You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2005.

Macquarie Uni recently won a big juicy grant to be the ‘official’ voice for Open Source in Australia… probably stemming from their good idea to make the Learning Activity Management System open source. I reckon LAMS is a pretty interesting concept that has been done pretty well… but I reckon a lot of things about LAMS.

Anyway, just received an email from Ernie Ghiglione – the LAMS Project Manager, notifying me of the setup of a LAMS community to share ideas and resources about LAMS.

The Community features a number of separate communities based around
different educational sectors and also a LAMS learning sequences
repository where people can share sequences, rate them, comment on them,
etc.. the idea is a bit of “open source teaching”

This is good news for LAMS users.

So if you’re an educational org or training provider who’s still not convinced that running free and open is a good idea, then LAMS might be the better choice for systemised learning…


Last night Sunshine and I had dinner at Michael and Fran Nelson’s house to see their new baby! We spent most of the night talking about how much we need to get off the computers and spend more time in the real world with our families… no sooner had Sunshine and I gotten home, and Michael had sent me an email with the latest news on MIT’s $100 laptops! Jeez Mike, you do have it bad.

Images from MIT Media

ITworld recently posted on the progress:

The 500MHz laptop will run a “skinny version” of the open-source Linux operating system. It will have a two-mode screen, so it can be viewed in color and then by pushing a button or activating software switch to a black-and-white display, which can be viewed in bright sunlight at four times normal resolution, according to Negroponte. He estimates the display will cost around $35.

The laptop can be powered either with an AC adapter or via a wind-up crank, which is stored in the housing of the laptop where the hinge is located. The laptops will have a 10 to 1 crank rate, so that a child will crank the handle for one minute to get 10 minutes of power and use. When closed, the hinge forms a handle and the AC cord can function as a carrying strap, according to Negroponte. The laptops will be ruggedized and probably made of rubber, he said. They will have four USB (Universal Serial Bus) ports, be Wi-Fi- and cell phone enabled and come with 1G byte of memory.

Each laptop will act as a node in a mesh peer-to-peer ad hoc network, Negroponte said, meaning that if one laptop is directly accessing the Internet, when other machines power on, they can share that single online connection.

The lab will initially target Brazil, China, Egypt, South Africa and Thailand, according to Negroponte, as well as the U.S. state of Massachusetts, which has just committed to equipping every schoolchild with a laptop. Negroponte hopes to start mass production of some 5 million to 15 million laptops for those markets towards the end of 2006. Come December 2007, he estimated production of the laptops at between 100 million and 150 million, three times the number of annual shipments of commercial laptops.

But MIT’s media lab makes it plainly clear that:

Please note: these laptops are not in production. They are not, and will not, be available for purchase by individuals.

WHY THE HELL NOT! Could it be that MIT want to see Governments take responsibility for closing digital divides? Somehow I can’t see any Australian Government waking up to this in less than 10 – 15 years! “Linux!”, they’ll say “we don’t support Linux”…

From what I can tell by flicking through the blogs there appears to be nothing but praise and good words about the prospect of a $100 laptop for the kids. I can’t wait!! Literally can not wait! There must be some way we could achieve the same here in Australia within 3 – 4 years. It’d probably take longer than that for the MIT ones to reach us.

MIT hints on how they do it:

  1. First, by dramatically lowering the cost of the display. The first-generation machine may use a novel, dual-mode LCD display commonly found in inexpensive DVD players, but that can also be used in black and white, in bright sunlight, and at four times the normal resolution, all at a cost of approximately $35.
  2. Second, we will get the fat out of the systems. Today’s laptops have become obese. Two-thirds of their software is used to manage the other third, which mostly does the same functions nine different ways.
  3. Third, we will market the laptops in very large numbers (millions), directly to ministries of education, which can distribute them like textbooks.

We in Australia may not be able to pump them out in the millions, but what will that mean? $200 laptops? Let’s get started.

No publicly educated Australian person need be without a laptop by 2007.

