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Did you know the New Zealand Police Act Review is a wiki!? Nor did I, until Cathy Decker (a participant in the Facilitating Online Communities course) pointed to a very interesting video of Harold Rheinghold interviewing Mark Elliot about Stigmergy and citizen wikis.

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I think its been forever now that I have been saying to drop our internal systems and engage with the real stuff… I wonder if I could stretch the message in this research pointed to by SD. Corporate Social Networks a Waste of Money, Study Finds. Guess I better read it…

Sarah Stewart, a prolific blogging colleague at Otago, takes on the health sector educators and their almost neurotic hesitance to take on an open web presence and open education. Getting our knickers in a twist?

I am still thinking about the whole issue of confidentiality and blogging, especially in the context of health practice. And I am wondering if some people are getting their knickers in too much of a twist?…

…To be honest, I do not know if there has been an analysis of the content of blogs belonging to health professionals. So I do not know how much the concerns about blogging and confidentially are based in fact or general impressions.

Sarah and her colleagues have devised a simple test to assess the content of email by Health practitioners.

Liam and I developed an assessment tool by which we were able to anilyse the risk to security and confidentiality ranging from 1 — breach of patient confidentiality — indicating a high need for security and privacy of the email’s content, to a score of 8 which had no need for either security or privacy.

The results? Well, I don’t want to steel Sarah’s lime light here. I really think Sarah and her colleagues are on to something and I hope they take it further and chip away at the common (mis)conception that is quite frankly holding Otago Polytechnic health educators back in my opinion. The almost reflex reaction up until now has been a persistant blockage for health teachers even considering open education, but I’m sure there will be a debate even before the research…

Its been an interesting week. One minute Sunshine and I were 3 days skiing near Queenstown, the next I’m in Melbourne meeting Alan Levine and the NMC gang to talk about why Horizon.au should be Horizon.anz. And then the next I’m in Wellington to meet the team involved in a pretty significant research grant looking at educational uses of Multi User Virtual Environments (MUVES) that will focus on Second Life as a test bed and will probably carry the project name Second Life Education in New Zealand (SLENZ).

The skiing at Coronet Peak was quite fine. Ski Express sell really good deals for resort style skiing, and we used that to get our legs back into form for the season. I really hope THIS year we will get some some back country skiing in with over nights in empty huts, and lovely morning skin ups to glacier heads for an afternoon powder ski back to the hut. Perfect and a fraction of the cost of resort skiing!

Horizon.au was something I was really looking forward to. I don’t think I have ever worked with a team of American edutechs and its something I’ve been looking forward to doing, even if it was for only one day where I was one of many Austalian/NZ participants. I was especially looking forward to meeting Alan Levine, who represents to me everything that is great about American edutech.. get in there and do it, make the most of it, be super productive, experiment, enjoy it, have fun and make fun, be serious sometimes but never all the time, and always be open and friendly. Too often I think, Australian and NZ edutech can become too serious and lose site of some of the more personable reasons we like doing this.. well, speaking for myself anyway – this is certainly the case. But there I go again! Making it more serious than it needs to be. In short, Alan where’s a fine pair of boots and one day I hope to visit Arizona and buy me a pair too, and pace the desert gravel, and size up an Arizona cactus.

The NMC crew (Larry, Rachel and Alan) showed us all a way to power through a serious undertaking like primary research for a Horizon report, in a way that keeps it fun, engaging and creatively productive. I don’t think I have experienced anything like it in the Australia/NZ scene for quite a while – perhaps ever since the FLNW in NZ tour. I think it was Rachel’s hand made graphical abilities that kept me enjoying it.

On the wiki I expressed a concern with the use of the word Australasia to describe the region we were trying to represent in the report. I’m not sure that Australasia is a term that is often used outside Australia, or if the regions it encompasses even feel comfortable with being included in an area defined as Australia and Asia. Apart from that, I don’t think anyone from Papua New Guinea is on the advisory board, and on the face to face day I was the only one from New Zealand. I also expressed a little dissatisfaction with the dot au in the branding for the report, and so proposed that the report be for Australia only. Some discussion continues about this, and its probably just another indication of me getting just too serious with it all. However I do think there are significant differences between Australia, PNG and NZ when it comes to edutech, just as there are assumed differences between North America and Australia – enough to warrant a Horizon.au report anyway.

