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I’m back in Wellington (wish I had frequent fliers set up) for a meeting to discuss a proposed review of the NZ Unit Standards of Open and Distance Learning. The main thing I have picked up from the proposal documents that were sent out prior was that some people would like a name change to “eLearning”. Otago Poly, my colleagues and I are opposed to such a name change, and without hearing the detailed concerns in the proposal, kind of feel that the Units are good and usable still. There are a few minor word changes I think I’d like to see happen – semantic really. If anyone wants to IM me in Skype or Gtalk while I’m here today, I’ll convey any thoughts and ideas from you πŸ™‚


Live webstream of the event.

I arrived late, but intend to find out how Otago Polytechnic’s new IP Policy works with the CC NZ. Our new policy sets a copyright default that uses CC BY – which as far as I can tell, establishes Otago Poly as the first educational organisation to adopt the most open copyright license in NZ, Australia and much of the world. So, its good to be at the launch of the NZ CC licenses and to see how we/it can fit with our objectives.

I’m bookmarking links to Del.icio.us “CCNZ” as the speakers mention them.

We have a project brewing here to create an image database for the Art School. Logically this project needs to eventually scale to other departments as well. Apart from the technicalities of meta data, resources such as storage, and sustainability such as who maintains and backs it up – as always, copyright is a problem. The Art School has thousands of slides they want to scan in and make available to their staff and students digitally, and questions arise on the effects a closed or open database would have on the copyrights of third party (stuff we don’t own).

Funnily enough, it seems to me that the solution to the problem is not to create our own image data base, but to use an already existing database such as Wikimedia Commons. Apparently up to half of the images that we might need to use in the Art School are already available on Wikimedia Commons, including some images that are copyrighted, and the InstantCommons project looks set to increase that number of resources like images. Interestingly it seems that Wikimedia Commons is accepting copyrighted works under USA legislation of Fair Use – which from what I can tell is a bit easier to use educationally than our own legislation here in NZ.

Based on a statement included with a copyrighted image on Wikipedia, perhaps it is felt that if the copy is low enough in resolution to not warrant a faithfully replicable copy, or if a copy that could not effectively reproduce in original scale and in detail, or a copy that could not be used commercially to any great degree, is potentially OK to exist on a Wikimedia project based on the US’ fair use. Interesting example based on a low rez copy of a Clyford Still painting

Also of interest is the Bridgeman vs Corel which a staff member on our image database project has pointed to. In this case, a court has found in favour of a corporation that made copys of a museum’s images of Public Domain works. The Museum claimed that they had put a lot of work into their scans to ensure acuracy, but that claim worked against them because their scans therefore lacked originality and so they couldn’t claim copyright… how would this play out in NZ we wonder? Does it need to play out in NZ if the image is hosted on Wikimedia Commons? Could this extend to copyrighted images we wonder…

I called my mate Stewart Cheifet at archive.org for his take on it all, and through a bit of discussion put it down to this, low resolution, not making money (or fair use), all reasonable steps, no worries [my wording]. I like the refreshing clarity. I would worry more if we had our own database to maintain, but perhaps Wikimedia commons is more clearly these fair use things and so we have a better bet there…

So, what of our image database project? I reckon we should work towards the bigger projects like Wikimedia Commons and help improve that open and very usable database. We should be able to load high rez jpg to the commons for works that we have copyright clearance for – we may even find that a large percentage of the images that we need are already there! As for images that we don’t have clearance on, it seems that being an educational institution we can claim fair use under US law if we load low rez versions and details, the question is do we fall under US or NZ law if we use US services? [I think it is US law regardless – they do after all have the bigger guns and trade “agreements”]. Seeing as we only intend to use these images in research and learning – we probably don’t have a lot of need for high rez images – especially if we include detail images for close ups and the like when we need them (instead of high rez full works). Wikimedia Commons uses a MediaWiki platform which has an excellent range of metadata fields not to mention a proven ability to maintain itself through collaborative editing. Use of Wikimedia Commons dramatically reduces our costs of installing, running and maintaining our own system. Does this stack up?

Of course we would still need to set up a basic internal system for original scans etc. Like a library back up in case we lose access to Wikimedia Commons. Hopefully we would also use a MediaWiki internally so as to remain compatible with the likes of the Commons. But we should ensure flexibility in what database we primarily use, we might want to use Archive.org later down the track if they get a good image database engine up and running, and so the openness of the commons gives us a fair amount of that flexibility for the meantime.

