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Chatting About Curriki

November 20, 2007

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Curriki is "a
nonprofit organization that is building the first and only internet
site for Open Source Curriculum (OSC), which will provide universal
access to free curricula and instructional materials for grades
K-12." But how does the organization work, what kinds of materials
does it make available, and how does its community function? For
answers, we talked with executive director Dr. Barbara "Bobbi"
Kurshan and chief technology officer Joshua Marks.

Q: What exactly is Curriki.org?

Dr. Bobbi Kurshan: The name Curriki is a conflation of
the words "curriculum" and "wiki," indicating a site where anyone
can contribute to a shared learning-resource repository. Curriki is
a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing the "education
divide." Just as java.net provides a "place" for volunteer
developers to share and collaborate on open source software
development projects, Curriki does the same for educators and
curriculum developers to share in the creation of an open source
curriculum--free for all to use and modify. Instead of executable
applications, contributors to Curriki create and share learning
resources and full courses.

Q: Is this related to the "http://www.pbs.org/kcet/tavissmiley/archive/200609/20060920.html">interview
with Scott McNealy on the Tavis Smiley show
?

BK: This was just one of the many press and media
events where Scott has found time to talk about the Curriki vision
and mission. We were also featured in Time magazine last December,
in e-school news, with the UN's executive secretary at a Java One
keynote, and in newspapers from China to India to the NY Times and
the SF Chronicle. It is great to have his support and continued
visionary guidance. With this support we have truly achieved a
global reach.

Q: Is Curriki an infrastructure or a set of academic
content?

Joshua Marks: Curriki is the former in service of the
latter. Much like "http://www.wikipedia.org/">Wikipedia, we provide a hosted
service and develop a custom application designed for the group
collaborative development of educational resources and full
curriculum. Our 100 percent Java-based J2EE complement platform is also
100 percent open source. There is a wonderful opportunity to find and
support synergies between the "http://community.java.net/edu-gelc">GELC, within Java.Net, and
Curriki in developing feature extensions and plugins to the
Curriki platform that enhance the ability of the educational
community to build and share effective and interactive learning
resources. We are also working to support the creation of course
materials on how to use java.net to build collaborative open source
software development projects.

End Users

Q: Exactly what type of content gets posted on
Curriki?

BK: Curriki functions as both a wiki, for making
formatted web pages (which can be printed or converted to PDFs),
and as a CMS, for storing and versioning files of almost any type.
We current support many different media types, including video upload
and streaming playback (much like "http://www.youtube.com/">YouTube), audio for podcasting,
images, Flash applications, and Java applets, in addition to common
file types like Office documents and PDFs. We even support the
upload of "learning objects" and content archives, in the form of
.zip files, that can be served in real time from the Curriki
server.

Q: Who is your intended audience?

BK: Our audience runs the full spectrum of the
educational community from teachers to administrators and
curriculum developers, to students, parents, and subject-matter
experts. Anyone interested in the creation or use of quality
learning resources.

Q: Who are your content contributors?

JM: The community of contributors is still quite young
and we see a number of different types of contributors. We have a
significant number of "partners" that tend to be publishers or
non-profit groups who specialize in curriculum development. We also
have groups of teachers affiliated though different organizations
like Teach for
America
and ACE (a similar
initiative to TFA out of Notre Dame), and professional
organizations like National Middle
School Association
and the National Retired Teachers
Association (NRTA). There are a lot of individuals--educators,
professionals, and hobbyists--who have contributed all sorts of
materials to Curriki. We are also starting to see local schools and
districts and schools of education using Curriki to share their
local resources among themselves.

Q: How widely used has the content become?

JM: We regularly see usage from Asia to Europe, in
addition to North America and South and Central America. Use is
growing as pockets of interest sprout up. We are about to release a
Hindi localization of the site and see a lot of interest from
across India. Usage is about nine to one of people consuming content versus
contributing or creating new content. Clearly the more quality
content and subject area coverage we have, the more satisfied the
consumers of the content will be. It is a slow and evolutionary
process; it will not happen overnight. Nothing in education
changes quickly, ever.

