Thursday, May 14, 2009

Michael Wesch's model for open learning, a crisis of significance, and the meaning of life

Fiona Grant's post caught my eye when she writes about Michael Wesch at Kansas State University, USA recently. Like many, I'm also inspired by Michael and his student's work, but it was Fiona's highlight of his words, "There are no natives here" that caught my eye this time. 3 hours later I'm only just coming back into my own space, my own blog, to log the route I have followed, and note a few things I've come back with.

A benchmark for open education

Firstly, I just have to say Wow! Micheal Wesch really does a good job at inspiring others with his work, and documenting it for us to consider and try for ourselves. In this sense, one of the first things I come back with is some more solid questioning of what it means to be an open educational practitioner.

Far from needing things like Wikieducator to centralise, add meaning to or credibility around, Michael and his students work across platforms wherever there is a tool that is fit for purpose, as though the Net was their one platform, without neurotic paralysis over political or technical issues, and just coping with it and getting on with it. The result is an evidently richly open and accessible course that is best illustrated in Michael's video, and that I have only dipped my toes into over the past 3 hours or so. Far from being a dry and standardised format, I didn't feel a single pang of wanting motivation to get through any of it, probably because of the video. One thing led to another and another, and I'm only pulling out for the need to breath and write something in response before I get lost in it forever!

Michael is modeling the use of the Internet for teaching and learning in ways I only imagined it could be back when I drew attention on myself for proclaiming the LMS dead in 2005, and then teaching as dead in 2006. Here Michael is doing more than uttering words, he's showing it for real.

Literacy, a crisis of significance, and anti teaching

It starts with his hour long presentation to lecturers at Manitoba University in Canada back in June 2008, including his signatory critique on literacy, media and education, then leading into an overview of his recently developed teaching techniques. This is the same video that Fiona pointed to for the quote, "there are no natives here", to which I was drawn originally, for its implicit rejection of Prensky's rather polarising generationalism, "digital natives and immigrants". The most significant idea running through the presentation was the idea that we (in the media age) are suffering from a crisis of significance, and that media literacy will help us.

As usual Michael's video lecture is quietly energetic, with emotive cues inspiring many of us who are motivated by the potential applications of social media in learning. He spends the hour talking us through how he teaches his class, his objectives of inspiring life long learners beyond the "what do I need to know to pass the test", what tools he uses and why, and finishes with an account of a large scale game called World Sim that he designed for looking into cultural history issues, in a method he describes as anti teaching.

A game to save our world?

If Michael's techniques (and outcomes) using media weren't impressive enough, his accounts of World Sim are both chilling and interesting. The use of a simulation game to explore world events in cultural history makes me think of the work of Anna Hughes at the Polytechnic, who uses a simple game about fishing to bring about discussion on sustainability issues. I think Anna would be interested in Michael's use of a simulation game for teaching, and perhaps an adaptation on World Sim would have people in Anna's classes more deeply exploring a wider range of issues impacting on sustainability. Although World Sim is designed for cultural history, in many regards it touches on the ultimate questions of sustainability, with sometimes chilling results - as Michael points out in his lecture.

Other work of note by Michael Wesch:

An Anthropological History to Youtube
Web 2.0: The Machine is Using Us
And a mighty fine blog

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Is there a way to dynamically draw text from the web into Second Life

For the SLENZ project I want to find ways to dynamically draw text (and other media) from the web, into note card like displays in Second Life. The idea is that when a user clicks a graphic or object in SL, information will display, and preferably content of a reusable cross platform kind.

At the moment the developers have resolved to two options, take a note card and save it to inventory, or open the wiki page where the information is maintained. The user preferences determine if that web page open in the SL browser, or on the computer browser. Personally for the particular purpose of the project this is being applied to, I think it is much better to have the very small amount of content load in the SL browser, but there is no way we can control that, and whether or not it does or doesn't open inside seems to be unreliable anyway.

The trouble with the notecard and cut and paste to update approach, is that it doesn't address the problem that the original idea was attempting to solve. We end up with two versions of information - the note card versions and the web site version. For now we are making do with cut and paste updates - not ideal.

