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prompted by Peter Allen at the TALO email list, and Teemu Leinonen at FlossePosse blog

Wendy asks what a new look library would look like? What services and features would it have?

You got ideas and a few minutes? Drop her some thoughts hey…

My quick thoughts that I left as a comment:

Great to see you’re getting wireless. Will it be free and open wireless? Like Hoyts? Doubt it, but that would be great. You could limit access still, by making a splash page for people trying to get on would have to go past first – that way minimising traffic a little and promoting the library service with a nice “this service is happily provided to you by Billy Bob – making access to information free and easy”

I would plaster the walls with how tos.. how to set up a blog, how to critique a wikipedia article, where to get free pictures, how to use YouTube… stuff like that, the list would be endless. Make them nice and large, but printable to A4 handout as well.

Laptops to loan out. Laptops to lease. MP3 recoders. Bluetooth file servers for lecturers to load MP3 of their lectures and for students to load the MP3 to their phone when they walk in.

24hour access to computer labs, with community events like LAN parties possible.

I was on my way to work this morning and caught this on the TV before I left. I’ve loaded it to YouTube so others can see it too. It is a brief TVOne Breakfast look at Blogging, specifically the Qantas Media Awards (what a lame website!!).

I think it an interesting insight into NZ Mainstream media perspective of social media. The Breakfast host is your usual self assured, arrogant kind-a-guy that you get on these shows, and I thought he was pretty subdued in his dismissive attitude of blogging compared to other things I’ve seen him have a go at. I think he was distracted by the fella he was interviewing actually, and didn’t want to risk looking silly with all this techy it geek stuff.

After note: Comments made by Caroline, and a few others have taught me lots about the TVNZ and Breakfast website. I was impressed to see that all the shows are recorded and eventually offered as streaming media. I wasn’t able to find the Breakfast recording above, but Caroline found it and offered the following links:

At the time of adding this note (21st March) the streaming media file didn’t come down with audio, so I’ll keep theYoutube copy up until I see a working version.

Part 3 of a running post on flexible learning in New Zealand.

Why am I so fixated on flexible learning these days? Well, its partly my job I have to say. Otago Polytechnic has a strategic direction towards flexible learning which in a nut shell is about offering better services to existing students more efficiently AND reaching potential students we don’t already reach. The cynical would interpret that as save money now, and make more money soon. Its easy to see that part, but there’s more to it of course, and it creates an opportunity for us to do our job better.

I help facilitate a course for teachers at the ‘tech called Designing for Flexible Learning Practice which is another reason I fixate on flexible learning from time to time. Because the course has not set face to face meetings (though we do meet from time to time) we ask that all the participants communicate about the course and the subject information online. We do this through individual blogs and an email list.

Getting a recent group up and running with blogs has been a slow go. Some don’t see the need for it, some are technically challenged, and some just don’t have the time (which means they probably don’t have time for a course full stop). Some participants seemed to have taken to blogging ok, and this post focuses on one blog post by the Dangerous Dave – who I think has a natural blog writing style.

In a recent exercise where we all will respond to another DFLP participant’s blog post, Dave is using a post by Sheryll to voice reservations about flexible learning as he sees it at the moment.

After describing the nature of self paced learning and Dave’s own experience with it, he said:

Not a pleasurable way to learn, but learn I did since my income depended on it. I am not sure if the young students today would be that committed since a vast majority live for the day and not worry much about the future.

Obviously this is a big generalisation, but I guess its fare enough and based on his on experience with the types of students his courses attract. (I think Dave teaches electrical engineering from memory). Dave goes on to picture a scenario where his usual students respond to the challenges of flexible and self paced learning:

We are starting to talk about the ‘acquisition and participation’ models now how getting the students more involved with the participation concept will enhance their learning but the need for someone to facilitate the direction of the learning will still be required.

Enter the participatory culture?

I still play a key part to the students learning in my course and I know that it is very much of the acquisition model, but don’t forget, we are providing a service that industry dictates. If these graduates of ours come out of study with a qualification, industry expects that they are capable of performing that duty with minimum training required.

