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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.

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I first saw Andrew Odlyzko’s article Content is not king in Vol 6 Num 2 of the journal First Monday in 2003 or something. First Monday has consistently delivered many a mind altering experience for me, and even 6 years later it is worth revisiting this Feb 2001 article. In it Andrew makes an almost prophetic argument for the time.

In the following sections I develop the argument that connectivity is more important than content. The evidence is based on current and historical spending figures. I also show that the current preoccupation with content by decision makers is not new, as similar attitudes have been common in the past. I then make projections for the future role of content and connectivity, and discuss implications for the architecture of the Internet, including wireless technologies.

At the time of Andrew’s article, Learning Management systems were being used by educational management to bash the early adopters of the Internet into line and force them out of their DIY Internet projects and into template driven, organisation wide Learning Management Systems. I was called in to create high cost “Learning Objects” that the students would use instead of text books and analogue distance learning materials. The teacher took a back seat, always waiting expectantly for the content, always quietly skeptical that anything online would change what they do. To claim that content was not king at that time was something of a challenge to the likes of me who’s income was being made through eLearning content production, and to the managers who were blindly redirecting massive amounts of money into new content production. We hardly took notice of this argument, strangely nor did the displaced teachers…

Around the same time Dave Wiley produced the Reusability Paradox which was another spanner in the works articulating a persistant frustration being felt by content producers and elearning developers. The content wasn’t being used!!

It took me another 2 years to see the writing on the wall, and when Web2 / socially networked media / user generated content came along in 2003/4 I began to see my escape route.

Today, I recognise a connection in Andrew’s argument that content is not king, and Illich’s Deschooling Society – Chapter 6, Learning Webs. In Learning Webs, Illich also argues for investments in connectivity before content. I also recognise through the Illich connection that this argument has been going on for quite some time, and is not likely to get resolved anytime soon. Even with such stark and plainly obvious proof like email, SMS, blogging, online learning communities, and content-less courses that it is connection that is of more value to people.

So today, the struggle to appreciate these arguments goes on. At Otago Polytechnic we are investing in Flexible Learning. A considerable amount of that investment goes to Internet based content production unfortunately. We bicker and fight about this nearly every day. I myself spend a significant amount of time developing content, even though I am experienced and aware of the reasons why not to. To balance this plain as day risk we are also trying to get our teachers (and students for that matter) connected as well, but it is harder to quantify or see the results of this than it is with numbers and screens of content.

What does “getting our teachers connected” mean? It means helping them to appreciate Internet connectivity beyond content access; it means encouraging them to blog; network online and find others in their field, make contact, communicate, form learning communities, connect. It means extending the already familiar and tangible notion of face to face contact to an online and hence always connected context. It is very hard work, and very difficult to develop, especially when we can have very little say in the infrastructure that supports such an effort here in New Zealand.

A quick look at NZ Internet stats

My sense tells me that these stats reflect a reality in Otago that we fail to fully comprehend in education. And when we’re talking broadband, we should probably expect low speeds, low data caps, poor reliability, and shared computers to be further impacting all through that 33% broadband. How can we facilitate connectivity in the way I’ve described with infrastructure and take up that produce these stats?

Connectivity is our biggest challenge. Both infrastructural and behaviorally. Content is hard to justify when at least 67% of New Zealanders have very limited means to access it.

I plan to find out more about the KAREN project, and how it is promising very fast internet connections between universities and other nodes throughout NZ. At the moment the KAREN project seems to be focused on its application in research and formal education, celebrating stories of video conferencing between research groups, and distance education into schools. I want to find out if anyone has proposed distributing some of that connectivity out to communities. Something along the lines of South Australia’s Air Stream project, would possibly help improve both access and uptake of broadband connectivity, and help introduce an appreciation of wireless in the region. I’m not sure how big the KAREN is, but if a portion of its use could be made available for free community wireless across the region, I think that will go a long way to improving connectivity.

Update:

We have a project brewing here to create an image database for the Art School. Logically this project needs to eventually scale to other departments as well. Apart from the technicalities of meta data, resources such as storage, and sustainability such as who maintains and backs it up – as always, copyright is a problem. The Art School has thousands of slides they want to scan in and make available to their staff and students digitally, and questions arise on the effects a closed or open database would have on the copyrights of third party (stuff we don’t own).

