28 April 2010

The role of marketing in educational development

When a university marketing department spends most of its resources on branding and brand awareness campaigns like billboards, newspaper ads, 15 second tv and radio commercials, sponsorship, calendars and diaries, and another large portion on the website, open days, visitations and international representations, little if any of this has any educational benefit. We promote study with our university with glossy, promising messages, and leave the quality and delivery to under resourced, sometimes stressed staff and admin. All this effort and expense is potentially undone by that form of marketing we cannot control: word-of-mouth through social media. That word of mouth message goes far and wide once the reality of our service is apparent to our paying customers.

It just so happens that social media has a vast and impressive potential for learning, research, education .. and even assessment. A marketing driven engagement with social media brings them into a direct compliment to teaching and research efforts at the University. This post sets out a proposal on how marketing expenditure can be used to improve the quality of media and teaching resources, while at the same time achieving significant brand awareness objectives that marketing departments traditionally engag in.

Take the $5000-10000 that is typically spent on a billboard, use it to produce and publish a series of lectures, panels, interviews, mini documentaries, add the branding information that you would have on the billboard, and upload to Youtube. The views and response rates will be significantly higher than a billboard. Go further, package the lecture videos with links to openly accessible readings and resources, as well as the assignments and assessment criteria, and make it available for free on the popular social media channels, and offer reduced fee-based assessment and certification services to people who are using these open educational resources for self directed study. By rethinking marketing expenditure, and educational services in this way, we are not only generating glossy promising messages, but delivering glossy promising products as well, linked to user pay services that are more clearly in our mid to long term 'business' (and education) interests.

The point of difference for the University of Canberra
Producing open educational resources is not new. Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Open Courseware was an early mover in this direction - but criticised for the quality and depth of their resources. Many other universities have set up open education initiatives, none are taking advantage of the full opportunity before them. UC has an opportunity to be 'first to market' and with real points of difference...

Add Creative Commons to the Intellectual Property Policies
As UC reviews it policies on IP, it needs to add a clause that enables and supports staff who want to use Creative Commons licensing arrangements. I hope UC will go further, following Otago Polytechnic's lead and set Creative Commons Attribution as the default recommended copyright license over outputs from the University, with a process in place for restricting copyrights down from that. This actually works in the interest of a Commercialisation Unit or IP Unit in the university as they try to monitor and manage IP being generated. By defaulting to CC By with an opt-out process, anyone who wishes to apply copyright restrictions down from the default CC By, would need to see the Unit to apply whichever restriction they think is necessary. This assists in the 'better' management of IP at the university and captures anything that does have real commercial possibilities. As copyright is managed at present, All Rights are Reserved by default, and no real procedure with an incentive exists that involves a unit like a Commercialisation Unit or IP Unit.

If UC were to adopt CC By as a default, this will generate a vast amount of media and industry attention. UC would become the first Australian tertiary learning organisation in to move towards open education and research. It would be the 2nd in the Southern Hemisphere, following only Otago Polytechnic. UC can also take the advantage in the moral delima by taking practical steps towards returning access to publicly funded research outputs, where they are presently caught up in a publishing cycle that closes that access and sees large profits going out to offshore publishers.

Assign resources to the development of 5 show piece units
Changing the IP policy to one that gives options for open education and research practices will generate media attention, but having little to no follow-through will only undo the benefits of that attention as people see the hollow promise.

In many ways, this was the weakness in the work at Otago Polytechnic. It has so-far been unable to coordinate library, marketing and IT services effectively to adequately support teachers and researchers taking their work to an international arena. Yet, despite this absence of support, an analysis of their effort reveals a 125% return in the first year of their investment.
It cost $4000 to properly train 1 teacher/researcher how to effectively use popular social media for their work, and in the first year each person would generate over $9000 worth of marketing, infrastructural savings and quality improvements to their work.
With such a return it is arguable that a greater investment can be made. One that involves production promotion expenses from marketing, support and development from the library, improved ICT and admin services. An investment like this could well leverage even greater returns than Otago Polytecnnic's largely uncoordinated and unsupported efforts by a few motivated individuals.

