Thursday, December 23, 2010

How knowledge commercialisation and commons can be friends

James and I (primary authors of the IP proposal for UC) were invited by the University of Canberra's Office of Development and Engagement, to present at the KCA Annual Conference in Canberra, 11 November 2010.
Throughout the 2 day conference, the key points of the proposal were discussed with many participants at the conference, all being IP Officers at Australian Universities, some being IP lawyers at Australian Universities. All initially responded with skepticism to the proposal, but discussion lead to the realisation of one critical benefit of this proposed policy:
By setting the over all standard copyright at the university to Creative Commons Attribution, staff, students and 3rd parties who are working on projects of commercial or other sensitivity, are compelled to opt out, thereby notifying the IP Officer and helping that office better target its services to projects most in need of close management. In other universities, the standard practice has been to claim university ownership over all work, and to restrict all work, believing it to be the best way to manage risks and capture commercialisable IP and investment opportunities. This approach compels no signal to the IP Office however, leaving them to use other, more fallible means to target and initiate their services, inefficiently spread across the vast majority of work in a university that will never need commercialisation or other IP management services.
Other critics mentioned that this proposal concerns itself primarily with copyright over patents. This may need addressing, because it is our belief that patents are addressed here as an end point, and all work leading to a patent, often involving many years of work, documentation and communications, are governed by copyright. The risk averse university will try to limit expressions of work deemed patentable, sometimes years after a project has begun, only to discover a tangle of due diligence not followed. Their restrictions often retard scientific progress by imposing non disclosure or other confidentiality agreements, and copyrights and other restrictions that are unacceptable or problematic for the scientists and their collaborators. This policy proposal does not discourage such management of IP however, rather it makes such restrictions and protections the responsibility of the people who own the IP and who first recognise the need. All work created in the lead up to such a decision point, if Creative Commons Attribution is assumed, does not compromise or limit work continuing in a restricted arrangement. Arguably it assists with IP discipline and due diligence, and possibly assists in the development of a prior art evidence base, should such a defense ever be needed.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The War You Don't See

The War You Don't See (the full film on Youtube) is John Pilger's best. Stacked with high profile interviews, it exposes the sense of guilt and complacency that mainstream UK and US (and Australian and all else no doubt) television and newspaper media feel over the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Highlights include:

This film is hard viewing, but surely compulsory for all people whose government conducts this violence in their "democratic" name.Once again, the USA has lost control of its military industrial complex, and its allies and big media are complicit, and profiteering from it as well.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Have you sat the Selective Attention Test yet?

As usual, distraction abounds in the Wikileaks saga, to the point I wonder if the whole thing is planted spin from the beginning. Early in the piece ProjectProject Blog posted on the number of Public Relations blunders that point to prior knowledge of the leaks, if not all together orchestrated.
To date I’ve been a staunch supporter of the wikileaks idea but recently, given my role in strategic communications, I could not help but consider seriously that what was unfolding before me was a massive integrated communications exercise – that is, a global campaign.
On a similar thread is this post on that unpacks some details about the main players, and questions their motives. Wikileaks: a Big Dangerous US Government Con Job by F. William Engdahl
The story on the surface makes for a script for a new Oliver Stone Hollywood thriller. However, a closer look at the details of what has so far been carefully leaked by the most ultra-establishment of international media such as the New York Times reveals a clear agenda. That agenda coincidentally serves to buttress the agenda of US geopolitics around the world from Iran to North Korea. The Wikileaks is a big and dangerous US intelligence Con Job which will likely be used to police the Internet.
There's a pretty good documentary about Wikileaks and the behind-the-scenes. Wikirebels.
Exclusive rough-cut of first in-depth documentary on WikiLeaks and the people behind it! From summer 2010 until now, Swedish Television has been following the secretive media network WikiLeaks and its enigmatic Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange. Reporters Jesper Huor and Bosse Lindquist have traveled to key countries where WikiLeaks operates, interviewing top members, such as Assange, new Spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson, as well as people like Daniel Domscheit-Berg who now is starting his own version -! Where is the secretive organization heading? Stronger than ever, or broken by the US? Who is Assange: champion of freedom, spy or rapist? What are his objectives? What are the consequences for the internet?
The Real News had an interesting panel with Gareth Porter, investigative Journalist and Ray McGovern, Retired CIA Analyst discussing Wikileaks.

As an example of investigative journalism outside the square, Daphne Wysham explained WikiLeaked cables revealing a Canadian government cover up on tar sands info, as well as US covert campaign at Copenhagen.

