You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2007.

I first saw Andrew Odlyzko’s article Content is not king in Vol 6 Num 2 of the journal First Monday in 2003 or something. First Monday has consistently delivered many a mind altering experience for me, and even 6 years later it is worth revisiting this Feb 2001 article. In it Andrew makes an almost prophetic argument for the time.

In the following sections I develop the argument that connectivity is more important than content. The evidence is based on current and historical spending figures. I also show that the current preoccupation with content by decision makers is not new, as similar attitudes have been common in the past. I then make projections for the future role of content and connectivity, and discuss implications for the architecture of the Internet, including wireless technologies.

At the time of Andrew’s article, Learning Management systems were being used by educational management to bash the early adopters of the Internet into line and force them out of their DIY Internet projects and into template driven, organisation wide Learning Management Systems. I was called in to create high cost “Learning Objects” that the students would use instead of text books and analogue distance learning materials. The teacher took a back seat, always waiting expectantly for the content, always quietly skeptical that anything online would change what they do. To claim that content was not king at that time was something of a challenge to the likes of me who’s income was being made through eLearning content production, and to the managers who were blindly redirecting massive amounts of money into new content production. We hardly took notice of this argument, strangely nor did the displaced teachers…

Around the same time Dave Wiley produced the Reusability Paradox which was another spanner in the works articulating a persistant frustration being felt by content producers and elearning developers. The content wasn’t being used!!

It took me another 2 years to see the writing on the wall, and when Web2 / socially networked media / user generated content came along in 2003/4 I began to see my escape route.

Today, I recognise a connection in Andrew’s argument that content is not king, and Illich’s Deschooling Society – Chapter 6, Learning Webs. In Learning Webs, Illich also argues for investments in connectivity before content. I also recognise through the Illich connection that this argument has been going on for quite some time, and is not likely to get resolved anytime soon. Even with such stark and plainly obvious proof like email, SMS, blogging, online learning communities, and content-less courses that it is connection that is of more value to people.

So today, the struggle to appreciate these arguments goes on. At Otago Polytechnic we are investing in Flexible Learning. A considerable amount of that investment goes to Internet based content production unfortunately. We bicker and fight about this nearly every day. I myself spend a significant amount of time developing content, even though I am experienced and aware of the reasons why not to. To balance this plain as day risk we are also trying to get our teachers (and students for that matter) connected as well, but it is harder to quantify or see the results of this than it is with numbers and screens of content.

What does “getting our teachers connected” mean? It means helping them to appreciate Internet connectivity beyond content access; it means encouraging them to blog; network online and find others in their field, make contact, communicate, form learning communities, connect. It means extending the already familiar and tangible notion of face to face contact to an online and hence always connected context. It is very hard work, and very difficult to develop, especially when we can have very little say in the infrastructure that supports such an effort here in New Zealand.

A quick look at NZ Internet stats

My sense tells me that these stats reflect a reality in Otago that we fail to fully comprehend in education. And when we’re talking broadband, we should probably expect low speeds, low data caps, poor reliability, and shared computers to be further impacting all through that 33% broadband. How can we facilitate connectivity in the way I’ve described with infrastructure and take up that produce these stats?

Connectivity is our biggest challenge. Both infrastructural and behaviorally. Content is hard to justify when at least 67% of New Zealanders have very limited means to access it.

I plan to find out more about the KAREN project, and how it is promising very fast internet connections between universities and other nodes throughout NZ. At the moment the KAREN project seems to be focused on its application in research and formal education, celebrating stories of video conferencing between research groups, and distance education into schools. I want to find out if anyone has proposed distributing some of that connectivity out to communities. Something along the lines of South Australia’s Air Stream project, would possibly help improve both access and uptake of broadband connectivity, and help introduce an appreciation of wireless in the region. I’m not sure how big the KAREN is, but if a portion of its use could be made available for free community wireless across the region, I think that will go a long way to improving connectivity.


Ah yes Graham, I share your.. story.

As  Alahka puts it in your comments, you can lead a horse to water… or as I have exhaled from time to time, flogging the dead horse that died in the trough!

I think though, it is incentives and time we need to encourage and support those teachers to first use the tools for their own learning. If they can’t do that, then I’m not sure we should be risking their incompetence on the lives of others who are either coerced into their charge, or pay huge fees for their services.

