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“Blackboard, Windows, Photoshop” – familiar names to specific markets who are being pressured to take action or decide on something…

“Open Source Software, GIMP, Linux, Blogs, Wikis” – Unfamiliar names to specific markets who are being pressured to decide or take action

Fear paralysis or more accurately, ambiguity aversion is an entirely natural and a well known feature of the human brain. Well known to marketeers and spin doctors that is.

I blogged about this some time ago. Now here’s a quick 2 min video describing the Ellsberg paradox. Thank you George.

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A fascinating read about an historic period in NZ education policy in the early 1960s, unearthed by the wonderful Kiwi Research Information Service’s recent items RSS feed.

The Currie Commission and Report on Education in New Zealand 1960-1962

The interaction and networking of key participants is studied and the important inter-relationship between central bureaucratic interventions and powerful educational pressure group activity points to the continuing operational success of central government processes. The often competing forces of provincialism and centralism in New Zealand education underlie many of the conflicts surrounding educational change. Religion, race, gender and class are forces that continually interact to create legitimation crises. The governmental attempt to minimise or at least rationalize these socially contested differences in education from 1960-1962 is the subject of this thesis. An analysis is made of the process by which public dissatisfaction regarding education in the fifties and sixties was mediated and largely marginalised by the educational bureaucracy. This is done by a thorough examination of the interaction of pressure groups, unions, media and governmental agencies during the two year submissions to the Commission on Education 1962. The distinction between the commission’s report and the submissions and interrogations leading up to the report is important, as the primary data extracted from the primary resource material in the submissions, at times, contradicts the departmental view as expressed in the report itself.

Kevin Kelly over at Cool Tools points to a free PDF version of a pay for text that guides people through an equivalent curriculum to a Masters in Business Admin. In describing the benefits of this guided self learning he points out that an MBA could set you back 10’s even 100’s of thousands of dollars, while purchasing the printed texts might only set you back $500. What the text doesn’t give you, as Kevin acknowledges, is a network of friends or business contacts at the end of your course. Ah! Enter a networked learning model to support this text perhaps. A way for people who are using this text to make contact and communicate about their efforts. Clearly the information doesn’t change all that much, but the packaging (and the fees) change considerably. Is this the niche that traditional education ought to be looking at more closely? I think so. A beautifully packaged and engaging text, that prints on demand through a service like Lulu, and so can be always up to date with the latest information. Supported by an online learning community with value added services on offer. Such as formal recognition of learning if it is needed.

Would it work for many other subjects? I think it might. Right now I’m building a deck. I’d like to know how to do it right, but I don’t intend to enrol in a course to learn how to build it either. So I search the net and talk to friends and industry people. I get little bits of info, but not the hole shebang you know.. Not surprisingly, Internet info specific to NZ requirements is hard to find in the popular servers.. seems you gotta be in the know before you can get to know. Show me a handy, all-I-need-to-know text, supported with online video, all relevant to NZ requirements and materials and available accross any number of popular servers (like they’re starting to do with promotion widgets and distributed promo for movies these days) I couldn’t help but find it! Once found, I would still pay about $100 for the package in my hand too – to save me having to download, print, bind, package it etc.

Now, it just so happens that I have rather enjoyed the landscaping, planning, building and talking with council process. I think I’d like to know more about all this and maybe consider helping a friend or two, or even going into business… what was that web address for that book again? Oh! there it is on the cover… hey! They offer a recognition of prior learning for the formal qualifications they also offer! And short evening classes for anything I might be a bit weak on! That sounds much better than a 3 year full time study plan. I just want to dabble in it for now and maybe build up to something…

Update: Will Richardson went further with Personal MBA (see first comment) to find their website: http://personalmba.com/

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:

Ah yes Graham, I share your.. story.

As  Alahka puts it in your comments, you can lead a horse to water… or as I have exhaled from time to time, flogging the dead horse that died in the trough!

I think though, it is incentives and time we need to encourage and support those teachers to first use the tools for their own learning. If they can’t do that, then I’m not sure we should be risking their incompetence on the lives of others who are either coerced into their charge, or pay huge fees for their services.