That is the more interesting coverage I've seen on the Wikileaks to date, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was all a coordinated communications exercise. More importantly, the mainstream media's coverage has been so shabby, making themselves easy game for Public Relations agencies tasked with handling or orchestrating the scandal. It is the smaller, more independent media that is holding people to account - and their web based. Regulating the internet would be an ideal outcome for those who'd seek to silence the real media.

So planted or not, Wikileaks is effectively turning into a coordinated communications exercise. We need more investigative journalists, pouring over the Cables and situating them into the appropriate context. Perhaps only crowd sourced journalism can do this now, so long as the Internet remains free.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Social media workshop

The University of Canberra Research Education Program is hosting a social media workshop, all day, I'm giving it. Here is a link to the Social Media Wikiversity page, which I'll update with links and resources for this workshop.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Uni of Canberra to host another RCC Wiki Conference

The University of Canberra will host another RCC Wiki Conference 28-30 January, 2011.

UCNISS PhD candidate Laura Hale is the driving force behind the University of Canberra RCC Wiki conferences. We hosted a one dayer in August. It was such a success, we're emboldened to host a full 3 day event.

The event is free and catered, and basic accommodation can be arranged if needed. Register on the site, or send me an email and I'll register for you.

Here's what we recorded from the last RCC in Canberra. See you there!

  • Yesterday was a great event - the dialogue was thought provoking, interesting and inspiring. I'm looking forward to sharing it with my colleagues and the documentation from everyone really helps with that. Kirsty Sharp. Resource Development Manager Tasmanian Polytechnic
  • It was great to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. I'd like to see the VET, University, not-for-profit and other sectors do this sort of thing more often. There's so much to learn with and from each other. And of course, the unconference context means that we leave our occupational/professional hats at the door and collaborate, argue and opine freely and openly. A great learning environment and a worthwhile day. Thanks Leigh for organising it. Rose Grozdanic, Australian Flexible Learning Framework
  • A tremendously edifying experience. It's a pity it wasn't a two day event. I especially enjoyed the 'real world' tales of planning and integration that the unconference participants brought with them and shared with the rest of us. The event re-shaped my thinking about open content and its place in formal education Peter Shanks, Skills Tasmania
  • The day captured such wide-ranging discussion from so many viewpoints. Very refreshing! Great to see so many newcomers not only to the format but to the discussion of wikis. I'd love to see more events of this kind permeate the often 'dry' walls of our educational sites... Why not a student based forum of this kind too? Marg O'Connell, Canberra Institute of Technology
  • Having people from the community come to the University of Canberra is a very good thing. In many ways, here at this University, we're developing a key group of people who are very innovative in their approach to teaching and open education, and I think on a National scale we're really starting to lead the pack in regards to some of the approaches to teaching... a real kick start for UC becoming a leader in this area. Well done... Michael de Percy. Lecturer in Government-Business Relations, UC
  • As newcomers to the Wiki sphere, we found the unconference very helpful and informative - it was fantastic to talk with people using this platform in their work and opened our eyes to the current and future possibilities of Wiki. It's great to see Wikis being used as educational tools for social and collaborative learning in universities. We hope one day they will be as prolific in the health sector. Thank you very much for hosting such a valuable workshop. Christine Vuletich and Alice Winter-Irving, Cancer Council Australia
  • A great opportunity to meet all of those wiki people and to understand some of the challenges that they're facing. A lot of the people here are from the educational realm, and a lot of their challenges are the same challenges they we're facing at Wikimedia Projects... its been a really great experience. Andrew Garrett, Wikimedia Foundation

Monday, December 06, 2010

Towards the critical study of educational technology

Joss Winn recently posted rich notes on his interest in a critical study of educational technology. One of the readings he recommended to this effect was N. Selwyn. Looking beyond learning: notes towards the critical study of educational technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, Special Issue: ‘CAL’– Past, Present and Beyond, Volume 26, Issue 1, pages 65–73, February 2010.

