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I’m making steady progress in building my ideal learning space in Second Life. Konrad and Jo have been wonderful in teaching me building skills, and very patient with my insistence to use real life proportions and limitations. Although it has been 2 weeks, I have only been able to give 5 hours to the project so far.

As I said I would do in my initial post about this project, I have applied permaculture design processes and principles to this project, and thought of the space in Second Life as though it was a real space in real life. I very much enjoy the permaculture design process for its holistic, even universal design ethic – and given its focus on sustainability and self sufficiency it is also very timely in todays world.

My first step in this process was to produce base and sector analysis maps to determin what I am working with in terms of the available space, and what resources are on hand. Here is one of my drawings for that first step:

Then I decided to focus on the building design, and for this I’m using discarded 20′ shipping containers as the basis of the building. Shipping containers are great to work with. They are readily available for reuse, reasonably cheap, structurally sound, transportable (obviously), durable, and come in remarkably good dimensions for proportioning an efficient living and working space.

Using containers in this way is certainly not a new idea, and I’ve been tagging all the websites I find that contain information about other people’s building with containers. From what I can tell though, my design is (or will be) unique in that it aims to retain the functional qualities of the containers. I am trying to work out how to make it so that all the materials and objects that are used in the build can be packed inside the containers, and that any modifications I make to the containers will not compromise their structural integrity, or ability to be transported.

So here’s where I’m up to:

Ideally i wouldn’t have used so many and such high piles as they are expensive and make quite an impact on the environment, but given the proximity to tidal waters, I really don’t have much choice.

Konrad and I had a long discussion this morning about my emphasis on sustainable and self sufficient design and how it relates to the idea of an ideal learning space.

To my mind, nothing these days should be built or developed without careful consideration of these sustainability issues. Nothing ever should have been actually! But regarding the challenges of designing a learning space, I am thinking to use these primary sustainability considerations within a frame of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Its obvious that if people’s basic survival needs are not being met, then they are not in a very good position to be learning things beyond what it takes to survive. If they are stressed, hungry, or uncomfortable, then we are hardly in an ideal space for learning about abstract concepts or developing new skills. Or if the learning space itself is struggling to pay out money for energy, food, or waste management, then it too is in less of a position to commit to learning. And so it is with a real world sustainability and self sufficiency approach that I’m considering these needs.

Also, I don’t believe that institutions are the ideal place for learning. Actually, I think it could be proven so… Instead, I’m going for a family home.. but one that can accommodate up to 15 people if need be.

I’ve been thinking about Pacific Island, Maori and Aboriginal people and their strong family and community values. In Australia and New Zealand, State housing has been criticised for using the 3 bedroom nuclear family idea as a basis for its developments. They failed to appreciate the extended family values of some of the people who would be using those houses, and arguably contributed to the breakdown of important forms of social support for those people. Actually, I don’t think it is only Pacific, Maori and Aboriginal people that have suffered this disruption through architecture and institutionalisation. I’d say all cultures have at some stage had strong community and family values, its just that the dominant culture at the moment has institutionalised itself out of these values (and is suffering for it I believe). Ivan Illich has written extensively on this idea, so I’ll leave it with a link to the memory of his vastly superior work.

So, my design is for a family house that is large enough to host 15 or so people from time to time, but practical as a family home; that is fully self sufficient in providing for its own energy, water and food needs; that is a system that produces no waste; and that uses building materials and structures that are reused, portable and make minimal impact on the area being occupied.

There will be an open meeting on location in Second Life this Saturday and Sunday morning at 11:30am NZ time (11:30pm Friday and Saturday nights UTC).

SLurl for the Virtual Classroom parcel on jokaydia II

New Zealand’s collective student debt is approaching NZ$10 billion!!

Lets take a look at the cost of living for a student in Dunedin per week and get an idea of how crappy this situation is.

Weekly cost of living

Rent = $100 p/w

Energy, Internet and telephone = $75 p/w

Health = $20 p/w

Food = $100 p/w

Car = $80 p/w

Furnishings = $20 p/w

Clothing = $20 p/w

Social = $50 p/w

3 trips home per year = $30 p/w

Savings = $50 p/w

Stationary, computing and text books = $30 p/w

Student fees = $50 p/w + 40 hours p/w

TOTAL COST OF LIVING PER WEEK = $625 per week

Weekly income

Student allowance (if eligible) = $150 p/w

20 hours casual work @ $12 minimum per hour (resulting in a 60 hour week when combined with study time) = $240 p/w

TOTAL INCOME PER WEEK = $390 p/w (Gross!)

Weekly short fall of $235 per week. Totaling $12220 annually!!

So, let’s drop the car and savings… weekly short fall now = $105. Totaling $5460 short fall annually.

I guess we could keep chipping away at some of those weekly expenses.. who needs a social life, or trips home (or away), or health… and I guess they could work harder than 60 hours per week, or sacrifice some of that study time to work more, or find a job during the semester breaks to pay back some of that short fall (provided your landlord, food market, and all the others can stomach giving you credit until then. What about student fees? Let’s take a look at that…

Looking at student fee in relation to cost of course

A 3 year course at $12000.. what is the cost of running a course for 16 people per year? (Class sizes are one of the big reasons you would study at a Polytechnic btw.. imagine 350 people or more in a class, I struggle to see the value in university fees..)

