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Research proposal Attic Media
Final Assignment Trends & Strategies in the
Sophie van de Kerkhof – 324062
1 Introduction research company and my research subject 3
2 Formulation of the research question 4
3 Theoretical framework and literature review 4
4 First answer to the question and proposal for further empirical 10
5 Financial proposal 11
6 Relevance and advice for Attic Media 12
7 Critical reflection 12
8 Literature 13
1 Introduction research company and research subject
I will shortly introduce myself, my company and what I would like to research, what
will off course be relevant for your company, Attic Media. My name is Sophie van de
Kerkhof and I’ve completed an academic education in the Netherlands in Cultural
economics. Right now I am the owner of an academic research company called ‘Van
de Kerkhof research group’, and we are specialised in the field of creative industries
and particularly in information technology and education.
As I look at a company like Attic Media I see that they, among other things, design
and create websites and applications for younger children to make learning more
interesting and interactive. Especially the BBC Jam project and the BBC Tracy
Beaker e-learning website illustrates this. They do this upon instruction from BBC
education, sticking to the learning requirements. With these websites, Attic Media is
already exploring the future of education including the possibilities with current
technologies available. But technology will off course increase en develop fast, and
there already is a lot more possible with current technology in education than used at
My research will therefore address this issue. We should be aware of the fact that
education will change due to new technologies and new ways of communication.
When and how exactly this will happen is not sure, it will probably happen slowly and
gradually. Governments and teachers are probably a bit hesitant in using these new
technologies, if it’s not yet proven to be effective and improving. In short; if there isn’t
done any decent research concerning the quality and consequences of this new way
There are a lot of factors concerned with the future of education and in particular with
the possibilities of new technologies. I think we should research one thing at a time
and should not overestimate the complexity and immaturity of our research subject.
2 Formulation of the research question
Since we’re no prophet’s who take a glance at a crystal ball to predict the future, we
would like to research an element of the future of education that’s already being
developed and will be a part of the future. So we choose a very current technology
that will be a key element in further developments within education. The research
question is as follows:
Will Open Source information database enhance the quality of education
With open source information databases I in particular mean information databases
for (higher) education. They are already being developed by academics for academic
purposes. But we can also think of such a database for elementary schools, for
younger children. With quality I mean that we should research the way these open
source databases work and what will eventually be the quality of the information in
these databases, whether there is any quality control and what the possibilities of
such a database will be (think of personal learning environments). This also includes
the distribution, where we will look if the number of people that are able to have
access to education increases and if it becomes easier and cheaper to gain the
3 Theoretical framework and literature review
At the moment, with all the fast moving technology developments, many theories and
speculation exist on how the future of education can or will look like. While our
research question is part of a vision for the future, we will use a teleological
framework, with the open source technology having the purpose of becoming part of
a situation where everyone can manage their own education using personal learning
environments. Every part of this PLE should off course be functioning optimally. If it
does, it will have a great value for the whole society, where everybody will be
educated to realise higher goals and standards (Lister, 2009). We are zooming into
the functioning of open source databases.
How it works
Let’s first have a look at how these open source databases work. The idea is that you
don’t have to buy a whole textbook on one subject anymore because all the pages of
every textbook will be digital and open for everyone. There will also be contributors,
like with Wikipedia, who can add relevant information on every possible subject. This
way, the information will be very up to date because of the easy and fast ways of
contributing and making it available for others in the database. The University of Rice
in Houston started in 1999 researching and building such a database. Under
supervision of Richard Baraniuk they’ve built an online environment called
‘Connexions’ where content (on any topic for higher education) can be created and
shared. Any content added can be converted into an open XML file. The content is
organised in specific modules (chunks) on a certain topic, to make it easy to gather
the information on a topic and use it for research or a course. If you want to
contribute, you have to sign in and also put you name under something you’ve
written. This is to track contributors and also to ensure a higher quality than on
Wikipedia-like websites where you can contribute anonymously. You can also review
content made by others, which looks like the peer-review method used by
academics. It’s possible to collect different chunks and put them into a collection, like
making your own textbook on a specific subject (connexions, 2009). Richard
Baraniuk spoke during a TED conference in 2006, where he explained his project
connexions. One of his goals is to make high-quality educational content available
around the world, for free through the internet and without any barriers to entry
(Baraniuk, 2006). He said that quality control is needed and to do this, social
software is created to build your own peer review process. They are called ‘lenses’,
where you can find content that is checked for quality by the ‘lens’ maker.
It will probably take a while before students or other people realise that free
information can still be of good quality. The main thought is still that a textbook where
you pay money for will be of better quality than information found on the internet. For
an economist some elements of open source software seem rather puzzling. For
example: the contributors are not paid, the content is available for free and the
contributors publish under a certain license that makes it impossible for them to make
money out of their own contributions (Lerner & Tirole, 2004: 2,3). So is there money
to make in this business? And why would anyone contribute?
