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Its been a while since I’ve seen something new come from MIT on the free for education wagon, and I’m just getting better from 4 days of pretty hard core sickness – so I’m obviously keen to get back in here and comment.

A seed was planted in me about a month ago, after reading the one and only criticism I could find on MIT’s OpenCourseWare. It suggested that MIT’s courseware was mostly not so open at all – but rather promoting the sale of text books and other supportive materials…

Now, Thanks to MIT’s Phillip Long presentation to the Sydney Institute I’ve been looking at some new teaching learning software that MIT are making available for free. But after reading about each of them, the only link I can find to obtaining a version of the software to try out is by sending an email…

Then that hard learned pessimisms about institutions and people who get paid too much started to leach back into me, as a feeling that the MIT saint wasn’t as saintly as they like to make out. Perhaps I am too paranoid, too cynical – but it does strike me as strange that not a single Institution in Australia spouts such social and ethical ideology either in promo or in face value practice like MIT. But that could be just because Australian institutions aren’t yet wised up to the promotional gains, and far reaching market penetration one can archive through making your products superficially free.

Take, MS Media Player, Internet Explorer, Flash Player, Apple Quicktime, Adobe Acrobat Reader, tolerance of software piracy, and many more softwares that have been made available freely, for the simple and heady idea of obtaining market penetration and dominating it with your designs, outlook and way of doing things.

Now I’m not saying that MIT are doing this… but there are some interesting lessons to be learnt from the marketing initiatives of the software giants. Perhaps MIT are trying to balance between the social and ethical contribution they promote, and the marketing advantage they do not. Or perhaps there is no marketing scheme behind MIT OCW. But if there is, I think its largely a possitive one, so long as users don’t let themselves get locked in to an MIT view on things and are still willing and able to choose and use other OCW and tools.


Driving West – a newly widened highway returns to its older day charm and the sudden slow down will give you a chance to take more in. Old cottages under very old pines, a narrow bridge across the ferny rail line cut (if only tickets were cheaper), and just when a town is expected there it is.. a little sign on the right reading “Yum Cha 10 – 2pm every Sunday”.

You might just motor on past it first time – still in highway mode, but the stretch of road from the sign to Mount Victoria township is just enough to take the meaning of the sign in.. Yum Cha? Out here? .. where are we, Chatswood! China Town! No, Blue Mountains – Mount Victoria! What a great idea! Yum Cha is just what I feel like. So a quick uey at the Vic post office – glancing at the Sunday Markets to come back to, and the over crowded Imperial Pub Lunches – and your on your way back to this curiosity of Chinese luncheon.

The Mount Vic Yum Cha, at Jackson’s Restaurant and Guest house, has been open only since May 2004. It’s an intriguing bitsa of mountain cottage and Asian court. Almost as soon as you pull up the drive you know the turn around at the post office was the right move. With a modest Yum Cha menu, and inspiring interiors, the Vic Yum Cha is the perfect place to stop for lunch on a Sunday arvo in the Upper Mountains. The prices are very good, the food genuine, the atmosphere private and relaxing, and the service non intrusive. A very welcome change to the typical inner city Yum Cha experience.

It would be totally worth a special trip all the way from Sydney for this, to congratulate Jackson and Kathleen on their classy effort in bringing Chinese luncheon to the Upper Mountains.

Everything you need to get happening with teaching online. It will cost you nothing but 2 hours of time, and not a sent!

Blogs (Weblogs)
Wonderful! So easy to set up (see Western Sydney, Free and Open thread in this forum)
Since Google opted into Blogger things have improved out of site.
1. Extremely simple to set up
2. No advertising Banners
3. Now has comments, so it is an excellent collaboration, group work, and constructivist/constuction-ist learning tool
4. Can post images straight up using the free Hello image sharing and chat program
5. Can post from and to email
6. Can post audio from a telephone!
7. Many stylish templates to choose from, and very easy to change the style to suite your own needs.
8. Very easy to manage
9. Very well networked with the whole world blogger community in that similar topical blogs, interest areas and locations are automatically linked to your blog and user profile
10. An interesting plan to make money, where if you agree, Blogger will post target ads on your blog and pay you for it!

The only down points I have found about Blogger so far is:
(NB. This list is currently growing thanks to the comments to this post. I intend to offer constructive criticism to Blogger in a week or two.)
1. Cannot seem to edit comments as an administrator, though I haven’t looked too hard into this as it doesn’t matter to me.
2. Archiving only by month, week, day and not by topic. But I have experienced trying to archive by topic in other blog type projects, and it just never ends – Blogger keeps it simple for you. And with the Google search function, finding stuff’s not a problem.
3. No ability to keep a links of bookmark page or pages – though with a single post using the excellent post editing tools, a list could be made.
4. Cannot import from other Blogs – although Blogger is already working on this, but cut and paste is a pretty easy work around.

