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Don Perrin just sent me a copy of the intensely interesting reflections of Thomas Friedman in his article The World is Flat, After All, in which he describes a rapidly changing global economy, where a vast number of knowledge experts from previously disadvantaged nations now have access to our markets and are in a very good position to compete.

Friedman’s notes really got me thinking about the economic revolution we have only begun to experience. I know I have even experimented with outsourcing animation work to Indian designers in my own learning resource developments. If it had of worked (in that if I had of found someone able to do what I was needing) apparently a good rate in India for such work is US$8 – $10 per hour!

Most people think of sweat shops, worker exploitation, and job loses when they hear of this stuff, but that may not always be the case. A couple of years ago, I was even considering moving myself into an economic region where I could compete back home from. In other words, from a yacht in the Black Sea at US$10 per hour developing rich media learning resources for Australian projects…

Friedman’s article, or that keynote speech from John Seely Brown are thought provoking accounts of what is actually happening within and throughout our increasingly globalised economies.

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Rose G, and Shaggy keep a fascinating blog. Recently Rose bogged on the madness of the world leader, using poetic reflections such as:

I’d really prefer to blog about stupid things that people do. Or the meaninglessness of life. Or even the goosebumpy sacredness of the universe. Hell, I don’t care – it’s all just material to weave into some kind of shape that might amuse. But like a moth I just cannot seem to turn my face away from the blinding heat of the obvious, the shameful, the elephant in the room. So I’m going to start writing more about these sorts of things. I hope you do too.

While Rose’s post may seem to have little to do with TALO, and it may seem as though I’m stretching the relationship a bit here, its the idiom elephant in the room that has relevance. Look it up, and see how many things relate to TALO then!

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A while ago, Gerry White – CEO of Education Australia made a dismissive statement, debate between open source versus proprietary software is over, in which he made an obvious point that software should be chosen based on how best to meet an organisation’s requirements. Thankfully Gerry made up for that by giving a rather good explanation on what open source software is, and some detail on how Education Australia implements software in its organisation.

I wish I knew Gerry actually, as his picture portrays a light hearted man who probably enjoys good discussion and maybe even a bit of sh!t stirring. But its not the picture I had in mind when I read the statement. What does Gerry really mean by “the debate is over”? Does he mean to imply that those of us forcing some form of debate don’t understand the bigger picture? Does he mean to imply that Education Australia know best, and are not interested in further discussion? Let me just take another look at Gerry… no, he doesn’t mean to imply those things.

While I was writing a critique on issues affecting digital literacy in Australia, I looked quite hard for records of a debate on free and open source software in Australian education – I found very little in fact. Perhaps some might think that says something about my research skills, I won’t disagree with that, but I think more importantly it says more about how open that supposed debate has been.

Perhaps the issue about FOSS and proprietary software have little to do with software, and more to do with operational perspectives. The ideology that currently manages and directs our educational infrastructure in Australia is captured by Gerry when he says:

“We have found that the magic mix is to choose the most appropriate solution according to business need…”

Call me naive, idealistic, or just way out of step, but I’m really concerned by this business talk over riding our educational goals here. I know its just words, and that our business is education, by why not just let it be called education? Delete the word business, reinsert the word education, and we have a statement I feel more comfortable with.

So now that we’re back on track with educational talk and not a muddied water of business (for the purposes of this post at least), does this then give us pause to rethink the criteria with which we select software?

To finish up I want to give 2 first hand examples of where the exclusive use of proprietary desktop software is having a very negative impact on Australian education. These examples have very little to do with Education Australia’s choice in software for their own projects, but have a lot to do with the thinking expressed in Gerry’s statement:

