Sunday, November 27, 2011

Capacity Focus, 22: How could a Cybercollege and programmes such as the AA CCS pay their way?

Solomon famously said that "money is the answer to all things" [Eccles 10:19b] and while money is not the only key resource in developing something like the proposed AA CCS, regional digital library and associated cyber college linked to microcampus centres in a network, it is a legitimate issue and key constraint.

Let us think in steps, in a generic, in-principle way (we will not do a full budgetary analysis in the public domain!), as a guide for our thoughts, and as a help to other exercises in not-for-profit, social entrepreneurship. This term is probably unfamiliar, so let us define courtesy Wikipedia as just linked:
Social entrepreneurship is the work of social entrepreneurs. A social entrepreneur recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create and manage a venture to achieve social change (a social venture). While a business entrepreneur typically measures performance in profit and return, a social entrepreneur focuses on creating social capital. Thus, the main aim of social entrepreneurship is to further social and environmental goals. Social entrepreneurs are most commonly associated with the voluntary and not-for-profit sectors,[1] but this need not preclude making a profit. Social entrepreneurship practised with a world view or international context is called international social entrepreneurship.[2]
So, we are now looking at creating a social transformation, vision-driven enterprise, launching it, and sustaining its growth and operations over time.

In steps of thought:

1 --> Not for profit. This is the key concept, we are looking at a fundamentally community-based initiative, with the regional church as the social context, with the need to have buy-in to a vision of what now is [based on a SWOT analysis], and how this can be transformed step by step into what can be by taking up a credible, well-aligned and robust alternative [ALT] to business as usual [BAU]:

The BAU vs credible, desirable alternative vision-driven change strategy

2 --> It also means that we have whole or partial separation of clients and customers

3 --> That is, those who are immediately served by the programme (students), may pay only some, or in some cases none, of the costs to sustain the programme that meets their needs. (Though, it is generally desirable that students pay some significant costs at tertiary level, not least so they will value what they are paying for and put in adequate effort.)

4 --> This requires that the service to be offered has to be also offered in the marketplace of sponsorship or subscription etc. There thus has to be an identifiable cluster of potential sponsors and subscribers -- probably a blend of deep pocket investors for some major capital projects, and a broad and shallow pool of pledged subscribers for general support, together with a network of strategic institutional partners. This logically leads to the following project team structure as a possible general organisational framework:

An example of a general project team based organisational framework
5 --> That runs a little ahead. We need to ask a more basic question: What would such investors, subscribers (various tiers) and institutional partners be willing to buy into, and volunteer time, skill and in-kind support on a sustained basis? 

6 --> That will look a lot like: second-opportunity secondary education and upliftment to a viable level of competency, in a Christian, disciple-building context towards transforming lives and communities in our region and beyond. This, in the context of enabling especially young people to find and fulfill themselves through walking in their calling under God in our region, and across the world. (Including, as tentmaking missionaries that will help other people across especially the strategic 10/40 Window belt from West Africa to Indonesia and China etc.)

7 --> On the part of partner institutions, the issue would be to be part of such a movement, and to provide microcampus centre and local administrative support, tied into other initiatives that target life transformation and community upliftment, in the region and across the world as Caribbean Christians go forth in a fully mobilised way under our Great Commission.

8 --> The objective of such support must be to develop and implement the central coordinating units, the network support and a cluster of local sites across the region, providing a viable ongoing financial pool of support.  And, onward, why not support daughter initiatives in strategic regions across the world too?

9 --> That looks like project and programme financing. Thus, (a) we must first fund creation of the initiative developed through launch projects, leading onwards to (b) the creation of a sustaining endowment. This will require (c) a fundraising and sponsorship/subscriber support arm.

10 --> To get specific, the envisioned main computer platforms for microcampus centres, would be student tablets, the sort of single board PCs and associated practical equipment that have been discussed, thin client PCs for the PC-equipped classrooms, more powerful main server and network interface PCs for these as well, teleconferencing and multimedia equipment, etc. Video intro:

. . . It might also be useful to encourage students to get a personal notebook PC with reasonable capabilities.

11 --> If the centre will offer multimedia production studies [strongly recommended], we will need the sort of multimedia lab that has been discussed here.  These will need to have the usual utilities plus a good digital bit-pipeline with a good broadband access, and probably wireless networking for the compound. Other optional areas of study -- e.g. agriculture for all, tech/voc courses, etc -- will come with associated specific development, launch and operating costs.

12 --> Assuming that we are looking at a supplementary use of a church, community centre, cybercafe or school etc, we can assume the usual institutional services and facilities such as washrooms, places to sit etc are available, but this means level of usage will go up. This implies janitorial and other support services, plus increased utility bills. Some facility development may be indicated and even additional buildings. At first level, that can be simply the purchase and adaptation of standard 20 or 40 ft shipping containers, with drywall for bringing the interiors up to standard. (Cf here and here.) Video:

13 --> For local administrative support, we will probably be looking at the equivalent of a strengthened church office, that will now need the equivalent of full time staffing. It should also have in it reprographics equipment (Riso style) and DVD duplication equipment. This looks like maybe one full time admin assistant level staffer and two or three half-time staff.

