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The second Permaculture Design Course will be starting up on 16 October. The first one ran reasonably well. We attracted 9 face to face students and 8 online. Both groups dropped off towards the end, and feedback from the face to face group tells us that Sunday all day for several weeks was not a great thing.

We have a small issue of VERY little money to develop this new course. As a result we can’t really get as much done as we’d like in terms of fully documenting the course and all the handouts online. We also don’t have any money to offer incentive to the teachers to use the technology that supports the course.

Kim Thomas AKA Horty Kim has been doing an excellent job keeping the course together, keeping it developing, promoting it and taking inquiries. I help out on a volunteer basis.

This time we are going to need 15 face to face paid up students to be able to sustain the course on a not for profit basis. It is a shame to face the line this early in the process, and when starting off with so little in terms of seed funding, but if we can bring in 15 students, we should be able to argue for the course to run a 3rd time.

We need time to build the reputation of the course. We need time to build a network of teachers with confidence in the technology that supports the course. It will never be a big money earner in Dunedin – nor should it be. This course is primarily about giving Dunedin people (and people online) access to a field of learning that may turn out to be extremely useful in the years to come. We are keeping the price at rock bottom so as many people can access this course as possible, and Otago Polytechnic can build a reputation in the community.

Online participation is of course welcome, and through the participation of people from many places in the world last time, we made a pretty good start on a Wikibook to support the course, a discussion forum, and quite a few videos – not to mention our first permaculture garden for the Living Campus project.


Michael Welsh (of The Machine is Using Us fame) gives us what might seem to be a definitive conclusion, or climax to his powerful anecdotes for the Internet to date. In his video of a presentation he made to the Library of Congress back in June 2008, Michael gives quite a moving account of the phenomenon within Youtube.

A few things trouble me though. Not so much as to want to discredit the video – it is an amazing video and I would love to take Michael’s courses.. but troubling enough for me to want to try and put some form to them here…

Even with Michael giving an account from a “world” view, the Youtube experience is (or has been) a predominantly US or North American experience. Sure, there are several references in the video to an international Youtube experience, and plenty that we can find at anytime, but it is centred around an American experience, company, values, ideas, expressions… I get more than a little uncomfortable when American’s talk about these experiences as though it is a world experience without even a hint of  consciousness about that. I would even say that those of us that do engage in this experience but who are not American, are sympathetic to American ideologies in the first place and so are a kind of diaspora of American values and perspective. As Michael himself would have us think, the technology is shaping our communication, and this one has a strong American accent. I could be wrong, and this no doubt comes across as America bashing (which its not) I’m talking about a sensation I have while watching this video, and a general sense that American intellectuals (and bloggers) do not understand, have little experience of a world outside their own – yet talk in world terms. not a solid idea by any means. More obviously though, is that underneath it all (or over it all) is corporate America. Youtube. The American legal system, and American intellectuals like Michael and most of the people he quotes in the video.Not good or bad, just observable is all.

I would love to see Michael do similar work on other initiatives, like Wikipedia. But it wouldn’t be as profound as Youtube. Part of the emotional impact in Michael’s presentation has to do with the fact that we can easily see the faces and hear the voices of what he is talking about. But what he is talking about is not unique to Youtube. The memes he refers to are present in any other online community, as is the productivity. I would love to see such a study applied to Wikipedia and presented in this way – and not just the English Wikipedia if that was possible. The closest I have seen to date would have to be Jon Udell’s Heavy Metal Umlet

Anyway, this is hardly a well thought out post, sorry about that. The video is great, I was gripped from start to finish, and I think it is an important piece to reflect on in all this social new media scape we have now.

In the past, we had libraries. They could be impressive places (depending on the library manager and her budget). They would house all manor of books, audio, slides, video, and archive materials and collections. Generally, anyone could walk into any library and enjoy largely unrestricted access to any of the collection – for free. So long as they respected the house rules of seriousness, quietness and respect for the items, they were always welcome to browse the collection. Even university libraries would allow anyone to browse their collections too. Some universities would even extend that type of access to empty seats in their lecture. It was a social good – or a way of sustaining a level of society.

But then this thing called eLearning started to happen. eLearning spawned from the Internet about the same time as the dot com investment boom started to take hold. University managers found themsleves caught up in this money fever and the conferences they frequented start talking about ways to leverage this boom. Everywhere people started to think money could be made from information and content, and everywhere people started to invest in the developments of systems that would restrict access to portions of the Internet. The term Intellectual Property started to become popular in unversities! It was a dark time indeed.

