You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2006.

So, 3 months later and my library has finally delivered my order of Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks – How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom.

Sure enough, after reading through the introductory chapter, it is an impressive read.

So far it has had me thinking about:

  • the shift from mass mediated information to networked – p10
  • an counter point to the common objection of information overload – p13. “..Individuals become less passive, thus more engaged. Attention in the networked environment is dependent on being interesting to an engaged group, than it is in mass media – where moderate interests to large numbers of weakly engaged people is preferable..”
  • the increased capabilities of individuals as the core driving social force behind the networked information society – p15
  • a response to individualism further fragmenting communities and continuing the trend of industrialisation: Internet is impacting on television and we are using the Internet to communicate with family and friends. But at the same time, our social ties are shifting due to the increasing range of diversity in our newly established connections…

I’m observing Benkler is at fault in my view, of wording in the global sense but almost only ever using US examples. This starts me wondering how much of what Benkler identifies as important (legislation, democracy, freedom, individualism, access and many other things) as being very dependent on your (US) view of the world…? This is already most apparent to me in his section in the introductory chapter starting p13, Justice and Human Development, where he does little to acknowlege digital divides, and the success of pirate software over free software.

But where is really started to get interesting was towards the end of the introduction, where he articulates the 4 methodologies he is approaching things with:

  1. technology not as deterministic or entirely malleable
  2. economic sociology
  3. liberal political theory with economics and markets as a basis
  4. individualism and anarchism

Finally, to finish the intro and motivate me to read on:

“.. we must recognise… what is fundamentally a social and political choice – a choice about how to be free, equal, productive human beings under a new set of technological and economic conditions. As economic policy, allowing yesterday’s winners to dictate the terms of tomorrow’s economic competition would be disastrous. As social policy, missing an opportunity to enrich democracy, freedom and justice in our society while maintaining or even enhancing our productivity would be unforgivable…” p 27 and 28.

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It has been great to witness Stanley Frielicks thoughts emerge as he processes his experiences with the Future of Learning in a Networked World. He, more than anyone has sparked important debate in that tour. He has suffered tirades and rants from many, flames from some, and institutional dogma from others, but maintained a willingness to engage and expose himself more. What emerges from this is a presence, a node, an extension in the connected knowledge, a person with whom I feel I can communicate with and relate to.

I met Stanley on the Northland leg of the tour, but before that he was simply a name in my email and little more. I tried once to find out more about him, but he was not easily located. A paper there, a photo here. As a result I could not be sure of who he was or what he stood for – that is until we met face to face.

We met at night at the airport and like any face to face meeting, a flood of information flows in as you instinctively look the person up and down and basically sum the person up as quick as you can so you can interact to some degree. A handshake because he is an anglo bloke, a smile because thanks to his dress and body language I have summed up that he’s a good bloke and we’ll get along… something like that anyway.

Now, Stanley is blogging. While he is at the other end of this little country I am given access to his thoughts and ideas, and can remain in touch. It is a different type of interaction – blogging and subscribing to someone’s blog (networked), compared to say – email, forums and telephone. With networked communications I see Stanley writing largely to himself and in the context of his ‘self’ (blog). I can choose to remain at a distance, or comment in to let him know I’m there. Compared to the demands of one to one email, phone, or even group email communications, it is a safe distance, less demanding, but intimate enough over time.

This networked communication is different to what many of us are used to, and different to what the majority of us experience. But it is significant. It is this form of communication – with all its promise of equality, democracy, and other egalitarian principles – that inspired the open space ideals of the FLNW. The connectivity emerging between myself and Stanley is an example of how that happens and how it can be maintained.

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Well, I’m going to attempt to talk through my paper on digital network literacy for the Knowledge Bank in Australia this Thursday arvo 1pm Melbourne time.

I realise as I write this that apart from the group talk with Knowledge Tree (when the paper was first published) that I haven’t actually presented this to anyone.

I am finding it quite difficult to pin down, mainly because I always spread my arguments (too) wide and thin. As you’ll see by the slides, it starts out solid enough, but soon jumps around making it hard to follow.

I think this jumping around must almost be expected of me by now. I do somehow manage to stitch it all together in the end, but you wouldn’t know by just looking at it – I won’t know until I’ve talked it through!

Anyway, you can join the fun on Thursday by going to Knowledge Bank’s website. Registering :( and clicking the program in the top left. I’m going to get through these slides in 30 minutes (or under) and then hope for a rather informative discussion for the last half.

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A few days ago I posted an idea called out from under the umbrellas, of why and how educational institutions should decentralise

Tonight is an idea of how formal teaching and learning, assessment and accreditation might occur in that decentralised educational context.

I was reading Artichoke’s latest post, Nobody owns it, everybody can use it and anybody can improve it that motivated me to stop reading and start typing. However typical of the feeling after reading any Artichoke posts I’m left astounded at how much Arti can fit into a single sentence, let alone a post chock full of quotes, references and links! and bewildered on what I might say when it seems as though it has all been said.