  1. Just recently I’ve taken a job helping young kids in the Blacktown area (Sydney Western Suburbs) who have more or less dropped out of school. My job is to show them a few things about computers and the Internet. I’m to relate this to a photographic exhibition they are working towards. Here I am, working with a group of – shall we say – slightly disadvantaged kids, most of whom have trouble getting the bus fair together to make it to my class once a week. Am I gunna start teaching them how to use the $370 dollar Microsoft Office package that is installed on the college computers, or am I gunna try and install the free and open source Open Office and show them how to effectively do everything the MS Office does, but for free and legally? Of course I’d rather show them Open Office, but the dramas I am having to go through to get the Institute’s IT support section to install Open Office (or just give me permission to install it) is ridiculous. In the end I always get the “please state a business case and well look into it in a couple of weeks” type of response! Those IT guys even asked the College Director to give me a call and quieten me down a bit! I’m not even going to try and bring up GIMP, Ubuntu, Audacity or the suite of other free and/or open source alternatives in desktop software.
  2. My girlfriend is studying Graphic Design. Its a pretty intense course and if she didn’t have her own computer complete with a range of pirated software, there’s no way she’d be able to keep up with the course. It frustrates me no end to see her assignments, requiring her to use expensive proprietary software, when in most cases high quality free and/or open source alternatives are available. I try to encourage her to use GIMP for her graphics and image manipulation, I try to show her ways to use Open Office to do layouts, but its a struggle for her when her college doesn’t even support the option to continue using those alternatives while in class. So I guess we’ll have to either make friends with a maniac software pirate, or find the dollars to buy the software upgrades so she remains compatible with her college. The college argue that their choice in software is industry standard, but all the graphic designers I know are self employed and struggle on pirated software. You should see the look on my designer friends faces when I show them Open Office and GIMP. So what is industry standard in a fragmented, unrepresented, majority self employed job such as graphic design?

So in reference to Gerry’s statement title at least, the debate about [free] and open source software is far from over!

While Gerry talks mostly about server side applications in his statement (to which there are vast unexplored educational opportunities afforded to students by open source software), my examples of desktop applications perhaps broaden the scope and intention of what Gerry was originally talking about. But its my view that the debate encompasses desktop applications as well, and that the debate has not even begun in Australia in reference to that at least.

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**Get the audio recording of the TALO swapmeet 05 roundup.**

The TALO swap meet was a hoot! Thanks to Western Sydney Institute’s support, keen members and guests were able to come together for the first time, meeting face to face and swapping ideas. It was looking sketchy for a moment in the beginning though. About four of us, sitting in 4 far corners of a room, straining to maintain conversation, long silent spells, intersected by hmms… I was livered that so many would just not turn up! 10.30am came along and the four of us were starting to acknowledge the poor turn out. A sickly feeling of rejection was creeping through my stomach.

But it wasn’t quite as bad as all that. Actually the small initial group was quite up for it. Peter Shanks, Don Perrin, Maria Trevaskis, Tony Lorriman, Michael Nelson, Jenny Hartlett, Helen McFadden and myself discussed a number of interesting topics – especially digital game based learning. We stewed up what I think is a great idea – Local Area Network (LAN) gaming parties for the local community. Gaming events for people to converge on as a social event, gain comptency recognition in the process, with perhaps some considering further study in an IT course at the hosting Institute – a recruitment activity!

LAN parties are quite popular underground events in most districts, but poorly understood by the mainstream, therefore getting council permission to open up the parties as local business has been difficult. Business proposals in areas like the Blue Mountains and Lithgow have been rejected in the past (the councils have associated gaming salons with pinball parlours and delinquent youth…). Here then lies and opportunity for the IT Faculties in TAFE to host LAN parties open to the public, not as a business, but as a social event for learning. TAFE have the resources to do such a thing, and if done regularly, could become an excellent way of capturing students by offering recognition for competencies demonstrated at the events. Not only would it be a way of accrediting people’s skills in LAN setup, but would likely be a way to facilitate informal learning communities around the events. One sticking point I can think of perhaps, is TAFE’s unlikely willingness to host such events after hours – after hours being traditionally a better time for holding such events.

LAN parties wasn’t all our small group talked about. Digital game based learning developments were also discussed with Tony Lorriman drawing our attention to a staff member at his Hunter Institute IT Faculty. That staff member has successfully developed games from templates (mods), and has recently won funds to further the initial developments. Many in the group resolved to find out more about moding, with a view to developing game based learning content in their own areas. The irrepressible Michael Nelson from Blue Mountains IT has already started looking at it with a couple of his students!

The conversation started moving onto wikicourseware development for the new Training and Assessment certificate that is compulsory for all new teachers and trainers in Australia. It was right about then that the Sydney crew rolled in. Stephan Ridgway, Sean FitzGerald, Anne Patterson, and Alex Hayes joined as, with Steven Parker from Wollongong arriving at the same time. The relief for the extra numbers made for good vibes all round – we had a group size worthy of calling a conference!

Stephan went straight to work, setting up his MP3 recorders and snapping pictures, while I briefed the new arrivals on what was talked about so far.

We picked up on the talk of the Training and Assessment wikicourseware developments, with Maria offering some fine ideas on how to make the most of such an effort. Maria mentioned inter institutional bench marking as a way to formalise collaborations through wikis. Maria also pointed out that focusing in on the Training and Assessment competencies may only limit the development, and that perhaps it would be best to broaden the effort into many areas of teacher training generally. This suggestion in particular addressed a recurrent problem with wikicourseware development – just how to make any development reusable on a global scale so as to be open to global network particiation. Such participation being what is realistically needed for wikicourseware to be valuable and sustainable.

