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Earlier this month I posted about the Education Network Australia’s use of Moodle to facilitate group discussion. I reckoned that the use of Moodle and forums with an option to be closed in particular were/are in fact stunting the growth of the education network in Australia, keeping it introverted, network illiterate, and disconnected from the broader more global discourse.

Stephen Downes backed me up, extracting the key points out of my windy rave by quoting,

Its better if we use more global and reliable services I think… EdNA Moodle groups is diluting the impact that individuals could be having on the global conversation. Its keeping many in Australian education disengaged from the world beyond EdNA… The valuable time of teachers and educationalists would be better spent engaged with the open Network, learning the popular tools and understanding the nature of the Internet so that they may teach people how to learn in an open Network.

And Marty Cielens joined with support for the idea of open dialogue etc, and along with other anonymous comments made the point that its not necessarily the tool (in this case Moodle) that is the problem, but more the policy, practices and perspectives of people using it.

Just this week Mark Tranthim-Fryer, Assistant Manager of EdNA Services posted a response to my post, to which I’d like to keep an open discussion going here. Firstly I think Mark deserves credit for responding to my rave and not choosing to ignore it as most organisations probably would – orgs afraid of the attention, the unpredictable nature of public conversation with unknowns like me, and of course the drag on resources it take to read and respond to these posts. So thanks Mark.


Picture by Kanko’

At first read Mark’s response strikes me as a little defensive (understandably), but informative non the less (Though it could do with a few links). Mark gives background of EdNA groups and an account of its current uses. He then extends into talk about EdNA’s view of Moodle having interface limitations, and mentioned that this will be looked at more closely by EdNA in the future… Does this suggest that EdNA will be funding further development of Moodle, or looking towards another system? I hope its the first.

But in all, I think it is the rationale behind EdNA groups that Mark listed for us that is of interest.

Following is the rationale for the preferred approach, which seeks to provide a service for both public and restricted community spaces:

  • Extensive consultation with all sectors of the Australian education and training community has strongly endorsed the provision of both open and closed online community spaces
  • Group owners make the decision about the appropriateness of whether their Group is public or private – EdNA stakeholders have considered this pluralism to be a strength of the service
  • The EdNA project does not support and is not funded to provide collaborative tools for use by students, the general public and international communities except under specific criteria
  • Educators have emphatically endorsed the service in its current form – usage has quadrupled in six months from the former EdNA collaborative services it replaced


Picture by Kanko’

On point 1: I must have missed the extensive consultation somewhere, as I don’t recall and don’t think I know anyone who was included in that consultation – not to say that it didn’t happen, but is to say that perhaps it wasn’t open and therefore extensive enough. I think we do have the technology to be able to manage very open public consultation processes.

On point 2: While I appreciate that there are many who prefer ‘private’ online forum, and while I do think most of these preferences are unnecessary and stem from poorly understood fear and loathing of the Internet. There are just as easy and therefore more valuable ways to achieve these privacy settings using the popular tools. For example, I might simply keep this post as a draft and not publish it but give access to my friends at least… or other more innovative ways such as using a Gmail account with group access for file storage and private serving to restricted blogs and wikis for example… (A strategy dawned apon by a colleague Jude Cooke, with more thorough explination in a future post I think).

On point 3: Why is EdNA not funded to support students? I don’t think it would cost much more at all to offer storage for ‘student’ activity. Where is the clear distinction between teacher/trainers and students anyway, should there even be one? I’m not sure if I even qualify for EdNA… being a consultant who is employed only occasionally by education and training organisations, and a learner in many ways, perhaps I’m just general public? Again where is the distinction and need there even be one?

On point 4: If educators have emphatically endorsed the service in its current form, then I am one who does not. It is a curious thing about the usage stats. How might we compare the popularity of EdNA groups with the more informal channels like blogs, eGroups and wikis? But focusing on EdNA Group’s apparent popularity – It could be any number of things such as the fame of Moodle lately and EdNA providing a chance for people to get in and try this new LMS, not to mention the fact that the close of the Australian Flexible Learning Framework Community Forums has no doubt left quite a few people high and dry and in need of some measure of connectivity that is comfortably close enough to the format of the AFLF Community forums. And then there’s the inevitable if somewhat slow uptake of ICTs in Australian Education that might be simply a matter of good timing for EdNA groups. No doubt EdNA groups are popular, but that is precisely the problem. See my original point in quote above.