The Internet started to split. On one path was the open, distributed, networked (The Web). On the other was the closed, centralised, and delivered (Darknet). Universities went the closed route, on the hunt for more money with the dream of thousands more students, all paying to study from somewhere else and at their own convenience/expense.

Many software developers directed their attention to projects around Content Management Systems (CMS) – largely to serve an inflated dot com market. Developers inside universities modified the CMS to make Learning Management Systems LMS). The universities accessed and spent millions of $ of public money, developing content for their new LMSs. They used this money to create the equivalent of whole new text books, activities, student handbooks, and fancy new media. But instead of housing these shiny new resources in their libraries where traditionally anyone could access and use them, they housed them in their Learning Management Systems, which were designed to restrict access. That access was of course restricted to those who would pay. To access these wonderful new collections, people had to first show they were a paid up and enrolled students – society as a whole would have to miss out. Libraries said nothing because they knew nothing.

The libraries by and large, never saw much of that money that was poured into eLearning. It was swallowed up by new and powerful departments called IT. How these departments could be seen as anything but the core responsibility of a library is just another strange thing in all this story. As a result of this passing over, liraries are what they are today – broken and disconnected, struggling to find relevance. They had a few sporadic and half arsed attempts to scan and digitise the older collections of the library, but they never really had access to the same amounts of money that was made available for eLearning. Digitising library collections was seen as too expensive, especially if the libraries were going to continue to allow anyone to walk in and browse or borrow.

I see MITs Open Courseware as a first step in a return to the traditional social values and responsibilities of the university. It is a first step with a clear head, and now with a few more steps – largely around getting copyright and formats right, we might imagine a university very relevant to its glocal society. Not universities that design technology for restricting access to information and learning, but universities that leverage existing technology to give greater access for many more, at very little extra cost (relative to eLearning), and evidently no loss.

The dot com era has passed, the managers are slowly learning of their mistakes, and a new motivation is taking hold. One of social sustainability through unrestricted access to information and learning. But there’s a new threat on the horizon already. Cloud computing where the centralisation of information could lead to restrictions once again. Cloud computing could be a great thing, used to further that social brief, but we’ll need to keep reminding ourselves of how easy it is to loose our way.

Ski touring with Mike


When MIT publish one it seems.

MIT have published a text called Opening Up Education, but under a copyright license that is one step short of All Rights Reserved. MIT is just not getting the message are they? They are not really about open education at all!

On the other hand, Utah State University in collaboration with the Commonwealth of Learning and individual designers have published the OER Handbook. Available under a free and practically nonrestrictive license, in both a wiki and a printed and bound text on Lulu.

I like to think that Utah followed Otago Polytechnic’s lead when we published Ruth Lawson’s Anatomy and Physiology of Animals text on Wikibooks, with lesson plans and activities on Wikieducator, and a printed version on

We are working on a number of other texts as we speak (not to mention videos and stuff all over the place!), all of it under CC By.

MIT should stop their work in “open courseware” and “open education” or risk influencing a second wave of OER developers to basically construct educational resources that may as well be All Rights Reserved and leave us in a position not much better than where we started.

Risks like the trend that MIT are setting necessitate a project like the Free Cultural Works Definition were it sets out to clearly delineate what is free and what is restrictive. It prevents by way of stating a principle, oganisations cashing in on the hard work of OER campaigners.

In my books, CC By is the only free license.

PS. It was way back in November 2004 we started to get suspicious of MIT

Alex Hayes points to a very interesting recording of a presentation by Tim Anderson, Director of the Department of Education’s IT set up in NSW Australia (Link joke – couldn’t find anything much about Tim online hey!).

In this recording Tim basically comes on board to an approach to ICTs in education that many of us have been crying out for for about 4-5 years now – save the idea of throw away computers! where Tim and DET are looking for ICT devices to provide everyone for under AU$500.. weird Ozzies sounding distinctly prescriptive again… can I use my Asus eee if I want Tim? What about the XOs, will they work? Great to hear GNU/Linux being acknowledge for education at last!

It is interesting to listen to the language being used by Tim, and in it hear the new face of central command. Even more interesting is to listen to the emboldened audience members challenge Tim at the end of his talk. 4 – 5 years is a long time to work under the iron curtain of DET ITD, and to hear them come around to a better way of thinking is great, but bitter sweet in his responses.

Many thanks the Stephan for the recording.


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