Sometimes, people come into my office area and in an effort to strike up conversation or something they say, “lectures are so old school don’t you think..?”.

I don’t know what to say to a statement like that. I don’t want to discourage their attempt to show how progressive a thinker they are… but I also don’t want people thinking that Educational Development equates to anti lecture!

For the record, I think lectures are great, and I like the readings/lecture/tutorial model for teaching and learning.. when done well. But I do agree that there could be more to a lecture than the usual 1 hour in a theatre, blink and you miss it type affair..

Apart from those flippent and strangely self concious remarks we get from the occasional visitor, the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of teachers I have ever worked with prodominantly use some variation of the lecture tutorial model. So while we do challenge people to reconsider their lectures a bit (ideas such as breaking the usual 1 hour lecture into a series of 6 x 10 minute lectures, webcast lectures, audio/video recorded lectures, well produced movies that say the same things, guest lectures and student lectures, and just simply improving the use of slide presentations… in all these instances we are sticking with simple variations lecture format.

Below are some links to concepts for new ways of presenting the lecture, some are good, some are terrible, some are a good idea with room for improvement:

  1. Ted Talks
  2. 10 minute lectures/webcast/recorded
  3. Berkeley on Youtube
  4. Presentations in Second Life
  5. Using Sketchup instead of Powerpoint
  6. Instant Message backchannel with a movie
  7. Wiki lecture notes
  8. Podcasting lectures

Otago Polytechnic has adopted a Creative Commons Attribution copyright license and has been using the Wikieducator platform with other popular media sharing services to develop and publish Open Educational Resources and Practices. This article outlines some of the steps that the Polytechnic has taken, as well as some of the challenges being faced, and a vision for the future. It should be noted that this article has been written from the perspective of the author, and not necessarily from Otago Polytechnic as a whole.

This article has been written on the request of Ken Udas, editor of Terra Incognita a web journal by PennState University.

A wiki version of this article is available here.

Contents

  • 1 About Otago Polytechnic
  • 2 The Educational Development Centre
  • 3 Staff development, weblogging, digital literacy
  • 4 Vision for staff blogging
  • 5 A change in the Organisation’s Intellectual Property Policy and Practices
  • 6 Working with Wikieducator
  • 7 A Wikieducator development structure, page templates and staff development
  • 8 Vision for content developed on Wikieducator
  • 9 Risks and foreseeable issues
  • 10 Conclusion

About Otago Polytechnic

The Otago Polytechnic is a public New Zealand tertiary education institute that graduates around 4500 students per year. It is centred in the city of Dunedin with campuses throughout the Southern (mostly rural) region of Otago including Cromwell, Wanaka and Queenstown, and supports a small number of Community Learning Centres in various regional towns.

Otago Polytechnic focuses on skills based, technical education and occupational training, offering a range of New Zealand accredited degrees, diplomas and certificates. (Wikipedia 24 Nov 2007)

The Educational Development Centre

In 2006 Otago Polytechnic established an Educational Development Centre for staff development, online and flexible learning development, and research into educational development.

By mid 2006 the Polytechnic established a contestable fund for Departments and staff to apply for assistance in developing flexible learning opportunities in their courses, including skills and knowledge in teaching and/or facilitating flexible opportunities for learning and formal recognition. This fund is called the Flexible Learning Development Fund and is mediated by the EDC.

By the end of 2006, 3 EDC Programme Developers were helping to manage around 20 course and programme development projects initiated by staff through the fund, as well as through research grants. The following article is an individual account of progress in this effort by one of the Programme Developers.

Staff development, weblogging, digital literacy

Through 2006 and 2007 the EDC ran a range of professional development activities for staff, including 2 instances of the teacher training course Designing for Flexible Learning Practice (which is part of a larger teaching qualification now required by teaching staff at the Polytechnic) and 1 instance of Facilitating Online Learning Communities. These courses, along with numerous informal workshops and professional networks, have helped to develop critical digital and network literacy’s as well as general awareness of the popular Internet amongst staff – particularly blogs, wikis, social bookmarking and RSS.