UC should identify at least 5 units for development and packaging as open education units. This development involves resource production, teaching staff training and intensive support with the objective to bring the staff member up to a point where they are able to independently work with the materials and media in an enhanced and publicly accessible unit.

Use popular social media
Leading open educational initiatives like MIT Open Courseware, Utah State University and Johns Hopkins University make their educational media available freely online, but on their own web spaces. This approach undoubtedly misses a large majority of people using the Internet for informal learning, as they browse through more popular channels for information such as Youtube and Wikipedia.

Harvard Law has twice presented open courses well packaged around popular social media. Firstly in 2008 with their Law in the Court of Public Opinion - where they used Blip.tv, Second Life, a Wiki and a Blog to run the course for formal and informal enrolments simultaneously. Secondly in 2010 with Justice - a unit heavily using Youtube to present a TV-like series around the unit. Closer to home is the University of New South Wales on Youtube, where it features some of its better lectures. None of these however, are sophisticated in their use of social media, nor do any of them go beyond mere marketing, such as linking it to actual teaching and assessment.

The UC approach to social media
UC should package and publish quality recorded lectures (in the broader understanding of the term - including panel discussions, interviews and mini documentaries), topics and supporting study material, assignments and assessment schedules across popular social media channels for at least 5 show case units.

Lectures would be produced for authenticity, short and engaging and useful to people studying the unit for interest as well as for certification. These videos should be loaded to Youtube, both on the lecturer's channel and a UC channel and playlist, with copies spread across other video sites such as Blip.tv, and backed up to the Australian National Archive. Youtube would be the focal point for the videos.

As well as the video series, each unit takes a Wikiversity page and lists the topic schedule ensuring all readings and resources have copyright release for use on Wikiversity, or are at least openly available online. This page includes the assignments and assessment criteria. If a text is used in the unit, the text should be loaded into Wikibooks, with a print version available under normal royalty arrangements. This work should be done in the spirit of collaboration, with UC positioning itself as one of potentially many 'providers' of teaching and assessment services that compliment the Wiki study materials. Once complete, a link to these pages can be placed on all the related Wikipeia pages.

Each unit has a course website where all these resources are gathered and compiled in one central place. Links to this website are included in the description text for all the videos and wiki pages. This website is primarily used for announcements and updates on the course and its development, as well as notes, examples and feedback on work submitted by people undertaking study in the course.

Position assessment and certification services for new 'markets'
The units that are packaged and published this way need to be designed in such a way to be useful both to people interested in learning, as well as people seeking assessment and certification services. In other words, the stated learning objectives, assignments and assessment criteria need to be aligned and robust enough for both self directed learners using the open educational resources independently, as well as for dependent learners who have enrolled up front - seeking teaching and learning support services while they study.

Self directed learners can simply engage with the materials, where appropriate - discussions and forums, even gain access to labs and equipment as a fee-for-service arrangement, and complete and submit assignments for assessment. Assessment and certification services can take place when that person enrolls in the course. That enrollment essentially takes place when they are confident of a completion. Front loading a course, making it possible to enroll on completion, obviously has a positive impact on performance indicators that impact funding to the course - such as completion rates. Only those who are have effectively completed, are enrolling for assessment services.. in other words 100% completion rates, and quite likely very high satisfaction and continuation rates, not to mention better student profiles engaging in fee paying services.

This design aims to attract people already in full time work and struggling to make necessary career changes. To parents seeking distant and self paced study options. To people in regional and remote areas reluctant or unable to relocate to Canberra for study. To experienced and/or self directed learners seeking recognition for their knowledge and skills. To local and international people looking for less expensive study and certification options. As yet, most universities do very little in identifying and servicing this sort of demand.

As long as the developments compliment the needs of existing up-front enrolled students, then this development will simply open UC units to possible new 'markets'. Obviously by engaging marketing resources and librarian support in improving media and resources used for teaching and learning, with those resources being publicly available in the style I've outlined above, there is not only an improvement on services to existing students, but it goes a long way towards marketing departments developing and servicing new 'markets' as well.