14 --> The courses will need local tutors, who should be given at least an honorarium for services plus a reasonable allowance for expenses. These can be part-time, but if the students are there for it, some full-time staff are always an advantage. (NB: Student fees would help defray staff and local support costs but should also support the network and co-ordinating centre. It is probably better on the whole to identify real costs and give explicit financial aid and scholarships. Such costing and financial management in turn implies a need for accounting systems and support people and equipment etc.)

15 --> There will also need to be a central co-ordinating office, with executive, administrative and technical support staff, with room for project staff on an as-needed basis. This last will probably be more consistent than may be anticipated. This could probably be co-located with a church or existing College. Teleconferencing should be used to minimise travel and meeting costs locally and regionally -- teleconferencing is actually economically cost-effective even across any reasonably sized town).

16 --> Since we are looking at a cybercollege with a cybercampus and a digital ebooks library, we need to either lease or own the equivalent of a small server farm, tried into the regional digital network at a point where we have reliable, ongoing technical support and affordable costs.

17 --> At least one component of that, the digital library, should be based at a regional College level library, such as the Zenas Gerig Library. With appropriate server and client software, books can be loaned in encrypted format with a time-limited permission. The same software can support purchase of books on a permanent basis, with the encryptation being used to control improper copying issues. (A central database of purchases will be needed, as tablets etc do go down and will need to be replaced.)

18 --> The initiative thus can be affiliated with a bookstore, and publishers can be incorporated as partners. 

19 --> But the more important extension would be for course developers to write course manuals with readers and workbooks incorporated, which can then be sold packaged with registration for courses.

20 --> This leads to the proposal of a course manual developer's fee, and a modest royalty per copy sold. Some of that could be used to offset support for a text book sub-site for each such work.

21 --> The need for such a node implies technical infrastructure and support staff, on the ICT side, the Library/Information Science side, and the publishing side. Some of that can be done over a network, but there will have to be some physically local staff. Again, this points to a site like the Zenas Gerig Library.

22 --> Doubtless, as such an initiative is worked up, other points will come up, but we can see a context for the budgeting and funding of the initiative.

23 --> Just, we must not make the unfortunately too common error of mistaking budgeting  for strategic planning. (cf. here, here, here, here,  for starters)

All of this brings us full circle to the classic three-pronged question: why not now, why not here, why not us? END

Friday, November 25, 2011

Capacity Focus, 21: Re-presenting the proposed AA CCS associate degree programme

Having gone through several component parts and new ideas for a few months now, I think it is time to reflect, again, on the proposed AA CCS -- Associate Degree in Arts, Concentration in Caribbean Christian Service [including "Tentmaking" skills] -- cybercampus and microcampus centre based programme.

Programme design, in overview:
The proposed, Caribbean region AA CCS Programme, based on the "Greek Temple" Model, with pillar areas of focus and an integrative capstone project
In summary:
a: By building on one's personal spiritual foundation and secondary education augmented by bridging studies, the first 30+ credits of the AA -- one year full time equivalent -- develops a balanced  framework of five pillar areas of study:  
(i) discipleship, service and leadership in the small/cell group, 

(ii) a street issues view of systematic theology and issues C1 - 21, 

(iii) general studies, Caribbean context & issues, 

(iv) ICT productivity through programing and authoring, 

(v) specific area of tentmaking skills. 
b: A concentration semester and a project semester then complete the other 30+ credits, bulking up the main area of focus and providing an integrative, capstone unit of study. 

c: The underlying curriculum philosophy is the spiral approach, whereby core ideas are identified and are built upon by first introducing these through key case studies, then elaborating and building, step by step in a looped curriculum that uses learning activities clustered on the key themes: 
The Spiral curriculum architecture (cf. details here and here.)
 d: The programme is designed for full or part-time modalities, and can stand on its own as a base for life, work and service under God. 

e: It is also intended to accept major transfer of credits from other programmes of study [such as CAPE and/or degree programmes], so that it can complement qualifications in other areas and/or 

f: provide a tentmaking second qualification for those with another main area of qualification. 

g: The intended implementation is a cyber-campus/cybercollege based main resource (now including a regionally hosted eBook based digital library), coupled to a network of local micro-campus centres, with the main facility being a video teleconferencing capable, computer based multimedia learning centre:
The general design for a Teleconferencing and Multimedia-ready Learning Centre
 h: These microcampus centres can perhaps be based in Church Halls or community centres or partner schools and colleges and supported by locally based educators. 
i: As a complement, there is also an outline proposal for a regionally delivered Diploma in Education (leading onwards to a Masters in Education) that would help build up the capacity of educators across the region:
A suggested Graduate Diploma in Education, leading to a professional Master's degree

  Pulling back our focus a tad, we can set the AA CCS in the context of a pathway to assess and develop the life, service, education and skills base of our region's young people:
A framework for mentoring and developing our youth in life, service, education and skills
 j: Here, we shift focus back to a region where something like 4/5 of the cohort of young people leaving Secondary School in any given year do not meet a reasonable profile of CXC results, Math, English, ICT and a scientific or technical skill, more or less the minimum for being ready for life and work in the C21 world.

