Many families went away last week for the school holiday. If you are like me, you will have brought back a few souvenirs for you and your children to remember the holiday. (Slovakian Easter eggs are gorgeous!) No doubt you also brought back memories of wonderful holiday experiences. Even if you didn't go away, perhaps you had some new experiences here in Addis – checking out new restaurants or shops.
Wouldn't it be great if you could share your souvenirs with others and help other people enjoy new experiences in Addis or around the world? You can. Many people use the world wide web (WWW) as a source of information ...but the power of the web is that anyone can contribute and share their knowledge and experience – so that others can benefit.
Wikis were invented many years ago as a way for many people to contribute to a web page. Even with the rise of email, chat and social networking, wikis are useful systems for people to share information. The most widely used wiki is Wikipedia, an encyclopedia which anyone can contribute to – and many people do. I've done it & so have students from ICS. If you have knowledge of a particular subject – perhaps a town in Ethiopia, or a subject you know well, you should contribute. You can easily create an account and add to it.
Some people worry that since anyone can contribute to Wikipedia, the information is not accurate. While that can be true, studies have shown that it is generally as accurate as closed encyclopedias. The power of crowds is such that if I enter inaccurate information into Wikipedia, someone (an editor or another contributor) is most likely going to correct it.
If you're a little nervous about contributing to an encyclopedia, here's another wiki site that's easy for anyone to add to. WikiTravel is an online travel guide with information about many places around the world. There's information about Ethiopia and Addis Ababa ...but it's not very detailed. It would be easy for anyone to add information about restaurants, shopping, sightseeing, etc. in our city (or any other location in Ethiopia you know well – or any places you've visited on your travels). This would help other people who are visiting Ethiopia to enjoy our home more. Try it! Check out their page on How to edit a page and add some information. (You can create an account, but you don't have to.)
Every now and again, a media storm arises regarding the danger (or lack thereof) to children from wireless data networks (wifi) and/or mobile phones. There's one brewing now, centered in Canada, and various people and organizations are warning of the dangers of wifi in schools.
There have been thousands of scientific studies that indicate that there are no real health risks from wifi. Below are a few quotes from reputable sources:
World Health Organisation: “From all evidence accumulated so far, no adverse short- or long-term health effects have been shown to occur from the RF signals produced by base stations. Since wireless networks produce generally lower RF signals than base stations, no adverse health effects are expected from exposure to them.”
British Columbia's Ministry of Health: “Wi-fi exposures are a small fraction (less than 1%) of radiation received during typical cell phone use. There is no convincing evidence that wi-fi exposures constitute a threat to the health of B.C. residents.”
Health Protection Agency (UK): “There is no consistent evidence to date that exposure to radio signals from Wi-Fi and Wireless LANs adversely affects the health of the general population.”
To be sure, further research is a good idea. In particular, the use of mobile phones – with the device held next to the head – has raised some concerns. One well-cited study in 2011 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified mobile phone use as a “possible carcinogen.” Further studies are under way ...meanwhile it's worth noting that this means there is “limited evidence in humans” that it causes cancer and the evidence from animal studies is “less than sufficient.” (IARC has also classified coffee and pickled vegetables as “possibly carcinogenic.”) Concerned mobile phone users are encouraged to use hands-free equipment or limit the amount of time actually using a mobile phone.
I would be very happy to discuss safety issues at ICS with any concerned parents. Meanwhile, if you hear scary stories about dangers from wifi, please do check the facts.
I intended to write at length about finding images that are free to use, but had recently written here about Creative Commons, so I posted that in my personal blog.
Using visuals is a great way for people to communicate and get ideas across. Students – and adults – frequently search for a beautiful picture that conveys a message. Here's my advice for parents and students: First, make the image, don't just take it. Want to visualize your message? Grab a camera (chances are there's one in your pocket on your phone!) and click away. Create something! You'll be able to get the exact image you want and not have to settle for whatever other photographers have wanted.
