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I think its been forever now that I have been saying to drop our internal systems and engage with the real stuff… I wonder if I could stretch the message in this research pointed to by SD. Corporate Social Networks a Waste of Money, Study Finds. Guess I better read it…

Sunshine and I moved to New Zealand to be a part of what we saw from Australia as a progressive society that has continuously lead the world in things like Treaties, decolonisation efforts, sustainable energy use, banning Nuclear warships into its harbors, applying political pressure on countries testing Nuclear weapons in the Pacific, not sending troops to Iraq, signing the Kyoto protocol, big time adoption of Moodle, and leaders in the development of Open Educational Resources. Of course now that we live here there are hidden details not easily seen from afar, but generally speaking this is a place where progressive action is possible.

Our local news paper reports that Warrington Primary School, not more that 20 kms North of Dunedin, have been quietly chipping away at the idea to migrate all their computers to GNU/Linux and then ask the Ministry of Education to pay their school the savings afforded by not using Apple or Microsoft software in the school. Even better still is that the Ministry are supportive of their action, and the Commonwealth of Learning, upon hearing the news, is extending them support too.

“It’s not just the financial savings. It’s the philosophy behind ‘freeware’, and reducing ‘e-waste’. If a laptop crashed now, it would have to be sent to the North Island for software to be reinstalled. But we can repair systems at the school with a disk, and we aren’t especially savvy.”

I can only hope that the tertiary sector around here will take notice of what this little school is setting out to achieve, and start asking itself why it is not also rebuilding old computers and giving them to people in need; why it is not saving some of the copious amounts of money spent in software licensing and using it to train locals how to be self sufficient and more sustainable; and why it is not teaching business and community how to access and operate free software that might save people and business hundreds if not thousands of dollars, not to mention to reduce computing waste and create new business opportunities in system support and hardware service and sales.Oh, and did I mention that all this helps market ourselves as progressive, which attracts unforeseeable support and resources?

At the very least the tertiary sector should be offering some educational support for free software alternatives, and to my mind it should be of a positively discriminate type to counter the cornered market we have allowed oursleves to become.


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.


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


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.

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.

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:

Leigh Blackall


skype – leigh_blackall

SL – Leroy Goalpost

I was hanging out in Brian Lambs Blip channel, just generally getting inspired and stuff, and when he got talking about RSS as he always does, I thought I’d have a little play with Blip’s RSS feed into Wikieducator.

I dropped HortyKims (a staff member here) into the Horticulture page and was blown away to see the full swf player displaying the actual video! I have sent away to Blip to ask for ways to control the display size of the videos, but for now it displays the size of the actual video file that was loaded. In HortyKim’s case, they are larger than your average net video. In my own case, they are 320×240 and so a little more acceptable.

Embedding media in a live sense is obviously the way to go, and the ability to create mashups with appropriately copyrighted materials will certainly attract innovators to the Wikieducator project. Blip has category feeds as well, so there is a fare bit of control in there, and they support the creativecommons licenses too. The Kaltura video player/editor that Wikieducator has been using seems to have stalled its developments as they still haven’t integrated with Blip. Youtube import is there, but given Blip’s far better handling of copyright – I think Kaltura and Blip should have gotten together much much sooner. Kaltura is a very promising feature, but it is worrisome that they are not keeping it coming.

I am really stoked to have stumbled across this ability to quickly and easily bring a Wikieducator page to life. All hail the power of RSS.

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 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.


I met Tony Hirst on Facebook. He had made a nice little RSS reader FB application for Open University courses and helped me make one for Otago Polytech. Luckily I grabbed his blog before I ditched FB and all the contacts I had made in it. But I’ve been so slow in keeping up with my reader that I haven’t been watching Tony’s work.. until tonight! Man!! Talk about some tricky mashup! Check out his Yahoo Pipe that effectively turns Yale’s Open Courseware pages that have no RSS, into an RSS feed! I have a new found interest in Pipes. But if you struggle to see the importance of that how-to, check out his How-do-I video search tool! Nice work Tony

Brian Lamb and many others have been keeping a close watch on FB lately, and its a relief that such critique is on the record throughout the Web2 educational blogger networks.

Below is a copy paste email exchange between a friend of mine and “Facebook User Operations”. In it you will see the process my friend had to go through to get out of Facebook. This friend was once a FB enthusiast, and now he loathes it. I am also on the road out of FB and glad to be getting free of it.

