Because MOOCs Needed A Yelp, Here’s CourseTalk

Today, CourseTalk is what you might expect — a Yelp for MOOCs — a place for students to share their experiences with these courses and a way to discover new courses they’d enjoy. Still nascent, the platform’s design is simple and its user experience is straightforward. Visitors can sift through courses by “Top Rated,” “Popular” and “Upcoming” or by category, like Business, Computer Science, and so on.
When a space gets its own Yelp, it’s generally an indicator of the fact that a bunch of content or businesses came online at once (or at least it seems that way when viewed from 5 miles up) and end users have no way to make sense of that noise. Sure, there are a lot of schools and programs rushing to take advantage of MOOCs because it’s perceived as a novel technology (even though the MOOC concept has been developing for more than a few months) and because of the scale MOOCs afford.

via CourseTalk Launches A Yelp For Open Online Courses And What This Means For Higher Education | TechCrunch.

Short term this site will help potential students sort through the loud, seemingly crowded MOOC field. Longer term the site or other like it may be in a position to be clearinghouses for quality on line courses.

Stallman Points Out Problems With CC-BY-NC, CC-BY-NC-SA Licenses For Edu Works

Prominent universities are using a nonfree license for their digital educational works. That is bad already, but even worse, the license they are using has a serious inherent problem.

When a work is made for doing a practical job, the users must have control over the job, so they need to have control over the work. This applies to software, and to educational works too. For the users to have this control, they need certain freedoms (see, and we say the work is “free” (or “libre”, to emphasize we are not talking about price). For works that might be used in commercial contexts, the requisite freedom includes commercial use, redistribution and modification.

Creative Commons publishes six principal licenses. Two are free/libre licenses: the Sharealike license CC-BY-SA is a free/libre license with copyleft, and the Attribution license (CC-BY) is a free/libre license without copyleft. The other four are nonfree, either because they don’t allow modification (ND, Noderivs) or because they don’t allow commercial use (NC, Nocommercial).

In my view, nonfree licenses are ok for works of art/entertainment, or that present personal viewpoints (such as this article itself). Those works aren’t meant for doing a practical job, so the argument about the users’ control does not apply. Thus, I do not object if they are published with the CC-BY-NC-ND license, which allows only noncommercial redistribution of exact copies.

Use of this license for a work does not mean that you can’t possibly publish that work commercially or with modifications. The license doesn’t give permission for that, but you could ask the copyright holder for permission, perhaps offering a quid pro quo, and you might get it. It isn’t automatic, but it isn’t impossible.

However, two of the nonfree CC licenses lead to the creation of works that can’t in practice be published commercially, because there is no feasible way to ask for permission. These are CC-BY-NC and CC-BY-NC-SA, the two CC licenses that permit modification but not commercial use.

The problem arises because, with the Internet, people can easily (and lawfully) pile one noncommercial modification on another. Over decades this will result in works with contributions from hundreds or even thousands of people.

via On-line education is using a flawed Creative Commons license.

This is a larger quote than I usually use, but Richard Stallman has a very important point here. By attaching the NC (No Commercial) attribute to a Creative Commons license you preclude the possibility of a commercial use ever, even in the future because once the work has been modified a few times it will become too burdensome, if not down right impossible to track down all of the rights holders to get agreement on a commercial use of the work.

To be honest it never occurred to me that  using the NC attribute could ever have such an effect. I saw it as a way to require someone who wanted to use a work commercially to come forward to the rights holder and ask specific permission for a commercial license. That remains true only so long as the work hasn’t been modified. Once the work is modified and shared as required by the use of the Share-Alike (SA) attribute then anyone wanting to make a commercial use of the work would need to trace back the chain of rights holders to get the necessary permissions.

In the educational world it is easy to imagine CC licensed works being modified and used over and over again as they pass through the hands of hundred or thousands of teachers and students. Getting permission for commercial use of work that has been authored by hundreds of people over a span of years would be pretty much impossible. As Stallman points out “[f]or works that might be used in commercial contexts, the requisite freedom includes commercial use, redistribution and modification.” Here this means that the NC attribute should not be used because it removes the freedom to make a commercial use of the work because even though commercial use is technically possible, it is practically impossible.

If the goal of creators of open education resources is to create free/libre resources that are available to all, to make education better and more widely available, then the NC attribute should be avoided in setting Creating Commons licenses for education works. Does this mean that someone could take a work and sell it rather than providing it for free? Yes it does, but it isn’t likely since it is hard to compete with free. Does it mean that someone could take a work, modify it, and sell it? Again yes, but then it is up to the market to decide if the modifications represent an added value that makes it worth more than the freely available version. No matter what I think having free/libre and open educational resources out weighs the need to lock them up in restrictive licensing.

Finally! MSFT Surface Windows 8 Pro Arrives In January, 2013

There was no word on the Surface Pro though, until now. Tami Reller, Windows and Windows Live Division chief marketing officer, reveals at the Credit Suisse Annual Technology Conference 2012 that Surface Pro will launch in January 2013. Today, Microsoft also revealed pricing: $899 (64GB); $999 (128GB).

via Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 Pro arrives in January.

This version of the Surface will be a fully powered Windows tablet and should make it a popular choice in the business market since it run legacy x86 applications as well as apps from the Windows Store.

Ars Technica Reviews a New Developer Focused Dell Linux Ultrabook and They Like It

Earlier this year, [Dell] announced a pilot program, “Project Sputnik,” intended to produce a bona fide, developer-focused Linux laptop using their popular XPS-13 Ultrabook as base hardware. The program turned out to be a rousing success, and this morning Dell officially unveiled the results of that pilot project: the Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition.
The XPS 13 used in the Developer Edition features a number of upgrades over the pilot Project Sputnik hardware, including an Intel i5 or i7 Ivy Bridge CPU and 8GB of RAM the pilot hardware used Sandy Bridge CPUs and had 4GB of RAM. The Developer Edition also comes with a 256 GB SATA III SSD, and retains the pilot versions 1366×768 display resolution. The launch hardware costs $1,549 and includes one year of Dells “ProSupport.” Additional phone support options arent yet available.
The laptop comes with Ubuntu Linux 12.04 LTS plus a few additions. Dell worked closely with Canonical and the various peripheral manufacturers to ensure that well-written, feature-complete drivers are available for all of the laptops hardware. Out of the box the laptop will just work. They also have their own PPA if you want to pull down the patches separately, either to reload the laptop or to use on a different machine.

via Dell releases powerful, well-supported Linux Ultrabook | Ars Technica.

Important additions to the pre-installed Ubuntu 12.04 include to new Dell sponsored open source projects, Profile Tool and Cloud Launcher, designed to make life easier for developers. Overall this sounds like an excellent machine for serious developers, especially those looking for an alternative to the Apple world.