My quoted summary of that paper is as follows:
"The paper therefore concludes by proposing a broadening of the academic ‘technological imagination’ to include issues of democracy, social justice and empowerment."
"These ambitions are perhaps best summarized by Amin and Thrift's (2005, p. 221) four-point agenda for critical scholarship, i.e.:
First, a powerful sense of engagement with politics and the political. Second, and following on, a consistent belief that there must be better ways of doing things than are currently found in the world. Third, a necessary orientation to a critique of power and exploitation that both blight people's current lives and stop better ways of doing things from coming into existence. Fourth, a constant and unremitting critical reflexivity towards our own practices: no one is allowed to claim that they have the one and only answer or the one and only privileged vantage point. Indeed, to make such a claim is to become a part of the problem."
"What is the use of technology in educational settings actually like? Why is technology use in educational settings the way it is? What are the consequences of what happens with technologies in educational settings?"
"the critical approach attempts to examine the use of technology in educational settings from the perspectives of all of the various contexts that shape and define educational technology – from the concerns of government and industry, to the concerns of the classroom and the home."
"The critical take on educational technology is therefore often driven by a desire to redress the imbalances of power that reside within most educational uses of technology. In this sense, the act of critical research and writing strives for what Ernest House describes as ‘deliberative democratic’ outcomes, where academics ‘use procedures that incorporate the views of insiders and outsiders, give voice to the marginal and excluded, employ reasoned criteria in extended deliberation, and engage in dialogical interactions with significant audiences and stakeholders in the evaluation’ (House 1999, p. xix)."
"In this spirit, the academic study of educational technology can be used to identify spaces where opportunities exist to resist, disrupt and alter the technology-based reproduction of the ‘power differential that runs through capitalist society’ (Kirkpatrick 2004, p. 10)."

I found this paper challenging, inspiring and troubling. Challenging in that I more often than not side with the technology determinists, finding it hard to understand the arguments against such logic. Inspiring in that it introduces a conceptual framework and academic background to the sort of critiques I have attempted here over the years, helping me to perhaps go deeper with it. Troubling in that it finishes with a notion of fairness and social justice limited to a space it calls educational technology, or technology within educational settings. I'm troubled by this not only because I'm not sure what Selwyn thinks is fair or just in these settings, and I'm not even sure if such settings are fair or just at all! That all said, I'm inspired enough to go further, and have included this reference and these notes to my research wiki.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving a brief talk at Parliament House on implementing open education

I get the grave yard shift for 10 minutes at auPSI's event tomorrow at Parliament House. I'm to talk about implementing Creative Commons licensing and open academic practices at Otago Polytechnic and University of Canberra, and how that can be used to better manage IP in the organisation.

The main point I want to make tomorrow is:

Setting an organisation's copyright position to Creative Commons Attribution, promoting open academic practices, and retaining individual ownership, drives better management of Intellectual Property in that organisation. 
A CC By and open access default requires those who wish to restrict their copyright and access to make it known to their IP Office, resulting in an early intervention and best possible management of IP at the outset. This intervention would lead to better targeted services such as education, commercialisation, or a variety of restriction management and protection help. 
Setting CC By and open access as a default position ensures that the majority of academic work makes it into an open access and free-for-reuse domain, while the minority of work requiring restriction gets the best possible IP management early in a project. 
IP managers in the educational organisations I have spoken to (Melbourne Uni, Sydney Uni, Uni of Wollongong, Bond Uni), all express their frustrations at being brought into a project too late, leading to complex and time consuming work unravelling years of messy IP management before they can get the project into a position to capitalise on the reason for restricting in the first place. Rather than set up conditions for an early intervention such as I propose, those organisations make a general claim of ownership over all IP being generated in the organisation, believing that will somehow result in better IP management and make the organisation more attractive to private investment. 
Setting policy such as this glosses over the messy realities of education and research. New and visiting academics will bring prior work and new professional networks. Most will likely ignore IP complications day to day, preferring to get on with the primary work instead. Most importantly, draconian policy risks driving bad will through the organisation, often resulting in disputes when academics leaving believe it their right to take their work with them, often claiming they did it at home, outside the jurisdiction of their organisations. An organisation claiming over all ownership fixes none of these realities. Retaining individual ownership promotes good will and a farer relationship between academics and their host university, and can improve motivation and a sense of ownership and responsibility on projects. 
Setting CC By and open access as the default position helps the university to capitalise on the majority of work being generated. Relying on individuals to opt out of the CC By/open access default initiates early interventions with the IP Office, and help that Office to efficiently focus on that minority of work, and offer services for IP education and management.

We're having difficulty clearly articulating this argument in the Proposed IP Policy at UC, but if and when given the time to carefully lay out the points, all critics I've spoken to see the logic and virtues of the approach. Any assistance in getting the argument as concise and accurate as possible would be greatly appreciated!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Why KCA need to change their name

Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia need to change their name to Knowledge Commons Australia. Here's why:

At their annual conference in Canberra this year, a speaker program made up of entirely men talked primarily on the use of patents to derive profitable income from public innovations. The strangely unabashed statement on the KCA website explains the agenda quite succinctly:
Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia is the peak body representing organisations and individuals associated with knowledge transfer from the public sector.
I reckon there is a sense of lingering doubt, the seeds of a questioning in KCA, on how they go about their mission, and with what perspective. For a start, you may notice in their conference program, several lectures with the word "open" in their title, as though its a new approach to something. Then there was a regular checking by the conference facilitators with anyone international in the audience, asking whether or not they thought the issues being discussed where unique to Australia and KCA. And best of all was Malcolm Skingle, Manager of GSK Pharmaceuticals Academic Liaison, describing the conference as being "hard nosed" in a wonderfully cockney accent!