k: This is immediately an existential threat for our region: it is simply not sustainable, and we have to fix education, bigtime. 

l: Long term, that probably looks like refactoring the system at the 4th form point into a 3 - 4 yr framework of Senior High School, in which:
(i) students, based on profiling and interests, would do a balanced cluster of studies across several domains: core, breadth and depth areas, the classic Tee-curriculum structure:
 (ii) building up a profile of skills and knowledge leading to a High School Diploma controlled by the local school board and regulated by a network of Ministries of Education across the region,

(iii) augmented -- notice the shift in emphasis away from exams and certificates to portfolios of achievement and competence -- exam body certificates etc., and 

(iv) for those with the academic inclination,  there should be some advanced placement credits at College standard for an Associate Degree or equivalent. [That's where I see CAPE/A level type qualifications heading, a 1-yr CAPE should be seen as a 2-semester AP course.]

(v) I would even look favourably on an approach that would target some subject levels for lower certification, and others, straight off from entry to 4th Form, for Advanced Placement.

(vi) For these, I would do a 1 year prelim course then go straight to AP. Three years to do the equivalent of a strengthened A level looks very good to me, with exams done at three points along the way.
 m:  However, for a long time to come, we will have to deal with a great many young and not so young people who have been passed through the system and are in a position of lacking a balanced portfolio of educational achievements. 

n: Thus, a place for second chance, secondary completion and bridging studies, some of which can also serve as standalone technical/vocational studies for those needing short-course achievable skills, or even as a breadth unit in an Associate.
(Cf here the suggested Java for all course as outlined at CF 16, which could be fitted into a programming for all basic course sequence with "plug-in options." A modified form of the Cambridge Computer Studies course, or their O level Physics course [but pitched at a slightly higher level as a standalone preliminary level college course two-to four semester "service course" non-calculus sequence with various modules and similar "plug-in options"], may also prove useful; now that Cambridge is definitively withdrawing from the Caribbean region, and given how tightly the present CXC system, through the SBA component, is coupled to the school system. The provision of wider areas of study would also be an asset.)
A key platform for all of this is educational computing. 

For that, the rise of the sub-US$ 100 or so educational Tablet PC, and the rise of the Raspberry Pi or other low cost PC's on a card,  will prove crucial.

In short the AA CCS is plainly feasible and arguably desirable.

So, back to the three-pronged question: why not now, why not here, why not us? END

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Capacity Focus, 20: A digital multimedia lab for all -- the Skokie Illinois public library case study

The Digital Media Lab, Skokie Illinois Public Library
The ability to create rich multimedia content -- integrating video, sound, images, slides, animations, simulations etc -- is a key cluster of productivity and effective comunication skills for the emerging digital age. 

It is so important, that we need to find a way to implement "multimedia for all," again using the Pareto 20/80 principle: focussing on a relatively small set of core skills, techniques and content that would equip people to be effective for a majority of cases, and would also have plug-in points to allow them to extend their capacity when a non-routine case has to be dealt with.

All of this makes the Digital Media Lab that was recently implemented at the Skokie, Illinois public library a very useful model: "a space designed for patrons to have access to software and hardware to create digital media—such as videos, music, podcasts, images, ebooks, websites, animation, and more."

As The Digital Shift observes in the just linked:
By 2009, equipment had become sufficiently inexpensive, and it was possible for laypersons without much training to both film and edit, achieving quality results. Streaming video was clearly taking on the role that public access cable TV had previously filled. The socially interactive nature of the Internet as well as the new emphasis on 21st-century skills development convinced us to invite the public into the production studio.

The DML was unveiled in September 2009. SPL director Carolyn Anthony and community outreach librarian Frances Roehm met with then State Representative Elizabeth Coulson about the idea for a digital media lab in the library to produce digital media content for, and by, the public (and also about the statewide Illinois Clicks online information project). Coulson secured a Member Initiative Grant, [US]$35,000 of which the library used to start the DML. Moving forward, the library has kept the $10,000 in its operating budget for the DML for its share of the Library Production Studio costs.
So, what does US$ 25,000 get you, by way of technical equipment etc? ANS: A surprising amount:
The DML is 100 percent Mac-based, with three iMacs and one Mac Pro. Macs were chosen because of the outstanding programs available in the Mac operating system environment. (For a full list of the software currently at the DML, visit A list of hardware is at The most popular programs by far are part of the inexpensive and surprisingly robust iLife ’11 Suite: GarageBand, iMovie, iDVD, iPhoto, and iWeb.

