You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘library’ category.

Otago Polytechnic has adopted a Creative Commons Attribution copyright license and has been using the Wikieducator platform with other popular media sharing services to develop and publish Open Educational Resources and Practices. This article outlines some of the steps that the Polytechnic has taken, as well as some of the challenges being faced, and a vision for the future. It should be noted that this article has been written from the perspective of the author, and not necessarily from Otago Polytechnic as a whole.

This article has been written on the request of Ken Udas, editor of Terra Incognita a web journal by PennState University.

A wiki version of this article is available here.

Contents

  • 1 About Otago Polytechnic
  • 2 The Educational Development Centre
  • 3 Staff development, weblogging, digital literacy
  • 4 Vision for staff blogging
  • 5 A change in the Organisation’s Intellectual Property Policy and Practices
  • 6 Working with Wikieducator
  • 7 A Wikieducator development structure, page templates and staff development
  • 8 Vision for content developed on Wikieducator
  • 9 Risks and foreseeable issues
  • 10 Conclusion

About Otago Polytechnic

The Otago Polytechnic is a public New Zealand tertiary education institute that graduates around 4500 students per year. It is centred in the city of Dunedin with campuses throughout the Southern (mostly rural) region of Otago including Cromwell, Wanaka and Queenstown, and supports a small number of Community Learning Centres in various regional towns.

Otago Polytechnic focuses on skills based, technical education and occupational training, offering a range of New Zealand accredited degrees, diplomas and certificates. (Wikipedia 24 Nov 2007)

The Educational Development Centre

In 2006 Otago Polytechnic established an Educational Development Centre for staff development, online and flexible learning development, and research into educational development.

By mid 2006 the Polytechnic established a contestable fund for Departments and staff to apply for assistance in developing flexible learning opportunities in their courses, including skills and knowledge in teaching and/or facilitating flexible opportunities for learning and formal recognition. This fund is called the Flexible Learning Development Fund and is mediated by the EDC.

By the end of 2006, 3 EDC Programme Developers were helping to manage around 20 course and programme development projects initiated by staff through the fund, as well as through research grants. The following article is an individual account of progress in this effort by one of the Programme Developers.

Staff development, weblogging, digital literacy

Through 2006 and 2007 the EDC ran a range of professional development activities for staff, including 2 instances of the teacher training course Designing for Flexible Learning Practice (which is part of a larger teaching qualification now required by teaching staff at the Polytechnic) and 1 instance of Facilitating Online Learning Communities. These courses, along with numerous informal workshops and professional networks, have helped to develop critical digital and network literacy’s as well as general awareness of the popular Internet amongst staff – particularly blogs, wikis, social bookmarking and RSS.

Currently there are a number of Polytechnic staff actively documenting their work and progress on individual weblogs. By subscribing to the RSS feeds from these blogs it is easy for colleagues and EDC to assess and keep up to date with experiments, new ideas and methods, issues and concerns, and of course the development of digital literacy and networked communication skills. We can also observe the progress of specific projects, and in some instances, educational courses being run through a weblog. With this level of access we can enter into discussions, offer timely advice as well as point to best practices when needed. By comparison, obtaining this level of access and overview through traditional communication channels (such as face to face meetings, email or formal reporting) is not only inefficient but typically lacks accurate and authentic insight or opportunities for wider consultation.

As an example of the level of access and insight that can be obtained through staff blogging, and the extent to which some project documentation is being done, the following list points to some of the more active bloggers in the Polytechnic. These blogs should be considered as personal documentations beyond the formal job descriptions of the authors and so, authentic accounts of their work so far.

  1. Bronwyn Hegarty – Education
  2. Kim Thomas – Horticulture
  3. Hillary Jenkins – Tourism
  4. Leigh Blackall – Education
  5. Helen Lindsay – Learning support
  6. Sam Mann – Software Engineering
  7. David McQuillin – Massage Therapy
  8. Rachel Gillies – Visual Arts Photography
  9. Carolyn Mcintosh – Midwifery
  10. Sarah Stewart – Midwifery
  11. Merrolee Penman – Occupational Therapy
  12. Graeme Dixon – Occupational Therapy
  13. William Lucas – Languages and learning support
  14. Matt Thompson – Building
  15. Jacquie Hayes – Community Learning Centre
  16. Wendy Ritson Jones – Librarian (on leave)
  17. Pam McKinlay – Visual Arts Historian

And there are a few who are using blogs to channel communication and information relating to courses.