Like most people I saw the huge growth in the numbers of users and got sucked into the vacumm. Being a self proclaimed media and education critic of sorts, I saw it as part of my role to get to know the platform, experiment a bit and advise and critique. Thanks to the many critical thinkers around (especially those that engaged in the FB analysis in the Facilitate Online Learning Communities Course) that job of investigation has been quick and wide ranging. In that focus group we looked at the tools, features and toys in FB, we considered the serious accusations and questionable aspects of FB’s terms and conditions, privacy practices, copyrights, and marketing data collection practices, and we have discussed the bigger social issues around things like FB. Now more recently I have been shown the difficulty people have in actually managing their accounts in FB which is the nail in the coffin for me.

Just as in our “real world” of credit cards, databases, consumer “loyalty” programs and the more serious PR efforts covered by Adam Curtis’ films The Trap and The Century of the Self, FB is just another cynical intrusion on our society and another lift of the bar for those that claim to “do no evil”. Observing the quality of ads on FB lately might indicate that things are not going too well for the inflated FB adventure.

The thing that annoys me the most about all this is that the critics of Web2 will gain yet more traction through FB like bubbles. Those who have been following the Web2 thing should probably see that the likes of FB have very little in common with web2 ideas (closed, locked in, dodgy). Some may recognise it as that familiar corrupting force that will help to derail the more hopeful aspects of the movement, such as the revived belief in the value of a critical, creative and participatory society that helps to develop a more responsive and responsible economy, and more representational culture and mediascape (Benkler – Wealth of Networks).

Sadly, FB is another nod to the chilling warnings in the old classic EPIC2014, “its the best of times, its the worst of times…”

> From: “Facebook Support”
>> Hi …,
>> You’re welcome. Feel free to contact me with any further questions.
>> Thanks,
>> ….
>> User Operations
>> Facebook
>> —–Original Message to Facebook—–
>> From: …
>> Subject: Re: Deletion
>> That’s fine thanks.
>> Thanks,
>> ——————————

>> From: “Facebook Support” <….>
>> Sent: Friday, December 07, 2007 5:10 AM
>> To: <….>
>> Subject: Re: Deletion
>>> Hi ….,
>>> We have permanently deleted your account per your request. Please note,
>>> deletion is irreversible. Let me know if you have any other questions
>>> or
>>> concerns.
>>> Thanks,
>>> ….
>>> Customer Support Representative
>>> Facebook
>>> —–Original Message to Facebook—–
>>> From: …. (….)
>>> To: Facebook Support (….)
>>> Subject: Re: Deletion
>>> I have removed all my friends, profile picture, and inbox messages.
>>> Delete
>>> my account now please.
>>> Thank the developers of Facebook for making this process as difficult as
>>> possible.
>>> Is there a valid reason why I have to go through that process, or is it
>>> so
>>> people give up and deactivate their accounts, so they always have an
>>> account
>>> to go back to, so you can advertise to them? Or maybe you count
>>> deactivated
>>> accounts in your supposed 55 million users?
>>> If I have asked for the account to be deleted, I should be able to get
>>> that
>>> done. I should be able to do that myself from the Facebook interface.
>>> ————————————————–
>>> From: “Facebook Support” <….>
>>> Sent: Thursday, December 06, 2007 7:43 AM
>>> To: <….>
>>> Subject: Re: Deletion
>>>> Hi ….,
>>>> Unfortunately, you have not cleared your profile of all content.
>>>> Please
>>>> remove all friends from your friends list, photos from your profile,
>>>> and
>>>> messages from your Inbox. We will then be able to assist you.
>>>> Thanks,
>>>> ….
>>>> Customer Support Representative
>>>> Facebook
>>>> —–Original Message to Facebook—–
>>>> From: …. …. (….)
>>>> To: Facebook Support (….)
>>>> Subject: Re: Deletion
>>>> I have cleared everything from my account, and wish for it to be
>>>> cleared
>>>> from your server.
>>>> Thanks,
>>>> …. …..
>>>> ————————————————–
>>>> From: “Facebook Support” <….>
>>>> Sent: Wednesday, December 05, 2007 1:28 PM
>>>> To: <….>
>>>> Subject: Re: Deletion
>>>>> Hi ….,
>>>>> If you deactivate, your account, and any information associated with
>>>>> it,
>>>>> is removed from the site. However, we do save your profile content
>>>>> (friends, photos, interests, etc.), so if you want to reactivate
>>>>> someday,
>>>>> your account will look just the way it did when you deactivated.
>>>>> If you want your information removed from our servers, we can do this
>>>>> for
>>>>> you. However, you need to first log in and delete all profile
>>>>> content.
>>>>> Once you have cleared your account, let us know, and we’ll take care
>>>>> of
>>>>> the rest. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
>>>>> Thanks for contacting Facebook,
>>>>> ….
>>>>> Customer Support Representative
>>>>> Facebook
>>>>> —–Original Message to Facebook—–
>>>>> From: …. …. (….)
>>>>> To: (
>>>>> Subject: Deletion
>>>>> I would like my Facebook completely deleted, not just deactivated.
>>>>> Browser: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-GB; rv:
>>>>> Gecko/20071127 Firefox/
>>>>> —–End Original Message to Facebook—–
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We have a project brewing here to create an image database for the Art School. Logically this project needs to eventually scale to other departments as well. Apart from the technicalities of meta data, resources such as storage, and sustainability such as who maintains and backs it up – as always, copyright is a problem. The Art School has thousands of slides they want to scan in and make available to their staff and students digitally, and questions arise on the effects a closed or open database would have on the copyrights of third party (stuff we don’t own).

