Saturday, January 27, 2007

DJ on making ECS more accessible

Almost done with my proposal. In the meantime (and in the name of not getting bogged in paperwork - I've sworn that I'll work on my project at least twice as much as I work on things about my project like the contextual report and such) I'm trying to assemble an appropriate set of technologies for doing my capstone; at the very least I'll need a medium to write the textbook in (and so help me, it will not be Microsoft Word). There's not much out there for people trying to self-publish an open engineering textbook, though. Docbook, maybe? The circuit diagrams, graphs, and equations are the snafu.

DJ Gallagher (another Olin senior who's doing his capstone on hacker culture) looked at my proposal with its grandiose plans of "making the results of Olin's experimentation more accessible to other engineering institutions" and forced me to reexamine those goals more closely.

I think I see where you're going here, but I'm not sure I understand what you are suggesting. We can't add the human element to the text; and we can't throw in a copy of the proprietary software on which some of our content may depend. We can see to it that the m-files work in Octave as well as MATLAB, and we can try and transcribe some of the common oral wisdom of the course.

Yep. So I'm being a little grandiose. We can not and should not replicate the Olin experience at other schools (that would be a form of educational imperialism, and I think the identities of different schools are what make them wonderful). That's definitely not my intent. What I want to do is to provide enough context of such as to be useful to other profs and students at other schools to use the material in their context, in their own way.

I do think that the Olin cultural context within which these courses fall is sufficiently different from most other engineering schools (and sufficiently undocumented) that it's feasible people would look at our available course materials and go "what the frell is this? what class is this? What do I do with this stuff that is not fitting in my mental paradigm of how to teach engineering?" Heavily exaggerated, of course. I do believe that engineering educators could understand and use if if they tried, but I also know that they're busy people and that the lower the activation energy is, the more likely they'll be to try something.

So I want to try and bridge that gap. I don't think it's a terribly long gap, but someone has to take the time to do it. But of course the platform-accessibility issues DJ raised are going to be awfully important to address too. Pending approval of the original course instructors, I will be releasing all my nonconfidential (human subjects research containing name-identified personal anecdotes will stay confidential, of course) work in an open format and under an open license.

Spread the meme.

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