Openness at KCA

Malcolm Skingle, representing a very large pharmaceutical company called GlaxoSmithKline, talked about its project to host research and develop patents on innovations that target tropical disease in poor economies/large population areas, and to make those patents available to approved businesses in those areas via a project known as the Patent Pool. This presentation was called Open Innovation in the Pharmaceutical Industry, and came off the back of Ashley Stevens from Boston University, talking about his statistical research uncovering that well over 15% of successfully commercialised innovation in the pharmaceutical sector comes from public research institutes. While I think more than a few of us in the audience struggled to reconcile notions of public good with profit driven pharmaceutical companies, it was none-the-less interesting to see them try.

Then there was James and I, wildly out of place, talking about open education and research, where we argued that protectionism in the intellectual property market, causes the vast majority of public education and research (that which will never be commercialised), never to see the light of day, restricted in access, for the benefit of the minority of work that may, some day, if lucky, realise some profitable return. We proposed that the inverse ought to be the norm, that open defaults will stimulate more innovation appropriate to our time, and help KCA agents to do a better, more targeted job in their attempts to commercialise something some day, somewhere. Recordings of our talk here:

And finally, furthering the topic of openness, was a talk by Vera Lipton IP Australia, (the only woman speaker due to the withdrawal of the scheduled speaker, Ian Goss), delivering a strong message on how innovation and commercial gain can both be served through open practices.

What a shame the conference, or its other speakers, did not think it necessary to record their talks.

Why KCA should change its name

It just so happens that C stands for Commons just as well as it does Commercialisation.

Its clear that the notion of commercialisation of public sector information is on its last legs. Not only is there some healthy questioning taking hold in the peak body itself, commercialisation has obviously proven itself a prohibitively expensive and drawn out process, profitable only to IP lawyers, "knowledge transfer" or "commercialisation" employees, and the lucky few. It evidently yields so few returns we must question the investment.

Alternatively, they could take a different, more lateral route, looking for a wider range of opportunities based on a wider range of economic returns. This we might call the Knowledge Commons, in the age of triple bottom line accounting. Through the Commons, both commercial interests and everyone else, has equal access and opportunity to innovate. Its the ultimate in free trade, if you'll allow me reappropriating such words.

We have watched this seed of thought grow in the software, media and Internet services sector, the arts and entertainment sector, the education sector, and now the research sector, despite the relevant industry's best efforts to prevent it thus far. Even the Federal Governments in Australia, New Zealand, the USA, and several European Nations are endorsing the perspective of openness. The desire to try a Knowledge Commons economy is gaining strength.

As for the word Australasia.. its a word I attribute to 1950s Australia, in their early attempts to think more internationally, and I've only ever heard it used by anglophones - usually Australians or Americans. If the intent is to describe a collaborative effort between Australia and New Zealand, and somehow the USA - we might as well call it KC-ANZ (with an overdose of USA every time). If it is supposed to encompass Papua New Guinea and some parts of the South Pacific and South East Asia, then it might be a good idea to invite delegates from those regions, and address issues relevant to them as well, but then I'm certain they would also suggest a name change to something like Asia Pacific.

And so it seems more appropriate, and more informative of a wider scoped direction, entirely in keeping with the mission statement, to change the name to Knowledge Commons Australia (KCA), and the kiwis will just have to lump it.

Feeling more confident about the UC IP Policy

Of course, I took the opportunity to test the key features of the proposed UC IP Policy with veteran IP lawyers and policy makers at the conference, and I feel more confident we are onto a solid thing.

Regarding assigning individual ownership on IP - the primary argument from proponents of the opposite (institutional ownership) was that its too messy and unattractive to potential commercial investors, if individuals have to be negotiated with every time a contract is drawn up. On the surface, this appears a reasonable point. However, in all the places I have worked, where institutional ownership is assumed, people turn out their best work elsewhere, outside work time, avoiding or unaware of the work of a "knowledge transfer" or intellectual property agent. Additionally, people come and go from the projects, they share ideas inside and out, they bring old IP with them, they go about their work in ignorance of "due diligence" and they make approaches to the IP professionals often too-late. It could only be in situations where an institution owned and controlled all IP by everyone, all of the time, that it would be able to think they could somehow manage IP. Institutional ownership and control is just not realistic, and so the best thing to do is make use of good-will and individual motivation, and make no claim over people's ideas.