  1. Tour Guiding – Soon to migrate to http://tourguiding.edublogs.org along with several other course blogs for the Applied Travel and Tourism Programme.
  2. Cookery – a video blog presenting videos recorded in class.
  3. Learning English – with reguler posting of what is to be done in class.
  4. Participation in Occupation – Access to lecture slides, notes and supporting material.
  5. Peer Tutoring – Short course for people interested in becoming tutors.
  6. Designing for Flexible Learning Practice – announcements, updates and related links for a teacher training course.
  7. Facilitating Online Learing Communities – cross institutional course blog with announcements, updates and related links for a online facilitator training course.

Some staff see little value in documenting their work with weblogs, but are non-the-less interested in activities and initiatives to do with flexible and online learning, open education, and socially networked media. The Networked Learning email forum was set up in mid 2006 as a channel for informal learning and to support staff development through more widely used email communication. Formal learning opportunities are also provided through courses like Designing for Flexible Learning Practice and Facilitating Online Learning Communities already mentioned.

Vision for staff blogging

Primarily weblogs are being used as a simple device for developing digital literacy and critical awareness of online networking and communications. EDC encourage as many staff as possible to use a blog to document projects and professional development, with a view the regularity of writing online inevitably leads people to use hyperlink referencing, optimise and embed images and media, change blog style sheets, and add or create their own media. All this helps a person to develop digital literacy and improve communication skills, as well as critical awareness of what it means to have a professional presence within a network on the Internet.

In terms of networking through blogs, on a local scale it is observable in those who are blogging and using an RSS reader to track other blogs, that there is a gradual increase in awareness of what their colleagues are doing, what advances they are making, and what issues they are facing. Through this local networking, bonds are developing online that are helping to support informal learning and development. Over time it is hoped that this local awareness and communication will strengthen and develop into a more national and international network for each of the staff members. It is envisioned that some will come to see the value this approach has to maintaining a professional profile online, and encourage their colleagues to do the same.

While all this is helping to improve digital literacy and critical awareness, ultimately it is hoped that these skills will transfer into better services to potential and existing students. Extended thinking around this vision is expressed further in the following posts:

  1. Out From Under the Umbrellas
  2. What Would it be like to be the Rain

A change in the Organisation’s Intellectual Property Policy and Practices

Toward the end of 2006 Flexible Learning Developments started to engage in content creation. Many staff did not have the Internet research skills to first search for existing content with copyrights that could enable reuse. Nor did many have experience in producing media other than text documents and slide presentations. EDC started building awareness on how to search for Creative Commons licensed content and other free content, as well as techniques for searching popular media sharing sites for reusable content. As awareness grew of the quantity and quality of existing and developing free content so did staff willingness to consider reusing existing content before developing entirely new content. It became apparent that the organisation’s Intellectual Property Policy needed to be written in such a way as to enable the legitimate reuse of such open educational resources, as well as to encourage staff to participate and contribute to the pool of resources and help establish a stronger online presence for the Polytechnic.

By mid 2007 a new IP policy was agreed on that acknowledges staff and student’s individual ownership over their IP, but encourages the use of a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license as the preferred copyright statement on works published with the Polytechnic’s name. Individual owners of IP who wish to publish with restrictions beyond attribution are required to notify the Polytechnic so that an appropriate restrictive statement can be added. In short, the All Rights Reserved default over content from the Polytechnic has been replaced by a Some Rights Reserved – Attribution default with an option for individuals to restrict. This is a simple inversion to what is common in most other educational institutions.