Recently Stephen ‘pondered’ (vented) on the qualities of management – to which I originally intended to add my voice, but instead was caught by a comment under Stephen’s post by Yaozhou, a Chinese based edublogger. I’ll hold off on my comments about management for another post, because my experience with Yao Zhou’s blog is more important than the never ending trial of management.

Yao Zhou warned in his comment to Stephen after dropping the link to his blog: “(mostly chinese character)”, but I wasn’t at all put off by that, in fact I was keen to see Yoa Zhou’s blog after reading his comment. Thanks to Google’s beta version of translation from Chinese (simplified) to English I was able to grasp quite a bit about Yoa Zhou’s blog, in particular his/her passion for open dialogue and education:

unexpectedly meets by chance in here, has the reason has the reason.
Broadcasts the guest educates the movement The civilized conflict performs in Iraq, this is humanity’s tragedy. East and West civilized need more exchanges, between north and south also need more exchanges. Lets PODCAST, BLOG and RSS leads us to move towards the freedom. (First like this, has point image slogan, later again will change) Podcast Education Movement Podcast, blog and rss will save human being from another clash of civilazation that humiliates every man on this planet, owing to that Failure in WhiteHouse. Let the free dissemination of intelligence to bridge the gap between East and West, South and North.

While the translation may not be crystal clear, its clear enough – in fact reading the rest of the blog is like reading a book of poetry! Only better. I’d love to give it a whirl with a screen reader!
The brief descriptions to links are very handy.

Here’s a test link to Google’s translation of Yoa Zhoa’s blog (hope it works).

I’ve been thinking for a while now (reminded by Yao Zhou’s blog header) that my perspective on online learning is limited to information coming from mainly western sources. When I say ‘West’, I mean USA, Canada, UK, Australia, NewZealand and some European’s confident in writing English. I have none from South East Asia, the Pacific, or East, North, Central Asia… I do have one or two from Africa I just remembered, but they hardly ever post.

While I regret that I cannot read Chinese (can speak a bit if any Mandarin speakers wan’t to try a language exchange on GoogleTalk), and even worse still I don’t read or speak a language from the South East Asian regions, I do still want to know what is going on there. So if anyone knows of any feeds coming out of the region – broadly to do with online education/communications, please send’m my (and Google Translator’s) way.

Last time I put the word out for Australia/NZ voices I got a pretty good response. I’m almost at saturation point with my news reader (actually I’m beyond saturated) but a few good feeds from Asia would easily see some of the less inspired feeds I have, flicked off…

Jon Udell is back! At long last, with a cool as usual screencast looking at Googlemaps. Hopefully Jon will keep those Udell screencasts coming from now on.

It’s not like me to comment on such things, I understand very little of what goes on in the lah lah land of fed and state politics, but this recent press release from Gary Hardgrave strikes me as totally fascist (no surprise I know). In talking about some states here in Australia resisting parts of the national training plan put forward by the current fed government (note there were no links provided to the plan on Gary’s press release) Gary’s office says:

Those who have signed have shown they are keen to have a modern training system which positively responds to the needs of clients, industry and business.

If the offer is not accepted by 7 October 2005, the Government will have no alternative but to commence development of an alternative funding model for training delivery in those jurisdictions.

Basically sign up or pack up is what he’s saying!

I don’t think anyone in this country is opposeded to a “modern training system which positively responds to the needs -” (cut out rot words like “clients, industry and business”… society would be good enough Gary, which would include those who don’t fit your narrow view of it).

There are other things behind the fed’s plan of course, like the individual agreements that will be set up (union busting).

Was reading up on Participatory Action Research on Wikipedia this evening, when I came across a link to Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society – a text I’ve been meaning to read for a while now:

Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue’s responsibility until it engulfs his pupils’ lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. We hope to contribute concepts needed by those who conduct such counterfoil research on education–and also to those who seek alternatives to other established service industries.