Blogger gets 5 out of 5 from me, for eez of use and ultra simplicity. At this stage, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Open Office
Open office is huge! Some other’s in this project have regrettably dismissed it as too bulky and too … different… but I stuck with it and after about 3 or 4 months using only it for all my word processing, spread sheeting, and presentations (PowerPointing) I think Open Office is far superior to its costly Microsoft Office rival.
Recently TAFE NSW sent out an email to all its staff requesting them to stop using copies of TAFE licensed MS Office at home, and to purchase their own!! I was infuriated by this, as its only because TAFE NSW is so tied up with Microsoft that its employees have to use it. Many now work from home as committed part timers (me) and the prospect of having to buy MS Office on top of the computer, Internet connection, phone bills and everything else, just to keep up with our fulltime TAFE buddies is just outrageous! Not to mention the bloody viruses I get hit with because I’ve been using Microsoft!
But no more I say. I use Open Office and so should TAFE. Its better, its free, its still free even when its updated, it comes in many more languages, it has more features…!
The biggest thing I use Open Office for is creating PDFs from my work. I’m pretty sick of getting 1 meg word documents in my email from TAFE these days. Especially when they are only 1 page long! If our fulltime buddies used Open Office to quickly and easily turn that 1 meg word doc into a PDF, that 1meg would be reduced to 100Kb!
There is so much to say about Open Office, its features are excellent and many. START USING OPEN OFFICE!

I haven’t had much chance to explore the options for setting up eGroups, but I do have one running on yahoo.
EGroups are fantastic for communicating on mass through email. Many of us forget to check forums and blogs to stay in touch, but an eGroup linked into a blog solves all that. Posts are put up on Blogs AND sent to the egroup, so there’s no escape. EGroups are good!
But Yahoo egroups are a hassle. Just finding the link for Groups on the Yahoo page is a problem. Then becoming a member of Yahoo, just so you can either join an egroup or start one is amazing. I think they even asked me what my grandmother’s maiden name was! But if you can wade past all that guff, once the egroup is running, it is trouble free. I’d be interested to know of any better eGroups than Yahoo. You can start or join your Yahoo eGroup here
You can join the TeachAndLearnOnline eGroup by clicking the link in the top banner of this site.

Free Hosting.
Well, if you managed to join yahoo, you may as well take advantage of their free hosting at GeoCities. Get a free site and post all your PDFs and other media there. Then all you need to do is simply link to them from your blog! Your blog can really come alive with a free server full of your media backing it up! GET YOUR SITE UP NOW!

I have not used Microsoft Internet Explorer or Outlook for about 3 – 4 months now. Instead I have been using the free and open Mozilla package. FireFox Browser and ThunderBird email client. To many, they are just another browser and email client. That’s what they are to me as far as using them goes. But to many others they are the best ones out there, it just depends how “into” it all you get. Personally, I just use it and that’s it. I don’t download updates and features, though I may soon, and I don’t look into and use all its superior features.
The big big plus for using Mozilla for me is security from viruses. Since using Mozilla I have not been hit with a single virus, spy, or trojan etc to worry about. Back in the IE and Outlook days, it was constant and very damaging. This is a load off my mind, and I’m sure yours too. START USING MOZILLA!

I may be blowing the horn a bit here, but I’m pretty sure that 17 teachers from the Western Sydney Institute of TAFE all now feel very free and open after today’s workshop. In under an hour everyone installed Open Office and tried out creating PDFs, everyone set up their own Blogs, and everyone had to listen to me preach about free and open content!
The glowing looks I got from some told me that the penny had dropped. How truly easy it is to effectively start delivering their subjects online, and how right it is for a public educational institution to offer their content free!
I wish we had just 1 more hour, so I could have helped people through setting up a free website and eGroup.

So, with these free tools:
1. Open Office to create PDF and other content.
2. A free website to host such media.
3. Blogger to conduct all the online learning and group work from.
4. An eGroup for direct communication…

And no more than 2 hours, all teachers could be delivering online!

Now, will someone compare that to the years and million$ spent trying to train (but only burning) teachers how to use and develop content in a complex, and soon to be out dated Learning Management System?


View the presentation
On Remembrance Day 2004, I will be doing my bit for the openCourseWare cause, and giving a hands on workshop to the Western Sydney Institute of TAFE on free and open software (FOS) and Free and Open Courseware (FOC).

In the space of an hour I’ll be showing participants how easy it is to set up a blog, and how great Open Office is for creating PDF, SWF and html. Using those two examples alone I plan to promote further use of free and open source software in public education, and to push the need for FOC production in public education.

Lately, I have been encouraged at the generally positive response I get when I mention FOC production, where as only a year ago I was dismissed as a raving lefty and a hopeless idealist. I may be a raving lefty, and a hopeless idealist – but FOC’s nothing to dismiss.

There are sound financial and ethical incentives for developing FOC, which are generally outlined in the same ways as FOS. By allowing your educational resources to be freely available online you are not only promoting your organisation in a number of ways, you are attracting more students who maybe thankful for being given the opportunity to look into your course before enrolling. TAFE should not be in the business of making money from content (asking students to first pay to enroll and gain access to online courses), instead, TAFE should be opening their content for all, and if they must charge fees, charge for what they have always done – facilitate learning, assess, recognise, and qualify.

