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Gates and Others Offer $150k For Open Source School Software 151

Posted by timothy
from the what's-the-noodling-to-useful-ratio? dept.
WebMink writes "With an impending deadline for America's schools to satisfy new federal reporting requirements on academic achievement, a new alliance of state educators is creating a system of open source software to help schools gather and submit the data that the rules require. To get the whole thing started, the Gates Foundation and Carnegie are funding two $75,000 awards for the open source developers who create the in-school software. The winners could also become the linchpins of a new industry in academic software."
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Gates and Others Offer $150k For Open Source School Software

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  • They squeeze an entire K-12 curriculum into 4GB storage, because they must.
    • by jockm (233372)

      Citation Needed. Also I would be shocked if the entire curriculum of my K-12 education, including music, movies and videos*, didn't fit in 4G — with a lot of room to spare. When you are talking primarily formatted text, a gig goes a long way.

      *: Assuming all videos and movies are 640x480 or lower, there was no HD and they weren't dealing with the best film stock and projectors.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 23, 2012 @04:18AM (#41426785)

    What about open source school books? That's much more needed, at least in Spain which is where I live and parents have to pay a lot for books that change every two years that treat about basic information which hasn't really changed in decades. It would be much better that teachers themselves organized and wrote open source books that they can either cheaply print or put in ebooks. Signed: edulix.

    • by Rockoon (1252108)

      What about open source school books?

      Books are not programs.

      Did you mean some sort of open collaboration on the authoring of textbooks for all to enjoy?

      Then you will get the Pro-Life fork, the Big Oil fork, the Socialist fork, the Pro-Israel fork, the Keynesian fork, ...

      ...which to choose?

      • Free Text Books (Score:4, Insightful)

        by unixisc (2429386) on Sunday September 23, 2012 @06:45AM (#41427129)
        He does bring up a good point, though. Since education is (usually) a government mandated requirement, why not have certain material that's in curricula available freely online in form of e-books, which is basic & common to all K-12 levels? Maybe hosted & driven by UNESCO? That way, kids regardless of where they are can access them, so long as they have tablets, and the OLPC can become an OTPC instead, which would be a lot more achievable. Since these books could be in, amongst other things, a pdf format, any tablet should be able to read them. So make this standard, and remove a lot of the costs in education, and transfer them towards training teachers worldwide to use those as tools to enhance understanding of the students.
        • by rs79 (71822)

          Right.

          One of the three partners is "some states". IMO this should work equally well for my friend Nkouly in Cameroon on his phone or linux system.

    • by fermion (181285)
      There are many open source textbooks. There are two problems with open source textbooks. First, these are not sold, so there are no sales people to push them, to show the quality of the content, and no reason to customize the content to meet the prejudices of the administrators and teachers using them. Second, as books are printed in smaller runs, the cost is going to go up. For a thousand page book at 5 cents a page for printing and binding, that is $50. Not expensive but not cheap.We see this in lang
  • Why would Gates support anything that undermines Microsoft...or am I missing some angle here where M$ wins anyway?

    • by MacTO (1161105)

      You are missing an angle here.

      These angles don't bring open source into direct competition with Microsoft, so it doesn't undermine them. (FLOSS operating systems and office suites do compete with Microsoft, so that stuff would never receive a bounty from Gates.)

      On the other hand, Gates seems to have a genuine concern for education. A huge problem in education is acquiring modern tools and delivering modern tools. Education providers are a bunch of leeches, providing sub-par products at prices that would

      • "Education providers are a bunch of leeches, providing sub-par products at prices that would make you cringe."

        So Gates has significant experience to bring to the table.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Dunbal (464142) *
      Step 1, embrace... My how we forget.
    • "Why would Gates support anything that undermines Microsoft...or am I missing some angle here where M$ wins anyway?"

      Yes. You are missing a lot here. First of all, Open Source doesn't mean "doesn't run on Windows". In fact it could mean, and almost certainly will mean, only works on Windows. The implementation could be an Access database application, for example. Also, the days when Microsoft has to win for Gates to win are long gone. There are many other ways for Gates to wave the right hand and do so

  • by tibit (1762298) on Sunday September 23, 2012 @05:23AM (#41426943)

    The below is a rant. You've been warned.

    The SLC developer "documentation" was written by bozos who have absolutely no perspective outside of their enterprise clusterfuck swamp. Here's a representative example:

    resource - Under the industry standard representational state transfer (REST) software architecture, this is any meaningful concept around which a user interaction can occur.

    So, yeah, I get it, a resource may be, um, an argument. Yeah, a verbal argument. I mean come on, try and argue that it's not a "meaningful concept" around which "user interaction" can occur. I mean I'm a user and I can have verbal arguments, duh. Another one:

    standard field - A field that is a part of a resource representation, as determined by the schema of the resource.

    Dude, a standard field is a field that's defined in the schema of the resource. That's it. Stop with the wordleaks.

    The documentation is from someone who can't say what they fucking mean, someone who should have had their fingers slapped with a wooden ruler in their high school writing classes until they fucking got the message. I don't care that they are enterprise geeks who have to deal with various abominations and progress meetings day in, day out. Learn how to write or shut the fuck up.

    Sorry, it's this kind of bullshit contentless drivel that drives me nuts, that equally drove Feynman nuts BTW, and for a good reason. RJF hated elaborate abstract frameworks built up around trivial ideas, used for nothing else but aggrandizing the trivial ideas. It's mental masturbation, it's done by people who don't realize (or pretend so) that there are clever folk out there who see that the king is naked, that all those abstractions are built around a single piece of poo in the loo.

