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 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 theNY 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 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 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.
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 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.
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 Velocity (a scripting language for display macros and web services), Groovy (another scripting language for database queries), Hibernate for database persistence, Lucene for search and indexing, 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 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.