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Sarah Stewart has picked up on a conference taking place here in Dunedin that I know very little about. Part of me is offended that I know so little about a conference being organised in my home town without any of the organisers talking to me directly about it. But universities are a bit like that really, and maybe Dunedin is chock full of people living and breathing “computer mediated social networking” that they don’t need to seek out other locals… personally, I have not found many at all.. perhaps they just research it.. whatever the reason, as Sarah points out, we can’t not submit ourselves to their authority something for inclusion in the program if we are to regard ourselves in this field at all.

On looking at the topics for the conference it would seem that our experiences with running the Facilitating Online Learning Communities course would be a good candidate to talk about. I’m a little put off by the tone of the conference though, and a bit at a loss as to how we might go about packaging what we know about that experience up into a presentation of some sort of “research” for this conference. I do know that there are quite a few things about our experiences that the conference attendees would find interesting, starting with the things Sarah points out such as personalised learning through blogs and wikis, and open access to the course and how that resulted in a better learning environment and fee paying enrollments.

I would like to extend the proposal to talk about open content, the difficulty of negotiating the participatory expectations of such a course with the traditional educational models of ‘stand and deliver’, and the discussion around facilitator or teacher. I’d also like to point out to model courses that follow this vein, such as Dave Wiley’s Introduction to Open Education and the work in progress on Wikiversity, Composing free and open educational resources.And then of course we could talk about the bigger picture at Otago Polytechnic.

So, my initial thoughts are that we could talk about:

  1. The set up and maintenance of the Facilitating Online Learning Communties course
  2. Experiences of the participants and examples of how their new learning is being used in their work
  3. Outstanding issues and considerations arising from the course
  4. Further work we will do in developing education generally at Otago Polytechnic using socially networked media and communications.
  5. Frank and honest discussion on the probable and existing issues with this vision and Otago Polytechnic

I think it would be good to beam the likes of Sue Waters and some of the 10 minute lecturers in on the day as well, to get their impressions and reasons for participating on the air… as I think they played a very significant part in the course that we have not really captured yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A quick look at NZ Internet stats

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

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

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

Update:

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.

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

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

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

Wara points to another facinating titbit in his post, The importance of hacker thinking

The 5 part youtube playlist, The History of Hacking

During the 1970’s, the phone phreaks or phone hackers appeared: they learned ways to hack the telephonic system and make phone calls for free.

John Draper built a ‘blue box’ that could do this and the Esquire magazine published an article on how to build them. Fascinated by this discovery, two kids, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, decided to sell these blue boxes, starting a business friendship which resulted in the founding of Apple.

Getting their laughs and skills from hacking and cracking into primitive computers and exploiting the Arpanet (predecessor to the internet), they created a novelty that would become the target of federal crackdown in years to come.

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

Google alerted me to a new connection the other day. This time it is US linguist and edu blogger Mike Caulfield. Mike’s post that sent a Google Alert to me was about his discovery of a ring of others criticising the Learning Management System. Apart from being interesting to see what Mike makes of his discovery of our little network of LMS nay saying, he links out to a very interesting perpective he has on why the LMS is no good:

So it’s no surprise that the modern LMS developed under what I would call a “container model”.  We “upload files to” it. We have discussions “in” it. And if the “outside world” needs to see something “in there”, we give them “access”.

And the students? Well, they’re “in there” too. At least the piece of the student that belongs to that class is. You know, the English major slice. The part of the student that is a science minor is in another box, and the part of a student that is looking for a job or hanging out with friends doesn’t have a box at all.

So here’s one of the paradoxes of HASA-based LMS systems:  they follow the grain of of our thought, and at the same time they profoundly fracture our experience. The unintentional message of the HASA LMS is what goes on in class stays in class — that it is seperated zoologically from the personal and the professional aspects of a students character.

Its great to have Mike in the loop now. I’m going to enjoy reading what else he discovers in our footprints, and enjoy more his linguistic takes on the LMS and other things!

Welcome Mike 🙂

Thanks to Artichoke and Rose for the heads up to what is for me absolutely hands down, one of the best presentations about connected knowledge I have seen in a long time.
Serendipity 2.0: Missing Third Places of Learning – Teemu Arina

[Someday Sunshine and I will find our way to Finland and everything will be ok…]

I thoroughly recommend watching the 30 minute screenrecording of the presentation. Not only is it a fascinating and refreshing perspective on the ideas of connected knowledge, the images and even the accent will make it fascinating.

Thanks to Teemu for putting so much work into it, for communicating to me in the only language I can understand, and for giving me more access to the kind of thinking going on in Finland.

This is high order stuff for me.. and while I enjoy being in that space – I watched this in work time, research. All the way through I was trying to relate the observations and ideas into my own context. Adult education and training, mostly with vocational goals. Teemu showed at least 2 very thought provoking examples of projects applying his line of thinking. One of which was Network Oasis.

netWork Oasis is a collaborative working, learning and development environment. It is a space designed to inspire spontaneous and guided encounters of different individuals. Versatile environment welcomes actors, specialists and groups from various companies, research and development organizations and communities. Billing is based on the actual logged usage of the facilities. The price includes all 1200 m2 of space and services. Laptop and a cell phone are the only necessary tools for working – Internet, printers etc. are provided by the services.

That is something I can look at more closely and see how solid I can get the concepts before testing them out here, in lil old Dunedin…

Teemu finished his presentation with these questions:

  • What does it extend?
  • What does it make obsolete?
  • What is retrieved?
  • What does it reverse into, if over-extended?

My attempt to answer them in my own vocational education and training context before I’ve had any time to reflect on them:

What does connected knowledge technology extend in vocational education and training?

