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I’ve been uploading educational content into wikiversity like a man possessed. But today, wikiversity’s servers went down, and its been like that all day 😦 so I’m forced to look for more reliable services. Its a good thing when this happens actually. Leaving aside the inconvenience, It keeps me on my toes and therefore reasonably knowledgeable of a broader range of services as I go shopping for a backup. (its worth noting that our own internally managed systems go down for much longer than a day at times, so forget about adding a comment along those lines).

So while I was cursing the small inconvenience this downtime has caused Brent Simpson pops up in my Gtalk box to show me the tutorials for using wikieducator.

And there’s where I’ll be taking my work. Wikieducator also uses the mediawiki platform so its basically a simple process of copy n paste from wikiversity to wikieducator to get my resources up and available again.

Wikieducator, which is facilitated by the Commonwealth of Learning has made fantastic progress since last I looked! Apart for a range of great tutorials, the key players in wikieducator have been more innovative and experimental in my view. They now have a web based IRC chat facility on the main nav – which is getting closer to Teemu’s vision of a VOIP supported community learning network; they support media embedding, they use funky templates to play around with navigation and content layout, and they already have some significant contributions:

  1. English tutorials
  2. Maths
  3. Computer navigator
  4. The open educational content project

And the old eXe project is right in there amongst it all, hopefully working out a way to format to and out of wikitext so that wikieducator (or any mediawiki content for that matter) can be made more interoperable with other platforms like the die hard LMSes.. loath the day 😦

So Wikieducator has scored big points in my books over wikiversity, and while the tow platforms both say they do different things, I don’t see the difference. Which is a real shame, because they are both aiming for the same thing – a global platform for the open sharing and collaborative development of quality learning spaces. Which is why I think they should join forces and rename themselves wikilearner.org because let’s face it, they ARE doing very similar things, they are diluting each other’s efforts, and both their name’s suck.

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In my work here – developing courses to be more flexible in learning opportunities etc – I’ve been trying to strengthen the relationship between lecturer and librarian services. Where lecturers really need assistance is in locating reusable learning resources. By reusable, I mean artifacts with Creative Commons, GPL or GNU licensing.

A typical scenario might be:

Course wants to make its content available online. First we need to check the content for currency and copyright clearances. Almost always this is where we get caught. While a teacher is usually pretty diligent with referencing text quotes and the like, they almost never reference the imagery they use in their resources. So we have to find supplementary images, or find whole new resources that are free for reuse and remix.

As you can imagine, this can create a large amount of work, but I see it as a very important capability building exercise. We need teachers to be more careful with their resource creation, we need them to be intimately aware of all the free and open content that is available, and we need resources created today that can be reusable tomorrow.

Obviously a lecturer can not do this alone, and they are not the only ones that need to develop new practices that compliment this effort. Enter the librarian. Traditonal role is to support the lecturer in gathering information and teaching resources, and sometimes to support the learners in their efforts with the subject.

So I’ve been trying to get a librarian involved with every development project I get started. They attend all the meetings and workshops and become intimately aware of the emerging needs of the course. But most importantly, they develop a new awareness, skill set, capability and awareness for their role in this new era for the education sector.

In a nut shell, here’s what they are to me. Comments welcome.

Sourcing reusable and copyright less restricted resources in close consultation with the lectures who are developing their courses.

 

Awareness

  • What is a Creative Commons license?
  • What is a GPL and GNU license?
  • What databases exists that store resources licensed in this way?
  • Emerging librarian and educational uses of 3D virtual worlds such as Second Life

 

Skills

  • Advanced searching for CC, GPL, GNU and open courseware
  • Social bookmarking/tagging and RSS technology relevant to traditional librarian roles
  • Being able to use and control to a profitient user level a 3D virtual world
  • Formats, reformatting, open digital formats, digital archiving and reusablity

 

Capabilities

  • Being able to combine the awareness and skills and apply them to support lecturers in their needs to source, supplement and remix reusable content.
  • Being able to keep abreast of new developments in this area
  • Being able to relate these new practices with older practices

 

Experience

  • In time management with these new practices
  • In explaining the benefits of the new practices to colleagues and clientele
  • Working to an independent level the interpretation of copyright legislation and being able to advise lectures on the best course of action when it is an issue relating to teaching resources.