25 April 2010

InnovationACT IP Panel Discussion

It was interesting to attend a seminar on Intellectual Property (IP) protectionism at ANU on Thursday night.
Tomorrow night’s seminar (21 April 2010) is another discussion panel. Guest speakers will discuss the importance and value of intellectual property, along with key strategies to protect and exploit this valuable (yet poorly understood) asset.
The format was exactly the same as seminars I've attended on the apparently opposite end of the spectrum - IP sharing. You have the legal person (usually a lawyer) setting the scene with a slide presentation, then its over to a small panel made up of an industry peak body representative and a token artist for good measure (no offense to the people in the panel of this and any other session - its a comment on the format). The obvious message this format sends is: Intellectual Property is about the rule of law, it is a logical system based on the business of money, and that its good for most if not all - even lefty artists. I never questioned this format until now - seeing it from the protectionist side was quite the eye opener.

But despite the authoritative tone, the panel was unable to represent the spectrum of issues around the notion of IP. Their bias came through from the legal person who makes a living from protectionism, right through the panel and the organisers and their supporters, who's interests where clearly focused on protecting and commercialising IP at the universities.

To be fair, the event was part of a series aimed at supporting networking opportunities and innovation and business development for students and staff at both universities. It seems to be well organised, well attended, and well supported - free drinks and food to boot! A seminar on IP in this context is bound to focus on protectionism and commercialisation.

My concerns revolve around:
  1. Where that protectionism and commercialisation perspective operates in publicly funded universities
  2. That the mechanics, economics and benefits of IP sharing don't get a mention in that context
  3. The mistaken belief in the panel and their organisers, that shared IP cannot be protected and commercialised
I attended the panel because I have an interest in the culture surrounding the notion of IP in Canberra - especially the University sector, and because a key person in the University of Canberra's IP Policy writing area was attending and offering himself for advice to attendees.

Questions and challenges

After the presentation from the patent attorney the session moved over to question time. I was encouraged by someone in the audience asking about the role Creative Commons had in all of it, but dismayed by the general responses from the panel. So I felt obliged to challenge further.

I asked 2 questions:
If someones legal claim to IP is offended by someone internationally, how do they practically enforce their legal rights? What are the steps they must take, how much might it cost?
The answer was given as a joke from the industry representative.
You take a big pipe and connect one end to your bank account, and the other to a lawyers bank account, and just let it flow.
Using this not-too-inaccurate answer, I commented that for most of us in the room therefore, protecting IP is probably not economically viable, and we might wish to consider other approaches. There was some agreement from the panel on that, with advice being to consider the cost benefits of IP protectionism, including your ability to pursue and defend legal challenges, but no real advice on the alternatives was forthcoming.

My second question was more complicated and required a scenario:
I am a scientist working on a biomass heat transfer unit in a publicly funded university. I have hit a technical problem that could probably be quickly answered if I put the designs out there for a wider network to see and contribute to. Trouble is, a unit in the University called the IP Commercialisation Unit wants me to maintain confidentiality on the work, and a private investment is conditional on IP protectionism. There is a large public grant I could go for, but it requires open sharing of IP.
The patent attorney responded by putting my question into two perspectives: you either work for the public good, or you work for commercial gain.

I refuted this assertion, and proposed Creative Commons Share Alike might be a way to bring commercial and public interest together in such situations. I added a comment that the scenario I put forward, others like it, and my previous question on enforceability, should be carefully considered by those responsible for IP policies in publicly funded universities, and that alternative approaches to managing notions of IP be included as a resourced and supported option for university staff and students.

