Self-directed learning, and O’Reilly’s role in the ConnectED program

I wanted to provide a bit of perspective on the donation, announced on Wednesday by the White House, of a Safari Books Online subscription providing access to O’Reilly Media books, videos, and other educational content to every high school in the country.

First off, this came up very suddenly, with a request from the White House that reached me only on Monday, as the White House and Department of Education were gearing up to Wednesday’s announcement about broadband and iPads in schools.  I had a followup conversation with David Edelman, a young staffer who taught himself programming by reading O’Reilly books when in middle school, and launched a web development firm while in high school.  He made the case that connectivity alone, without content, wasn’t all it could be. And he thought of his own experience, and he thought of us.

So we began brainstorming if there were any way we could donate a library of O’Reilly ebooks to every high school in the country. Fortunately, there may be a relatively easy way for us to do that, via Safari Books Online, the subscription service we launched in 2000 in partnership with the Pearson Technology Group. Safari already offers access to corporations and colleges in addition to individuals, so we should be able to work out some kind of special library as part of this offering. Read more…

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Mining the astronomical literature

A clever data project shows the promise of open and freely accessible academic literature.

There is a huge debate right now about making academic literature freely accessible and moving toward open access. But what would be possible if people stopped talking about it and just dug in and got on with it?

NASA’s Astrophysics Data System (ADS), hosted by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), has quietly been working away since the mid-’90s. Without much, if any, fanfare amongst the other disciplines, it has moved astronomers into a world where access to the literature is just a given. It’s something they don’t have to think about all that much.

The ADS service provides access to abstracts for virtually all of the astronomical literature. But it also provides access to the full text of more than half a million papers, going right back to the start of peer-reviewed journals in the 1800s. The service has links to online data archives, along with reference and citation information for each of the papers, and it’s all searchable and downloadable.

Number of papers published in the three main astronomy journals each year
Number of papers published in the three main astronomy journals each year. CREDIT: Robert Simpson

The existence of the ADS, along with the arXiv pre-print server, has meant that most astronomers haven’t seen the inside of a brick-built library since the late 1990s.

It also makes astronomy almost uniquely well placed for interesting data mining experiments, experiments that hint at what the rest of academia could do if they followed astronomy’s lead. The fact that the discipline’s literature has been scanned, archived, indexed and catalogued, and placed behind a RESTful API makes it a treasure trove, both for hypothesis generation and sociological research.

Read more…

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In defense of frivolities and open-ended experiments

Our children will improve upon the things we're building in ways we can't conceive.

Before you scoff at the pointlessness of yet another social network, web app, or project, remember that we don't always do the research or build the company that is immediately useful or profitable.

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DIY learning: Schoolers, Edupunks, and Makers challenge education as we know it

DIY learning: Schoolers, Edupunks, and Makers challenge education as we know it

We're on a path toward personalized learning.

Schoolers, Edupunks and Makers are showing us what's possible when learners, not institutions, own the education that will define their lives.

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What is smart disclosure?

"Choice engines" are helping consumers make smarter decisions through personal and government data.

Smart disclosure is when a company or government agency provides consumers with periodic access to personal data in an open format. Citizens can put their own data assets to work in making better choices about finance, healthcare, travel, energy, education, real estate and more.

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The dilemma of authentic learning: Do you destroy what you measure?

The dilemma of authentic learning: Do you destroy what you measure?

The challenge of translating the educational benefits of making.

Making and education clearly go hand in hand, but how do we quantify and share the results of authentic learning without losing its essence? That's the issue educators are currently facing.

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