GarageBand, with separately purchased Jam Packs (loops of music that make it simple to create complex and occasionally amazing pieces of music), is very popular with patron musicians. The many rap artists also love to use the Yeti Pro Microphone by Blue to record audio. Rockers work with one of the two M-Audio Fast Tracks interface devices to record electric guitars on top of GarageBand drumbeats. For musicians looking for more power, there is Pro Tools 9, a professional-level audio recording program—a useful tool, especially as many of them are considering music as a career path.
Video production is probably the most popular use of the DML. IMovie is the most sought after program in the DML—an extremely easy-to-learn application that allows patrons to create quality videos quickly. Patrons use it, along with a chroma key wall (a single-color wall, usually bright green, which allows for the addition of background effects), to create mock weather reports or memorial slideshows and more. For more advanced patrons, we have two copies of the professional-level Final Cut Pro Suite 3 (and the library plans to upgrade one to the latest Final Cut X soon) and two copies of Adobe Premium Pro CS5
Photoshop CS5 is also popular, as is the easier-to-learn Photoshop Elements 9, which is on each computer. Beginners use Photoshop Elements 9, and a not insignificant number of graphic design students and professional graphic designers use the “real” thing. A large amount has been spent to purchase such professional-level graphic design software, including the Adobe CS5 Master Suite, Adobe CS5 Design Premium Suite, and the Adobe CS5 Production Premium Suite. With these come many other programs, such as Illustrator and InDesign.
Hands-on classes on GarageBand (for music and podcasting), iMovie (for video production and converting VHS to digital), and Photoshop Elements 9 (for the basics, touching up old photos, and digitizing old slides) are available in support of demand.
Peripherals such as Flip Video cameras, LaCie portable hard drives, Canon PowerShot cameras, and H2 Handy MP3 recorders, available only to confirmed cardholders, may circulate for three days (or seven days for the hard drives). These are important for a robust DML—especially the portable hard drives. Patrons’ content requires lots of storage and cannot be saved to flash drives or other devices. Since these projects take a lot of time, circulating hard drives are important to provide. They circulated nearly 600 times in the last fiscal year.
 An illustrative example of the product (showing as well, a fast summary of the production process for an image rich slide or book cover etc) is this video:

Quite impressive, but how relevant is that to our needs in our region (and for our education and training focus), especially where Macs are rare, and capcity to technically support them is even rarer?

In steps of thought:

1 --> Windows-Intel ("Wintel") PCs of course have comparable software (as does the Linux world), though the user interfaces are generally not as smoothly intuitive as those for a Mac will be. 

2 --> More relevant to our cybercollege- microcampus centre focus, there is a cluster of key open source software that is capable of creating quite effective content:
a: The Open Office/Libre Office Suite has in it the Impress presentation application that is in effect Power Point for the rest of us. It also has a very useful diagramming application, Draw (which is routinely used for the diagrams prepared for the KF blog).

b: Inkscape is a more advanced drawing application, with many excellent artist-supportive features.

c: For casual manipulation of photos or images, Irfanview is quite good.

d: Gimp (and especially the Gimpshop or Gimphoto adaptations) is a good photoediting application.

e: Audacity is good for sound editing

f: Blender is a powerful 3-D modelling and animation, animation and nonlinear video editing package.

3 --> With some training and coaching, packages like the above could be used to create quite effective multimedia content for slideshow presentations, for school lessons, for audio or video podcasts or Youtube type clips, etc., etc.

4 --> To do so will however require some reasonably powerful hardware, capable of housing multi gigabyte storage for multimedia files (especially where video of any significant length is involved).

5 --> In addition, digital cameras, camcorders, good microphones and lighting will probably be needed. That points to an adaptation of the DML model from Skokie, IL.

6 --> I would also add DVD production capacity, if distribution of DVDs or CDs is in mind.

7 --> Required training will have to enfold familarisation with key software and techniques, and will require support by people who are reasonably proficient.

8 --> Some basic principles of production of effective content would also have to be inculcated, e.g. how to compose and take a photo that is worth showing to others, how to record reasonable audio, how to use stage blocking and three-point (= key + fill + back) lighting to create reasonable quality video.

9 --> A good first target would be to have trainees capable of producing a multimedia rich slide show that enfolds photos, audio and video they have themselves produces, and video clips that they know how to post to a site such as Youtube. They should know how to convert the slideshow to a kiosk style automatic flow.
All of this is within reach, and could form the focus for a good short "Multimedia for All" course based on reasonable equipment that a digitally minded church or library or school could either already have or could acquire. But, to develop a standard lab kit, training materials, user how-to guides, and an organised short course will require some significant collaborative effort.
The likely results, though, more than warrant pulling together the resources and cluster of resource people to do it. For in a digital age, to have a voice that will be heard, you must be able to produce reasonable quality, effective, attractive multimedia content.

Even, just for church services.  END

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Capacity Focus, 19: Raspberry Pi, a US$ 25 Linux single board, fully functional PC the size of a credit card

Raspberry Pi Logo
Further reports: 1, 2, 3

A credible US$ 25 PC is a potential game-changer. 

And so, it is red-hot news, that for education, and for hobbyist experimentation, next month, DV, we will see the launch of a US$ 25, credit or business card sized Linux, fully functional PC based on a 770 MHz ARM processor. Backed, among others, by Cambridge University.

The Raspberry Pi. (Cf. Wikipedia article here. U/D Mar 2nd: Launched c Feb 28, sold out first day, crashing Farnells' web site due to traffic. KF Update post here.)

Of course keyboard and monitor are extra, and mass storage is on an SD card, but that is probably more than good enough. 

For the first time in a long time, the cost of the processor will be materially trivial relative to peripheral equipment. And, the processor and operating system in question are nothing to sneeze at.