(By Ivan Illich, 1970:para 3)

Then Sean jumped on the GoogleTalk and messaged me to read up on Carl Rogers:

I wish to present some very brief remarks, in the hope that if they bring forth any reaction from you, I may get some new light on my own ideas.

a) My experience is that I cannot teach another person how to teach. To attempt it is for me, in the long run, futile.

b) It seems to me that anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential and has little or no significant influence on behavior.

c) I realize increasingly that I am only interested in learnings which significantly influence behavior.

d) I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influence behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.

e) Such self-discovered learning, truth that has been personally appropriated and assimilated in experience, cannot be directly communicated to another.

f) As a consequence of the above, I realize that I have lost interest in being a teacher.

Hardly surprising news, but very significant in my view. The FLOSSE blog in Finland points to a student from Capella University filing a lawsuit against the university for its use of an LMS (WebCT) that the student believes to be inaccessible and therefore discriminatory…

The student who filed the lawsuit, Jeffrey La Marca, says …

He took courses from Capella as part of a master’s program in information-technology-system design. After he completed one quarter at the university, in 2004, the administration installed a new software system, made by WebCT, for managing online courses. Mr. La Marca says he found the new setup confusing and difficult to work with. “It was just a navigational nightmare,” he says. “It made it impossible for me to study.”

Before the switch, he says, he received A’s in the two courses he completed. With the new software in place, he says, he had trouble doing his assignments.

“I have a lot of educational experience, and I have never seen anything like this,” says Mr. La Marca, a California resident who had already earned a master’s degree in education — taking traditional courses rather than online ones — from California State University at San Bernardino. “Something needs to be done immediately about the accessibility to online courses.”

Surely it is only a matter of time before the same activism happens here in Australia. Many of us have argued til blue in the face that Learning Management Systems are unusable and inaccessible, and place unnecessary pressure on a student.

When I did my DipEd at Uni of Newcastle a few years ago, at least half my time at the computer labs was spent trying to help my classmates get their head around the LMS. The LMS being used there was Blackboard. About 3 people in that class of around 15 – 20 I reckon dropped out because of the LMS! I believe it had a lot to do with just not being able to handle the LMS on top of everything else about orientating into a uni course, and so not being able to keep up with the very demanding 1 year course. The LMS was unnecessary extra pressure!

So, what’s the alternative? Open network learning of course! While there is still a technological hurdle for students to get over, it is more gentle – and what they learn this way can help them learn anywhere! Unlike the LMS model where each institute is using a different platform that does very little towards empowering the student to take control of their online learning.

Here’s what I plan to do with my students next term.

  1. Collect emails, faxes numbers and mobile phone numbers from the students.
  2. Explain the open and public communication strategy I intend to use, suggest ways to maintain privacy by using an alias. Get each student to nominate all or some of these contact details to communicate with them about the course.
  3. Set up an email group, an SMS mailing list, and a fax list.
  4. Set up a course blog, and set it to send me an email everytime I post notes and resources.
  5. Using both the audio post feature and the text editor, announce on the blog the first lesson as a face to face orientation day, forward it from my email to the eGroup (can’t seem to set it up to do it automatically but is very easy to forward manually), use the SMS list to announce the headline and blog link, and group fax the post to those who rely on fax. Maybe I’ll even do a snail mail out seeing as its the first and most important communication.
  6. On the f2f day get feedback on the communication method and make sure everyone understands how the eGroup communication works. Show them the course blog and demonstrate how each week’s resources will be available in both audio and text (plus what ever media happens to be used each week – loaded to Explain how each week’s blog post will be forwarded to the eGroup, with headlines to SMS, and fax if need be.
  7. Assist each student in setting up their own blog/learning journal to keep their own notes, links and pictures. Show how to audio and moblog.
  8. In the next week – subscribe the eGroup and each student blog to my Bloglines, and set up a tag for the class, adding its feed to my bloglines as well.
  9. Post to the course blog the public Bloglines for the class and tag page, and announce the next face to face lesson. Forward to eGroup, SMS and fax.
  10. At the next face to face, review the course blog, and the workings of the eGroup (and student emails), SMS and fax; review the use of student blogs; introduce the tag page and explain how can be used to save good links and build a class resource; Have each student set up a account and save their blog to the class tag; Demo how can be used to find good links and have each student find a good link to add to the class tag; Demo how RSS works into Bloglines and have each student set up a bloglines account and subscribe to each other’s blogs and the class delicious tag resource. Demonstrate again how bloglines can be used to track each other’s work. (BTW each class session goes for 3 hours in case you were worried)
  11. 2 weeks later [comment: this class runs 3 hrs, one night a week, for 9 weeks] the class should be ready to start learning how to learn about the topic they have enrolled in. Each week I will post the week’s notes and resources to the course blog, send it to the eGroup, remind everyone via SMS, and fax out the sheet if need be.