These are off course very important questions, for Attic Media as a company and
also concerning the quality of the databases.
If we take the example of open software, such as Linux, we see that they are very
successful and a lot of money is spent to develop this open software. IBM even spent
more than one billion US dollars in 2001 on open software. They do this because
they can’t ignore the development of open software, it will be used more and more in
the future and they should be fully informed on the subject if they would like to create
a comparative advantage. But these firms do not capture all the benefits made out of
the software (Lerner & Tirole, 2004: 13). The core outcome of the article, from Lerner
& Tirole, on commercial companies who are also focussing on open source software
is, that they will always loose money with it and will not be as good as the solely open
source developers. They just have a different interest. Another interesting result on
the reach of open software is that it will be used either by low-demand or low-income
consumers (who cannot afford the software made by commercial firms), or by
developers who like the potentially larger set of features and do not care about the
less well-designed user interface (expensive software usually has a good one). This
is a very positive outcome because it doesn’t exclude any group. They also
concluded that the quality is much better because: ‘while the proprietary software can
(and indeed must) be used “as is,” open source code can be enhanced in quality
through the user’s efforts’ (Lerner & Tirole, 2004: 19). So there is space for Attic
Media to create things around the open source database, such as the interface of
websites or tools to navigate and to compose information. They should not try to
develop such an open source database their self, this is not where the money is and
other specialists will probably do it better.
The other question, on why people would contribute, has to do with intrinsic
motivation. As Steve Wheeler puts it: ‘A reason I blog is to share my ideas and
thereby contribute to the intellectual wellbeing of the community of interest I belong to
on the Web and add to the shared knowledge we rely upon’ (Wheeler, 2009). This is
off course the perfect answer. If everyone would think like this, the databases will
grow immensely. In the end this should be the fundamental thought, a common
motivation to contribute for your self and for others; creating collective intelligence.
The theory of ‘the wisdom of the crowds’ can be applied here because a lot of people
together will always know more than a single person. For academics however,
putting you name under the things you write might even generate a little bit of fame,
or peer recognition. Especially if a lot of people value your contributions of high
quality. You will also practise your writing and argumentation skills when writing for
an open source database. And the fact that you can use such databases for free
might trigger the feeling that you are obligated to also give something back
(information). Your contribution will be protected by Creative Commons License,
which is something like copyright but different. It makes ‘all rights reserved’ into
‘some rights reserved’ (CreativeCommons, 2010) It means that anyone who wants to
use original content, should make the enhancements to this material available under
the same conditions. There are different licenses that you can put onto your work; it
defines what other users are aloud to do with the content.
After writing this, I can say that it’s impossible just to look at open source databases
as an isolated tool. It should and will be part of something else. The database is
actually just a source, one big reservoir of words and information. To work with it,
other tools should be used and created and also a whole different approach on
education is needed. We will probably move to more learner centred learning
(Graham Attwell, 2004).
Graham Atwell is Director of Research of the research company Pontydysgu in
Wales. He conducted research on Personal Learning Environments and the use of
social software for learning and knowledge development (Pontydysgu, 2010). He is
very positive on both subjects and really thinks they’re the future: “ The most
compelling argument for the PLE is to develop educational technology which can
respond to the way people are using technology for learning and which allows them
to themselves shape their own learning spaces, to form and join communities and to
create, consume, remix, and share material” (Attwell, 2006). The school system we
have right now might be old-fashioned and not adapted to the way children
nowadays use technology and communities to communicate and learn. A school can
buy an electronic whiteboard or a few laptops, but the whole approach that children
learn from their teacher, who decides for everyone what to learn, isn’t defensible
anymore. Steve Wheeler, who has a very interesting blog and does a lot of research
on technology and education, wrote a post where he explains and interprets the
upcoming urge to create Personal Learning environments: ‘Using appropriate digital
media that connect people into expert webs and enable them to negotiate meaning
that is relevant to their own specific contexts is infinitely better than instruction. We
won't be doing away with the school or university building. What we should be doing
though, is building the essence of all that is good from the school and university into
each personal learning space, wherever that may be, and whatever form it might
take’ (Wheeler, 2009). In this post he referred a lot to Ivan Illich, who already wrote
about deschooling society in 1970.
The purpose of open source information databases will be a essential basis to
develop and use Personal Learning Environments. An open source database should
be available at any time, anywhere through the internet. On Edutech WIki’s I found a
model, created by the university of Aachen, where a database is build into:
The database in this model probably doesn’t resemble the open source information
database we are discussing. It is a database where all the actions of the
users/learners are saved. But imagine a personal learning environment without an
open source information database. Where would their information come from that
they are gathering and sharing? With an open source information database, as they
are developed right now, the quality of the information is more controlled and
concentrated in one place.
In the end, just a database is not enough. A student with an internet connection is not
learning to it’s full potential. We also learn through connections with other learners
because learning itself is based on conversation and interaction (Attwell, 2008).