    Say it like it is. Use common language where such works. Don't wrap things up in abstractions for the sake of abstractions. Sure, I do understand that an API is an abstraction, but you don't have to use a yet another layer of abstraction when describing stuff for crying out loud! And don't fucking make a concept-explaining document something that's split up in a thousand html pages with a couple paragraphs on each! If I'm new to that stuff, I'll want to print it out, spread it out, and work with it. How the fuck do you work with a thousand html files? Do they think they are so fucking important that anyone who wants to touch their heavenly documentation is supposed to write fucking scripts just to collate their driver into a useful form? The only thing missing in their docs is ads. It's make it just as useless as, say, eHow.

    It seems like the projects aren't particularly complex, but the barrier to entry is high because documentation sucks and unless you have first hand knowledge with enterprise mental masturbation, you'll spend tons of time figuring out the trivialities that could be spelled out in a 5 page pdf (vs. their idiotic bazillion page HTML thing only available in pieces that pretty much only lack ads to make a complete serving of typical internet barf).

    Never mind that their dev website [slcedu.org] is a typical contentless bullshit "socially driven" page where you can't figure what the fuck the whole thing is about. I mean, they have a freaking twitter feed there. Who the heck needs a twitter feed and pics from, apparently, Times Square, on a dev page is beyond me, but hey, when you lack real content you're free to put up junk space fill, of course.

    • by tburkhol (121842)

      Sorry, it's this kind of bullshit contentless drivel that drives me nuts, that equally drove Feynman nuts BTW, and for a good reason. RJF hated elaborate abstract frameworks built up around trivial ideas, used for nothing else but aggrandizing the trivial ideas.

      Maybe we should just return to the good old days when people used to put their ideas in Latin to make them sound important. I mean, how much smarter does "e pluribus, unum" sound than "we're all together?" Now imagine a whole spec written out in Latin, with dative on every line. Gregorian monks could chant the windows API for years.

      • by tibit (1762298)

        signum norma - Pars subsidium Signum imagine determinatae de schematis m.
        standard field - A field that is a part of a resource representation, as determined by the schema of the resource.

        Disclaimer: I demonstrably have no clue about Latin, I have pieced it together from google translations. It actually sounds better in broken Latin. Perhaps their documentation is translated from Latin?!

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      It seems like the projects aren't particularly complex, but the barrier to entry is high because documentation sucks and unless you have first hand knowledge with enterprise mental masturbation, you'll spend tons of time figuring out the trivialities that could be spelled out in a 5 page pdf

      When the government does this, it is because they have already chosen a vendor, and they have designed the requirements to favor the vendor. First they write out the basic unobfuscated points, which they share with the vendor in a closed meeting. Then they write the obfuscated document and distribute it. Then they "select" their pre-chosen vendor on the basis that they are best-equipped to meet the bullshit requirements.

    • I thought the page was laid out pretty well and made sense, maybe I should enter.
      • by tibit (1762298)

        I have dealt enough with enterprisey bullshit that their whole approach is entirely transparent to me after spending maybe 15 minutes gritting my teeth while reading the site, but it drives me nuts. There's nothing to it, pretty much. What is more important, though, is that the barrier to entry is high. I wasn't the most incompetent developer say 10-15 years ago, yet I'd have never managed to go through their "documentation" and figure out what the heck. They are actively discouraging people from participat

        • by tibit (1762298)

          s/2 years ago/20 years ago/.

        • by rs79 (71822)

          Yup.

          One cold argue that it'd be easier to rewrite their shit so it just amounts to a DHT put and a get and they're done. But they're pretty lost sold it seems.

          If you demod something that did exactly what they wanted and had it's own API (JS under node would be about right) I have a feeling their API would go the way of the ISO protocols...

      • You should. Because what they are asking for is for you to design the use cases, wireframes, features, and functions.

        Given access to a working install, and a 2-hour meeting, I could probably do this inside a week plus the API learning curve. But that's not what they want. They want you to assume requirements, design around those requirements, and present your work and hope it gets selected.

        If you are selected, they will then use the stack of proposals to alter your proposal, since you

        may be subject to ad

    • by mounthood (993037)

      The Course resource [slcedu.org] looks like an amateur listing everything they could think of, and they still got it wrong. Look at "minimumAvailableCredit" and "maximumAvailableCredit". First, this is just bad data design: either lookup the min/max on the data tables, or if these are proscriptive then there's no way to deal with changes in regulations over time. Second, academic credits vary by many factors (like classroom hours, enrollment types like auditing, etc...) and it'll be meaningless to say the minimum is zer

    • by tibit (1762298)

      s/RJF/RPF/ Sorry Dick :(

    • The Gates Foundation checklist:

      We support open source software in education. CHECK

      LoB
    • by rs79 (71822)

      Duh. Why do you think they're willing to pay 150K for two easy apps. But it's still a good idea, they get to pick from a bunch and might find a clever one.

      All their deliverables so far reek of cluelessness, but that's ok, they can be taught.

  • I've read Feynman on how school book selection really works. I'm sure it's the same mindless stupidity on software.
  • Wouldn't be surprised if his buddy Sal Khan mysteriously won this award.
  • The richest man alive and a prestigious university offer to pay development costs a single educational software package, while N parties develop each their own, and he gets to choose who is the best, ie who he'd like to sponsor. GATES THE ORPHAN SAVER! -_-

  • "Minimum Application Requirements .. Applications must leverage SLC technologies [slcedu.org]. Full developer documentation can be found at dev.slcedu.org"

    "Last week a subset of the SLC dev team headed north from OSCON to Seattle to host an SLC Camp for about 100 people at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Our goal was to give members of the team there a chance to ramp on the SLC technologies [slcedu.org] and their implications for K-12 education"
  • If they put this up for contract it, they would get _zero_ serious bids. That shows exactly how serious they are. This was a cheap way of garnering media attention with a hot internet topic.

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