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I’m taking leave from the Polytech work to speak at the 2008 Skills Tasmania conference and a couple of TAFEs and Vocational Training services next week. Given the status of the other speakers, I have in mind a talk with equal or more punch than Teaching is Dead Long Live Learning. But I dunno… almost everyone who dares talk to me about that speech seems to have fundamentally missed the point I was trying to make.

On the one hand Tasmanians can be a little parochial (according to Wikipedia editors of the word 😉 and haven’t always taken kindly to outsiders challenging their practices on their home turf. But on the other hand – challenging speeches are what I’m known for and is probably the reason I have been invited? So what to do?

I probably should have been thinking about this talk a lot sooner, but I am just too busy every day (and most nights) with Polytech stuff (I’m getting better with that though) to really be able to think about things beyond my immediate future. So up until now, I really haven’t had a clue what I was going to say. But now I do, I its probably going to be a doozy.

Well, I’ll check with the conference organisers of course, but in the lead up to a conference that they have been spending the last 6 months planning for, they can understandably be a little over cautious and erk on the safe side. And once I get an idea brewing that seems like a good’n to me and my trusted colleagues, I find it hard to let go and change tracks.

I hope I can work this out. I want an opportunity to speak about this in a challenging and political way. It is sure to spark another round of smackdown learning.

Oh, and by th way! While we’re on the topic of Tasmania, controversy, skills and industry:

More info


Konrad has put together a charming video of my drawing in Second Life. It really motivates me to want to finish it more. There are lots of little details that need to be added, not to mention interior design, info signage and life sized avatars to ‘wear’ before entering. (I really want to create an avatar for Ivan Illach and Jean Pain). But my SL building skills aren’t very efficient and we’ve run out of ‘prims’ to draw with.

The video captures the general concepts and I had a thought that perhaps the next resident might be willing to approach the interior design? Detail the actual learning spaces following the general stuff I’ve set down, such as it being primarily a family living space that can be used for group learning for all ages, and following permaculture design principles.

Take a look at the video, see if it inspires YOU.

Otago Polytechnic will be signing the Capetown Declaration on Open Education this Friday 9 May in G106 at 12 noon NZST.

While I and several others are on record expressing reservations over the wording of the Declaration, this signing is more about our expression of support for the spirit of the thing, and reaffirming our commitment to open education formally set in place by our Intellectual Property policy (2007).

Otago Polytechnic has been at the fore of almost every recent step in the international effort for Open Education including significant work on the Wikieducator platform; use of popular and internationally recognised media and communication platforms; developing an Intellectual Property Policy in line with open educational practices; adopting a NZ Creative Commons Attribution copyright license; and ensuring that its spokespeople are very much a part of the dialogue on educational media and communications nationally.

As a result we have featured in international news: twice on; twice with the Commonwealth of Learning, numerous times in educational journals and quite a few weblogs. Many thanks for all this support. Our joining in the Capetown Declaration will see that Otago Polytechnic remains in this spotlight, confirming our commitment to Open Education and our role in leading New Zealand towards a progressive and appropriate future for its educational institutions in our local and global society.

I sincerely hope as many people as possible can drop what they are doing and be there to show support for this act of solidarity and leadership. Otago Polytechnic will be the first education institution in Australia or New Zealand to join 157 other institutions in the Declaration since it was penned September 2007.

jtneil’s alerted me to this excellent article on the academia vs wikipedia issues. What to do with Wikipedia is an article that truly gets it in every way. I could barely contain myself when reading through it! At last, a concise and easy to access summary and idea on how Wikipedia (et al) can and SHOULD fit into academia.

And for an example to lead the way – see Brian Lamb’s reviews of Professor Jon Beasley-Murray at University of British Columbia doing exactly what William Badke suggests.

The KAREN project has started a wiki. This is a great first step to community engagement and genuine consultation. Trouble is, with 67% of NZ not connected to usable Internet, most people probably are not aware of the wiki, or how they might go about contributing to it, not to mention that the development of a participatory online culture in NZ is going to take a few years AFTER we have 80% connected. So the KAREN wiki risks becoming an echo chamber that simply reinforces the direction KAREN has been heading with its handlers. Those in NZ who are connected, participatory and interested in NZ cultural development, please join that wiki.

I’m in there with a lobby page to use KAREN to deliver free broadband access to regional NZ via optics to nodes as far as we can reach, and then wireless mesh from there.

This past month I have been following a friend’s tour of Vietnam. He took with him the highly portable and wireless enabled Asus Eee. Almost everywhere his partner and he went in that famous little country, they had FREE ACCESS TO BROADBAND WIRELESS! What is it that Vietnam has that NZ doesn’t? Community minded government by chance?

If you are in NZ, I hope you will at least add your name to the lobby, or even better – help pad the proposal out. With a good lobby, I think we might be able to steer KAREN in the direction of sharing some of that pipe to offer connectivity to everyone in NZ. I know that will do more for NZ learning than any other project I have seen happening with KAREN.

It is difficult to over state the significance to me of the experience of using Second Life for drawing and networking my learning about architecture, sustainability, and SL rendering.

The simplicity in learning the drawing tools, coupled with the ability to meet numbers of other people in the actual model who would then discuss and help me build the model was a very potent learning experience.

