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The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning has called for papers for a October 2009 theme issue entitled: Openness and the Future of Higher Education. The Guest Editors are Dr. David Wiley and John Hilton.
I can’t very well let this issue go by without submitting something from Otago Polytechnic, so this is an abstract for a paper that will critique Otago Polytechnic’s efforts to use open educational practices in staff training, organisational change, course development, and educational resource production.
Otago Polytechnic has been moving towards open educational practices since 2006 when it established the Educational Development Centre (EDC) in charge of staff and course development. The EDC began educating staff at the Polytechnic on the virtues and benefits of openness – primarily through Internet communications and media such as blogs, RSS and wikis. By 2008 more than 100 staff members had been shown how to professionally network online, with 20 regularly maintaining professional blogs and several more authoring more than 83 open courses and educational resources online.
In October 2007 Otago Polytechnic’s executive staff implemented a long awaited Intellectual Property Policy that explicitly encouraged staff to claim ownership of their work, and to openly publish online with Creative Commons Attribution licenses. Additionally, the policy stipulates that all IP produced and owned by the Polytechnic would start defaulting to that same license. This policy thrust the Polytechnic into the international spotlight with citations from Creative Commons, Commonwealth of Learning, Pennsylvania State University, conference keynotes and numerous educational blogs. In May 2008, the Chief Executive signed the Capetown Declaration on Open Education.
On the surface all this would appear to be good progress in the development of open educational practices at Otago Polytechnic, and on many levels and in many instances it is. However there are a number of areas in need of attention and wider discussion. This paper will interrogate Otago Polytechnic’s efforts: presenting statistical data; surveying staff and student attitudes and awareness – with particular attention to counter voices; analysing the depth of the organisational change – highlighting the status of interdepartmental communication and work flows; and case studying innovations in open educational practices by some of the Polytechnic’s enthusiasts for openness in education.
This paper will attempt to take an all encompassing look at New Zealand’s leading institution for open education and present a balanced and authentic representation of the experience of its staff and students working towards openness. This paper will be complimented by a documentary video funded by AKO Aotearoa New Practices grant. It is hoped that this effort to document, interrogate and critique the Otago Polytechnic experience, free from hype and bias, will shed light on the full picture of open educational development in a New Zealand tertiary education and training institution, giving the national and international movement something to benchmark on and move forward from.
Considering sustainability issues in relation to Second Life
Sustainability is a complex and ill defined set of issues in any subject area, or too broad in meaning to be of any use specifically. None-the-less, I’m attempting to find writing that considers economic, ecological and social aspects of sustainability relating to Second Life. I should note that so far as I can tell, formal literature surrounding these issues and directly relating to Second Life is virtually non existent, so I’m tending to look further afield and historically, with what time is available, to find relevant points to bring to this review. I have also relied quite a bit on journalists and bloggers, as well as spokespeople from the industries themselves, for insight on how we might consider these issues at the moment.
For purposes of structuring this review, I have taken the advice of a colleague Samuel Mann and will consider Second Life in terms of direct and indirect impacts on sustainability. I will try to use the samples of writing I have found to outline those two perspectives, and then use that to formulate something of a framework we might use when considering the use of Second Life with sustainability and education in mind.
Direct impacts on resources, waste, pollution and cost of access
- The possibility of computer equipment power consumption spiraling out of control could have serious consequences for the overall affordability of computing, not to mention the overall health of the planet. (Luiz André Barroso, Google 2005)
When I log into Second Life, one of the first things I notice is the bandwidth being used just to get around and see what’s in there. The second thing I notice is the sound of my computer fan as it works harder to cool powered parts needed to keep me in there. This makes me think of the lifespan of that fan, and of my computer, the access and provision affordability, over all energy use, waste and pollutants, and ultimately the impact this has on ecosystems. For an end user to run Second Life satisfactorily requires newer and faster personal computers and Internet. For many this will mean discarding old computers, resulting in ewaste of the redundant hardware. All of this must flow down the line, compounding into an increased direct or indirect cost for a user to access the services and a likely unaccounted for impact on ecosystems.
On the provision side Second Life requires many servers and cabling, that also requires cooling and protection, all consuming energy and generally producing more polluting waste. In an attempt to get an idea of just how much energy the provision and use of Second Life is consuming, Nicolas Carr (drawing largely from the initial work of Tony Walsh and others at the time) became widely cited for his 2006 Rough Type blog post, Avatars consume as much electricity as Brazilians where he makes a rough calculation of how much electricity an avatar in Second Life consumes and compares that with known consumption rates of people.
- …So an avatar consumes 1,752 kWh per year. By comparison, the average human, on a worldwide basis, consumes 2,436 kWh per year. So there you have it: an avatar consumes a bit less energy than a real person, though they’re in the same ballpark.
- Now, if we limit the comparison to developed countries, where per-capita energy consumption is 7,702 kWh a year, the avatars appear considerably less energy hungry than the humans. But if we look at developing countries, where per-capita consumption is 1,015 kWh, we find that avatars burn through considerably more electricity than people do.
- More narrowly still, the average citizen of Brazil consumes 1,884 kWh, which, given the fact that my avatar estimate was rough and conservative, means that your average Second Life avatar consumes about as much electricity as your average Brazilian.
