My speech at 'Cultural practice and memory: reclaiming living heritage through sacred sites'
1151 days ago
Minister for Arts and Culture, Honourable Lulu Xingwana; Deputy Minister, Paul Mashatile; colleagues; ladies and gentlemen.
I am happy to be able to say a few words at this conference entitled Cultural practice and memory: reclaiming living heritage through sacred sites.
This conference is taking place during the International Month for Monuments and Sites. Now I am a biologist turned technogeek strategist, and I have no claim on any expertise in this area. However, way back when I was a high school student living in a rural part of Newfoundland, in Canada, I started exploring the sites that our ancestors had occupied before settling finally in the tiny town of Gambo, at the head of a bay. I wrote an assignment on this for my history class, and I am pretty sure that by now those unprotected sites have deteriorated and all but vanished.
During my university days, I did some anthropology courses, and got involved in underwater archaeology, in which I still have my certificate. I was involved in a couple of underwater digs, and learned how important it is to protect all aspects of our heritage.
I travel quite a bit and often visit historical sites, and I know just how important sacred sites are in preserving aspects of our history; history that is often otherwise unwritten.
The first thing that I noticed about this conference is that it is a partnership among three entities:
the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities
the Department of Anthropology at Wits University, and
the South African Local Government Association’s (SALGA) Gauteng Department of Community Development.
I often say that if I could choose my middle name, it would be synergy. And partnerships of this nature are a way to create synergy and do more than either of us could do alone working with the same level of resourcing. We have too few of everything in South Africa for us to try to succeed without creating synergy. For sure, we will not be innovative without these kinds of partnerships.
While Wits has expertise and research capacity in a number of areas, I would want us to view collaboration and partnerships as much more than us just lending our expertise and capacity to the initiatives of the Department of Arts and Culture and other departments of government. It is in our mutual interest and the interest of our nation that we use these partnerships to strengthen all of us. Indeed, as I have said, without critical mass, there is really no other way forward for us.
Delegates at the conference have deliberated on key issues pertaining to sacred sites in the South Africa. I hope, as do the organisers, that this conference will open up avenues for future research in relation to the development of a framework on management, ownership, access and use of sacred sites in South Africa. A lot of these sites are in rural areas, where sustainable livelihoods are complicated and threatened.
I have confidence that the collaboration of Prof David Copland and his students with the CRL Commission on a very major research project that they have envisioned will produce the kind of synergy to which I am referring. Such an initiative should lead to broadened communication between Wits, the CRL, local government, community stakeholders and the tourism sector. A modest economic development should also result, and none of this would happen without the kinds of collaboration we see here today.
I have a dream for Wits and for our country. At Wits, we hold a lot of materials of historical significance, and we have the potential of hosting a lot more. But we need to hold them in a state-of-the art, world-class facility, and ensure that they are converted into digital representations and that those representations are preserved for the enjoyment and research activities of future generations.
Madam Minister, I have engaged with your National Archivist and the CIO of your department, and I believe that we have much to learn from one another, and much that we can do together in this area as well. All for our mutual benefit of course.
But let me not take away from this gathering with my own dreams, let me welcome you to Wits on behalf of the Vice Chancellor, thank you for this engagement. Let me also express my hope that this is the beginning of something truly special, something that will build synergy and become a win-win-win scenario for all of us, and for the people of our country.
In closing, let me mention that we have our own arts and cultural experience happening this week at Wits, for it is the week of WALE, the Wits Arts and Literature experience. A rich programme activities are enriching our campus, and the cultural life of our community.
Powerpoint and dead kittens
1158 days ago
Since I never use PowerPoint, and wouldn't touch it with someone else's barge pole, I love this image. Just have to share it. It has no pedagogical value, however.
After a discussion with Prof Yunus Ballim, DVC Academic, I have started to give some thoughts to the ideal digital classroom and large class pedagogy for Wits. I am an edutechnogeek, so I have aggregated pedagogy and technology together here. Clearly we need to really do some serious work on the pedagogy of using technology in large classes. My impression so far is that there is very little researched pedagogy for technology in our our context. Please consider this the basis for a discussion, much of it half baked, it being precisely 27 hours since I first started thinking about this.
Note: all software referenced in this blog post is Free Software (open source), and can be implemented easily, quickly and cheaply.
We can imagine some of the characteristics of such a classroom fairly easily. Firstly, people should want to be in the room. The dingy 1970s browns have to go! The walls should be 21st Century in their decor, which need not involve expensive elements, rather simple, psychologically pleasing designs. The rooms should be bright an airy, with well placed lighting that is suitable for the purpose at hand.
Secondly, the seats must be comfortable and suitable for using technology other than the paper and pencil for which our lecture rooms are mostly designed. We can assume all students will bring mobile computing devices to class, so each seat should have an electricity plug. The room should be wireless enabled, with sufficient capacity to support the number of seats in the room.
It is time to replace the green chalkboards with interactive whiteboards. The benefits of interactive whiteboards are well known, though careful consideration needs to put into achieving the benefits. In our case, the lesson from the whiteboard should be easily saved to the eLearning platform in the correct location in a course, and made available immediately to the students. Conventional wisdom suggests that a benefit of this lies in the fact that many students are not English first language, and being able to review a lesson in this way could mean the difference between success and failure.