Here I am, on a lovely and sunny Sunday morning about to commit to another day of good old digging in my back yard. We have a steep section, and I just seem to end up doing a lot of digging in it. Mainly to terrace it off and make flat spaces for the day I organise a TALO swapmeet over at my place.

Anyway, yesterday I had the bright idea to break out the old MP3 player and load it up with some audio. I’m not a big fan of music, though I do have a huge collection of very nice tunes from CCMixter, but I crave insights, ideas, debates and stuff. So I had a quick hunt for some audio, and all I found from the news reader was this recording from Australia’s Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)’s Radio National Law Report looking at Creative Commons (silly buggers took the audio recording away!!) But apart from that, I found very little.

I can’t remember who (Brian, D’Arcy, Alan) ah! it was Alan who is also noticing the drop in podcasting, but reckons audio publishing is still going strong. Just to be clear, I’m referring to education stuff – sorry to be a bore..

In 2005 when I was super keen on audio recordings from conferences and the like, it seemed that everyone was putting stuff up. At the time podcasting was the flavour flave, but that’s not the way I found my listening. At the time, and still to this day, my internet access was always limited by data caps, and every month I seem to go over that cap. At NZ$49 per month I can’t really afford to upgrade, and nor can I afford to subscribe to podcast feeds that will load me up with stuff without me being able to say yay or nay to it before hand. So, I’ve always simply reviewed the synopsis of the pending audio recording before deciding whether to load it up.

Back in 2005 is when I discovered the mighty Stephen Downes and his near over whelming amount of audio recorded presentations. I guess I could have another listen to those again… they certainly are worth reviewing. It was through Stephen’s recordings that I found myself in all this edublogging anarchy. His ideas, ethics, and principles struck a cord with me and gave me the voice I was looking for. At the time I was hungry for more audio, and did a lot of listening of many others during the long commutes to work I used to do. I still remember getting totally freaked out in the van as a I drove home one wet and misty night, listening to eLearning Queen’s recording of her thoughts about Boliva’s El Luison. I still get shivers..

But now I don’t commute so much, and don’t really have so much of that valuable time for listening, contemplating, reflecting etc. Today though, I have a very large hole to dig, and it would be a perfect time to fill my ears with the ideas of SD or anyone else of similar presentation / ideas / ethics / political caliber (in other words, worth listening to). So I have the dusty old MP3 player plugged in, I’m trawling the news reader, but its largely empty of audio! I actually have to go out and search for it! That’s a big change from 2005. Before, if people weren’t publishing their own audio, then they were pointing to it. Now, it seems very few people that I have in my reader (some 300 or so) are doing either.. is my experience common with others? Have we all lost our time for listening? Lordy knows I still pump out a lot of media, and audio is still right up there, most recently the 10 minute lecture series about online learning communities, but I can see that they have had only a few downloads… perhaps we are all slowin down (or is that speeding up) to a point where audio is just not high on the agenda..

I’m sure its just me.. I’m sure its just a reflection of how long its been since I updated my subscriptions and that all the tired and used up old edubloggers I’ve been reading for the past 3 years are starting to lose their energy. Or its because I haven’t defended my listening time from the encroaching administrivia that I have stopped watching out for it.. either way, this morning, its a searching I will go…

I met Tony Hirst on Facebook. He had made a nice little RSS reader FB application for Open University courses and helped me make one for Otago Polytech. Luckily I grabbed his blog before I ditched FB and all the contacts I had made in it. But I’ve been so slow in keeping up with my reader that I haven’t been watching Tony’s work.. until tonight! Man!! Talk about some tricky mashup! Check out his Yahoo Pipe that effectively turns Yale’s Open Courseware pages that have no RSS, into an RSS feed! I have a new found interest in Pipes. But if you struggle to see the importance of that how-to, check out his How-do-I video search tool! Nice work Tony

I am having trouble getting my comments to appear on Teemu’s blog, so I’ll post them here and perhaps drag other’s into the debate kicking and screaming 🙂

Teemu Leinonen posts an interesting summary of an idea for a presentation at the next Future of Learning in a Networked World non-conference. As an aside, I really like the connection between criminals and FLNW people 🙂 I like that alot in a strange type of way…

In it Teemu re-enters the networks and groups debate positing that networks form groups and that groups learn non formally as apposed to informally and therefore networked learning equals non formal learning. I might have got this wrong, so you better read Teemu’s post and set me straight if I have.. Harold Jarche come’s in on it as well.