So the model goes that we continue to think about global issues and topics affecting teaching training, looking to develop in a wiki, links to good resources relating to all things teaching and learning related. Then we would simply create a page for the Australian Training and Assessment Competencies and point each competency to the apropriate content. Each competency would also have its own assignment, requiring the learner to produce their own content that is usable in training the next learner… the original Pay it Forward wikicourseware model.

Photo by Stephan Ridgway.
Half an hour before lunch, Alex Hayes and Anne Patterson then injected excitement into the group, giving everyone an opportunity to try moblogging. They had brought along several mobile phones, handed them out, and had everyone snap a picture of an OH&S scenario to send to a TALO moblog for a waiting peer review type assessment. Alex impressed everyone with his efforts in moblogging the TALO SwapMeet so far, demonstrating how feasible it is to offer almost live coverage of an event through moblogging.

Photo by Leigh Blackall
Inspired and buzzing, we all headed off for a roadhouse style Mexican lunch for an hour, not stopping for a moment, talking of teaching and learning online, with Colin Tyrrell joining us. It was great to have such an energetic and engaged group.

After lunch we had an hour before our red double decker bus trip around Cliff Drive. Michael Nelson kicked us back into gear demonstrating his use of blogs, wikis, online personal orgainsers and other free web based technologies for his web design classes. I wasn’t personally around much for it as I was lining up the bus ride, but knowing Michael it would have been innovative, realistic and interesting.

Photo by Alex Hayes
Stephan then came in with a demonstration of Voice Over IP with a crew online waiting to talk with us. Stephan used Skype for the demonstration, and Sean and I talked a bit about Gizmo and its free conference, record and voice mail features – easily making it a better app than Skype. But Skype’s popularity is what wins the day, even if it is light on the features. Stephan perplexed everyone with his recording Skype conferences through a mixer set up, (its simple really, but does require quite a few bits and pieces + knowhow). The audio filling the room during Stephan’s demo was fantastic, ending the day with quite an artistic expression of distance and human contact. I urged Stephan to explore more abstracted notions of audio in his podcasting, looking to Radio National’s The Night Air for inspiration.

At 3.30pm we all headed into Katoomba to check in to hotels and catch the double decker for the afternoon. It was a quaint trip, all of us on the top deck talking more about TALO. Access to the magical views from the bus were not as good as I‘d hoped. Luckily we made it back to the township in time for sunset drinks at the Carrington Balcony, which had views over a lightening storm down on Sydney for us to watch. The cool change was a perfect lead into dinner.

Photo by Leigh Blackall
We had dinner at Journey’s Restaurant, in a room specially booked for our group, with a lounge and coffee table, and a live band down stairs emanating up to us at a level just right for our continuous chatting. I was really happy to see the levels of energy persist well into the night, with everyone curious to know who Don Perrin was and why he had come. Don continued to peak our interest with his experiences throughout the night.

There was talk of the next TALO swap/meet being in Hong Kong next year, depending on our success at gaining the necessary funds in 2006. Alex has the contacts in HK, and the reasons for Hong Kong are sound (Internationally central, technologically advanced, reaching out to Asian neighbours…).

Photo by Leigh Blackall
Next day, those of us left went for a beautiful bush walk along the National Pass trail from Valley of the Waters to Wentworth Falls. Personally I think it’s the best walk in the mountains, and I think everyone who came was well impressed by it.

Photos, feedback, ideas and links continue to feed into the TALO swap/meet 05 wikispace, and hopefully Stephan is finding the time to edit down a few audio recordings ready for publishing via Casting the Net.

TALO Swap/Meet 05 was a warm success and certainly something we should try and do as often as possible. Those who came hoped others in TALO’s eGroup will host similar events throughout the year, building and strengthening the community, ready for the next annual swap/meet wherever it may be… Thanks to Western Sydney Institute for supporting the event, thanks to everyone who came, and thanks to our collective spirit that made it such an easy going success.