So as always it seems to make more sense to work in with existing projects rather than “reinvent the wheel” as the saying goes. Trouble is that in education, that saying seems to only extend as far as what your neighbour department is doing and not to a more national or even global scale… building our own is reinventing the wheel I reckon.

As I teach and facilitate various online courses this year, a lot of the theories and concepts I subscribe to are getting some hard testing. The biggest challenge I am finding is the expectation for a teacher or instructor while everyone talks about a facilitator. I don’t think someone can be both, primarily because a teacher inherits a significant amount of power and traditional roles that counter act the more neutral and passive presence of a facilitator. This post will be a series of thoughts about this tension, and some ideas on how I can better manage my attempts at online learning community facilitation.

There’s a teacher at the party

I find it is all too easy to assume the role of a teacher if you are an expert in your field, but very difficult to adopt and maintain the role of facilitator to a group studying your field. Many things stack up against efforts to maintain a neutral and passive position of facilitation:

There is this blog and other artifacts that help to establish me as some sort of “expert” or someone with a few years of experience researching and testing the topic of online learning etc, and so a teacherly presence is hard to avoid, and there is an expectation that my experience and expertise should be used to help people find the answers more quickly and efficiently.Β Added to that are the student or participant expectations. People engaging in the courses I attempt to facilitate are typically vocational teachers and trainers by profession and people who have enrolled in a formal course, through traditional administration lines, via a professional development cycle and with very little background knowledge of me or the topic I am asked to facilitate, and that they intend to learn … about. And so, through this set up process they are encouraged to expect the familiar presence of a teacher or trainer, a formal learning venue and everything else that is familiar to a person who has been successful in the schooling experience. Ultimately they are unprepared for the facilitated and individually responsible and self motivated learning environment I try to encourage.

I can understand the expectation for a teacher in a course. Naturally a student who has enrolled in a formal course, following traditional administration channels, paying fees etc and who is of an age and professional experience that is very used to the idea of taught and instructed learning, would expect a similarly efficient, industrial strength, structured learning pathway within the course. But this is at odds with my understanding of facilitation and my principals around individual responsibility, networked learning, and a belief in the importance of deschooling.

So I have a problem.

Either I yield to the tradition of schooled learning and assume the role of teacher, instructor and assessor and forgo the role of facilitator, or I invest a lot more time with these courses and develop my skills as a communicator and become more sophisticated in ways of moving expectations towards a facilitated and individualised learning environment. At the moment, I can’t say I have been very successful at that, there are some things I can see I can do better, other things I have no control over, and then there are things that allude me all together. I am myself caught in a twilight zone between teacher and facilitator. I have years of experience being taught and then some teaching. I’m actually quite comfortable being the know it all teacher, instructing people on what to do with their time πŸ˜‰ I even know a bit about controlling people’s behaviour so as to reflect something I can assess as learning.. but facilitation, that continues to allude me.

When I act as a facilitator I generally ignore all the lead up that the people who engage in these courses go through before they meet me. Mystake number 1. Then I assume an equal role with and between the participants and expect individual responsibility for motivated and expert learning. Mystake number 2. I actively fend off teacherly roles, keeping the structure and prescribed content to a bare minimum. Mystake number 3. Inevitably the frustrations from the people engaging in the courses are expressed, calling for more structure and direction and a more efficient pathway to a learning fix. It is not sufficient to simply establish and maintain communication channels, arrange and negotiate content like guest lectures etc, and assist individuals and groups with their research. The move from teacherly/taught to facilitated learning is complex and time consuming. So much so that I doubt these courses have much of a chance at succeeding at developing a individualised and facilitated learning experience.

Needless to say, teaching and instruction is the much easier path for all involved. Teaching and instruction are well established practices with numerous resources in place to support all involved in the exercise, including implicit and culturally embedded practices like narrative, closure, authority, partitioned knowledge, economy of scale, industrial strength admin processes etc). And almost everyone who is involved has experienced this type of schooled learning so we’re all on the same page in more ways than one. It is very difficult to socially learn in any other way, especially in a formal, traditional, schooled environment. The teach and instruct methods are a safe bet.

But I have been asked to facilitate a learning community. And although I know the word facilitate is being used more than a little loosely by institutions these days, and that the majority of the participants are encouraged to bring with them expectations AND needs of being taught and instructed, I have this idealist expectation to build and facilitate a learning community. All this relates specifically to a course I am attempting to co facilitate at the moment. It is called funnily enough, Facilitating Online Learning Communities. I share the facilitation role with Bronwyn Hegarty and we both struggle with each other and each internally with this tension between facilitation and instruction, cognitive and behaviorist practices and socially constructed ideals… We each have 4 hours per week to do this job, and only a small number of people engaged.