Teacher @ $60 p/hr x 20 hrs p/w x 40 weeks = $48000 per year

Classroom and amenities = $4000 p/y

Internet and 16 computers = $32000 p/y

Other specialist learning resource fittings = $6000 p/y

Administration = $4000 p/y

Library = $6000 p/y

SUBTOTAL ANNUAL COURSE COSTS = $100 000

Less Government subsidy of around 70 – 80% = $30 000

Divided between 16 students = $1875 That’s less than half their fee!
(that subsidy figure needs checking.. it is really had to find)

Now, if we consider that in the breakdown of weekly student living costs – included in that is a computer and Internet. That might suggest that we could scale back our provision of such things (ignoring for now the fact that most students probably choose to forgo that cost in their struggle to survive here) and reduce the cost of the course considerably further (especially if I am out with that subsidy and course cost estimate).

But students would still be being forced into debt.

So what could we do in the way of free learning, fee education to afford more flexibility – save another $40 per week? And what could we do with other Government grant money to provide computers and Internet at affordable prices for students – save another $50 p/w? And what could we do with Open Educational Resources to reduce text books and library costs – save another $20 p/w? And what could we do with distance education so as to offer options for avoiding Dunedin costs of living – save another $100 p/w?

I don’t think we are thinking hard enough on what we can be doing to help address this serious social problem affecting the quality of learning in NZ. We have students who have little choice but to study and work 60 hour weeks, racking up and worrying about debt, and/or reducing their standard of living well below what I would call acceptable. I dare anyone to take a tour of rental properties in Dunedin.

[blip.tv ?posts_id=799509&dest=7973]

Rachel from Renaissance Underground and Gallery in Ravensbourne, Dunedin NZ talks us through good composting and worm farming

No sooner than Konrad Glogowski has finished his PHD (that I’m really looking forward to getting a copy of) and his into another really interesting project, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it!

Jo Kay has provided a space for the Virtual Classroom Project on Jokaydia in Second Life, and Konrad will mentor me in building and programming graphics and media so that I may attempt to build my ideal learning environment.. in 1 month!

I admit to feeling a little overwhelmed at the idea.. where do I start? do I have any ideas? what if my ideas suck? but Konrad has a nack for no fuss, getting it into dialog that helps me just forget all that and give it a go.

Here’s an audio recording I took of Konrad explaining his idea to me when we met in Second Life today – on location. Just from those few words, my mind was racing with ideas and potential.

Here’s Konrad’s official blog post that launches the project. More ideas from that to! I really enjoyed Konrad’s idea to use a hot air balloon for small group discussions. I have been on that balloon too, and I agree, it is great to watch the virtual world go by while you have a general banter with the person in the basket with you.

But personally, I am most inspired by the chance to explore ideas for building in real life. I’m aware of some criticism of using Second Life to mimic real life, mainly around the idea that Second Life can offer so much more than the physical limitations of real life.. and while that is certainly true, its precisely that limitlessness that makes me want more real life limitation.

We’ve all heard the typical response from first time critics of Second Life, “Second Life! who needs a second life!? I have a hard enough time dealing with real life!” and while that response can be frustrating to people who try to encourage people to use the platform for things, there is an element of truth in its over all dismissal.

Real life needs so much work, it is so wanting of good ideas implemented, and almost impossible to get new ideas tested! So, my design will focus mainly on innovations for real life, that include room for Second Life too.

The first thing I am going to do is deploy as much of my newly learned permaculture design methods to build a solid base for testing some ideas for sustainability.

Using a classic permaculture design process, my first step will be to draw up a base map. This outlines what is already in the space. It can be easily covered by a simple aerial photograph – such as the one we already have of the project space. As well as what the space already contains, it also include diagrams of what hidden things are present too, such as services and existing resources etc.

Second is a Sector Analysis. What are the people movement patterns on or near the space? What is the tract of the sun and other energy forms? What are the temperatures? Are there any pests and diseases or similar problems to keep in mind? Where are potential energy and resources coming from?.. things like that.. all of this can be perceived in Second Life – believe it or not.

And thirdly, the design. Based around zoning and elements. Elements being the buildings and objects in the space (also designed in a permacultural way), and zoning bing the interrelation of elements, resources, people and the inputs and outputs. Zone 0 is the living space, 1 is the first line or production and needing the most amount of tending, 2 is the second line and needing a little less, and so on.

Now, Permaculture design is typically applied to practices of subsistence and market gardening and farming, but I’m interested in exploring its application in all production processes and living spaces. So here goes with applying it to a learning process and space that will include production and living of course.

As for a learning space, I want to put some thought into what would be feasible in a local community today.. I’m not sure if it will be a space for an Institution yet. But I’m looking for efficient use of space and resources; space design that is conducive to inquiry learning and skills training; and with every single aspect serving some form of opportunity for learning.

In the next 3 days, I am aiming to have at least the first 2 drawings done, and possibly some of the design. I will draw up the base map and sector  analysis, and possibly make a start on design ideas. I will then load the drawings into the space as giant blue prints to walk over and talk about with Konrad. Konrad will help me locate or build the resources I need and help to document the process.

I’m really looking forward to this, and is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Many thanks to Konrad for offering me the mentorship, and to Jo Kay for the use of Jokaydia and no doubt a lot of her time too.

Hillary Jenkins, programme manager for the Diploma in Applied Travel and Tourism has been accepted to present a talk and panel discussion in London this July, as part of the Fifth Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning.

Hillary has been working hard over the past 6-12 months, developing open access course information and resources on Wikieducator, with course blogs to interface with the online resources.

At the moment the course runs mainly with face to face participants, but is gradually building the capacity to support distance learners, and flexible learning opportunities.

The wiki course is as always a work in progress, and Hillary’s team are doing a good job at keeping 2 steps ahead of their students (its a precarious life teaching!), but her paper is available here, where you can get a quick overview of the background, progress, issues and concerns.

Well done Hillary, and the Travel and Tourism team.. good luck in London.