If I have the right end of the stick then I wonder, does it follow that networked learning be non-formal? If we take Teemu’s analogy of people who identify as criminals 🙂 They are networked by virtue of their occupation or cultural setting, they network by way of the legal system, the places they frequent, or the people they harass. They group based on common interests and complimentary perspectives within this cultural setting. Some might form a small group around the idea of drug production, others around a robbery, others around gang violence.. etc. It is in this group setting that they form within the network that they learn non formally. It is no longer at this point, networked learning.. The network part is separate to the group part and so is separate from the non formal learning part that Teemu tries to connect with networked learning. Networked learning and non formal learning can appear to be connected if we look at networking . grouping and learning as a sequence, but they are not necessarily… networked learning (and so the informal learning) is more like the hidden curriculum Teemu and others refer to elsewhere. It is the intangibles that emerge from the network or cultural setting. The formation of groups. The grouped, non formal learning is different.

So, for example – the edublogasphere.. is a network of bloggers writing about education. They are networked by virtue of their common use of the Internet and blogs to communicate.. but they are not grouped at this point. They learn from each other still, but it is more distant than in a group or non formal learning process. FLNW is a group that emerged when nodes within that network connected and more strongly bonded to a point where they wanted to meet around a common objective. But the learning that goes on in that group is different to the informal or hidden learning that goes on in the networks. So to imply that networked learning is the same as group or non formal learning is not recognising the difference between a network and a group.

Ah…! here we go again 🙂 it is an interesting discussion and I hope we are all willing to have another belt at it.

I reckon it rests on what we find acceptable to call a network 🙂 I am happy with a network being a largely ungrouped, informal and mostly distant connection between individuals, information, media, groups and other nodes. I suspect that Teemu is not happy with this. I wouldn’t call my group of friends a network, and I recognise the people in FLNW less as a network and more as a group with a different set of benefits to me, mostly friendship!

The pub is another interesting analogy that Teemu makes in the comments to his post. I might go to the pub as an individual for the chance to be around other people and talk about what ever.. the quality of Finnish beer perhaps.. for me at this point as an individual entering the pub, this is a type of networked learning and is very much informal. Later, and maybe after quite a few rounds of Finnish beer I might find myself in a group, learning in a whole different way. Likely (being a Finnish pub, I will find I am with a group if criminals! 🙂

It is the same as if I go to the blogasphere and set up my own blog to talk about education. I don’t really mind who I meet and talk with, all I hope to do is connect nodes of information, ideas, media and even persons for some obscure benefit to something ill-defined.. curiosity. I could happily exist like this for the rest of my time on the blogasphere, or I could reach in further and attempt to make stronger connections and even join or form a group such as FLNW. Through such a group we might develop shared objectives and learning, but at this point the group exists where before it did not. I think this is where the two forms of learning are very different (but equally valid) in one hand we have a networked learning and largely being informal, in the other we have a group learning and largely being non formal.

I think it is important to make this distinction because we are all very used to forms of group and non formal learning like classes and schools, families, and group identities, and very few of us learn how to exist and benefit in a network, and perhaps at times needlessly look for a group to join. I think our lack of appreciation of networked and informal learning is a blind spot in common understandings of learning and education.

What follows are notes and to-do lists for the Horticulture course developments here at Otago Polytechnic.

This course has 3 elements to its development

  1. Developers blog that documents content being developed, research in her subject area, and notes on her own professional development.
  2. Production of instructional media in the form of videos and slide presentations
  3. Wikieducator development in the form of a course page, resource lists for each topic, and learning activities for each topic.

Progress on the developers blog has developed into a personal and humorous account of Kim’s adventures in this project. Clearly Kim has become confident in publishing both video and hypertext to the web and takes pride in her abilities to do so. Kim has kept regular notes on meetings, and development work. Of note is the move from having a media expert in to record and edit instructional videos to her DIY and ‘on the fly’ videos. In my opinion the DIY is ultimately the most sustainable model of content development, involving media skills equivalent to other teacher skills sets such as photo copying and slide presentations.

To do:

KT: Focus on designing learning activities for each of the learning objectives in the course and post initial ideas to her blog. Seek out ideas from other teachers, and seek feedback to own ideas

LB: Continue to provide support in teh form of comments and ideas for activities, and instruction on how-to manage publishing of media.