The new IP Policy is a strong mechanism for dispelling staff uncertainties about engaging with the Internet, and sends a clear message that it is appropriate to use publishing services like blogs, media sharing services, and to contribute to international wiki projects individually and/or in the name of the Polytechnic. Such activity is beneficial to the Polytechnic as it more widely distributes the name and the courses and services it offers, not to mention the expertise of its employees. EDC plays a role in helping to maintain quality.

Unfortunately an issue remains in the sampling and reuse of Commons based works with restrictions beyond Attribution – such as Non Commercial and Share Alike, or similar copyleft mechanisms like GPL that require derivatives to use the same or equal license. If a staff member samples and remixes a work with such a restriction, the license on the original work requires specific restrictions be included on the derivative work. This may not be desirable or even possible in some situations for the Polytechnic and so, as a matter of simplicity and to ensure maximum flexibility in the resources, staff are encouraged to preference sampling CC BY, Crown of Public Domain works where possible, and to avoid using resources that have restrictions like Share Alike, Non Commercial or even more restrictive.

Working with Wikieducator

In mid 2007, following the agreement for a new IP Policy, many of the Flexible Learning Development projects began using the Wikieducator platform to develop educational resources. To date there are at least 15 full time Otago Polytechnic lecturing staff and 5 part time designers regularly using the Wikieducator platform to develop their courses. This number is certain to increase as the teacher training schedules used by Otago Polytechnic include orientation and skills development in the use of Wikieducator as well as a number of other publishing platforms and media sharing services.

Benefits of using Wikieducator from the perspective of the Polytech include:

  • Free content hosting
  • Free and supported access to MediaWiki software
  • Exposure, promotion and networking with other educational organisations
  • Internationalisation and dialog with the Commonwealth of Learning
  • Collaborative development opportunities and resource sharing
  • Open access to learning resources
  • Staff development of MediaWiki editing skills that are transferable to more popular MediaWiki based projects like Wikipedia, as well as the Polyech’s own hosted MediaWiki.

Issues with using Wikieducator:

  • Copyright issues – Wikieducator uses a site wide Share Alike copyright restriction without an option to mark a full project or individual resource with the Polytechnic’s preferred CC BY license. This limitation in copyright potentially complicates the Polytechnic’s developments on the platform, but work continues on a good will basis. To manage the risks in this, the Polytechnic’s main page on Wikieducator links to a copy of the Polytech’s IP policy which points out the use of CC BY that applies tp all pages that are category tagged Otago Polytechnic. This position has not become a concern to the Wikieducator hosting organisation but clarification on the issue is needed. This issue is argued in detail in the article Open educational resources and practices.

A Wikieducator development structure, page templates and staff development

The Polytech’s EDC encourages people who develop educational resources on Wikieducator to use a structure which aims to make resources on the wiki as reusable and open for collaboration as possible. Inspired by Steven Parker and his ideas about activity sheets, as well as David Wiley’s significant 2001 paper The Reusability Paradox, this development structure revolves around the creation of Learning Objective Pages. Learning Objective pages express a set of learning objectives related to a particular skill or knowledge attribute. 2 subpages attach to the Learning Objective pages: one being Library of Resources and the other being Learning Activities. As developers and support librarians encounter information and media relating to the learning objectives in a Learning Objective page, the link for those resources is added to the Library of Resources subpage. As learning activities are devised, they are added to the list on the Learning Activities subpage. Course Pages are developed separately from the Learning Objective Pages but are what bring a selection of Learning Objective Pages and their Library and Activities subpages together. The Course Pages are free to be contextualised to what ever the expressive needs of the course may be. Because the Learning Objective Pages are simply linked to the Course Page and not subpages, they are effectively independent to the course, and so can be reused in other courses or for other purposes without the need for editing and renaming (for the most part anyway). For this reason it is important that the Learning Objective pages are worded in such a way so as to be as reusable in as many different contexts as possible, and to leave contextualisation to the Course Page or to the various Activities listed in the subpage to the Learning Objective. As Learning Objective Pages are picked up by different Courses then its list of Learning Activities will grow to reflect the reuse without affecting the reusability of the Learning Objective itself. A video explaining this structure is available on the Otago Polytechnic Category page on Wikieducator.

