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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…


Here’s a Canadian’s perspective on why university education should be free by Heather Mallick. Of course, I think it well worth considering, even if the perspective comes across as more cold hard economic rationalism.. the comments therefore represent that line – but when in Rome hey! I still appear to be the only one in NZ giving free vocational education and training serious thought and development, that’s a worry. Any links anyone?

This is a draft version of a mini open source documentary we are putting together about Otago Polytechnic and its open educational resources and practices. Please help us to improve it by identifying errors or making suggestions. We’ve had a headache with camera codecs not matching up with the editor, so any compliments would help with production moral as well πŸ™‚

free 'sweet' hugs ccby: kalandrakas

Tertiary education in New Zealand is publicly funded through a system known as Equivalent Full Time Student (EFTS). Basically, the government gives money to a course on a per student basis, with the amount determined by the credits or points value of the course, how many learning hours there are, and what the equivalent is in full-time weeks. Different institutions add a fee on top of the EFTS funding for each student to pay… apparently to cover operating costs (or even make profit).

I don’t yet know what dollar value 1 full EFTS is, but lets say its $10000.

If I run a course for 10 weeks at 5 hours per week, the EFTS value might work out to be something like .04 EFTS as it is less than a full time course.. if my guesstimate of 1 EFTS being $10000 is near right, then the funding available for one student doing my course would be .04 of that, or $400. How many students do I need to run my course on EFTS only? How much does it cost to run my course?

My course goes for 10 weeks, and requires a facilitator to commit 5 hours per week to run the course:

Facilitator: 50 hours at $50 per hour = $2500

It also needs promotion, a little printing material, and some administrative assistance:

Marketing and administration= $1000

And I need to ensure that there are learning support services available to people, such as access to Community Learning Centres, student support services, and library services (if ever the library gets with the times).

Student services levy = $500

My course is a distance learning course, meaning I don’t need to book rooms or use classroom equipment. I use freely available Internet services to conduct the course so I don’t need computer labs or IT services. So lets call it at this point:

The running cost for the course = $4000

So I need a minimum of 10 formally enrolled, EFTS bringing students to run the course. At $400 per student, this would bring in $4000 to the course. With 10 students, my course breaks even.A pretty lean ship, but afloat non-the-less…

If I can run this course on the EFTS funding only, then the course is effectively free to those 10 students, because I am not charging a student fee on top of the EFTS funding. If they formally enrol, I get .04 EFTS for each person.

Now how do we make it free for everyone?

If the 10 people are not having to pay a fee, then they won’t mind if other people do the course for free. I could accept 20, 30, 100 people into the course if I knew I could still run it for the $4000. As long as I have my minimum 10 people formally enrolled and bringing in that .04 EFTS each.

These 10 people must be New Zealanders. So once we have 10 New Zealanders enrolled, we can start the course and open it up for anyone else to participate. Anyone from anywhere, for free. From the New Zealand Government’s point of view, 10 New Zealanders are getting educated. From my point of view, 20, 30, 100 people are getting educated. If the Government take issue with tha idea, they could think of it this way: 20, 30 or 100 of these people are not New Zealanders, not only should this not matter because they have only paid for 10 NZers, but we now have 20, 30 even 100 international (and local) people engaging in New Zealand education which could well lead to future investment, migration or other international exchanges. I have witnessed this very thing emerging out of the Facilitating Online course for example.

If I can work out how to run a course on EFTS only, and then make that course openly available to anyone without it resulting in higher running costs, I would be making that course available for free to anyone in the world provided I had the minimum number of New Zealanders formally enrolled to start the course in the first place. The example budget I put here was based on 10 people… I wonder if the course was free whether we might not attract 15 New Zealanders and thus a little more funding. Could we invest that extra $1250 in staff training and resource development?

Obviously my course is designed to run on the smell of an oily rag, but I reckon there’s a few courses that could run more this way. Apart from the issues of getting teachers skilled up to run courses on oily rags, the concern is that this is political. I seem to be the only one trying to think of ways to make New Zealand education free for anyone, and that most people see EFTS as a subsidy rather than full funding. I’m sure there will be political blockages all over the place in this…

It seems that most people in the NZ tertiary education sector have become very comfortable with a user pays education system, to the point where an egalitarian system like in Scandinavian countries now seems very distant, and that 10 billion dollars in student debt is acceptable! Despite the fact that the managers and teachers behind this current education system are majority a generation who enjoyed access to free education when they were students – at a time when their generation swelled the demand significantly!