But there is a way to manage IP being generated in an organisation, and capitalise on it without taking control away from creators and inventors. Set Creative Commons Attribution as a default copyright, and provide an opt out process. Its simply the inverse of the present situation where restrictions and protections are default, and making something open has a process. If the institution worked towards building a Commons culture, then not only would it be in a better position to capitalise on the increased contributions being made to the Commons, but where the opt out is used, it triggers a relationship with the IP Support Office sooner, helping to better manage resticted IP. The Creative Commons Attribution default drives better management of IP and copyright.

And finally, to create an IP Policy that recognises Indigenous Autonomy on the matter, and respects their views and assists their processes, would be a first in Australian Universities from what I can tell. Our consultation with Ngunnawal representatives needs to progress further on this, accepting that our first attempt will over look many issues.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

OpenUC presentation to KCA

Here I am, dressed in a suite I normally wear only to weddings and funerals, waiting for James so we can go up in front of a bunch of intellectual property lawyers, very large pharmaceutical companies, knowledge commercialisation agents and IP policy writers, and espouse the virtues of open academia, free copyright licensing, and a knowledge commons.

Here's our slides, hand drawn by James:

Here are our notes to go with them. We hope to get a recording at the end of the day.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A proposal to UC Marketing

About a month ago, Stuart and a colleague who's name I forget (and not Lili in the video below), popped in from UC Marketing to talk about ideas for marketing the University of Canberra online. I think they wanted to talk more about a proposal I wrote to them quite a few months ago. As usual, I rambled across all sorts of areas and issues, poor Stuart and his colleague were no doubt overwhelmed. One thing they did take away though, was the suggestion to ask the Internet - via Youtube, for ideas.

Now, that's a pretty disingenuous suggestion for me to make to someone who has not yet developed an online network, meaning they will ask, but answers will not come. But they have to start somewhere, and we're hoping there will be at least a handful of people in UC, with suggestions and readiness to use the Internet to demonstrate their ideas, and start building some presence and engagement on the social media channels...

Almost 2 weeks later, and only 35 views of their video, hopefully they're asking themselves some important questions. I myself am asking where the hell are those 2 or three others in UC with ideas? Sigh...

Anyway, here's the original question on Youtube:

And here's my response:

If you have ideas about online marketing of an Australian university, please record something to Youtube and comment it in to them. Perhaps even point out other videos already on Youtube...

Friday, November 05, 2010

How and why I'll do a PhD

After an intense few days of very valuable deliberation with people in my online network, and others in my place of work, I think I've concluded on the reasons for doing, and how I will do a PhD. Thanks to everyone who contributed over these past few days, and to anyone who does so subsequently. 

If anyone has niggling doubts or vague questions in their mind about something, I can highly recommend this approach to formulating perspective and clarity.

Below is a summary copied across today.

The question again:
In this day and age, why would I do a PhD?
Where is the wisdom and philosophy in today's Doctorate of Philosophy? What defense might the status have against commodified certification, credential inflation, and otherwise collaborative and crowd sourced knowledge? How might an autodidact approach a PhD with integrity? Would they?
These are open questions looking for the heart and meaning of a PhD in today's context. Leigh will explain his approach to developing in-depth knowledge, and invite challenges, suggestions and responses to it...
I solicited responses on this blog post, and lead a Creative Research Discussion Group at the University of Canberra. These are my notes from those two events, and a description on how I will approach the workload of a Doctor of Philosophy, an approach generally referred to as OpenPhD.
For me, submitting to a PhD is not as straight forward as it may be for others. Aside from the extra workload, pressure and uncomfortable status that everyone in the process must face, I have published a lot of criticism generally at the mechanisms of Higher Education, not excluding the PhD. Critiquing such processes, the institutions that sustain them, and espousing alternative ways, such as online networks, where I believe stronger knowledge creation and dissemination takes place, leaves me with an ethical dilemma. The traditional PhD, a project that is so narrow in scope, so closed and inaccessible to most, and typically limited in dialog between time poor supervisors, within a discipline area, within a faculty, within a university - nothing could be more opposed to the way I and many others work to explore, create and disseminate knowledge! It would be hypocritical of me to submit to such a process without at least attempting to explain why and how I might do it with integrity, possibly exploding the myths, inequalities and injustices I see in it, and no doubt many of my own prejudices along the way..
2 people are in the foremost of my mind when I face this dilemma, and each represent arms of my online social network, which I carry a strong sense of commitment to, and responsibility for. Minhaaj Rheman, someone I have never met, but who I have had the pleasure of many a sustained - often exhausting exchange of ideas, many times leading to a clearer perspective in me, toward international issues (Such as this, in 2009), and Jim Groom, a wild man online and in person, carrying an honest and creative integrity that many see as the ideal for the new-age academic in a socially networked world (3rings 2010). Both these people, from opposite ends of a spectrum, carry in them a deep questioning of the academic establishment, and influence my concerns more than they probably know. It is Minhaaj and Jim, and the wider social network they represent, that give me this dilemma, and the motivation and assistance to see through it.