The seminar was organised by Innovation ACT - a student organised initiative. Their opening line on their about page reads:
Whether you define success by profit or by social good, every budding entrepreneur needs access to solid advice, mentoring, start-up skills and funding.
I would like to thank the panel for putting themselves up there, and Innovation ACT for hosting a quality event. A video recording was made of the session, and I hope it can be published under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

23 April 2010

Gmail hacked

Last night (between 10pm and 12mn Canberra time) my Gmail account was hacked, and 500 people in my contacts were sent an email with the subjects either: +hi+ or Opa or Hello or ~~Hi~~ before gmail's security kicked in and automatically stopped the spamming. Interestingly, it seems no gmail users in my contact received the spam - either in their inboxes or the spam folders. Mostly my work colleagues seem to be the ones receiving and opening them.

As soon as I saw the evidence in my sent folder and bouncing auto replies, I changed my password, and checked my account details. It appears that my Gmail account was accessed and used on a University of Canberra browser IP address, and a Ukraine Mobile IP address while I was at home last night. Stupidly, I left my Windows work computer on, and my Google account signed in last night. A virus scan of my Home Ubuntu has found no malicious software, but it might be too soon to tell.

I have sent these IP access details to UC's service desk for their investigation.

News of the hack has so far been covered by Terrence O'Brien at Switched: Hacked Gmail Accounts Hawking Viagra.

So far it seems likely that malicious software installed on user's computers have extracted account information from multiple users. Advice links are on O'Brien's article, but in short:
  1. Change password, reminder question, and secondary email
  2. Consider a different operating system than Windows (My home Ubuntu is unaffected)
  3. Run virus scanning software (although such software may need a few weeks to be updated)
  4. Change password, reminder question and secondary email again.
The Twitter #gmail tag seems to be a good channel for catching updates.

22 April 2010

Aggregating blogs (feeds) into Moodle

The Teaching and Learning Centre here at the University of Canberra, facilitated a valuable introduction in the form of David Jones, working with Central Queensland University on a feed aggregation and marking tool for Moodle called BIM, and researching academic staff development for improved teaching practices.

David gave a presentation on the current features and future directions of BIM. Without a doubt, this add on to Moodle will greatly assist teachers trying to use blogs with large cohorts of students, and trying to fit that teaching and learning practice in to existing paradigms of assessment and administration through Moodle.

Essentially, the current version aggregates feeds submitted by students or added by teachers, and automatically matches a post to an assignment based on same words used in their titles. The BIM makes a copy of the student's blog post, lists it in a schedule for marking - along with other information such as who hasn't posted on the assignment yet, for the assessor to go through and add feedback and marks within the Moodle structure.

Future development plans for David (and anyone who wishes to collaborate with him on this Moodle development) is for aggegated feed display features that will help to encourage interation between students. Things like tag clouds, snippets, and links to active discussions might be developed - helping Moodle to match some of the features of its possible rival in Wordpress Multi User... depending on future development add-ons being developed by Wordpress' educational user base.

I asked the obvious question of why, or if BIM might consider developing outside the framework of Moodle say, as a Firefox based or other Feed Reader plug in, and offering a file that can be imported to Moodle (as well as a spreadsheet, a MediaWiki table, a Wikispaces Table, MySQL database, a text document and a PDF to email), and thereby offering the functionality of BIM to a wider user base than just Moodle. David explained that the project was constrained in many ways to the needs of the sponsoring Institution, and that triggered an interesting (I thought) discussion about such institutional constraints and their apparent impact on more lateral, some might say, socially engaged and relevant development projects not to mention impact on defining teacher practices and academic development and support.

Defense comments regarding Moodle go usually along the lines of "this is not a do everything tool, but one in an array of tools.." yet so many of our development and support efforts don't seem to reflect that stance. Take an already very useful Moodle add-on like BIM, and rethink the constraints on its development. How could we achieve the functionality we need for Moodle, but in such a way that compliments an array of other ways of doing things, and possibly leads us into that more lateral development and practitioner culture, engaged with wider more socially engaged (as apposed to educational institution engaged) projects like Mozilla, MediaWiki and Google...?