In November 2007 Brent Simpson developed the Otago Template Generator, which aims to simplify the process of creating Learning Objective Pages and their Library and Activities subpages. Other work includes hacks for embedding media from popular media sharing services like Youtube and Slideshare, which is another outstanding issue with Wikieducator as we wait for the administrators to consider whether or not to support the functionality of embedded 3rd party media.

Vision for content developed on Wikieducator

Ironically, through developing curriculum and content on the Wikieducator platform, we are discovering more opportunities for local collaboration before realising benefits of international collaboration. Because of the open nature of the content, some of our teaching staff are discovering each other’s work. Contrasted to that are the teachers working on a closed Learning Management System with a working environment that is isolated from other projects, and so staff in these environments are unaware of similar content being developed elsewhere on the platform, or are developing in such a way that makes it very difficult to collaborate and reuse in other areas.

Also because of its open and accessible nature, development on the Wikieducator must ensure quality controls such as copyright. The Wikieducator project requires that all content be cleared of restrictive copyrights and so has rendered the works very flexible and reusable. Again, contrast to that the closed development environment of the LMS and we find that there is very little quality control on copyright, and that a large amount of very restricted content is being used, which ultimately limits the flexibility and reusability of the resources being developed. In this sense, development on the Wikieducator is arguably more sustainable and is achieving more with the investment.

At the moment, developments on the Wikieducator are largely limited to basic text and images. The Commonwealth of Learning is investing in the development of functional enhancements to the Wikieducator that will gradually see more engaging formats being developed on the platform. If the Commonwealth of Learning manage to encourage and coordinate investments from other participatinginstitutions such as teh Polytechnic, we will likely see rapid and well funded development that will build on the free text and image content that is currently being built. Such development would include software to enhance the Wiki environment as well as the creation of multi media educational resources. The content on the Wiki is flexible and reusable enough to be used in a wide variety of contexts such as in an LMS, a face to face class, course blogs, email forums, mobile phones and PDAs, and other portable media such as print, CDs and cassettes. These types of further developments are made possible by the nonrestrictive copyrights, the consolidation of human and IP resources and the facilitation efforts of teh Commonwealth of Learning.

Risks and foreseeable issues

Weblog based communication is still foreign and new to the majority of staff at the Polytechnic, and many struggle to see the value to them personally and professionally, or how they may begin to develop strategies to manage the time it takes to reading and/or writing weblogs. It would be reasonable to accept that the majority of staff will not want to keep a weblog or will not actively monitor the blogging efforts of their colleagues. While there are demonstrated benefits to those that do, a communication disconnect may emerge between those that do and those that do not which could prove counter productive to the organisation as a whole. While it is possible to compare this development to that of the uptake of email some 10 years ago, weblogging (both reading and writing) could just as easily not be following the same path as email. The Polytechnic will need to continue thinking about and developing communication strategies that are effective and useful to all staff, and carefully consider ways to scale the benefits of blog reading and writing so as to avoid any disconnection. Suggestions aimed at bridging different communication channels and reaching a wider range of readers include:

  • public press releases on a blog as well as their normal email and static webpage broadcasts.
  • staff updates on a blog as well as the normal staff wide email broadcast.
  • meeting minutes on a blog (or a wiki) as well as in archived text documents.
  • service department updates on a blog as well as the PDF attachments broadcast through email.

There are methods with which these additional communication channels can be utilised without double handling the message.

At present the EDC’s leadership in the use of Weblogs, popular media and Wikieducator is occurring without close and regular consultation with the Polytech’s IT support unit, the web publishing unit, the marketing unit, or the human resources unit. While this enables rapid development, it of course posses a significant risk to all those units should some aspect prove counter productive to the brief of one of those units. The solution relates in part to the need for a better communication strategy, and one that includes participation by all who are affected. How to achieve this breadth of dialogue is an important issue that needs research and consideration, but at present EDC makes an effort to attend and update as many cross unit meetings and forums as practical.