Funnily enough, it seems to me that the solution to the problem is not to create our own image data base, but to use an already existing database such as Wikimedia Commons. Apparently up to half of the images that we might need to use in the Art School are already available on Wikimedia Commons, including some images that are copyrighted, and the InstantCommons project looks set to increase that number of resources like images. Interestingly it seems that Wikimedia Commons is accepting copyrighted works under USA legislation of Fair Use – which from what I can tell is a bit easier to use educationally than our own legislation here in NZ.

Based on a statement included with a copyrighted image on Wikipedia, perhaps it is felt that if the copy is low enough in resolution to not warrant a faithfully replicable copy, or if a copy that could not effectively reproduce in original scale and in detail, or a copy that could not be used commercially to any great degree, is potentially OK to exist on a Wikimedia project based on the US’ fair use. Interesting example based on a low rez copy of a Clyford Still painting

Also of interest is the Bridgeman vs Corel which a staff member on our image database project has pointed to. In this case, a court has found in favour of a corporation that made copys of a museum’s images of Public Domain works. The Museum claimed that they had put a lot of work into their scans to ensure acuracy, but that claim worked against them because their scans therefore lacked originality and so they couldn’t claim copyright… how would this play out in NZ we wonder? Does it need to play out in NZ if the image is hosted on Wikimedia Commons? Could this extend to copyrighted images we wonder…

I called my mate Stewart Cheifet at for his take on it all, and through a bit of discussion put it down to this, low resolution, not making money (or fair use), all reasonable steps, no worries [my wording]. I like the refreshing clarity. I would worry more if we had our own database to maintain, but perhaps Wikimedia commons is more clearly these fair use things and so we have a better bet there…

So, what of our image database project? I reckon we should work towards the bigger projects like Wikimedia Commons and help improve that open and very usable database. We should be able to load high rez jpg to the commons for works that we have copyright clearance for – we may even find that a large percentage of the images that we need are already there! As for images that we don’t have clearance on, it seems that being an educational institution we can claim fair use under US law if we load low rez versions and details, the question is do we fall under US or NZ law if we use US services? [I think it is US law regardless – they do after all have the bigger guns and trade “agreements”]. Seeing as we only intend to use these images in research and learning – we probably don’t have a lot of need for high rez images – especially if we include detail images for close ups and the like when we need them (instead of high rez full works). Wikimedia Commons uses a MediaWiki platform which has an excellent range of metadata fields not to mention a proven ability to maintain itself through collaborative editing. Use of Wikimedia Commons dramatically reduces our costs of installing, running and maintaining our own system. Does this stack up?

Of course we would still need to set up a basic internal system for original scans etc. Like a library back up in case we lose access to Wikimedia Commons. Hopefully we would also use a MediaWiki internally so as to remain compatible with the likes of the Commons. But we should ensure flexibility in what database we primarily use, we might want to use later down the track if they get a good image database engine up and running, and so the openness of the commons gives us a fair amount of that flexibility for the meantime.

So as always it seems to make more sense to work in with existing projects rather than “reinvent the wheel” as the saying goes. Trouble is that in education, that saying seems to only extend as far as what your neighbour department is doing and not to a more national or even global scale… building our own is reinventing the wheel I reckon.

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

There’s a teacher at the party

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

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

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

So I have a problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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