Second, if you are going to take someone else's image, make sure you have permission. Photographers post their photos on the web to let you see them. That does not automatically mean you can use them.
You need permission to use someone else's work. The great thing about Creative Commons licenses is that the permission is already given (with some rules). Check out my blogpost, or click here to find some images you have permission to use.
There's a cautionary tale online today: Google is shutting down a service that many people have used regularly, Google Reader. This was a service that let people use RSS feeds to get news they were interested in a kind of personalized news service. Google had ignored it, folded some of its tools into Google+, and now is closing it down.
There's a saying in online communities: if you do not pay for a service, you are not the customer but the product. Google – and other companies - provide you free services not because they love you and want to make you happy, but because they can get revenue from you through advertising and other ways. This is not the first free service to shut down and it won't be the last. Whenever you use a free service from others, you need to be prepared for it to either become a paid service or to be shut down. (Note that this is different from free/libre software – by publishing the source code openly, free software guarantees its continued existence.)
Just this week, there have been a few big news items about education and computer science. Code.org launched a video ‘What they don't teach in schools’, in which various famous figures talked about the power of programing and how every student should have a chance to learn it. Add to this the statement from US President Barack Obama, that requiring the teaching of computer programming to all high school students “makes sense”, the US Congress' updating of its annual student arts competition to include a mobile apps contest and there are definite signs in the US that computer science and programming should and will become a core subject.
There are other initiatives around the world. The UK is working on shifting its curriculum to include a required computing subject. Estonia has required computing and programming courses for all students, starting in the elementary schools. Other initiatives abound. More and more countries are recognizing that hard computing skills – programming and similar computer science abilities – is a requirement for all.
What does all this mean for ICS? What are we doing about it? In a word: plenty.
ICS has been offering Computer Science and programming electives in middle and high school and will expand our offerings next year. (Parents: have your children sign up!) Furthermore, we have been teaching programming and web coding in Elementary School as well as offering programming and robotics after-school activities. We are expanding our curriculum to make computing (including programming and Computer Science) a requirement for all students. We believe this is an important skill for our students and want to empower our students to contribute to our networked world. More information can be found here.
On Wednesday of this week, David Tofu (grade 10 student), was the first ICS student to compete in the University of Waterloo's computing competition. ICS has had students compete in the university's mathematics challenge for several year. But David is our first competitor in the programming contest. Looking at the results from last year, he might be the first competitor from all of Africa! We're awaiting results, but his initial scores are promising. We hope that David is just the first of a long line of ICS students who compete in this and other computing events. Bravo, David!
Creative Commons is an organization that promotes sharing, remixing and creation of media and information on the web. They are most well-known for their licenses: anyone can use and apply a CC license to their photographs, writings, videos, music, etc. These licenses give people permission to reuse the material in different ways: commercially or not, with changes (remix) or not, etc. The creator of the work chooses.
There are various places to find CC-licensed work. Here are a few that I use regularly and recommend:
- Music: Free Music Archive – lots of music licensed in various ways.
- Photos: Flickr - do an advanced search and you can find thousands of CC-licensed photos
- Various media: Wikimedia Commons - movies, photos, clip art, sounds, etc.
And when you post things online – photos, videos, writing, etc. - consider using a CC license yourself. It gives you control but also gives others permission to use your work in the ways you choose.
Copyright is a confusing and complicated issue – and sometimes it seems to make no sense. Consider the classic “Happy Birthday” song. The song was written by two schoolteachers over a hundred years ago, butthe song is currently covered by copyright (owned by Warner Music Group) and requires a license to be performed in a public place. So you're OK if you sing the song in your own home, but if you sing it in a public restaurant or hotel you owe Warner Music Group (or ASCAP, who manages such licenses) a license fee. Warner earns around US$2 million per year for the song from licensing for movies, television, etc. More here.
Some people prefer to use “For He's a Jolly Good Fellow,” which is in the public domain. Recently others have created new songs that are freely available for anyone to use. Have a listen to the contest winners.