Currently there are a number of Polytechnic staff actively documenting their work and progress on individual weblogs. By subscribing to the RSS feeds from these blogs it is easy for colleagues and EDC to assess and keep up to date with experiments, new ideas and methods, issues and concerns, and of course the development of digital literacy and networked communication skills. We can also observe the progress of specific projects, and in some instances, educational courses being run through a weblog. With this level of access we can enter into discussions, offer timely advice as well as point to best practices when needed. By comparison, obtaining this level of access and overview through traditional communication channels (such as face to face meetings, email or formal reporting) is not only inefficient but typically lacks accurate and authentic insight or opportunities for wider consultation.

As an example of the level of access and insight that can be obtained through staff blogging, and the extent to which some project documentation is being done, the following list points to some of the more active bloggers in the Polytechnic. These blogs should be considered as personal documentations beyond the formal job descriptions of the authors and so, authentic accounts of their work so far.

  1. Bronwyn Hegarty – Education
  2. Kim Thomas – Horticulture
  3. Hillary Jenkins – Tourism
  4. Leigh Blackall – Education
  5. Helen Lindsay – Learning support
  6. Sam Mann – Software Engineering
  7. David McQuillin – Massage Therapy
  8. Rachel Gillies – Visual Arts Photography
  9. Carolyn Mcintosh – Midwifery
  10. Sarah Stewart – Midwifery
  11. Merrolee Penman – Occupational Therapy
  12. Graeme Dixon – Occupational Therapy
  13. William Lucas – Languages and learning support
  14. Matt Thompson – Building
  15. Jacquie Hayes – Community Learning Centre
  16. Wendy Ritson Jones – Librarian (on leave)
  17. Pam McKinlay – Visual Arts Historian

And there are a few who are using blogs to channel communication and information relating to courses.

  1. Tour Guiding – Soon to migrate to http://tourguiding.edublogs.org along with several other course blogs for the Applied Travel and Tourism Programme.
  2. Cookery – a video blog presenting videos recorded in class.
  3. Learning English – with reguler posting of what is to be done in class.
  4. Participation in Occupation – Access to lecture slides, notes and supporting material.
  5. Peer Tutoring – Short course for people interested in becoming tutors.
  6. Designing for Flexible Learning Practice – announcements, updates and related links for a teacher training course.
  7. Facilitating Online Learing Communities – cross institutional course blog with announcements, updates and related links for a online facilitator training course.

Some staff see little value in documenting their work with weblogs, but are non-the-less interested in activities and initiatives to do with flexible and online learning, open education, and socially networked media. The Networked Learning email forum was set up in mid 2006 as a channel for informal learning and to support staff development through more widely used email communication. Formal learning opportunities are also provided through courses like Designing for Flexible Learning Practice and Facilitating Online Learning Communities already mentioned.

Vision for staff blogging

Primarily weblogs are being used as a simple device for developing digital literacy and critical awareness of online networking and communications. EDC encourage as many staff as possible to use a blog to document projects and professional development, with a view the regularity of writing online inevitably leads people to use hyperlink referencing, optimise and embed images and media, change blog style sheets, and add or create their own media. All this helps a person to develop digital literacy and improve communication skills, as well as critical awareness of what it means to have a professional presence within a network on the Internet.

In terms of networking through blogs, on a local scale it is observable in those who are blogging and using an RSS reader to track other blogs, that there is a gradual increase in awareness of what their colleagues are doing, what advances they are making, and what issues they are facing. Through this local networking, bonds are developing online that are helping to support informal learning and development. Over time it is hoped that this local awareness and communication will strengthen and develop into a more national and international network for each of the staff members. It is envisioned that some will come to see the value this approach has to maintaining a professional profile online, and encourage their colleagues to do the same.