- In a comment on [Carr’s] post, Sun’s Dave Douglas takes the calculations another step, translating electricity consumption into CO2 emissions. (Carbon dioxide, he notes, “is the most prevalent greenhouse gas from the production of electricity.”) He writes: “looking at CO2 production, 1,752 kWH/year per avatar is about 1.17 tons of CO2. That’s the equivalent of driving an SUV around 2,300 miles (or a Prius around 4,000). (Carr et al 2006)
As far as I can tell, Carr’s blog post remains the most cited article on the question of energy consumption of Second Life, and it appears that as yet, no one has done the follow up on it. Tony Walsh continued to keep notes and field comments on the issues for some time on his blog Clickable Culture, and advises that former CEO of Linden Lab, Philip Rosedale maintains an interest in the ecological impact of Second Life.
So far, responses to these direct impacts on economic and ecological sustainability come in the forms of projects like the Big Green Switch – where people can obtain carbon offset credits for their use of Second Life; and the University of Notre Dame’s project where they use heat waste from servers to maintain keep warm temperatures in horticultural greenhouses (Adam Stein 2008). The Wikipedia entry for eWaste inlcudes links to projects and legislation to manage levels of eWaste going to landfill.
Indirect impacts on culture, ideology, language and behavior
- Second Life is built upon, and relies on our fundamentally familiar relationships to landscapes and social interactions that occur within them. Carolyn MacCaw 2008
Indirect impacts of Second Life on sustainability issues relate more to content and the possible influence this has on people’s awareness and appreciation of sustainability issues. On the one hand there are several content projects like the eTopia Eco Village being developed in Second Life that present models and ideas for more efficient resource use, less energy waste, less pollution, and better building design; but on the other hand there are messages implicit in all of these, and throughout the Second Life operating system itself, that arguably reinforce problematic cultural assumptions and behaviors that are fundamentally disrupting sustainability from the outset. Things such as perpetual consumerism, futurism, comodification, culturally inappropriate symbolism, and an inherent preference for human design over established ecological systems, are all prevalent in the Second Life program, including the many user generated models within it.
- The model inferred here is highly colonial. Second Life is positioned as a Terra Nullius and this applies layers of colonial meaning and association. (MacCaw 2008)
This opening sentence to Colonial precedent, a section in Carolyn MacCaw’s article Art and (Second) Life: Over the hills and far away?, echoes the same sentiments held by Bowers in his book 8 years earlier Let Them Eat Data: How Computers Affect Education, Cultural Diversity, and the Prospects of Ecological Sustainability.
- …the Sim series, like all other educational software, ignore other forms of cultural storage and renewal – such as elder knowledge and the need to develop symbolic forms of expression (music, dance, narrative, ceremony) that do not diminish the processes of Nature… [M]aking decisions that involve the use of modern technologies leaves the students without an understanding of the differences between ecologically appropriate technologies and those that are culturally imperialistic. (Bowers 2000: p138)
While Bowers’ book was concerned with computers in culture and ecological sustainability generally, his analysis of popular education and simulation software of the time offers us useful considerations we can apply to Second Life. Bowers wanted educators to consider a wider range of issues than simply the content designed for relatively narrow learning objectives. He wanted us to critically reflect on the whole experience that is implicit in the content and the interface, including the computer itself. His premise is that the designs and symbolism used to develop such technology and experiences represent a linguistic colonization of the present by the past, which is ultimately an ecologically unsustainable vocabulary.
- Ironically, the technology that is proclaimed as revolutionizing the deepest foundations of culture is rooted in this basic misunderstanding of language. This misunderstanding partly accounts for one of the most important oversights of computer-mediated learning: the symbol systems appearing on the screen reproduce the implicit thought patterns of the software programmers. [Where the programmers themselves are evidently unaware of what they are communicating](Bowers 2000: p123)
In the case of Second Life there are the programmers of the platform itself, and then there are the users as programmers of content that is on the platform. Bowers concerns can be extended to both, and it is MacCaw who takes his critical framework to Second Life.
- If land is not producing economic value then it is un- or under-utilized. Land and its use value become synonymous with ownership.
- Danny Butt in his essay on Local Knowledge (2005) proposes three impassable contradictions, related to settler culture, indigenous culture and location. One of these is mapping – the most basic function of the colonial process – Butt writes, functions by turning a profoundly social relationship with the land characteristic of indigenous culture, into data.
- And while the designers of Second Life created a land conveniently without indigenous people, its first owner (the Linden Corporation who establishes initial trading rights for each ‘new’ island) and the Linden inhouse building tools frame the world. I suggest that the way that we construct the formation of culture in this empty land draws upon a colonial model and precedents. The research question that follows from these initial considerations is: is it possible to have new empty land that allows for a different model of colonization, or will older models prevail? And how can we consider art in this relationship? (MacCaw 2008)
And I would suggest that we think about this not just in terms of art. It seems to me that any occupation that is concerned with forms of communication, interpretation and learning should take these thoughts into account as well. Quoting Bowers again:
- Storybook Weaver not only encourages the student to make decisions about the storyline, but also about the geographical features on which the story will be situated, as well as the animals, plants and types of buildings that will be part of the visual background… The 650 images and 450 scenery combinations that the program makes available to the student provide for a wide range of imaginative possibilities, and this is where the real problem arises.
- What the creators of Storybook Weaver view as the expression of students’ creative imagination can also be viewed as extreme anthropocentrism. Rather than a knowledge of specific ecosystems and cultural traditions (architectural styles, clothes, technologies, and so on) the student’s subjective experience is the basis of learning. (Bowers 2000: p130)
A framework for developing sustainable education using Second Life
Here is a suggested framework to assess possible aspects of sustainability education using Second Life, and inform a process of design and development for education for sustainability.
