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

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

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

Desire2Learn Roundtable Event 18 June 2008

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

Understanding the question

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

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

Statistics from 2007

Statistics from 2007

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

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

Is eLearning really growing in New Zealand?

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

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

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

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

Learning theory

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

  1. Constructivism
  2. Behaviourism
  3. Cognitivism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Web2 is socially constructed media and communications

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

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

Social media in education – more of the same

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

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

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

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

“…We don’t need no education…”

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

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

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

Notes:

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

Links

The Dawn of Epimethean Man by Ivan Illich

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

PBS Frontline Special: “Growing Up Online”

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

The Idea of the University

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

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


Leigh Blackall

+64(0)21736539

skype – leigh_blackall

SL – Leroy Goalpost

https://learnonline.wordpress.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m taking leave from the Polytech work to speak at the 2008 Skills Tasmania conference and a couple of TAFEs and Vocational Training services next week. Given the status of the other speakers, I have in mind a talk with equal or more punch than Teaching is Dead Long Live Learning. But I dunno… almost everyone who dares talk to me about that speech seems to have fundamentally missed the point I was trying to make.

On the one hand Tasmanians can be a little parochial (according to Wikipedia editors of the word 😉 and haven’t always taken kindly to outsiders challenging their practices on their home turf. But on the other hand – challenging speeches are what I’m known for and is probably the reason I have been invited? So what to do?

I probably should have been thinking about this talk a lot sooner, but I am just too busy every day (and most nights) with Polytech stuff (I’m getting better with that though) to really be able to think about things beyond my immediate future. So up until now, I really haven’t had a clue what I was going to say. But now I do, I its probably going to be a doozy.

Well, I’ll check with the conference organisers of course, but in the lead up to a conference that they have been spending the last 6 months planning for, they can understandably be a little over cautious and erk on the safe side. And once I get an idea brewing that seems like a good’n to me and my trusted colleagues, I find it hard to let go and change tracks.

I hope I can work this out. I want an opportunity to speak about this in a challenging and political way. It is sure to spark another round of smackdown learning.

Oh, and by th way! While we’re on the topic of Tasmania, controversy, skills and industry:

More info

I’m making steady progress in building my ideal learning space in Second Life. Konrad and Jo have been wonderful in teaching me building skills, and very patient with my insistence to use real life proportions and limitations. Although it has been 2 weeks, I have only been able to give 5 hours to the project so far.

As I said I would do in my initial post about this project, I have applied permaculture design processes and principles to this project, and thought of the space in Second Life as though it was a real space in real life. I very much enjoy the permaculture design process for its holistic, even universal design ethic – and given its focus on sustainability and self sufficiency it is also very timely in todays world.

My first step in this process was to produce base and sector analysis maps to determin what I am working with in terms of the available space, and what resources are on hand. Here is one of my drawings for that first step:

Then I decided to focus on the building design, and for this I’m using discarded 20′ shipping containers as the basis of the building. Shipping containers are great to work with. They are readily available for reuse, reasonably cheap, structurally sound, transportable (obviously), durable, and come in remarkably good dimensions for proportioning an efficient living and working space.

Using containers in this way is certainly not a new idea, and I’ve been tagging all the websites I find that contain information about other people’s building with containers. From what I can tell though, my design is (or will be) unique in that it aims to retain the functional qualities of the containers. I am trying to work out how to make it so that all the materials and objects that are used in the build can be packed inside the containers, and that any modifications I make to the containers will not compromise their structural integrity, or ability to be transported.

So here’s where I’m up to:

Ideally i wouldn’t have used so many and such high piles as they are expensive and make quite an impact on the environment, but given the proximity to tidal waters, I really don’t have much choice.

Konrad and I had a long discussion this morning about my emphasis on sustainable and self sufficient design and how it relates to the idea of an ideal learning space.

To my mind, nothing these days should be built or developed without careful consideration of these sustainability issues. Nothing ever should have been actually! But regarding the challenges of designing a learning space, I am thinking to use these primary sustainability considerations within a frame of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Its obvious that if people’s basic survival needs are not being met, then they are not in a very good position to be learning things beyond what it takes to survive. If they are stressed, hungry, or uncomfortable, then we are hardly in an ideal space for learning about abstract concepts or developing new skills. Or if the learning space itself is struggling to pay out money for energy, food, or waste management, then it too is in less of a position to commit to learning. And so it is with a real world sustainability and self sufficiency approach that I’m considering these needs.

Also, I don’t believe that institutions are the ideal place for learning. Actually, I think it could be proven so… Instead, I’m going for a family home.. but one that can accommodate up to 15 people if need be.