At the same time, the classroom should have a podcast recording capability. This should be easily interacted with using a simple wireless microphone, and should immediately save the lecture to the eLearning platform after the class. This can easily be implemented currently using a machine running the GNU/Linux operating system, and PodderLive that talks directly to the eLearning platform already. However, research has shown that podcasts do not benefit students unless learning activities that engage the learners are undertaking. Thus, podcasts alone are unlikely to produce benefits. They have to go hand in glove with learning activities based around them.
The room should have two video sources, one pointing at the white board, and one at a lecture position. Both should be able to be webcast to an IceCast server, and made available live online via a filter either in a public website or in the course on the eLearning platform. With the hardware in place, this can easily be accomplished by capturing the video and streaming it from a GNU/Linux based computer running Flumotion or another streaming application that can stream directly to an IceCast server or other Open Source streaming media server.
Two relatively lightweight computers running GNU/Linux would be ideal for controlling this classroom. It would be best if they were fixed in place and had large dual screens with touch controls.
Currently some lecturers use clickers in class, something not without controversy. Alternatives to clickers become possible in the large classroom when all students have mobile devices and WiFi access. For example, microblogging with hash tags that could be aggregated onto a display or onto the lecturer's console. We could easily create the equivalent of what lecturers do with clickers that would send the results to the eLearning platform, and provide for an analysis. Students who miss key concepts could be directed to recorded material, as well as to special face to face tutorials as is currently the case.
Students should be able to interact in the classroom to use whatever device they have at hand. They should not need particular brands of computer, particular software, or even particular categories of device. Some examples of appropriate technologies could include laptops, netbooks, Internet-enabled mobile 'phone', PSP devices, etc.
Students should also be able to use the technologies of knowledge creation, and their blogs and other personal learning spaces should integrate easily into the classroom. We need to build digital knowledge creators, not just digital knowledge consumers.
This is just a first stab at some ideas. Other ideas welcome. Please post them to twitter with the hashtag #large-class-pedagogy.
Fossil watch - what people are saying
1170 days ago
Below is what people are saying in real time, brought to you via the Chisimba reatime collecta API filter.
Note that not everything about these terms concerns the Wits fossil, but there is no current way to disaggregate conversations in real time without some kind of selector that is not under our control.
By Derek Keats, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Knowledge and Information Management, The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
I have been asked to offer some remarks at the closing of the Africa2 2010 School for Grid Appication Porting, which has jointly hosted by the University of Johannesburg and University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg these past two weeks. The training programme has included lectures on the principles, technology, experience and exploitation of the Grid paradigm, as well as practical hands-on tutorial sessions, and dedicated application development and porting sessions. This was a ground breaking initiative in building skills in this important area of technology in South Africa
Grid Computing is an important paradigm that is already contributing to building science and technology capacity in our country, and it is now enabling rapid advances across many different disciplines. In many ways, grid is about finding SYNERGY to enable us to do more than we could do if we were working in isolation from one another. And people who know me, know that I often say that if I could choose my middle name, I would choose SYNERGY.
Or, I might choose COLLABORATION.
I helped found the African Virtual Open Initiatives, together with Len Liverpool and Stephen Akintunde from Jos, Nigeria; Henry Thairu and Elijah Omwenga from Nairobia; Beda Mutagahywa from Dar es Salaam; Mumuni Dakubu from Accra, and Venancio Massingue from Maputo. And I name their names so they become real to you, that collaboration is about people, not institutions or technology. This initiative was created to build capacity in software engineering in Africa by creating the collaboration among our institutions, and developing a common software platform that could be used to create not only skills but other collaborative and business opportunities.
Purely because of the collaboration, this project has now grown to encompass around 20 universities in Africa, Europe, North America, and the Asia-Pacific region. Software created in this project now runs enterprise applications in the University of the Western Cape, Wits University, University of Eduardo Mondlane, University of Nairobi, University of Chiek Anta Diop de Dakar, Kabul University, Kabul Medical Universty, and Eastern Washington University in the USA to name a few. Work is currenly underway, and you can see it at philippines.chisimba.com, to deploy, support and build capacity in 100 universities in the Philippines. To me that is utterly awesome.
In addition, a variety of projects - such as Marlon Parker and Wesley Nitsckie's Drug Advice Services (now Digital Advisory Services) have made international headlines.
Every student that has gone through this project has code that is in actual working applications, and has participated in an international Free Software (open source) network that has helped them build cutting edge software skills.
And we don't do collaboration all that well in AVOIR. Imagine what we could accomplish if we did the collaboration better!
But you see what is possible on this much maligned continent when we work together, and we create opportunities for young, talented people to excel.
The thing is, you see, in all of Africa we lack critical mass of people in all but a small few areas. There are more computer scientists (in the broad sense) in the Stanford University Medical School then there are in the whole of South Africa. There are more research-active computer scientists at Stanford then there are on the whole of our amazing continent.