Its all a problem with generalisation and where the line should be drawn. Most people agreed that Australia and New Zealand are similar enough and that the report would be worth representing those two at least. In the end, I think I was a bit on my own with this so was happy to let it slide to where ever it ends up in the final report. I can’t help wondering though, if this problem is part of a bigger problem, being the break down of our cultural diversity, facilitated by Internet technologies and economies dominated by an American cultural experience and socio political ideology… there I go again, sorry.

And if you’re wondering what technologies the group identified as ones to watch.. well – you name it, it was there! This was a primary research activity where a group of people simply used the 2008 Horizon report as a spring board to cross off or identify new technologies that are likely to have a significant impact on the way we do things in education. Big lists were captured on the wiki, and Rachel’s wall charts were used to vote on the lists. The group was diverse, and I sensed it was made up largely of Australian edtech managers. I found myself disagreeing with more things than agreeing, but I’m used to that (maybe one day I’ll get a grip). From my perspective I think the identified and voted for areas that I did agree on was a rise in the use of web apps and popular media platforms. Things like Google docs and Youtube. There’s a name for it I found out – Cloud Computing. I think utility computing and web services is something of related interest. Virtual worlds seemed to float about in the not so sure area and while many agreed things like Second LIfe have significant things to offer education, most seemed to feel that we’re still waiting for the killer app that brings MUVES into the main. I tried to insist that cheap computing brought about through One Laptop and Asus and their use of open source desktop software will have an impact, but I think what was agreed on is the idea that central campus computer labs will receed within a 3-4 year horizon, replaced by individualised and portable computers like cheap laptops. So many things were identified and discussed and I can already feel myslef projecting my own bias into the interpretation. Here’s the source.

I didn’t get to stay around for after meeting drinks in Melbourne, and instead I was on a delayed flight to Auckland where I grabed 2 hours sleep before flying onto Wellington to meet a few people involved in a project to reseach educational opportunities in MUVEs, specifically Second Life. It was a good meeting going all day, where we orientated ourselves to the project objectives and roles. There will be a project blog set up and weekly informal and formal meetings in SL. Hopefully an embedded journalist will come on and help us document our progress in an accessible and condensed form to the blog.

At the moment the project is entering its literature review stage with some interesting scope. It was agreed that we should make the lit review as wide in scope as possible and include consideration of MUVEs generally, before we focus on Second Life specifically. I was happy to see acceptance of the notion that we observe learning beyond the projects that formal education institutions have set up, and consider learning on the platform as a whole, especially the probable connected learning that may be occuring between Sims (spaces in Second Life) and other platforms or the Internet more generally. I am hoping that if we can tackle this question, we will discover and identify measurable learning (and perhaps new teaching practices) that will leverage the informal and constructivist learning hypothesized as taking place in these environments.

Sunshine and I moved to New Zealand to be a part of what we saw from Australia as a progressive society that has continuously lead the world in things like Treaties, decolonisation efforts, sustainable energy use, banning Nuclear warships into its harbors, applying political pressure on countries testing Nuclear weapons in the Pacific, not sending troops to Iraq, signing the Kyoto protocol, big time adoption of Moodle, and leaders in the development of Open Educational Resources. Of course now that we live here there are hidden details not easily seen from afar, but generally speaking this is a place where progressive action is possible.

Our local news paper reports that Warrington Primary School, not more that 20 kms North of Dunedin, have been quietly chipping away at the idea to migrate all their computers to GNU/Linux and then ask the Ministry of Education to pay their school the savings afforded by not using Apple or Microsoft software in the school. Even better still is that the Ministry are supportive of their action, and the Commonwealth of Learning, upon hearing the news, is extending them support too.