Funnily enough, it seems to me that the solution to the problem is not to create our own image data base, but to use an already existing database such as Wikimedia Commons. Apparently up to half of the images that we might need to use in the Art School are already available on Wikimedia Commons, including some images that are copyrighted, and the InstantCommons project looks set to increase that number of resources like images. Interestingly it seems that Wikimedia Commons is accepting copyrighted works under USA legislation of Fair Use – which from what I can tell is a bit easier to use educationally than our own legislation here in NZ.

Based on a statement included with a copyrighted image on Wikipedia, perhaps it is felt that if the copy is low enough in resolution to not warrant a faithfully replicable copy, or if a copy that could not effectively reproduce in original scale and in detail, or a copy that could not be used commercially to any great degree, is potentially OK to exist on a Wikimedia project based on the US’ fair use. Interesting example based on a low rez copy of a Clyford Still painting

Also of interest is the Bridgeman vs Corel which a staff member on our image database project has pointed to. In this case, a court has found in favour of a corporation that made copys of a museum’s images of Public Domain works. The Museum claimed that they had put a lot of work into their scans to ensure acuracy, but that claim worked against them because their scans therefore lacked originality and so they couldn’t claim copyright… how would this play out in NZ we wonder? Does it need to play out in NZ if the image is hosted on Wikimedia Commons? Could this extend to copyrighted images we wonder…

I called my mate Stewart Cheifet at archive.org for his take on it all, and through a bit of discussion put it down to this, low resolution, not making money (or fair use), all reasonable steps, no worries [my wording]. I like the refreshing clarity. I would worry more if we had our own database to maintain, but perhaps Wikimedia commons is more clearly these fair use things and so we have a better bet there…

So, what of our image database project? I reckon we should work towards the bigger projects like Wikimedia Commons and help improve that open and very usable database. We should be able to load high rez jpg to the commons for works that we have copyright clearance for – we may even find that a large percentage of the images that we need are already there! As for images that we don’t have clearance on, it seems that being an educational institution we can claim fair use under US law if we load low rez versions and details, the question is do we fall under US or NZ law if we use US services? [I think it is US law regardless – they do after all have the bigger guns and trade “agreements”]. Seeing as we only intend to use these images in research and learning – we probably don’t have a lot of need for high rez images – especially if we include detail images for close ups and the like when we need them (instead of high rez full works). Wikimedia Commons uses a MediaWiki platform which has an excellent range of metadata fields not to mention a proven ability to maintain itself through collaborative editing. Use of Wikimedia Commons dramatically reduces our costs of installing, running and maintaining our own system. Does this stack up?

Of course we would still need to set up a basic internal system for original scans etc. Like a library back up in case we lose access to Wikimedia Commons. Hopefully we would also use a MediaWiki internally so as to remain compatible with the likes of the Commons. But we should ensure flexibility in what database we primarily use, we might want to use Archive.org later down the track if they get a good image database engine up and running, and so the openness of the commons gives us a fair amount of that flexibility for the meantime.

So as always it seems to make more sense to work in with existing projects rather than “reinvent the wheel” as the saying goes. Trouble is that in education, that saying seems to only extend as far as what your neighbour department is doing and not to a more national or even global scale… building our own is reinventing the wheel I reckon.

Barbara Deu rounded up the troops to support her presentation to the Merlot Conference in New Orleens last night. She had the main conference wired in with a SecondLife conference and a Webheads VOIP and chat conference all at the same time. There must have been 40 or so people online joining in the conference.

Barb gave nice talk on networked learning – slides and audio – and then handed the mic around to a variety of people coming in from all over the world to give a brief sentence or two on networked learning.

Finding my way into the webhead channels was too hard for me – something to do with that olden style free ranging that Webheads do, and being 1 in the morning for me I just needed something easy. So SecondLife it was, and my first go at the new voice feature.

It was really something actually. Jeff from WorldBridges did a great job relaying the audio from the Merlot and Webheads conference through to SecondLife via his Avatar’s voice. We in SecondLife all sat around Nick Noakes’ famous campfire and listened in on Barbs talk while we chatted amongst ourselves.

