Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Studio How To

So what might be a typical product of the Portland Tech District? Teaching videos for one.

I met my wife Dawn through the Center for Urban Education (CUE), which had several responsibilities, including refugee resettlement in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. When she came to work as our bookkeeper, I was off in Bhutan, doing volunteer dBase work while visiting my parents, both employees of the Kingdom.

Another focus was assisting NGOs (non-profits) with the newly emerging desktop publishing technology. Apple had given CUE a large equipment grant through Steve Johnson, and small activist organizations were only too happy to stop by and use PageMaker and the LaserWriter. I trained older workers in the use of office software, initially on Apple 2es, but eventually IBM PC type technology. Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect, dBase and so on.

Yes, I'm showing my age.

Now, two decades later, we're looking back at the open source revolution (still ongoing) and seeing a bewildering array of free, customizable software suitable for NGO use. And indeed, many activist organizations have taken to this new working environment like fish to water. Yet at least as many are still confused and feel left out.

Collaborative Technologies @ FreeGeek, under the leadership of Ron Braithwaite, made an heroic effort to bridge the cultural divide between geeks and social activists, but rather than assume a more generic training function, we dove in deep with a single client, HomeStreet.

Our small network of entrepeneurial affiliates was suddenly up to its ears in SQL Clinic, and setting up a multi-office network with a wireless bridge, and kept at it long after the money ran out to pay for all this.

We had a couple Penguin Days, day-long open house events, thanks to David Pool, but here we are entering the summer of 2006 and is the nonprofit leadership any more comfortable with the new technology? I still see a lot of unmet need.

NGOs need more customized assistance, in the form of orientations and videos.

These videos needn't be boring. They should employ open source techniques, such as recycling clips from a growing database, a commons. Technology companies don't have to synch too tightly with the editors. Somehow, we need to teach about TCP/IP, gateways, DNS, SMTP, Apache, the difference between client and server side programs. Tech companies could start filling the archive with their logo-identified wares.

Splicing together clips from many sources, even while adding fresh material, is how scholars have traditionally kept the curriculum up to date, though in the past more with text than with video and audio.

That's a main difference these days: scholarship and teaching isn't so exclusively text-based any more, thanks to television and the Internet.

So, what's the missing ingredient? For starters, large databases of freely accessible and recyclable audio and video clips. We could start with "anything our taxes have already paid for."

Vid clips recently mentioned on edu-sig: [1][2]
Random Google Videos: [1][2][3]