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Dave’s educational blog proposes a good idea – the feedbook. Instead of a static text book, this one is based on feeds. I think it could work for many subject areas, and as Dave Cormier says:

A feedbook is a living text. Students are getting material that is new. The material may surprise the instructor, but it gives them things to discuss, a real platform upon which to have a natural discussion rather than one forced by a lesson plan made weeks, months or even years earlier. As a final advantage, when the students leave the course, their feedbook goes with them, not a textbook slowly fading into kindling for your fireplace, but one that will stay current…

This idea challenges even the wikibooks, as even the wikibooks takes a fare bit too much effort and doublehandling for authors to get involved and stay involved. But feedbooks can be set up so easily in a wiki, if you are using a feed enabled wiki such as wikispaces. So now we have it all!! We have the fluidity, currency, and natural feel of feeds, compiled and edited with collaborative potential in a wiki!

I have been thinking for some time that this is what we should do for BlendedLearning and NetworkedLearning. Rather than create (or even manually collate) resources, we should simply set up feeds for each page and let it happen. We could do the tag feed trick, and have people save good links the way they would anyway, but by adding the relevant tag word for the feedbook page, they contribute to the feedbook. And/or we can just add whole site feeds as we come across them.

James Farmer recently promoted Contemporary Online Teaching Cases, an immense amount of work to capture examples of online teaching at Deakin University. Its a pretty good job actually with many audio recording of academics talking about their work. I haven’t gone through many of them personally – and, as James is looking for feedback on the work, I thought I might mention why I haven’t looked at many.

Firstly, I think the project promoted itself as a whole too much, and not enough of the specific cases. The home page does have a featured case study, but its at the bottom of the home page – so I missed it first off. I went straight to the Flash intro, hoping to get a quick and dirty preview.. but again the Flash intro promotes the project as a whole more than actually extracting out the gold and helping me get to where I need to be quicker. So, I think the site should extract good quotes, make them big and bold, and perhaps think about making a better intro. An AV intro that doesn’t just Flash names and faces by quickly, but actually samples good words and ideas, and offers clickable buttons straight into the case studies as the movie moves through the samples. A making of video would be cool too.

Secondly, the case studies I looked at (based on the participant list) each offered too much choice up front. So much so that I didn’t really know where to start, and as a result, decided not to start. But on thinking about this, perhaps people with more patience and reason than I will spend the time looking through the media. When they find the gold they’ll blog it (we hope) and link readers in to where they need to be.

Lastly, there is so much! James says it was developed in isolation for 6 months… why? Was there a need to accumulate all this and ‘release’ it in one hit? Why not release each case as you finished it. That way someone like me could have watched them as they came, and not be so overwhelmed. Perhaps you’ll keep making case studies, and release them this way…

But over all it is a really impressive volume of work you have there, and is something I will point all teachers I work with to. It is my patience that is the real fault in all this. I want someone else to get in there and point me to the stuff I should be looking at. And there’s nothing stopping people from doing that… in fact, I should get back to my Bloglines and check. Good effort all! I hope you can take my criticism somehow constructively.

Bloglines is good to me. Seems that everytime I need some insight on things, things that I’ve been mouthing off about, or stewing ideas on, starting to consider more seriously, along comes something totally pertinent to it. It’s almost like a higher being is delivering me what I need… OK that might be taking it a bit far (actually, perhaps not if you’ve seen that movie, What the Bleep do we know).

TALO at Valley of the Waters

So anyway, just recently – at the TALO swap/meet – we were talking about wikicourseware development. We considered the potentials of international collaboration on course developments, such as in Wikiversity. I thought this TALO topic was an interesting conversation covering many angles… I hope Stephan recorded it, and publishes some points to CTN.

So, I’m in the Bloglines 2 days later and along comes this: Australian Education International’s Strategic Directions 2005 -– 2008

In a changing world, the next ten years will be more challenging for Australian international education providers than the past ten years. Significant structural change is taking place in the market, with increased domestic capacity to provide quality education in our traditional markets, increasing competition from new countries entering the international education market, the development of new modes of delivery, expanding offshore provision of courses, and changes in the nature of demand.

Sounds like AEI realise their job is going to be … different … lets hope they have the willingness to broaden their scope to enable a capacity to take in the many ideas that deal with this change.

AEI Strategy refers to a ministerial statement called Engaging the World through Education which sounds interesting (I hope) and one I’d like to read later.

AEI’s Strategies are:

  1. Be a strategic partner to the industry
  2. Support a sustainable, diversified, quality Australian international education and training industry
  3. Raise the international profile of Australian education
  4. Ensure that providers and prospective international students have access to reliable and timely information
  5. Support global student and labor market mobility
  6. Build government-to-government ties and engage multilaterally
  7. Lead a whole-of-government approach to market development and education cooperation
  8. Build organisational capabilities

AEI’s Useful links

Personally I am more than a bit put off by the AEI document’s commoditisation of Australian education. It talks of Australian education being an industry, and AEI’s role being to promote opportunities for that industry in “..the national interest”. These are by now dated values that education (especially at an international engagement) should not be limited to – especially not explicitly stated! Have they no shame? I’d rather be seeing statements and strategies that address inequality, accessibility, and social well being, not the short sighted and narrow goals of financial profits to Australian educational commodities.