Many of the students will still be very unsure about how blogs, social bookmarks, and web feeds can work for them, so I’ll need continue to offer face to face support each week in the context of what and how they’re learning. But with the online options, the other students have the option to work flexibly.

The main point in the post is that there are viable and better alternatives to the LMS model. This strategy does not impact too much on my workload, it simply extends the reach of my normal lesson preparation and notes. The methods being used are more universal in that students (an me for that matter) can use the communication methods in many different contexts. The LMS model can only be used in the context of the organisation offering the LMS!

I should add of course that my doing this has cost the organisation I work for very very little. If the SMS and fax support continues to be needed, then that cost would amount to less than the photocopy bill in an average class. I haven’t added pressure on already over stretched internal IT services, and instead used an array of free services that achieve the flexible learning goal more effectively.

For more insights to this model check out the links that Sean and I point to in our recent presentation Knowledge Sharing with Distributed Networking Tools

The Teach and Learn Online swap/meet is coming up!

This is a great opportunity to visit the Blue Mountains, Australia and meet a great bunch of people at the same time.

The TALO swap/meet was originally suggested on the TALO eGroup as a chance for the 92 members to get together and share skills and ideas.

Now the Western Sydney Institute of TAFE NSW has offered to host the event at their Blue Mountains College – Wentworth Falls campus.

The event is free and open (of course) and will run over 2 days (October 21 – 22).

Friday will be chock full of discussions and workshops and Saturday is open for bushwalks, visiting lookouts and waterfalls, going shopping, or continuing on with more focused TALO biz 😉 There will be facilities available to accommodate whatever groups decide.

Visit the TALO swap/meet wikispace and add your name to the guest list, and/or suggestions for topics.

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Another web application here, but this one’s a ripper!

Martin Whatman from the TALO eGroup alerted me to ThinkFree, and it looks pretty good!

ThinkFree® is the leader in next-generation productivity solutions for platform independent, anytime, anywhere-computing. ThinkFree usability extends beyond PCs and is perfect for Internet-connected devices, including thin client and mobile computing platforms.

The award-winning ThinkFree Office is a Microsoft® Office compatible application suite comprised of word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation graphics software-all usable online and off.

ThinkFree Office is automatically installed and upgraded over the Web and features integrated, Internet-based file sharing and storage as well as end-to-end security. Built for cross-platform functionality, ThinkFree Office is compatible with Windows, Macintosh, Unix and Linux systems.

You get all that? I’ve tried it out, and while the Java application takes a while to load, once there it’s a fully featured office suite!! The thin client world is almost here!!

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Sean FitzGerald (my news aggregator with a heart beat) recently made notice to the TALO egroup a rather important document by for the ACT DET – Emerging Technologies – A framework for thinking.

This is a hefty document that couldn’t have come at a better time for me as I sweat it out over that critique I’m writing. It’s pretty good actually with the exec summary stating:

Positioning the ACT DET to take advantage of emerging technologies will require acknowledgement of the need for cultural change and processes to support and manage it. Students today are ‘native speakers’ of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet. Many devices described in this report are banned by schools. A shift in culture is crucial to ensure that students’ uses of these devices are embraced as educational opportunities and that they become tools of the trade, rather than be considered contraband.

Many students are entering their school or college with multiple literacies that go beyond text, and this trend will strengthen over the coming years. Educators will need to acknowledge and recognise these new literacies, and build upon and extend them.

The success of such an approach will require that teachers/tutors have access to professional development opportunities to develop confidence in the use of educational technology, as well as informal support environments of peers.