Such a machine puts the PC in the reach of hobbyist or student experimenters, and -- with suitable interfaced equipment -- would make it preferred instrumentation for a laboratory workstation. 

Demo Board (Courtesy Paul Downey/Wiki, CCA.)

 For that matter, it would be a dandy controller for a robot or a process plant unit. 

This also enormously leverages the cross-platform power of the Java programming language, and the reach of the Linux software world.

The main limiting factor is the read/write memory [RAM]: 128 MB for the A model, US$ 25, 256 MB for the B model, US$ 35. But, bang- for- the- buck- wise this cannot be beaten. Especially, in a computer-based, object-oriented, Java programming and interface and control for all context:

Programming in the Java-based, interfacing context. The Raspberry Pi could work as a host PC (with some additional PC hardware), and/or as the controller for the target system

Let's watch a video demo clip:

Bottomline: this shows the feasibility of the upcoming tablet revolution, and in its own right puts serious computing capacity in the "for all" category. For instance, this could easily be used to set up so-called "thin clients" (with a main server hosting what could be termed a local area network computing cloud) for computer labs. Such an approach could be used to set up student workstations for some facilities in a proposed regional network of computer-equipped learning centres similar to:

All of which fits easily with the AA CCS -- Associate in Arts, Concentration in Caribbean Christian Service -- curriculum idea under development (cf.  here for background):
The AA CCS curriculum architecture: building on the personal spiritual foundation and the secondary education augmented by bridging studies, the first 30+ credits of the AA -- one year full time equivalent -- builds a balanced  framework of five pillar areas of study:  (i) discipleship, service and leadership in the small/cell group, (ii) a street issues view of systematic theology and issues C1 - 21, (iii) general studies, Caribbean context & issues, (iv) ICT productivity through programing and authoring, (v) specific area of tentmaking skills. A concentration semester and a project semester then complete the other 30+ credits, bulking up the main area of focus and providing an integrative, capstone unit of study. The underlying curriculum philosophy is the spiral approach, cf here and here. The programme is designed for full or part-time modalities, and can stand on its own as a base for life, work and service under God. It is also intended to accept major transfer of credits from other programmes of study [such as CAPE and/or degree programmes], so that it can complement qualifications in other areas and/or provide a tentmaking second qualification for those with another main area of qualification. The intended implementation is a cyber-campus/cybercollege based main resource (now including a regionally hosted eBook based digital library), coupled to a network of local micro-campus centres, perhaps based in Church Halls or community centres or partner schools and colleges and supported by locally based educators. As a complement, there is also an outline proposal for a regionally delivered Diploma in Education (leading onwards to a Masters in Education) that would help build up capacity of educators across the region.

So, let us conclude by asking the traditional TKI three-pronged question: why not now? why not here? why not us? END

Capacity Focus, 18: Could we create a regional eBook library to support general and theological education?

A conversation with a local pastor today, on the Java course idea under development led to his making reference to how profs in his Seminary were able to access electronic copies of books at academic libraries overseas as a part of their advanced studies.

A light bulb went off.

Why don't we create a regional digital, eBook-based library connected with the Caribbean Evangelical Theological Association's schools, and carrying content for students, staff, pastors, lay people and other interested people?   

The UNESCO-backed World Digital Library initiative gives an idea through a short promo video, of what the user experience of such a digital library could be like:

(NB: Cf. the site for the UNESCO-backed global initiative here, the Project Gutenberg archive here, an initiative in Michigan here, the University of California California Digital Library here, the digital library of India here, and a National Higher Education Commission initiative in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, here. The Kyoto University initiative, from 1997 on, has some useful pointers for design and development of a system. Brewster Kahle's TED Talk may give useful perspectives.)
The Kyoto University Digital Library has some interesting ideas on the underlying design for such a library, though of course technology has moved well beyond what would then have been world class resources only a decade or so ago:

The Kyoto University Digital Library, c. 2000
 (They also have an interesting encyclopedia initiative. Perhaps we should consider developing an "Encyclopedia Caribbeana" using Wiki technologies and a peer-reviewed, curator controlled article approach. Student term papers and research thesis projects could be used to help build detailed parts of this across time, perhaps through a collaboration of colleges across the region.)

A more comprehensive overview can be seen from a D-Library Magazine article on the Digital Library Manifesto, by Donatella Castelli et al:

Architecture of a Digital Library (D-Lib Magazine, fair use [Reference model site, here])

For instance, for our purposes, the Zenas Gerig Library at JTS in Jamaica -- cf case study report here -- has solid holdings, and a good staff in an excellent facility, with a handy fibre optic Internet link. (I wish to convey condolences to the family of this pioneer of theology education in our region, on his recent passing. Thank God for him, and for his life's work in the region as a missionary educator, that we are discussing building upon!)

This Library would make an excellent pilot site.

Nor, should we confine such content to theology titles.

For, shouldn't investment in second chance secondary education and skills building be a major priority, as well as support for teachers in institutions across the region (a great many of whom are Christians), even as once Sunday School was school on Sundays, in a gospel-based Christian environment?

Did that not help to feed the Great Awakening in the 1700's and early 1800's?