The reasoning behind wanting the web site version should be obvious, but in case you're wondering - we have a significant SL access issue here in NZ, and so I've been trying to explore innovtive ways in which Second Life can be used to enhance the wider web and vice versa, not to mention offline learning as well.

I put this question on ways to draw web content into SL dynamically, out to a wider network and so far I have a number of recomendations:

  1. WikiHUD as suggested by Chris Harvey
  2. Parcel Media as suggested by Sean FitzGerald, but it sounds as though this interferes with other media
  3. Features in SLOODLE
  4. Automatic update from the Wiki into Second Life (I think this is a periodic thing along the lines of sychronisation - but using a back up system that SLENZ developers have been working on)
  5. Microblogging HUD another suggestion from Chris Harvey
  6. and my own wondering about how could an RSS feed by rendered in SL

The discussion in the SLENZ team on the issues preventing us achieving this design principle have largely gone over my head I'm afraid, so I'm not sure if the following issues negate the above suggestions, so here they are for the consideration of anyone who might be able to help:

Historically, there have been numerous requests for an ability to write to a notecard within second life. Especially a notecard that is in the contents of an object, to allow for persistant data storage.

> This has never been acceptable because of how the asset sever works: A UUID is a unique identifier to an asset. If any data in the notecard is changed, (ie. writing to a notecard) it has to be saved as a new asset- because if other residents had the same notecard before it was changed, your edits would go to this other person's notecard if a new UUID was not created. I believe that different people with the same object in their inventory in fact just point to the same UUID in the asset server. If you were to be able to write to a notecard from the script, every write command would create a new asset, which would create a huge number of additonal notecard assets.


The method that loads a Wikipedia into the HUD is probably based on the media texture approach that is parcel specific, and means that all other media in the current parcel will not be available while this technique is used,


The transfer of “rendered layout” from a wiki (the web) to Second Life is via Media Textures; this mechanism is not completely reliable, working for some and not for others. It requires modification of the media settings for a parcel of land, interfering with any other media that is being used by the parcel owner. This imposes a constraint on the reusability of the build, requiring that a parcel of land be specifically set up for the build.

I'm posting this here in the hope someone in my network may have pulled this off somehow, taking into considerations quoted above...

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The Virtues of Mundane Science By Daniel M. Kammen and Michael R. Dove

Another solidly good read tweeted by Toolstothrive.

The Virtues of Mundane Science

By Daniel M. Kammen and Michael R. Dove

Sustainable resource management has become the most hotly debated and challenging concept in environmental research and development policy. Based largely on a notion defined by the Brundtland Commission a decade ago, calls for attention to sustainability have become de rigueur in the academic, conservation, and international development communities.
Discussion of the issues involved have led to general agreement on four key points:
  1. policy action is often required in the face of uncertainty and prior to attaining a full scientific consensus;
  2. environmental policy must confront and address the political economy of resource exploitation;
  3. current economic theory provides an inadequate foundation for the validation and management of many ecosystems and natural resources;
  4. and interdisciplinary research is fundamental to understanding sustainability.
Nonetheless, one key element seems to be missing from the discussions about sustainable resource management: the scope those discussions ought to have. Unless that scope is broadened to include pressing but often overlooked problems – what one may call “the mundane” – research on sustainability and the policies conducive to it will continue to have only limited impact.

Glory By Binyavanga Wainaina

I just read the most witty, most left of field, most funny article about markets, capitalism, aid to Africa, wind up radios, biogas and $100 laptops, eva!

Glory By Binyavanga Wainaina!

I can't quote any of it's words because it will ruin your experience when you go and read it.

Thanks to Toolstothrive for the tweet.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Initial funding application for developing open education

In my last post I explained how I'm thinking to further develop open educational practices. My first step is to seek Regional Hub funding from Ako Aotearoa to analyse the trails we conducted in 2008 and determine a clearer model that might be appropriate for other subject areas.