… Use of emerging technologies, delivery devices and new methods of content distribution will require a flexible, simple and open digital rights management (DRM) regime that enables and supports sharing and exchange of content rather than blocking or limiting it. Cross-jurisdictional agreements on rights arrangements and trusted services agreements are precursors of content and data sharing across systems.

Jeez I could quote the whole summary really! It goes on to talk about open source software, web services, budget realities, repository based sharability (o-ho!), Wireless futures, and even a dot point list of “high level business requirements”.

The 110 page document is very informative, but writen in a tone where action strategies could be left very much open to interpretation. It speaks the old language of content management, repositories and digital rights management, but refers to newer models of openness and network engaged… while i can understand why the document has this tone (it was written by mutliple authors in for the ACT DET after all) it is the room for interpretations by the broader readership I worry about. Will those who are well entrenched with closed, proprietry, top down, content centric models hear only the words that support their model, and ignore the newer words about open source, open networks, student and teacher empowerment, cultural change etc? I guess that’s where us on the ground come in. This document gives our efforts more credibility I suppose. Opening just a few more doors to the ideas of change.

Section 5. The environmental context for emerging technologies, is the more interesting section for me:

The implementation and use of technology cannot be divorced from its environment, that is, the governance and security; political and legal; social and cultural; educational and technology environments that are already in place.

being someone who likes to think he keeps track of emerging technologies (enough to get by at least), its the educational, cultural and social context in which it comes into being that perplexes me to frustration. This document helps me to clarify my undersanding of it by looking at:

Security – stating that a balance needs to be found between rights and freedoms, and access control and security. The document makes an interesting point on security with regard to portable devices and wireless connectivity…

My thinking on security tends towards a model where all content and records that should be held and passed securely be done so at a security level different to content that is needed for educational reasons. When it comes to Internet access for educational purposes, I think it is simpler to provide open access free from liability than it is to try and filter usage to ‘appropriate levels’. In cases of child protection, I think a teacher should have the power to turn on and off filtering services depending on the nature of the class they are working with.

Policy – The usual encouragement for the people to get involved!

Digital Rights and Intellectual property – the big nastey! I was very pleased to see that straight off the bat, the Creative Commons licenses get mentioned. The report describes CC in some length then goes on to mention that the complexity of the current system is causing frustration among teachers, implying that CC simplifies all that. That’s great, and confirms my belief that the CC licenses are the most appropriate tools for managing public educational content and helping to simplify things for teachers. The big and unresolved issue of the use and misuse of licensed software gets a mention also.

Equity and Access – Acknowledging that ICTs could inflame social divides, the report recomends that:

The education system needs to recognise the learning skills that students have developed in their media-rich out-of-school environment, and learn to build upon the capability of the community. Schools have always done this with extra-curricular activities such as music and sport.

While I think its interesting to look at ICTs as an extra-curricular activity, I think its a little reckless to believe that people already have the opportunity to access ICTs out of school (be it at home or at a public venue of some sort). I don’t think this does enough to take into account the various other things that prevent access such as distance, community cultural support and attitudes, not to mention the idea that library services aparently offer ICT services anywhere near what is required… maybe in Canberra they are, but not from where I’m sitting!

Cultural change (students)– While the intention may be there, the report makes the mistake of referencing Prensky’s idea of digital imigrant and native. Prensky is a North American, and someone who I think is familiar with a particular class of North American. Australia and its class structures are a different matter, and I don’t think Prensky’s ideas work here. I’d sooner acknowledge Australian cultural stereotypes of laid back, sport loving, outdoor freaks as something that is preventing effective uptake of ICTs in Australia…

But I think the intentions of the report are sound – to argue for a need for cultural change within our educational organisations to embrace ICTs. Can’t argue with that! And perhaps Prensky’s ideas will be more the case here in 5 years anyway. Start our cultural change now, and we’ll have a bloody good education system by then, ready for the Australian digital natives to come through…

Cultural change (educational community) – They get networked learning!:

Through the communications capabilities of emerging technologies, education communities extend beyond the institution’s grounds into parent communities, the general community, into industry, libraries, museums, and the global community.

