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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A quick look at NZ Internet stats

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

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

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



Ah yes Graham, I share your.. story.

As  Alahka puts it in your comments, you can lead a horse to water… or as I have exhaled from time to time, flogging the dead horse that died in the trough!

I think though, it is incentives and time we need to encourage and support those teachers to first use the tools for their own learning. If they can’t do that, then I’m not sure we should be risking their incompetence on the lives of others who are either coerced into their charge, or pay huge fees for their services.

image CC BY MorizaIts a beautiful day outside. I’m spending it building a wardrobe in the bedroom. And while I wait for the batteries on the cordless drill to recharge, I’m finally catching up on my long neglected bloglines.

I highly value Stephen Downes’ recent critique the Cape Town Declaration. I started reading the declaration yesterday, but quickly lost interest in it for reasons I was not entirely sure of at the time. Stephen’s critique, the comments that follow, and the links out to other ideas about it offer up so much more food for thought than the declaration itself. I think I will spend more time following the critiques and responses before I actually read the declaration – maybe that way I will find the thing more interesting as I read through it and consider the critiques and conversations I have already read. At this point in time I intuitively share Stephen’s concerns and I think the general points he is trying to make should extend right accross the Open Educational Resources movement. There is too much standard thinking about the ‘delivery’ of education, and the near neurotic obsessing over copyright seemingly at the expense of more important issues to do with learning. Nuf said on that for now.. more to follow after I’ve had more time reading.

Speaking of reading, making the time to read really helps me to listen. Since working at the Polytech my time for reading has been slowly eaten away. While in discussions about workload I try hard to defend the time I need to read, and reckon that people in my role need to allocate at least 30% of their time to it.. for me this would be at least 40 hrs per month reading my bloglines and adding notes to my blog. I need this to remain current and to sustain my connections. Funny how a fulltime job with all its inefficiencies can eat away at that. Over the past 2 years I have been reduced to less than 20hrs reading and writing time. I am starting to appreciate the familiar chorus from people when I encourage blogging and RSS, that chorus that says, “but who has the time!” In my own loss of the time I need, I really have only myself to blame. I must defend that time, and where possible extend it. Reading other blogs, comments and general points of view are extremely helpful to my own listening abilities and the things I can bring back into my local context. The trouble is, that that amount of time impacts on my abilities to listen in on the local channels. Those face to face meetings, discussions, and other things. At the moment, there is a communication disconnect between the speed and depth of the online communication and the slowness and superficiality of the face to face…

Stephen also recently posted the transcript of the talk he made in Wellington back in 2006 on Groups and Networks – the class struggle continues. I have blogged extensively my support once again for Stephen’s thoughts here, especially through that time soon after his talk where the debate about Groups and Networks became quite controversial, ending in a wide scale dismissal of its importance. I still think it is centrally the most important issue not just limited to online learning, and this recent transcript helps keep it alive in my mind.

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—–
>>>> —–End Original Message to Facebook—–
>>> —–End Original Message to Facebook—–
>> —–End Original Message to Facebook—–


Youtube permalink

Explanation from one of the project leaders

Te Reo o Otakou is the first in series of videos from SimPa. We’re working with local runaka to help them retell stories of people and landscape in new and engaging ways. Fronted by runaka chair Tahu Pokiti this video introduces the concept – it is aimed to reconnect and engage – both in the finished product and the production: it is a collaboration at every level between Otago Polytechnic and members of the runaka.

Movember – raising awareness of men’s health

Movember – Changing the face of Men’s Health. Movember (the month formerly known as November) is a charity event held during November each year.

Wellington School orders a student and Movember participant to shave off moustache. (Wellington is the capital and political centre of New Zealand)

A Wellington private school boy has shaved his Movember moustache off after his school threatened to ban him from sitting his NCEA exams. Scots College says it is inappropriate for students to grow a moustache, even if it is done for charity.

Facism (sic) …has a new name and look.