Picture by Kanko’

While it may appear to some that I’m arguing for arguments sake alone here (I am after all a self declared SmackDown learner). I think this issue goes to the heart of a more serious educational matter. That being a school and teacher’s constant struggle to be relevant, engaging, and accessible to learners. EdNA groups uses a tool that replicates the real (Internet) world, declaring that it insulates its users from ‘the noise’. That ‘noise’ as Mark calls it is actually quite audible information once an adequate network literacy is obtained by the listener. I don’t think EdNA groups is helping its users to obtain that adequate and essentially independent network literacy. In my view it is much like an old school, struggling to be relevant, engaging and accessible to learners.

Some of my original points and questions remain unresolved in the initial stages of this exchange, such as:

  • what guarantee can EdNA realistically make that the groups will be available in 2, 5, 10, 50, 100 years?
  • Will they alwayreceiveve the funding and political advocacy they need to keep themselves up to date with technological changes in order to remain connected to global perspectives?
  • Will they be able to keep their replicated communication channels open
  • even in times of financial and political hardship?
  • Or could they go the same way as AFLF Communities, or even just simply lose relevancy as users inevitably gain a more independent network literacy?


Picture by Zemoko

In spite of how it may sound here, I do see great value in EdNA groups in this present day and age. I am engaged in quite a few of the available groups and am part of some interesting and valuable exchanges. But all the while I wish that it all could be going on out in the open network, where there is a greater chance of meeting experts, getting broader more global perspectives, and all together better intergrated (by default) with emerging technologies and the global conversation… if it were, its users would be using tools that intrinsically practice and engage with communication techniques and technology that are more relevantnt, accessible and popular beyond the classroom of today, and into the classless room of tomorrow.

EdNA stands to play an important role in this open and network literate approach. Improving its RSS feeds would be a good start, setting up more opportunities for face to face conferences, training educationalists in open network literacy rather than in the use of Moodle or what ever CMS it is using on the day… helping groups to be independent with their use of ICTs, being an essential aggregator of this dispersed and decentralised network… just some half baked suggestions that could do with some teasing out, and intended to turn this post into more constructive criticism..

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Yesterday I chucked Google’s new Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) and Instant Messaging (IM) program Google Talk on my laptop. A couple of weeks ago I did the same with Gizmo. About a year before that was Skype. They all have their benefits, its not an either/or, I need all of them! Here’s what I reckon:

There’s no doubt that VOIP is a good thing and will certainly get better. I and many others in the free world have been enjoying long conversations with each other, across the globe, for ‘free’, well, almost free – depending on the type of Internet provision you have. Certainly free when compared to land and mobile phone rates at least… Many of us (in Australia at least) have experienced the frustrating limitations at times with VOIP, bandwidth, drop out, mysterious disconnections… but over all VOIP has a promising future.


Skype (Windows, Mac, Linux and Pocket PC) has been the most popular free VOIP software in my network for over a year now, and many in the education world have taken it up as their first VOIP application. It calls out to landlines and mobiles for cheap, while computer to computer is free. Skype’s the only one that can go on a PDA at the moment something to think about in terms of free wireless, mobile communications!… Innovators have been recording Skype sessions, producing very interesting audio of interviews and conversations on any number of topics, and very easily creating valuable learning resources. But successfully recording with Skype is a heart ache of an exercise. What should be very easy, can turn out to be very difficult! Why Skype does not yet have a record feature in its free version is beyond me.


Enter the Gizmo Project (Windows, Mac, Linux, and open standard). Another VOIP app that calls out to landlines and mobile for cheap while offering computer to computer for free, but it happens to have a very nice little record button in it!! Recording VOIP could not be easier, well maybe it could be… Gizmo records to the .wav format which is fine, but MP3 is what we need. Because Gizmo uses open standands it is apparently compatible with Google Talk which I’ll get to in a bit. A big down side about Gizmo though is that it doesn’t currently have an Instant Messaging feature. IM is pretty important, especially if for what ever reason your voice session drops out, you can revert to IM to work out the problem. Looking into the Gizmo forums reveals that a version with IM enabled is probably only moments away.


Now there’s Google Talk (Windows only but open standard). What Google’s plans are is a mystery (as always). But safe is to say that what ever Google touches seems to signal a revolution in some way or another. Why Google would release a VIOP/IM app when the market is clearly drenched with VOIP/IM options already is an interesting question/signal. Perhaps there is a clue in this articleGoogle Watch have no view on it yet…
Google Talk is pretty nice, especially if you are already a Gmail user as it synchs with Gmail and adds a few features like a pop up notification when a new email comes in.

So as you can see, each of these VOIP options do different things well. So I settle on the attitude that I may as well have them all and use the one most appropriate at the time. So if someone wants to contact me on Skype, no worries. If that person wants to record an interview with me then we just hope over to Gizmo, no probs. And if a revolution is around the corner with Google Talk, I’m ready. And while I’m ready, I have a nice little enhancement to my Gmail.

Its not a matter of which one do I use.. they all work in a very similar way, so may as well get them all.