So Dave is grappling with the freedom, time and the general expectation of his job. I’m pretty sure that if He keeps exposing himself to ideas and new developments in media, his student’s culture, and the expectations of some of the more innovative sectors of his industry group, he will gradually find that balance. But I want to do is offer a broader scope and reasoning to flexible learning then the self directed, correspondence style learning he is commenting on from Sheryll’s post. Dave may already be thinking about a broader scope to flexible learning, but I’ll still use his post as an opportunity to talk about them…

I keep an eye on the blog of the Otago Polytechnic Student Association President – Richard Mitchell. Lately he has been writing some compelling stuff about student debt. “Students are the only class of people [in New Zealand] who have to borrow money to pay rent and buy food..’

A significant number of students in New Zealand take subsidies to study. They get NZ$150 per week – but on loan! They have to pay that back, some even pay 6.8% interest on that loan! Another number get a subsidy that they don’t have to pay back – they are means tested against their parent’s income. New Zealand’s student debt is woeful by international comparisons – it is little wonder the country struggles to hold its population from bleeding out to Australia.

What does this have to do with flexible learning? A lot! If I was in that situation, the last thing I’d need is a course that required me to attend classes every working day – all day. In fact, I wouldn’t want to attend classes at all under those conditions. But if I wanted to improve my long term employment opportunities, the most I could afford would be 1 or 2 days in class time at the most!

The award wage for unskilled labour in NZ is $12 per hour. Rent is around $250 – $300 per week for a 3 bedroom home ($100 for one person), a car (which you sadly must have in Dunedin) averages out at about $100 per week, food for one is about $100 per week, and Internet and telephone is about $25 per week. So using those basic figures, a single person needs at least $325 per week. At $12 per hour, that’s around 30 hours per week if you’re having to pay tax! Then there’s your annual student fees, your social life, saving for christmas and family visits… so to have a reasonable life that is not plagued with depression and poor health, you probably need to be working 40hours a week on the award rate of $12 per hour.

So here’s a very compelling reason we need flexible learning options in our courses. Perhaps the students Dave talks about aren’t having to pay their way so much and don’t appreciate the purpose for being there as much as others might. Perhaps only the priveleged go into study in New Zealand, and perhaps that is why Dave feels he can’t rely on his students motivations to learn.. but now its me who is generalising.

With the opportunity to attend short workshops at a wide variety of hours, to start and finish a course of study at flexible times, to pay fees at more opportune times, to have streamlined opportunities for assessment of prior learning, and to have workplace learning opportunities for those lucky enough to already have a job in the sector they hope to advance in… would be just a few ways to reach potential students we are not currently reaching.

The problem with wikis is that they require people to remember to contribute, stop what they’re doing, go to the wiki, click edit and retype what they wrote somewhere else already, such as in a blog, email, or other media upload somewhere else. I really hate it when I upload an image to my preferred image host (Flickr) then have to re-upload it if I want to use it in a wiki. And what about this blog post? As I write I’m thinking about how I might put it on the wikieducator discussion pages I’m involved in… I think I’ll just add a link there and point to this post.

George Siemens puts an interesting thought across – that wikis will get better long term use than blogs.. personally I don’t think so – I think most people find it easier to collaborate with themselves then they do with others, and the long term experience with wikis might annoy them so much that they return to blogging and rely on the network connections to aggregate some form of collaboration.

And that leads me to my vision for Wikieducator (and wikis generally) – the aggregation of individual efforts and then the collaboration.

So far wikispaces is way ahead with this idea. Long ago wikispaces made it possible to add an RSS feed to a page, to be able to add to a wiki through blogging AND to embed media like Youtube vids, Frappr maps and other services that offer embed code for redistribution. This is certainly one level of aggregation I would like to see in a media wiki platform like Wikieducator.