“It’s not just the financial savings. It’s the philosophy behind ‘freeware’, and reducing ‘e-waste’. If a laptop crashed now, it would have to be sent to the North Island for software to be reinstalled. But we can repair systems at the school with a disk, and we aren’t especially savvy.”

I can only hope that the tertiary sector around here will take notice of what this little school is setting out to achieve, and start asking itself why it is not also rebuilding old computers and giving them to people in need; why it is not saving some of the copious amounts of money spent in software licensing and using it to train locals how to be self sufficient and more sustainable; and why it is not teaching business and community how to access and operate free software that might save people and business hundreds if not thousands of dollars, not to mention to reduce computing waste and create new business opportunities in system support and hardware service and sales.Oh, and did I mention that all this helps market ourselves as progressive, which attracts unforeseeable support and resources?

At the very least the tertiary sector should be offering some educational support for free software alternatives, and to my mind it should be of a positively discriminate type to counter the cornered market we have allowed oursleves to become.

Audio

Last night Desire2Learn flew me up to Wellington to meet with a group of “eLearning thought leaders” from Australia and New Zealand. I didn’t know what to expect (and clearly D2L didn’t either!) and was more than a bit surprised to see myself giving a trade mark Leigh Blackall rant to a group of very experienced eLearning managers and directors from some big name Universities! I even saw one of the women who stabbed me in the back at a university I used to work at! That was a brief moment of horror.

I think it went well – I’m waiting on an audio recording to check that. Here’s the question I was asked to address and the notes I prepared on the plane up to Wellington (as a result it is very light on links and references). Thanks to James Neill for some help and feedback in the notes. Here’s the link to the wiki version.

The only thing I regret from the thing is that Desire2Learn perhaps didn’t get what they were looking for and I didn’t get a chance to shake that woman’s hand 🙂

Desire2Learn Roundtable Event 18 June 2008

Question: The use of easily accessible and, in many cases, free social software tools such as MSN, Skype, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Second Life and a wide range of blogs and wikis, has become almost ubiquitous among the so-called ‘Net Generation’. In the context of a growing emphasis on eLearning, most commonly facilitated by enterprise-scale Learning Management System and a range of institutionally managed and supported communication and collaboration software tools, and in an environment of increasing emphasis on intellectual property rights management and quality assurance, how do universities (and other educational institutions) respond to the use of free, open-access tools in common use by their students? What are the potential educational uses of such tools? What are the current practices of use of these tools within educational institutions? What are the issues, risks and hidden costs? What are the advantages and benefits?

Understanding the question

Such a long and complex question needs a little unpacking..

Is the use of “free social software” almost ubiquitous in New Zealand?

Statistics from 2007

Statistics from 2007

Statistics released in November 2007 revealed that 67% of New Zealand homes are not connected to the Internet. Precisely: 33% have no connection what so ever, 34% have connections of 25kbps or less, and 33% have connections of 200kbps or more. Considering that a connection of 25kbps or less can not satisfactorily work with the range of free social media we are talking about, and considering that type of media is increasingly defining the Internet today, and with an expectation that its development will continue to demand more bandwidth into and out of homes – New Zealand households with connections of 25kbps or less should probably be considered as not being connected at all. Therefore a vast majority of New Zealanders are not able to share in the rich social media scape we are considering as ubiquitous.

Non-the-less, what is being documented in more developed regions of the world 9including 1/3 of New Zealand homes), through some research and a seemingly over whelming quantity of cultural output, it is probably fare to say that a certain level of ubiquity is the case in those regions. If New Zealand does address its issues of social equity in terms of connectivity and access, it should follow that we too will share in the experience and social development that is being observed in developed regions.

Is eLearning really growing in New Zealand?

Considering the New Zealand Government believes that digital literacy and basic computing skills are needed by everyone in New Zealand, most people with experience in the field of eLearning would probably prefer that it was by now considered a normal and integrated practice of learning generally, and that a specialist understanding with specialist services be no longer needed to support its development. However, most people in New Zealand would probably agree that eLearning is not an integrated practice, and that the digital literacy and basic computing skills that go with it are far from integrated (surmised from the connection statistics for NZ, and my own personal experience introducing computing and social media to people in Otago).

