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I’m on the hunt for Illich inspired contemporary writers. Jude Cook has sent me links to Stephen Brookfield and Michael Newman. How’s this for starters:

In this paper I want to build on those moments of dissension and dissatisfaction that have occasionally emerged to disturb the equanimity of adult educators who align themselves with the idea of self-direction. In different ways these productively troubling elements have been expressed by Gelpi (1979), Griffin (1983, 1987), Candy (1989, 1991) and Hammond and Collins (1991) and they center chiefly on the fact that the political context, cultural contingency and social construction of self-directed learning activities have generally been ignored. Brockett and Hiemstra (1991) write that ‘concerns about the sociopolitical dimension of self-direction remain valid today” (p. 97) and they note as one of their concludng recommendations for theory that “the political dimension of self-direction continues to be largely overlooked by adult educators and this needs to be remedied” (p. 220). In building on the criticisms this group of authors make, this paper has two purposes. First, I want to argue that critical adult educators may be making a strategically premature decision to dismiss self-directed learning as wholly accommodative and therefore having no contribution to make to building a critical practice of adult education. Given the popularity of the concept in contemporary adult education, some important consequences could ensue for the field if it were reframed with a critical edge. We could miss an important tactical opening in the fight for a critical practice of adult education if we conclude too decisively that self-directed learning as an idea has been so hopelessly compromised that it can only function as an agent of domestication. Second, I want to make explicit what I see as the political dimensions to the idea in the belief that if adult educators acknowledge these it could affect fundamentally how many of them practice their craft. These arguments are, I believe, interconnected and they suggest that the concept of self-directed learning, if interpreted politically, could play an important role (along with critical theory, critical pedagogy and other work on transformative and emancipatory education) in providing a rationale for a critical practice of adult education. Stephen Brookfield, Self-Directed Learning, Political Clarity and the Critical Practice of Adult Education. 1993

Critical writers that connect this line of thinking with new technologies relating to information and communication continue to evade me.

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…

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.

Some politicians in NZ have been working hard at reducing the levels of debt that NZs aquire if they become students.

And I’m interested in what the Polytechnic sector can do to help reduce the cost of study for individual NZers.

Oweing more than you own

Oweing more than you own

Tertiary education in NZ is funded partly by Government and partly by the institutions charging end user fees. I think, through smarter educational development work, we can do more to reduce those fees. A tour of the NZ University Campuses tells you pretty quickly they’re not short of money – yet fees for study rize dramatically regardless of mounting concern over high levels of student debt.

Why was tertiary education in New Zealand free in the 1970s and 80s? And why would the same people who enjoyed a free education at that time then go and career into managerial roles and apply fees for education in return?

Some say it was a totally different time back then. I’ll say it was! Education was free!!

Were there less students in the 1970s and 80s then there are now? In 1980 the population of NZ was 3,176,400. 28 years later, that population is at 4,297,377. I haven’t found a statistic stating how many students there were enrolled at these times, but I doubt its a simple comparison either.

In the 1970s and early 80s the baby boomer generation made up the student population.  I would hazard a guess that the baby boomers present a population bulge in pretty much all things they have been interested in as they progress through life – from pop music, fashion, education, social changes, equal opportunity at work, hedonism/individuality and Godlessness (just thought I’d throw that in there to check you’re reading), recent property investments, and now retirement and health. I’m thinking that same population bulge might be evident in student numbers at the time, and in teacher numbers today.

So the cost of providing education has gone up? Well yes. We perhaps have a higher teacher to student ratio – especially in the Polytechnic sector, (perhaps we have more than a few boomers holding on for retirement), but more noticeably in the university sector is their expenditure in property and other things. Huge buildings, beautifully fitted and refitted every year, immaculate gardens, investment in grand stadium projects, etc. That must cost a bit. And there’s IT and eLearning of course, spare no expense there!

What other factors are there that might explain why tertiary education has gone from 100% free for the individual NZers, to very very expensive?

