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10 days to the start of the free and open online course: Facilitating Online Communities.

About once a week in the lead up to the start of the course I check the course wiki discussion page to see if anyone new has added their names to the ‘I wanna be involved list‘. Each week I am nicely surprised to see not only new names, but people with experience and genuine interest! Its actually a little intimidating to be honest! There are people joining the course with more experience than I have! but I’m confident that the topic range and resources will be useful for just about anyone, and as many have said – they’re joining to fill in some gaps. I think we’ll be fine 🙂

As yet I haven’t heard from any formal participants. I don’t know if the sponsoring institution who is responsible for the traditional promotions and formal enrollments has been directing people to the course wiki or not (I sure hope they aren’t persisting with their Blackboard process – it will only confuse people). Perhaps for a formal and newbie, the idea of making an introduction to a group of experienced and highly motivated participants so far is intimidating them.. I hope not, I sort of wish I had of included a join by email button (I need to look into that feature on Wikied). Ignoring that factor though, the group we have in there already will be a valuable resource to any newbie to all this. They’d be really letting themselves down if they  opted out on account of feeling intimidated.. I must remember to quiz people to see if this was at all a factor once we get started.

In any case, I am really relieved that we have a good number of interested informal participants. They will help to carry the motivation of the formally enrolled, and will no doubt offer help with the course in general. I’m confident that some of them will turn into fee paying participants if they want assessment and certification, but its certainly not a requirement.

I’m looking forward to getting started on it come the 28th, even though I’ll be facilitating all by my lonesome, I don’t intend to allow my workload to go over 6 hours a week on average. We’ll see, famous last words…

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Chat Room - A photo by iBoy Daniel

That course we ran last year is coming up again. I’ve tweaked it quite a bit – free at last from the learning management system it was locked up inside, running in a wiki schedule, backed up by blogs and an email forum.

This course has been developed by staff in the Educational Development Centre of Otago Polytechnic and is designed to help both formal and informal learners access and interpret models, research and professional dialog in the facilitation of online communities. After completing this course people should be confident in facilitating online and/or be able to critique and offer advice to other people in the facilitation of online communities.

The next facilitated course starts 28 July 2008.

Participation in this course is open. You will need to have regular access the Internet and be comfortable with independently completing tasks. To join simply introduce yourself to the discussion page and include an email address that can be use to add you to an email forum for the course.

In formal learning terms this is a level 7 course registered on the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. Formal learning participants engage in this course for a period of 10 weeks with an indicative time commitment of at least 6 hours per week. Formal learners will receive concentrated learning support throughout this period, and assessment services and formal recognition at the completion of the course. Some people may prefer to engage in this course informally and to set their own pace through the work using the schedule as a guide. Informal engagement is welcome and arrangements can be made for formal assessment and recognition at any time with the course facilitator.

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New Zealand’s collective student debt is approaching NZ$10 billion!!

Lets take a look at the cost of living for a student in Dunedin per week and get an idea of how crappy this situation is.

Weekly cost of living

Rent = $100 p/w

Energy, Internet and telephone = $75 p/w

Health = $20 p/w

Food = $100 p/w

Car = $80 p/w

Furnishings = $20 p/w

Clothing = $20 p/w

Social = $50 p/w

3 trips home per year = $30 p/w

Savings = $50 p/w

Stationary, computing and text books = $30 p/w

Student fees = $50 p/w + 40 hours p/w

TOTAL COST OF LIVING PER WEEK = $625 per week

Weekly income

Student allowance (if eligible) = $150 p/w

20 hours casual work @ $12 minimum per hour (resulting in a 60 hour week when combined with study time) = $240 p/w

TOTAL INCOME PER WEEK = $390 p/w (Gross!)

Weekly short fall of $235 per week. Totaling $12220 annually!!

So, let’s drop the car and savings… weekly short fall now = $105. Totaling $5460 short fall annually.

I guess we could keep chipping away at some of those weekly expenses.. who needs a social life, or trips home (or away), or health… and I guess they could work harder than 60 hours per week, or sacrifice some of that study time to work more, or find a job during the semester breaks to pay back some of that short fall (provided your landlord, food market, and all the others can stomach giving you credit until then. What about student fees? Let’s take a look at that…

Looking at student fee in relation to cost of course

A 3 year course at $12000.. what is the cost of running a course for 16 people per year? (Class sizes are one of the big reasons you would study at a Polytechnic btw.. imagine 350 people or more in a class, I struggle to see the value in university fees..)

Teacher @ $60 p/hr x 20 hrs p/w x 40 weeks = $48000 per year

Classroom and amenities = $4000 p/y

Internet and 16 computers = $32000 p/y

Other specialist learning resource fittings = $6000 p/y

Administration = $4000 p/y

Library = $6000 p/y

SUBTOTAL ANNUAL COURSE COSTS = $100 000

Less Government subsidy of around 70 – 80% = $30 000

Divided between 16 students = $1875 That’s less than half their fee!
(that subsidy figure needs checking.. it is really had to find)

Now, if we consider that in the breakdown of weekly student living costs – included in that is a computer and Internet. That might suggest that we could scale back our provision of such things (ignoring for now the fact that most students probably choose to forgo that cost in their struggle to survive here) and reduce the cost of the course considerably further (especially if I am out with that subsidy and course cost estimate).

But students would still be being forced into debt.