What does free Wiki, a skype enabled mobile phone, a network of topic experts and a 70s educational change agent equal?

Deschooling society in 2007

See the expert for thinking outside the square, Teemu Leinonen

In New Zealand there is a National Digital Strategy which involves educating the public in the use of computers and digital formats amongst other things. Here at Otago Polytechnic we meet that challenge with what I think is a good and simple approach. We have set up satellite computer rooms in regional locations around Otago in which members of the public can come in, grab a work book, sit down and self pace through the activities. The workbooks are written to different levels, so you can start super easy and work your way up. Every venue has a facilitator who can help with any of the things a person is doing through the workbook. This programme is called Computing for Free and is available at any of the Community Learning Centres marked with a Q4U.

I think this relates very directly to the developing concept of free learning, fee education. Thanks for the comments and suggestions by the way. At the Computing for Free programmes, anyone can walk in off the street and indicate that they would like to ‘learn computers’. The facilitator gets their name and details and sits them down with what ever level and topic they think suites that person. They get them started and periodically check back with them to see how they are going.

Inevitably a relationship forms between the person off the street and the facilitator. Sometime the person off the street doesn’t come back for a while, other times they hang out for a period of days. The facilitator nurtures that person into an educational setting, getting them comfortable with structured learning, helping them develop independent learning skills, and building confidence with the idea of assessment. Eventually the person off the street might feel ready to go for a qualification in computing – or maybe they are just happy with having know how.. the facilitators I have spoken to say – “its all good”.

Just sitting in these spaces (as I am now) has a great vibe about it. It could be better – lounges, coffee, headphones, a great free music collection, stuff to make it cool, but its fine as it is now. Its doing it job, which is reaching out to people in the community and offering non threatening opportunities to learn important stuff.

Now, picture gym. You know, those torture chambers of weights, cables and sweat towels. Somehow, the business of gyms succeeds in making those weird environments less threatening, and even community spirited. Self conscious, over weight, anti social people can be turned around in a matter of weeks in these places. Now think of your learning environment and think of it more like a gym. Try it on, see how it feels. Not one of those seedy gstringed, steroid gyms, but a contemporary and professional gym with qualified trainers, physiotherapists and doctors.

What would the equivalent of this be in an educational setting? I think it is something like the Q4U but with a little more cool added. People can come in to a small venue that is ALL about learning. No huge admin building towering over everything, no massive campus, just a smallish shop front or what ever is a good location for people. Hell! buy up that corner store milk bar that Woolworths shut down 15 years ago. There, right in the middle of everyone. Offer as many courses as there is interest. All of them available as much as possible through self paced workbooks, and where there is practical hands on needed, that can be arranged – see below.

Now, find facilitators. Not teachers. Teachers come later. These facilitators are people who have done the courses and can help the next person. They are the primary point of contact and everything runs through them. They are friendly and helpful people who can remember the level that the people off the street are at. They are like the trainers in our learning gym. The physiotherapists are the career advisers and the like – they sit in offices near by and can be seen when advice and mentoring is needed. They can help create specialised programmes to suit the particular needs of the individual. Then we have the doctors. They are our teachers. The often not-so-friendly face of impatient expert. They are seen when a specialised programme or need for practical experience has arisen. The self paced learner is scheduled in to meet with the doctor, often along with other learners for purposes of efficiency, and they go to see the doctor/teacher for expert know how. Then it’s back the physiotherapist and facilitators to continue with self paced work – only this time slightly tweaked by the doctor – who has added activities to suit the need – such as critical thinking exercises, special skills practices and the like. So, there it is, part 2 in what might become a series of silly ideas for flexible learning in New Zealand.