Working to develop digital literacys and online networking skills with teachers instead of or before students may be less productive than working with students directly. This is an interesting proposition made by Russell Butson of the Higher Education Department of the Otago University working in similar areas to the EDC. It is possible that a large proportion of the teaching staff will feel that they have more to lose by participating in this effort. It may therefore be productive to work with students who arguably have more to gain in developing digital literacy and online networking skills given the relative early stages in their career paths. By working directly with students it may help to benefit their learning objectives and career aspirations sooner, while helping teachers to observe more objectively the benefits and pitfalls to these new literacys and communication skills. Discussions continue with Russell Butson regarding his research into this approach to Educational Development.

Conclusion

Otago Polytechnic has taken rapid and significant steps in the direction of open educational resources and practices. In the space of less than 2 years it has positioned itself as a leader in New Zealand and Australia by being the first to develop and adopt an intellectual policy that encourages the use of Creative Commons licensing, and is proactively encouraging staff to experiment with and use popular publishing services in their professional work and learning. So far the Polytechnic has chosen not to duplicate the features on these popular media services ‘in house’ and is seeking the maximise the benefits of using external services. In so doing, the Polytechnic is developing a strong and authentic online presence that is distributed widely. In so doing staff are develop important literacys, transferable skills, and critical awareness of online communications that are relevant to life outside the Polytechnic, and to the Otago Community more generally. The speed at which this change has taken effect in the Polytechnic has left some service areas unprepared, and is having both positive and negative effects on internal communication. So far the benefits are outweighing the disadvantages, and through continued staff development activities we expect that these disadvantages will diminish.

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 archive.org 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 Archive.org 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.

People who know me, know I am loathed to use self hosted services. Apart from myself forgetting to pay the bill for domain names and poor-service hosting servers, and so losing webpages and files that I didn’t backup, I think it is important for education to be as in touch with popular media and platforms as it can be. Setting up your own, at-times-monolithic systems, entrenching work practices around them, and giving teachers a route that leads to disconnection, dependence and non transferable skills is something to avoid as much as possible.

In saying that though, I remain all on my lonesome and am yet to hear of an educational organisation in (Australia or New Zealand at least) taking advantage of the storage and services on offer at OurMedia and Internet Archive, or using socially networked platforms to any formal status, taking advantage of Blip.tv services and saving 10s if not hundreds, maybe even millions of dollars on their own yet to work alternatives.

But here I go, about to describe a semi in house set up that I think we need. This set up will hopefully inter-operate with the social platforms and take advantage of all the best has to offer, but for mainly internal issues and copyright concerns, we need a system that spans the divide. One that will give us a cake and let us eat it as well.. whatever that stupid saying means..?

A MediaWiki

We need a media wiki with all the coolness and functionality you can get into the thing. It has to embed youtube, google and blip movies, it has to hold widgets and iDevices, take many html tags, it has to be able to hold a Google map, it needs survey tools, flickr badges, slide show, embedded audio, RSS and all the other things I haven’t thought of.

Looking at an impressive list of MediaWiki extensions, there is potentially a lot on offer, and the work of Alex Hayes and Chris Harvey on the Learnscope wiki promises to demonstrate a lot of all this functionality. The wiki we need has to allow for quick, easy mashups, 1 hour before class, by the skin of my teeth! and we need to be able to move that mashup onto other publishing platforms and formats quickly and easily. More a more detailed wish list, see ideas for wikieducator.

Distributed upload

We need to be able to load a movie (and every other file) to our own New Zealand based file server, and have the option to load it to YouTube, Blip.tv, Archive.org and the National Library… maybe more. The first file to load in the embed frame on the wiki is the local one. If that goes missing then the next available one needs to load, and so on. If that can’t be done easily, then at least a list of alternative locations should load if the local file doesn’t. This is what I mean by distributed upload, and it was inspired by the awesome services on offer at Blip.tv. Distribution like this is not just about backup, it is also about networking and collaboration. Distributing files out gets better visibility. Better visibility may lead to more reuse. More reuse leads to attribution and recognition, that in turn leads to networks and collaboration. The Brazilian teacher who has been using your movies in her class (sourced from Youtube – not your server) calls you up to talk about a student exchange idea… you point her to wiki and things get started…

Copyrights management

Our platform will hopefully default to CC BY but enable individual resources to have any copyright license needed. MediaWiki already has good handling of multi license content, so we need data recorded on what licenses are used on how much of our own content, and in the case of external content used on the wiki, we need records of what content is used other than our own and what the copyrights are.