How I'll do it

After quite a bit of discussion (see below), I have resolved to approach a PhD in this way:
I will (and have already) publicly declared my commitment to understanding and attempting to apply the apparent rigor, depth and discipline required for recognition as a Doctor of Philosophy, but will do so informally. That is, without enrolling or submitting to an institution, faculty, discipline area or assigned supervisors. Instead, I will direct myself, using online social networks, professional contacts, all workshop and seminar opportunities that present themselves, and family and fiends to test my ideas, check the quality of my work, and help build its worthiness in line with the criteria I aim to discover. Through open documentation of our dialog, this network will play the role, and reflect an equivalence of traditional PhD supervisors. When I feel confident that I understand and have met the requirements of the PhD, I will submit a summative body of work to an assessing organisation, if there is one willing to play this role, and await their verdict.

Why do this?

I recognise the value of focused, sustained research and investigation, resulting in a well communicated, extensive summary of that, as a valuable process for me as an individual, and for a wider knowledge society. I reject however, this process as an institution, as pre defined course work, as an initiation to a class of knowledge worker, or mark of status or credibility. Especially if it is a title required for employment, and a process that has yet to have considered, or make allowances for, the more informal and self directed approaches I'm proposing. I expect the combination of the established criteria of a PhD, with my own unruly approach to it, will teach all involved a thing or two, even if it results in the credential not being awarded, and me accepting this failure. Finally, but by no means the least, if I am to remain an employed academic, it is expected that I have a PhD. This is not an insignificant reason, as I see no other place at this point in time, regardless of how minimalistic my family may attempt to live, where I can continue to investigate networked learning, and devise new models and critiques for its formal and common existence, than through employment as an academic in the university system.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Why would I do a PhD?

Source: Wikimedia Commons
I'm heading into what I perceive to be the belly of the beast today, and attempt to bring it.
In this day and age, why would I do a PhD?
Where is the wisdom and philosophy in today's Doctorate of Philosophy? What defense might the status have against commodified certification, credential inflation, and otherwise collaborative and crowd sourced knowledge? How might an autodidact approach a PhD with integrity? Would they?
These are open questions looking for the heart and meaning of a PhD in today's context. Leigh will explain his approach to developing in-depth knowledge, and invite challenges, suggestions and responses to it...

The Research Office at the University of Canberra is graciously hosting this dragon's den, allowing me to facilitate a discussion that I think questions the very core of a university:

This session will take place in 2 hours from now. I'll keep notes here, and on my openPhD wiki as usual. Any comments from the network would be most welcome. While I had hoped the question would be stimulus enough, a friend advises I may need to prepare slides! In some ways, my 10 minute presentation to the Research Office in March this year might suffice, but I'll see if I can work something up now...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A crisis for institutions, opportunities for teachers

Richard Hall has posted another cracking post, looking for the opportunities in the fog of war that is the UK's latest review of their university education system. If Australian policy remains true to tradition, it too will face a similar fate.

The UK's review also prompted Inside Higher Ed to publish another excellent post by James Vernon from the University of California, basically summing up the downward spiral of the English speaking institutions of education since the 1980s. Quite rightly, James doesn't limit his criticism at the politicians either, squaring off the complacency of the people in the institutions as well:
Before rushing to join the denunciations of our short-sighted and philistine politicians we have to accept that no-one within the English university sector emerges from this process with much dignity. Administrators have grown fat, plumping up their personnel, enlarging their office and buildings, as well as inflating their salaries. Most damagingly they meekly accepted the economistic logics that drove the auditing of productivity and were naive enough to believe that the introduction of fees would supplement, not replace, state funding. They have turned away from the public they are supposed to serve in the quest for new ‘markets’: professional schools, overseas students, and creation of empires with institutions that franchise their degrees.
So its with complete agreement to that, that I look at Richard Hall's post - the first to respond to the cuts with a relative positive attitude - seeing the destruction of coercive academic capitalism as an opportunity for new and progressive practices.
In particular we might now revisit the critical work on the neoliberal university, the student as consumer and the marketisation of HE, in order to critique and negate the path that we are pushed towards. This work identifies the types of controlled, economically-driven, anti-humanist organisations that will possibly emerge, and the ways in which oppositional, alternative, meaningful social change might be realised.
Richard stops short of describing alternative approaches, pointing instead to a few worthy projects like School of Everything instead.