3 guiding questions from Bowers:
- How do we educate teachers and educational software programmers to become more conscious of the cultural assumptions and values reinforced in computer-mediated educational experiences?
- Can the software be designed to clarify how certain cultural assumptions and values undermine the convivial and morrally reciprical patterns that characterise more self-reliant communities?
- What do students need to understand about the cultural non-neutrality of technology and the difference between imperialistic, environmentally destructive technologies versus those that support local knowledge of environmental possibilities and limits? (Bowers 2000: p139)
While there are several well known projects in Second Life that treat some of the issues mentioned here to do with sustainability, I am yet to find one that attempts to address the full range of issues included in this review (although a combination of some would go close). An educational development using Second Life might consider Bower’s questions and use them as a basis to critique existing content in Second Life, taking what is useful and noting what is evidently missing or counter productive, and then devise an educational experience from that.
Projects in Second Life relating to sustainability issues
I have bookmarked to Del.icio.us all writings referenced in this review with the tag word SLENZSUSTAINABILITY
cartoon on sustainable second life
The result of a year’s work, Laukosargas Svarog’s island of Svarga (direct portal here) is a fully-functioning ecosystem, adding life or something like it to the verdant-looking but arid pallette Linden Lab offers with its world. It begins with her artificial clouds, which are pushed along by Linden’s internal wind system.
Second Life Resident Laukosargas Svarog has created an island named “Svarga” that is not only beautiful but has a simulated fully-functioning ecosystem. Read more about it on New World Notes.
Philip Rosedale, Founder and CEO of Linden Lab, responds to a question from Andy Grove, former Chairman of the Board and CEO of Intel, about the future hardware and software needs of Second Life. For more information check out
The possibility of computer equipment power consumption spiraling out of control could have serious consequences for the overall affordability of computing, not to mention the overall health of the planet.
While the virtual world of Second Life has grown rapidly since 2005, the number of residents logged in at any given time hovers around 6,000–about 3% of the total number of accounts created
If SL had any real smarts I reckon they’d open their server platform up — they’re still so far ahead of the game that there’s a strong business model in there for them, but if they don’t then something like a Croquet (and it may be something else other than Croquet) will emerge in an open and distributed fashion.
study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory staff scientist Jonathan Koomey that tries to answer the question: just how much power do US servers slurp down each year?
“A new study shows an alarming increase in server power consumption over the past five years. In the US, servers (including cooling equipment) consumes 1.2% of all the electricity in 2005, up from 0.6% in 2000. The trend is similar worldwide. ‘If current trends continue, server electricity usage will jump 40 percent by 2010
A Google engineer has warned that if the performance per watt of today’s computers doesn’t improve, the electrical costs of running them could end up far greater than the initial hardware price tag.
According to research carried out by office equipment supplier Canon, based on figures from the National Energy Foundation and Infosource, more than six million PCs will be left on over Christmas, consuming nearly forty million kilowatt hours of electricity.
Certainly Second Life can scale with enough resources, but will its profitability (and therefore longevity) scale accordingly?
We clearly need to move beyond the gee whizz and look at tools with a air of science. Leigh is trying (SL and sustainability literature wiki), but as he points out, once you get past the footprint of the servers, the evidence is thin on the ground.
these educational reformers failed to take account of the ecological crisis.
This is the first version of a checklist based on an earlier evaluation of a course about teaching and learning in Second Life using Dr. Badrul Khan’s Flexible E-Learning Model
EcoJustice Education is an approach that analyzes the increasing destruction of the world’s diverse ecosystems, languages and cultures by the globalizing and ethnocentric forces of Western consumer Culture.
how language reproduces ways of thinking that were formed before there was an awareness of ecological limits, the connections between emancipatory/transformative ways of thinking and the globalization of the West’s industrial culture.
How Computers Affect Education, Cultural Diversity, and the Prospects of Ecological Sustainability: Chet A. Bowers: Books
Etopia Eco-Village is a realistic representation of a semi-sustainable village showcasing the best Real Life examples in sustainable design, renewable energy production, intergated land use and human-scaled development.
Etopia is a showcase for individuals, organizations and businesses who want to offer goods and services which promote a socially and environmentally sustainable world
The Commonwealth Islands are home to a progressive activist community of organizations and individuals using the Second Life platform to promote progressive values and social change.
the University of Notre Dame in Indiana has begun housing some of its computer servers in the nearby “Arizona Desert Dome,” a conservatory for cacti and other desert plants.
Good questions to list: With organizations like Greenpeace lambasting fetishized corporations such as Apple for lack of ecological responsibility, I’d like to see similar scrutiny placed on makers of virtual worlds. I’m interested in knowing:
Comment from Andrew Linden included in this post: Rough Type’s Nicholas Carr responds to my question “is Second Life sustainable?” Carr informally juggles some numbers related to Second Life’s average concurrent population and power consumption by the servers running the virtual world, comparing power usage per avatar to power usage per human being. He finds that “an avatar consumes a bit less energy than a real person, though they’re in the same ballpark.” It’s great that Carr took a stab at this, but it would be better if Linden Lab could give us some actual power-consumption data to work with.
Tony Walsh has, as others do, some doubts about whether Second Life is sustainable as a business. But he also poses another question that I hadn’t come across before: “Is Second Life sustainable ecologically?”