With these ideas bubbling, and after a bit of a chat with my friendly local librarian, I thought it would be useful to sketch out a few thoughts in a blog post. 

In the usual steps of thought:
1 --> Such a library could easily base its holdings on major formats such as PDF and EPUB, which are cross-platform. Already, Adobe advertises its Content Server 4 package as just this, for eBook publishers and lending libraries. (Depending, other formats could be used as well.)

2 --> Through a package like this, encrypted copies of ebooks can be sent over the Internet, with a time-stamped digital right. After the loan period, the book in effect evaporates, much as the Netflix movie renting service does with movies.

3 --> Users could sign up with the service, and pay a subscription to access lending materials, under reasonable terms of reference. Students -- seminary, college and university -- would be at one level, with certain privileges. 

4 --> Authenticated teachers and academic staff at another level, Pastors, and general lay people could become subscribers. All with appropriate terms and conditions. (Perhaps, too, funding partners might be willing to cover some capital costs and expenses and create endowments so that some levels could be free to users.)

5 --> Special access could be created for high school students and youth, with special holdings for first and second chance secondary education, bridging studies, and the Community College/Associate degree level, as well as technical and vocational education and training.

6 --> Major reference works, issues and apologetics materials could also be made available.

7 --> Periodicals and journals could be made available, with subscription access to sources like EBSO for those at suitable levels.

8 --> Part of the borrowing rights should include a limited right to copy and use resources under the fair use doctrine. Say, a right to electronically copy up to 10 pages or 5 % of a work, whichever is smaller. (Or whatever property rights lawyers will say is enough.)

9 --> It strikes me that it would be nice to have a facility to upgrade from loan to purchase as an eBook.

10 --> Similarly, a facility to do a print on demand paper copy for fee as this becomes available. (For education purposes, something like the risograph copy-duplicator system recently discussed in the KF blog CF series here, could be used to do class or course-sized lots, up to runs of 5,000.)

11 --> Portals to the Gutenberg archive and the like may be helpful.

12 --> I would of course include access to the free Bible Study software such as The Word or e-Sword etc. (Cf. my Christmas 2008 post on e-Sword, here. Still very good, though I have gravitated more to The Word. Also, cf. the resources for the draft AA CCS course in development, NCSTS, here.)

13 --> It may be useful to have a mall of services, courses and books etc accessible as a portal also.

14 --> The possibility of developing an electronic publisher (with print on demand capacity) should be considered.

15 --> And more.
This sort of initiative would immensely multiply the accessible resources for study, education and training in the region, especially for theology and related programmes; especially for distance mode programmes.

Which comes back to the AA CCS that I have been discussing.

So, let us think on this, and on how something like this could be made to work. END

Monday, November 21, 2011

Capacity Focus, 17: Cambridge Exams Syndicate withdraws -- an opportunity?

Several days ago, the local news had an announcement from the Ministry of Education. Cambridge Exams Syndicate, owing to declining registration in this part of the Caribbean, was  withdrawing services, and to protect the integrity of papers, students would have to sit exams in synch with another region [it seems, West Africa?], requiring sitting papers at 4 am and 8 am, instead of the accustomed 9 am and 1 pm.

Unsurprisingly, with immediate effect, the Ministry announced its withdrawal from supporting private candidates and such courses in the sole local high school that were still offered on a Cambridge syllabus. (This includes Physics and Agriculture at 5th form/Grade 11 standard.)

This leaves, in the main, CXC on the table, with a system that for most subjects is locked into a school through having the School Based Assessments system (which can therefore be somewhat problematic for private students). There are possibilities through the regionalisation of the Jamaican HEART/NTA tech-voc system, and perhaps adaptation of their High School Equivalency programme.

But also, immediately, there is an opening for a recognised regional college system to provide an entry track, with secondary completion studies, bridging studies, vocational and/or job skills, as well as a distance mode Associate Degree. 

Something like:
The proposed AA CCS framework for qualifications for life, work and service

Taking a wider view, we can see how an approach that creates a portfolio based profile of achievements, skill-building and life development could be used to set a context for building our young people for effective life, work and service in, and from the Caribbean:

An education and mentoring framework for developing our youth for life, work and service

Such a framework could be fairly easily developed for guidance and mentoring as an area of discipleship and service. Such a portfolio, or excerpts from it, would also be helpful in job applications, interviews etc.

For this, I am thinking that a good flagship could be a good cluster of courses in ICT's, computer programming and multimedia productivity. This could be integrated with second chance secondary completion and other key skill areas such as book-keeping, project management, small enterprise creation and management, core agriculture skills, and possibly areas like electronics etc. A framework of appenticeship and certification of skill levels could also be developed or adopted or adapted.