While all this is helping to improve digital literacy and critical awareness, ultimately it is hoped that these skills will transfer into better services to potential and existing students. Extended thinking around this vision is expressed further in the following posts:

  1. Out From Under the Umbrellas
  2. What Would it be like to be the Rain

A change in the Organisation’s Intellectual Property Policy and Practices

Toward the end of 2006 Flexible Learning Developments started to engage in content creation. Many staff did not have the Internet research skills to first search for existing content with copyrights that could enable reuse. Nor did many have experience in producing media other than text documents and slide presentations. EDC started building awareness on how to search for Creative Commons licensed content and other free content, as well as techniques for searching popular media sharing sites for reusable content. As awareness grew of the quantity and quality of existing and developing free content so did staff willingness to consider reusing existing content before developing entirely new content. It became apparent that the organisation’s Intellectual Property Policy needed to be written in such a way as to enable the legitimate reuse of such open educational resources, as well as to encourage staff to participate and contribute to the pool of resources and help establish a stronger online presence for the Polytechnic.

By mid 2007 a new IP policy was agreed on that acknowledges staff and student’s individual ownership over their IP, but encourages the use of a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license as the preferred copyright statement on works published with the Polytechnic’s name. Individual owners of IP who wish to publish with restrictions beyond attribution are required to notify the Polytechnic so that an appropriate restrictive statement can be added. In short, the All Rights Reserved default over content from the Polytechnic has been replaced by a Some Rights Reserved – Attribution default with an option for individuals to restrict. This is a simple inversion to what is common in most other educational institutions.

The new IP Policy is a strong mechanism for dispelling staff uncertainties about engaging with the Internet, and sends a clear message that it is appropriate to use publishing services like blogs, media sharing services, and to contribute to international wiki projects individually and/or in the name of the Polytechnic. Such activity is beneficial to the Polytechnic as it more widely distributes the name and the courses and services it offers, not to mention the expertise of its employees. EDC plays a role in helping to maintain quality.

Unfortunately an issue remains in the sampling and reuse of Commons based works with restrictions beyond Attribution – such as Non Commercial and Share Alike, or similar copyleft mechanisms like GPL that require derivatives to use the same or equal license. If a staff member samples and remixes a work with such a restriction, the license on the original work requires specific restrictions be included on the derivative work. This may not be desirable or even possible in some situations for the Polytechnic and so, as a matter of simplicity and to ensure maximum flexibility in the resources, staff are encouraged to preference sampling CC BY, Crown of Public Domain works where possible, and to avoid using resources that have restrictions like Share Alike, Non Commercial or even more restrictive.

Working with Wikieducator

In mid 2007, following the agreement for a new IP Policy, many of the Flexible Learning Development projects began using the Wikieducator platform to develop educational resources. To date there are at least 15 full time Otago Polytechnic lecturing staff and 5 part time designers regularly using the Wikieducator platform to develop their courses. This number is certain to increase as the teacher training schedules used by Otago Polytechnic include orientation and skills development in the use of Wikieducator as well as a number of other publishing platforms and media sharing services.

Benefits of using Wikieducator from the perspective of the Polytech include:

  • Free content hosting
  • Free and supported access to MediaWiki software
  • Exposure, promotion and networking with other educational organisations
  • Internationalisation and dialog with the Commonwealth of Learning
  • Collaborative development opportunities and resource sharing
  • Open access to learning resources
  • Staff development of MediaWiki editing skills that are transferable to more popular MediaWiki based projects like Wikipedia, as well as the Polyech’s own hosted MediaWiki.

Issues with using Wikieducator:

  • Copyright issues – Wikieducator uses a site wide Share Alike copyright restriction without an option to mark a full project or individual resource with the Polytechnic’s preferred CC BY license. This limitation in copyright potentially complicates the Polytechnic’s developments on the platform, but work continues on a good will basis. To manage the risks in this, the Polytechnic’s main page on Wikieducator links to a copy of the Polytech’s IP policy which points out the use of CC BY that applies tp all pages that are category tagged Otago Polytechnic. This position has not become a concern to the Wikieducator hosting organisation but clarification on the issue is needed. This issue is argued in detail in the article Open educational resources and practices.