This is where I might cut in.

I've been trying to think inside out from the institution for 4 or 5 years now. How might those who presently work inside the institutions, work in such a way that makes ready, or feeds opportunities that are developing outside the institutions? I reckon HE teachers ought to beat the policy makers and bosses at their own game, and start setting up for independent, contract work. This means taking full ownership of the units you teach, and start running then independently from the institution, contracted back into the institutions, while they remain.

  1. Start with your unit outline. 
  2. Copy it to Wikiversity and chuck out all that guff, make it fun, engaging, and readable. Link to the guffy version if legal requires it. If your Institution has draconian IP policy, work to change it, or change the unit outline enough to qualify as original work.
  3. Start networking online around the subjects of your units, update the wiki as new resources and ideas come your way. 
  4. Refine your Wikiversity entry and start editing all related Wikipedia articles so that links are prevalent from there to your Wikiversity course.
  5. Set up a blog/website for your units, or create a page on your existing blog/website for the units you are developing to teach and assess. 
  6. Ditch the learning management system and any other platform the institution prescribes (such as email or lecture recording facilities), get it all out in the open, on commonly available and tried and true services, and use the links, RSS and embed codes to quickly populate an LMS if you must. 
  7. Set up a Google docs spreadsheet with all the data the institution needs for auditing, such as attendance, contact details, demographics, participation and completion rates, feedback, etc.
  8. Work out how much it costs your target universities to run the unit, then work out how you can teach and assess that unit for less. 
  9. Find other teachers going independent, try to build a network who together might be able to offer units for the better half of a degree, using this approach.
  10. Offer all the universities in the world your service, outlining the cost benefit analysis you've done for them (like Google Docs did).  All you need from them is assurance they will give your graduates the rubber stamp on your assessed and moderated say so.
  11. Negotiate a 3-4 year contract with each university, to make sure you have time to refine and develop, and so that degree hunting students have consistency in you. 
  12. Run your unit open access, inviting non enrolled students to participate, offering them post study assessment (Recognition of Prior Learning) should they ever be wealthy enough to pay for the paper.
  13. Author a textbook for the unit on Wikibooks, and desktop publish it to, charge a small royalty for the printed version.
  14. Create quirky merchandise for your unit, again charging small royalties.
  15. Set up a donation widget on your unit website to take donations from anyone who shows their love.
  16. Make sure your running costs include time for research and development. I reckon 5-10 hours for every hour of teaching and assessment as a rough guide.
  17. Get smart with your work, think about ways to use community projects like Wikipedia's Featured Article initiative and other ideas, or consider pay it forward assignments, to help with assessment and other workload challenges.

None of this necessarily preserves the work of teaching subjects that are in low demand unfortunately. In this regard, I would look to associations and other outside bodies to subsidise the running costs of your units with sponsorship. Whack a heritage order on ancient Greek studies etc. Try to find sustainable online markets for your niche service.

If this idea is too brief for you, you can look back at my previous posts outlining this idea.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Gov 2.0 will simply amplify Australia's political lethagy

Last night I was unsurprised yet very annoyed at the status so far of the official political debate about Australia's combat operations in Afghanistan.

This morning, Eve woke at 530am as usual, wanting to play with toys in the lounge room. Eventually she found the TV remote, and on came the crud that is Australian morning television. People in the US dressing their pets in Halloween costumes, record numbers at the Zombie Walk, massive shark suspected in the North, Australian and Singaporean stock exchange to merge (WTF?), Beach Boys lip syncing, and sport sport and more sport.. and a bit of weather from tourist locations.

Sigh. So I turned on the radio and muted the television. Triple J (a public radio station that used to be half decent) doing shit talk back on the "craziest question you've ever been asked in a job interview".

Last night I tweeted a criticism/half question of the Gov 2.0 lobby in Australia, pointing out the comparatively zero coverage by the stream on the 2 weeks of parliament and senate debate on Afghanistan.

Self proclaimed online evangelist CraigThomler (@craigthomler) was the only person watching the gov2au stream (or interested to reply), and replied by the morning with:
@ isn't about specific issues, it's about transforming governance systems to models suitable for the 21st century.
To which my reply (considering the 530am start to Australian TV and Radio) was pretty prickly:
@ yeah right, how about a few examples. is a technofad echo chamber
And so began a short lived exchange of why and why not. Twitter is useless for debate.