Infrastructure

Q: Can you describe the Curriki infrastructure, including
the platform it's based upon and the end user goals you try to
accomplish?

JM: As mentioned Curriki uses a Java-based open source
platform. XWiki is the J2EE
"next generation" wiki we have used as the underpinning of the
Curriki editing tools. XWiki contains within it a number of other
open source projects including "http://velocity.apache.org/">Velocity (a scripting language
for display macros and web services), "http://groovy.codehaus.org/">Groovy (another scripting language
for database queries), "http://www.hibernate.org/">Hibernate for database persistence,
Lucene for search and indexing, "http://tinymce.moxiecode.com/">TinyMCE for WYSIWYG editing,
Google Web Toolkit
for our Ajax "Currikulum Builder" editing client, and many other
such pieces.

We host in our own rack in a collocation facility in the Bay
Area. Through the generosity of the Sun Educations Division's
"http://www.sun.com/products-n-solutions/edu/promotions/grants/">Academic
Excellence Grant
(AEG) program, we have six Sunfire X4100 and
X2100 servers, two storage arrays, and a tape back library for
back up and restore. We are running on Solaris 10 in a multiple
zone configuration, with MySQL 5.0 on the back end, the xWiki
application running in the Sun Java Application Server (SJAS), and
the Apache web server on the front end (acting mostly as a
proxy).

As we complete our first "start-up" phase of development, we are
looking to move into an enterprise integration phase where we
implement a portal server to enable the integration of the Curriki
wiki tools with other applications like an LMS to manage the
delivery of content to classes and specific student populations. We
also are looking to implement a JCR (Java Content Repository)
back-end storage environment to enable interoperation with other
open curriculum repositories and the deployment of many federated
yet interoperable Curriki instances in regions around the worlds.
There is much work to do, and we have just gotten started.

Q: Who are the developers that contribute to the Curriki
infrastructure?

JM: The primary contributors to the Curriki platform at
this time are the community of XWiki developers and contributors at
www.xwiki.org, plus myself, and a full time developer, David Ward, in Agassiz,
British Columbia, Canada, who works with us directly. We
have a lead QA person in India who is also a contractor.
Contributors to the Curriki platform live in places as far-flung as
Paris, France; Chennai, India; Romania; Vietnam; Korea; New York;
California; and British Columbia, Canada. The sun literally never
sets on the Curriki dev team.

We have a small design and production staff that works on the
look and feel and the editorial, and manages the new feature and the
development pipeline. We also have a number of volunteers who help
periodically with everything from systems administration to working
to find partnerships and fertilize content development projects. It
is a very small team, and we could use some additional assistance
from the java.net community.

Q: How many features have you currently
implemented?

JM: I am not exactly sure how to count the features. We
constantly struggle with the balance between features and ease of
use. However, there is an enormous amount of functionality now
deployed and much more on the way. We have a full editing toolkit
for crafting resource collections, creating and editing formatted
content, searching and indexing those resources, building
personal collections, creating personal blogs, and soon, the ability
to create interest, social networking, and curriculum development
working groups that share and collaborate on resource
collections.

Curriki.org and java.net

Q: Would you accept or encourage contributions including
plugins from outside developers?

JM: We are very excited to promote and support
synergies between GELC/java.net and Curriki. Particularly with
regard to volunteering to work with the Curriki platform either
directly or though the creation of plugins and modules, we could
integrate and make available to our now almost 35,000 members.

Q: How do you see Curriki.org interacting with the GELC
community on java.net?

JM: There are really two main ways. The first is as jut
mentioned, to foster GELC application projects that are intended to
integrate with and extended the capabilities and features off the
Curriki platform. The other way is to provide tools for GELC
projects to create and manage education resources that relate in
some way to their software development projects. For example, if
you are developing a simulation suitable for use by students, you
can use Curriki to create and make available lesson plans,
activities guilds, directions, and training material about how to
use the simulations. We are also working with a project to develop
a course on how to use the tools in java.net to effectively manage
a distributed collaborative team on a software development
project.

Resources


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Gary Thompson is Program Manager for java.net.
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