I’m a bot over WordPress and just want things to be a little easier. I started blogging at Teach and Learn Online and stayed there happily for 2 years. Now after 3 years here, I think I’ll quit it.

But when I started work at Otago Polytechnic and starting showing people how to blog, it became controversial with some of Otago’s IT people. I decided to get to know WordPress in anticipation of IT saying, “ok, we’ll support blogs but only on our own install where we can control it”. Thinking WordPress would be their logical choice I thought I better start getting to know it and encouraging staff to use it so their skills would be transferable.

But to their credit IT have not moved in any of that direction, and I think I might like to go back to Blogger. I’ve never really liked the usability or speed of WordPress, nor the amount of spam and bot action it seems to get. I’m as worried as the next person about Google everything, but I’m not all that precious about content either. Easy come easy go really. There are lots of ways to back up and regenerate content I’ve found. Creating a book from my blog is one of the most rewarding of them all.. I’ve been meaning to do that again these past couple of months, there’s about 3 years of blogging that needs to be brought into a third book just so I can have something tangible on the shelf for all these words. Its a good process to go through, reviewing old notes and reformatting them.

So anyway, I’ve set up a new blog on Blogger. Leigh Blackall. There’s nothing on it for now.. and I’m not entirely sure when I’ll start writing there.. perhaps when I finish the book version of this blog.. that might be a good start. I won’t bother exporting and importing.. its sadly not easily doable from WordPress to Blogger, but nor is it necessary. This blog can stay, as does Teach and Learn Online. All links in tact. Apart from the URL and the template, you could view these 3 blogs as I do.. 1 big blog fluidly distributed across the Internet as though it where one big platform.

Can anyone think of any good reason why I shouldn’t stop this blog and go to my new Blogger blog? I don’t care about loss of readership. I’m confident the ones that count will update their feeds 🙂


Anyone checking facts?

John, a colleague on the SLENZ project sent me a transcript of a speech by Viviane Reding to the European Parliament in Feb, Freedom of speech: ICT must help, not hinder. I found the speech both troubling and encouraging.

But for others, living in authoritarian countries, the Internet is primarily the most important vehicle to express and share political views which are minority views in their own country, or which oppose the political regime.

To me, the simplistic views of “authoritarianism, oppression and expressive freedom” are troubling when they come across as they do – regurgitated political ideology being projected onto scape-goat nations without in depth consideration of the practical absence of the same ideals in the countries that project them. The usual response to such a claim is “we in the west have it good, would you rather live in Burma? You should not complain”… but we only have it good if we are comparing ourselves to the “other”. Take away that comparison with others and we are left only with what we can know – ourselves, and with more introspection on the issue of freedom, we might see that the west is oppressed by authoritarianism of a different and more insidious kind, and that we effectively lack any real capacity to express ourselves, or more importantly – communicate. This is sadly represented in the second sentence of the third paragraph in that speech:

In developed economies, many of us avail ourselves of blogs and photo sharing services to inform the world simply about our favourite movies and recipes or to show some holiday pictures.

As time goes on, that insightful little movie from the SLOAN Foundation, EPIC2014 becomes more and more prophetic. “It is the best of times, it is the worst of times”.

On the other hand this speech is encouraging. It is encouraging that the subject of Internet freedom is being spoken about in those rooms of impotent statesmen and women. At the very least, and for whatever its worth, some of us can know that we have some form of solidarity with some political figure heads, and that the inevitable slide into lost freedom is slowed for just a while, while people take the time to reiterate certain values. To that end this speech makes direct challenges on things like our censorship culture in western states, oppressive laws like DOPA and Section 92a, and restrictions on our freedoms in the various forms of Internet service prioritisation or non-neutrality.

…free flow of information on the Internet is protected in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom to “receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers”.

Thanks John, it was interesting to stop and read it.

In Dunedin and the Otago region there is a controversial issue with a fight brewing, to build another rugby stadium instead of an Institute of Design.

StopTheStadium has documented an amazing break down in process regarding the stadium idea, to the point that most people here must think there is corruption in our local, regional and national government processes. I suspect it is more like shrewed business people taking advantage of public, media and administration blind spots while initiating the project, and using that to build up and create unstoppable momentum for their short sighted aims. In short, its a classic case of lobbying for a project where the gains are private and the risks are public.

I can’t for the life of me see the worth of building an international grade rugby stadium down here, but I can certainly see the sense in developing the Institute of Design. It will certainly cost more to build the stadium than their spokespeople have publicly announced, and considering we can’t fill the stadium that already exists, I don’t see any evidence that another one will suddenly boost interest and sustain it long enough so as to fill the seats until the debt is paid off.. I might see the sense in an upgrade of the famous “Brook” though. Even if Dunedin did turn into the capital of the South with a population big enough and cashed up enough to be able to pay off the thing, I honestly can’t see what improvement it will bring to Otago industry, business, education, imagination and over-all sustainability.