Imagine, you’re starting from scratch with a blank page in wikieducator.. your topic is.. oh, I dunno – the weather… instead of having to enter in text, upload images, rejig the structure and even break out new pages as the first page gets too huge.. instead of that (or as well as) you could add an RSS feed, such as a tag, or a YahooPipe feed, or a Technorati search result, or the weather reports from 5 capital cities… imagine you could also embed a documentary video from GoogleVids, a popular tsunami video from youtube, a preview of An Inconvenient Truth, and even an old 1950’s B&W weather report from Internet Archive. Imagine that after embedding that media you managed to organise text based transcripts to be loaded in for the dial up users who can’t watch this broadband media. Now you’ve peppered the text and media with a few FlickrCC images and your page is about ready. It took you less then an hour, you have an incredibly rich page, you’re ready for ‘class’, and ready for further collaboration from all the people who’s media you just sampled – remember, its a wiki 😉

All of this is possible with Wikispaces already, but as much as I like wikispaces – I want to get into mediawiki and Wikieducator. Why? well there’s a few reasons – one is so the wikitext I/we create is reusable across other mediawiki installs such as our own if we ever install one. Another reason is because I am interested in the Commonwealth of Learning and the services they can offer in facilitating links across many national borders. The other is because wikieducator is focusing NOT just on educational content, but on improved communication channels to support the use of that content… Apart from those very brain centred reasons, its a gut instinct.

But my vision goes further than just getting Wikieducator’s mediawiki platform up to speed with the likes of wikispaces and content aggregation and media embeding.

Take Shaggy’s Training Packages Unwrapped (TPU) project. An incredible solution to the unusable formats that the Australian National Training Information Services (NTIS) uses to express Australian training unit standards. If you take a look at the TPU proof of concept you will see that TPU extracts key content out of NTIS unit standards and displays them in HTML with the option to extract in a number of other formats – including mediawiki text!! So take this project and apply it to many other forms of syllabus documents that almost always come in .doc, .pdf or .rtf formats and never in wikitext! and we have a short cut way of getting skeletal content like learning objectives and the like into a place like Wikieducator.

Now take a New Zealand project like eXe. eXe was formally a tool for creating SCORM compliant and XML content for reuse in Learning Management Systems and the like. It was probably designed for more than that, but when I first saw eXe back in 2005 I saw LMS tool and looked the other way. Now the project is aligning with the Wikieducator project and could conceivably be used to extract content from the wiki and reformat it ready for print. It could do the reverse as well, reformatting word processor files into wikitext ready for upload into Wikieducator as well, just like TPU can do.

Back to the aggregation inside a media wiki.. one-way aggregation is only half useful. Being able to quickly and easily compile an information piece on a wiki page from a variety of already existing information and media is great, being able to then quickly edit and add your own information around that media is even better, but to be able to dynamically export that page in true Web2 fashion would be the bomb! If each page had some form of XML with a simple step of copying a line of code and pasting it in another context so that the wikipage would redisplay on a blog, an LMS (gawd help us!) a straight website, a start page or even another wiki.. well, that would just be tops! Not just a snap shot of the wiki (we could just use eXe export features for that, but an always up to date version dynamically updating itself via RSS or something. What this would enable would be amazing. Similar to being able to display youtube vids in different contexts, but we are enabling the display of aggregated and wikified content in other contexts, where that context’s style sheet and presentation can lay over the content and make it appear native! So not only do we have open content (as in free access) but we have multiple pathways to the source as well! free and open source content on every level.

As I’ve pointed out before, Wikieducator are proactive on these things. They saw the need for better communication channels to support the content, so they introduced Instant Messaging channels. I’m informed that their IM works fine with Skype, hopefully it works with GizmoProject as well. So we potentially have VOIP in their too. Content alone is not much help to those who are trying to learn. Access to communication with others is what counts, so the provision of Instant Messaging and even Voice over IP channels for every page or content type would really kick arse. Volunteers like me who have a stake in a number of pages could list their preferred live communication channel, and the wikieducator page would be able to show whether that person was online and available, and facilitate messages between people through that page. Still on improving communication around specific content, Wikieducator has also recognised the cumbersome discussion platform of mediwiki and should be implementing threaded and slightly more graphically enhanced discussion soon as well, based on the Liquid Threads development.

So that about somes up my vision/wish list for Wikieducator.

  1. Two way aggregation and re-contextualisation
  2. Embedded media of all types
  3. Download and upload to and from static formats like word processor documents, PDFs and other text files.
  4. Good synchronous and asynchronous communication channels with every page

If you’re involved in formal education at a tertiary level, no doubt you know what a course outline is. You might have a different name for it so I’ll describe it a bit more… its probably a stock standard, dry as 1 month old sheep shit, 1 or 2 page text document full of incomprehensible statement to do with what the course is about, what the objective are and what a participant can expect in terms of learning outcomes. Its usually one of the first handouts issued at the start of a course, and can even be a legally binding document!