I was really impressed with the quality of the sound and the usefulness of the effects (surround sound with close and distant effects) how engaging it was to be in there supporting Barb as one of many. SO much better that Elluminate, and successfully bridged between the haves and the have nots. I could feel Barbs nerves though! I was nervous! but it all went well, topped of by a nice little Banjo playing (I could have heard more though 🙂

So, hats off to you Barb, not only did you give a great talk, you successfully brought your network in with you and gave something tangible to the conference goers to see what it is you are talking about with networked learning.

Janet Hawtin has posted an idea that really gets me thinking. We should combine the literacy skills of online and offline researchers and communicators.

Because these are subtle and personal customisations for specific contexts this means they are diverse. As a community we are developing social skills around finding and filtering for our own personal purposes the collective diversity available. I think this is where literacy exchange comes in.

I think Janet’s idea is a great one! I know I am guilty of forcing people into a very narrow range of research and communication technologies (blogs, wikis and RSS of course), and this naturally frustrates people who are accustomed to other ways of researching and communicating. Meeting professional researchers and communicators who don’t understand these technologies is frustrating however.. but as Janet says, it would be beneficial to draw on a diverse range of literacy skills, more, it would be very important to actively seek out this diversity and support it.

I think Janet’s idea relates to my idea of using analogue media along the lines of socially networked media so as to bridge digital divides.

There is lots to explore here, and Janet’s suggestion is something I might add to my list of objectives when facilitating learning communities. That list?

  1. Losing the teacherly voice
  2. Linking analogue media and communications with digital networks
  3. Supporting and promoting a range of research and communication literacies
  4. Establishing networks more than groups
  5. Supporting long term learning communities
  6. umm

Ken Burgin from Profitable Hospitality just posted a useful heads up to the Tourism and Hospitality Education Network this time to the Jing Project from Techsmith. Tis worth watching their video tour, though it didn’t stream down too well for me – dunno why they wouldn’t post it on Youtube and see it spread faster..? When I saw this, I thought back to the communication I was having with Techsmith back in October 2005. I haven’t found any attribution to me and the ideas I was conveying to them there.. maybe they’ve never heard of Creative Commons or maybe talking to me was so long ago and the Jing Project has come a long way since.. oh well. At any rate, it looks like a pretty neat little application.. if only I could post the recordings to Youtube and other video sites as well as their own…

Personally, I think I’ll stick with my tried and true method for creating and publishing screenrecordings.

  1. Camstudio (free and open source for Windows) for the screenrecording
  2. ScreenHunter to quickly grab stills out of the video and make a print version
  3. Videora or SuperC to compress the video for Internet
  4. Hey!Spread to distribute the video across multiple video hosting services

You can catch examples of my work at http://screencasting.blogspot.com (not all of them have the print out extras though)

I’m having a great old time with Slideshare’s new audio synch feature. Have been reviving old presentations from 2005. Here’s ye old Networked Learning with a nice soundtrack from Melissa Welch.

People who know me, know I am loathed to use self hosted services. Apart from myself forgetting to pay the bill for domain names and poor-service hosting servers, and so losing webpages and files that I didn’t backup, I think it is important for education to be as in touch with popular media and platforms as it can be. Setting up your own, at-times-monolithic systems, entrenching work practices around them, and giving teachers a route that leads to disconnection, dependence and non transferable skills is something to avoid as much as possible.

In saying that though, I remain all on my lonesome and am yet to hear of an educational organisation in (Australia or New Zealand at least) taking advantage of the storage and services on offer at OurMedia and Internet Archive, or using socially networked platforms to any formal status, taking advantage of Blip.tv services and saving 10s if not hundreds, maybe even millions of dollars on their own yet to work alternatives.

But here I go, about to describe a semi in house set up that I think we need. This set up will hopefully inter-operate with the social platforms and take advantage of all the best has to offer, but for mainly internal issues and copyright concerns, we need a system that spans the divide. One that will give us a cake and let us eat it as well.. whatever that stupid saying means..?

A MediaWiki

We need a media wiki with all the coolness and functionality you can get into the thing. It has to embed youtube, google and blip movies, it has to hold widgets and iDevices, take many html tags, it has to be able to hold a Google map, it needs survey tools, flickr badges, slide show, embedded audio, RSS and all the other things I haven’t thought of.