The ability of a business, company or organisation to service the education and training needs of itself, through informal learning models, but facilitated through technologies. In saying that however, some sectors will be a long time coming compared to others. Office work and organisational work and the like could be the first – already having the sorts of technology available to them, and being the closest to being conceptually ready to adopt these methods. Trades and industry maybe some of the last cabs off the rank, if at all as many have very little access to the types of technology available now to connect knowledge, or the media literacy levels available to make the most of it. I could (and hope I am) be wrong about this though. The hospitality and service sectors are an interesting possibility… but I’m aware that Teemu is pushing me to think for more informally and less compartmentalised with knowledge and skills development… I am, its just hard.. community building within and across sectors maybe a way to establish fertile ground for connected learning.

What does connected knowledge make obsolete in vocational training and education?

Well, if informal and networked learning models became popular and successful for workbased learning initiatives, vocational education and training services could become a lot more unnecessary. Within the voc ed service sector itself, traditional curriculum will slowly dissolve into more integrated and relevant micro learning, with holistic learning principles and ethics being left to … dunno what…

What is retrieved in connected knowledge models for vocational education and training.

I think the apprenticeship model will become the familiar vehicle to promote connected learning. Only the master will be a distributed role over a network, or local community of learners or trades association.

What will be lost or what will be the negative if we go too far with connected learning practices?

We disrupt local knowledge workers at a pace, rate and philosophy that alienates them even though they are or would be valuable to this new practice. We risk adverse affects of assessing and awarding approval to practice when skills or experience are not as good as thought (but the social and open learning should counter this). We get caught up in techno futurism and loose site of many current and historical issues that need to be delt with. And we think in terms of data or ethics that are foreign to our number 1 learning space – family and local community…

Personally I was skeptical about the notion that a learning style might be generational. The digital natives, digital learners, net generation and all that has been a mildly useful motivator or reasoning in teacher training, but I never truly believed it was a valid.

That’s because I have not been in a classroom setting with a bunch of teenagers for a while. A bit over a year and a half to be precise. And its also because down here in deep dark Dunedin there is very little broadband and so I surmise that that would mean there would be very little power Internet use amongst the kids. That was until today, when I subbed a class for the Travel and Tourism Department. I was to teach research skills to a bunch of teenagers! To be honest I was sweat’n it.. how the hell was I gunna make this interesting?

But first, a video sent by Gary Sewell through the TALO email list:

So, 20 minutes before class I set up a wikispace starting with the following sentence:

Researching together is more effective than researching alone.

Did you like that? I like that, and they did too! Phew, great start. Now for my mistake. After briefly outlining what a wiki is and how it might be useful for researching together, I told them about the edit button. Boom! faster than I could click edit and save, the wiki was deleted! Surprised but not flustered I showed them the history and it didn’t take long (about 3 minutes) for someone to work out how to revert it. I had to double check at this point. “hands up who has used a wiki before?” no hands…! Just intuition

This little hiccup disrupted the group a little and there was a lot of noise and fiddling going on. I managed to get them collectively focused on the first question: “what might we need to research in tourism?” To try and control the edit conflicts, I had one person take notes from the suggestions. As usual it was hard to get people to speak up, but we got there with some age old teaching tricks. The notes went in and the edit clashes kept happening. Big lesson – don’t point out the edit button too early 🙂

After we got a few examples in there, I referred to the list of search sites and content repositories I and put in there earlier. I asked them to use this list to search for good links and resources related to the research examples we had brainstormed. If they found anything of interest, they were to come back and paste in the wiki with a sentence explaining the link. At this point I became aware of the 3 international students in the group using their translator computers 🙂 LOL I set the rest of the group to task and went to the internationals for further explanation.

It is this task that needs following up. Search techniques, remaining focused, how to drill down and assess the social links, finding the motivation and techniques to look carefully. I didn’t labour on any of this and observed with joy the kids having fun pulling up silly youtube movies, doing flickr image searches, and some making serious attempts. I knew that they knew that anything I set them to do was going to be a one off, so I saw no reason to attempt to keep them on any hypothetical task at the expense of more engaging discovery fun. I just wanted them to be exposed to it all. And I really wanted to see the extent of their digital native-ness. And boy was I amazed!

Within minutes they had worked out how to embed the Youtube movies into the wiki. Somehow GoogleMaps came up and I showed them CommunityWalk. At least 4 in the group started up their own CommunityWalk map. Others started up their own wikispace and I walked around trying to clarify some of the chaos and confusion in the air.

It was amazing to watch! Within 40 minutes this group of 12 or so had experimented with more information and communication technology than I have managed to get any group of 12 teachers to do in 12 months!!

Our librarian Wendy2.0 was there to observe. I bet she was a bit skeptical by the lack of focus on research skills, and maybe a bit concerned that the class was wild and going in all sorts of crazy directions at different times, probably leaving behind maybe 4 of the group. I know I was a little concerned, but what could I expect? But I did get the sense that the group had been exposed to something they hadn’t seen before, and that they understood the possibilities – as a group. That their energy (if nurtured and maintained) will over time find a constructive way to use these tools in their study, and the 4 will pick it up like most people do in such socially active learning environments like this group.

But this will require follow up. The regular teacher will need to be aware of this class activity (they did not come to the class!), the learning support guys need to be at the ready to work on some of the fixable problems that emerged from this session.. such as focus, search techniques, drilling down etc. But those teachers are not ready! It will honestly take them a year to understand what these kids intuitively grasped in minutes!! This is a scary thought!

We need the students to teach the teachers!!

Like I said, I was skeptical to begin with. I’m a believer now! We teachers have got to get happening! Make sure you check out the furious history of that class wiki.

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