I have 2 weeks to ge a draft in. Here are my initial efforts for that draft after an hour or so this afternoon. All suggestions welcomed of course. I will continue chipping away at this in the coming 2 weeks.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Developing a financial model for open education

I had an extremely productive meeting yesterday with Nicola Johnston, Sector Manager - Creative and Services at our local branch of the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise agency. Nicola was very generous with her time, helping me think through a number of areas relating to the open educational work we have been trailing, as well as the economic opportunities inherent in that work. Thankfully, Nicola is one who understands the concept easily, and so can identify many areas of interest that I had not previously seen. My approach to Nicola was to establish whether of not NZTE would have an interest in our work, and if that might lead to some sort of market development, or capability build funding. I came away from that meeting with four clear tasks:
  1. Gather up all the raw data we have been accumulating, and look closely at the economics inside it, and present it in a clear and concise way.
  2. Talk with Otago Polytechnic's Centre for Assessment of Prior Learning, as they are working on very similar projects but related to assessment, and already have a working relationship with NZTE.
  3. Contact New Zealand Immigration regarding the aspects of the model relating to skilled migrants, and determine how this might fit together with our initial work in open education.
  4. Talk with the Educational Development team about positioning ourselves as providers of educational development work for NZTE and Education NZ.
NZTE is currently going through a rethink on how it provides support to business development. In the past it has focused on two broad themes, capability building and market development. Nicola and I could easily recognise how our open education model can develop international markets with synergistic benefits to local needs, and (or but) we could see how a significant amount of capability building would be needed to then service those new "markets" while meeting our local brief.

Whatever the new funding model is that NZTE will follow, we will ultimately need to show them a direct and tangible financially sustainable model, which is my first task towards NZTE's suggestions.

Enter Ako Aoteroa who might potentially support us in doing this initial work, while at the same time clarifying (emphasising) the educational outcomes as well. After making the OER video with a small grant from Ako called the Good Practices grant, it is my hope that this video helps convey the intent and message in our work in open educational development and practices. That we are not motivated by commercial gain, but are interested in finding the balance between lowering barriers for people accessing educational services, improving the efficiency and quality in which we provide such services, and ensuring the model/s is/are financially sustainable.

First of all I called up Kirsty Weir who managed the Good Practices fund at Ako and who assisted us with the video production, to tell her about my meeting with Nicole at NZTE. I wanted to get her advice based on her familiarity with our work in the video, and how we might approach Ako for further support in the nuts and bolts of what we are trying to do. Kirsty gave me some excellent advice, a lot of encouragement as to the value of the idea, and some valuable pointers on how to ensure we meet Ako's brief. Specifically to ensure we focus on the benefits to teaching and learning, the implications for the wider NZ education sector, what partnerships might be likely, and what outcomes we can demonstrate for people's learning and education.

Through discussion with Kirsty, we thought it might be possible to get initial support from the Ako Regional Hub Grant ($10 000) to research the data we have been collecting - such as learning outcomes, completion rates, internationalisation, efficiency gains, real over heads, and an audit on skills and capabilities needed. We would present all this information in a way that compliments a proposal made to a larger Ako funding amount called the National Project Fund - Research and Implementation Stream. The work done in the Regional Hub would also potentially compliment our negotiations with NZTE, not to mention help us communicate the model more succinctly to other institutions in our constant efforts to encourage sector wide collaboration.

So I called up Bridget O'Regan who coordinates the Southern Regonal Hub of Ako Aetoeroa. I filled Bridget in on the background, that we have produced the video, that I'd been speaking with NZTE, and I outlined the idea to Bridget for a project using the Regional Hub's support. Again, Bridget was very encouraging, making sure I didn't confuse the NZTE's interests in financial - even profit motivations, with Ako's goals of improving educational outcomes and quality. Needless to say we are on the same page on that, but I can appreciate that people who are not intimately aware of our work (not Bridget but perhaps the panel who considers the applications), might bork at some of the economic considerations - thinking it was a profit driven initiative before it was a teaching and learning initiative. Bridget suggested that I focus the Regional Hub project on a specific outcome - such as a user's guide to the model we are developing, and I think that's a great idea. It will help us communicate the model in nice plain English that is accessible to as many people reading the guide as possible. This will be a neat and worthwhile challenge for so many reasons.