Looking at an impressive list of MediaWiki extensions, there is potentially a lot on offer, and the work of Alex Hayes and Chris Harvey on the Learnscope wiki promises to demonstrate a lot of all this functionality. The wiki we need has to allow for quick, easy mashups, 1 hour before class, by the skin of my teeth! and we need to be able to move that mashup onto other publishing platforms and formats quickly and easily. More a more detailed wish list, see ideas for wikieducator.

Distributed upload

We need to be able to load a movie (and every other file) to our own New Zealand based file server, and have the option to load it to YouTube, Blip.tv, Archive.org and the National Library… maybe more. The first file to load in the embed frame on the wiki is the local one. If that goes missing then the next available one needs to load, and so on. If that can’t be done easily, then at least a list of alternative locations should load if the local file doesn’t. This is what I mean by distributed upload, and it was inspired by the awesome services on offer at Blip.tv. Distribution like this is not just about backup, it is also about networking and collaboration. Distributing files out gets better visibility. Better visibility may lead to more reuse. More reuse leads to attribution and recognition, that in turn leads to networks and collaboration. The Brazilian teacher who has been using your movies in her class (sourced from Youtube – not your server) calls you up to talk about a student exchange idea… you point her to wiki and things get started…

Copyrights management

Our platform will hopefully default to CC BY but enable individual resources to have any copyright license needed. MediaWiki already has good handling of multi license content, so we need data recorded on what licenses are used on how much of our own content, and in the case of external content used on the wiki, we need records of what content is used other than our own and what the copyrights are.

On the file server, we need to be able to turn on or grey out functionality depending on what license is selected for a resource. For example, if I am uploading a video to the file server:

  • I need to option to publish or private with the ability to ID users who can see it if private
  • I need to be able to set a copyright from all copyright options (most free first and default right down to restricted). If I choose a less free license I start to lose features, like the ability to distribute, the ability to embed in the wiki, the ability to have it reformatted and backed up on other servers etc.

That’s it for now.

Come on Toto… There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place…

I wonder what sort of attention that title will bring? I’m actually rephrasing other people’s dismissal of my arguments regarding Share Alike… so please read on to get a clearer picture.

I have recently discovered the seemingly incurable headache of copyright ideology within the free content circles. I have a problem with Creative Commons Share Alike – or not so much a problem with the license, but a problem with a user generated content publishing platform that uses that license as its default and practically speaking its only workable option!

I’m talking about Wikieducator in this instance, but I guess my issues will apply to any platform using a copyleft legality. Copyleft as it turns out, seems to be a type of free and open copyright license that aims to grow free content. In otherwords, as the Share Alike plain English statement goes:

  • Share Alike. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under the same, similar or a compatible license.

So you should be able to see the intent of this. It is to stop free content becoming closed by third parties. It is a mechanism that some believe will grow free culture. But does it?

What are my issues then?

Share Alike (SA) does not work in education because:

1. Our tertiary and vocational education institution is sometimes in a
training partnership with a business or industry that may require us to mix
learning content with commercially sensitive content (such as blue prints to
machinery, patented product designs, or anything that the partner still
perceives is necessary to remain restricted in access and copy). If we were
to mix any SA content with the partner’s content and redistribute (even on a
small scale) we would be expected by the SA content provider to re-release
the derivative under the SA license, but the partner would understandably
not want to do this because they perceive (rightly or wrongly) that doing so
would result in a loss of income and competative advantage. Result? We will
not mix SA content. To keep things simple, we will use SA content at all
because we will never be able to tell at what point we may find ourselves in
this position.

2. Our tertiary and vocational education institution works with a local
Maori Iwi (clan) named Ngai Tahu. At times we may be working with culturally
sensitive materials that the Ngai Tahu leaders prefer to restrict access and
copyrights to only Ngai Tahu people. We may wish to mix materials in with
that, [such as generic training resources on say – chainsaw maintenance, but with local context] but cannot re-release under SA because of the valid concerns of Ngai Tahu.
Replace the Ngai Tahu example with any culturally sensitive
group or individual and (rightly or wrongly doesn’t matter) we have the same
situation. SA is not usable.

3. We have a large database of materials created long before CC or copyleft
existed. Photographs, video and audio of people demonstrating things. These
people signed release forms for using their image and recording for specific
purposes, and the release did not mention anything about the right for a 3rd
party to remix. We can’t mix SA content with these recordings, because we
don’t have the right to re-release the derivatives under anything but a C or
CC BY No Derivatives – due to the old release contracts.

