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I was given the opportunity to present an idea to a network of Outreach workerswho are looking at blogs and various online tools in their own practices. Some excitement was generated around the idea with a name already flowering for it, “Pay It Forward Learning”. The name was nominated by 2 in the group referring a movie and book of the same title. I haven’t seen either of them, but will be watching the movie at least to begin with…

Following is an outline of the idea:

  1. Set up a wiki to collaboratively develop and deliver course materials on. I have set up the Pay It Forward Learning wikispace for this.
  2. Select or develop a Training Package that leads to recognition in an Australian Registered Training Organisation (RTO).
  3. Transfer the list of competencies required for recognition in that course to the wiki, from the National Training Information Service (NTIS).
  4. Design assignments for each of the competencies that require students to create learning resources for that competency. Include quality links and other student learning resources to assist that student learn that competency.
  5. Students using the Pay It Forward Learning wikispace are encouraged to keep a weblog of their efforts, uploading assignments as they complete each competency.
  6. When the student has completed all the assignments in a Training Package, they submit their weblog and assignments for Recognition of Prior Learning to any participating RTO.
  7. The RTO assesses the weblog, noting any assignments worth loading to the Pay It Forward Learning wiki.
  8. Any assignments that are used in the wiki, the student receives a discount to the fee they are required to pay to receive assessment, formal recognition, and certification.
  9. Any gaps in a student’s competency, identified through assessment and testing is filled through face to face training.
  10. The student has an option to act as a mentor to the next student, and pay out part of their fees in hours.

NB. Many students in Australia will probably need to be issued with a laptop and a broadband internet connection. Internet connections at the time of writing this concept were as low as $30 per month, and a laptop complete with free and open source software could be obtained for under $500. These costs could be invested into the student with a view to reclaiming the amount through either eventual cash repayment, mentoring time, or learning resource developments.

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Sean Fitzgerald emailed me a link to Scott Sorley’s blog article “Google University” in which he adds his voice to the “its so obvious, why aren’t we doing it?” question:

Millions of dollars are spent by Universities and Education Institutions to provide the basic technology platforms for education, such as email, discussion groups, content storage and resource searching. How long before they give up and just go with a free to the public system which probably provides better resources.

Scott then lists off all the free Google services currently available that arguably offer a better service then our expensive systems currently entrenched. It goes without saying that I totally take Scotts point, but I would add services outside Google for the sake of diversity and enrichment.

Scott’s post perfectly encapsulates my “Everything You Need to Teach and Learn Online” series of posts, and begs the next question, “why aren’t more of us asking the obvious question?”

Scott has quite a few interesting posts along this level of thinking:

Courseware – Function over Form
Commercialising Public Universities
The Future of Commercial Learning Management Systems
Are you doing too much?

Here it comes… Wikiversity!

Welcome to the Wikiversity, a free, open learning environment and research community. You can find online courses about many different topics here, and create courses of your own.

Someone has proposed opening the university on a provisional basis and has volunteered to teach the first class. For information please visit the discussion page.

Jon Udell is back on the scene reviewing a new bit of software that animates the history of a wikipedia entry.

I met with some colleagues the other day, to debrief our efforts to date in training teachers in the use of blogs, wikis, newsreader and eGroups in education. One of the points raised was that for teachers to appreciate the benefits of blogs more, they need to be able to see sites that are really useful to them.

Blogging is a fairly recent trend in Australian education, and the early adopters here are limited by a largely North American perspective when using blogs to source information. I while back I posted a request to my local network asking everyone who had a blog to list it in the comments of the post. This was because I was beginning to notice that my news reader was being dominated with North America perspectives and desperately needed local flow.

Now that I have more examples of local Australian eduBlogs, that assists quite a bit in helping new comers relate to the experiences, views and information being captured by those local bloggers. But its not enough. I have not found many local blogs with subject focus beyond the general eLearning streams such as this blog does. While these blogs are extremely valuable for keeping current and up to date with developments in technology as it affects education, they are still too general to be of imitate use to the time starved teacher.

We need eduBlogs with focus on subjects and issues relevant to us here in Australia. For example, I think it would be of great help to the uptake of eduBlogging and its acceptance in the upper ranks of management if we had at least the following:

1. A journal on the benefits of reflective teaching practice
2. News and information relating to teacher training in each state of Australia
3. Network teaching and learning ethics, code of conduct, guidelines etc for teachers, trainers, managers and policy makers
4. News and information from the State Departments
5. Case studies of best practice in the new pedagogies being implemented
6. Syllabus content blogs for each subject taught in our State schools and colleges

This list is by no means authoritive in what we actually need. Its just my thoughts to try and get a ball rolling on the issue. From my experiences trying to encourage teachers into networked learning, we need more examples of information streams with clear and obvious benefit to the average teacher.

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Photo and text by Sidelong

I lost my job today. The main reasons stated were that my opinions expressed in this blog, in that wiki, and in day to day communications with staff, contradicted the directions of the unit I was working within. Of course these reasons alone, as I put them, would not be enough cause to fire me, so inflation of other reasons was necessary… Anyway, this is just one reason why I’m up at 2.30 in the morning. I couldn’t sleep, so I might as well jot down a few ideas.

Photo by Dave Morris

A while back I posted Broadbanding Information describing an idea on how to get the information locked up in ‘academic rigor’ more readable and therefore accessible to a wider readership. I got a few positive responses to that initial idea, and subsequently want to suggest a way software developers could contribute.