The pressure is on now though. I have to try and get Regional Hub support quickly, so I have enough time to complete it and use it to propose a project to the National Project Fund - which is due in late August.

I've given myself 2 weeks to get a draft over to Bridget, with a view that we might be able to get an approval within June - assuming I can meet all the criteria of the Regional Hub Grant. That would give us July and some of August to go through all the raw data, articulate the model/s, propose other subject areas and institutions we think will find the model useful, seek partnerships with institutions that provide for those subject areas, produce the user guide and propose a National Project. It is going to be a hairy 3 months!

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

There's something fishy about global warming

As always, Sam Mann makes good notes of celebrity sustainability speakers who visit our town. I actually went along to Bill McKibben’s talk about Global Warming which was really about making a call to action under his banner. Bills talk alarmed me.

I found the talk dissapointingly shallow, as though he intended only to promote, and not to engage in the discussion about climate change as it goes on around the world today. One indication of that is his insistance to use the term Global Warming instead of Change, I could be nit picking I guess.. but far more surprising was that in his 1 hour and 10 minute talk he didn't once refer to any of the compelling counter arguments to the climate change thesis, not even an attempt to counter them. The closest I heard him come was a rather repugnent throw away line that went something like, "those of us who get it, over those who don't" My words there, but it was something along those lines.

By the end of the talk I was way low on time but was sticking around for a possible question time. It looked as though there was not going to be a question time, but when it did eventuate, I jumped in:

Sam seems to have missed the thrust of my question, so here it is as I intended to come across:

Assuming the 350 campaign works, and it does pressure international governments to meet the carbon caps, have any of the campaigners given any consideration to what the ethical limits might be for those govs while they attempt to meet the 350 parts per million goal?

When Bill asked me to explain more, I gave examples of what some might consider to be stepping over the line to meet that goal:

  • World government
  • Laws and actions that unfairly impact on people's lives and freedoms.. (expanding here, would it be right to enact sanctions, invade, or force nation states to meet caps? Because he and others certainly make it sound that serious)
  • Cultural bias and insensitivity - considering Bills words of "those with us", without defining who "us" actually are. Does he mean the less than 20% of the world who have access to a phone line? Does he seriously imagine us, as in U.S. leading the moral charge here?
  • And what about the various controversies, some of which see scientists other than climatologists challenging the models and forecasting used to establish the theories that the 350 campaign goal is based on? Is it ethical that the campaign ignore the widening range of contributions to this issue?

I felt that Bill did not stop to consider my question, especially as it seems he had not heard such a question before. Instead he seemed to pull out a number of ready made general responses. Sam did seem to capture Bill's answer well:
Time is short. We don’t get to chose the world - sure it might be easier if the whole world adhered to a nature based religion, but they don’t. The only lever large enough to move systems in the time we have is the market. We need to inject one piece of information into the market - that carbon carries a very high price. A 350 limit will be quickly followed by a cap on carbon, this will see an “unleashing of innovation” (reflecting Krupp’s optimism). He acknowledges that this the

Our biggest challenge that humans have faced but it is our ethical obligation to the poorest and most vulnerable people and to the endless number of future generations not to leave them a planet pauperised beyond anything we can imagine

The list of actions that would have ethical challenges in them could go on, and I think Bills answer either show's he didn't understand my question, or that he had not thought of this dimension to his campaign yet. So I left feeling more than a little alarmed at the shallowness of the campaign message and its failure thus far to consider the implications of its own actions, or to at least prepare statements for the potential delimas we are about to face.

I didn't have time to ask my last question, nor stay around for the other interesting questions that Sam captured. But seeing as I'm here now, my comment would have been in relation to Bill describing the disproportionate political and economic power that fossil fuel companies have over the world, and how the campaign needs to somehow be equally powerful in its pressure message in order to rock that political (market) power. My thought at the time was that to effectively do that would probably require something more like "absolute power", and we all know what they say about absolute power... what I mean to say is that the way in which the campaign is being expressed, and the lack of thought gone into the possible results (apart from how to pull off a large media stunt), causes me a lot of concern.

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