Most educational institutions still house something like a specialist unit for eLearning related development, and continue to invest in their worker’s developing digital literacy and basic computing skills, and most of the institutions have invested heavily in hardware and software that is believed to facilitate the development of eLearning practice. The fact that these specialist services exist is evidence that eLearning is still considered something beyond ‘normal’ practice in education, and that integration of eLearning and digital literacy and computer skills (like the book, projector, or photocopier) has some way to go yet.

What is an appropriate response from our educational institutions, to a forecasted social media scape?

This question is the focus of our discussion and what follows is an attempt to address the problem through a breakdown of some of the key elements I believe are in play. I propose we start by reviewing the underpinning theories that constitute educational practices – namely the constructivist, behaviorist and cognitivist learning theories; and then follow with a brief critique of educational attempts at adopting social constructivism into behaviorist practices; and then to relate the idea that social media is a product of social constructivism and should be considered in those terms. I will finish with my own view that educational institutions consistently go about their business in predominantly behaviorist modes of practice which is ill suited to any attempt at adopting social constructivist practices, and that we should reconsider education’s relationship to society and learning both historically and in the foreseeable future.

Learning theory

There are 3 pillars to education that can be found in learning theory:

  1. Constructivism
  2. Behaviourism
  3. Cognitivism

These 3 theories are generally believed to be the guiding lights to professional teaching. They are the primary learning objectives in teacher training, and knowing them is proof of your socialisation into the education profession.

In short, the application of these theories might be explained as such:

Social conditions help an individual to construct self awareness and learning through any number of experiences and interactions. Some of those experiences and interactions are designed (such as school) to condition specific behavioral changes that can be measured as learning. An understanding of how minds process information (cognitivism) is what informs the design of those experiences and interactions.

Social constructivism in education – the round shape in the square hole

It might be fare to say that social experiences and interactions are always helping an individual to construct self awareness and learning in just about all aspects of their life. The experience of school, or formalised learning is but one in many social interactions and experiences that form people’s learning. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the political significance we place in formalised learning and education, we focus a majority of our resources there, and do so with seemingly no understanding of informal learning throughout the rest of our lives. Naturally, the educator’s perspective and world view is all about their role in that small part of people’s lives, but in becoming aware of the importance of socially constructed learning they try remodel their behaviorist practices to encompass constructivist approaches.

Typically the approach involves a set number of people we quite rightly call a class. That class is brought into an environment that temporarily separates them from their normal social spheres of family, friends, public, familiar environments, community and society at large. They are expected to attend sessions and are rewarded or punished, either subtly or explicitly for behavior that reflects engagement and ability to express what the teacher has intended them to learn – an inescapable behaviorist reality, and in many cases quite appropriate, perhaps though, not at the scale we currently have it at.

However, along comes a well meaning teacher, perplexed by our understanding of socially constructed learning, who will attempt to design into their behaviorist reality – a sense of social learning! Typically it involves the design of activities such as “group work”, “discussion”, and “role play”. Some go as far as to reward this artificial social behavior with statements of it as learning objectives. This confusing effort to draw out learning within behaviorist realities with artificially social interaction must be causing stress for all involved. It is a crude attempt to develop a sense of social connection inside what is ultimately an anti social environment.

To my mind, the attempts so far – to break down traditional behaviorist approaches with ill conceived social constructivism has so far been crude and confusing. Formal learning is a small part of our socially constructed world, our socially constructed learning can not be squeezed into small, short term behaviorist experiences. It is much like trying to fit a very large round shape into a very small square hole. It is behaviorism over stepping its bounds in an attempt to be everything to everyone.

