended learning in higher education.

I am approaching a weekly newsletter as a learning experiment. A move from passive consumer to active participant in a way that is more meaningful than simple sharing links on Twitter. But, more importantly, it is a way to connect with you. I appreciate you being an early adopter and letting me into your inbox.

Onto the 3 articles.

Developing a Learning Environment in WordPress
ALT-C (March 30, 2017)
A case study on replacing the medical program 1MedLearn in Blackboard with one built and delivered in WordPress using the H5P multimedia plugin. The developers found a measurable increase in student engagement when compared to the previous Blackboard site.

Already the data shows that student engagement has increased from 23,872 minutes spent in Blackboard by all students over a 12-month period (2013/14), to 921,752 minutes in 1MedLearn by the same year groups over 7 months (Sept 2015 – March 2016). This represents a 68 fold increase in usage. Yet the average time spent on the site has decreased from 22 minutes per session to 11 minutes indicating that students are able to find what they need far quicker.

The gains in student engagement are impressive, although it could be argued that some of those gains may be attributable to the program being redesigned and not just a change in platforms.

No secret that I am a fan of WordPress and use it for many projects, so I am happy to see these types of projects succeed where WP is used to replace a LMS (especially an expensive, proprietary one). WordPress powers so much of the open web that a well designed WordPress site should feel much more intuitive and natural to a learner who is used to the way the web works.

There is a piece missing here, though. One of the big reasons I am a fan of WordPress (or any content management platform that allows publishing to the open web) is because it enables a different kind of pedagogy than a closed LMS. WordPress opens a gate to the open web in a way that a closed LMS cannot. WordPress (and other platforms like GRAV, Drupal) enable an open and public participatory pedagogy, and I am a fan of any platform that enables institutional boundaries with the world to become more permeable.

In the Classroom and Beyond, Colleges Find Ample Uses for 3D Printing
EdTech Magazine (May 3, 2017)
This week my 10 year old son 3D printed a fidigt spinner at the new Digital Scholarship Commons lab at the University of Victoria, and last weekend at the Creative Commons Global Summit, CC's CEO Ryan Merkley unveiled a 3D project recreating the column of Palmyra, Syria that included a 7 foot 3d printed replica of one of the Palmyra Tetrapylons recently destroyed by ISIS.

3D printing is moving into the mainstream, and higher ed institutions who were early into the game and bootstrapped small on-campus makerspaces are now in a good position to begin to reap the benefits of that early experimentation. Not only is there a manufacturing demand for hard skills in 3D printing in a number of industries, but those with 3D printing accessible to others in the institution are beginning to see pedagogical applications with students. Nick Hutchings of Mount St.Mary's University describes some of the 3D printing activities he is seeing at his institution

…“lifecasting” project in which they are designing and fabricating artistic models of human body parts. Chemistry students have used the machines to print models of molecules. And one student from a biology class is using the printers to build special molds that will eventually hold collagen to support growing cells.

As prices continue to fall and quality improves, it isn't hard to imagine that we're close to a time when 3D printers will be as common at our institutions as regular printers.
Open Source adoption in Education Sector: Interview with Patrick Masson from OSI
LinuxCareer (March 8, 2017)

Lengthy interview with Patrick Mason from the Open Source Initiative that talks about the use of Open Source Software in Higher Education. Caveat that much of this discussion is from a US context, although there is a specific question about other regions of the world.

While there was a lot of good info in the article (question 8 on what Mason sees as the biggest hindrance in preventing the adoption rate of OSS from being higher is bang-on imo), one point really stuck out for me in regards to the level of awareness of open source in higher education. Mason notes that, among institutional IT departments, Open Source Software (OSS) is a pretty known entity. But move out of the backroom and away from IT staff and the level of awareness of OSS plummets. Both statements ring true for me. However, Mason notes that the open educational resource movement has to potential to change that.

Interestingly to me, I find the introduction and rapid growth of open educational resources—teaching and learning initiatives beyond software—to be the most impactful in raising awareness of the benefits of open development, licensing and distribution models as well as, eventually, open source software. Many faculty and non-IT staff (e.g. librarians, researchers, etc.) are engaging in open textbooks, open courses, open data, open analytics, and many other open initiatives. Through these efforts faculty and staff are realizing the benefits of openness, which can then more easily be transferred when assessing open source software.

This point is interesting to me, too, because many of the early open education resource pioneers were inspired by the open source software model. Open source software inspired open educational resources which is now leading educators back to open source software. Talk about a virtuous cycle.

Thanks for reading.
Unless otherwise noted, all content CC-BY Clint Lalonde
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