A Wikieducator development structure, page templates and staff development

The Polytech’s EDC encourages people who develop educational resources on Wikieducator to use a structure which aims to make resources on the wiki as reusable and open for collaboration as possible. Inspired by Steven Parker and his ideas about activity sheets, as well as David Wiley’s significant 2001 paper The Reusability Paradox, this development structure revolves around the creation of Learning Objective Pages. Learning Objective pages express a set of learning objectives related to a particular skill or knowledge attribute. 2 subpages attach to the Learning Objective pages: one being Library of Resources and the other being Learning Activities. As developers and support librarians encounter information and media relating to the learning objectives in a Learning Objective page, the link for those resources is added to the Library of Resources subpage. As learning activities are devised, they are added to the list on the Learning Activities subpage. Course Pages are developed separately from the Learning Objective Pages but are what bring a selection of Learning Objective Pages and their Library and Activities subpages together. The Course Pages are free to be contextualised to what ever the expressive needs of the course may be. Because the Learning Objective Pages are simply linked to the Course Page and not subpages, they are effectively independent to the course, and so can be reused in other courses or for other purposes without the need for editing and renaming (for the most part anyway). For this reason it is important that the Learning Objective pages are worded in such a way so as to be as reusable in as many different contexts as possible, and to leave contextualisation to the Course Page or to the various Activities listed in the subpage to the Learning Objective. As Learning Objective Pages are picked up by different Courses then its list of Learning Activities will grow to reflect the reuse without affecting the reusability of the Learning Objective itself. A video explaining this structure is available on the Otago Polytechnic Category page on Wikieducator.

In November 2007 Brent Simpson developed the Otago Template Generator, which aims to simplify the process of creating Learning Objective Pages and their Library and Activities subpages. Other work includes hacks for embedding media from popular media sharing services like Youtube and Slideshare, which is another outstanding issue with Wikieducator as we wait for the administrators to consider whether or not to support the functionality of embedded 3rd party media.

Vision for content developed on Wikieducator

Ironically, through developing curriculum and content on the Wikieducator platform, we are discovering more opportunities for local collaboration before realising benefits of international collaboration. Because of the open nature of the content, some of our teaching staff are discovering each other’s work. Contrasted to that are the teachers working on a closed Learning Management System with a working environment that is isolated from other projects, and so staff in these environments are unaware of similar content being developed elsewhere on the platform, or are developing in such a way that makes it very difficult to collaborate and reuse in other areas.

Also because of its open and accessible nature, development on the Wikieducator must ensure quality controls such as copyright. The Wikieducator project requires that all content be cleared of restrictive copyrights and so has rendered the works very flexible and reusable. Again, contrast to that the closed development environment of the LMS and we find that there is very little quality control on copyright, and that a large amount of very restricted content is being used, which ultimately limits the flexibility and reusability of the resources being developed. In this sense, development on the Wikieducator is arguably more sustainable and is achieving more with the investment.

At the moment, developments on the Wikieducator are largely limited to basic text and images. The Commonwealth of Learning is investing in the development of functional enhancements to the Wikieducator that will gradually see more engaging formats being developed on the platform. If the Commonwealth of Learning manage to encourage and coordinate investments from other participatinginstitutions such as teh Polytechnic, we will likely see rapid and well funded development that will build on the free text and image content that is currently being built. Such development would include software to enhance the Wiki environment as well as the creation of multi media educational resources. The content on the Wiki is flexible and reusable enough to be used in a wide variety of contexts such as in an LMS, a face to face class, course blogs, email forums, mobile phones and PDAs, and other portable media such as print, CDs and cassettes. These types of further developments are made possible by the nonrestrictive copyrights, the consolidation of human and IP resources and the facilitation efforts of teh Commonwealth of Learning.