Worth thinking about. END

Friday, November 18, 2011

Professor Richard Weikart's lecture on the historical lines from Darwin to Hitler

For record, we need to note this lecture by professor Richard Weikart of the University of California, at UCSB:

Unpleasant but important listening. It would also repay the time to read the essay here, and to note the remarks in this blog here

(I note there are turnabout attempts at the usual hate sites. Simply pay attention to the documented record -- which Weikart competently summarises; including the recently released once secret files on the Nazi intention to subvert/persecute and destroy the Christian faith in their empire [transcript here, facsimilies here]; which should give "the (telling) rest of the story" to the cases where he pretended to Christian faith, the better to manipulate the German people's sentiments. [Cf the Barmen Declaration.] And those who seemingly think all references to a "Creator" are to the God of the Bible and therefore wish to label Nazism as "Creationist" to create a turnabout accusation and guilt by invidious association, should note that Hitler's "creator" was a personification of nature and in particular a largely neo-pagan take on a racially focussed principle of evolutionary progress that one can see in outline in Haeckel and the like, as the clip from Hitler's Mein Kampf in the KF blog post here will make clear. [It should be noted that Nazism was materially rooted in streams of neopagan Aryan man mythology, which was trying to recreate the mythical Aryan race that was allegedly responsible for human progress.]  This EWTN page on Pope Pius XII will help balance some of the assertions commonly met with.)  END


F/N: KF Blog sub-Series on the Holocaust and its history of ideas roots, Mt 24 W 65, 66 [--> note the significance of the 3 million non-Jewish (predominantly Christian) Polish victims and Hitler's genocidal declaration of intent to wipe out Poland -- i.e. it is not just Jew-hatred that needs to be explained, but the attempt at wiping out of the neighbouring slavic people to create so-called "Lebensraum"],  67, 68; cf also video lecture here.

F/N 2: Weikart responds to some rebuttal attempts with documentation and evidence here, there is a link on Hitler's Second Book [not published] here, and bedfordgaol (Singapore) gives a sobering, documented, well-argued summary on Hitler the holocaust and the church (including the issue of the very same apostasy that Heine had warned against in 1830's -- cf here for a NYT article on this in 1914 -- yes, 1914)  -- including on the clear long-term Nazi attitude towards and agenda for the church --  here.  

Friday, November 11, 2011

Matt 24 Watch, 143: Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, a sad case and sadder portent in Iran

The case of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani of Iran has been in and out of headlines for a while.

An indication of what is going on can be had from the lead to the Wikipedia article on him:
Pastor Youcef Nardarkhani
Youcef Nadarkhani (born 1977) (first name also spelled Yousef, Youssef, or Yousof; last name also spelled Nadar-Khani or Nadar Khani) is an Iranian Christian pastor who has been sentenced to die in Tehran.[1][2] Initial reports, including a 2010 brief from the Iranian Supreme court, stated that the sentence was based on the crime of apostasy, renouncing his Islamic faith. Government officials later insisted that the sentence was instead based on alleged violent crimes, specifically rape and extortion.[3] The Iranian government has offered leniency if he will recant his Christianity.

Already, we can see that something is very wrong here, as we can see charges shifting and tacking from one thing to the next under the pressure of International scrutiny. Jordan Sekulow, in a Washington Post article, clarifies:
In June, the Iranian Supreme Court issued an order requiring the appeals court in Gilan province to conduct what is now being called a “retrial” in the press for, “further investigat(ion) to prove that from puberty (15 years) to 19 (Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani ) was not Muslim by his acquaintances, relatives, local elders, and Muslims he frequented. He must repent his Christian faith if this is the case. No research has been done to prove this, if it can be proved that he was a practicing Muslim as an adult and has not repented, the execution will be carried out.”

The “retrial” occurred September 25-28th. On reexamination, the appeals court determined that Nadarkhani was not a Muslim at the age of majority but that because of he abandoned the faith of his ancestors, he must recant his Christian faith or face execution. Nadarkhani refused to recant his faith and the trial concluded.

{UPDATE: A Fox News article of Oct 11, adds a very interesting cross reference:

Youcef Nadarkhani, a 32-year-old pastor, was arrested in October 2009 and later sentenced to death for converting to Christianity.
His attorney, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, and religious rights organizations say Nadarkhani is facing possible execution for apostasy and for refusing to renounce his religion, contradicting reports by Iran state media that have indicated Nadarkhani was found guilty of rape, extortion and security-related crimes . . . . 

As of Friday, at least 39 members of Congress had signed a letter calling on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to put pressure on Iranian authorities to release Nadarkhani, who, according to reports last week from Iranian state-funded Press TV, is now considered a security threat and previously operated a brothel. Judiciary Chief Mohammad-Javad Heshmati of Iran's Gilan Province told the station on Wednesday that no verdict had been reached and that an execution order had not yet been issued.
Nadarkhani, a pastor in the 400-member Church of Iran, has been held in that country's Gilan Province since October 2009, after he protested to local education authorities that his son was forced to read from the Koran at school. His wife, Fatemeh Pasandideh, was also arrested in June 2010 in an apparent attempt to pressure him to renounce his faith. She was released in October 2010, according to Amnesty International.}

This pattern of obviously suspicious and probably false accusations of course reads very differently from an October 7th 2011 Farsnews Iranian news service report which asserts:
Nadarkhani, 32, was arrested on accusations of rape, corruption and security-related crimes, including extortion, in October 2009. He was given a death penalty after being convicted in a Gilan court last November. He further appealed his conviction to the Iranian Supreme Court, and his appeal trial began last Sunday in Gilan province.
By sharpest contrast with this set of official talking points, an October 10th article in the International Business Times recounts:
After being convicted of apostasy -- the crime of abandoning a religion -- Iranian courts gave Pastor Nadarkhani five chances to repent. If he converted to Islam, authorities told Nadarkhani that he would be free. Nadarkhani refused all five times.