David, if/when you read this, it was great to meet you and I'll be following your research work with interest. Could you record a screencast on the feature of BIM and load it to Youtube?.. I did a quick search and couldn't find anything, and I'm sure a number of people will be very keen to gat an inside look. I did find your Slideshare though.

17 April 2010


Might a calorie be a better basis for economic systems than carbon?

I'm reading David Holmgren's Energy and Permaculture. It get's good half way through. A companion text to it must be Ivan Illich's Energy and Equity. Holmgren also insists that Howard Odum's Energy Basis for Man and Nature is an important text, especially in that it is accessible to low levels of reading comprehension. Unfortunately Odum's text appears not to have an online copy, so my reading of it is delayed by my motivation to go to a library... anyone read it?

In the meantime I'm off to see what the skeptics think about Odum, and the idea of calories instead of carbon as a basis for more responsive economic models...

14 April 2010

A meeting to discuss UC computing environments

Yesterday UC's Information Technology Systems (ITS) inserted a C in their name and came to communicate with a few of us who have expressed frustration over some things to do with UC's computing environment and connectivity management.

David Formica, David MacNivan, Stef Batts-Cirilli and Geoff Rozenberg came from ITS to C with Danny Munnerley and Leonard Low from the Teaching and Learning Centre and Ben Rattray and myself from Faculty of Health. Apologies for the meeting sent in from Michael De-Percy from the Faculty of Business & Government and James Neill from the Faculty of Health.

The meeting was prompted by the document I was preparing for Laurie Grealish, the Associate Dean of Education in the Faculty of Health, Things That Don't Work, that documents difficulties we are having with computing and connectivity. It is preparation for a larger proposal for some fundamental changes in policies and procedures in aspects of UC management.

Over all it was quite a positive meeting. There was the usual icey-ness with a couple of the IT guys that came along, no doubt feeling under siege, aggravated by my impatience and aggressiveness on such issues. But David was very patient, and eventually I think we broke through some of that get-to-know you business and realised we have ideas and concerns worth discussing rather than treating. It felt towards the end like we were actually having a dialog, and might be open to some more interaction in the near future.

Key points I noted where:

The notorious proxy, will be taken away in July! You beauty, here's hoping we can load files to media sharing sites, use webcams, webstream, create multiple Blogger accounts in workshops, etc.

The Content Management System used to run the UC website will remain :( looks like plan B of stripping down the content that's on the website to bare essentials and pointing into a second site we can actually manage is the best path to take. For example, Sport Studies and Nutrition have both set up open Moodle sites to act as a kind up-to-date face for their study areas.

Separating education and research from the business and admin side of things
. ITS is considering the advice from Wollongong University to separate the business and administration infrastructure of the university, from the teaching and research side. I think this would be a good move, as it may enable more flexibility to innovate and try new things on the education side, while the business and admin people can die a slow death with their legacy software/rod up their backs.

Free and open connectivity - especially wireless across campus was a longer discussion point. I see it as the more important point of discussion, as it could be the one that helps change the culture of the university from one of being about lecture halls, exclusive access and credential inflation, to one of connectivity, inclusivity and networked learning.

It seemed as though the two groups had quite different ideas of what access to connectivity meant. In my opinion, free and open connectivity to the internet for anyone who walks on to campus (and even hotspots out in regional towns) is a core service the university should be aiming to offer, as it is for public libraries and other public services (and I'm certainly not advocating Eduroam either).

The cost of providing such a service is an obvious concern. David said we pay AARNET approximately $700 000 per year for our present restricted access use. If we were to offer free and open connectivity on campus, would that data use increase given the campus is actually a long way from dense residential populations, and the culture of internet use for education is not really here yet? Geoff in ITS believes data use won't go up significantly. So could we afford to go further and offer free hotspots in regional towns? Is there a cheaper option than AARNET and their Eduroam shareholders?