NZ’s Gross Domestic Product per capita has been in consistent decline compared to the OECD since the early 70s, leaving us less and less money to collectively spend on education. The tax system was reformed in the 1980s reducing the highest tax rate, but introducing a goods and services tax across the board so I guess that balanced out in th elong run (did the rich get richer and the poor got poorer in that deal?)

Does all this explain a user pay tertiary education system? Should trades, services and vocational training be included in this user pay model? Is this user pay model working out for Polytechs – specifically trades related training? I don’t think it is at all!

Surely the Polytechnic Sector at least can recognise this petty user pay system is not working out for trades and services education at least – and as a result NZ has significant problems in this regard.

Its not just me who thinks fees for education are one of the biggest barriers to people considering a further education, the students think it too! And some politicians. But I am yet to walk into any meeting in the Polytech and hear anyone talking seriously about what we can do to address the student fee problem. I think we can try harder.

So this year I intend to work pretty hard at developing and testing ways in which we might offer our education without a fee to the end user. I consider this sound educational development work, directly related to flexible learning. At first glance at some of our courses, it seems it is possible and certanly worth testing. I’m thinking a combination of better and more efficient teaching and assessment practices, real community and industry engagement and partnerships, and something like Southern Institute’s approach to acheiving zero fees – but with better workplace relations.

I might need some political support at some point.

Some of the signs we made for the Stop the Stadium march a couple of weeks ago

Some of the signs we made for the Stop the Stadium march a couple of weeks ago

The Educational Development Centre is having a team meeting next week, and the team leader has asked us each to outline what we have been working on. Regular readers of this blog would already be aware of most of this, but I found it good for me to stop and take stock of recent events.

Its pretty early in the “academic year” here in NZ, so I feel like I am skimming the surface of only a few things, going deeper into just a few. But then again, I seem to always work like that… So here’s a bit of a snap shot on what I’ve been up to lately. I’ve tried to group things according to the general description of my job.


  • Producing a mini video documentary for AKO about Otago Polytechnic’s efforts in open education reform… more info
  • Fulfilling a contracted role as a “learning designer” on the Second Life in Education in NZ (SLENZ) research and development project… more info
  • Testing ideas for fee-free education at OP… more info
  • Did a BlogTalk Radio (USA) interview about Otago Polytechnic developing open practices… more info
  • Participating in Otago Polytechnic’s Internationalisation project…
  • Keeping up with what’s going on in the world of educational development… more info

Programme Development

  • Developing a short course for people wanting to start a business… more info
  • Advising on curriculum development with the Tourism programme… more info
  • Preparing for the Flexible Learning course… more info

Staff development

  • Gave a talk at the Polytech PD day about assessment in an open access course… more info
  • Advising people about copyright… more info
  • Advising people about EDC support for the Blackboard to Moodle change over… more info
  • Blogs and wikis with the Tourism programme… more info
  • RSS, blogs and wikis with the Massage programme… more info
  • Helping VET nursing to develop their Anatomy text book… more info

Teaching, facilitating and assessing

  • Assessing the Facilitating Online course… more info
  • Assessing the Flexible learning course… more info
  • Facilitating the Networked Learning email forum… more info
  • Facilitating the Otago Sustainability email forum… more info

Last week I posted a process for developing educational resources through Second Life. We are still sorting out terminology but we agree with the general direction and so can proceed – thinking about better terminology as we go.

We have 3 projects to pass through this process:

  1. Foundation interview skills
  2. Midwifery
  3. Second Life orientation

The midwifery project seems to be going first and Sarah Stewart is the lead educator for the project. The first stage is focusing on the building of a virtual birthing unit, with information resources in it, and offline resources to compliment the build. Sarah has written up a view of where the users of this development will be at mentally before they engage with this project.