Web2 is socially constructed media and communications

It is a mistake to adopt the term Web2. It only serves a meaning to those already in the know, and for those who are not, it always needs further explanation. And because its meaning remains a mystery to those not in the know, we rely on inquisitive minds to ask for further explanation. More likely, the term simply turns people away and gives an easy ride for shallow critics, software merchants, and those threatened by what it actually entails. Web2 might more usefully and accurately be termed, socially constructed media and communications or social media for short. Social media as a term captures more meaning than Web2 and is more likely to be relevant to people interested in socially constructed learning.

Now that a connection should be evident between social constructivism and the media scape we have on hand today, it should be interesting to consider how objectionable it may actually be for education to be adopting social media inside its seemingly inescapable behaviorist contexts. If you can accept my argument that social constructivism can not be used in behaviorist methodologies, then with it I would argue that social media cannot be used inside behaviorist media – such as the prescribed media presently used (LMS, system email, content repositories etc).

Social media in education – more of the same

The effort to push large round shapes into small square holes has been a consistent feature in educational adoption of social trends. Most recently in the context of the Internet, Institutions have necessarily de-socialised the experience in an era known as dot com, by setting up its own systems of email, centralised websites, file servers, content management systems, and learning management systems – all reinforced by draconian firewalling, content censorship and ill conceived policy to restrict access and bandwidth. Arguably the initial motivations of this effort were needed, given the deep seeded behaviorist practices of education, and the very costly hardware and software being invested in. That said, the resulting monolithic and parochial services that have been set up at almost every institution were always going to be superseded by utility Internet services – once a suitably large enough market demand was established. That time is now, and many people are finding it more productive and rewarding to be using software and Internet services outside the Institutions.

But with the establishment of a large workforce employed to maintain the local and parochial services, the adoption of so called “Web2” or “Social Tools” – to quote the question, into education is yet more forcing of even larger round shapes into even smaller square holes. The agents who continue this retro-fitting have not spotted the oxymoronic aspect of the idea, nor stopped to consider the wider problem of social constructivism inside institutions of behaviorism. Perhaps even more concerning is that the IT professionals did not factor in the inevitability utility scale provision of services once a market had been established, and did not design exit strategies for their now legacy systems.

Nor has anyone stopped to consider (in these terms) what the result may be in bringing social media into such environments, and how effective it will be or not. Making such a large and chaotic thing fit inside a restricted and limited operation is certain to fail more so than attempts to change the direction of the fitting and to bring education more appropriately out into socially constructed learning contexts and the social change it could entail. What I mean to say is, instead of retro fitting our systems and trying to add features of social media, education should occupy the social media scape. Store videos on Youtube, photos on Flick, and texts on Wikibooks; have teachers and lecturers editing Wikipedia, starting a blog, responding to questions, and generally participating in society’s media. Don’t try to squeeze society and social media into our limited way of going about learning.

That is not to say we should stop offering traditional behaviorist based services, We should! its a good way to learn, but its not the only way, its not even a significant way. If we are truly interested in learning, then we should be looking at ways to engage with the bigger picture.

“…We don’t need no education…”

Obviously a thinking person would not make such a statement without wondering what would become of training doctors, pilots, engineers, trades, researchers, and services; or how to ensure that as many members of society as possible are literate and numerate and have the skills to discover and make the most of learning pathways. Those words are more a challenge to the simple ways in which we in education go about our business – a challenge to behaviorism within industrial scale education systems, that tries to encompass social learning. An appeal to stop and think what is actually happening. Perhaps we don’t need education!

What then might a future look like? A society empowered through social media to more fully develop their own learning along the lines of Ivan Illich’s visions? Workers in tune to informal learning and how to leverage such learning for professional gains? Children permitted to follow their interests and develop at their own pace, under the guidance of trusted and respected adults and peers?