In this blog, I have hinted on numerous occasions my interest in architecture and spacial design. But up until now, I really haven’t found a way to delve into that interest beyond the confines of the education network I have built around me. Books and websites have always been on a level that is just beyond reach, kind of polished, finished, packed with closure, difficult to imagine myself involved in. Talking with people in the architecture and design profession has always been steeped with seeming ego, dogma and expressed limitations on what I should do and when. And following blogs as been a distant and passive affair.

About a year ago I installed Google Sketchup and started using it to bring some of my pencil drawings to perspective. I have used it a bit to plan the renovations on our house. But Sketchup was only another drawing tool, one that is looked down on by the professionals, and it wasn’t long before I was returning to pencil and paper.

What Second Life has provided me with is an easy to master drawing application, along with an instant and willing number of people who would be there for me, who would look at and discuss my drawings as I did them, and who would share with me links and other information relating to what I was doing for the simple enjoyment of sharing and helping. This has been the part missing for me in my interest to learn more about architecture and design.

Up until this point, I have been alone in my room, drawing in my sketch book, imagining the day when I would meet someone who would genuinely engage with my efforts and share with me their own ideas, and involve me in a project. But that didn’t happen, who was I kidding? If the sketchbooks did come out, it was usually in front of some poor unsuspecting person who really just wanted to finish a day’s work, or didn’t really get what I was on about. Or it was on my poor wife Sunshine, who must of by-now listened to about the 100th repeat of my wide eyed ideas spouting from my yellowing old sketch book.

It doesn’t matter if the ideas I had – or the way I was trying to express them were any good or not.. what I’m talking about is the need we all have for encouragement and motivation to improve on and further our own learning. I could have enrolled in a course and paid a teacher to give me that … attention, but even then it would have felt disingenuous and limited by what that one teacher could muster after 20 years of putting up with it.

Instead, the people in Second Life have given me that attention and motivation. From the moment I created my first ‘prim’ I had someone in there with me, offering encouragement and help. And not just Konrad and Jo either (though their help has been immensly beneficial). It includes a group of fun-loving, miss-behaving people on a Friday night when I was up late burning some midnight oil. It includes a large group of people that came to meet me and hear about my project and discuss it and ask questions. It includes a number of individuals I met and who shared their time, advice, prims, links, scripts and contacts just to see me keep going.

At the very least this all gave me a sense of belonging, or a sense of people being somewhat interested in what I was doing. It took away that feeling of being isolated in my interests – that lonely feeling (real or not) of impossibility in finding anyone local who is interested in combining sustainability, Second Life and community learning ideas, and who has the time to go with me on a project for learning’s sake.

The online network I have, they shared objects with me, gave me links I should look at, and passed on contacts of people they thought I should introduce myself to. These people didn’t know me, but that’s just what they did. I often struggle with the comparison we all have to make with our local experiences. Like the times I have tried to talk to teachers of architecture, or design, or sustainability. It doesn’t take those people long before they are looking at their watches and making a way out of my “bright eyed and bushy taled” enquiries. That common response can be very de-motivating to most people. Such is my common experience in the f2f world.. there is no shortage of people expressing that same feeling in some way or another.

Its not just in SL that I can rave about this contribution to my personal learning. It happens everywhere online, and especially in the areas where there is still a relatively small number of people, or a niche area, or an area where there are values and shared beliefs and interests. The online network around permaculture is also very welcoming and generous. The online network that works on Wikipedia and Wikibooks is often ready to share links and help each other along. Bloggers (from the long tail).. the amount of energy and motivation I can draw on from these networks is quite something. Again, how do we reconsile that with the power down in face to face and local networks?

Is this just another form of over stimulation? Are the luddites right when they dismiss online interaction as unreal or false? In some ways they are right I suppose.. no matter how much energy and imput you can gather from an online network, the effect it can have on your actual life is largely limited to online media.. unless of course your network is also geographically local. But for me, every day I log off, charged with ideas and stories of people out there doing it, I’m back in the local.. its power down time and almost everyone ready to give me a dose of reality. Is this a sensation born of over stimulation.. or is the under stimulation coming back from local networks something to address? Which direction do we take into account here and when?

Anyway, I’m ranting as usual, and am probably entirely incohesive.

This amazing project that Konrad has taken me on boils down to is this:

I have drawn a concept for a building I want to one day build, using Second Life and its communities to draw and develop the model.

I have used numerous online networks to research and inform the model, and this drawing is only one step in many for this long term plan I have. That network has given me the motivation to take it all further.

In the process I have learned a lot about sustainable building, drawing in SL, communicating with online networks beyond my normal peers, and in that I have gained new confidence.

Now I am coming to an end with the VirtualClassroomProject, having reached the limitations of the model in SL Jokaydia, and want to take it further.

I have made numerous attempts to connect with a local group who are developing sustainable building designs, but what was that I said about powering down?

I think it will turn out that I will install the model somewhere more permanently in SL and continue to tweak the model, make variations and details, do a costing analysis for a real build, develop a website for it, and continue to try and find useful contacts who I can work with and possibly take something like this further – no doubt I will find them online… I already have one lead in Melbourne!

In the end, this project has helped me to render my private and two dimensional ideas into a public and socially supportive domain. That has shown me things I might never have come to see, and has certainly given me the motivation to go further with these ideas. It is a step in my personal and professional development that has been well worth it, and I thank Konrad and Jo very much for the opportunity and support. Thanks go out also to the people in Second Life, to the people around the Permaculture network, and the people around the Wikipedia network for their role in carrying my learning. I can only hope they got at least half out of the experience as I did.


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