But it is that sentence that Arti uses as the over all theme to her post that rang bells for me most. It reminded me of the Linux ads IBM is running on Youtube – but more importantly how amazingly possible, if not already true the statement is.

I dunno why really, but it makes me want to imagine what would it be like to be the rain…

If you’ve read my post about decentralised education, out from under the umbrellas, then the title of this post may soon make more sense.

So, we have teachers with strong Internet presence. They point to, discuss, demonstrate, collate prolific amounts of information about their subject/s. They model the best practice possible, and lead by example. They share all that they know, and actively seek out what they don’t, they are endorsed, supported and promoted by the institution/s they use as a base… in doing all this their Internet presence is strong, as it needs to be for this:

We have people all around the world, using the worlds biggest and most successful training provider (Google + wikipedia + youtube, etc) to access information and wherever possible communication, around what it is they are wanting and needing to learn. With a strong and established Internet presence our brave new teachers get found.

It is here I start to think about ways to try and match institutional learning pathways to this informal and self paced learning method through Google et al.

Let’s start by reminding ourselves how Ask Ninja explains podcasting:

I hope you managed to watch that movie. Basically Ninja describes the world of the person seeking ideas, entertainment, information and the like online. That person wanders the landscape of search results, random links and posts, surfing… they happen across a single piece of content that grabs their attention (be it because of the entertainment value like Ninja, or because of its perceived value in answering a question or problem, or both..)

The challenge for teachers I think, is how to develop a web presence in such a way that this person will want to come back, subscribe, or otherwise tune in to what you are doing.

For example, if I was exploring an interest in lets say…architecture, and happened across something you (a teacher of it) had pegged - a quick video demonstrating how I might go about measuring my house and using Google sketch up to draw my dream renovation… I could be made interested by this. Now that I’m interested, things that would draw my interest further would be if at the end, or attached to the video somewhere was some advise on what my next steps could be and how what I just learned relates to what I could learn more of.

Those suggested next steps would draw me into more of your work – micropedagogical dumps as Brent says, bite sized chunks of things that would make me want to stay or come back. Things that would maintain my interest would be more of those seemingly random content feeds relating to architecture, and ending in next steps and suggested relationships to various life contexts… more video demos, short audio recorded interviews with practitioners (5 – 10 minutes) from NZ, India, South Africa, Brazil, China… a nicely designed text for print that inspires me to think differently about architecture and its importance in web design… recordings of your 10 – 15 minute lectures (goodbye 1 – 2 hour lectures)…

Along the way I have come to realise that you are a lecturer in architecture. My eyebrows lift at this realisation and I instinctively compare you to my past experiences with teachers.. “man! this person is onto it!” I’d think. I’d start to become more impressed by your passion for the subject as I see that you post a new thing every second day or so. I become even more impressed when I come to learn that some of what you post refers to your students work! I follow the links into your students, and see how they blog about their work with you. I am allowed to see the conversations and authentic learning that you are facilitating with these people and I start to relate myself into the experience. No enrollment fee, password and login profile to block me there… I start to see that becoming a qualified architect may be a possibility for me, achievable in my spare time after work.

So I make contact with you. A few days later you reply. Not with an enrolment form and an 0800 number, but with get-to-know-ME questions. Genuine, personal. I reply with questions about your work, you reply with answers and pointers to other work. You ask me if I’d like to join a web conference with your class! I bork and get shy, you say, “no worries – just listen in if you like” and give me the time and link. I do listen in, and see that the group you are communicating with are people just like me, and once again I think how possible it might be for me to study to become an architect. I go away for a while and see what else I can find, but inevitably I keep falling back to your blog, looking for more of that initial experience.

Weeks later you send me an email with an assignment attached. You explain that you thought I’d be interested in having a go at it, and if I wanted to I could send it in when I finished it. No mention of a fee. I’m surprised by this, even a little suspicious, but on reading the assignment I am curious.

I few weeks later I build up the courage to send you my attempt at the assignment. A few days go by and you respond with an impressive amount of feedback, written not with a teacher voice,but with progressive discourse as Konrad calls it. As an equal – respectful, sensitive, and personal. You then point me to your own attempt at the same assignment and I find it amidst many others who have attempted the assignment in the past, some only days before me. I even comment in on some of them, and get responses asking to see mine. You ask me if you can put my assignment up with the others…

This goes on for sometime. The teacher has to manage quite a bit of online social activity around their subject area, but avoids forming groups or classes, always treats people as individuals, respectful of each individuals capacity and time frames. The teacher is basically nurturing people into a relationship with them and their work as teachers in the field. Teachers as equals, as participants in their own courses, participants in a network.

Let’s review that. Individual teachers have strong, networked, Internet presence. Their presence is built on the basis of micro content. The potential student is looking at this world of information networked communication. They draw focus on a particular element of content and find that it is networked into a chain of content. At any point, opportunities to communicate around that information is available. When the communication starts, so does the relationship, and the prolonged learning. I think this is starting to look like Stephen’s picture of an alternative state education system posted October 6th.

but who pays?