The Second Life Environmental Council, or “EC”, uses the Second Life virtual world as a starting point for promoting real world environmental awareness and improvement.
Last year I raised the question “Is Second Life sustainable ecologically?” This question was picked up by Nick Carr, who found that an avatar in Second Life consumes about as much power as the average Brazilian. Carr’s controversial findings reached more people than my original question would have. Last night I attended a discussion involving Simran Sethi, who was in Second Life to talk about environmental issues and solutions. She hadn’t considered what Second Life’s ecological footprint might be, but said she’d look into it.
My feeling is that even a small percentage of physical presence transcending into a virtual mode would result in a significant net decrease in the overall footprint.
Second Chance Trees, conceived, designed and developed by Converseon in support of its project partner Plant-It 2020, utilizes the power of social media to support proper planting, maintaining and protecting as many indigenous trees as possible.
An introduction to 3 sustainability projects in Second Life
particularly addressing the environmental metaphors of Second Life. Here I will consider colonial precedence and use examples drawn from New Zealand art histories to consider the role of art in new environments.
I spoke at the Distance Education Association of New Zealand (DEANZ) 2008 Conference yesterday.
Educational Development at Otago Polytechnic.
An inverted IP policy, intensive use of social media, and prolific development of Open Educational Resources and practices
Otago Polytechnic in collaboration with the Commonwealth of Learning are hosting an open think tank for New Zealand educational practitioners, policy makers and decision makers to explore opportunities and pathways for building a national OER initiative.
- Place: Otago Polytechnic Forth St Campus, F Block, Level 3 – The Council Room
- Date: 22 August 2008 (lunch will be provided)
- Time: 09:30 – 16:30
Its been an interesting week. One minute Sunshine and I were 3 days skiing near Queenstown, the next I’m in Melbourne meeting Alan Levine and the NMC gang to talk about why Horizon.au should be Horizon.anz. And then the next I’m in Wellington to meet the team involved in a pretty significant research grant looking at educational uses of Multi User Virtual Environments (MUVES) that will focus on Second Life as a test bed and will probably carry the project name Second Life Education in New Zealand (SLENZ).
The skiing at Coronet Peak was quite fine. Ski Express sell really good deals for resort style skiing, and we used that to get our legs back into form for the season. I really hope THIS year we will get some some back country skiing in with over nights in empty huts, and lovely morning skin ups to glacier heads for an afternoon powder ski back to the hut. Perfect and a fraction of the cost of resort skiing!
Horizon.au was something I was really looking forward to. I don’t think I have ever worked with a team of American edutechs and its something I’ve been looking forward to doing, even if it was for only one day where I was one of many Austalian/NZ participants. I was especially looking forward to meeting Alan Levine, who represents to me everything that is great about American edutech.. get in there and do it, make the most of it, be super productive, experiment, enjoy it, have fun and make fun, be serious sometimes but never all the time, and always be open and friendly. Too often I think, Australian and NZ edutech can become too serious and lose site of some of the more personable reasons we like doing this.. well, speaking for myself anyway – this is certainly the case. But there I go again! Making it more serious than it needs to be. In short, Alan where’s a fine pair of boots and one day I hope to visit Arizona and buy me a pair too, and pace the desert gravel, and size up an Arizona cactus.
The NMC crew (Larry, Rachel and Alan) showed us all a way to power through a serious undertaking like primary research for a Horizon report, in a way that keeps it fun, engaging and creatively productive. I don’t think I have experienced anything like it in the Australia/NZ scene for quite a while – perhaps ever since the FLNW in NZ tour. I think it was Rachel’s hand made graphical abilities that kept me enjoying it.
On the wiki I expressed a concern with the use of the word Australasia to describe the region we were trying to represent in the report. I’m not sure that Australasia is a term that is often used outside Australia, or if the regions it encompasses even feel comfortable with being included in an area defined as Australia and Asia. Apart from that, I don’t think anyone from Papua New Guinea is on the advisory board, and on the face to face day I was the only one from New Zealand. I also expressed a little dissatisfaction with the dot au in the branding for the report, and so proposed that the report be for Australia only. Some discussion continues about this, and its probably just another indication of me getting just too serious with it all. However I do think there are significant differences between Australia, PNG and NZ when it comes to edutech, just as there are assumed differences between North America and Australia – enough to warrant a Horizon.au report anyway.
Its all a problem with generalisation and where the line should be drawn. Most people agreed that Australia and New Zealand are similar enough and that the report would be worth representing those two at least. In the end, I think I was a bit on my own with this so was happy to let it slide to where ever it ends up in the final report. I can’t help wondering though, if this problem is part of a bigger problem, being the break down of our cultural diversity, facilitated by Internet technologies and economies dominated by an American cultural experience and socio political ideology… there I go again, sorry.
And if you’re wondering what technologies the group identified as ones to watch.. well – you name it, it was there! This was a primary research activity where a group of people simply used the 2008 Horizon report as a spring board to cross off or identify new technologies that are likely to have a significant impact on the way we do things in education. Big lists were captured on the wiki, and Rachel’s wall charts were used to vote on the lists. The group was diverse, and I sensed it was made up largely of Australian edtech managers. I found myself disagreeing with more things than agreeing, but I’m used to that (maybe one day I’ll get a grip). From my perspective I think the identified and voted for areas that I did agree on was a rise in the use of web apps and popular media platforms. Things like Google docs and Youtube. There’s a name for it I found out – Cloud Computing. I think utility computing and web services is something of related interest. Virtual worlds seemed to float about in the not so sure area and while many agreed things like Second LIfe have significant things to offer education, most seemed to feel that we’re still waiting for the killer app that brings MUVES into the main. I tried to insist that cheap computing brought about through One Laptop and Asus and their use of open source desktop software will have an impact, but I think what was agreed on is the idea that central campus computer labs will receed within a 3-4 year horizon, replaced by individualised and portable computers like cheap laptops. So many things were identified and discussed and I can already feel myslef projecting my own bias into the interpretation. Here’s the source.