There is no sense in locking up learning content, especially if it was public money that produced it.

So, hopefully in the coming years we will see more and more contributions to the Australian free for education resource database.

View the presentation

Some of you may not have registered for the Networking04 online
conference that is currently running: Link to Networking and if not won’t have access to
all the information there about teaching and learning online.

Never fear, I’ll feed you a few good links I’m finding.
Here’s a pretty good one about using web logs (blogs) for for education
You’ll note that this links you to a Moodle site, and you’ll need to
click the “Networking Presentations” course and then enter as a guest to
see the information contained on Blogging. It would be an understatement
to say that Blogging has revolutionised teaching and learning online
talk in Networking.

I never really understood why the places I work for like to spend so much time and money building their own search programs, to search the content that they have again spent so much time and money hiding away from public view in their own content management systems. I should explain that the places I have worked for are public services – like schools, colleges (TAFE) and Universities…

I guess more and more of them are choosing to operate like businesses and corporations rather than public schools, adopting the operative that all “their” content is “their” intellectual property and it is from the content that they make money. If only they would realise just how much their efforts to privatise their content and services are simply making them irrelevant.

This point is no better illustrated than with a recent observation I made of a number of staff member’s actions to source information on topics of interest to them. Instead of diving into their institute’s content management system and searching their unintuitive and therefore under used database, they headed straight for Google! Isn’t that logical? Rather than limit what you find to the scarce “Intellectual Property” of their Institute, they headed straight for what they could find in a more public domain, through Google. And let’s be honest here, who has used a more simple to use, feature laden, well managed search engine than Google? For free? And with such a variety of interesting results? But what happens to GodGoogle if more and more educational institutions and public service agencies elect to hide “their” content behind firewalls, on their own servers, managed by their own inefficient content systems?… I guess a campaign to encourage staff to open it up to the public would need to happen… brave staff needed for that.

I’m guilty of not using Google to its full potential though. Just recently I started using the Google Alerts on stuff I need to know about. Google Alerts are email updates of the latest relevant Google search results based on your defined query or topic. How good, logical, and handy is that? I find it very handy from time to time.

For example, I’m just in the process of buying a new digital camera. The one I like has only just recently been released, and there are no reviews on it today. So I’ll give it a week or 2 before I choose one, and ask Google to email me any new information on the camera I’m thinking to buy. So far, Google Alerts has been excellent – emailing me once a day, week or month on a number of topics. I couldn’t help it, I also asked to be updated on any mention of my name too 😉

Also, Google Scholar enables you to search specifically for scholarly literature, including peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports from all broad areas of research. Use Google Scholar to find articles from a wide variety of academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories and universities, as well as scholarly articles available across the web.

And always a cut above, Google’s new Gmail
“..As part of Google’s mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, we’re testing an email service called Gmail.

Gmail is a free, search-based webmail service that includes 1,000 megabytes (1 gigabyte) of storage. The backbone of Gmail is a powerful Google search engine that quickly finds any message an account owner has ever sent or received. That means there’s no need to file messages in order to find them again.

When Gmail displays an email, it automatically shows all the replies to that email as well, so users can view a message in the context of a conversation. There are no pop-ups or untargeted banner ads in Gmail, which places relevant text ads and links to related web pages adjacent to email messages…”

Now, I don’t know why the Institutes I work for even bother setting up email servers now! Our email server is down at least once a week, I’m always getting nagged to clean up and archive, and its webmail sidekick is just a pain.! Why don’t they just give it up and start using Gmail? I’m sure that if they paid Google half of their savings for dropping their internal email servers, Google would do them special favours…

But back to my original opinion: why is it that public institutions, especially tertiary public education in Australia are blindly moving towards privatising their services and content on their own inefficient and expensive servers? Is it just plain old mismanagement, or is there some sinister strategy on their part? Is it a bunch of IT guys protecting their job descriptions, or are they a bit too comfy in the way they know and do things to consider a back step…?


Now trying this again (uploading images with Hello) with a few different settings…

A while ago I gave a workshop at Crows Nest NSW, Australia on the use of Open Office as an alternative to Microsoft Office in producing basic content for eLearning. At that workshop I also set up a yahoo eGroup called teachandlearnonline just so I could show people how eGroups and PDFs are often enough of a first step to qualify as an online teaching and learning. Now I am about to give this work shop again. Western Sydney has asked me to talk about using free and open source software to create free and open courseware. After fooling around for a while now with various server side applications such as PHP lists, Moodle, Gallery and a number of others – trying to get them installed on my host’s server using Fantastico… I’ve decided that it’s a whole lot easier just to set it up on Blogger.
So here goes. I will now endevour to keep a regular journal on my opinions and discoveries to do with online teaching and learning.

I know it has little to do with Teaching and Learning Online, but we’re still in the get to know you phase right? I’ll start posting relevant info soon. Just trying out Hello to send pictures to the blog. This is my lounge room taken with my mobile phone. I’ve turfed the phone now though. It took great pictures (for a phone) but it’s software was no good, and the bills were huge! And I don’t get a signal up here at home anyway…


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