Well, it’s for free!! But some may choose to pay. Eventually many people will come to a point in their learning this way where they either need to be accredited or want to be. Some want recognition for their work, others legally require it to do further work. When they are at that point is when they (their employer, government or scholarship) pay. When the time for accreditation is agreed on (in other words when the teacher and the student agree that both are ready) the student enrolls and pays a fee, and the teacher introduces a team of independent assessors and everyone goes through the work that has been done. All the assignments, communications if need be, readings that were read and considered, portfolio, work experience, interviews, all of it is looked at to make an assessment for qualification.

It is at this point where payment is made, the learning was free. Education costs, learning is for free.

So there it is, what I think it might be like to BE the rain.

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“…When the processes of formal training and assessment separate, institutionalised learning will be in crisis…”

Stephen Downes in a conversation with TANZ CEOs in Christchurch, September 21.

A scenario to help explain:

  • In the interests of quality assurance, builders in New Zealand are soon to be required to hold a certificate, however there is a shortage of builders in many areas of NZ.
  • To fast track certification and to ensure numbers of builders continue to be available, training organisations and builders associations will set up Recognition of Prior Learning and some training opportunities where needed.
  • If done well, the RPL process will become a fast track, cheaper option for certification. It is likely that smaller organisations will set up and sustain themselves solely on the provision of assessment for RPL, while others will focus on specific, just in time training.
  • This will create more options for people requiring certification and or training.
  • Industry will welcome shorter and/or more flexible training and certification opportunities, preferring work place training and assessment that is customised to their needs.
  • Secondary schools will start to align curriculum with these smaller providers and student income subsidies may begin to recognise these arrangements and extend their support to include study with these agencies.
  • Training and education institutions, heavy with a wide variety of both viable and non viable courses, and no longer enjoying exclusive recognition from student income subsidies, start to struggle under their inefficient size and processes.
  • Here is were the crisis begins…

I’m not too sure how sound or desirable such a scenario is, but there is plenty of evidence to say this is well under way already. It is basically a huge decentralisation of training and education.

The best response in my view is for the institutions themselves to decentralise in some way, and what follows is how I think that can best occur.

It just so happens that the long held and increasingly popular apprenticeship model is quite complimentary to this need to decentralise. Complimentary to the apprenticeship model is networked learning. On the one hand is an efficient, demonstrate and practice, mentor learning structure, while on the other is the enablement of an independent, informed and networked learner. Let me paint a picture:

Imagine if your institution allowed for more individualism. Your answer might be something like, “…Otago Polytechnic works for me…” rather than “.. I work for Otago Polytechnic..” A place where the brand, the infrastructure, the management and hiearchy, and the assets were in some way answerable or subsumed to the individuals who work from the organisation as a base.

The individual teacher would be out from under the umbrella of the organisation as a whole, and made more responsible for their own actions – or lack there of – while the organisation and its hiearchy is set up to support the development of that individualism in its teachers. Teachers would be expected (but not required) to establish and maintain a presence, a portfolio so to speak, always up to date – up to the second, with the work they are doing, their research, their ideas and thinking, their experiments, their teaching, and their communications with professional networks. A blog could be one way, but I didn’t say that… individuals from around the world can attached to the organisation by way of endorsement from the organisation for their work. They would have the opportunity to benefit from its support in negotiable terms. While the organisation benefits from a more flexible, individually responsible, diverse work force.

The important point is that the organisation becomes far less centralised and less identifiable en-mass or as a whole. It is more clearly identified by the individuals that grow from its base. It is made up of many individuals with explicit directions, expertise, interests etc, while the organisation is geared to support those individuals with professional development, admin, promotions, development funding and the like.

One more scenario:

  • Roy is a lecturer in cooking within a training institution called Tekotago.
  • Much needed mature and focused cooking students are taking advantage of alternative training and assessment options, leaving only the less mature and less focused students in his classes who need the others
  • This trend is undermining the quality of the Tony’s training and affecting his motivation.
  • Tony, along with around 30% of the institution’s lecturers has decided to develop a public profile as a cooking expert and teacher and help the Institution to decentralise.
  • He is given ownership of his intellectual property, independence from the organisational hiearchy, support in terms of admin, pay, infrastructure, development budget and the like, but is now more responsible for the quality of his over all work.
  • Tony is less restricted by the organisation, and is able to work independently, proactively and responsively to the training needs and trends of his potential students.
  • He is identified as Roy the Cooking teacher endorsed by Tekotago rather than simply a teacher at Tekotago
  • He remains with the organisation for the support in admin, more secure income, professional development opportunities, and access to development funds, but he is free to become totally independent should he choose.

Of course the questions flap in the wind… what is to become of the teacher who prefers the shelter of the organisation… they way I see it, both can exist – for now.


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