I didn’t get to stay around for after meeting drinks in Melbourne, and instead I was on a delayed flight to Auckland where I grabed 2 hours sleep before flying onto Wellington to meet a few people involved in a project to reseach educational opportunities in MUVEs, specifically Second Life. It was a good meeting going all day, where we orientated ourselves to the project objectives and roles. There will be a project blog set up and weekly informal and formal meetings in SL. Hopefully an embedded journalist will come on and help us document our progress in an accessible and condensed form to the blog.
At the moment the project is entering its literature review stage with some interesting scope. It was agreed that we should make the lit review as wide in scope as possible and include consideration of MUVEs generally, before we focus on Second Life specifically. I was happy to see acceptance of the notion that we observe learning beyond the projects that formal education institutions have set up, and consider learning on the platform as a whole, especially the probable connected learning that may be occuring between Sims (spaces in Second Life) and other platforms or the Internet more generally. I am hoping that if we can tackle this question, we will discover and identify measurable learning (and perhaps new teaching practices) that will leverage the informal and constructivist learning hypothesized as taking place in these environments.
Last night Desire2Learn flew me up to Wellington to meet with a group of “eLearning thought leaders” from Australia and New Zealand. I didn’t know what to expect (and clearly D2L didn’t either!) and was more than a bit surprised to see myself giving a trade mark Leigh Blackall rant to a group of very experienced eLearning managers and directors from some big name Universities! I even saw one of the women who stabbed me in the back at a university I used to work at! That was a brief moment of horror.
I think it went well – I’m waiting on an audio recording to check that. Here’s the question I was asked to address and the notes I prepared on the plane up to Wellington (as a result it is very light on links and references). Thanks to James Neill for some help and feedback in the notes. Here’s the link to the wiki version.
The only thing I regret from the thing is that Desire2Learn perhaps didn’t get what they were looking for and I didn’t get a chance to shake that woman’s hand 🙂
Desire2Learn Roundtable Event 18 June 2008
Question: The use of easily accessible and, in many cases, free social software tools such as MSN, Skype, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Second Life and a wide range of blogs and wikis, has become almost ubiquitous among the so-called ‘Net Generation’. In the context of a growing emphasis on eLearning, most commonly facilitated by enterprise-scale Learning Management System and a range of institutionally managed and supported communication and collaboration software tools, and in an environment of increasing emphasis on intellectual property rights management and quality assurance, how do universities (and other educational institutions) respond to the use of free, open-access tools in common use by their students? What are the potential educational uses of such tools? What are the current practices of use of these tools within educational institutions? What are the issues, risks and hidden costs? What are the advantages and benefits?
Understanding the question
Such a long and complex question needs a little unpacking..
Is the use of “free social software” almost ubiquitous in New Zealand?
Statistics released in November 2007 revealed that 67% of New Zealand homes are not connected to the Internet. Precisely: 33% have no connection what so ever, 34% have connections of 25kbps or less, and 33% have connections of 200kbps or more. Considering that a connection of 25kbps or less can not satisfactorily work with the range of free social media we are talking about, and considering that type of media is increasingly defining the Internet today, and with an expectation that its development will continue to demand more bandwidth into and out of homes – New Zealand households with connections of 25kbps or less should probably be considered as not being connected at all. Therefore a vast majority of New Zealanders are not able to share in the rich social media scape we are considering as ubiquitous.
Non-the-less, what is being documented in more developed regions of the world 9including 1/3 of New Zealand homes), through some research and a seemingly over whelming quantity of cultural output, it is probably fare to say that a certain level of ubiquity is the case in those regions. If New Zealand does address its issues of social equity in terms of connectivity and access, it should follow that we too will share in the experience and social development that is being observed in developed regions.
Is eLearning really growing in New Zealand?
Considering the New Zealand Government believes that digital literacy and basic computing skills are needed by everyone in New Zealand, most people with experience in the field of eLearning would probably prefer that it was by now considered a normal and integrated practice of learning generally, and that a specialist understanding with specialist services be no longer needed to support its development. However, most people in New Zealand would probably agree that eLearning is not an integrated practice, and that the digital literacy and basic computing skills that go with it are far from integrated (surmised from the connection statistics for NZ, and my own personal experience introducing computing and social media to people in Otago).
Most educational institutions still house something like a specialist unit for eLearning related development, and continue to invest in their worker’s developing digital literacy and basic computing skills, and most of the institutions have invested heavily in hardware and software that is believed to facilitate the development of eLearning practice. The fact that these specialist services exist is evidence that eLearning is still considered something beyond ‘normal’ practice in education, and that integration of eLearning and digital literacy and computer skills (like the book, projector, or photocopier) has some way to go yet.
What is an appropriate response from our educational institutions, to a forecasted social media scape?