The other concern raised about offering free and open connectivity is an apparent requirement by AARNET that we require sign in, and a suggestion that we track all data transferred by individuals on the network for auditing!? David MacNivan spoke to this point, and I'll need to look into it more. On the face of it, it stinks. Perhaps its better that we buy in service from an ISP who has the courage to stand up to such legislation, if it exists. Even if there was a requirement to "authenticate" (sign people in and record their use in plain English) I don't see why we couldn't still offer free and open-to-anyone connectivity and ask people to create a UC account before using. Why we should issue barcodes to people who must first sign up to $25000 of student dept before we give them access to the greatest educational device ever known, seems a bit more than simply fulfilling a server and audit requirement to track use. Are we thinking laterally enough? Students and staff can obviously use their existing barcodes if we realise we need to differentiate the quality of connection due to over use... if!

Finally, thanks to Danny's supporting comments that tried to point out some fundamental differences in outlook being discussed, we were able to put forward some sense that there is a fair bit of energy behind the notion of open access education using popular media. David indicated that ITS are open to a defining vision, and that the consultation period for the 5 year road map just authored by ITS (hoping for a link soon) is the place to pitch it. I questioned the authenticity of that consultation process - relating to many other such processes that are merely cosmetic while the deal is in fact done and dusted. David assured us the consultation was real, and he was putting money into it. He suggested we get a vision document together that aligns with the over all strategic direction of UC, and puts forward a business (and educational) case. We need to get the Associate Deans of Education championing the vision and relaying it up the chain of command.

So I've loaded the strategic plan to Wikiversity as well as the start of a Vision for open education using popular internet, with a view to linking the vision with the strategy, and outlining a business and education case.

My compost hot water system

Here's a video playlist outlining my compost hot water system so far:

This all stems from a Frenchman named Jean Pain. I discovered Jean Pain's composting method back in 2008 while browsing for info on composting toilet systems. All that existed then was a single article in the Readers Digest from 1982. So I started a Wikipedia article, defended the notability challenges, negotiated copyrights for images of Jean Pain, and watched it grow from there. A few months later, Youtube user TaranikiFarm copied and uploaded the 1980s documentary, The Power of Compost, focusing on Jean Pain's method, made back in the early 80s as well. Jean Pain drew 18 months of energy from his large compost pile. Heating and gas, 100% of his energy needs, including his truck and machines!

Now, clearly such a method is not for everyone, but it is for me. Energy rates in parts of Australia are expected to rise over 60% in the next 3 years, and I don't intend to be left out in the cold as energy poor either. My outspokeness and impatience with work always gives me a sense of precarity in regards to income, so I think its a good idea to skill up on alternative living. Besides that, its just good fun :)

Next step, getting methane gas from it for cooking...

12 April 2010

Australian backcountry skiing

Sunshine, Eve and I took a drive up to Guthega on the weekend, to scope out a ski trip for when the snow falls. Inspired!

Lots of people scoff at the idea of Australian skiing. Personally I like it more than anywhere.

Wikipedia has a great article on skiing in Australia, and check out my little map with videos:

View Australian Back Country Skiing in a larger map

10 April 2010

Moodle snippet - make and embed a youtube playlist

Yesterday UC ran a Moodle Snippets hour. 10-15 minute how to demonstrations for people using Moodle. I offered to do a demo of creating Youtube playlists and embedding them in Moodle, slipping in a few comments along the way about how people in education should do more with Youtube and all the others, and slim down their use of Moodle. Perhaps such comments within a 10 minute demo are a bit much. Perhaps UC educational support services could run Youtube or Social Media Snippets to balance their manufacture of conscent!?

Anyway, this talk went a bit wrong. Firstly the browser was out of date causing some of the Youtube features not to show, secondly I was caught out by an unexpected change to the custom player feature in Youtube since their interface upgrade. Instant karma, some might say, for being such a smart arse about Moodle.

While the others wait for their expensive Echo360 recording, here's my rough webcam view:

I recorded the other talks too, but not sure they're as keen to be out there as this.

For the record: here's how you embed a playlist now-days:
  1. Go to the "Playlists" section of your account.
  2. Select the playlist you'd like to embed.
  3. Copy the embed code from the upper right corner.
  4. Paste the code into your website or blog.