Just about every training and education organisation I have worked for is going through what I would call an identity crisis. All of them are investing heavily in a concept known as Flexible Learning. But what is Flexible Learning?? Put “what is flexible learning” or “why do we need flexible learning” into Google or in the search bar of any of the big names that show up in Google and see if you can get a straight answer. I sure didn’t, which sends a pretty clear message to me.. crisis. Inevitably, there are as many interpretations to Flexible Learning as there are people affected by it. I’ll just add to the noise and see if I can’t help to get an answer into Google.

Often, models for Flexible Learning are far more complex than they need to be. Often it is eLearning that makes them this way. I think the Q4U programme is an example or a remarkably simple yet very effective implementation of flexible learning.

I’ve articulated this idea quite a few times around my place of work, but am yet to find any takers willing to try it out. I’ve had some local and rather limited criticisms and reality checks, mostly pointing to external auditing bodies who may technically have a problem with the idea, but nothing strong enough to deter my thinking/delusion that its a good idea. So I’d like to know, especially from the kiwis, if something like this is being done anywhere else, or if you think I’m totally out of my tree and should go back to Australia?

The idea:

Relating to the scenario in What would it be like to be the rain, and especially Learning for Free, Education for Cost – where a person has the opportunity to attend class activities, and complete assessment tasks for free, but to gain certification – must pay a fee. And thinking only in terms of adult or tertiary education here…

The idea is made up of 4 parts.

1. Make ALL learning environments, resources, and assessment activities for a course freely available, openly, without restrictions such as fees and log ins. This obviously creates havoc for many courses, not least the question of how to sustain it financially (which is dealt with in part 4) but more notably is the issue of quality of the resources to be made openly available, especially the copyright clearances of the content to be used. This open and free access can pretty much rule out almost all courses we offer, as the protection of the passwords and fee paid classrooms ensures few people see, therefore few people question quality or copy. So free and open is a good pressure in my view.

2. Break the course down into as small as practical units of study. Make the study of these as asynchronous as possible. Make the units as scalable to as many paths of study as possible. The smaller the course, the easier it is to offer it more repetitively. The more asynchronous it can be, the more flexible the learning of it can be. The more scalable it is, the more value it can have in other areas of study. A person could choose to do the unit in one hit or over several instances and from different contextual view points. Clearly I am still holding onto the old reusable learning object idea here – but less about software, more about learning design.

3. Allow free access to the course. Free access to the learning resources, participation in class activities, communication with teachers and students, and submission of assessment tasks for feedback – all without charge.

4. Keep records of the students who complete assessment tasks including any feedback given, but only award accreditation to those who have paid the fee. Because good records are kept, recognition of prior learning later in a student’s life is streamlined. You can encourage students to apply for scholarship grants or employer sponsorship and the like and having the assurance of a pass based on the free participation will assist in confidence to pay the fee. Accreditation is only awarded when a fee is paid. Students can’t get formal transcripts of their study until a fee (perhaps a smaller fee if only for transcripts) to avoid students learning through you, but taking their transcripts elsewhere for accreditation.

Basically, it is the freeware model with a bit of lock-in marketing. The flexibility it enables a learner means that people can opt in to study (full or part time) without committing to up front fees, or inflexible time tables and course durations. Up front fee paying students stand to benefit from wider participation with others – think youtube or wikipedia scale… and everyone understands that it is the accreditation that the fees pay for, not the learning. The learning is enhanced by wider participation (depending on how well it is managed) so ‘the more the merrier’

Thanks Seb from the Sydney Powerhouse for pointing it out

I’ve been quietly following along with Bill’s documentation of work as he prepares a critique of Connectivism. He happened upon a slogan list for web2/learning2 and has posted what I think is a very important reflection on it. In it is a very usable slogan: I want teachers to become more like activists, not more like academics. I subscribe to this one BIG TIME. In fact, the best teachers that I have met, are the activists. The worst I have met are the academic. Another gross generalisation I know, but that’s the activist in me.

Stephen Downes posts his design for a conference. A vivid depiction of an open and energised space. I could have used this design before we ran FLNW, but we have it now. There are some very unique and exciting ideas in this design. I can’t wait to either be at one, or help organise one.

Check out this fun toy! I look like the following celebrities.. Which celebrity do you look like? Thanks Hadashi for another fun pointer.