Friday, June 26, 2009

The Future of Educational Software is "Down Under"

There is something tremendously exciting going on down under. I just left the Free and Open Source Software in Education (FOSSED) conference in Bethel, Maine, where I have been blown away by two work shops on on-line learning tools from Australia and New Zealand. I was already familiar with Moodle, the on-line course management system. What blew me away were:
  • Mahara - on-line ePortfolio system.
  • LAMS - on-line learning activiy manager
When we first started dreaming about CanDo five years ago, we invisioned a system that could provide three things:
  1. Transparance through explicit presentation of course competency goals.
  2. On-line curriculum links to encourage students to engage in self learning.
  3. On-line ePortfolios explicitly linked to course competencies as evidence of skills mastery.
We thought we were going to have to write all these things into CanDo itself, but it looks like an integrated SchoolTool, Mahara, and LAMS system could provide us with exactly what we had envisioned. Yay collaborative problem solving through free software!

What is interesting to me is that all of these pieces with the exception of SchoolTool are being developed in Australia and New Zealand. I definetly want to find out more about what is happening down there to make all this innovation happen.

Alan Kay was right a few years back when he said the computer revolution hadn't happened yet, but it is happening now, and it is a wonderful thing to be in the middle of it.

I can hardly wait for next September, when I'll start school with our SchoolTool / Muhara / Moodle / LAMS server.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Great Things Happening at FOSSED!

cI just left the morning presentation on Sugar on a Stick here in Maine at FOSSED. The small size (around 80 people), out of the way venue (Bethel, Maine -- an hour an a half from anywhere), and the high level of interest and dedication of the attendees make this special conference to attend.

I got to hang out with Walter Bender and Caroline Meeks of Sugar Labs. Walter was everything I had hoped he would be. Let me just say that when he listed Paulo Freire in the slide containing folks who inspire his work, I knew I was in the right place. Caroline has her own educational technology consulting business, Solution Grove. I'll be attending her other talk on Moodle and LAMS on Friday, but I already got to talk to her about SchoolTool.

There is work planned to integrate Sugar on a Stick with Moodle, so that when children connect their sticks to a machine at school, automatic backup and recover is made possibel through synchronization of their data with the moodle server. Given the work underway in California this Summer on Moodle / SchoolTool integration, I was struck by the possibilities for a powerful free software platform for schools combining SchoolTool, Moodle, Mahara, and Sugar.

Learning Inkscape

The 2nd edition of How to Think Like a Computer Scientist: Learning with Python is progressing fast enough that I had to start thinking about improving the illustrations. Sphinx once again proved itself to be the tool of my dreams! I am able to create SVG illustrations using Inkscape, save them in Inkscapes own svg format, and link to them in the Sphinx source. The resulting html looks great! I spend the day in the Portland airport yesterday learning my way around Inkscape, and I've already completed the two illustrations from Chapter 1 of the book.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

GASP Course and ThinkCSpy with Error Free Sphinx

Both the gasp-lessons and thinkcspy now contain sphinx source that builds without errors or warnings! With Filip's help, the index.html page of the gasp lessons now build the way I wanted them to.

I spent the day today working with Gregorio Inda, a Civil Engineer in Mexico who has been volunteering to translate the Python text book -- and now the gasp lessons as well -- into Spanish. The goal was to enable him to get his changes onto launchpad as he made them. To make this possible we needed to setup his Ubuntu Hardy box with:
  • Python virtualenv
  • bzr
  • sphinx
  • ssh connectivity to launchpad
The whole process wasn't bad, and was helped by the fact that Gregorio is a very bright guy, but it will soon be much easier when you can simply: sudo apt-get install python-sphinx and get sphinx version 0.6.1 or later. My assumption is this will be possible when Karmic is released next October.

While Gegorio is working on the Spanish version of the gasp-lessons, I've taken on the task of converting his Spanish version of thinkcspy from lore to reST. The script that I was using for the English version doesn't handle accents or ñ's, so I needed another tool. Fortunately, I found this on-line HTML to reST converter that seems to work pretty well.

Python Geek Fest

Since I will be heading to Maine for FOSSED on Tuesday, Monday is the last day for a few weeks that I'll be able to get together with folks working on Summer Python projects. So I've called for a "Python Geek Fest" on Monday at GCTAA. Jamie Boisture, Filip Sufitchi, Chris Carey, Paco Roque, and Howard Batiste have already confirmed, and we may get a few more folks who show up at the last minute. I plan to have even more work finished on the curriculum materials, and to helping Jamie get the new GASP in a form where a debian package can be built from it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

virtualenv 101

I'm working furiously on the Python textbook. The script I used to convert lore to reST did a pretty good job, but it now requires a human touch to get it looking right. I'm using Sphinx to build the web version, and last night I asked Filip Sufitchi if he could help me get the auto index generation working. He said he would, which is great news!

A quick review of how I setup a new python virtual environment so I could run the latest version of Sphinx and build the book from the reST source without messing up my Ubuntu installation:
  • make sure the python-virtualenv package is installed
  • $ virtualenv --no-site-packages PythonVEone
  • $ source PythonVEone/bin/activate
  • $ cd PythonVEone
  • $ easy_install sphinx
  • $ cp -r ../Ubuntu\ One/My\ Files/Projects/Sphinx/thinkcspy2/english2e/ thinkcspy2e
  • $ thinkcspy2e
  • $ sphinx-build source build
OK, back to work on the book...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Manos a la obra con XHTML

Manos a la obra con XHTML is now available on the web. Paco and Angela finished it yesterday evening, and I posted it last night. My son, Louis, is working on Manos a la obra con GIMP.

The 30 XOs are still stuck in customs, but Douglas is going to go in this week to see if we can finally get them out.

I'm working on converting How to Think Like a Computer Scientist: Learning with Python 2nd Ed. from Lore to Sphinx. The first pass of the converstion was automated, and made easy since Lore is HTML. Now I'm going through each chapter by hand fixing things that broke in the process.