09 April 2010

Debunking the Cengage study: Debunking the Digital Native Myth (without having even read it!)

I was email spammed this morning by a marketeer named Melissa Snead from Peppercom Strategic Communications. Her email contained a press release (no more) of an apparent study by Cengage Learning titled:

Debunking the Digital Native Myth: Higher Education Students Ask for More Support in Using Classroom Technology

Put that in Google and you'll see how effective her press release has been and how ineffective the various media outlets have been investigating it.

I haven't been easily able to find the 'study', and why a link to it wasn't included in the press release has a distinct ratty smell.

Melissa's email invites questions and comments. I'm very reluctant to reply to a spammer marketeer, if I do then no doubt I'll find my email address in a whole raft of data bases made ready to issue more roughly targeted email advertising dressed up as research.

Needless-to-say, Cengage Learning and its corporate clip art website does itself damage in my network's eyes by engaging in marketeering like this. Here's their copy of the press release, still no link to the study.

So why am I even bothering to write about this.. well - as you an tell I'm pretty darned annoyed by the email, and the lack of a link to the study data. I'm all for debunking the digital native myth with some kind of research, but not with the idea being to reinforce the classroom learning narrative! Schools are the sheltered workshops of some of the most digitally illiterate people I have met! Why on earth would we believe people can find support in schools for developing digital literacy?

My questions are aimed more at anyone embarking on a study like this, and anyone who thinks to use such a study to prop what presently goes on in the schools, colleges and universities I have worked in.

  1. Is this study available online. Your press release appears to have no link. I hope it is open access and not behind a paywall. I hope it exists even!
  2. What is meant by technology in the classroom? If you know me, I argue that technology as used in schools bares little resemblance (as always) to popular technology such as social media or contemporary Internet. Even though the social Internet has all the features a school should be looking for if it were interested in learning (over say - administration) does your study see this difference, and does it investigate the obvious question of relevance and the impact that has on motivations to learn?
  3. The USA has some very poor connectivity statistics. Almost as bad as Australia. The digital divide is very pronounced there. Apart from my second question around the relevance of the classroom, does the study consider the USA's digital divide and the link this likely has to levels of digital literacy? If there was a link (and I'd argue there certainly is) Does a school, or Cengage Learning for that matter have any idea how they could help address connectivity issues outside classrooms? Providing a censored, locked down, prescribed in use, and sterile computing environment for free in the school library doesn't rate btw.

07 April 2010

On the system that manages learning

I have been involved in high school, vocational and academic educational development since 2001 - mostly, but not only, focused on teaching and learning online. In that time I have been close to (and sometimes benefitted from) the unfortunate mainstreaming of the Learning Management System. Along with it have been the distracting notions of sharable learning objects, IMS standardisation, usability, reusability, interoperability, open source and patents, copyright and intellectual property, and other impossible complexities relatively unique to the bureaucratic requirements of the LMS.

More lately, and I mean 6 years late, attempts to bring features of the highly popular social web into the Learning Management System simply paint a stark picture of just how segmented and irrelevant we have allowed education and online learning to become. Even when it is plainly obvious we do not understand the emerging grammar of the medium, we seek to entrench our ways of operating even further.

Those thoughtful and persistent resisters (David Wiley, Chris Lott, George Seimens, Stephen Downes, D'Arcy Norman, Brian Lamb, Alan Levine, James Farmer, Anne Bartlett-Brag, Barbara Dieu, Teemu Leinonen, Dave Cormier, myself and many more 2001-2010 and welcome Jim Groom, Mike Caulfield, Jon Mott, Anya Kamenetz and yet so few 2006-2010) who point out the paradoxes of content production and managed learning, as well as the breaking of social connectedness, access and equality, the lack of exit or even entry plans, the negative impact on literacy, the gross waste of time and money, the correlation to higher costs and tuition fees, the little to no evidence of need beyond unrealised profits, and the sad closure on hope for the possibility of a deregulated, peer to peer education system, have largely remained isolated to innovation departments, unknown to IT departments, and ignored by managers long enough to allow the LMS to lock itself into standard operations that continue to determine all our educational realities.

