Thursday, August 04, 2005

EdNA Groups or the Open Network

In 2003, Marty Cielens gave a talk on free and open source software in education at the Networking03 conference in Leura. Among the many tools and resource Marty overviewed that day, the "Course Management System" Moodle was one he mentioned quite a bit. I was really inspired by Marty's work, and if anyone it was he that set me on the rocky path to enlightenment that I'm on today.

Marty's a big user of Moodle and I wouldn't be surprised if he was seminal in getting Education Network Australia (EdNA) using Moodle to facilitate online group communications. But I'm not happy with it. Here's part of my reason why:

To use an EdNA Group, your organisation must be not-for-profit and non-commercial in the education and training sector, or a Registered Training Organisation (RTOs). School education students are not able to use these services.

EdNA Groups are not available to individual users, only to groups or organisations.

But my real reasons have to do with the ease and appropriateness of use that the use of Moodle offers EdNA groups. Those who know me, know that I don't think much of Learning Management Systems, Content Management Systems or Course Management Systems ... and as great as it is to see Australian education showing interest in open source, and as much as I hope that will influence free and open courses and help bring Australian education into the gift economy, I think EdNA is perpetuating bad practices in online ed, generating lock in for its users and lock out for its would-be users, if someone was to take that quote I noted above too seriously.

I've been posting into EdNA groups for a while now. I even facilitate one for a group of RTOs looking into network tools for online training provision. I can't say I'm enjoying the experience either. Its difficult to handle, doubles up on my normal way of communicating online, and confuses new users.

I don't like posting in the EdNA Group forums but I have to.
I keep this blog (among others), I facilitate on eGroup, I collaborate in wikis, and I subscribe to newsfeeds from all around. I like it out in the open, its sunny, its rewarding and its vastly interesting. But my local peers are being attracted into EdNA groups, many of them closed forums, and are missing their opportunity to start up a dialogue with the open International Network. So instead of me reading the points of view of my local peers on individual blogs, or open eGroups, I'm having to join and log in to EdNA groups, trawl for new additions, join a group and post there in that tiny one off location so that my contributions can be heard. I'd much rather post to my blog with the confidence that there is a growing awareness and use of blogs in Australian education, and that more than my target audience will see it. But people only have so much time in a day, so they go where the crowd is at the moment, and that's unfortunately in EdNA Moodle groups.

How long will the EdNA groups last? I mean it was just a bit of a bummer when the Australian Flexible Learning Communities shut down. All those contributions I and many others made... where did they go, where's the record? Lucky the Internet Archive's - WayBackMachine - caught some of it! Moving the AFLF community forums across to the EdNA Moodle groups was not as easy as some might make out. Its a whole new CMS! A whole new login, a whole new everything... and just when I was getting used to that other CMS that the AFLF Community was using.

Nope! Its better if we use more global and reliable services I think. Not only are the best for free, but their social networking software is state of the art and quickly links you with other practitioners with similar interests, the possibilities for shared individual aggregation of content go way beyond what Moodle could possibly keep up with, and what the small EdNA network could hope to achieve.

I know, many people don't want to blog, wiki, eGroup or what ever... They prefer the 'security' and relative privacy of an EdNA Moodle Group, even if it means they're walking around with the lights off! I dunno really what to say to that, other than everyone is welcome, everyone is needed, the more the better.

EdNA Moodle groups is diluting the impact that individuals could be having on the global conversation. Its keeping many in Australian education disengaged from the world beyond EdNA, and is preventing people developing a confidence in their own abilities and opinions in the open Network. The use of an CMS to facilitate communication perpetuates a protectionist thinking that you need an LMS to build online learning and communities, and stifles the opportunity for Australian education to build an early presence in the open Network. The valuable time of teachers and educationalists would be better spent engaged with the open Network, learning the popular tools and understanding the nature of the Internet so that they may teach people how to learn in an open Network.

End of preach, you may be seated.

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Anonymous said...

I generally agree with the idea of professional groups discussing publicly, openly and without needlessly limiting themselves by geography or any other discriminator beyond interest and capability. However, I think it's worth noting that Moodle is capable of hosting entirely public sites e.g. the self-hosted Moodle community itself at (and a range of specialized spin-off communities, public teaching resources etc.).

It also supports blogging. Not just privately within an institution but also publicly as part of the 'blogosphere' with trackbacks and pingbacks etc. (I'm a bit vague here as I've not used this feature personally).