So what could we do in the way of free learning, fee education to afford more flexibility – save another $40 per week? And what could we do with other Government grant money to provide computers and Internet at affordable prices for students – save another $50 p/w? And what could we do with Open Educational Resources to reduce text books and library costs – save another $20 p/w? And what could we do with distance education so as to offer options for avoiding Dunedin costs of living – save another $100 p/w?

I don’t think we are thinking hard enough on what we can be doing to help address this serious social problem affecting the quality of learning in NZ. We have students who have little choice but to study and work 60 hour weeks, racking up and worrying about debt, and/or reducing their standard of living well below what I would call acceptable. I dare anyone to take a tour of rental properties in Dunedin.

Dave Bremer, a colleague at Otago Polytechnic criticises my interest in using MediaWikis for online learning.

My problem with this is that Wiki’s are just textbooks…

It is true that in the past, and the vast majority of wikis today are primarily reference materials or text books. But over the past 2 years, a few individuals and institutions have been exploring the use of wikis to develop and manage courses, hoping to leverage the benefits of collaborative editing and open access.

Some examples:

Harvard, US: Law and the Court of Public Opinion. An early example of an open access course that uses a course blog, email forum, Second Life meeting spaces, and a course wiki.

Utah State, US: Introduction to Open Education. Inspirational in its simplicity, and a proven success through its primary use of a wiki that blogging students use as a course schedule.

Media Lab, Finland: Composing Open Educational Resources. Inspired by Intro to Open Ed, this course has been developed on the Wikiversity platform that follows the same simple course schedule format for blogging students to follow. Note the numbers of people in the edit history and discussion page, demonstrating the benefits of collaborative course development.

Otago Polytechnic, NZ: Designing for Flexible Learning Practice. Also following the simple schedule format for blogging students to follow, but on the Wikieducator platform. This course uses a course blog for announcements and weekly summaries, and will be using web conferencing for lectures. Note the use of the Wikieducator Liquid Threads (a threaded discussion feature on the discussion page for the course). Also note the Print to PDF feature which came in very handy on the course orientation day.

Otago Polytechnic: Horticulture. This project mainly uses the wiki as a storing house for lesson plans and activity sheets for use in class or by distant learners. It follows Otago’s development structure based around competency units with a library of resources page and activity sheets set as sub pages to each unit.

Otago Polytechnic: Travel and Tourism. This project also follows the Otago development structure of unit pages with library and activity subpages. The teachers in the course are using course blogs for each of the subject areas and simply point to activity sheets on the wiki depending on the needs of the classes.

Otago Polytechnic: Massage Therapy (link to Programme Manager’s blog post update). Uses the wiki as a storage bay for resources and activity sheets with course blogs announcing new things to the students. Has an interesting use of RSS to a start page to bring together all the different courses to create a course hub.

Otago Polytechnic: Anatomy and Physiology of Animals. A text book developed in Wikibooks, with lesson plans and activities developed in Wikieducator for use in different contexts including face to face classes, or courses within the learning management system. The text book has been picked up by eLearning designers in Vancouver and will be developed further on the open licenses, integrating the activity sheets as well.

In all these examples, I think it would be a stretch to call them simply text books (apart from Anatomy of Animals which is quite deliberately a text with activity sheets to support it). It is difficult to avoid creating texts while creating courses however – as evidenced in just about any LMS course development. This is why some of the wiki courses listed here are using the Otago development structure. The structure encourages the separation of information and other reference materials from lesson plans and activity sheets firstly to maximise re-usability, and secondly to assist teachers who are developing there courses on the wikis to think more deliberately about what it is they want their students to be doing, and to create a variety of different activities around a single learning objective for use in different contexts.

More info about Otago’s exploration of wikis for developing and managing courses on Wikieducator.

We’ve advertised the Permaculture Design course in the local paper last week, and again tomorrow. We’ve sent promotional messages to email forums, and the good old word of mouth. The course starts in 2 days and we only have 3 enrollments. Are we missing something? Is permaculture an unfamiliar concept in Dunedin? Is our timing wrong? Does the course need to establish itself more? Is the price wrong?

What I do know is that is that our enrollment process we have should have less failure points. As it is now, we advertise, people call a number, they are sent an enrollment form, upon receipt of a completed enrollment form the applicant is directed to the course start location. There are 3 failure points in that process (assuming we have all of our own systems and responses working well).

  1. Interested person has to make contact
  2. Interested person has to fill out and send enrollment form
  3. Interested person has to turn up

In Institutions I have worked at in the past, the advertisement for the course includes the location of the start day with a more or less open invite to turn up on day 1. The enrollments are done on that day and then its straight into it. In such an approach to formal enrollments there is only one failure point:

  1. Interested person has to turn up

And it has a feeling of being fairer I reckon. A kinda try before you buy (an enrollment form does have the sensation of financial commitment).
The local interest in the course is disappointing so far. But on an upside we have had 2 inquiries from California wanting to participate online. Kim, the course facilitator has blogged about this. Our only online promotion has been to make the course outline and schedule openly accessible on Wikieducator. When I asked the 2 Californians how they came across our course literally 2 days after putting it on Wikieducator they said Google.

So at least the name of the course is right, for Californians.

Both are interested in obtaining a certificate in Permaculture Design. Our course is not yet established enough for such a thing, but it is our goal. As is the goal to make it accessible and achievable through distance learning. We plan to use this first running of the course to record presentations, discussions and workshops to digital media for access by the distance learners. At least one of the Californians is keen to participate at this level and to help us get the most out of this effort. It is also our goal to further develop the course and make it attractive to designers generally.

So hopefully we will gain more local enrollments in the course. Any suggestions are very welcome.