Cultural change (teachers) – Calls for the need for more sustained professional development opportunities, but I think there is a cultural change needed within PD units! I think PD units would do well to stop focusing so much on sponsored proprietry based software training and start training teachers in more general digital and network skills such as file formats, file sizing manipulation, better searching, better resource management… in short balancing all the proprietry training already done with free and open software alternatives would help!

Cultural change (leaders) – Another one that is too brief. Leaders need to start using ICTs beyond email as well! Its one thing to reward teachers for experimenting with new practices with ICTs, but to leave it at that is a cop out. Unless managers and directors are actually using ICTs more effectively themselves how are they going to relate to the new practices and comprehend truly innovative work? Also, giving teachers the freedom to install software, would go a long way towards an innovative ICT environment.

moving right along..

Open source software – Its great to see open source software getting a plug, but only in the sense of the reduced license costs. The authors neglected to mention the potential increase in capacity the sector (especially in the ACT) might gain in being able to work with source code… they make a scary reference to open source for ‘ePortfolios’ – why I dunno, they could have found a better example. Sounds to me like the authors are not too experienced with desktop open source applications… I wonder if they’ve ever used Open Office, Linux, or GIMP? They need to make a distinction between desktop applications and server applications by the looks. Where’s the reference to the Asia-Pacific Development Information Program e-Primer on free and open source in education?? I know you can’t have them all, but not having this one is a big oversight in my view!

Emerging Technologies Section

Things are starting to look not so great for this report. There’s a very odd depiction of the concept ‘web services’ with quite an alarming illustration of how the authors see the whole eLearning thing interweaving. Their view is that the Internet feeds into ‘trusted’ sources like EdNA, TLF, and VLORN? those trusted orgs then produce web services (my guess is that it is content filtered and sorted for delivery to the deliverer… the deliverer then coughs it up based on their cuuriculum – the learners interface with delivery devices with no connection to a broader network! Some sort of crazy top down reenactment of the classroom by the looks!

I now have a very bad taste in my mouth about this. This paper could be the wolfe in sheeps clothing that I worry about. Embracing the new ideas of open networked learning and making them fit into old models of content management and delivery. No mention of connectivism, real life learning, or engagement… please God let it come good again…

I skipped everything about standards as I could see it being related to sharable learning object concepts and repositories. For me its simple – if its digital, licensed creative commons, and has a URL that can be linked directly to, then I can reuse it… a real world, sharable learning object. As for sequencing the ‘object’ it’ll always be up to the learner or the teacher in what ever context they are needing it in.

The section on technical infrastructure is great! Very informative towards wireless technologies and the things needing consideration. Even power line access gets in which shows the author is really onto it I reckon. It gives a big list of case studies of educational orgainsations around the world experimenting with wireless, making a firm point that wireless is the future. Sadly, free community wireless initiatives didn’t get a mention.

The part about Web-based Administrative Tools and Applications Infrastructure freaks me out for reasons I’ve already expressed here and in the past (centralisation, control, monolithic etc).

For example the bit about LMSs starts out with a very strange sentence:

The delivery of quality e-learning programs from a technology perspective relies on effective Learning Management System (LMSs) software applications.

“from a technology perspective” – does that strike anyone else as odd?

Then there’s this:

Many of our educational activities in future will take place within virtual classrooms, also known as virtual learning environments.

Hell, I’ve almost lost motivation to read on! There’s stuff about ePortfolios – I don’t get ePortfolios at all!

I’m going to stop picking out all the bad stuff and skip to the good stuff. I must keep positive… I must keep…

The stuff about Personalisation looks interesting. They reference personal start pages like MyYahoo, Sean FitzGerald has some ideas forming about personalisation of the interface between education and life…

I have to take a break, as I can see there’s stuff still worth reading in here… need to go feed myself and get a fresh head and find the motivation to read on for the goods. What a big document! Too big perhaps? Take out all the old guff about LMSes and sharable learning objects and we’d have a readable document I reckon. Spose its good to be exposed to it though, within the concepts I object to are problems and ideas that could work well in other contexts…

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