The only way for us to be relevant on the global stage, and to use technology for its economic development capability, is for us to collaborate, and to find as much synergy as we can.
There is no other way.
The grid initiative is about synergy and collaboration. It is about pooling resources to achive things on a scale that our lack of critical mass would otherwise render impossible.
Wits and UJ are very close neighbours. With the roads in their current state, we can probably walk between our campuses faster than we can drive. But more importantly, we have plenty of bandwidth between us, and that makes all kinds of interesting collaborations possible. I hope this is the start of a lot more to come.
The lead up to the school has seen great collaboration between us (Wits and UJ) at several levels. There have been joint PR exercises, we have had technical collaboration around setting up shared computing facilities. We have started a discussion around future sharing of computing infrastructure, joint training, etc. Independenly of this, we are also cooperating to bring a 10Gb optic fiber to Soweto, to connect the UJ Soweto campus and the Wits researchers at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital to our respective main campuses. This is a model of cooperation and efficient use of very scarce human and computing resources in the city of Johannesburg.
As Deputy Vice Chancellor at Wits responsible for knowledge and information management, it is my deep desire that we should continue this collaboration across the various research domains at the two universities. When knowledge (people) and information (computing resources) are scarce, none of us will be as successful as we could be without this collaboration and the building of real synergy.
Let us take the lead and show others how we can collaborate to do more.
And for me, that's what the grid is all about. The technical synergy is one thing, and grid certainly promotes that, but what is really exciting to me is that this is more about people collaborating and working together to solve common problems or similar challenges than it is about the technology.
This is not just about UJ and Wits working together.
Africa has more than 680 million people. The USA has arouond 308 million people. There are twice as many potential Einsteins in Africa as there are in the USA. There are twice as many potential Nobel Lauriates in Africa as there are in the USA. What if they were allowed to develop their potential? Can that be achieved without collaboration? I don't think so.
So, within the grid initiative, the work in South Africa is distinctively outward-looking, engaging collaborators all around Sub-Saharan Africa. I urge this to continue, and to continue vigorously.
Sub-Saharan Africa is a region which is ripe for the exploitation of advanced e-Infrastructures with the work of the UbuntuNet Alliance that Ben talked about and and several FP-7 projects that Daan and others talked about paving the way. From these initiatives, if we can create sufficient synergy, we could see a blossoming of inter-African collaboration and research with the deployment of the infrastructures that can help to reduce the depilitating effect of geographical distance and sparse distribution of people and other resources.
So, as a first effort in this bigger picture, the school has been a great success, with over 30 applications
submitted for consideration for porting from stand-alone systems to the grid, and 6 of them were ported to the grid during the school.
The grid computing paradigm is firmly taking hold in South Africa and this school is testimony to the wide appeal, with applications from a broad range of disciplines, including:
--> gene and protein sequencing,
--> molecular dynamics,
--> theoretical astrophysical and astronomical data analysis,
--> drug discovery
--> environmental disaster impact assessment and prediction
--> genetic programming
--> Bayesian statistical methods
--> human language modelling
--> nuclear and high-energy physics
I hope that we will do this again, and that we will be able to draw in people from around our continent. I hope that the grid initiative will continue building synergy, while creating and expanding opportunities for collaboration.
We have to do this!
It is the best way we can help develop the economy of our continent, and create the opportunities for young people.
And so, in closing let me thank the sponsors and everyone who made this event possible. Lets keep the momentum going!
This morning I stumbled upon something that would seem to be very useful to researchers, a Web 2.0 toolset for managing research papers and bibliographies, and one that is free.
Mendeley is a gratis but proprietary desktop and web program for managing and sharing research papers, discovering research data and collaborating online. It combines Mendeley Desktop, a PDF and reference management application (available for Windows, Mac and Linux) with Mendeley Web, an online social network for researchers. I have not been able to see how they gain revenue, but it looks like part of it is from cloud hosting of large collections of papers.
According to Wikipedia, here are some of its features:
- Mendeley Desktop, based on Qt, runs on Windows, Mac and Linux.
- Automatic extraction of metadata from PDF papers.
- Back-up and synchronization across multiple computers and with a private online account.
- PDF viewer with sticky notes, text highlighting and full-screen reading.
- Full-text search across papers.
- Smart filtering, tagging and PDF file renaming.
- Citations and bibliographies in Microsoft Word and OpenOffice.
- Import of documents and research papers from external websites (e.g. PubMed, Google Scholar, Arxiv, etc.) via browser bookmarklet.
- COinS supported Mendeley website and browser bookmarklet imports from sites that support COinS.
- Groups for sharing and collaboratively tagging and annotating research papers.
- Social networking features (follow like-minded researchers, newsfeeds).
- Readership statistics about papers, authors and publications.
Learn more, sign up for the web application or download the desktop at http://www.mendeley.com/ . I am going to take it for a spin and see how it does, and I will report back on it in this blog. An alternative to Mendeley is Zotero, which I will write about in another post.
eLearning at an 'IT savvy' Wits: building the future now
1197 days ago
This is a recording of the talk I gave in the first eLearning workshop of 2010, held on March 10, 2003.
The 20th Century view
The 21st Century view
And here is the presentation