Post note: Skype goes open platform

Skype, the pioneering Global Internet Communications Company, which offers free high-quality phone calls to anyone with an Internet connection, is preparing to mark its second anniversary next week by opening up its platform to anyone who wants to integrate Skype’s presence and instant messaging services into their website or application. By opening up Skype’s platform to the web, it will now be simple for anyone to connect to Skype’s fast growing member base, which has already passed more than 51 million people in just 2 years.

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Sean Fitzgerald likes to Skype text me when ever I’m online! I swear the guy never sleeps. I can hardly get any work done when Sean’s around – its a good thing too, otherwise I’d miss some of the amazing links he sends me.

Just tonight he sent me Protopage

the first thing I noticed was the clean and attractive interface, then I noticed the rather unusual interactions I was navigating, and just when I was about to give up and save it for another never day, I realised how perfect this service was for me. In the space of 20 minutes I now have an attractive and extremely easy to update home page. I have added links, created a portfolio, quick search box… basically drawn everything I currently have out there on the network into one spot. It was so easy too! You simply must have a go!

And if that wasn’t enough, then Sean goes and mentions Flock! The revolutions just keep on coming! My head’s gunna pop!

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From Kevin Kelly’s very cool blog, a book worth having on the shelf, perhaps even reading!
What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer

Review from Publishers Weekly as quoted on Amazon:

Since much of the research behind the development of the personal computer was conducted in 1960s California, it might seem obvious that the scientists were influenced by the cultural upheavals going on outside the lab. Very few people outside the computing scene, however, have connected the dots before Markoff’s lively account. He shows how almost every feature of today’s home computers, from the graphical interface to the mouse control, can be traced to two Stanford research facilities that were completely immersed in the counterculture. Crackling profiles of figures like Fred Moore (a pioneering pacifist and antiwar activist who tried to build political bridges through his work in digital connectivity) and Doug Engelbart (a research director who was driven by the drug-fueled vision that digital computers could augment human memory and performance) telescope the era and the ways its earnest idealism fueled a passion for a computing society. The combustive combination of radical politics and technological ambition is laid out so convincingly, in fact, that it’s mildly disappointing when, in the closing pages, Markoff attaches momentous significance to a confrontation between the freewheeling Californian computer culture and a young Bill Gates only to bring the story to an abrupt halt. Hopefully, he’s already started work on the sequel. Agent, John Brockman.(Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Michael Nelson points to the Smackdown Learning Method on Creating Passionate Users. I gotta say, I’m itching to try it out! Smackdown (what a great name for a learning method!) explains why I’m always stiring for a fight! Its good for my learning (and others).
FlickrFight might be a good way to introduce a Smackdown in class.

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I’ve started teaching a small group up here in sequential art and animation.
We decided that knowing how to import photos into Flash would be useful, as well as basic drawing and animation.
So I knocked up this screencast to support next Monday night’s class. It goes through the steps of importing a photo, using the drawing tools to trace the photo image, adding colour to the line drawing, and creating a basic animation on top of the line drawing.

So grabe the PDF and the MP3 here that will introduce you to this process in Flash. (Right click the next two links and save them to your folder).

  1. Photos and drawing in Flash demonstration for print – 540KB PDF
  2. Photos and drawing in Flash demonstration for audio – 3.3 Meg MP3

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Free Culture Presentation

Watch and listen to this. Think free and open courseware. Nuf said!


Jess Duggan from Edinburgh UK, brought ELGG to my attention this morning. Even though I had been reading an ELGG blog for the past week, I didn’t realise it was part of this project!

So I’ve managed to have a little look around and it looks pretty good. Its a new learning system, yep! that’s right! another one! But unlike almost all the others, this one gets a few ticks from me. Its up to date with all the trendy stuff, and it meets the criteria:

  • It is free (and open source)
  • And it looks pretty easy…
  • It is available as a web based system (hosted) so we don’t have to buy and install servers… but I have a bad feeling that the hosted option is not free 😦

So, at first glance this looks like the right one for this month… stay tuned though. Take a look at the Breeze demos of using ELGG and decide for yourself.

ELGG is just another reason why we shouldn’t be adopting ‘systems’ and instead be working with what’s already out there. Because like it or not, the moment you have all your staff trained up in the use of ‘selected system’ a new and better one pops up! In the end I’m more than happy with my bitsa system. It works better than all of them and is a hell of a lot more flexible. So while the educational institutions keep locking themselves into a one does all system, I’m free as a bird waiting to hear anything on the perfect learning management system

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At long last I’ve managed to wip up another screencast. This one’s a little more advanced, talking about the combination of tagging, RSS, and wikis to generate a collaborative resource such as the Austafe presentation page.

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