This question is the focus of our discussion and what follows is an attempt to address the problem through a breakdown of some of the key elements I believe are in play. I propose we start by reviewing the underpinning theories that constitute educational practices – namely the constructivist, behaviorist and cognitivist learning theories; and then follow with a brief critique of educational attempts at adopting social constructivism into behaviorist practices; and then to relate the idea that social media is a product of social constructivism and should be considered in those terms. I will finish with my own view that educational institutions consistently go about their business in predominantly behaviorist modes of practice which is ill suited to any attempt at adopting social constructivist practices, and that we should reconsider education’s relationship to society and learning both historically and in the foreseeable future.
There are 3 pillars to education that can be found in learning theory:
These 3 theories are generally believed to be the guiding lights to professional teaching. They are the primary learning objectives in teacher training, and knowing them is proof of your socialisation into the education profession.
In short, the application of these theories might be explained as such:
Social conditions help an individual to construct self awareness and learning through any number of experiences and interactions. Some of those experiences and interactions are designed (such as school) to condition specific behavioral changes that can be measured as learning. An understanding of how minds process information (cognitivism) is what informs the design of those experiences and interactions.
Social constructivism in education – the round shape in the square hole
It might be fare to say that social experiences and interactions are always helping an individual to construct self awareness and learning in just about all aspects of their life. The experience of school, or formalised learning is but one in many social interactions and experiences that form people’s learning. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the political significance we place in formalised learning and education, we focus a majority of our resources there, and do so with seemingly no understanding of informal learning throughout the rest of our lives. Naturally, the educator’s perspective and world view is all about their role in that small part of people’s lives, but in becoming aware of the importance of socially constructed learning they try remodel their behaviorist practices to encompass constructivist approaches.
Typically the approach involves a set number of people we quite rightly call a class. That class is brought into an environment that temporarily separates them from their normal social spheres of family, friends, public, familiar environments, community and society at large. They are expected to attend sessions and are rewarded or punished, either subtly or explicitly for behavior that reflects engagement and ability to express what the teacher has intended them to learn – an inescapable behaviorist reality, and in many cases quite appropriate, perhaps though, not at the scale we currently have it at.
However, along comes a well meaning teacher, perplexed by our understanding of socially constructed learning, who will attempt to design into their behaviorist reality – a sense of social learning! Typically it involves the design of activities such as “group work”, “discussion”, and “role play”. Some go as far as to reward this artificial social behavior with statements of it as learning objectives. This confusing effort to draw out learning within behaviorist realities with artificially social interaction must be causing stress for all involved. It is a crude attempt to develop a sense of social connection inside what is ultimately an anti social environment.
To my mind, the attempts so far – to break down traditional behaviorist approaches with ill conceived social constructivism has so far been crude and confusing. Formal learning is a small part of our socially constructed world, our socially constructed learning can not be squeezed into small, short term behaviorist experiences. It is much like trying to fit a very large round shape into a very small square hole. It is behaviorism over stepping its bounds in an attempt to be everything to everyone.
Web2 is socially constructed media and communications
It is a mistake to adopt the term Web2. It only serves a meaning to those already in the know, and for those who are not, it always needs further explanation. And because its meaning remains a mystery to those not in the know, we rely on inquisitive minds to ask for further explanation. More likely, the term simply turns people away and gives an easy ride for shallow critics, software merchants, and those threatened by what it actually entails. Web2 might more usefully and accurately be termed, socially constructed media and communications or social media for short. Social media as a term captures more meaning than Web2 and is more likely to be relevant to people interested in socially constructed learning.
Now that a connection should be evident between social constructivism and the media scape we have on hand today, it should be interesting to consider how objectionable it may actually be for education to be adopting social media inside its seemingly inescapable behaviorist contexts. If you can accept my argument that social constructivism can not be used in behaviorist methodologies, then with it I would argue that social media cannot be used inside behaviorist media – such as the prescribed media presently used (LMS, system email, content repositories etc).
Social media in education – more of the same
The effort to push large round shapes into small square holes has been a consistent feature in educational adoption of social trends. Most recently in the context of the Internet, Institutions have necessarily de-socialised the experience in an era known as dot com, by setting up its own systems of email, centralised websites, file servers, content management systems, and learning management systems – all reinforced by draconian firewalling, content censorship and ill conceived policy to restrict access and bandwidth. Arguably the initial motivations of this effort were needed, given the deep seeded behaviorist practices of education, and the very costly hardware and software being invested in. That said, the resulting monolithic and parochial services that have been set up at almost every institution were always going to be superseded by utility Internet services – once a suitably large enough market demand was established. That time is now, and many people are finding it more productive and rewarding to be using software and Internet services outside the Institutions.
But with the establishment of a large workforce employed to maintain the local and parochial services, the adoption of so called “Web2” or “Social Tools” – to quote the question, into education is yet more forcing of even larger round shapes into even smaller square holes. The agents who continue this retro-fitting have not spotted the oxymoronic aspect of the idea, nor stopped to consider the wider problem of social constructivism inside institutions of behaviorism. Perhaps even more concerning is that the IT professionals did not factor in the inevitability utility scale provision of services once a market had been established, and did not design exit strategies for their now legacy systems.
Nor has anyone stopped to consider (in these terms) what the result may be in bringing social media into such environments, and how effective it will be or not. Making such a large and chaotic thing fit inside a restricted and limited operation is certain to fail more so than attempts to change the direction of the fitting and to bring education more appropriately out into socially constructed learning contexts and the social change it could entail. What I mean to say is, instead of retro fitting our systems and trying to add features of social media, education should occupy the social media scape. Store videos on Youtube, photos on Flick, and texts on Wikibooks; have teachers and lecturers editing Wikipedia, starting a blog, responding to questions, and generally participating in society’s media. Don’t try to squeeze society and social media into our limited way of going about learning.