Subdued in All Her Rage: The musings of an unemployed twenty-something undergrad – School: Preparing Us For More School

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I have always been prepared for the pretend world — that is, school and school-like situations. I’ve always received good grades. I think I’ve had like 1 or 2 B’s, like 3 or 4 A-‘s and the rest A’s my entire college career. I’m well adjusted to the learning environment, and all that crap.

Bella and I have similar feelings about the school uniform

Culture Kitchen – Does School Teach Kids to Survive and Thrive?

And to carry the thought further, which kinds of education (if any) are best preparing future citizens to survive, and even help prevent, all manner of potential catastrophes to come? I’d put a high premium on self-reliant yet socially responsible technology, schedules, lifestyles, networking, world views and income generation. The kinds of learning based on intrinsic motivation, privacy and sustainability, learning that doesn’t require or prepare people to live and work in assigned dorms and barracks under constant public supervision and scrutiny.

Youtube – Despotism and Democracy “DespotismDeschooling Society discussion in Wikiversity

“The most radical alternative to school would be a network or service which gave each man the same opportunity to share his current concern with others motivated by the same concern.” — Ivan Illich.

Do you know of a freely accessible online intro course to sustainability that could be used to initiate some under informed people to the issues and ideas of sustainability?

we have been presented with a copyright protected, closed format, password protected, pay-here-please resource that would be quite effective for initiating people into the concerns, but does not in my opinion present a sustainable model for online learning development. I wish I could show you this resource, but.. it requires a password.

I criticised the resource as demonstrating unsustainable practices in terms of online resource development and learning, now I’m tasked with finding examples of more sustainable online resources… open source, freely accessible (no passwords), collaborative yet concise and informative… I expect I will find little in the way of finished resource.

It is a difficult task, as the expectation has been set by the resource that has been presented. A very linear, ‘mechanically interactive’, multi media broadcast of introductory information speaking to a particular frame of thinking about the issue (corporate/organisational sustainability). It is a genre of online learning resource that I have come to see as unsustainable… but on the other hand it has been suggested that such content could be an effective resource to ask participants to first go through and then critique and use as a basis to help build a more sustainable version .. hmm perhaps a Wikiversity or Wikieducator development would be such a venue for user genertaed content…

The Wikipedia entry for sustainability has an excellent range of resources, including a list of educational opportunities which I will slowly review.. The Wikiversity site has the beginnings of a potential course, but already beyond the concise and engaging resource we are looking for just now. The good thing about these 2 wiki examples is we could mold them to our needs without issues with access and copyright restrictions.. perhaps it will work out cheaper and more effective to do just that then to buy in an external resource like the one that has been presented to us. If we can’t find a ready to use resource that models sustainability, my thinking is to consider the cost of developing an easy to follow step through of available resources, including the drawing in of a variety of multi media (such as this video on Youtube that William found a few days ago). So if anyone has a good ‘lesson plan’, link or entire curriculum handy that would step people through an introduction to the concerns of sustainability, that would be most helpful. Anything that relates to social, economic and ecological sustainability is being sought.

So at this stage, any help in finding accessible, open for reuse and remix, concise and engaging resources would be appreciated. Links to individual resources like that Youtube video, texts, or whole curriculum/lesson plans would all be helpful. Please add anything to the comments below, or using the tag intro-to-sustainability. I will collect and review all that is found and attempt to summarise ideas from there.

I hope this post generates discussion and links, both would be helpful. Thanks for your time.

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.

I wonder why not a soul in Australia or New Zealand thought to contribute to the Gmail collaborative video? With nearly 2 million views so far, and a Google map pinning everyone who contributed, I would have thought at least one keen videographer in Australia or New Zealand would have thought it a good idea to get a shot in and get noticed…

Why didn’t I put one in? Maybe my lame excuse is similar to all the others in Aust/NZ

I seem to recall having mixed feelings at the idea of participating in a Gmail fan club. But clearly I should have just gotten over it and put one in!! I would have been a lone pin representing Dunedin and Aust/NZ.


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