On the file server, we need to be able to turn on or grey out functionality depending on what license is selected for a resource. For example, if I am uploading a video to the file server:

  • I need to option to publish or private with the ability to ID users who can see it if private
  • I need to be able to set a copyright from all copyright options (most free first and default right down to restricted). If I choose a less free license I start to lose features, like the ability to distribute, the ability to embed in the wiki, the ability to have it reformatted and backed up on other servers etc.

That’s it for now.

Come on Toto… There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place…

I help facilitate a course called, Designing for Flexible Learning Practice. It is a subject within the over all teaching qualification we run called Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Learning and Teaching. We recently started our second running of the DFLP course, and this time with a course blog, course wiki, participant blogs and an email list as the primary platforms for information and communication.

This week the participants have been asked to read up on Flexible Learning and post to their blogs a summary of our thoughts and ideas on it relating to our subject areas. For those of us needing more structure, my colleague sent out printed versions of the 1st Chapter from the book, Flexible Learning in a Digital World as a base level reader to the subject. Following are my loose notes on the reading…

Sadly, the chapter is nowhere to be seen online. So I’ve scanned it and loaded it here for reference.

I think I’ll use that absence of an online version of the reader to start my response. I’m currently sitting in a house in the suburb of Taylor’s Lakes, North of Melbourne Australia. I forgot to bring my printed version of the article so could not read it and respond as the other participants are doing. I searched the Internet high and low, but had to resign myself to a 2 hour return journey into the city to run around the libraries in the hope that I would find a copy and be allowed to photocopy the chapter. My first stop was the State Library of Victoria which had almost thousands of articles on Flexible Learning, but nothing by the authors Collis and Moonen. Hmm a question mark hangs over this reading already! Why wouldn’t the State Library of Victoria have a copy of this book?… but the lady at the desk was helpful and used her special login to another catalogue and was able to locate an available copy in the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology’s Library.. ahh we’re back on track, that library was just next door too.

I found the book’s call number on the RMIT’s library catalogue, but when I arrived at the shelf it wasn’t there. The catalogue said it was available, but it certainly wasn’t in the place it should have been. Luckily my partner Sunshine was with me, and her eyes spotted it on the shelf next door, completely the wrong section. Happy to have the book at last, I approached the desk to ask if I could copy the first chapter. No, I wasn’t allowed to scan it because I didn’t have an RMIT username, but I was allowed to photocopy it at a charge.

So, nearly 5 hours later I am home and ready to read it. I have scanned it to PDF and loaded it to my blog (if that’s a breech of copyright for educational purposes, please don’t fine me, just let me know and I’ll take it down)… so so far, has this been a good experience of flexible learning? I’d say not. And especially when I read the one important line in the reading on page 10,

“Flexible learning is a movement away from a situation in which key decisions about learning dimensions are made in advance by the instructor or institution, towards a situation where the learner has a range of options from which to choose with respect to these key dimensions.”

and those key dimensions, according to Collis and Moonen are:

  1. Flexibility related to time
  2. Flexibility related to content
  3. Flexibility related to entry requirements
  4. Flexibility related to instructional approach and resources
  5. Flexibility related to delivery and logistics

P10

Apart from the lack of accessibility to this reading, I also have concerns about its age – 2001. Pretty short time in terms of paper back publishing, but a long time in terms of Internet publishing… so I wonder how relevant this article could be. Certainly their list of dimensions of flexible learning seems to corner their conceptual framework into learning that is offered by way of Institution and accreditation processes, and would seem not to account for recent developments in social media, informal learning and networked learning and other similar models for contemporary ideas of socially constructed learning.