That is not to say we should stop offering traditional behaviorist based services, We should! its a good way to learn, but its not the only way, its not even a significant way. If we are truly interested in learning, then we should be looking at ways to engage with the bigger picture.
“…We don’t need no education…”
Obviously a thinking person would not make such a statement without wondering what would become of training doctors, pilots, engineers, trades, researchers, and services; or how to ensure that as many members of society as possible are literate and numerate and have the skills to discover and make the most of learning pathways. Those words are more a challenge to the simple ways in which we in education go about our business – a challenge to behaviorism within industrial scale education systems, that tries to encompass social learning. An appeal to stop and think what is actually happening. Perhaps we don’t need education!
What then might a future look like? A society empowered through social media to more fully develop their own learning along the lines of Ivan Illich’s visions? Workers in tune to informal learning and how to leverage such learning for professional gains? Children permitted to follow their interests and develop at their own pace, under the guidance of trusted and respected adults and peers?
Once again, well meaning teachers will attempt to push these large round shapes into their small square holes because in the absence of a tangible alternative, this is all they can do! Perhaps opportunities should be explored more between the different approaches. How can mainstream schools relate more to homeschooling and the various extra curricula that children do outside of school? Again, this is not to say school should take on those activities – quite the opposite, it is a suggestion that schools (as gate keepers) should look at ways they can recognise and enhance the learning that goes on everywhere else. Perhaps as Jay Cross says, workplaces should invest 80% of its training budgets in supporting informal learning? And what if teachers (of all types) started to occupied space outside their institutions more, and into the social media scape, they would benefit from a fresh perspective of the world – one from within instead of without.
This roundtable event will provide an opportunity for eLearning leaders in Australia and New Zealand to discuss these issues. Date: June 18th, the evening before the ACODE conference at Victoria University of Wellington Place: TBD, but will be located centrally to where conference guests are staying Agenda: 5:30 – 6:00pm Welcome 6:00 – 6:45pm Dinner 6:45 – 7:15pm Speaker 7:15 – 8:15pm Facilitated group discussion 8:15 – 8:45pm Large group sharing/Wrap-up Speaker and Facilitators are TBD. Outcomes: A foundational discussion on the current advantages and pitfalls of free social software tools as well as an understanding of how peers are taking advantage of these tools. There will be an opportunity to continue the dialogue through co-authored whitepapers. More details to follow. For questions please contact Kristin Greene
The Dawn of Epimethean Man by Ivan Illich
From the ancient Greeks to a modern New York City child, Illich in 1970 critiques modern society and the drivers of progress as replacing Hope with Expectation. http://www.scribd.com/doc/12437/The-Dawn-of-Epimethean-Man-by-Ivan-Illich
PBS Frontline Special: “Growing Up Online”
A new series from PBS where viewers get an inside look into the worlds kids enter and create online, focusing on the important ways the Internet is transforming childhood and development. The documentary also notes a profound generational disconnect, perhaps the greatest American generation gap since rock ‘n’ roll. Another interesting aspect of the use of technology is the way educators respond to it. The documentary is informative, available for viewing online and provides teaching guides and a discussion forum. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/kidsonline/
The Idea of the University
Australian universities are among the least well-funded in the developed world, and behind the decline in federal funding there can be detected a confusion of purpose – what exactly is the university for in today’s world? Are they primarily about training workers to enter the modern skills economy, or is there another kind of role that the university plays in a democracy?
Downloadable audio from ABC’s Late Night Live with Phillip Adams for the next week or so: http://www.abc.net.au/rn/latenightlive/stories/2008/2272988.htm
skype – leigh_blackall
SL – Leroy Goalpost
I’m taking leave from the Polytech work to speak at the 2008 Skills Tasmania conference and a couple of TAFEs and Vocational Training services next week. Given the status of the other speakers, I have in mind a talk with equal or more punch than Teaching is Dead Long Live Learning. But I dunno… almost everyone who dares talk to me about that speech seems to have fundamentally missed the point I was trying to make.
On the one hand Tasmanians can be a little parochial (according to Wikipedia editors of the word 😉 and haven’t always taken kindly to outsiders challenging their practices on their home turf. But on the other hand – challenging speeches are what I’m known for and is probably the reason I have been invited? So what to do?
I probably should have been thinking about this talk a lot sooner, but I am just too busy every day (and most nights) with Polytech stuff (I’m getting better with that though) to really be able to think about things beyond my immediate future. So up until now, I really haven’t had a clue what I was going to say. But now I do, I its probably going to be a doozy.
Well, I’ll check with the conference organisers of course, but in the lead up to a conference that they have been spending the last 6 months planning for, they can understandably be a little over cautious and erk on the safe side. And once I get an idea brewing that seems like a good’n to me and my trusted colleagues, I find it hard to let go and change tracks.
I hope I can work this out. I want an opportunity to speak about this in a challenging and political way. It is sure to spark another round of smackdown learning.
Oh, and by th way! While we’re on the topic of Tasmania, controversy, skills and industry:
The simplicity in learning the drawing tools, coupled with the ability to meet numbers of other people in the actual model who would then discuss and help me build the model was a very potent learning experience.