"[Nadarkhani] was brought to court to repent for three days. He denied repentance on all three days," Nadarkhani's lawyer Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told the International Campaign for Human Rights.

"The Judge kept asking my client to say, 'I have renounced Christianity and I recognize Islam as rescinder of all other regions,' and he kept saying 'I won't say that.'" 

Last week, Iran denied that Nadarkhani was ever convicted of apostasy, and claimed that he had been found guilty of rape, conspiracy and Zionism.
"His crime is not, as some claim, converting others to Christianity," Gholomali Rezvani, the Gilan province deputy governor, told Fars news agency. "He is guilty of security-related crimes."

The new rape report was the first time the Iranian government has mentioned any charge other than apostasy. Additionally, the little information from inside the Iranian court rooms that has surfaced indicates that Nadarkhani would be released if he chose to repent and convert to Islam.
As the case garners more attention abroad, the rape allegation is a signal that Nadarkhani has become, to put it bluntly, a public relations disaster for Iran.

"We can be certain if the lies spread by Iran were true -- that Youcef was instead convicted of rape, extortion, and Zionism -- the court would not seek the advice of the Supreme Ayatollah," American Center for Law and Justice executive director Jordan Sekulow said Monday.

Apostasy is not officially part of Iran's legal code, but it is punishable under religious texts and the fatwas decreed by Ayatollah Khomeini. If Nadarkhani is executed for the crime, he will be the first person killed for apostasy in more than 20 years.

"The reality is, as a Christian you don't have the rights of other Iranians. The actions and the basic policy toward evangelicals go against the rhetoric that they use for the country," David Yeghnazar, the U.S. director of Iranian church organization Elam Ministries, told the IBTimes.
"Here we are in 2011 and we're talking about a man being killed for his beliefs. We need to ask Iran how they can be willing to break the charter they've signed and their constitution. The government must answer to the people," Yeghnazar said.
 It is already quite clear that the pastor is being tried for his life for his conscience and convictions, and that once this had raised an international outcry, the state has proceeded to smear him with other charges, to cover this up. 

But, there is more, if we are to follow up on hints above brought out further in the following report, for it seems the "apostasy" charge is also not only outrageous -- freedom of conscience and religion as well as the right to bear witness to one's convictions are plainly rights not a matter for the state's power-wielders to determine as they please -- but may be groundless in a very troubling way, as Jack Minor recounts:
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani has caught the attention of the world after being convicted for leaving the Islamic faith, even though he says he has never been a Muslim. Nardarkhani, who is facing a possible death sentence has been caught in a catch 22 regarding Muslim teaching.

While Nadarkhani tells the world that he was never a Muslim that statement is contrary to Muslim teaching. According to Islam, everyone is born a Muslim. Thus, Nadarkhani or for that matter, any person who becomes a Christian or follows any other religion has “left Islam.”

On page 28, in the introduction of a copy of the Qur’an, printed by Ansariyan Publications in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the translator, M.H. Shakir in the section “Islam and Muslims” states, “In fact, every child that is born is a Muslim. It is the parents who make him a Jew, Christian or Hindu.”

Based on this teaching, even if Nadarkhani had never visited a mosque a day in his life he is still considered a Muslim. Therefore, when he accepted Christ as his savior and became a Christian he left the Muslim faith whether he knew it or not.

The Gazette asked the Council on Arab Islamic Relations if Muslim teaching does in fact teach that everyone is born a Muslim. CAIR did not respond to our inquiries . . . .

Iranian Pastor Hormoz Shariet with Iran Alive Ministries, says many people in the West do not understand how dire the plight of Christians in Iran is. “Islamic law states that it is criminal for a Muslim to convert to Christianity and it is in fact punishable by death,” Shariet continued, saying it is common for revolutionary Guards to arrest a Christian and not notify the family. “They can’t have a lawyer, not even a formal charge. Sometimes they even get killed without a formal charge.”
Now, I am familiar with the underlying teaching of being born Muslim, and it is the reason why converts to Islam are sometimes described as reverting by Muslim proselytisers.  Indeed, on this, I recall a rhetorical flourish by a Black Muslim leader to the effect that if you just listen to someone breathing you will hear "All-aah." 

So, it is understandable indeed that, in the hands of extremists holding power, such a notion can be very dangerously abused indeed to imply that the already outrageous premise that one who finds his convictions changed from Islam is subject to a death penalty on in effect a charge of treason against the Islamic Ummah, is fed into the further notion that if one simply holds a different faith, that is prima facie evidence of such "apostasy" (especially if one's ancestors were -- or are claimed to have been -- Muslims at some point; on this, cf. the Afroz thesis about ancestral Afro-Caribbean people).

On all of the above and more, this case is therefore a very troubling indicator of the nature of the Iranian regime, and it underscores the seriousness of the increasing reports that it seems to be pushing apace towards nuclear weapons. 

Yet another troubling sign of our times. END