PA222878Don, Steven and Stephan taking in the final view 2

Oh boy, why is my thinking so polarised from the government and its servants? My principles have to seem so radical when responding to such conservatism. How can I feel anything but alienated and angry towards it?

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How many of us have considered how truly amazing librarians are? In all my experience with education from K to know, I remember them as always being keen to help, always knowing their stuff, and always being the first to play with and integrate technology into their services. When you think about it, they were the first to use computers, Internet, digital repositories… talk about quiet achievers, and from people who should have felt the most threatened by technologies in the past 10 years!

I have a few librarians within my field of reference, but haven’t been seeing Lynette Reville, a librarian in Australia before! Lynette introduced herself to me via email, and by mentioning me on her blog (yes I watch out for such mentions), and I’m really glad to have someone like Lynette, a veteran Blogger, ideas girl, prolific linker, say nice things about my blog.

So if you’re a librarian and haven’t been watching One New Thing, I recommend it.

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Alex Hayes pulls a phone out of his pocket Recently a few friends came up to the mountains for the TALO swap/meet 05. We talked about a variety of things to do with teaching and learning online. The nature of the conference was open source – meaning that there was no agenda, key note speakers, or otherwise structured communications. We just got together and started yaking! It was great. Some really good ideas and thoughts were flowing freely. We talked over a Mexican lunch, we talked while walking the National Pass Trail, we talked over drinks at the Carrington, we talked and talked.

Recording such conversation is almost impossible. Remembering all the great ideas is just as impossible. But I remember one idea Alex Hayes (pictured), Sean FitzGerald and I had that could solve this problem – the marking in constant record.

Take your average mp3 recorder. Mic yourself up and hit record. On a 512meg card you should expect a few hours of recording, enough to get the majority of a night conversation. But going back over that massive flog of raw recording to edit it down to digestible content is a job I wouldn’t wish on anyone. On top of that, once the 512 card is full, you have to find another card to get the breakfast conversations. Its just too much. What we really need is a recorder that does constantly record, but when you have that moment in conversation where you realise, “hey, that’s a great idea!” you reach down to the mic cable and press a button that marks near to the end of the sample you want to keep. The recorder stores your out point mark and adds an inpoint mark automatically – say 5 minutes before the out. When the cards nears full, the recorder deletes everything but the marked recordings, freeing up some card to continue recording. Back in the editing misery, at least you know that the majority of what you have is what you though was good at the time. You might miss a few things with that auto 5 minute in point mark, but I’d say on the whole you’d get most of it. 5 minutes should be enough I’d imagine, for someone recording to realise what was being said was worth keeping. If that person was to mark an out point within 5 minutes of the last, then the reorder would know that more than 5 minutes was needed, it would just keep the in point at the original mark point.

This could work for video as well of course.

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Teemu Leinonen of FLOSS Posse blog has given some thought to the future of Wikiversity.

So, what is my problem with Wikiversity? I am seriously worried that it may end-up to be just another platform for delivering learning materials – only. Period. I am afraid that Wikiversity community will not understand what are the factors that make a great academic institution. It is not tests, degrees and accreditations. It is the community.

Getting a dispersed community around whole courses or subject areas might be the impossibility for wikiversity. Wikipedia is fairly simple by comparison, in that it is largely focused around single entries… but wikiversity (at the moment) is trying to emulate a University, with faculties, subject areas and courses. The few times I have been in there, I have looked up the subject areas I am teaching with the intention of helping out, only to find a structure, related subject areas, terminology, and so much of it just not at all in an area I can help out with, or use. In other words, many ‘entries’ just may be too complex or context specific for broad communities to form around whole subject areas. On this, see David Wiley’s 2001 paper, The Reusability Paradox.

At the moment, it looks as though Faculties from some universities are moving in and claiming the subject areas, structuring them the way they do at their own institutes, and hoping others will come in and help them with their work. That’s great though, faculties going truly open courseware and all, but how can I join in? Do I want to? Or would I rather find another bit of turf in the wikiversity to set up my own version based on how I would structure the course specific to my own context…

So I think Wikiversity authors need to think of a way to simplify what they are doing, content and/or concept, linking it in with wikipedia a bit more perhaps, and considering what Teemu points out – how the communication part is so important.


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