I’ve started working with our course in Avalanche Safety. Its a small course with one person holding the fort in the off season. We have met twice to discuss ideas for enhancing the flexible learning options, and the quality of the media used in the course. So far we have looked at Youtube, Flickr, Wikis and SecondLife. (Can you believe that it is conceivable to set up an avalanche simulation in SecondLife!).

Anyway, I was sent a slide presentation that is used to both promote and introduce the course. We wanted to add some tunes to it and make it over all more compelling. The original slides had some really nice pictures in it, so it helped having a lecturer with a sense of media aesthetics already!

My objective was to create new slides with slightly more enhanced graphical freedom, and to create a video from them with some cool audio and load it to youtube.

What l I did (time is always the issue) was:

Pull the photos into separate layers of a single 640×480 image file in my image editor (GIMP).

I added text to different layers again based on the text in the original slide presentation, and permanent graphics like a logo and frame on the top layers.

Then I exported images based on what layers were switched on or not, naming them 001, 002, 003 etc – resulting in 31 slides in sequential order based on their file names.

The next step was to import all the images into a free video editor (in my sad case that happened to be Windows Movie Maker).

Thanks to the file naming, I was able to select all the images and drag them onto the editor’s timeline having them stack up in order.

The next step was to find some reusable music, so I popped over to CCMixter and found a track by one of my favorite musicians there who happens to license CC-By from time to time.

I imported the MP3 to the movie editor’s audio time line then just adjusted the images to fit the beats and rhythms, adding fade effects as I went.

Exported the movie in the crappy Windows format, but uploading it to Youtube makes it viewable in the free world.

The result of this simple exercise follows, but what I really want to point out is the potential for it being a course outline that, when handed to me as one of the first things in the course, would help me to say “yeah! I want in on the course! I’ll give it a shot! It looks interesting..”

Hopefully Blamb isn’t asking for movies just about Web2, and is actually calling it The Web 2.0 Online Learning Film Festival based on its organisational structure. I also hope that they’ll give the finger to copyright and download youtube films and remix at will!

Here are my nominations:

  1. Duck and Cover – Bring back the bomb!
  2. Can I get an Amen – Just how stupid copyright is, and how sampling rebellion should be
  3. Admiral Cigarettes – Theatre in movies, teaching in LMS. How long it takes to realise new media
  4. Le Grand Content – the truth about content
  5. Voices from a new American School House – Ideal
  6. The Future is Open – I can’t wait!
  7. Ask Ninja, What is Podcasting? – Best explination of podcasting yet!
  8. What to do in a zombie attack – one to compliment Duck n Cover

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A video spin the bottle initiated by Alex Hayes, showing what the TALO Swap Meets are all about

This video was originally shared on by alexanderhayes with a Creative Commons Attribution license.

I help facilitate a course called, Designing for Flexible Learning Practice. It is a subject within the over all teaching qualification we run called Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Learning and Teaching. We recently started our second running of the DFLP course, and this time with a course blog, course wiki, participant blogs and an email list as the primary platforms for information and communication.

This week the participants have been asked to read up on Flexible Learning and post to their blogs a summary of our thoughts and ideas on it relating to our subject areas. For those of us needing more structure, my colleague sent out printed versions of the 1st Chapter from the book, Flexible Learning in a Digital World as a base level reader to the subject. Following are my loose notes on the reading…

Sadly, the chapter is nowhere to be seen online. So I’ve scanned it and loaded it here for reference.

I think I’ll use that absence of an online version of the reader to start my response. I’m currently sitting in a house in the suburb of Taylor’s Lakes, North of Melbourne Australia. I forgot to bring my printed version of the article so could not read it and respond as the other participants are doing. I searched the Internet high and low, but had to resign myself to a 2 hour return journey into the city to run around the libraries in the hope that I would find a copy and be allowed to photocopy the chapter. My first stop was the State Library of Victoria which had almost thousands of articles on Flexible Learning, but nothing by the authors Collis and Moonen. Hmm a question mark hangs over this reading already! Why wouldn’t the State Library of Victoria have a copy of this book?… but the lady at the desk was helpful and used her special login to another catalogue and was able to locate an available copy in the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s Library.. ahh we’re back on track, that library was just next door too.