I want to make a strong reinforcement of what I am trying to say here. SA doesn’t work for educational content. Software is different, encyclopedic articles are different, the needs and purpose of education are very different to the success flags of free software and free reference materials. But I don’t expect that will be clearly understood unfortunately. The problem is compounded by a majority of education and elearning developers who – despite claims otherwise – think of educational content as text books and more or less static content. The 3 examples above are only 3 of many more I can think of, but hopefully it goes some of the way towards articulating where these differences lie.

Now, if you refer to the Wikieducator debate (largely between myself and one or two others, with the odd support for me) my efforts to articulate the issues are largely dismissed as illogical rhetoric. I am at a loss at to how it is rhetoric – or why people would think that I would want to use rhetoric or even want to have this argument! The 3 scenarios above are common, almost daily concerns for me and the people I work for – so how can it be rhetoric?.. I guess I need to get the people I try to represent to speak for themselves on this rather dense issue.. but the frustrating thing is that for anyone who works in my type of environment, these situations are obvious! Why my argument is illogical is of more of a concern however. Either I am missing some very important point in the counter arguments, or I am a very poor communicator when engaged in discussion lists. Which is probably why I am writing here now, in the relative comfort of my blog.

But I feel savaged! Listen to this surprise interview sprung on me by a Wikiversity participant. I joined the audio broadcast to listen to Alex Hayes talk, but when Alex didn’t show, the host turned the recorded mic on me. I knew the host had things to say about me and my arguments against copyleft in education, so I agreed to talk and brought the SA issue up – hoping to be enlightened somehow as to why my argument may be illogical or rhetorical. I didn’t expect the savage and unethical treatment though! I truly do not think these issues are being heard or properly considered. And that is why I think some proponents of copyleft hurt free culture.

Our organisation has a draft intellectual policy that is considering the use of the Creative Commons Attribution license. No link I’m sorry – so you’ll have to take my word for it. It is going through internal consultation at the moment. It is not considering the Non Commercial restriction – nor the Share Alike at this point, as it’s intent is to limit the restrictions on as much as possible, and see that we are contributing to educational development as widely as possible. In saying that though, the draft provides a mechanism for individuals and other stakeholders to place restrictions if they wish. They would have to fill out a one page form or something to indicate restrictions on a particular resource, and so the 3 situations I use above to argue why copyleft is impossible in same instances, can be catered for. CC BY content can be sampled, remixed and the derivative even made restricted if the user wishes (with proper attribution of course) but not the other CC licenses. At this point we are not concerned by possible cases of publishers benefiting from our works without giving back, we might be pleased that someone finds a way to make financial gains from our work, but we are also confident that our work will remain ahead, and more usable than restricted derivatives.

At this point I’d like to insert the personal belief that the legal mechanisms of Copyleft are not what grows free culture. As the All rights reserved sector experiences, there is not much that can be effectively done to prevent pirating and unsanctioned use of content, and so the same might be said for Copyleft. Dave Wiley’s story, and Steve Downes’ comment suggest that in some way too. (Certainly David’s article Why Universities Choose NC and what we can do about it shows an appreciation for the difficulties of winning institutional bye-in to free culture). I believe that free culture is growing from itself regardless of the SA and similar clauses. A quick look at Flickr’s Creative Commons database shows a preference for CC BY over CC BY SA by more than 1 million images. Of course I am guilty as always of over simplifying the issue with this little opinion, but I do think it might be an interesting consideration – that free culture is growing regardless of any legal mechanism. I wonder what other Creative Commons data bases reveal? In this age of information explosion, the competitive advantage goes to the content with less restriction. If the only restriction is the requirement for attribution, then I would bet that such a resource will be reused well before another with a restriction of some sort like share alike… and reuse brings attribution – possibly the only thing of worth with content these days.

Now if we start using the Wikieducator platform to develop resources, we have to accept the Creative Commons Share Alike license. A license that is considerably more restrictive than the Attribution license we are preferencing. For the 3 or more reasons outlines above we can not be comfortable with the Share Alike restriction, so using the Wikieducator Platform compromises the re-usability of the resources we contribute. Now, that would not be a problem for the original works, but some of us are actually thinking to use the wiki as a development platform! No more word documents, no more powerpoints, development straight into a wiki. We don’t have a wiki of our own (problems with IT on that) and one of our own doesn’t benefit from the collaborative potential of the more neutral and internationally reaching Wikieducator, Wikiversity etc. It makes more sense to join forces rather than reinvent wheels.