In this blog, I have hinted on numerous occasions my interest in architecture and spacial design. But up until now, I really haven’t found a way to delve into that interest beyond the confines of the education network I have built around me. Books and websites have always been on a level that is just beyond reach, kind of polished, finished, packed with closure, difficult to imagine myself involved in. Talking with people in the architecture and design profession has always been steeped with seeming ego, dogma and expressed limitations on what I should do and when. And following blogs as been a distant and passive affair.
About a year ago I installed Google Sketchup and started using it to bring some of my pencil drawings to perspective. I have used it a bit to plan the renovations on our house. But Sketchup was only another drawing tool, one that is looked down on by the professionals, and it wasn’t long before I was returning to pencil and paper.
What Second Life has provided me with is an easy to master drawing application, along with an instant and willing number of people who would be there for me, who would look at and discuss my drawings as I did them, and who would share with me links and other information relating to what I was doing for the simple enjoyment of sharing and helping. This has been the part missing for me in my interest to learn more about architecture and design.
Up until this point, I have been alone in my room, drawing in my sketch book, imagining the day when I would meet someone who would genuinely engage with my efforts and share with me their own ideas, and involve me in a project. But that didn’t happen, who was I kidding? If the sketchbooks did come out, it was usually in front of some poor unsuspecting person who really just wanted to finish a day’s work, or didn’t really get what I was on about. Or it was on my poor wife Sunshine, who must of by-now listened to about the 100th repeat of my wide eyed ideas spouting from my yellowing old sketch book.
It doesn’t matter if the ideas I had – or the way I was trying to express them were any good or not.. what I’m talking about is the need we all have for encouragement and motivation to improve on and further our own learning. I could have enrolled in a course and paid a teacher to give me that … attention, but even then it would have felt disingenuous and limited by what that one teacher could muster after 20 years of putting up with it.
Instead, the people in Second Life have given me that attention and motivation. From the moment I created my first ‘prim’ I had someone in there with me, offering encouragement and help. And not just Konrad and Jo either (though their help has been immensly beneficial). It includes a group of fun-loving, miss-behaving people on a Friday night when I was up late burning some midnight oil. It includes a large group of people that came to meet me and hear about my project and discuss it and ask questions. It includes a number of individuals I met and who shared their time, advice, prims, links, scripts and contacts just to see me keep going.
At the very least this all gave me a sense of belonging, or a sense of people being somewhat interested in what I was doing. It took away that feeling of being isolated in my interests – that lonely feeling (real or not) of impossibility in finding anyone local who is interested in combining sustainability, Second Life and community learning ideas, and who has the time to go with me on a project for learning’s sake.
The online network I have, they shared objects with me, gave me links I should look at, and passed on contacts of people they thought I should introduce myself to. These people didn’t know me, but that’s just what they did. I often struggle with the comparison we all have to make with our local experiences. Like the times I have tried to talk to teachers of architecture, or design, or sustainability. It doesn’t take those people long before they are looking at their watches and making a way out of my “bright eyed and bushy taled” enquiries. That common response can be very de-motivating to most people. Such is my common experience in the f2f world.. there is no shortage of people expressing that same feeling in some way or another.
Its not just in SL that I can rave about this contribution to my personal learning. It happens everywhere online, and especially in the areas where there is still a relatively small number of people, or a niche area, or an area where there are values and shared beliefs and interests. The online network around permaculture is also very welcoming and generous. The online network that works on Wikipedia and Wikibooks is often ready to share links and help each other along. Bloggers (from the long tail).. the amount of energy and motivation I can draw on from these networks is quite something. Again, how do we reconsile that with the power down in face to face and local networks?
Is this just another form of over stimulation? Are the luddites right when they dismiss online interaction as unreal or false? In some ways they are right I suppose.. no matter how much energy and imput you can gather from an online network, the effect it can have on your actual life is largely limited to online media.. unless of course your network is also geographically local. But for me, every day I log off, charged with ideas and stories of people out there doing it, I’m back in the local.. its power down time and almost everyone ready to give me a dose of reality. Is this a sensation born of over stimulation.. or is the under stimulation coming back from local networks something to address? Which direction do we take into account here and when?
Anyway, I’m ranting as usual, and am probably entirely incohesive.
This amazing project that Konrad has taken me on boils down to is this:
I have drawn a concept for a building I want to one day build, using Second Life and its communities to draw and develop the model.
I have used numerous online networks to research and inform the model, and this drawing is only one step in many for this long term plan I have. That network has given me the motivation to take it all further.
In the process I have learned a lot about sustainable building, drawing in SL, communicating with online networks beyond my normal peers, and in that I have gained new confidence.
Now I am coming to an end with the VirtualClassroomProject, having reached the limitations of the model in SL Jokaydia, and want to take it further.
I have made numerous attempts to connect with a local group who are developing sustainable building designs, but what was that I said about powering down?
I think it will turn out that I will install the model somewhere more permanently in SL and continue to tweak the model, make variations and details, do a costing analysis for a real build, develop a website for it, and continue to try and find useful contacts who I can work with and possibly take something like this further – no doubt I will find them online… I already have one lead in Melbourne!
In the end, this project has helped me to render my private and two dimensional ideas into a public and socially supportive domain. That has shown me things I might never have come to see, and has certainly given me the motivation to go further with these ideas. It is a step in my personal and professional development that has been well worth it, and I thank Konrad and Jo very much for the opportunity and support. Thanks go out also to the people in Second Life, to the people around the Permaculture network, and the people around the Wikipedia network for their role in carrying my learning. I can only hope they got at least half out of the experience as I did.