Another, far less controversial proposal is on the table at the same time. The Otago Institute of Design, but the public funding pegged for that is being pulled!? Even without knowing any more about the Institute than its name, it is far more obvious how such a thing would contribute to Otago’s economic, industrial, business, educational and sustainable development.

Otago Polytechnic and Otago University are bringing their design departments together to form a new Otago Institute of Design. By pooling their expertise and resources they are creating a centre of excellence for design right here in Dunedin. This initiative will also take collaboration between design educators across NZ and the design industry to a new level, for instance, with their high-tech prototype and modeling facility that will be the most comprehensive currently available in Australasia.

But wouldn’t you know it, the Federal Government looks set to withdraw their 12.5 million dollar loan to develop the Institute, instead directing their funds to the rugby stadium to the tune of 15 million!

I can’t work this out. Rugby stadium / Institute of Design which one will have more bang for its buck when factoring in all bottom lines? When our local economy starts to feel the pinch of international trade and resource depletion, and we are in need of fresh and new innovation, what will help us? A game of rugby or a few thousand designers developing new technology and testing new ideas?

The only good thing I can think of about the stadium is that with its huge glass cover it will make a great biosphere to grow the food that we can longer import because the ships, trucks and trains needed new parts and different fuel.

This letter is sent to:
The Minister of Finance Hon. Bill English b.english@ministers.govt.nz
and Prime Minister, Hon John Key j.key@ministers.govt.nz
cc. Hon Anne Tolley, Minister for Education a.tolley@ministers.govt.nz

A kink in the cyclone fence

A kink in the cyclone fence

Mozilla, P2PUni and CCLearn teaming up to offer a free course is interesting.. I wonder if this sort of thing is set to grow? Last year a less formal international group teamed up on Wikiversity and ran the free course, Composing Free and Open Educational Resources attracting almost 100 people. Before that was David Wiley’s free course Introduction to Open Education – attracting a similar number, and of course most people know of Downes and Seimens massive (in terms of participation) course on Connectivism. Following this model are our free courses, Flexible Learning and Facilitating Online.. we are soon to adopt Composing Free and Open Educational Resources to our folio too, and quite a number of progamme coordinators at Otago Polytechnic seem to be building up to the model as well.

What I’m wondering is that all these free online courses might be setting a trend and developing a market and model maturity. We (Educational Development at Otago Polytechnic) have worked out how to run these courses with a return, and are approaching agencies to see if we can attract further income for offering these courses free, relating to other incentives.

What you send appears to be following the trend, the same examples that many others in the sector have already cited and discussed with interest (as yet no backlash). This recent addition to the model of free and open access online learning is no doubt looking into ways on how to make it pay as well.. I hope we will all continue to share what we find out on this question. It appears now more likely that the model will flourish outside the traditional educational institutions. Although we are working hard to keep Otago Polytechnic in the game. These free courses might grow to a point of becoming a direct challenge to the user-pays educational model, especially when some of those institutions start recognising these free courses in their assessments and certification processes, and other agencies and sectors start appreciating the indirect returns that are possible.

Will this model scale outside the media and online learning sector? Will we start seeing quality and recognised free online courses in business admin? human resource management? the humanities? the sciences? Even the trades! I know we are working on it…

In the development process, each project in the SLENZ development follows 3 steps.

1. Articulate the context in which the educational development is for

2. Design learning activities based on that context

3. Develop technical specifications for the production or educational resources for those learning designs.

In the official document that we use for this process, these 3 steps are called:

1. Develop the Conceptual Understanding (Who?, When?, Why?)
2. Develop the Learning Narrative (What?)
3. Develop and Implement the Technical Design (How?)

This post is to outline the context, or the conceptual understanding for the development of orientation resources for using Second Life educationally.


The SLENZ project is interested in developing educational experiences using Second Life, and 3 projects are being used to develop a process for such development.

1. Foundation studies – interview skills

2. Midwifery training

3. Second Life orientation

Context for Orientation

When the project team first considered second life orientation, Clare Atkins presented a list of skills that if a person had these skills they would be competent in using Second Life. (need to find a link to that original document of Clare’s)

Orientation resources are intended to be useful to people attempting to use Second Life as an education tool. People will therefore be using Second Life in a variety of settings such as computer labs or personal home computers. Some teachers will prefer to use orientation resources on an as-needed basis as support for what they are already doing, others will be looking for a place to point their students to and trust that by “going through” the resource the students will develop an understanding of how to use Second Life. Students will also be looking for a resource that meets both these needs, depending on their approach and self directedness.

Most people working from within an organisational network have restrictions on accessing and using Second Life, and so need to negotiate this access with their network administrators. Further, many people do not have computers or Internet access capable of running Second Life. All that the orientation resources can help with in regard to these issues is point to, or provide the best most usable information on how to work around these barriers.