For the most part I think we have been successful given all the challenges. We have managed to move the course out from the limits of the Learning Management System so as to demonstrate the existence of learning communities in online contexts other than managed learning. So far we have looked at discussion forums, email lists, blogs and RSS, wikis and web conferencing. We are beginning to consider social networking sites, virtual worlds and gaming communities… all the participants have a blog, but only 1/2 – 2/3 are active with it, we have curated a series of what we call “10 minute lectures” that include about an hour of discussion, and we have attempted to down play our own presence as experts or specialists.

Unfortunately frustrations are expressed from time to time that relate to the seeming lack of structure and direction in the facilitation of the course, and the apparent over whelming amount of information and technical skills needed to participate. I can’t help but think that a lot of this frustration can be attributed to the confusion between teacher and facilitator, and the expectation of instructed learning that the course admin has encouraged. However, in the apparent absence of a structured course I think it is far to say significant learning is occurring in this online course. Most of the participants had not heard of a blog or RSS before this course, and did not know of the distinctions between social networking sites and blogs and wikis.. etc, none had used a web conferencing facility like Elluminate or Skype, and very few had heard of the world class people we have in for the 10 minute lectures, and we have successfully embraced a number of others late drop ins from around the world who have participated with us along the way. So the learning curve must indeed be steep for many of the participants. There are totally new technologies, new and immature methods, far from mainstream ideals, and very open and transparent communication channels – all 100% online. But dissatisfaction is very present 😦

I find David Wiley’s course an inspiration and a model for those like me who are suspended in the twilight zone of how to teach and facilitate all at the same time. His course is targeted at people who are already experienced with online communication, and David’s reputation attracts a wide variety of people from around the world. His participants are highly self motivated and network learners before they engage in his topics. The course is initially presented instructionally with clearly articulated schedule and expectations in a wiki format. Each topic in the schedule asks the participants to read, reflect and then write to their blog. David then demonstrates facilitation practices once the participants are under way with this. He summarises their work, comments and links people’s posts to each other. It helps that he has some farely well known edu bloggers participating in his course and so the topics and discussions go further and wider than the course participants themselves. I don’t have intimate knowledge of David’s course however, and he may be grappling with his own demons, but it is useful at least for me to see his approach to structure and conduct.

I think, if I am asked to “facilitate” another instance of Facilitating Online Learning Communities, I will follow David’s model initially, and either strongly suggest prerequisite experience, or a pre course for instruction on how to use various forms of core technology, but this doesn’t solve the problem of needing self motivated learners to participate in a facilitated learning environment. It is generally assumed that this ethic emerges after a participant practices blogging and experiences networked connections. This is true for approximately 10 – 20% of the participants I have had contact with, so what of the 80 – 90%? Perhaps this number will decrease as more and more people experience this type of expectation and meet others who have experienced it before.. a bit like the take up of email… or perhaps social networking sites like Facebook or Ecto will replace the idea of blogging and bring us back to group work, which seems to be what we are all schooled to being more comfortable with.. sadly

Plane home to Dunedin is about to board, so I’ll end this here. Just some notes to continue with later.

Grand Dad once said to me, “there are 3 things a man should never talk about: politics, religion and another man’s woman”… Clearly I didn’t take that advice on, or was unable to avoid the numerous lanes into those subjects along life’s path. I think it’s sound advice, if you can get past the harmless chauvinistic overtones, and I think I’d like to add to the list. There are now 4 things never to talk about: politics, religion, education and another man’s woman”.That out of the way, let’s get into it regardless:

I’m preparing notes for a talk I’ve been asked to give at Navcon2K7 and I think I’m gunna have to keep the modernist/post modernist theme going on this one, seeing as it is a conference focusing on generationalism.

modernism and old schools

  1. A state of mind
  2. Fascism
  3. Access DETnied
  4. Memex

Postmodernism and new schools learning

  1. Deschooling Society
  2. Pedagogy of the Oppressed
  3. Groups and Networks
  4. Individualism and the best and worst of times.

Models?

  1. Loganlea State High – Jenny Shale
  2. Catholic School – Greg Whitby
  3. New American School House
  4. Youtube in school
  5. History of Social Software

I’m going to check in with Stephan Ridgway when Sunshine and I pull into Sydney and check a few of these ideas off with him. Stephan is far better trained than I am in the field of sociology, and people from the arts and humanities are hard to come by in education these days it seems. Hopefully Stephan will have some time this arvo to round this talk off somewhat and take off some of the sharper edges that will only get me in trouble with the religious order of schools.