Progress on media production

An extensive collection of video has been produced, ranging from DIY to expert, and covering many of the topics in the course including chainsaw maintenance, pruning fruit trees, weeds management, nomenclature and health and safety. Points of note:

Videos are currently available on as well as the Internet Archive with the Internet Archive automatically optimising the videos for dial up and broadband download and streaming.

As well as video, some slide presentations have been loaded to more to follow.

Photos and images continue to be loaded to Flickr with a view to the comment and note features of the Flickr site being used in activities.

To do:

LB: List all videos in the resource pages for each learning objective on the wiki

LB: Assist with optimising available presentations ready for loading to Slideshare.

KT: Use videos, slides and photos in learning activities. Keep talking with Leigh about ideas and capture ideas to developer blog


Progress on the Wikieducator

Progress on the Wiki has been on the whole slower than planned. Some concerns from other teachers in the department about how open the course content should be recently caused a sense of uncertainty, and learning activities used by other teachers has been difficult to obtain. This has effectively left one person to gather or create resources and devise learning activities causing progress to be slow. The structure of the course content on the wiki is reasonably complete.

To do:

LB: Continue working on the structure to simplify navigation and to place less emphasis on the formal aspects of the content such as the unit pages.

KT: Continue writing up learning activities for each of the objectives, drawing from the resources and add them to the developer blog and/or the wiki

LB: Monitor progress, offer suggestions and help write activities. When all learning objectives have 2 or more learning activities, incorporate them into the course page so as to help simplify navigation.


What follows are notes and to-do lists for the Travel and Tourism course developments here at Otago Polytechnic.

The course has 3 aspects to its development

  1. Content in the form of activities and lesson plans on Wikieducator
  2. Course blogs for the presentation of the activities and the communication around them
  3. Staff blogs for the establishment of online communication skills and industry expertise

Progress on Wiki

The structural design for the wiki is near complete, with usability and visual design commencing this week. Usability and visual design will include:

  • Course pages will simplify navigation to resources and activities.
  • Wording will be made personalised
  • Graphics to enhance attractiveness and offer visual ques for quick reference

To do

  • LB: Learning Objective, Resource and Activity subpages need to be created for a number of new course pages.
  • HJ: Start writing activity pages for all of the learning objectives. Include aim, activity, resources.
  • SC: Conceptualise visual style and graphics for the wiki
  • HJ, SC and LB: Wiki pages for courses starting in February must be completed by mid January ready for use in staff training


Progress on course blogs

All course blogs have been set up on using the courses listed on the Travel and Tourism main wiki page. Graphics and banners are currently being developed for each. Course blogs must be ready to use before start of Febuary.

To do

  • LB: Give Hillary admin access to all blogs
  • LB and SC: When course pages on wiki are finished (check with HJ) copy content onto course blog about pages
  • HJ: Focus on finishing the course pages in wiki
  • SC: To develop a number of banners for each blog for consideration by staff


Progress on staff blogs

4 staff have set up blogs on wordpress and are currently exploring the features and learning how to use them effectively. Some of the staff have set up RSS readers and are starting to check each others blogs and comment in. When blogs start to reach a competent standard, active networking will begin.

To do

  • LB: Check in on blogs and offer support
  • HJ: Provide incentives to staff blogging
  • SE: Continue to support learning
  • HJ: Coordinate intensive learning sessions throughouut January and February


2 movies for the Sustainability film nights:

The Story of Stuff. 21:00. Movie for all ages looking at consumer economies and sustainability

Followed by

Kapitaal. 6:10. Animation about media

There is a pretty awesome discussion going on over at Wikiversity called Wikiversity is dead, long live Wikieducator. Needless to say, such a statement would raise the emotions of anyone involved in either of the projects, but thanks to the rational tone set early by JWS the discussion has been very productive. I’m just posting my response here for my own record, but I highly recommend anyone who is interested in the two projects should check it out…