Other features it has that you mention include wikis and RSS feeds (both incoming and outgoing). So if the community you describe is closed, or otherwise not taking advantage of these tools in an internet-savvy manner, then it is purely a decision of the organizers, not a side-effect of the software chosen.

I do agree with most of your aims and aspirations for this kind of public conversation, but I don't recognize any inherent limitation of the Moodle system in most of your descriptions of this community's following of a different approach.

Leigh Blackall said...

Hey, thanks for your valuable comments. I think you're right. Its less about the software and more about the ways the software is used.

But, I still think the use of one package is a kind of lock in. "All eggs in one basket" so to speak. I'm advocating the use of dispersed tools, and the development of broader user intuition. Obviously Moodle's ever developing suite of pluggins (such as the ones you mention that happen to be popular at the moment) reflect the core features and nature of the dispersed tools, but in the end they are being used within one system, likely one organisation's server, and within one organisations operational limitations.
There can be no assurance that EdNA will be around for ever. I hope it is, but who knows what political agenda is yet to come and take a swipe at education. I think the use of dispersed tools is a risk management strategy for individuals and organisations.
I guess we first have to get over the distrust most people/organisations have of the open Network. A place of viruses, worms, trojans, porn, spam and all together anarchy. My perspective is that most small organisations (including EdNA) just don't have the resources to maintain the security against this. It was only a year or two ago that the NSW Department of Ed (and many others) were brought down by - what was that virus... dispersed use manages that risk.

Anonymous said...

hi Leigh from another opensource freak,
As an active member of the former AFLC, I would agree that there is something offputting about the EdNA setup. I love Moodle and use it for all my teaching but I just can't seem to get into the new Groups thing. It feels contrived. I prefer to blog my thoughts (when I can be coherent enough) and I also use Mambo for a collection of thoughts and reviews of software I think is interesting for educators.
I am fascinated by all the ways that you can arrange bits of knowledge and share them with students and indeed the wired universe. I always try to bring my out of class experiences to the classroom and take what I learn in the classroom into my online life.
I enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

I am with you all the way Leigh - there is no substitute for open access and open dialogue. It did occur to me, however, to think just what is the difference between edna groups and blogger etc. They all offer a service that some people share freely and others less so. One of the dilemas is that most open source platforms are more complex than they at first seem, and edna is offering people simple access to a tool that make "conversations" a bit easier (though I do have issues with some of their policies). There is nothing stopping users from making their spaces freely accessible.

It is an education issue really. We have to convince people that it is ok to take a few risks and expose themselves. Problem is that we are seeing the same behaviours that keeps teaching resources locked in filing cabinets and teaching ideas firmly unshared. I suspect that much of what is hidden behind those invitation keys and passwords probably isn't worth hiding in the first place ;=}, so people are not game to expose themselves; and if it ever reaches some sort of critical mass of quantity or quality, they hide it just in case (of what I am never sure).

Good to see you are still on the case tho - be strong but don't forget the deoderant in close quarters.

Marty C

Leigh Blackall said...

Hey Marty! Long time no comms and I was beginning to think that maybe you were ignoring my post here ;)

Darn good point about the no dif with Blogger... it does still require a login to use, and at times to comment... though it is by default open and promotes individual voice rather than groued voices - which leads into the issues of confidence you mention...

Thanks for popping in. Hope to hear and see you round some time. I've no doubt you're up to something big!...

Leigh Blackall said...

There are at least 2 EdNA groups that I am finding are worth a bucket load!

That's MLearning - looking at mobile learning technologies, futures and ideas.

and Casting the Net - Looking at podcasting in education, technical reviews, how tos etc.

Its a darn shame that these are not out in the open more, so that the 'blogosphere' could pic 'm up a bit. They do generate RSS feeds though, so its possible to listen in.

Perhaps I should relay out some of the more important discussion, but that'd be my take on it...

Leigh Blackall said...

Mark Tranthim-Fryer, Assistant Manager of EdNA Services has posted a response to my comments about which I'm still thinking.

At first read it strikes me as a little defensive but very informative non the less. It seems to skirt around the central point I'm argueing, or perhaps misunderstands what I mean by the open network. Mark makes numerous references to the evident popularity in the Australian education sector for EdNA groups...

I intend to keep this one going, just need a little time to review all the comments and have another go. Thanks evryone, I'm learning quite a bit about tis emerging issue...

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