But the default and effectively only license option is a preventative concern. I believe that Wikieducator should use the CC BY license by default, with the option to turn something into SA if agreement can be struck by the contributors. At the moment SA is the default, with possible consideration of the idea that BY will be supported if the contributors to a particular resource agree. But that’s not workable. We need to start with a BY because BY can be turned into SA more readily – or a quick derivative made and turned into SA. This is much more difficult when going the other way. Which is precisely the intent behind Copyleft generally. To make it difficult to do anything other than share alike. And that finishes the impasse – that is not usable in many educational contexts we find ourselves in.

Unfortunately for the discussion, as evidenced by the discourse and treatment of my contributions linked above, the two perspectives don’t seem to be able to find an agreement let alone an appreciation of each other’s position. Shaggy from the TALO email list linked to some history in the debate and shows that it has been going on for longer than when I inadvertently joined the mosh. Now I want out – and will sadly have to reinvent a wheel so that it roles in a way that gets me and my organisation out of this copyright mud and into Open Educational Resources that are as reusable as WE need them to be. Hopefully the MediaWiki developers will find a way to bring the two wikis (ours and the rest 🙂 together in some way, so the shared vision of open educational resources can build and be reused quickly.

I’ve articulated this idea quite a few times around my place of work, but am yet to find any takers willing to try it out. I’ve had some local and rather limited criticisms and reality checks, mostly pointing to external auditing bodies who may technically have a problem with the idea, but nothing strong enough to deter my thinking/delusion that its a good idea. So I’d like to know, especially from the kiwis, if something like this is being done anywhere else, or if you think I’m totally out of my tree and should go back to Australia?

The idea:

Relating to the scenario in What would it be like to be the rain, and especially Learning for Free, Education for Cost – where a person has the opportunity to attend class activities, and complete assessment tasks for free, but to gain certification – must pay a fee. And thinking only in terms of adult or tertiary education here…

The idea is made up of 4 parts.

1. Make ALL learning environments, resources, and assessment activities for a course freely available, openly, without restrictions such as fees and log ins. This obviously creates havoc for many courses, not least the question of how to sustain it financially (which is dealt with in part 4) but more notably is the issue of quality of the resources to be made openly available, especially the copyright clearances of the content to be used. This open and free access can pretty much rule out almost all courses we offer, as the protection of the passwords and fee paid classrooms ensures few people see, therefore few people question quality or copy. So free and open is a good pressure in my view.

2. Break the course down into as small as practical units of study. Make the study of these as asynchronous as possible. Make the units as scalable to as many paths of study as possible. The smaller the course, the easier it is to offer it more repetitively. The more asynchronous it can be, the more flexible the learning of it can be. The more scalable it is, the more value it can have in other areas of study. A person could choose to do the unit in one hit or over several instances and from different contextual view points. Clearly I am still holding onto the old reusable learning object idea here – but less about software, more about learning design.

3. Allow free access to the course. Free access to the learning resources, participation in class activities, communication with teachers and students, and submission of assessment tasks for feedback – all without charge.

4. Keep records of the students who complete assessment tasks including any feedback given, but only award accreditation to those who have paid the fee. Because good records are kept, recognition of prior learning later in a student’s life is streamlined. You can encourage students to apply for scholarship grants or employer sponsorship and the like and having the assurance of a pass based on the free participation will assist in confidence to pay the fee. Accreditation is only awarded when a fee is paid. Students can’t get formal transcripts of their study until a fee (perhaps a smaller fee if only for transcripts) to avoid students learning through you, but taking their transcripts elsewhere for accreditation.

Basically, it is the freeware model with a bit of lock-in marketing. The flexibility it enables a learner means that people can opt in to study (full or part time) without committing to up front fees, or inflexible time tables and course durations. Up front fee paying students stand to benefit from wider participation with others – think youtube or wikipedia scale… and everyone understands that it is the accreditation that the fees pay for, not the learning. The learning is enhanced by wider participation (depending on how well it is managed) so ‘the more the merrier’