Here are some excerpts from Sarah’s consideration of this context:

In relation to experience in computing and the Internet:

  • Students are familiar with programs such as Word and Powerpoint.
  • Their knowledge and use of the Internet varies considerably, and it is erroneous to make judgements about their use of the Internet according to age ie just becase they are young doesn’t mean they use the Internet for anything more than connecting with friends on sites like Facebook.
  • The younger students all have Facebook or Bebo accounts, but they do not know about or how to use tools that can help their studying, such as Delicious or RSS.
  • They would know about YouTube, but I don’t think they would think to use it for educational purposes.
  • Use of Flickr is minimal and they have never heard of Slideshare, or recognise it as an educational resource.
  • The last two groups of students have made their own class Facebook/Bebo accounts. I don’t know how they use it because they have not included lecturers in their group.
  • Very few students would have heard of Second Life, and probably none of them are gamers.

In terms of ACCESS to computing and Internet:

…students have been given a computer specs list that they must conform to… [and] will be expected to access resources from their home computer as independent learners…restrictions at the moment appear to be where students work

In terms of support:

At this stage, Second Life is not a resource that is being used outside of the SLENZ project.

In terms of motivation:

I would say that motivation levels would not be high unless the students could see that there was something in it for them…the lecturers have mixed feelings about the Second Life project…they are stretched to capacity, especially with the development of the new program. They do not want to have to take on yet another project that is going to consume a lot of time, to both learn the skills to navigate Second Life and teach the students.

So this sets the scene for what we are developing resources for in Second Life.

Now we are in the process of devising ideas for resources and activities. The first thing Sarah has done is outline various formal and informal learning objectives. In Sarah’s first blog post that articulates an idea for learning activities for the birthing unit Sarah says:

My vision for the birth unit stage 1 is that it integrates into first year papers that look at birth from a philosophical point of view, looking at foundation knowledge and getting students to think about why things are the way they are in the birthing environment.

I also see the birth unit giving us the opportunity to demonstrate to students what research evidence is, and how and why we base our midwifery decisions on certain research. This would integrate into the first year research stream.

And then Sarah links out to a GoogleDoc where formal learning objectives are stated:

  • demonstrate an understanding of the role of the midwife in the normal childbirth process;
  • demonstrate effective evidence based, midwifery practice guided by a sound knowledge base.

At this point my question to Sarah is whether or not there are more of these formal learning objectives to base birthing unit activities around, because what Sarah sets out as informal objectives are not necessarily covered in the formal objectives. This is OK of course, but looking back at the attitudes and motivations of the students:

I would say that motivation levels would not be high unless the students could see that there was something in it for them

And so I wonder if it is the formal learning objectives that will determine that motivation. Hopefully there are more formal learning objectives we can refer to, or we need to devise an activity that has people considering the value of these extra and informal learning objectives that Sarah states (see below for one idea).

Secondly, it is quite difficult to think of how the virtual birthing unit can be used to meet these formal learning objectives. Certainly the VBU can be used to stimulate thinking along the lines of the informal. However, Sarah’s first activity may do just that:

To fulfill learning objectives

  • write a reflective piece?
  • Lead class discussion in class facebook group ?
  • Treasure hunt questionnaire is integrated into research paper ie student must summarise research evidence they found?

General Instructions:

Go to the inworld birthing unit (SLURL/landmark) & meet instructor. Instructor will then give students instructions about how to work their way around the BU.

Instructions on how to click on objects to go to external links provided eg note card?

Ok great! All good ideas I think.. And Sarah goes on to list the types of SL objects that will be needed, which really helps the developers prepare.

Sarah will need to write up brief text for each of those objects at some stage soon so that people can draw down information in SL relating to the many objects – and I’d suggest sampling Wikipedia for each of them.. and if it ain’t on Wikipedia – may as well put it there and kill two birds with one stone 🙂

Here’s an idea to add to the mix

Expressing this idea is a little difficult because of the limitations implied by the formal learning objectives, but my idea attempts to address the engagement and motivational issues. Following Sarah’s GoogleDoc lead…

Make a short video documentary about the virtual birthing unit.


To create an informative video that can be viewed on and offline, passed by email, and embedded in blogs and course management systems as a way to inform people about the project and motivate them to take a look for themselves. The video will include moving images of the building process and an audio track that includes: interviews with the researcher and architect who devised the birthing unit; the Second Life developers and their process of building it; and the lead educator and her thoughts on how the virtual unit would be used in someone’s course of study, and where the development will be heading.