Finally, with many of the people we might expect to use Second Life based educational resources, there is an observable barrier in the form of their motivation to use Second Life for educational purposes. Enthusiasts for Second Life can cite a number of examples and evidence of improved learning outcomes through the use of Second Life, but it may be first necessary to convince people of the learning returns they might expect for investing time and energy in this particular technology. See Open University’s Ormond Simpson and his work on student retention and return on investment for considerations about this in eLearning generally.


In short, this context has outlined 4 areas for contextual consideration that should help inform the design of learning activities and resources for orientation into using Second Life for educational purposes:

  1. The motivation of both students and teachers to want to consider and persistently engage with Second Life for long enough to recognise the returns.
  2. Access and usability in organisational networks, as well as home computers and Internet connectivity
  3. Resources that are useful in a wide variety of settings, including for teachers showing people how to use Second Life, as well as teachers and students learning how to use Second Life self directed.
  4. A list of skill competencies that the SLENZ project team thought would be useful in framing the orientation resources development.
Am I breaking copyrights using this image?

Illawara Institute of TAFE has an open MediaWiki running for their course developments. Its looking pretty tidy, with some interesting uses of categories to manage the content. In a chat with Steven Parker, he told me that uptake by staff has been good, citing management endorsement, 1 year’s research and development time, use of the FCK editor, and the design sensibility of Jo Kay as the key elements for its success.

I have asked Sparker to cost the whole exercise up so far so that we can compare with other approaches to online learning developments, as well as the hosted / self hosted comparison.

How much does it cost to host and develop your own media wiki? What are the running costs? Are there efficiency gains developing online materials on an open wiki (as compared to a learning management system for example)? Has being on an open wiki helped to build awareness of work within the organisation as well as outside? (obviously I can see it, as well as anyone else with an Internet connection – which is far better than they used to have).

Unfortunately there is no indication of a copyright that enables re usability of the resources on the Illawara wiki. Seems Sparks needs to sit the bosses down and deliver the return on investment talk about adopting such a license.. ie.. it means you can start reusing all that Share Alike material which we estimate saves us NZ$10 000 per year.

Skype still doesn’t record! and conference calling is not reliable because Skype wants to use so much bandwidth. Some institutions block it.. and we’re still waiting for it to get interoperable!

Gizmo Project almost got there, it has all the features we like in Skype but with recording, and conferencing – but I never managed to get the conferencing to work. Again, it wants to use a lot of bandwidth.

Elluminate works on low bandwidth, but has never been very easy to use. Java conflicts, firewalls, strange icons, not free, not web based, not interoperable with phones or other VOIP applications.

Flash Meeting, Dim Dim, Adobe Connect all use the Flash player to web conference, and while that makes it potentially user friendly, it also makes it bandwidth hungry.

Google Talk – with its integration to Gmail has been pretty nice and simple, tends to work well on low bandwidth, but has not offered conferencing or recording.

All this looks like it will be swept away with the new Google Voice being released. As usual, Google is rolling out to the centre of the Universe first, so we hope and pray the rest of us will have access before too long. The clincher will be if Google Voice can handle large numbers in a web conference. Google! if you’re reading, I think this could be achieved by adding a push-to-talk setting like Elluminate use. If bandwidth starts to drop, the webconferencers switch to push to talk and so the data direction is prioritised.

Check out the full selection of demo movies about Google Voice.

Thanks to John for the alert by email.

I’ve started running social media workshops at a local Community Learning Centre.

These workshops are potentially part of a bigger course that is under development, but for now they are simply a free support effort for staff, students and public interested in the use of social media like blogs, wikis, rss and multi media.

The workshops are on Tuesday nights from 6-8pm and the first session was fully subscribed. I gave a lecture style over view of what social media entails (summarised on the social media blog) so that participants had a clearer idea of what they might be getting in to. Then we discussed what the following 5 nights might cover.

Tonight I will help those who remain interested to establish a blog, use a social bookmarking system, and set up an RSS newsreader. I think everyone agreed that these things seemed to be the best place to start.

Next week we will hopefully get into multi media like Youtube and Second Life, but we’ll just let the interest of the participants guide it as much as possible. It may turn out that the group splits focus in various things, especially if we can develop a self help kind of approach to things as much as possible. It will be interesting to see how this open and more community engaged approach works out, and even more interesting to see how it filters back into teaching and learning at the Polytechnic.

Through a comment on my last post about Illich I met Dougald. A hand grenade of information about Illich packed full of linkages to projects around the place that relate to the deschooled thinking. I spent all day watching segments at a time of the following video of Dougald speaking at an anarchist event in the UK. Well worth the viewing, especially the second half when Dougald gets into the swing of things pointing out to all sorts of things. Have your search bar open along side if you watch it.. it’ll lead you to interesting places.

The tabs I have opened at the end of it:

The School of Everything
All the work of Illich
Ivan Illich – To Hell with Good Intentions
Ivan Illich – Energy and Equity
Whole Earth Catalogue
Asset Based Community Development
the Out of Darkness Light project
Welfare State International