It involves the word processing/language tools department – thesaurus and spell check to be exact. As I write this post, above the box in which I am typing are a number of formatting tools I can use. Bold, italic, colour, hyperlink… then there’s the spell checker. I couldn’t get by without that little god send. Without it I would have to first type this up in OpenOfficeText, spell check it, then copy it over. But Blogger has managed to offer me this powerful feature right here, saving me the hassle (even suggesting to me that I may not need a text editor installed on my computer anymore…). I want them to take it a step further. And not just Blogger either. Everyone offering a WYSIWYG editor should take this idea:

Basically, it is a spell checker split into 3 levels. Each level represents a level of English reading such as: 1 = primary, E as a second language, etc. 2 = secondary, popular terms and expressions, SMS, etc. 3 = tertiary, expert level, big words, academic. When I hit the spell check button, it would ask me what level I want to check at. If I want my writing (or just a selection within it) to be broadly readable, then I’d select 1. If I knew that my writing was specialised, and almost impossible to simplify, I’d give 1 or 2 a go, just to see, but would probably settle for 3 if they didn’t work. Each level of spell check would simply have a predetermined list of words suitable to that readership level. If the words in the writing do not appear in that list, then they are simply presented as miss-spelled.

Now, that alone would be frustrating to people without the talent for writing in an accessible way. They might be so caught up in an academic level of expressing themselves that they simply cannot write it any other way. Simply presenting a big word as miss-spelt wouldn’t really help. That’s were the wikithesaurus part of this idea comes in to play.

Imagine if the wiktionary (the free dictionary) was broken up into these 3 broad categories. It wouldn’t have to be apparent to everyday users, just some database setup perhaps. Contributors to the wiktionary could progressively develop the lists of words for the readership levels, and also link across the levels to suggest more complex or more simple words in a thesaurus type of way.

So now, when I clicked that spell checker, it would still first ask me what level I want to check at, but instead of presenting words not in that level’s list as miss-spelt, it would call on wiktionay and recognise the word being used, then suggest other words more appropriate to the selected level. Not only progressive academics trying to reach their broader community would benefit, but people trying to improve their literacy as well – the school boy trying to make his essay read more ‘expertly’ uses the tool and gets guidance in a more useful way… or the Taiwanese kid trying to comprehend some verbose English text, runs it through the spell checker at a level 2 to get a better idea…

Photo byChung Wei

I realise this may be a big ask for our humble WYSIWYG editor. That’s why I posted this idea to the OpenOffice Developer Mail List. But disappointingly I haven’t had a response from anyone there yet, maybe it didn’t get through. While it may be a challenge to set a WYSIWYG editor up to do this, it should be a piece of cake for a full blown desktop application. It would certainly secure OpenOffice as the better word processor that it already is.

So I hope some language tools programmer reads this some day, and lets me know were my idea falls short.

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Photos by rightee

The problem of content

  • Costly and time consuming to produce and license
  • Difficult to keep up to date and relevant
  • The question of delivery: accessibility, usability, reusability and future proofing
  • Income, competition and the market

The problem of too much

  • The International Network, ‘quality’, permanence, reliability
  • The usability of finding, open search, tagging, RSS, property and rights
  • Content management systems, portals, libraries, repositories, commercial search
  • Open vs closed systems

The problem of too technical

  • Property and rights
  • Sharability and interoperability
  • Access and usability
  • Skills and knowledge
  • Change

The solution is free and open content

  • Service over product
  • Collaboration and expanded networks
  • Global engagement
  • Social responsiveness
  • Closer ties between research and teaching
  • Less cost

The problem of openness in today’s organisations

  • Climate of litigation, liability and quality control
  • Intellectual property, copyright, branding and recognition
  • Privacy, secrecy and security
  • Management and direction

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Personally, I really like the Blogger navbar that used to appear above this site, it made for some really interesting viewing. But lately, poor old blogger has been hit with a bunch of blog spam and porn, with estimates that 6 in 10 blogspot are either spam or porn.

Personally I haven’t experienced anything near that bad, but the point Will Richardson makes on WebLog-Ed is not missed by me here. It is a problem if teachers that you are trying to impress with blogging happen upon a porn blog by clicking the next blog button in the nav bar. Fatal if a student does it.

So removing the nav bar is the temporary sollution to this unfortunate development for Blogger.

Given that Blogging is not for everyone and that not all students will benefit from it, how will we recognise those students who do blog and assess what they do in their blogs, without disadvantaging those who do not? Will student blogs simply become a channel in which they hand in assigned work, or will we develop ways to recognise and “measure” learning and community development contributions through blogging, without disadvantaging those who choose not to.

I think it is important that educational ‘country clubs’ make blogging recognition available, but not insinuate that blogging is mandatory.

This post is an amazing example of how my newsreader has pruned my search engine. I was only just this morning asking myself this question, making a mental note to look up some discussion on it, when low-n-behold, here it is in my newsreader fed by Will Richardson’s blog!

Will points to Konrad Glogowski has a post up titled “Grading Conversations

…What this means to me is that grading blogs (especially at the elementary level) has to be a very holistic process that focuses not only on the quality of their work but also on the extent to which their work reflects the context in which they work. I think that student bloggers should be recognized for writing as part of a larger community of inquirers.

Steven O’grady, has blogged in perfect timing for me a post about a Medical Academic using WikiPedia to publish their information and hopefully prevent pandemics… (academics – pandemics… is there a relationship here?)

Citing the impact that Wikipedia had post-Tsunami, Dr. Lucas Gonzalez of the Canary Islands in Spain is attempting to use the publically authored and edited site to help prevent, slow and survive an outbreak. I find this fascinating not simply because it’s an illustration of the growing public awareness of the power of things like Wikipedia, but because of how different a world we live in.


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