Risks and foreseeable issues

Weblog based communication is still foreign and new to the majority of staff at the Polytechnic, and many struggle to see the value to them personally and professionally, or how they may begin to develop strategies to manage the time it takes to reading and/or writing weblogs. It would be reasonable to accept that the majority of staff will not want to keep a weblog or will not actively monitor the blogging efforts of their colleagues. While there are demonstrated benefits to those that do, a communication disconnect may emerge between those that do and those that do not which could prove counter productive to the organisation as a whole. While it is possible to compare this development to that of the uptake of email some 10 years ago, weblogging (both reading and writing) could just as easily not be following the same path as email. The Polytechnic will need to continue thinking about and developing communication strategies that are effective and useful to all staff, and carefully consider ways to scale the benefits of blog reading and writing so as to avoid any disconnection. Suggestions aimed at bridging different communication channels and reaching a wider range of readers include:

  • public press releases on a blog as well as their normal email and static webpage broadcasts.
  • staff updates on a blog as well as the normal staff wide email broadcast.
  • meeting minutes on a blog (or a wiki) as well as in archived text documents.
  • service department updates on a blog as well as the PDF attachments broadcast through email.

There are methods with which these additional communication channels can be utilised without double handling the message.

At present the EDC’s leadership in the use of Weblogs, popular media and Wikieducator is occurring without close and regular consultation with the Polytech’s IT support unit, the web publishing unit, the marketing unit, or the human resources unit. While this enables rapid development, it of course posses a significant risk to all those units should some aspect prove counter productive to the brief of one of those units. The solution relates in part to the need for a better communication strategy, and one that includes participation by all who are affected. How to achieve this breadth of dialogue is an important issue that needs research and consideration, but at present EDC makes an effort to attend and update as many cross unit meetings and forums as practical.

Working to develop digital literacys and online networking skills with teachers instead of or before students may be less productive than working with students directly. This is an interesting proposition made by Russell Butson of the Higher Education Department of the Otago University working in similar areas to the EDC. It is possible that a large proportion of the teaching staff will feel that they have more to lose by participating in this effort. It may therefore be productive to work with students who arguably have more to gain in developing digital literacy and online networking skills given the relative early stages in their career paths. By working directly with students it may help to benefit their learning objectives and career aspirations sooner, while helping teachers to observe more objectively the benefits and pitfalls to these new literacys and communication skills. Discussions continue with Russell Butson regarding his research into this approach to Educational Development.

Conclusion

Otago Polytechnic has taken rapid and significant steps in the direction of open educational resources and practices. In the space of less than 2 years it has positioned itself as a leader in New Zealand and Australia by being the first to develop and adopt an intellectual policy that encourages the use of Creative Commons licensing, and is proactively encouraging staff to experiment with and use popular publishing services in their professional work and learning. So far the Polytechnic has chosen not to duplicate the features on these popular media services ‘in house’ and is seeking the maximise the benefits of using external services. In so doing, the Polytechnic is developing a strong and authentic online presence that is distributed widely. In so doing staff are develop important literacys, transferable skills, and critical awareness of online communications that are relevant to life outside the Polytechnic, and to the Otago Community more generally. The speed at which this change has taken effect in the Polytechnic has left some service areas unprepared, and is having both positive and negative effects on internal communication. So far the benefits are outweighing the disadvantages, and through continued staff development activities we expect that these disadvantages will diminish.

I’m back in Wellington (wish I had frequent fliers set up) for a meeting to discuss a proposed review of the NZ Unit Standards of Open and Distance Learning. The main thing I have picked up from the proposal documents that were sent out prior was that some people would like a name change to “eLearning”. Otago Poly, my colleagues and I are opposed to such a name change, and without hearing the detailed concerns in the proposal, kind of feel that the Units are good and usable still. There are a few minor word changes I think I’d like to see happen – semantic really. If anyone wants to IM me in Skype or Gtalk while I’m here today, I’ll convey any thoughts and ideas from you 🙂

As I teach and facilitate various online courses this year, a lot of the theories and concepts I subscribe to are getting some hard testing. The biggest challenge I am finding is the expectation for a teacher or instructor while everyone talks about a facilitator. I don’t think someone can be both, primarily because a teacher inherits a significant amount of power and traditional roles that counter act the more neutral and passive presence of a facilitator. This post will be a series of thoughts about this tension, and some ideas on how I can better manage my attempts at online learning community facilitation.