But a read of the book’s only review in Amazon.com, and the strong recommendation from my colleague tells me that I should put aside these initial concerns and give it a go. So here goes… 20 pages of reading a photocopied, none cut and paste-able text. (I’m such a winger aye!)

The initial thrust of the article is that flexible learning is not just about distance. It seems to come from the author’s experience with teacher training in the field where a common misconception that their learners have is that flexible learning is distance learning with a new name. The chapter goes to great length to try and explain the scope of flexible learning through the first 5 pages without giving a single scenario or example. Where it took 5 pages to speek generally about the features of flexible learning – I think a couple of rich scenarios would have helped me focus more on the generalities of this article.

So why did they do this? On page 2 they state their position quite early on by quoting a fella by the name of Van den Brande back in 1993 ‘There must be more flexibility to meet the needs of the learner, through the adaptibility to different learner needs, learning patterns and settings, and media combinations’. And to approach this statement, the article feels that it is necessary to ask, what is flexible learning first off. I think it is strange to want to ask this question in response to Van den Brande’s statement. I dunno what the context of Brande’s statement was, but it would seem to me that the first question to ask would be why? Why do we need flexible learning?

So, feeling lucky, I threw that question into Google: “Why do we need flexible learning”

Only 2 results and one of them was a casual blog post by me!! Very disconcerting, so to widen the net I removed the quotation marks: why do we need flexible learning and from that I can see the main online proponent for the concept of flexible learning is the Australian Flexible Learning Framework. So I asked the AFLF: why do we need flexible learning resulting in no straight answer and 9 out of 10 of the results being documents in strangely the most inflexible word processor formats!

So it seems to me that there is no easily accessible straight answer to this obvious question? This idea of flexible learning is beginning to take on water…

But surely governments wouldn’t allow public servants to spend millions of dollars on a concept that doesn’t have a straight, voter-friendly answer to what it is…! Even though I am quite distracted by my unanswered question, maybe I better stop asking and focus on the task at hand – reading and responding to this article…

Putting flexibility into practice: opportunities…

Straight away the concept of flexible learning made operational (p13 paragraph 5) stands out at me, as this is what we are continually juggling in the facilitation of this DFLP course. Expressing curriculum ideas in terms that can be turned into manageable options for other participants. In past experience, it would seem that anymore than 1 option becomes an unmanageable thing for the participants in DFLP. We are all busy, mostly full time workers of mature age with many external commitments. This means that most of us would prefer a simple directive on what to do and by when, rather than manageable options of what to do and by when. Especially when the ultimate measure of learning and subsequent accreditation is based on stated outcomes and/or standard units of competency! So once again I find myself back at the unavoidable question of why we need flexible learning…

From p14:

Lessons 1. Be specific! We need to define our terms and express our goals in a measurable form or else progress will be difficult to steer and success difficult to claim.

I don’t mean to be argumentative, but it seems to me that this statement is more applicable to the concerns of an educational organisation, than for an individual learner. Mainly because specific terms, goals and measurables might just as easily limit an individual than it might make their progress and success easy to quantify.

From the perspective of the learner
And it is in the paragraph on p15 that this conflict of interest is articulated in a quote of someone named Fleming in 1993,

Modular structures, credit accumulation schemes, independent learning and so on, can create a supermarket system in which students wander freely, picking up this course or that, having as little contact with lecturers as supermarket shoppers have with anything resembling the friendly village grocer. These changes may empower learners.

I’m not sure I like the analogy in that, but I agree with the sentiment of empowering learners, but as the authors point out, such empowerment can confuse learners… “not all students want to make their own choices or be responsible for the quality of their choices.” p15 para 2 (isn’t it amazing how this discussion always ends up sounding like an early 20th Century political battle between fascists and democrats).

From the perspective of the educational institution
Ah, this article knows the institutional barriers to flexible learning very well. Nuff said

Now I’m up to p17 and the title is Who wants flexible learning? I have a feeling that my niggling question may get partly answered here…

“Students in the normal intake routes, directly from secondary school and resident at or near the physical campus, are being joined by increasingly diverse cohorts. These cohorts are diverse in age, educational backgrounds, experiences, distances in which they live from campus and even cultures and native languages” (Langlois 1997) p17 para 2.