I found the book’s call number on the RMIT’s library catalogue, but when I arrived at the shelf it wasn’t there. The catalogue said it was available, but it certainly wasn’t in the place it should have been. Luckily my partner Sunshine was with me, and her eyes spotted it on the shelf next door, completely the wrong section. Happy to have the book at last, I approached the desk to ask if I could copy the first chapter. No, I wasn’t allowed to scan it because I didn’t have an RMIT username, but I was allowed to photocopy it at a charge.

So, nearly 5 hours later I am home and ready to read it. I have scanned it to PDF and loaded it to my blog (if that’s a breech of copyright for educational purposes, please don’t fine me, just let me know and I’ll take it down)… so so far, has this been a good experience of flexible learning? I’d say not. And especially when I read the one important line in the reading on page 10,

“Flexible learning is a movement away from a situation in which key decisions about learning dimensions are made in advance by the instructor or institution, towards a situation where the learner has a range of options from which to choose with respect to these key dimensions.”

and those key dimensions, according to Collis and Moonen are:

  1. Flexibility related to time
  2. Flexibility related to content
  3. Flexibility related to entry requirements
  4. Flexibility related to instructional approach and resources
  5. Flexibility related to delivery and logistics


Apart from the lack of accessibility to this reading, I also have concerns about its age – 2001. Pretty short time in terms of paper back publishing, but a long time in terms of Internet publishing… so I wonder how relevant this article could be. Certainly their list of dimensions of flexible learning seems to corner their conceptual framework into learning that is offered by way of Institution and accreditation processes, and would seem not to account for recent developments in social media, informal learning and networked learning and other similar models for contemporary ideas of socially constructed learning.

But a read of the book’s only review in, and the strong recommendation from my colleague tells me that I should put aside these initial concerns and give it a go. So here goes… 20 pages of reading a photocopied, none cut and paste-able text. (I’m such a winger aye!)

The initial thrust of the article is that flexible learning is not just about distance. It seems to come from the author’s experience with teacher training in the field where a common misconception that their learners have is that flexible learning is distance learning with a new name. The chapter goes to great length to try and explain the scope of flexible learning through the first 5 pages without giving a single scenario or example. Where it took 5 pages to speek generally about the features of flexible learning – I think a couple of rich scenarios would have helped me focus more on the generalities of this article.

So why did they do this? On page 2 they state their position quite early on by quoting a fella by the name of Van den Brande back in 1993 ‘There must be more flexibility to meet the needs of the learner, through the adaptibility to different learner needs, learning patterns and settings, and media combinations’. And to approach this statement, the article feels that it is necessary to ask, what is flexible learning first off. I think it is strange to want to ask this question in response to Van den Brande’s statement. I dunno what the context of Brande’s statement was, but it would seem to me that the first question to ask would be why? Why do we need flexible learning?

So, feeling lucky, I threw that question into Google: “Why do we need flexible learning”

Only 2 results and one of them was a casual blog post by me!! Very disconcerting, so to widen the net I removed the quotation marks: why do we need flexible learning and from that I can see the main online proponent for the concept of flexible learning is the Australian Flexible Learning Framework. So I asked the AFLF: why do we need flexible learning resulting in no straight answer and 9 out of 10 of the results being documents in strangely the most inflexible word processor formats!