There’s a teacher at the party

I find it is all too easy to assume the role of a teacher if you are an expert in your field, but very difficult to adopt and maintain the role of facilitator to a group studying your field. Many things stack up against efforts to maintain a neutral and passive position of facilitation:

There is this blog and other artifacts that help to establish me as some sort of “expert” or someone with a few years of experience researching and testing the topic of online learning etc, and so a teacherly presence is hard to avoid, and there is an expectation that my experience and expertise should be used to help people find the answers more quickly and efficiently. Added to that are the student or participant expectations. People engaging in the courses I attempt to facilitate are typically vocational teachers and trainers by profession and people who have enrolled in a formal course, through traditional administration lines, via a professional development cycle and with very little background knowledge of me or the topic I am asked to facilitate, and that they intend to learn … about. And so, through this set up process they are encouraged to expect the familiar presence of a teacher or trainer, a formal learning venue and everything else that is familiar to a person who has been successful in the schooling experience. Ultimately they are unprepared for the facilitated and individually responsible and self motivated learning environment I try to encourage.

I can understand the expectation for a teacher in a course. Naturally a student who has enrolled in a formal course, following traditional administration channels, paying fees etc and who is of an age and professional experience that is very used to the idea of taught and instructed learning, would expect a similarly efficient, industrial strength, structured learning pathway within the course. But this is at odds with my understanding of facilitation and my principals around individual responsibility, networked learning, and a belief in the importance of deschooling.

So I have a problem.

Either I yield to the tradition of schooled learning and assume the role of teacher, instructor and assessor and forgo the role of facilitator, or I invest a lot more time with these courses and develop my skills as a communicator and become more sophisticated in ways of moving expectations towards a facilitated and individualised learning environment. At the moment, I can’t say I have been very successful at that, there are some things I can see I can do better, other things I have no control over, and then there are things that allude me all together. I am myself caught in a twilight zone between teacher and facilitator. I have years of experience being taught and then some teaching. I’m actually quite comfortable being the know it all teacher, instructing people on what to do with their time 😉 I even know a bit about controlling people’s behaviour so as to reflect something I can assess as learning.. but facilitation, that continues to allude me.

When I act as a facilitator I generally ignore all the lead up that the people who engage in these courses go through before they meet me. Mystake number 1. Then I assume an equal role with and between the participants and expect individual responsibility for motivated and expert learning. Mystake number 2. I actively fend off teacherly roles, keeping the structure and prescribed content to a bare minimum. Mystake number 3. Inevitably the frustrations from the people engaging in the courses are expressed, calling for more structure and direction and a more efficient pathway to a learning fix. It is not sufficient to simply establish and maintain communication channels, arrange and negotiate content like guest lectures etc, and assist individuals and groups with their research. The move from teacherly/taught to facilitated learning is complex and time consuming. So much so that I doubt these courses have much of a chance at succeeding at developing a individualised and facilitated learning experience.

Needless to say, teaching and instruction is the much easier path for all involved. Teaching and instruction are well established practices with numerous resources in place to support all involved in the exercise, including implicit and culturally embedded practices like narrative, closure, authority, partitioned knowledge, economy of scale, industrial strength admin processes etc). And almost everyone who is involved has experienced this type of schooled learning so we’re all on the same page in more ways than one. It is very difficult to socially learn in any other way, especially in a formal, traditional, schooled environment. The teach and instruct methods are a safe bet.

But I have been asked to facilitate a learning community. And although I know the word facilitate is being used more than a little loosely by institutions these days, and that the majority of the participants are encouraged to bring with them expectations AND needs of being taught and instructed, I have this idealist expectation to build and facilitate a learning community. All this relates specifically to a course I am attempting to co facilitate at the moment. It is called funnily enough, Facilitating Online Learning Communities. I share the facilitation role with Bronwyn Hegarty and we both struggle with each other and each internally with this tension between facilitation and instruction, cognitive and behaviorist practices and socially constructed ideals… We each have 4 hours per week to do this job, and only a small number of people engaged.