Once again, well meaning teachers will attempt to push these large round shapes into their small square holes because in the absence of a tangible alternative, this is all they can do! Perhaps opportunities should be explored more between the different approaches. How can mainstream schools relate more to homeschooling and the various extra curricula that children do outside of school? Again, this is not to say school should take on those activities – quite the opposite, it is a suggestion that schools (as gate keepers) should look at ways they can recognise and enhance the learning that goes on everywhere else. Perhaps as Jay Cross says, workplaces should invest 80% of its training budgets in supporting informal learning? And what if teachers (of all types) started to occupied space outside their institutions more, and into the social media scape, they would benefit from a fresh perspective of the world – one from within instead of without.

Notes:

This roundtable event will provide an opportunity for eLearning leaders in Australia and New Zealand to discuss these issues. Date: June 18th, the evening before the ACODE conference at Victoria University of Wellington Place: TBD, but will be located centrally to where conference guests are staying Agenda: 5:30 – 6:00pm Welcome 6:00 – 6:45pm Dinner 6:45 – 7:15pm Speaker 7:15 – 8:15pm Facilitated group discussion 8:15 – 8:45pm Large group sharing/Wrap-up Speaker and Facilitators are TBD. Outcomes: A foundational discussion on the current advantages and pitfalls of free social software tools as well as an understanding of how peers are taking advantage of these tools. There will be an opportunity to continue the dialogue through co-authored whitepapers. More details to follow. For questions please contact Kristin Greene

Links

The Dawn of Epimethean Man by Ivan Illich

From the ancient Greeks to a modern New York City child, Illich in 1970 critiques modern society and the drivers of progress as replacing Hope with Expectation. http://www.scribd.com/doc/12437/The-Dawn-of-Epimethean-Man-by-Ivan-Illich

PBS Frontline Special: “Growing Up Online”

A new series from PBS where viewers get an inside look into the worlds kids enter and create online, focusing on the important ways the Internet is transforming childhood and development. The documentary also notes a profound generational disconnect, perhaps the greatest American generation gap since rock ‘n’ roll. Another interesting aspect of the use of technology is the way educators respond to it. The documentary is informative, available for viewing online and provides teaching guides and a discussion forum. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/kidsonline/

The Idea of the University

Australian universities are among the least well-funded in the developed world, and behind the decline in federal funding there can be detected a confusion of purpose – what exactly is the university for in today’s world? Are they primarily about training workers to enter the modern skills economy, or is there another kind of role that the university plays in a democracy?

Downloadable audio from ABC’s Late Night Live with Phillip Adams for the next week or so: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/latenightlive/stories/2008/2272988.htm


Leigh Blackall

+64(0)21736539

skype – leigh_blackall

SL – Leroy Goalpost

https://learnonline.wordpress.com


Mike Caulfield alerted me to Edupunk. I notice Google alerts of my name before I can make time to catch up on my news reader – how sad is that! How my brain has come to a grinding hault working on the ‘inside’ 😦 so.. am I an edupunk?

If I was born 10 years earlier I would have most certainly been a punk.

If I was born 20 years earlier I would have been in the Weather Underground

But I was born in 1975 (great year it was too!) and I’m still looking for an identity… I think, I feel, .. maybe… perhaps I’m a neo anarchist with Derek Jenson. Oh dear, I think I just lost my job and popped myself on the CIA, FBI and ASIO lists.

And so, I am in my mid 30’s and increasingly career concious 😦 living in an era that many believe to be a very significant time, but I have this feeling all of a sudden, that it is all passing me by. Is this what they call aging? Is it a bit sad to wanna be an edupunk?

Mike’s older than me and he’s up with the play, and Stephen Downes is older than me and he doesn’t miss a beat! Edupunk!? WTF is that! Is Mike right, am I included without having to do anything like sign up or register?

Stephen summarises it nicely, and I can’t think of anyone more Edupunk than Blamb! Do I wanna hang out with people like this? Hell yes! Even if does mean ignoring oximoronic elephant in the corner, Education and Punk – as one of the commenters to Downes points out:

Oh, please. What’s next, governpunk? Religipunk? I can’t think of anything less punk than education. No matter how you slice it, most of these people are trying to find more creative and cutting-edge ways to help students conform to the needs of the institutions that employ them.