Here’s an example of a short documentary that is like an infomercial for SL:

The learning activity:

The video is made available on Youtube,, Internet Archive, Polytechnic websites and learning management systems. It is also on DVD, Data CD and USB Flashdrive. An audio only, and comic strip version-for-print is also available.

Here is an example of a comic strip made from Second Life:

Creating comics with SecondLife & ComicLife By Steven Parker

Creating comics with SecondLife & ComicLife By Steven Parker

Staff and students receive and watch the video, either through email notification, through a colleagues blog, on the LMS or from the CD. Those without such access receive the print and/or audio version.

The video references orientation resources such as “how to start using Second Life” and “what sort of computer and Internet connection do I need”.

A meeting date is set for people to arrive and meet at the virtual birthing unit for an official launch and orientation. Footage from this event is recorded and later added to the video afterwards.

Specific requirements

  1. A finished build of the virtual birthing unit and the objects and information needed in it.
  2. Video footage of the building process
  3. Audio interviews with the birthing unit research and architecture team talking about their initial project and the thinking behind it; the SL developer team and how and why they decided to build the unit in SL, and the lead educators and what their ideas are for the educational uses of the SL unit.
  4. An edited 5 – 10 minute documentary combining the audio and the video into a “infomercial” for the virtual birthing unit.
  5. An audio track only version for slowband access.
  6. A comic strip print version for offline use.
  7. Links to existing “how-to” resources for access and using SL.
  8. A date for the virtual birthing unit launch.

Possible extra activities

  1. Compare and contrast the features in the virtual birthing unit with the features of an in-world hospital, or home birth location. Extend this to real world hospitals and home-birth locations.
  2. Edit the wikipedia entries for each of the objects in the birthing unit to a point where the text can be used in the build, or that the build informs the articles – such as the images from the build being used in the wikipedia articles.
  3. Staff and students take “snapshots” of their avatars in the virtual birthing unit and use those images to formulate comments and opinion in forums or on their blogs about particular aspects of the design

The next step, if Sarah agrees it is worth developing this resource and activity is to process the information here, into development specifications for the programmers and media producers. We are working on a document for that, and it is used by the developers to gather information from documents such as Sarah’s and mine here.

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A subsequent recording I made for a talk on assessment in open access flexible courses

We had a day of professional development here at Otago Polytechnic on 5 Feb 2008, and I was asked to give a talk on assessment in open access and flexible learning courses.

I talked about our work in 2 courses:

I referenced the work of David Wiley, Temmu Leinonen, Steven Downes and George Seimens and their efforts to offer online open access courses.

I explained how our two courses are run online, and the model we are developing for open access and eventual assessment. I explain our plans to trial the flexible learning course as entirely free in access and assessment, and explain how and why we would do such a thing.

Audio in Mp3

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mp3 file on

We are having a day of professional development here at Otago Polytechnic today, and I’ve been asked to give a talk on assessment in open access and flexible learning courses at 2.40pm today NZ time (2.40am UTC) which is in about 30 minutes from now.

Although the talk is taking place in a classroom, I have set up a web conference room for purposes of recording, and opening up potential participation to who knows who! To that end I hope to demonstrate how a standard lecture can be recorded and made available for access both live and after the fact.

Admittedly Elluminate limits access to those who can install it their ends, but rest assured I will be taking an audio file out for backup and access later for those who can’t use Elluminate.

I plan to talk about our work in 2 courses:

I will reference the work of David Wiley, Temmu Leinonen, Steven Downes and George Seimens and their efforts to offer online open access courses.

I will explain how our two courses are run online, and the model we are developing for open access and eventual assessment. I hope to mention our plans to trial the flexible learning course as entirely free in access and assessment, and explain how and why we would do such a thing.

So if you find yourself available in 30 minutes, why not listen in on the webconference. I won’t be able to focus on any text chat while I explain these things, but I hope to get the explaining out of the way within 20 minutes, leaving another 20 for questions and comments.

