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Its a beautiful day outside. I’m spending it building a wardrobe in the bedroom. And while I wait for the batteries on the cordless drill to recharge, I’m finally catching up on my long neglected bloglines.
I highly value Stephen Downes’ recent critique the Cape Town Declaration. I started reading the declaration yesterday, but quickly lost interest in it for reasons I was not entirely sure of at the time. Stephen’s critique, the comments that follow, and the links out to other ideas about it offer up so much more food for thought than the declaration itself. I think I will spend more time following the critiques and responses before I actually read the declaration – maybe that way I will find the thing more interesting as I read through it and consider the critiques and conversations I have already read. At this point in time I intuitively share Stephen’s concerns and I think the general points he is trying to make should extend right accross the Open Educational Resources movement. There is too much standard thinking about the ‘delivery’ of education, and the near neurotic obsessing over copyright seemingly at the expense of more important issues to do with learning. Nuf said on that for now.. more to follow after I’ve had more time reading.
Speaking of reading, making the time to read really helps me to listen. Since working at the Polytech my time for reading has been slowly eaten away. While in discussions about workload I try hard to defend the time I need to read, and reckon that people in my role need to allocate at least 30% of their time to it.. for me this would be at least 40 hrs per month reading my bloglines and adding notes to my blog. I need this to remain current and to sustain my connections. Funny how a fulltime job with all its inefficiencies can eat away at that. Over the past 2 years I have been reduced to less than 20hrs reading and writing time. I am starting to appreciate the familiar chorus from people when I encourage blogging and RSS, that chorus that says, “but who has the time!” In my own loss of the time I need, I really have only myself to blame. I must defend that time, and where possible extend it. Reading other blogs, comments and general points of view are extremely helpful to my own listening abilities and the things I can bring back into my local context. The trouble is, that that amount of time impacts on my abilities to listen in on the local channels. Those face to face meetings, discussions, and other things. At the moment, there is a communication disconnect between the speed and depth of the online communication and the slowness and superficiality of the face to face…
Stephen also recently posted the transcript of the talk he made in Wellington back in 2006 on Groups and Networks – the class struggle continues. I have blogged extensively my support once again for Stephen’s thoughts here, especially through that time soon after his talk where the debate about Groups and Networks became quite controversial, ending in a wide scale dismissal of its importance. I still think it is centrally the most important issue not just limited to online learning, and this recent transcript helps keep it alive in my mind.
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.
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.
- Bronwyn Hegarty – Education
- Kim Thomas – Horticulture
- Hillary Jenkins – Tourism
- Leigh Blackall – Education
- Helen Lindsay – Learning support
- Sam Mann – Software Engineering
- David McQuillin – Massage Therapy
- Rachel Gillies – Visual Arts Photography
- Carolyn Mcintosh – Midwifery
- Sarah Stewart – Midwifery
- Merrolee Penman – Occupational Therapy
- Graeme Dixon – Occupational Therapy
- William Lucas – Languages and learning support
- Matt Thompson – Building
- Jacquie Hayes – Community Learning Centre
- Wendy Ritson Jones – Librarian (on leave)
- Pam McKinlay – Visual Arts Historian
And there are a few who are using blogs to channel communication and information relating to courses.
- Tour Guiding – Soon to migrate to http://tourguiding.edublogs.org along with several other course blogs for the Applied Travel and Tourism Programme.
- Cookery – a video blog presenting videos recorded in class.
- Learning English – with reguler posting of what is to be done in class.
- Participation in Occupation – Access to lecture slides, notes and supporting material.
- Peer Tutoring – Short course for people interested in becoming tutors.
- Designing for Flexible Learning Practice – announcements, updates and related links for a teacher training course.
- 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:
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.
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 arrived late, but intend to find out how Otago Polytechnic’s new IP Policy works with the CC NZ. Our new policy sets a copyright default that uses CC BY – which as far as I can tell, establishes Otago Poly as the first educational organisation to adopt the most open copyright license in NZ, Australia and much of the world. So, its good to be at the launch of the NZ CC licenses and to see how we/it can fit with our objectives.
I’m bookmarking links to Del.icio.us “CCNZ” as the speakers mention them.
I finally made it up to Dave Wiley in my terribly over crowded news reader… only to be let down by him 😦 I found a volley of blogged considerations and thoughts going on over at Dave’s blog (all these links so far) about the very same issues with Share Alike restrictions that I attempted to raise with the same network more than 2 months ago.