I’ve been thinking about Pacific Island, Maori and Aboriginal people and their strong family and community values. In Australia and New Zealand, State housing has been criticised for using the 3 bedroom nuclear family idea as a basis for its developments. They failed to appreciate the extended family values of some of the people who would be using those houses, and arguably contributed to the breakdown of important forms of social support for those people. Actually, I don’t think it is only Pacific, Maori and Aboriginal people that have suffered this disruption through architecture and institutionalisation. I’d say all cultures have at some stage had strong community and family values, its just that the dominant culture at the moment has institutionalised itself out of these values (and is suffering for it I believe). Ivan Illich has written extensively on this idea, so I’ll leave it with a link to the memory of his vastly superior work.

So, my design is for a family house that is large enough to host 15 or so people from time to time, but practical as a family home; that is fully self sufficient in providing for its own energy, water and food needs; that is a system that produces no waste; and that uses building materials and structures that are reused, portable and make minimal impact on the area being occupied.

There will be an open meeting on location in Second Life this Saturday and Sunday morning at 11:30am NZ time (11:30pm Friday and Saturday nights UTC).

SLurl for the Virtual Classroom parcel on jokaydia II

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.

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.

image CC BY MorizaIts 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.

Long time no chat with Teemu Leinonen. Tonight he skyped me out of the blue and in no time has me signed up to Jaiku – another group IM system, but seems to have more features than Twitter such as intergration with mobile phones..

We also got to chatting about various stuff in the world, flicking links to movies back and forth before we settled down to watch the first part of the BBC series Century of the Self. More info about this BBC series here.

Its another very thought provoking film in what seems to be a series of stuff I’m just happening across, such as Newman’s History of Oil and Zeitgeist. Apart from being interesting in that this BBC series seems to support in some way the general ideas coming out of the more “conspiracy” minded films like Zeitgeist and History of Oil, Teemu and I kept the skype chatgoing through out the 1 hour movie. We chatted to each other, summarised what was being said, grabbed links to some of the names etc. It was quite an enjoyable way to watch this film.

Here’s some of the transcript: [10:42:12 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: I am watching the movie too.
[10:42:21 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: 🙂 me too
[10:42:33 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: I have this idea of having a TV with chat. We can do some quick user testing in here.
[10:42:44 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: right 🙂
[10:43:27 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: I have often tried to talk to my grand father about his life – but he does not talk about himself too well
[10:44:28 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: Where did he grow up?
[10:44:35 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: Australia
[10:44:52 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: through Depression WW2 etc
[10:45:48 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: My grandfather wrote down his memories.
[10:45:56 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: good man
[10:46:34 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: was common to keep journals in the 18 19th century hey
[10:46:35 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: I have this plan of “digitalizing” them. They are written with a typewriter.
[10:46:42 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: great
[10:53:50 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: hmm cigarettes
[10:54:02 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: torches of freedom
[10:54:21 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: bernays takes credit?
[10:54:27 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: dunno about that/..
[10:54:37 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: Bernays
[10:55:23 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: Bernays = emotional connection to objects
[10:55:32 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: emotional
[10:56:18 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: I think functional virtues will come back
[10:56:30 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bernays
[10:56:46 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: needs to desire culture
[10:57:03 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: does this reflect a European experience?
[10:57:43 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: emotional connection to objects is good if the objects are good. 🙂
[10:57:54 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: ah ha 🙂
[10:58:18 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: I don’t have anything agains good propaganda if the products are good.
[10:58:50 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: cigarettes – torches of freedom – money – wealth – jobs = good in 1920
[10:59:03 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: bad today
[10:59:12 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: hmm.. well…good for whom?
[10:59:32 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: women freedom?
[10:59:39 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: good point.
[11:00:30 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: if you could jump right from the “smoking” to the “torches of freedom” and the rest will still follow it would be much better.
[11:01:06 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: smoking – torces of freedom – money – wealth – jobs.
[11:01:33 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: well, money and jobs are good for others
[11:01:44 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: wealth for the nation/community
[11:02:01 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: women freedom means money for women.
[11:02:02 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: but all this just to question the notion of “good”
[11:02:36 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: “…and everybody was happy.”
[11:03:10 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: this bernays is a demon
[11:03:13 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: 🙂
[11:03:21 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: he has horns
[11:03:28 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: hah..
[11:04:35 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: bernays and co strike me as gloting arrogants
[11:04:46 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: or just american>
[11:06:37 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: freuds thinking = christian belief of inate sinfulness of men
[11:06:40 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: ?
[11:08:01 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: the mob and web2…
[11:08:09 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: unconsciousness = innate sin.
[11:08:17 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: hmm
[11:09:21 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: “engineered concent” – Bernays.. later Naom Chompsky
[11:10:55 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: Actually I mean: freud’s unconscious mind = the christian innate sin.
[11:11:42 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: right
[11:14:54 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: It seems to be that Europe exports “ideas” to US and when they are “imported” back to Europe it is a catastrophe.
[11:15:00 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: need to watch Zeitgeist for an idea about why the depression happened
[11:15:27 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: indeed
[11:16:00 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: …just waiting when the nuclear bomb will be finally “imported” back to Europe.
[11:16:24 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: freedom is impossible 😦
[11:22:41 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: on archive.org there is a good film called Despotism – 1947 or something..
[11:25:28 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: yes. I have used the Despotism in some classes.
[11:26:51 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Gallup
[11:36:01 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: not as active citizens but passive consumers
[11:36:15 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: web2 = active citizens?
[11:36:24 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: hmm..
[11:40:06 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: oh no.. the CIA
[11:40:15 p.m.] Teemu Leinonen says: Right..
[11:40:34 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: good film
[11:40:43 p.m.] Leigh Blackall says: thanks to the google pirate

