Jiva Technology

Beanbag Learning and the Creative Commons

We’ve been engaged in a lively debate this morning about our site Beanbag Learning. As the site has grown rapidly over the last year or so to become one of the biggest online tutor directories in the UK, it has attracted its fair share of competitors looking to lure away tutors or use Beanbag Learning as a recruiting tool for their own sites. The natural reaction is to consider such free riding as negative behaviour and warn them away, but is there another viewpoint? Within reason, don’t tutors want their skills to be as widely advertised as possible and don’t potential customers want it to be as easy to find them as possible? In other words, would sharing make us good citizens? Should we take a creative commons approach and promote sharing of information with other sites? For sure, if we take that approach it needs to be done in a controlled way, so that tutors can ultimately decide if their information is shared, but there’s clearly a DEMAND for the information, so why should we stand in its way if we can do it so that tutors benefit, users benefit and we benefit.


P1000409I’ve just come back from a trip to China, talking in a mixture of business and pleasure in Beijing, Shanghai, Qingdao and Suzhou. It was my first trip to the country and what struck me was the single minded way in which they are pursuing the ‘betterment’ of their country. Leaving aside the political considerations for a moment, there seems to be a laser-like focus on improving things for the average man (and woman) in the street. One of the most striking aspects of this is the way that education is seen as a competitive weapon in the battle for economic success. Books such as ‘Built to Last’ have long championed the need to have the ‘best people on the bus’ in the pursuit of corporate success and China Inc. seems to have taken this to heart at a country level. Of course, they can’t choose who’s on the bus, but they can choose what skills they have and you can almost feel the frenzied acquisition of knowledge. Its been said before, but its worth repeating, countries as well as companies that ignore the education of their people and staff do so at their peril. Its a competitive world out there and todays heroes can too often become tomorrow’s zeroes. Education is set to become one the great global markets in the years to come and the challenge for both governments and corporations will be to deliver it in an increasingly low and pervasive fashion.

‘Conversational’ Q&A

As part of our ongoing assault on the barriers between ‘people who know’ and ‘people who want/need to know’, we’ve been working on an update to that hoary old chestnut: the Q&A site. Part of our approach is to create something that’s truly conversational. After all, if you’ve got a question that needs an answer, how many times does a single, straight answer give you what you looking for? Too often, there’s a bit of clarification etc involved, more like Q&A&Q&A…

So we’ve been taking a good look at Q&A 2.0, or more like Q&A 2.1, and I’m really please to see that’s it’s a lively area of development on the web at the moment, with our friends at Aardvark, Hunch doing some really interesting things. As is so often the case, simple problems are sometimes the hardest to solve and we’ve been really grafting hard to produce something that’s as simple to use and robust as possible. Usability is everything. We’re more than interested to talk and share with anyone in the field, so feel free to get in touch. As usual, our starting point is education, tutors and tutoring, but we don’t expect it to end there.

Academic Earth – a challenge for open education?

Hot on the heels of the announcement of the University of the People another startup with similar goals has been getting its share of publicity.

Academic Earth (these guys certainly like the grand names!) is a startup coming out of the US that pulls together open courseware from  a number of top universities and displays them according to topic with the option to comment and converse around the videos.

So far so good, however Academic Earth is a business and as such has commercial aims for its site which is pretty firmly against the Creative Commons terms that some (not all) of these videos have been released under and some of the institutions involved are unlikely to sit back and allow their content to be reused in this manner.

This is likely to be an interesting test case as I think alot of people are eyeing the increasingly high quality education audio and video content coming out of universities like MIT, Stanford, the Open University etc and wondering how they can spin a money making opportunity out of this increased open attitude.

It would be a pity if these academics started to retreat into their ivory towers if they felt their content was being misused but it also opens up the possibility of a consortium of universities with strong open access models pooling their resources and building their own web based repository of content with community elements.  That would likely shake this space up quite considerably.

To be fair to the team at Academic Earth they seem fully aware of the tightrope they are walking and are trying to work with the institutions so as not to step on anyones toes while still retaining a business model.  I think it will be quite the achievement if they pull this off!


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