4 First answer to the question and proposal for further empirical research
As is studied the literature and different blogs on this subject, I can say that the reach
of education with an open source information database will certainly increase. This is
actually a logical development since the database will be free for everyone and
available everywhere. Graham Attwell states: ‘I think we need to use the power of the
internet to provide opportunities for education and learning outside the present
system and to embed those learning activities in wider communities than the present
Open Educational resources are a good starting point in providing free access to
learning materials’ (Pontydysgu, 2010).
But the research question is more focused on the quality improvements of education.
I think that open source technology can improve quality because learning will
become more than just attending class and making exams. Learning will happen
anywhere, also outside school because of the improved access to information
compared to the past. School requirements will probably be better adjusted to the
children of the technology and internet era. And the open source technology enables
this if it is used in the right way.
To research this I would suggest conducting content analysis and case studies. To
check whether the information created in these open source information databases
are of some quality, they should be analyzed. The aim is off course that the quality
will be created through peer reviewing and the ‘lenses’. But I still think that some
critical viewers should analyze whether this is happening or not.
To research the quality of open source information databases in education, there
should be experiments with Personal Learning Environments. Because this open
source database will eventually be part of this bigger project. So students with
different background should be asked if they would like to work on a one-year project
where they will be learning through social software programs, an online information
database and they will be provided with all the technological tools available at the
moment. So there should be experiments with Personal Learning Environments as
far as that’s possible with the tools available. After this year of study, the students
have to tell whether they liked this way of learning and we should try to check if
they’ve learned less, the same or more, compared to students who joined regular
education. So this research will take a lot of time because the effects of open source
technology cannot be measured in a short period. Graham Attwell also did research
by using case studies on informal learning. The results were interesting and and I
think it’s the best way of researching when you want to know how people cope with
new technologies in practice.
5 Financial proposal
Since we need a whole year to research this issue we will look at what our
researchers earn on year basis. The quality control of the open source information
databases (Connexions, MIT courseware and Bazaar) will be done by 3 junior
researchers and probably takes a month to do this. This means 40 hours a week,
160 hours a month including an academic report. Junior researchers cost 20 euros
an hour, so 3.200 for a month of research.
Two senior researchers and 2 medior researchers will do the case study. The year
income of a senior researcher is 60.000 euros. A medior researcher earns 50.000
euros a year. We are off course open for negotiation concerning the financial
proposal on this specific subject.
6 Relevance and advice for Attic Media
Attic Media is working upon instruction from external companies. Looking at the
educational projects, they have to deal with the formal learning requirements. With
open source information databases coming, Attic Media will probably focus on
designing and creating programs to navigate through the big bucket of information
available. The official learning requirements and obligated educational material will
probably disappear, what also means that Attic Media will not be asked anymore to
design these modules or educational materials. They should take the initiative their
self to create tools for students to use and to compose specific modules. They could
also help the companies who build these tools to define their strategy, goals and
interface. So by doing the research we proposed, Attic Media will have the
information on how students use or want to use technical educational tools. They can
use this information to improve user-friendly open source educational technology.
Because open source technology will be the future.
7 Critical reflection
I found this assignment quite hard to make. I’ve never made a research proposal
before and I wasn’t really sure on how it would look like. I had the most difficulties
with the theoretical framework and the literature review. Because I’m used to write
essays, I automatically started to just sum up information I found, without minding the
relevance of the information for this research. I do think that the information I gave is
a good introduction in the subject, which you need as a company if you’re
considering the research. I do doubt my theoretical framework; it might not have used
it enough during the literature review. I do think that I’ve learned a lot about how
much time writing a research proposal actually takes. It’s very different from just
writing down your opinion on a subject.
- Attic Media. New media age company. http://www.atticmedia.com/.
Geraadpleegd 14 januari 2010.
- Attwell, G. 2010. Blog by Graham Attwell, director of research at Pontydysgu.
Geraadpleegd 14 januari 2010.
- Connexions. Website van het project Connexions van Rice University.
www.cnx.org. Geraadpleegd 13 januari 2010.
- CreativeCommons. 2010. Website from the non-profit organisation Creatvie
Commons. http://creativecommons.org/. geraadpleegd 15 januari 2010.
- EdutechWiki. http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Personal_learning_environment.
Geraadpleegd 15 januari 2010.
- Lerner, J. & Tirole, J. 2004. The economics of technology sharing: open
source and beyond. Working paper: National Bureau of economic research:
- Lister, M., J. Dovey, S. Giddings, I. Grant & K. Kelly (2009) New Media. A
critical introduction. Second Edition. London: Routledge.
- Pontydysgu. Research Company specialised in learning.
Geraadpleegd 13 januari 2010.
- Richard Baraniuk’s presentation for TED on open-source learning.
g.html. Geraadpleegd 14 januari 2010.
- Wheeler, S. 2009. Blog about learning technology. http://steve-
wheeler.blogspot.com/. Geraadpleegd 14 januari 2010.