What an excellent discussion! —Leighblackall 21:42, 13 December 2007 (UTC) Thanks to CountryMike (Brent) for pointing me into it. And thanks Cormaggio for mentioning the post and discussion from my blog. I’m someone who works in an educational institution and am trying to build a critical awareness of FOS software, content and practices. It is a bit of a hell ride and I sometimes long for the freedom of freelance. In 2006 I started using Wikiversity to build content for the teacher training we do. Pages for blogging, RSS, wikis, podcasting, video, tagging etc. Almost all these things are very foreign ideas to the teachers I work for 😦 I started adding links to our institution’s support, formal courses and qualifications and started to get a little flack from a Wikiversity user. At the time I was feeling very sensitive to criticism because I get it daily from people in my institution who are reluctant to consider FOS software, content and practices in their teaching. I constantly need to demonstrate worth and prove it. When criticism started coming in from Wikiversity I saw the writing on the wall.. this was not going to be sustainable. So I needed a space that would be supportive in every way of an institution trying to make steps towards FOS ethics and exchange. Wikieducator became that space. But all along I wish to be part of the Wikiversity project, and the Wikimedia foundation. I posted to my blog the desire for WV and WE to merge and form Wikilearner, but I think I’d like to retract that. I agree with CountryMike and Teemu that WV should focus on building online learning communities as I believe that this will become the most important feature in online learning as content continues to grow in every quarter. Content will also grow out of such communities and that may serve Cormaggio’s concerns for the need for content of WV. So, learning communities should be the focus and the university metaphor (schools, topics etc) should recede. Let Wikiversity become Wikilearner. But what is to happen to Wikieducator? As the stats suggest, it will putter along while the majority gravitate to WV. Wikieducator plays an important role to the Institutions. It offers support for the Institutional culture, but more importantly it facilitates Institutional people into the more free and freelance world of WV – and that’s a good thing. Eventually, I hope to be working a lot more in WV (that will hopefully become more of a Wikilearner) but I can’t do that until the people I work for are ready to see that their content is not as important as their network and the learning communities that may become resources for their students to tap into. So Wikieducator is the interim (and it is already radical enough). As the people I work for become more comfortable with MediaWiki technology, they will start to engage with Wikimedia Foundation projects more. We already have 3 staff members who are writing the Anatomy and Physiology of Animals text book in Wikibooks! You see, as our teachers become as familiar and enthusiastic for the free world as you already are, you will see that free content will become an everyday thing and you will have lost your competitive edge.. we will start to need learning communities a whole lot more. I only hope that the freedom politics that is the more ugly side of the Wikimedia foundation generally will not stifle the growth of community. Many thanks for your thought provoking discussion, I hope I have added something of worth, and I look forward to the day when this institutionalised man may be free with the rest of you. —Leighblackall 21:42, 13 December 2007 (UTC)

So, as I said I would do in my last post, I read the critiques, discussions and reviews of the Cape Town Declaration before actually reading it, and all that did was set me up for utter disappointment. What I expected was a dense and in depth declaration, but what I found turned out to be not much more than 900 word letter to the editor! Sorry if that hits some as a bit harsh, I appreciate the effort, but like Stephen I struggle to see the benefit of it. What it did inspire me to do is check the Wikipedia for any mention of it, and to review the status of the WP entry on OER.. hmm, there’s something the Cape Town think tank could have worked on…

Of course Stephen can’t be the one to ask it, but of the group that was called in to pen the declaration, why was Stephen Downes not one of them? Stephen is on record talking about open education since way back. I see there were some big names included but not our SD! He would have been an extremely valuable (if challenging) addition to the group. But if I know Stephen at all – he probably wouldn’t have accepted the invitation 🙂

So, the Cape Town Declaration – both product and process has let me down… and as if BotheredByBees sensed my disappointment across the Tasman there in Australia, he has posted a link to an article by Ahrash Bissell for the CCLearnin initiative called Towards a Global Learning Commons. It is a fast paced, engaging, and broad reaching article that skims the surface of a number of important issues facing the Open Educational Resource movement.

But I’m equally dismayed that with all its posturing, this article comes to us in PDF only! And a two column one at that!! WTF? Thanks to that, it makes it quite difficult to cut and paste parts of it out or more.. so I won’t bother to speak into it other than to say that it is quite inspirational, touches on a number of important issues, and is an enjoyable read (apart from the 2 column PDF 😦 .

Just get past the usual intro to OER (but do read it), and focus in from the Problems and Solutions part on. From my experience as someone engaged in trying to lead an institution towards OER, this article touches on some of the issues we face.

But darn it! why did they do that silly PDF thing 😦 and where’s the clear copyright statement on it? Oh here it is: Copyright © 2007 by Educational Technology Publications, Inc., used with permission… jeez!