So it seems to me that there is no easily accessible straight answer to this obvious question? This idea of flexible learning is beginning to take on water…

But surely governments wouldn’t allow public servants to spend millions of dollars on a concept that doesn’t have a straight, voter-friendly answer to what it is…! Even though I am quite distracted by my unanswered question, maybe I better stop asking and focus on the task at hand – reading and responding to this article…

Putting flexibility into practice: opportunities…

Straight away the concept of flexible learning made operational (p13 paragraph 5) stands out at me, as this is what we are continually juggling in the facilitation of this DFLP course. Expressing curriculum ideas in terms that can be turned into manageable options for other participants. In past experience, it would seem that anymore than 1 option becomes an unmanageable thing for the participants in DFLP. We are all busy, mostly full time workers of mature age with many external commitments. This means that most of us would prefer a simple directive on what to do and by when, rather than manageable options of what to do and by when. Especially when the ultimate measure of learning and subsequent accreditation is based on stated outcomes and/or standard units of competency! So once again I find myself back at the unavoidable question of why we need flexible learning…

From p14:

Lessons 1. Be specific! We need to define our terms and express our goals in a measurable form or else progress will be difficult to steer and success difficult to claim.

I don’t mean to be argumentative, but it seems to me that this statement is more applicable to the concerns of an educational organisation, than for an individual learner. Mainly because specific terms, goals and measurables might just as easily limit an individual than it might make their progress and success easy to quantify.

From the perspective of the learner
And it is in the paragraph on p15 that this conflict of interest is articulated in a quote of someone named Fleming in 1993,

Modular structures, credit accumulation schemes, independent learning and so on, can create a supermarket system in which students wander freely, picking up this course or that, having as little contact with lecturers as supermarket shoppers have with anything resembling the friendly village grocer. These changes may empower learners.

I’m not sure I like the analogy in that, but I agree with the sentiment of empowering learners, but as the authors point out, such empowerment can confuse learners… “not all students want to make their own choices or be responsible for the quality of their choices.” p15 para 2 (isn’t it amazing how this discussion always ends up sounding like an early 20th Century political battle between fascists and democrats).

From the perspective of the educational institution
Ah, this article knows the institutional barriers to flexible learning very well. Nuff said

Now I’m up to p17 and the title is Who wants flexible learning? I have a feeling that my niggling question may get partly answered here…

“Students in the normal intake routes, directly from secondary school and resident at or near the physical campus, are being joined by increasingly diverse cohorts. These cohorts are diverse in age, educational backgrounds, experiences, distances in which they live from campus and even cultures and native languages” (Langlois 1997) p17 para 2.

Sounds good, gobal village kinda stuff, but sadly I am not yet seeing this in my own teaching work. I would love to start seeing it more, where the subjects I am asked to facilitate, such as this DFLP course, get attended by people other than employees of the Polytech, and people from more diverse cultural and language backgrounds. Its early days for DFLP though, and we are certainly trying to get the course into that arena, so we’ll see. But I think Langlois’ call is a good one. If it isn’t happening already, then we might add it as an objective for development, as there’s no doubt that having global awareness like this is a useful thing in all subject areas, not to mention society as a whole, so making it possible in our developments will help to make it a reality.
OK, I’ve read ahead quite a bit now. Am getting tired and Sunshine wants to take an afternoon walk (I knew 20 pages was going to kill me off) . I’ve skipped to the conclusion and can detect very little extra in concepts that I might have missed by skimming the final pages. The chapter sums up by saying flexible learning is a complex thing. Well yes, I guess it is, but personally I don’t find that very helpful. I already know it is complex, what I want to know is how to make it simple. So I guess I’m going to adopt that as a bit of a role – attempting to simplify these things that are made almost too complicated.

Do they still read Brave New World and 1984 in Australian High Schools?

I’m of a generation that was pounded with it.

Add to that: Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit 451, Children of the Dust and a particularly nasty doses of Mutually Assured Destruction, and the rape and Pilgerism of a new and true Australian history.

As we approached adult hood (about the same time consumer societies could buy chunks of concrete communism from Berlin), we launched ourselves from stages into invigorating mosh pits of reckless abandon. Only for it all to end when Kurt blew his brains out in the garage (or was it murder? is there a difference?).

We became the suicide children of the sold out baby boomers. But soma saved our shallow souls that day, and electronic rave gave those of us who survived a marching beat to the future. A future that has been sadly hijacked by nazi neo cons and free trade floozies spawned from the last breath of Thatcher punks. Now the perfect rendition of anarchy is the only viable response

I wonder what the world will be like when the suicide children start to take the reins? Have enough survived past the last 10 dark years for this to still be a possibility? Or is the last person turning out the lights not aware of the party that’s been planned?