OOPS! A Free Model for Open Knowledge


Description of OOPS, a site that invites people to create Chinese translations of MIT's OpenCourseWare courses. Goof discription of how a chaotic, non-managed project can produce good results. Summary of a talk given by Luc Chu and Meng-Fen (Grace) Lin at ITI in Utah.

I am a professional translator - I had the hionour of translating Lord of the Rings into Chinese. Also translated Lessig's Free Culture. If you are doing a non-commercial translation, you can do that under CC. But in the corporate world, no profit, no action. If they see it will hurt their sales, they won't do it. But most of the work online is in English. Who will do it? Who will do the translation?

MIT's OpenCourseWare is really good. But there's also this question: they have 33 categories, 800 courses. How on earth can an institute translate this into their own language unless they are the equal of MIT? How can you be localized? You either have the vision of a great academic institute, or you have a big budget. But what if you want to do it with minimum resources? You want to do it - Toffler: "Knowledge is the most democratic source of power." But if you do not use English, you cannot do it, you cannot change your fate, you cannot educate yourself.

What we are going is to dig deeply into our own history. Confucius (Book of Rites): "Peoople hate to..."

So based on this, we started our own translation project. We salvaged some computers from doners (K^-400, 384 m RAM). We have 2000 users a day, they don't complain that it is slow. We use PHP and simple HTML. Our budget is between 0 and $3000. But something like this is peffect for developing countries with few resources.

We believe that collective minds are better than a genius translators. If we tried to hire a genius translator... Also, we understand gthat perfect translation does not exist; you always destroy some meaning, you try to guess what the author meant. We just want a module better than we have now. If you use a publisher and the translation isn't good, you can't fix it. But our way, we can fix it. We denp on good will.

We got a lot of volunteers, doctors, lawyers... Ordinarily, you cannot buy their services, that's not their job. We ask them to donate their expertise. In 180 days, we got 373 volunteer translators from over 10 countries and regions, from all walks of life. They join this project because they believe they can help other people.

Grace Lin - we hear about people who say it's too idealistic, can't be done. I know about MIT OCW, but then I saw this - it looked just like OCW, but it was all in Chinese. So I was thinking I could be a translator. But I thought the interesting courses would be taken by others, and I wondered whether I could do it. Chinese is my native language... but translation, am I qualified? If it were not for this open door policy, I would not have become involved in the first place. It was so much harder than I anticipated. I discovered that my Chinese was not adequate - tere are a lo of technical terms, for example. But when I saw my finished work on line, I had sense of accomplishment. But when I saw my name on the website, I got scared, I had a responsibility. But I got comfort from the online discussion board.

She is describing something that money cannot buy. Here is how we are doing it. It's a chaotic environment - I cannot decide who or where anyone decides anything. It's organic and democratic. Why? We allow learners to choose what they want (translation is a great way of learning - when you are doing translation you must understand every single word). They can 'adopt' anything they want - you must think of those courses as your own child, you must take care of it, your name is on it. Also, we have a limitation, a 2 month period, because 20 or 30 percent of volunteers drop out. The pool of volunteers is constantly changing.

Since you want to do it - we are not paying for it - you do a better job. Later, we provide these materials to educators and academic institutions. A lot of people are really using our translations.

We also have a voting system. If you want something translated, you click the button. It is the 'most wanted' list - instead of us deciding what to translate. Or you can simply adopt the course online.

I must say - PDF files are really killing us. I know, it's open source - but you need to buy the license in order to change the content.

We are going to incorporate a wiki system. We are also promoting volunteers - Frank Liu, a retuired venture capital CEO is working with us. And on the adademic side, David Liu, a retired professor, is also helping.<>/p>

We are also using email IRC, MSNm Chatrooms, Skype (we can't afford telephone bills).

Grace, again: like I said before, I found my comfort through the discussion. For example, we had to have a discussion over the term 'organized institution'. Does it mean 'organizations' or 'mechanisms'? Big dispute. The debate was heated for a two week period. One of the translators took the initiative, and contacted the course professor. She got a response - she meant 'organizations' - but without the mechanisms there will be no consensus at the international level. So the professor basically said both are right. What's important, though, is that I saw a lot of higher order thinking and analysis. If this is not learning, what is?

Grace, still: another example. A professor put a pun in a course ("the exam is very impotent for my grades"). Again, much discussion, and some humour. Confucious - among three people, at least one will be able to teach you something. Now, I still have to ask - can I put myself into a process where everybody agonizes over every single word? What if I make a mistake and someone is misled? Who is responsible for the social consequences. But this is where my transformation happened, when I asked about my role. So I wondered, what are others thinking. All of a sudden I realized that I am not just a translator, there is a much bigger picture taking place. So I thought, maybe I can do research over this project. The definition of research is: academic, scholarly and mainstream. This is none of those. People will look at you differently. They really agoinize over quality control, you cannot put up this information unless it is perfect. People said tome, keep it simple. How can you get involved in this chaotic project, where it might not even exist in six months? Then I say an Albert Einstein poster. "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds." (I have exactly the same poster - SD). I learned to listen to myslef.

Grace: let the inquiry lead the way. Perhaps I am going into the storm, or perhaps the storm has just passed. I cannot know.

Let's see the future of this storm. We are looking at the Titanium project - people are complaining about society getting older and older, but I don't believe so. We should use every resource. We should seek help from retured people. And the second thing is the wiki platform. We are trying to do a version control of the wiki platform, then we can have the official version, other versions, you can have your own version. We don't want to restrict things - you don't know whether a user is more qualified than you. We are also seeking help from the Naturall Language Processing Lab. We are using 'Total Recall' - a search engine for translations.

Mechanism - 'level up' - just like online games, from 'guest' to 'editor'. Open source, model for all. You can do amazing things - but if you are in Africa you have to buy a license. We are trying to use every program open source, so if other countries want to do this, we can just share with them.

We want to use knowledge and the concept of social citizenship to promote intellectuuals to voluntarily contribute to the society.

The volunteer systemn is just like the Justice Leage - by day they are lawyers, accountants - but by night, they may not need to tear off their clothes, but thhey can share their knowledge, they can help others. I am also ma fan of Spider-man. There is one paragraph, one line: "With greater power comes greater responsibility." Those people, they have great power. Our model is just to create the possibility, to let them, to share their power.

How can people help, if they are not Chinese. We are not the only project. You can help us by evaluating, by giving us your suggestions. Or transcribe MIT videos.


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