The critics' endless and passionate efforts to bring about a more free and socially connected education culture through communications technology have been losing footings of relevance each disappointing year, as the LMS and all it represents as an artifact, wins conservative hearts and minds, and shape shifts to fit the architecture of control that it seeks to serve.

...Anya Kamenetz's book DIY U might just be breathing new life into us yet!...

The LMS and all that it represents (commodofication, control, power, bureaucracy, compliance, exclusivity and restriction, dislocation, dysfunction, irrelevance, status quo, cohort learning, quizzes, tracking, escapism, conformity, risk aversion, and extreme conservatism) has become a central and costly feature to most institutions of academic and vocational education and training. In my experience, it is also the single biggest barrier to people grasping the grammar of communications today, and realising the possibilities discussed in this network.

What little there is that remains of the resistance to this disappointing reality is a firm belief that deinstitutionalised education, connected with social networks who know no borders, boundaries or limits to knowledge sharing, can only emerge from outside the institutions (Wikimedia, P2PU, DIY U, OER, networked learning), but the money and resources locked up inside institutions will always threaten to absorb and corrupt these ideas, and the thing that birthed the LMS will always be there to take another grab.

I was going to attempt a paper for the International Journal of Educational Integrity, (Abstract deadline extended to 7th April 2010) as an academic formalisation that was to revisit the 2004 post: Everything you need to teach and learn online. That post (as are the updates lately) are really just a tired attempt to disrupt people thinking of the LMS as a technological fix.

But sadly, unlike the hey day of 2005/6, I get the distinct feeling that such emotive commentry, supported by 'evidence' that is no longer admissable, or manifestos - where truth is self evident, are no longer sort or welcomed. I don't think many people at all have seriously contemplated the problem it encapsulates, or the reality it dertirmines, just as I am yet to meet a colleague who has really considered the inconvenient truth that Ivan Illich painfully desrcibed.

As always I aim to convince just a few that the LMS and what it represents, is at best a distraction or worse - escapism. It, along with institutional trappings, has little to offer people interested in teaching and learning. I'm hopeful that Anya Kamenetz's book will give us a fresh over view of where we are at, and suggestions on where we might go next. Certainly her interview does already.

01 April 2010

Everything you need to teach and learn online P3: Feeds

Here's part three of the series Everything you need to teach and learn online.

Hopefully, you're convinced to maintain a sense of independence, you've set up your website on Blogger, now its time to go out and find information and people to follow.

Do this using RSS feeds. Most website's these days have RSS feeds. You can tell that if you see the icon on the right on the site, or in the address bar of your browser when you're on a site.

An RSS feeds lets you subscribe to a website using a feed reader, and receive a copy of any new information added to that site after you've subscribed.

You can subscribe to RSS feeds for search results of Youtube, Delicious and Twitter. Start with those, they are a quick way to get a good over view of a subject, and to drill down into better feeds from there. When you find something great in those search feeds, subscribe to that something. Then you can start ignoring the general search feed as you build up richer more valuable subscriptions on a subject. Before you know it you will have built an incredibly valuable flow of information customised to your needs. You can give up reading the Sunday tree of propaganda and use that time editing your own channel of information.

You can even export your collection of feeds into an OPML file. Such a file can be a valuable thing to give to learners just starting out. If you're lucky, you might meet someone who has spent years building a feed reader on a particular topic, and they might be willing to give you an OPML file to import into your reader. Its very easy and a great way to short cut to the goods.

If anything I've said here seems a bit hard to you, its not! search Youtube for how to screen recordings. It should literally take you 30 minutes to understand and get going. Here's a great video to get you started: RSS in plain english.

In part 4 of Everything you need, we'll look at networking. Networking becomes important once you've developed a rich feed reader alive with great new content. We'll have a look at how and why you should network with that content and the people behind it so as to enrich your teaching and learning opportunities. Stay tuned.