Monday, July 07, 2008

1 Chron 12:32 report, 54: On Moodle, Alice, Java, Multimedia, Robots and cybercamuses

As long-term readers will know . . . slowly, painfully, step by step . . . TKI has been working its way towards developing a cybercampus based college intended to link to local micro-campus centres and vision and action teams, to help foster reformation, God-blessed, truly sustainable development of our region, and a projection to the wider world, based on demonstrated success.

The general idea has been to take the classic discipling the nations vision to the next level, and to organise a cost-effective college using web technologies and facilities, supporting community-based people, facilities and initiatives, providing regionally relevant education and training within a Biblical context.

This, eventually, would range from second-chance secondary education [Caribbean education systems, sadly, are demonstrably enormously wasteful of potential], through Associate and even Bachelor degree and higher levels as necessary. To start with, however, the focus would be on targetted workshops, seminars adn short skill/capacity-building courses that address key areas of urgently needed capacity building: e.g. discipleship of the mind 101 (worldviews, issues and actions), ICTs -- IT productivity, Agriculture transformation I -- small scale high impact backyard scale agriculture using drip irrigation and mulching, etc.

Good news: over the past two weeks, there has -- at long last -- been a bit of a breakthrough.

For, as sometimes happens, several more or less independent lines of thought and inquiry come together, and the whole becomes more than the sum of the parts. That tends to make the old creative juices going and so we get some brainstorms. That now seems to have happened, and we can now begin to see some outlines of a practical way forward.

The following notes on points are more or less a progress report, and are offered to help spark interest, discussion and more formal proposals and action:
1] Moodle and the cybercampus backbone

Moodle is an open source -- i.e. "free" --web based course management system that has potential to support a cyber-campus, with structured content, multimedia learning resources, forums, wikis, blogs and more. Indeed, it is the platform being used by the regional anglophone university, UWI, to host its open campus initiative.

The breakthrough here is that over the past fortnight, I have finally spotted how to activate the Apache "light" server based Web On a Stick version, using literally a USB memory stick [4 GB; EC$110 on a "bargain" price.] In my Vista system the 1.7 version of Moodle, with PHP 5, activates and the trick is to use the admin account and the password, password, to log in. (This means I now have my very own web server on a USB memory stick, hosting Moodle and a sample course.)

So, I have been able to develop a sample, USB-resident course web, and have confirmed that this is "reachable" for more or less ordinary, computer-literate teachers.

In addition, I have been exploring the world of open source alternative software with very interesting results. [You might want to start exploring by noting the impressive power of Sun's Open Office, and then continue by looking at Inkscape drawing package, Scribus Desktop publishing, Dia diagramming software, Thunderbird
personal information management, GIMPshop photo-editing and Open Proj project management software as start-points for your own investigations. (Indeed, Ubuntu is is well worth a look as a popular way into the open-source Linux Operating System. )]

In short, a cyber-campus based on more or less open software systems is definitely practically doable.

2] Agriculture renewal

Over the past several years, I have become interested in a local initiative that used plastic sheet mulching and drip irrigation to produce vegetables and similar crops. (In some measure, that's because St Elizabeth Jamaica's guinea grass mulching based agriculture is part of my DNA.) Couple that to rain-collection systems, software control and renewable energy through say small windmills and Solar PV systems, and we see the outlines of a small-scale intensive production, sustainable agriculture backbone.

Multiply such by a potential mini-campus site hosted by a local church in a nearby EC island as a campsite, with access to several acres of land and a pond; with a small hotel a few chains down the road. This high potential, relatively undeveloped site is on the outskirts of the capital city of that EC island. (NB: The eldership of the host church is very open to working with such initiatives.)

In short, we have a potential mini-campus site for an agriculture-based "school" that can also explore renewable energy and related information and communication technologies [ICT's], etc.

3] ICT productivity, I -- Alice, Java and ICT's

Information technology dominates today's world.

But, there is a big barrier to moving from consuming IT to being productive with it: the need to become a programmer. Java has been a step forward, but it is generally speaking not user-friendly enough to be highly motivating.

Major downer.

So, you can realise why I became very excited when I discovered the Alice initiative
online: a programming learning environment that uses the creation of videogame-like worlds with active characters to break into the world of object-based programming.

In effect, you select a three-dimensional world, pick and put in characters and props, then program the characters to act (and interact) based on preset sets of behaviours; all in a Java-based environment.

Soon, version 3 will incorporate the characters from the Sims gaming system, through collaboration with Electronic Arts -- a major leap in potential. (And, as my 9 year old demonstrates, it is an almost irresistible invitation to begin to learn to program.)

There are of course online tutorials and courses, even textbooks that bridge to Java. So, we have a gateway into developing a generation of IT-productive people.

But, that is only part of why I think this is a key opportunity . . .

4] ICT's productivity, 2 -- multimedia, robotics, interfacing

First, the multimedia world is itself a useful one for creating entertainment and learning resources.

Alice opens the door to training in such multimedia, interactive programming.

More subtly, though, one uses Alice to create characters in a three-dimensional environment who act mechanically: move, spin, jump, talk etc.

So, the obvious challenge is to extend Alice, and link the software-based model world to the real one, through creating PC-resident input-output interfaces and using sensors, effectors and suitable control and modelling of dynamics to act into the real world, mirroring it in the on-screen "world."

In short, we also have a potential gateway into robotics (and the wider world of mechatronics), instrumentation and control, as well as high tech manufacturing.

5] Alternative energy technologies

Training in alternative energy technologies is a natural fit with the above.

For instance, we could target solar, wind, micro-hydro and other renewable and alternative energy technologies as components of and extensions to the above.

6] Discipleship, issues, renewal, development and Reformation studies

In an emerging global era in which the de-Christianising tidal wave from the North and the Islamist one from the East are rising challenges to go with our own local ones, the churches of the Caribbean region need to build the capacity to tackle issues, address church and societal renwal and reformation, and make a significant contribution to the sustainable development of our home region and the wider third world.

That itself motivates a whole stream of studies.
In short, there is a lot of work to do, and we have a clear opportunity to do it.

So, yet again: why not now? why not here? why not us? END

a few cleanups

No comments: