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Otago Polytechnic lecturer Ruth Lawson recently published her Anatomy and Physiology of Animals text to Wikibooks, with worksheets on Wikieducator.

The work has been listed by wikibooks as meeting the Good Books Criteria and has been included as a Featured Book!

Visual design and layout was by Sunshine Connelly – who sourced theme images from the Flickr Creative Commons.

Bronwyn Hegarty offered advice, support and project management for the effort.

The project was funded by Otago Polytechnic.

I wonder if New Zealand’s Performance Based Research Fund will ever come around to recognising the criteria met, exposure and acclaim?

A printed and bound version is available through, and the Commonwealth of Learning is considering further work on the text to take it to a more global education readership.

Well done Ruth, Sunshine and Bronwyn!


We have done some initial trials in 2 of our courses, accepting informal engagement by people simply interested in our course, and supporting their learning free of charge along with the formally enrolled and fee paying participants. In both these trials, all the informal participants completed the course and enrolled afterwards for RPL. They were free to leave the course at any time, or free to engage at any level. It just so happened that in these trials, the informal participants were actually the most engaged and most motivated in the course. Much more so than the fee paying participants. It would be fair to say that their motivation and engagement carried the course somewhat, where the lack of engagement or motivation on the part of the formally enrolled would have seen it drag considerably. So the informal and free participants actively contributed to the formally enrolled learning.

This approach is not a new idea in this blog, I talked about free learning/fee education early in 2006. It seems like some people in Otago Polytechnic are ready to extend this trial to courses outside our Educational Development Unit. A proposal is afoot to develop 3 midwifery courses into open access courses along the free learning, fee education model. I hope it is accepted, there’s a lot that could be done with open access learning to topics relating to midwifery and child birth.

Way back in 2005 I think it was, I presented a model for free learning and discounted if not free education to Western Sydney Institute of TAFE. It included giving a student a laptop and broadband connection.. I think this would be a great next step for the Open Access Midwifery 🙂 here’s how it goes:

Application: Single mum makes herself known to Outreach coordinator as someone wanting to train at home while looking after her baby. A curriculum is negotiated and it is decided that she could complete competencies in word processing and Internet research, learning online from home. (replace wordprocessing and Internet research with what ever learning outcome you think appropriate).

Issued laptop and network connection: The student is issued a laptop complete with a range of open source software needed to complete her course. She is also given a broadband connection. The laptop and connection cost the Outreach center a total of $1000 per year. (Such a laptop is now available in the NZ market. It is the Asus Eee PC, available at Dicksmith for NZ$599. Good broadband costs $30 per month. Total of package = $929).

Learn online through the wikiCourses: The student has an option to attend face to face sessions to help her with digital literacies and familiarise herself with the devices she will need to use to complete the online course. A range of competency based courses are made available on a wiki, and maintained through International collaboration.

Course fees discounted: Each competency unit has an assignment that requires the student to develop a resource that teaches someone new to the subject how to obtain that same competency. The student keeps notes and loads each assignment to her web journal. When she has finished a targeted number of assignments she submits her web journal for assessment and recognition.

Resources published: The RPL process notes the assignments and any excellent examples are given to the course coordinator for consideration to include in the course wiki. If that student’s work is used in the course wiki credit is given in the form of attribution and a discount to the course fees that are totalled at the end of the course.

Gap Training: Any gaps in competencies are forwarded to the coordinator and the curriculum is renegotiated, encouraging the student to repeat or attend face to face sessions to fill any gaps and achieve the competency.

Collaboration pays the way: When the student has successfully completed all competencies she is ready for qualification. Before obtaining her qualification she must pay her fees, including the cost of the laptop and connection (which she will own).

The final amount owed is determined by: (course costs + laptop and connection) – (assignments used in the course wiki) – (willingness to serve as a mentor to the next student learning online).

For example:

(Course costs @ $1000 + laptop and connection @ $1000 = $2000)

– (4 assignments used $800) – (20hrs mentoring $400)

= $800 owed by student.

Student has bought, teaching services, a qualification and laptop for $800, which could be still further reduced with more resource production and mentoring.

Dave Bremer, a colleague at Otago Polytechnic criticises my interest in using MediaWikis for online learning.

My problem with this is that Wiki’s are just textbooks…

It is true that in the past, and the vast majority of wikis today are primarily reference materials or text books. But over the past 2 years, a few individuals and institutions have been exploring the use of wikis to develop and manage courses, hoping to leverage the benefits of collaborative editing and open access.

Some examples:

Harvard, US: Law and the Court of Public Opinion. An early example of an open access course that uses a course blog, email forum, Second Life meeting spaces, and a course wiki.

Utah State, US: Introduction to Open Education. Inspirational in its simplicity, and a proven success through its primary use of a wiki that blogging students use as a course schedule.

Media Lab, Finland: Composing Open Educational Resources. Inspired by Intro to Open Ed, this course has been developed on the Wikiversity platform that follows the same simple course schedule format for blogging students to follow. Note the numbers of people in the edit history and discussion page, demonstrating the benefits of collaborative course development.

Otago Polytechnic, NZ: Designing for Flexible Learning Practice. Also following the simple schedule format for blogging students to follow, but on the Wikieducator platform. This course uses a course blog for announcements and weekly summaries, and will be using web conferencing for lectures. Note the use of the Wikieducator Liquid Threads (a threaded discussion feature on the discussion page for the course). Also note the Print to PDF feature which came in very handy on the course orientation day.

Otago Polytechnic: Horticulture. This project mainly uses the wiki as a storing house for lesson plans and activity sheets for use in class or by distant learners. It follows Otago’s development structure based around competency units with a library of resources page and activity sheets set as sub pages to each unit.

Otago Polytechnic: Travel and Tourism. This project also follows the Otago development structure of unit pages with library and activity subpages. The teachers in the course are using course blogs for each of the subject areas and simply point to activity sheets on the wiki depending on the needs of the classes.

Otago Polytechnic: Massage Therapy (link to Programme Manager’s blog post update). Uses the wiki as a storage bay for resources and activity sheets with course blogs announcing new things to the students. Has an interesting use of RSS to a start page to bring together all the different courses to create a course hub.

Otago Polytechnic: Anatomy and Physiology of Animals. A text book developed in Wikibooks, with lesson plans and activities developed in Wikieducator for use in different contexts including face to face classes, or courses within the learning management system. The text book has been picked up by eLearning designers in Vancouver and will be developed further on the open licenses, integrating the activity sheets as well.

In all these examples, I think it would be a stretch to call them simply text books (apart from Anatomy of Animals which is quite deliberately a text with activity sheets to support it). It is difficult to avoid creating texts while creating courses however – as evidenced in just about any LMS course development. This is why some of the wiki courses listed here are using the Otago development structure. The structure encourages the separation of information and other reference materials from lesson plans and activity sheets firstly to maximise re-usability, and secondly to assist teachers who are developing there courses on the wikis to think more deliberately about what it is they want their students to be doing, and to create a variety of different activities around a single learning objective for use in different contexts.

More info about Otago’s exploration of wikis for developing and managing courses on Wikieducator.

Brian Lamb points to a very inspiring testimonial for using Wikipedia to teach – from UBC’s Prof’ Jon Beasly-Murray. I hope Brian’s post with Jon’s testimonial will become a useful resource to inspire more relevant content and teaching practices here at Otago Polytechnic.

There is something sophisticated about the various Media Wiki communities I have experienced over the past 12 months. I edit Wikipedia, Wikiversity, Wikieducator and recently Wikinews and all of them have something in them that is entirely different to the other forms of communication I have used (blogs, commercial wikis, video sharing, photo sharing etc). I will never look back to the likes of Wikispaces now, and I’m not entirely sure why..

It could be the political idealism in the communities that sustain these MediaWiki projects.. while that’s attractive to me, its certainly not the key thing in them.

It could be the editing interface that makes it just that little bit more rewarding.. but there is no shortage of people who complain about that, even in the face of the obvious fact that it doesn’t stop a great many from using MediaWiki..

It could be the sense of working with a restricted palette.. a bit like painting with only 3 colours, it can be amazing what can be achieved through simplicity.

But most of all, I think it is the strong presence of people in these projects. People I do not know, but get to know. People in every corner of the various projects. Some of them angels, some of them arse holes, but all of them people, and making it all happen.

Wikiversity user CountryMike has initiated 2 projects that I think should get more attention. They are both reading groups around influential books. The first reading group is around Ivan Illich:Deschooling Society, the second reading group is for Eric Von Hippel:Democratizing Innovation

I find Brent’s (CountryMike’s) blog post says it all, and more…

And this is also what I’m finding particularly interesting lately — how I’m starting to use Wikiversity as my predominant learning environment, call it a Personal Learning Environment if you have to … but also possibly in a form that I’ve not seen discussed in other PLE discourses. The fact that I’m creating projects that I may not at this point have time to participate in immediately, but anticipate that if others do start contributing I will be inspired to participate myself is quite unique I think; it’s as if i’m setting myself and others up a space to potentially learn. But I don’t consider myself a “teacher, i’m more a technologist, but I am a learner and I want to learn in communities where-ever possible so what better way to facilitate my own learning than by creating a space where a community can form around, in this case, a text?

I just wish sometimes that I wasn’t in the education sector, that all around me seem to struggle to appreciate the things we see in MediaWiki projects and ideas like these.. but as Brent says, in time – people will find these projects, just like I have, and in time they will gradually prove their worth.

They first have to become curious about something like Wikipedia.  Then they need to be so bold as to create or edit Wikipedia. Then they need to find and engage in discussion with other wiki authors, and then they go out with curiosity for the other MediaWiki projects, and so on. That is how it has been for me, over a course of about 2 years.

I recently explored Wikinews and wrote up the Al Upton scandal going on in South Australia this month. I have already met an administrator in Wikinews and discussed a few things, but most of all I marvel at all the quality news work going into Wikinews.. I am learning quite a bit about journalistic writing there actually, yet to put it into practice. It is by far a superior news source than edited paper/garden mulch.

I hope my experience will scale over to some of the teachers I am showing Wikieducator recently. Wikieducator is a MediaWiki like all the projects I’ve mentioned here, so the skills they learn in Wikieducator will transfer to Wikipedia etc. It would be great to see some of them branch out into the other MediaWikis and explore their voices there. It is something entirely different to blogging. Far less individualistic, much more collective and patient. I good vibe if you’re listening.

BTW, I don’t mean to suggest, by way of the image above, that Sunshine and I are vibing for polyamory. I just like the image in relation to this post 🙂

Samuel Mann was in the local paper recently announcing the Living Campus project we are starting up here. We’re aiming to be developing sustainable production systems and living/working spaces with community education value. There will be produce gardens for medicinal purposes, fibers pigments and other materials, eatables, natives, functional.. all designed with sustainability and educational value in mind, hopefully following permaculture design principles as closely as possible.

While the project IS very exciting, and I love the fact that I am working in an organisation that is at last taking bold steps in this direction, a few things in the article sit a bit off for me. “First for Australasia” comes across as a bit of an arrogant/ignorant statement in my view (I know Sam is not, and the reporter probably quoted a bit out of context), but there are many projects in the region that are very significant, such as the CERES project I visited in Melbourne recently, not to mention some significant efforts in New Zealand. I think it will be a stronger statement if in future we acknowledged the efforts going on around us, especially those that we can say are inspiring our own efforts, and thus make ourselves well grounded.

It also concerns me a little that the CEO was quoted as saying that WITH national funding we can have this project up within a year, or WITHOUT national funding in 2 years. [correction. The quote is: “Government funding would enable the Polytech to “break the back” of the project more quickly, meaning it could be completed in 2 years. Without the funding it was likely to take 5-7 years…] Its great that we are going ahead with this with or without external funding, and the CEO was probably referring to just the set up time, but I reckon we should be talking big[ger] time lines when setting expectations for our sustainability projects. The CERES project, which from what I can tell is Australia’s flagship in terms of environmental and sustainability education, has taken 25 years to get to where it is today.

I think if we hope to get our project right, then we are going to have to spend 2 years just strengthening our engagement with the community and projects around us, drawing in the many experienced people in Dunedin to participate and inform our plans. I’m sure we are doing this, but we probably should mention our connections and references more in things like this newspaper report.

In terms of the importance of genuine community involvement, there were a lot of messages for this in the video interview I recorded with Noel Blencowe, one of the CERES governers.

I haven’t had any feedback on my plan to build connections through events in our community, but I plan to represent the proposal to the managers myself and see if I can’t get resources and approval to lead it, as I think it could compliment the Living Campus project quite a lot.

But the main thing is, its great to see our Living Campus project getting big bold committing statements behind it. That’s what we need.

So I’ve been going along to the Sunday sessions for the Permaculture Design course, where we now have 11 face to face participants and 5 online participants.

In the face to face sessions we have been focusing a lot of time on the principles and ethics of permaculture. I agree that these need a lot of time and they are quite inspiring ideas that could be applied to just about everything we do (even organisationally), but I get a sense that the face to face participants might be feeling that the course is moving too slowly and that they would like to start getting into more tangible activities.

I’m really glad though that the online group is there with us. Their emails and blogs have given me a lot of motivation to research and maintain the course wiki and related resources, which in turn has kept me feeling as though the course is very active. However, because the face to face participants seem to be not participating online, they may be feeling that the Sunday sessions aren’t moving along quickly enough. Today Kim and I spent a few minutes showing the face to face groups around the online work being done, so I hope some of them will come on and start putting more into the course so that they may get more out of it, but I suspect that that is not what they expected when they enrolled in the course.

So far we have the course wiki that includes the course schedule and links to any media recordings we capture throughout the course, as well as a discussion page that captures the latest from the online participant blogs (we’re still waiting on 3 more). We have also started a Permaculture Design textbook over at Wikibooks that would at first appear to be all by me, but I’ve simply been copy and pasting the handouts, and some of the notes from the participant blogs as a process of my own study in the course. The text will hopefully evolve into a self sustaining resource for many others to use once it reaches that critical wiki point. And there’s an email forum running for people to keep in close contact if they struggle with anything other than email.

What has surprised me is the level of interest that was quickly expressed by people from Portugal to Vermont, and how web savvy they all are 🙂 It turns out that international interest in permaculture is quite high, which is easily verified by the extensive network of websites and media over the Net for it. With the the online participants helping us to use this pilot course to develop online communication channels and information, we will hopefully have a certificate level course soon, with an online study option, that will help enhance and sustain the face to face course.


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