And that’s just it, the institutions that employ us. Sure! We can get away with being anarchic and brute punk – online (only just), but the brakes apply almost immediatly when you swivel around on your corporate office chair, to face the corporate open plan, in search of no one to share your regular ah ha moments with… so you swivel back around and blog it instead, in the vein hope that someone you work with is actually interested in what you think, let alone a boss! and in the weak sense of security in virtual numbers.

Am I sounding pesimistic? Of course I am, and I’m probably being very unfare to those around me again. Of course they care! Of course they’re interested! But boy are we institutionalised!

Edupunk is one of those terms that helps and hinders. Its like Web2.0 – technically incorrect, a term that widens the gap between our IT ‘supports’ and educationalists, but a sound bite that is easier to spread than something more accurate like “social constructivist media and communications”. Like Web2, Edupunk could help to reinvigorate those of us that can relate to what underpins it, and give us a new banner to rewrite papers on socialist principles, models and case studies, it could become a new battle cry in an age old campaign between industrialists and socialists.

But it could hinder us as well. In our neoliberal educational settings, where Reaganomics and Thatcherismis alive and well and deeply embedded, a punk has no place inside such institution. A label like Edupunk could become a sword we fall on when it comes to performance reviews and service feedback… “Leigh’s an Edupunk, very passionate about Web2..” = “Leigh’s a socialist and needs to wake up to reality..”

But I like it! If it gives us something to dance around for a bit, then great. I need a bit of a thrash and lash out. I see David Warlick has cranked the Wikipedia entry already? Someone add the image above! I gotta drop into reality for the day…

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

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.

So Sunshine and I have lived in Dunedin NZ for 2 years now. That’s a long time in my mind, but it seems I have a lot more time to go before I can say that we’ll feel connected here 😦

In Australia, I felt quite connected in my profession – even though I was only in it for a similar amount of time 2001 – 2005. I was regularly on the phone with fella edubloggers, editing up the next wiki page, toying with new ideas, and being invited to join in talks all over the place, at conferences and stuff. Actually, I still get called across the ditch to talk at conferences, although the number is dropping. It seems my move to NZ, and taking a job inside an educational institution has distanced me from my Australian connections, but I can’t say that a sense of local connection has taken its place.

A technorati alert has introduced a link with John Vietch, a rare as hens teeth and not very prolific NZ blogger who is also dwelling on the widley acknowldged social distance, isolation and seeming disconnect in NZ culture:

…The problem behind the poor success rate on social networks is not in Ryze, Xing, Facebook or LinkedIn, it’s in our own heads and in the community.  There is a lack of social permission in the community to be strongly involved in these networks…

Weak uptake of read write communications in NZ is not really a measure of the phenomenon that John is alluding to though. I’d say the phenomenon is widely recognised before considering the uptake of Internet, because the few local friends I do have here know that it is hard to make friends or make connections in NZ, especially southern NZ. There’s a reputation in Dunedin that to be successful in business here, its not so much who you know, but who your farthers farther knew! 🙂 I’m not sure how true that is, but its certainly not hard to strike up conversation about the strange and very subtle cultural phenomenon that evades words for me at the moment. And I should acknowledge my own cultural background as being different to here and so may be having an impact on any observation I try to make as well.

I have tried with varying degrees of success, but mostly failure to establish professional communication networks through Internet channels. The face to face and corridor talk still prevails however, and projects remain crippled by low numbers, reliance on physical meetings and poor coordination and reach.

John seems to have a lot more experience then I do working on this in NZ, and I wonder if he’ll continue to reflect on it over the coming days?

Will improved internet communications infrastructure in NZ (particularly southern NZ) necessarily translate into better uptake and use of the Internet? Will it generate a networked, more informed and perhaps more communal NZ? Or will a deep seeded sense of isolation prevent the extroverts within from reaching out and making new connections? Or will the migration of popular media and communications to the Internet (like Google Video and Youtube, Facebook and Beebo) effect a cultural change in NZ and help to undo the private and almost invisible restraint within Southern NZers?