Category Archives: Open-source Software

Raspberry Pi launched

Today the low cost, credit card sized computer Raspberry Pi was launched with the prime purpose of encouraging young adults and children to learn computer programming. This has been an area sadly lacking in UK schools since the demise of the BBC Micro Computer in 1994. The initial cost of the computer is just  £22 ($35) and runs on open-source operating system Linux.

At the moment it’s just a board (below) weighing about 45g that can be plugged into a TV and a keyboard. But it potentially marks a turning point when children and young adults are given something more exciting and challenging than building PowerPoint presentations in their ICT class. This is a generation adept at playing sophisticated online computer games. How uninspiring it must be to “power down” their brains and work on a spreadsheet or a powerpoint in the classroom.

But it’s more than this, it is about understanding the workings of technology both technically and critically, often referred to as digital literacy. Recently I had a discussion with a friend about the need to put digital literacy education on a par with other forms of literacy like the reading, writing and maths. He disagreed and, using the car analogy, said that you don’t need to know the technical workings of a car to drive it – that’s what mechanics are for. At first this seemed to me like an inapplicable comparison. Nevertheless, after refection, I could see that, in a way, it proves my point on two different levels. It’s an interesting analogy because one can drive a car without knowing it’s workings (other than knowing when to fill it with fuel!). Most people do. But knowledge obviously helps if the car develops a fault. However, to point out the other side of this analogy, you would not think it wise to drive a car without becoming proficient at driving it as this could be physically dangerous to you and other people.

A similar comparison can be made for the digital world. Of course the danger of using the internet may not be physical but knowing what happens if you open an email with a virus or even what to do if you are a victim of “trolling” may be of some benefit to your mental health. This knowledge could be on an even more banal level like knowing what happens to your data when you type a query into Google. As with the car analogy there could be said to be two levels of digital literacy in this case. Firstly, educating young people in the necessary skills to develop critical judgements and understanding of how the digital world functions seems sensible (the learning to drive bit) so that they can use the Internet confidently and analytically. And secondly, access at an early age to learning the basics of programming is an advantage because then they will have an understanding of the technical structure of the Internet (the technical workings bit) and be able to make, adapt and customise things for themselves. This adds a creative element too.

This is one of the many reasons why the release of Raspberry Pi is so crucial to the latter. Learning basic programming at an early age will make it seem a natural, basic and potentially enjoyable activity. Last year, at his MacTaggart lecture, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt criticised the UK education system by saying that he was “flabbergasted to learn that computer science is not taught as standard in UK schools” He went on to say this also ignored the legacy given to us by pioneering UK computer scientists like Alan Turing. Here’s a link to a post I wrote at the time.

In my experience computer/video games courses, at the few schools and colleges that run them, are the courses that fill up straight away because the students are passionate about gaming. It would seem a perfect time to start the process of educating our childen and young adults in the art of programming not just for their own benefit and education but to stop us lagging behind other more technologically ambitious and savvy nations that have had computer science programming on there curriculum for many years. Raspberry Pi is the perfect starting point.

Below Robert Mullins, co-founder of Raspberry Pi Foundation, is interviewed by Harriet Green about how and why Raspberry Pi was created.

[pro-player width=’465′ height=’308′ type=’video’]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Gky68aE578[/pro-player]

 

Mozilla Festival at Ravensbourne

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been involved in teaching some first year under-graduate students at Ravensbourne over the last few weeks. This has taken the form of the introduction to and production of WordPress websites.

Part of this project was linked in with the Mozilla Festival which took place at Ravensbourne over the weekend. Students were asked to prepare WordPress sites ready to use and for filling with content over the course of the festival. It was heartening to see the multi-disiplinary groups of students firstly grapple with the new software and concept of content management systems and then steam ahead with innovative ways of using it.  Some implementing live feeds and others procured sponsorship and deals with local businesses.

Each team chose a different subject to cover and during the weekend they filmed interviews, edited videos, wrote articles and constantly updated their site with content from the festival. I went along on the Saturday to observe and take in the festival. The project was a very good example of collaboration, networking, pooling skills and resource as well as learning how to work as a team.

Their sites are available here to view:

Ravezilla: audio and video innovation
Children and Education
Mozilla Gaming
Journewlism

Teaching WordPress at Ravensbourne

I’ve been using WordPress since my MA in 2007. It had nothing to do with my studies apart from the fact that it was open-source software and a subject I was covering in one of the modules. I was intrigued to know more about it. I’ve since built and worked on about 10 sites and used it as part of the case study for the Social Media book chapter I’ve just completed. Indeed this diary uses WordPress. It’s so customisable and can be used, amongst other things, to collaborate online and as a content management system. It’s a good example of a data mashup in that it takes data from many different sources and integrates it one site.

It is now being used widely at Ravensbourne College as a way of getting content creation students quickly up and running and using a website to collaborate and create content as a team. This gives them the opportunity to get going, creating content without the need to spend weeks designing and coding a website. Over the last three days I’ve been teaching first year students how to use it. But first I gave them two lectures. The first was an introduction to the Internet and Web and the definitions and practices of Web 2.0. It’s surprising how many don’t know the difference between the Internet and the Web. The second (below) is intended as a bit of background before using WordPress. It describes open-source software and gives examples and definitions.

I spent three days with them and generally there was a very positive response to the use of it.