Hope to see someone in there 🙂

Otago Polytechnic’s leadership team announced last week that it is migrating from Blackboard to Moodle this year.


Migrant workers in Michigan, 1940. CC By: bobster1985

I would like to be able to say it was an ethical decision prompted by Blackboards intollerable patent grab, and offensive behaviour towards the education sector generally…

I would like to be able to say it is because Otago Polytechnic wishes to engage with the open source software and educational content community around Moodle and free software generally…

I would like to be able to say its because Otago Polytechnic reads major reports that recommend the use of free software as a way to cut costs and improve people’s skills.. in short paying people’s salaries and professional development instead of license fees…

And I would like to say the migration was because back in 2005 staff at Otago Polytechnic conducted research comparing Moodle to Blackboard and recommended that [Moodle] showed significant potential and should be seriously considered for further investigation…

But all I can do really is quote the leadership team:

This has been driven primarily from the uptake Moodle is getting within the sector.

To be fair, this sort of decision can’t be taken lightly, and I’m sure other’s had good reason to stay with Blackboard all this time.. what we have now however, is a large number of disgruntled staff who need to find time to migrate content from one system to another. The end in the use of Blackboard was inevitable if you’ve been following the NZ eLearning sector, and the Educational Development Centre (EDC) has been doing its best to inform and encourage staff to become independent of any particular Learning Management System so that they are not so affected by changes like this.

The EDC is recommending 4 possible approaches to those faced with this migration:

  1. Simply migrate content from Blackboard to Moodle and utilise the technical support from the IT support unit. A word of caution on this – there will no doubt be high demand on the IT Support people for this, so expect delays and get in early.
  2. Take this opportunity to review your content and find more up to date materials, review the way you teach or facilitate your online course and the interactions you set up, and consider your options before acting. EDC offer support for this option.
  3. Load content to the web by way of the OP Website,, Wikipedia, Wikibooks, Wikiversity or Educator, Survey Monkey, Blogger, Google Docs, GoogleMaps, etc and represent this now independent material in your Moodle by simple links and embed codes. Doing it this way frees the content up so that any migration is possible and simple. Getting to this level of independence is not for the faint hearted. EDC offers support for this option.
  4. Load the content to the web (as above) and run the course on the web without the use of a Learning Management System like Blackboard or Moodle. This approach will set you free 🙂 EDC offers support for this option as well.

Mike Caulfield posts an interesting observation about 2 different types of openness. There’s openness with re usability as a primary design principle, and then there’s openess with transparency as another design principle. Mike suggests that re-usability can create drag on transparency, and I have to agree.

At Otago Polytechnic we have been trying to achieve both at the same time, and some may have noticed that I use the term “open educational resources and practices” to encompass that intensive approach. There is a sense urgency in our need to update skills, awareness and policies to a point where we able to offer quality services in open (flexible) education arenas. But as Mike suggests, there is observable drag in doing both.

Take for example our use of MediaWiki on the Wikieducator service. Certainly not the easiest wiki to use, but one that does offer considerable amounts of re-usability in terms of MediaWikis. So.. do we support and endlessly motivate staff to use MediaWiki.. or do we start with something easier and focus on transparency alone? Most say start with something easier.. and true, that would get more of us going sooner, but the later workload in redevelopment for re-usability would be pretty sizable.

In saying that though, perspectives change over time, and what may be considered best practice for re usability today, may change tomorrow – which is only another point that at first glance supports the notion that its a bad idea to go for both forms of openness at the same time.

My only hope is that by working towards both at the same time, we are in fact addressing all aspects of openness at once and achieving a deeper level of understanding. By doing both at the same time, some of us will reach that tipping point sooner, a point where we are in fact skilled and aware of what it takes, and not merely cosmetically transparent.

But underneath it all in this approach is a worrisome level of low uptake and motivation caused by that big basket we call “too hard”. If more people toss to that basket, we may in fact never reach that typing point and always be at odds with mainstream operations that are not satisfactory…

I’m just thinking out load here… Thanks for teh food for thought Mike