I blogged about it, I argued til blue in the face with the Wikiversity, Wikieducator and TALO crowd, I emailed and commented in on Dave asking for his thoughts on the issue as I prepared the article, I even spoke about these concerns at the same conference on the same day as David. But somehow all this has missed his valuable commentary, nor have any of the comments to David’s recently expressed concerns about the Share Alike license referred to my work on the issue… these are my peers, the ones I like to think I am connected to in some way, clearly the issue interests them – just not when they are raised by me… its about now that I sink into a state of pathetic, self loathing depression as I realise I truly am just a raving ozzy living with a bunch of non plussed kiwis, and that I’m doomed to talk to myself and go crazy hermit doing so.
I’m an outsider, alienated, incomprehensible, irrelevant and dismissed by the ones I respect the most, and remembered for the contributions I like least.
A week ago I was contacted by Andrew Schwatz from Custom Writing. He was offering me $25 per month to put a link on my website to his. Naturally I was flattered to think that someone out there thought that my blog would be a good vehicle to promote another webservice, and I was curious to know what that service was.
Boy! was I surprised and riveted by the audacity! Custom Writing is a service that will write you an essay that is guaranteed to be free from plagiarism and to not get picked up by plagiarism checkers like turn it in.
Custom-Writing.org offers professional academic research and writing services in any field of study. We guarantee highly qualified, confidential essay writing strictly in accordance with your instructions. When ordering paper writing services from Custom-Writing.org, you can have your essay completed in 12, 8 or 6 hours! Custom-Writing.org organizes own work using simple formula: Quality Writing + Responsibility + Personal Care = Success. When ordering essay writing services, rest assured, we are fully dedicated to your academic success!
— Quality research and writing
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— 275 words per page
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Check out their pricing! Not too bad at all!
So I’ll add a link alright, and I’ll do it for free! This is thoroughly interesting stuff and right down my alley, in terms of pressuring education and academia to rethink its role and practices.
So I replied to Andrew and asked for an interview. Within a few hours he replied with a, “yes, send the questions through..” I buzzed my office with the disturbing news of a service that will write essays for you, and the questions came flying. I noted them down and sent Andrew the list. He had the answers for me next day. Here they are:
Is this a kind of plagiarism? Does your service get around the plagiarism checkers like ‘Turn it in’?
Yes, the papers we provide are plagiarism free – neither TurnItIn, nor any other plagiarism detecting software cannot find any plagiarism. Papers are 100% custom written, so the only way to find out that the paper was not written by a student is to compare the regular writing style of a student with the writing style in the paper. Still, at our writing service, a student can upload samples of own work for writer to review – so, the possibility for a teacher to find out is really minimal and for a teacher to prove – virtually impossible.
How do you see your role in the field of education?
No person can be equally good at everything – if he/she is, then this is the wrong path, a student talent is lost. There are people who are good at Math and IT – let them develop their skills in this field instead of torturing them with writing assignments. What is really the point of this, if students must waste hours developing skills they will never be professional in instead of concentrating on the field their future career will depend upon? I really see the role of custom writing services in education as a relief for those who have already chosen their career, who know their path, and have already somewhat succeeded in it – since services are somewhat costly and in order to buy a custom written paper, a student must have a job (the most part of our customers). Furthermore, academic writing services spare time for students to develop in the field they chose to, so, to some extent, this is a plus for their education too.
The very existence of custom writing services shows that educational system is imperfect: assessment tools are not objective. Writing services simply indicate that a problem in assessment techniques exists and push educational system forward to development and innovation by making them analyze the appropriateness of writing assignments as an assessment tool.
How much do you think your service potentially subverts assessment in education?
Do you really know any widely recognized tests that assess writing skills, aside from assessment of students majoring in writing? Student knowledge simply cannot be assessed by off-class writing assignments. I do not think that assessment in education is subverted by the work of writing companies. Instead, it points out the possible failure of academic assessment techniques and, by doing so, makes a favor. Essay writing is not an effective assessment tool with or without existence of custom writing companies.
Does you your service subvert academia? – good bad, doesn’t matter, other…
To some extent, yes, but not without help of educational system itself. Since essays are used as an assessment tool, which is a wrong method for testing student knowledge, students are seeking the way out. This is not bad in itself, since, as previously stated, they receive an opportunity to devote themselves to the path chosen – whether Math, IT, or Dance, but this, perhaps, shapes a wrong worldview, as students have to deal with ethical dilemmas imposed by society, which should not have happened if academic institutions were to develop better assessment techniques and a more personalized, individual interests based educational program.
Does your company object to standardised assessments like essays?
Yes, definitely, yes. Take-home essays are simply pointless for objective assessment of student knowledge, especially if it is for classes like Economics or Math – where exact, subject specific knowledge is what does count.
