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Sean Fitzgerald alert through Twitter:

Blackboard wins in patent fight against Desire2Learn.

I loath the use of Learning Management Systems generally, but I triple loath an over priced, crappy, monopolising, proprietary LMS like Blackboard.

Boycott Blackboard

If your institution uses Blackboard, do your teaching and students a favor and learn how to teach and learn without it!

Die LMS die is even more true now that Blackboard owns the concept of LMS.


We’ve advertised the Permaculture Design course in the local paper last week, and again tomorrow. We’ve sent promotional messages to email forums, and the good old word of mouth. The course starts in 2 days and we only have 3 enrollments. Are we missing something? Is permaculture an unfamiliar concept in Dunedin? Is our timing wrong? Does the course need to establish itself more? Is the price wrong?

What I do know is that is that our enrollment process we have should have less failure points. As it is now, we advertise, people call a number, they are sent an enrollment form, upon receipt of a completed enrollment form the applicant is directed to the course start location. There are 3 failure points in that process (assuming we have all of our own systems and responses working well).

  1. Interested person has to make contact
  2. Interested person has to fill out and send enrollment form
  3. Interested person has to turn up

In Institutions I have worked at in the past, the advertisement for the course includes the location of the start day with a more or less open invite to turn up on day 1. The enrollments are done on that day and then its straight into it. In such an approach to formal enrollments there is only one failure point:

  1. Interested person has to turn up

And it has a feeling of being fairer I reckon. A kinda try before you buy (an enrollment form does have the sensation of financial commitment).
The local interest in the course is disappointing so far. But on an upside we have had 2 inquiries from California wanting to participate online. Kim, the course facilitator has blogged about this. Our only online promotion has been to make the course outline and schedule openly accessible on Wikieducator. When I asked the 2 Californians how they came across our course literally 2 days after putting it on Wikieducator they said Google.

So at least the name of the course is right, for Californians.

Both are interested in obtaining a certificate in Permaculture Design. Our course is not yet established enough for such a thing, but it is our goal. As is the goal to make it accessible and achievable through distance learning. We plan to use this first running of the course to record presentations, discussions and workshops to digital media for access by the distance learners. At least one of the Californians is keen to participate at this level and to help us get the most out of this effort. It is also our goal to further develop the course and make it attractive to designers generally.

So hopefully we will gain more local enrollments in the course. Any suggestions are very welcome.

Sunshine and I have been in Melbourne the past week visiting family and getting in a spot of rock climbing at Mount Arapiles and in the Grampians National Park.

While in Melbourne we’ve been charging the inspiration cells by visiting various places to do with sustainability research and development. So far we have looked at the use of shipping containers to make shelter in the form of Skinners Adventure Playground, a community garden in St Kilda called VegOut and a Community Environment Park in Brunswick called CERES.

First off we visited a childrens play centre made out of reclaimed freight containers. Container building is something I’m interested in for its portable, ready made, recycled, durable, shelter potential.

Its certainly not a new idea as my bookmarks should show, and Otago Polytechnic’s Product Design School has a lecturer looking into an innovative telescopic concept using containers (no link available sorry), but the crux remains cost. Surprisingly reusing containers doesn’t work out as a cheaper alternative, so I’m still looking for ways to make it cheaper than say, shed based building.

Used container sellers in NZ have jumped in and established themselves as the primary supplier of used containers, and so made the price of a container on par with a shed on a slab! But I suppose the portability and ready made-ness of a container should account for something, but alternative building in my mind is ultimately motivated by ways of reducing the short term cost – I don’t get paid enough to think otherwise. Cutting out the retail point of containers in NZ would sure make a big difference, mass production would too of course, but finding alternatives for fitting doors, walls, plumbing and power would make the biggest difference. Reducing waste, using non toxics, and minimising ecological impact are important considerations along every step of the way. The Skinner’s adventure play centre was built with AU$110 280 which, for what and where it is, isn’t too bad.

After the Skinners Play Centre we went into St Kilda to see how the Community Garden and artist studio space called VegOut was going. Set up in 1998 over a disused lawn bowls club, it is made up of many small portions for community members to grow, build, exhibit, and produce various products from vegies, to grapes, chickens to art. Water restrictions were having a visable affect on many of the projects, but it was over all an interesting space with a very warm, welcoming and colourful atmosphere. We didn’t stay very long, but did manage to get this interview with Salvatori while he was tending his garden.

Salvatori told us there are some 40 similar projects around greater Melbourne like Veg Out and recommended we check out CERES Community Environment Park(the Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies).

So we drove up to Brunswick to see CERES and it was very impressive. It was alive with people doing things. People working in the nursery selling plants, worm farms, pots and mixes; others setting up an impressive aquaculture system of some 6 or 7 dams with hydroponic hot houses, fisheries and things like that; people setting up the market area for the Saturday food stalls; people in the Cafe selling drinks and food to people who walk or ride the council trails to the Park; people setting up the stage area doing sound checks for the evening’s entertainment; about 20 people in teh Bike Shed servicing their bikes or building new out of old; people tending the community gardens which had a distinct Indonesian/SE Asian design to them; recent migrant Burmese building a mushroom farm; and other people off in the distance doing things with machinery. All this we saw in the space of an our before 5pm on Friday afternoon. I was assured that it was busier over the weekend!?

I scored an interview with Noel Blencowe, long term member of the community governance team who gave me 25 mins of his time to talk about what is happening, what makes it all work, the secret spices, and the challenges to sustaining the operation.

I was looking for clues on how we might approach a similar initiative at Otago Polytechnic given our leadership team has given the go ahead to work on the Living Campus proposal. Noel suggested that I go and check out the Victoria University in St Albans to relate to what an educational institution has accomplished in 5 years. We will visit St Albans on Monday. CERES is a very inspiring place that over the past 25 years must have made a significant contribution to Melbourne’s cultural development around sustainability.


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