Last week Cameron Shorter from Sydney Geospatial open source software company Lisasoft contacted me about how to provide "crowd-sourced" training. The idea was to apply the same open source development techniques to he training materials as the software. My suggestion was to use USQ's ICE system and Moodle.
We discussed open source and education over lunch on Jones Bay Wharf in Pyrmont, Sydney, where Listsoft is located. The Wharf, adjacent to the Sydney Casino and Google's Sydney office, has been redeveloped as a offices for software and media companies, with million dollar yachts pulled up alongside and a million dollar view of Sydney harbour from the outdoor restaurants.
Normally I am skeptical of open source enthusiasts proposing large projects. However, Lisasoft seem to have managed to sell geospetial products and services particularly to government agencies.
The Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo) has a project to produce a "Live GIS Disc" of open source geospatial software. documentation to adopt standard documentation. This was to include some training material. OSGEO also has an OSGeo Education and Curriculum Project, providing a Search-able Database of Educational Material. Cameron has proposed aligning the documentation guidelines put in place for LiveDVD with the OSGeo education project. The idea being that along with the free software would be free educational materials.
My talk in Adelaide on open source for defence got Cameron's attention, so he asked how to go about providing educational content. I started by cautioning that it is difficult to get software developers to do documentation, let alone training materials (it is far more exciting to write the code than document it). But I did suggest using USQ's ICE and also Moodle. Both ICE and Moodle are available free and incorporate current thinking about how training should be done.
The difficulty with any such educational material design is to match up the high level definition of the training requirements with the low level training materials created. ICE comes with templates for USQ's course development process. These templates are much the same as commonly used for Australian universities and TAFEs and so should be easily adapted for describing OSGeo's courses. Moodle then provides the infrastructure for delivering the material.
At the technical level both ICE and Moodle generate HTML, making it easy and efficient to incorporate into online systems. Rather than produce PowerPoint (or the OpenOffic.org equivalent) for slide show presentations, I suggests using
HTML Slidy , as Incorporated in ICE.
Slidy allows for PowerPoint type functionality within the web version of the ICE documents. I have used Slidy for years to give presentations, with few of the audience ever noticing that what they are looking at is a web page, not a PowerPoint document.
One advantage of Slidy is that it allows for automated language translation. As the presentation is just a web page, web translators can be used. Someone looking at a web page through a translator, will see not only the normal web version of the notes translated, but the slides as well. obviously machine translation is not as good as a custom one, but it is available with no effort by the creator of the presentation.
More generally, as OSGEO have encouraged the use of creative commons licenses, there would seem to be no reason why the training materials can't be freely available and visible. Currently you can find the brief description of training materials with a web search, but not the content of the courses themselves.
Tools such as ICE and Moodle produce search-able web pages. This greatly
increases the visibility of the training materials, as they can be found with a web search. The person searching does not need to know of the existence of OSGEO, they would just need to search for words somewhere in the course content.
ps: Geoscience is not my field, although I have dabbled with a satellite fire mapping system.