If we could do it then, why not now? We have technology that enables us to scale at little extra cost, we have just enough government funding there to be able to run a few courses at least, but is there a political will anywhere to set New Zealand education apart and make it free.. for everyone who wants it!

10 days to the start of the free and open online course: Facilitating Online Communities.

About once a week in the lead up to the start of the course I check the course wiki discussion page to see if anyone new has added their names to the ‘I wanna be involved list‘. Each week I am nicely surprised to see not only new names, but people with experience and genuine interest! Its actually a little intimidating to be honest! There are people joining the course with more experience than I have! but I’m confident that the topic range and resources will be useful for just about anyone, and as many have said – they’re joining to fill in some gaps. I think we’ll be fine πŸ™‚

As yet I haven’t heard from any formal participants. I don’t know if the sponsoring institution who is responsible for the traditional promotions and formal enrollments has been directing people to the course wiki or not (I sure hope they aren’t persisting with their Blackboard process – it will only confuse people). Perhaps for a formal and newbie, the idea of making an introduction to a group of experienced and highly motivated participants so far is intimidating them.. I hope not, I sort of wish I had of included a join by email button (I need to look into that feature on Wikied). Ignoring that factor though, the group we have in there already will be a valuable resource to any newbie to all this. They’d be really letting themselves down if theyΒ  opted out on account of feeling intimidated.. I must remember to quiz people to see if this was at all a factor once we get started.

In any case, I am really relieved that we have a good number of interested informal participants. They will help to carry the motivation of the formally enrolled, and will no doubt offer help with the course in general. I’m confident that some of them will turn into fee paying participants if they want assessment and certification, but its certainly not a requirement.

I’m looking forward to getting started on it come the 28th, even though I’ll be facilitating all by my lonesome, I don’t intend to allow my workload to go over 6 hours a week on average. We’ll see, famous last words…

New Zealand’s collective student debt is approaching NZ$10 billion!!

Lets take a look at the cost of living for a student in Dunedin per week and get an idea of how crappy this situation is.

Weekly cost of living

Rent = $100 p/w

Energy, Internet and telephone = $75 p/w

Health = $20 p/w

Food = $100 p/w

Car = $80 p/w

Furnishings = $20 p/w

Clothing = $20 p/w

Social = $50 p/w

3 trips home per year = $30 p/w

Savings = $50 p/w

Stationary, computing and text books = $30 p/w

Student fees = $50 p/w + 40 hours p/w


Weekly income

Student allowance (if eligible) = $150 p/w

20 hours casual work @ $12 minimum per hour (resulting in a 60 hour week when combined with study time) = $240 p/w

TOTAL INCOME PER WEEK = $390 p/w (Gross!)

Weekly short fall of $235 per week. Totaling $12220 annually!!

So, let’s drop the car and savings… weekly short fall now = $105. Totaling $5460 short fall annually.

I guess we could keep chipping away at some of those weekly expenses.. who needs a social life, or trips home (or away), or health… and I guess they could work harder than 60 hours per week, or sacrifice some of that study time to work more, or find a job during the semester breaks to pay back some of that short fall (provided your landlord, food market, and all the others can stomach giving you credit until then. What about student fees? Let’s take a look at that…

Looking at student fee in relation to cost of course

A 3 year course at $12000.. what is the cost of running a course for 16 people per year? (Class sizes are one of the big reasons you would study at a Polytechnic btw.. imagine 350 people or more in a class, I struggle to see the value in university fees..)

Teacher @ $60 p/hr x 20 hrs p/w x 40 weeks = $48000 per year

Classroom and amenities = $4000 p/y

Internet and 16 computers = $32000 p/y

Other specialist learning resource fittings = $6000 p/y

Administration = $4000 p/y

Library = $6000 p/y


Less Government subsidy of around 70 – 80% = $30 000

Divided between 16 students = $1875 That’s less than half their fee!
(that subsidy figure needs checking.. it is really had to find)

Now, if we consider that in the breakdown of weekly student living costs – included in that is a computer and Internet. That might suggest that we could scale back our provision of such things (ignoring for now the fact that most students probably choose to forgo that cost in their struggle to survive here) and reduce the cost of the course considerably further (especially if I am out with that subsidy and course cost estimate).