Sounds good, gobal village kinda stuff, but sadly I am not yet seeing this in my own teaching work. I would love to start seeing it more, where the subjects I am asked to facilitate, such as this DFLP course, get attended by people other than employees of the Polytech, and people from more diverse cultural and language backgrounds. Its early days for DFLP though, and we are certainly trying to get the course into that arena, so we’ll see. But I think Langlois’ call is a good one. If it isn’t happening already, then we might add it as an objective for development, as there’s no doubt that having global awareness like this is a useful thing in all subject areas, not to mention society as a whole, so making it possible in our developments will help to make it a reality.
OK, I’ve read ahead quite a bit now. Am getting tired and Sunshine wants to take an afternoon walk (I knew 20 pages was going to kill me off) . I’ve skipped to the conclusion and can detect very little extra in concepts that I might have missed by skimming the final pages. The chapter sums up by saying flexible learning is a complex thing. Well yes, I guess it is, but personally I don’t find that very helpful. I already know it is complex, what I want to know is how to make it simple. So I guess I’m going to adopt that as a bit of a role – attempting to simplify these things that are made almost too complicated.

In my work here – developing courses to be more flexible in learning opportunities etc – I’ve been trying to strengthen the relationship between lecturer and librarian services. Where lecturers really need assistance is in locating reusable learning resources. By reusable, I mean artifacts with Creative Commons, GPL or GNU licensing.

A typical scenario might be:

Course wants to make its content available online. First we need to check the content for currency and copyright clearances. Almost always this is where we get caught. While a teacher is usually pretty diligent with referencing text quotes and the like, they almost never reference the imagery they use in their resources. So we have to find supplementary images, or find whole new resources that are free for reuse and remix.

As you can imagine, this can create a large amount of work, but I see it as a very important capability building exercise. We need teachers to be more careful with their resource creation, we need them to be intimately aware of all the free and open content that is available, and we need resources created today that can be reusable tomorrow.

Obviously a lecturer can not do this alone, and they are not the only ones that need to develop new practices that compliment this effort. Enter the librarian. Traditonal role is to support the lecturer in gathering information and teaching resources, and sometimes to support the learners in their efforts with the subject.

So I’ve been trying to get a librarian involved with every development project I get started. They attend all the meetings and workshops and become intimately aware of the emerging needs of the course. But most importantly, they develop a new awareness, skill set, capability and awareness for their role in this new era for the education sector.

In a nut shell, here’s what they are to me. Comments welcome.

Sourcing reusable and copyright less restricted resources in close consultation with the lectures who are developing their courses.

 

Awareness

  • What is a Creative Commons license?
  • What is a GPL and GNU license?
  • What databases exists that store resources licensed in this way?
  • Emerging librarian and educational uses of 3D virtual worlds such as Second Life

 

Skills

  • Advanced searching for CC, GPL, GNU and open courseware
  • Social bookmarking/tagging and RSS technology relevant to traditional librarian roles
  • Being able to use and control to a profitient user level a 3D virtual world
  • Formats, reformatting, open digital formats, digital archiving and reusablity

 

Capabilities

  • Being able to combine the awareness and skills and apply them to support lecturers in their needs to source, supplement and remix reusable content.
  • Being able to keep abreast of new developments in this area
  • Being able to relate these new practices with older practices

 

Experience

  • In time management with these new practices
  • In explaining the benefits of the new practices to colleagues and clientele
  • Working to an independent level the interpretation of copyright legislation and being able to advise lectures on the best course of action when it is an issue relating to teaching resources.

At last I landed a telephone call with Stewart Cheifet, Director of Collections at the Internet Archive. Why on Earth so few Educational Institutions and Libraries in Australia and New Zealand know about, let alone use the services that the Archive offer is beyond me. Listen to this audio to learn more about exactly what the Archive is offering, and start thinking of how these services could potentially save your organisation millions of dollars and vastly improve your visability and digital storage services.