Does your service undermine the quality of education and hence the work that people take on through their educational credentials?
Nope, do not think so. Once again – the question and the problem itself lies in effective assessment techniques, which definitely should not be in essay format. When it comes to applying for a job – experience and testing conducted by a hiring company – is what does count, not educational credentials. From this perspective, companies like ours only help – we spare the time for students to develop in the field they chose to, which will then be their career path.
Do you have alternative visions for knowledge creation and sharing?
With the advent of online social networks, I think that one could definitely come up with an alternative to regular writing assignments. Why not let students communicate and develop their own interest based social networks where they could stand up for their views in academic related subjects that do interest them? For students majoring and/or interested in IT or Math – let them discuss in a written form questions that interest them – both professional knowledge and writing skills would develop. Math and IT students need writing for communicating own ideas in a written form in a professional manner, perhaps, using specialized IT/Math vocabulary. What would develop their writing skills better than an open discussion on an education related topic of own choice? Academic institutions perceive Internet as a threat instead of enjoying all the benefits and opportunities it offers for improvement of education.
Without giving away your competitive secrets, how does your company work? what is the process for your creations?
Basically, we accept orders from customers through an online order form, where they fill out assignment details, provide a deadline. We then make the order available to our writers who work remotely for them to apply for the work. Once a number of applications is submitted, the best writer is chosen and the order is transferred to his/her personal work account. Students can upload files needed, communicate with writer directly to guide him/her. Once the work is completed, it is uploaded directly to our support team. We then check the work and send it to customer. That’s it.
Where do the people who write for you come from? What is their background? Are they paid well? What are their conditions (working from home?)
We have a large database of writers working remotely, primarily from home. Most of our writers come from and US. A few years ago it was rather difficult to find a good writer. Now, we receive 5-10 applications daily. Are they paid well? I guess enough for them to work for us, not to drop the work, and receive overall positive customer feedbacks. Not long time ago, we gave a try to foreign writers and, let me tell you – we were really surprised by the quality of work produced. You can get a PhD writer from , who is a lecturer in a University, where all classes are taught in English, to produce a neatly written document that will get an A+ for a native speaker. Even though we are not yet switching to writers with PhD degrees whose English is second language – believe me, IT is not going to be the only field outsourced to in the nearest future. Check out optimization forums, where content for most of US based websites is written by teams of writers coming from the Third World .
I imagine your service has to be fairly generic – how would you approach quite specific subject areas, where either specific knowledge or local dialect is needed?
You are a bit mistaken here, for off-line writing agencies – you are right, but for online – we have hundreds of writers who can log in into their accounts and apply for the work they are most skilled at.
Anything else you would like to add? what are the stats of people using your service? How many, where from? etc
Unfortunately, I cannot provide you with the exact stats of people using our services and even if I do, it will not be representative in terms of students overall, since the market share of company can hardly be estimated with a certain level of accuracy. Overall, most students are either US residents or foreign students studying in the US (about 70%). – the next country on the list (15%), Australia , Canada – the next ones (5%). Some – coming from , China , Russia , (10%). Most students who use our services are overloaded with work, have family problems, or are too busy with all the different activities. They are not cheaters; they are simply seeking a compromise in difficult situations and imperfection of assessment techniques helps to find it in custom writing companies.
George Siemens has been running an online conference over the recent days, and I joined in this morning before work. I got to listen to David Wiley’s talk about Openness and the Future of Education which was really great listening. This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to listen to David talk (though I’ve been a fan of his work since 2001) – and it is totally worth listening to, especially if you’re involved in educational resource development.
One thing I really had to grab were these two slides where he looks at the disconnect between typical educational environments, and typical communication environments (yellow being where education is today):
But these slides here, out of context of David’s talk really don’t do justice to the range of issues that David talks about. Copyright, learning objects, resuability, social media.. You really have to watch the Elluminate recording if you can.
I’m pretty impressed with George’s running of the show. He has set it up centrally through Moodle in such a way so as to be as painlessly open and easy to join as possible. The lay out of this moodle is efficient and easy to navigate, the recordings of the presentations are available almost directly after the talks and are easy to find once archived, and George is keeping everyone up to date with what’s happening through his blog and through email as well as a few other tricky new tools. Each day has only a few hours of talks on reasonably regular time settings (afternoon in North America time/not ungodly morning time here in NZ) making it easy to see who, what, when and where the presentations are. The talks run through Elluminate which sadly excludes many linux buddies that haven’t worked out how to get Elluminate running – but George is making the audio recordings and the screen recordings available soon.
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?
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
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?
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’