George Siemens has posted much needed rethinking on the role of teachers and experts in Networked Learning. He presents the idea of a curator as a central player in initiating a focus for a learning network.

I very much like this idea of the curator and I’d like to add more to it by describing and preserving the integrity of the teacher and the facilitator.

As many already know I try to reinvigorate questions and discussion on the role of teachers from time to time – all be it a little confrontational 🙂  Lately I have been broadly focusing on the integrity of a facilitator, especially as I reckon the teaching profession is [innocently] corrupting the integrity of facilitation with teachers calling themselves facilitators – but remaining teachers in every sense of the word. I guess teachers do this in response to the as yet illdefined roles needed in a networked learning. They are perhaps prematurely trying to redefine their role of teacher without yet fully understanding why or how, and engaging in the dialogue that George points to. I don’t think teaching needs redifining, it is fine as it is, it just needs to be deinstitutionalised and moved away from being the primary player in people’s learning. Artichoke is in my opinion the deepest and most thought provoking edublogger writing in this vein of thinking, and she is drawing very much from the thinking of Illich.

As George suggests, perhaps the expertise of a curator are more suited to becoming a central role in networked learning – someone that draws on an array of teachers and content to suit a particular purpose. I want to add the facilitator as another important role here, as someone or something that assists people to negotiate the exhibition that the curator has assembled. Not a teacher dressed up as a facilitator – someone who manages to remain impartial while at the same time engaging and interpretive; someone that can respond quickly to various and often unpredictable contributions from participants; and someone who does all this without asserting a sense of authority or even expertise over a topic, but instead calls on teachers and experts to engage when a teacher or an expert is needed. And that’s where networked learning and the Internet really help us. They give us access to a vast number of teachers and experts to call on at any given time!

But where can we find curators and facilitators? I don’t think we can reliably find good facilitators in the teaching sector.. perhaps we will find better facilitators from the fields of journalism, comedy, performance, talk back radio, speakers to the house of reps, etc. And as George points out, we will find curators from museums and art galleries (lets not forget the librarians!) I see the likes of Stephen Downes, George Siemens, David Wiley and so many other “A listers” – or most referenced contributors, primarily as teachers and content providers in this network. People and content that the curator might draw from. Modern day researchers who are available to be teachers and content providers in an exhibition, conference of course. They’re participants as well – especially in areas they are not recognised as experts, but the sustained focus, quality, popularity, experience and depth of their work makes them more teacherly than participants in their field. So it is not them that are the facilitators (although they are often capable as George showed with his facilitation of FOE). But one cannot be both an expert or teacher and facilitator at the same time.

I’m yet to come accross someone in our widened educational network that I would call a professional facilitator and/or curator.. perhaps like the teaching sector, the edublogging sector is not a reliable source for good facilitators. Perhaps the source for good facilitators and curators do not have an online presence and network yet…

But when they emerge I see the roles playing out like this: A curator finds resources and a space to bring together an “exhibition” of content, experts and teachers, then either adopts the different role of facilitator, or employs the services of a professional facilitator who will assist all the participants to negotiate the various aspects of the exhibition.

For example: Someone who organises a conference is essentially curating content, and will either facilitate that event themselves, or hire a professional conference facilitator to do it. The teachers and experts play a secondary role in these sorts of learning environments by providing the content and focus. In a sense, the people and content in this secondary layer are competing with each other for attention and recogniton.. they often choose to collaborate instead/or as well as compete (I mean compete in a very positive sense) for the attention and participation in their topic area. The tertiary level in this type of learning environment are the participants. They move around the content that is presented to them by the curator, and engage in various discussions, workshops and other events with assistance from the facilitator if needed. Often the curators, facilitators, teachers and experts join in and participate as well, but they unavoidably carry with them the status and isolation of their role, while the participants are free to move around unrestrained by an identity as fully formed as a teacher or expert at this “exhibition” that the curator has put on.

An art exhibition (and the opening in particular) is very similar. The artworks, the artists and the critics provide the content; the curator selects the content; and the participants develop the interpretation/learning. The more I think about it, so much of the world works like this. The old practice of classroom, captive audience teaching, and standard set fees is such an abused privilege!

So begins a new/or revisited thread of networked thought I hope… and we may at last be developing a clearer model for networked learning.