Picture by Kanko’

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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