But students would still be being forced into debt.

So what could we do in the way of free learning, fee education to afford more flexibility – save another $40 per week? And what could we do with other Government grant money to provide computers and Internet at affordable prices for students – save another $50 p/w? And what could we do with Open Educational Resources to reduce text books and library costs – save another $20 p/w? And what could we do with distance education so as to offer options for avoiding Dunedin costs of living – save another $100 p/w?

I don’t think we are thinking hard enough on what we can be doing to help address this serious social problem affecting the quality of learning in NZ. We have students who have little choice but to study and work 60 hour weeks, racking up and worrying about debt, and/or reducing their standard of living well below what I would call acceptable. I dare anyone to take a tour of rental properties in Dunedin.

We have done some initial trials in 2 of our courses, accepting informal engagement by people simply interested in our course, and supporting their learning free of charge along with the formally enrolled and fee paying participants. In both these trials, all the informal participants completed the course and enrolled afterwards for RPL. They were free to leave the course at any time, or free to engage at any level. It just so happened that in these trials, the informal participants were actually the most engaged and most motivated in the course. Much more so than the fee paying participants. It would be fair to say that their motivation and engagement carried the course somewhat, where the lack of engagement or motivation on the part of the formally enrolled would have seen it drag considerably. So the informal and free participants actively contributed to the formally enrolled learning.

This approach is not a new idea in this blog, I talked about free learning/fee education early in 2006. It seems like some people in Otago Polytechnic are ready to extend this trial to courses outside our Educational Development Unit. A proposal is afoot to develop 3 midwifery courses into open access courses along the free learning, fee education model. I hope it is accepted, there’s a lot that could be done with open access learning to topics relating to midwifery and child birth.

Way back in 2005 I think it was, I presented a model for free learning and discounted if not free education to Western Sydney Institute of TAFE. It included giving a student a laptop and broadband connection.. I think this would be a great next step for the Open Access Midwifery πŸ™‚ here’s how it goes:

Application: Single mum makes herself known to Outreach coordinator as someone wanting to train at home while looking after her baby. A curriculum is negotiated and it is decided that she could complete competencies in word processing and Internet research, learning online from home. (replace wordprocessing and Internet research with what ever learning outcome you think appropriate).

Issued laptop and network connection: The student is issued a laptop complete with a range of open source software needed to complete her course. She is also given a broadband connection. The laptop and connection cost the Outreach center a total of $1000 per year. (Such a laptop is now available in the NZ market. It is the Asus Eee PC, available at Dicksmith for NZ$599. Good broadband costs $30 per month. Total of package = $929).

Learn online through the wikiCourses: The student has an option to attend face to face sessions to help her with digital literacies and familiarise herself with the devices she will need to use to complete the online course. A range of competency based courses are made available on a wiki, and maintained through International collaboration.

Course fees discounted: Each competency unit has an assignment that requires the student to develop a resource that teaches someone new to the subject how to obtain that same competency. The student keeps notes and loads each assignment to her web journal. When she has finished a targeted number of assignments she submits her web journal for assessment and recognition.

Resources published: The RPL process notes the assignments and any excellent examples are given to the course coordinator for consideration to include in the course wiki. If that student’s work is used in the course wiki credit is given in the form of attribution and a discount to the course fees that are totalled at the end of the course.

Gap Training: Any gaps in competencies are forwarded to the coordinator and the curriculum is renegotiated, encouraging the student to repeat or attend face to face sessions to fill any gaps and achieve the competency.

Collaboration pays the way: When the student has successfully completed all competencies she is ready for qualification. Before obtaining her qualification she must pay her fees, including the cost of the laptop and connection (which she will own).

The final amount owed is determined by: (course costs + laptop and connection) – (assignments used in the course wiki) – (willingness to serve as a mentor to the next student learning online).

For example:

(Course costs @ $1000 + laptop and connection @ $1000 = $2000)

– (4 assignments used $800) – (20hrs mentoring $400)

= $800 owed by student.

Student has bought, teaching services, a qualification and laptop for $800, which could be still further reduced with more resource production and mentoring.

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.



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