For the most part I think we have been successful given all the challenges. We have managed to move the course out from the limits of the Learning Management System so as to demonstrate the existence of learning communities in online contexts other than managed learning. So far we have looked at discussion forums, email lists, blogs and RSS, wikis and web conferencing. We are beginning to consider social networking sites, virtual worlds and gaming communities… all the participants have a blog, but only 1/2 – 2/3 are active with it, we have curated a series of what we call “10 minute lectures” that include about an hour of discussion, and we have attempted to down play our own presence as experts or specialists.

Unfortunately frustrations are expressed from time to time that relate to the seeming lack of structure and direction in the facilitation of the course, and the apparent over whelming amount of information and technical skills needed to participate. I can’t help but think that a lot of this frustration can be attributed to the confusion between teacher and facilitator, and the expectation of instructed learning that the course admin has encouraged. However, in the apparent absence of a structured course I think it is far to say significant learning is occurring in this online course. Most of the participants had not heard of a blog or RSS before this course, and did not know of the distinctions between social networking sites and blogs and wikis.. etc, none had used a web conferencing facility like Elluminate or Skype, and very few had heard of the world class people we have in for the 10 minute lectures, and we have successfully embraced a number of others late drop ins from around the world who have participated with us along the way. So the learning curve must indeed be steep for many of the participants. There are totally new technologies, new and immature methods, far from mainstream ideals, and very open and transparent communication channels – all 100% online. But dissatisfaction is very present 😦

I find David Wiley’s course an inspiration and a model for those like me who are suspended in the twilight zone of how to teach and facilitate all at the same time. His course is targeted at people who are already experienced with online communication, and David’s reputation attracts a wide variety of people from around the world. His participants are highly self motivated and network learners before they engage in his topics. The course is initially presented instructionally with clearly articulated schedule and expectations in a wiki format. Each topic in the schedule asks the participants to read, reflect and then write to their blog. David then demonstrates facilitation practices once the participants are under way with this. He summarises their work, comments and links people’s posts to each other. It helps that he has some farely well known edu bloggers participating in his course and so the topics and discussions go further and wider than the course participants themselves. I don’t have intimate knowledge of David’s course however, and he may be grappling with his own demons, but it is useful at least for me to see his approach to structure and conduct.

I think, if I am asked to “facilitate” another instance of Facilitating Online Learning Communities, I will follow David’s model initially, and either strongly suggest prerequisite experience, or a pre course for instruction on how to use various forms of core technology, but this doesn’t solve the problem of needing self motivated learners to participate in a facilitated learning environment. It is generally assumed that this ethic emerges after a participant practices blogging and experiences networked connections. This is true for approximately 10 – 20% of the participants I have had contact with, so what of the 80 – 90%? Perhaps this number will decrease as more and more people experience this type of expectation and meet others who have experienced it before.. a bit like the take up of email… or perhaps social networking sites like Facebook or Ecto will replace the idea of blogging and bring us back to group work, which seems to be what we are all schooled to being more comfortable with.. sadly

Plane home to Dunedin is about to board, so I’ll end this here. Just some notes to continue with later.

Barbara Dieu posted to TALO these links to stat graphs looking at the generational uptake of social media. Click to view. My initial thoughts from them:

I see the high bars moving WITH the generations, rather than other generations adopting these practices… which means the types of things that we are seeing 18-26yo doing online will change and evolve as their life experience grows.. in other words, social media will become rich and broader ranging with information and learning on a wider variety of things and with varying levels of depth.. within about 5 – 10 years. At the moment educationalists could be doing much more towards attempting to engage the % of the age group, and on their terms, so as the maximise the potential energy in this early adoption. Obviously, doing so will mean we learn the things now that we will need to know in 5 – 10 years time.

Then again, do these stats affirm the need for reaction at all? Or are those that promoted the use of social media doing so on the belief that it is simply a good thing to do proactively?…

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