Looking back on Craig's own tweets on #gov2au, he thought the TEDxCanberra photostream was related somehow, and in the end he dismissed my remarks to the #gov2au stream as "adding little value".

I personally think #gov2au needs to cover much more than open data, censored Internet, public broadband and otherwise blind lobby for more government bordering on global. If Australian politicians are going to debate whether military personnel should be helping to kill off people in Afghanistan (the first time they've ever debated the idea), but with a foregone conclusion of smelly bipartisanship and avoidance of the question on whether 911 was good reason to invade in the first place, and mainstream media is going to largely black out non party line input on the issue, then I think this becomes a prime candidate for testing ideas of #gov2au! The debate doesn't even have a hashtag as for as I can tell!

While the dispersed chatter about the war goes on through social media, as it does on carbon taxes, emissions trading, global warming and climate change, not to mention a raft of other important and poorly represented issues, none of it is feeding through to the political, economic and cultural class, despite it often revealing many an insightful remark and eye popping evidence. Gov2au ideals of engaged and participatory citizenship and political representation is not looking very likely at all. More likely is it will remain a clique of technofans, existing in a in a bubble of do-good, averse to any real issue of controversy, life and death, leaving the technology to simply amplify the real underlying problems in our society.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Our war in Afghanistan

Last week, the Australian Parliament debated our combat operations in Afghanistan. This is the first parliamentary debate had on Australia's military involvement in Afghanistan. This week, the Australian Senate will debate the same issue.

Sadly very little substance has been brought into the debate, with all but 2 people so far towing an implausible, an unacceptable rationale for the occupation. The so-called Gov 2.0 crowd are quiet as mice on this very important debate, and commentary so far seems sporadic. The mainstream media is as useless as ever, but I did manage to find Syd Walker, a blogger giving what I think to be very good commentary on the debate and surrounding issues.

Syd points to this speech given in Detroit a few months ago, by David ray Griffin, questioning the reasons for the invasion of Afghanistan. I'd like to echo Syd's call to our politicians to at least sit through David's speech before they use up this valuable opportunity for open debate at last!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Some recognition from Otago Polytechnic

As I'm sure many in the network know, it is very rare to get recognition for work in open education from the likes of bosses and former bosses. It is much more common for them to take all credit for other's innovation, but not for Phil Ker, CEO of Otago Polytechnic and my old boss.

I left Otago on not-so-happy terms in 2009, with a sense of a lot still not done or even appreciated. So it came as a pretty nice surprise when a few colleagues at Otago messaged me during Phil Ker's talk at the Open Education Foundation's web conference for Open Access Week, to tell me that he was heaping a fair bit of recognition my way.

Phil's remarks about me come in at about 13 minutes, but it is well worth listening to the whole recording if you'd like to hear the frank and open reflections of a principled Chief Executive talking about initiatives, mistakes and strategies for Otago's attempts to embed open educational practices.

It sounds as if they still have a very long way to go, but its encouraging to hear initiatives being talked about at the senior executive level at least.

Thanks Phil, good luck Otago Poly

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A pattern language

A friend who shares interest in container based houses, and modular housing design, recommended I get a copy of A Pattern Language. By Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein, with Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fiksdahl-King and Shlomo Angel. 1977 Oxford University Press.

Although it is said to be vastly popular in architecture circles, my local city library is devoid of a copy, and the local universities, in their infinite wisdom, only give restricted access. So I ordered a copy through Amazon, and am thinking about how to bring a free adaptation to Wikibooks. No wait! Here's an online viewer for it already! Jeez the Internet is great! But once again, in the education sector, here is an example of highly relevant, radical and valuable thinking from the 70s somehow left forgotten these past 40 years.

100 pages into it, I can say I was made for this book. I am a child of the 70s after all. It is a clear and concrete manual for planning and building cities, towns, villages, houses, rooms, gardens, one's self. It is based around a list of 253 patterns we can use in any number of combinations to create spaces with meaning, much in the same way we mix words to create various densities of meaning. Like words we can use these patterns to create towns and buildings of mere pros, or brutal sentences (such as Canberra), or we can create poetry, song, and timelessness such as... well the documentary series currently screening on SBS only springs to mind: Welcome to Lagos.


After the thoroughly engaging introduction, I'm into the first of 3 parts - Towns (the other two are Buildings and Construction). In Towns is a chapter called Network of Learning, and it understandably cites Illich as the most penetrating proposal for an alternative framework for education. The chapter opens with:
In a society which emphasises teaching, children and students--and adults--become passive and unable to think or act for themselves. Creative, active individuals can only grow up in a society which emphasises learning instead of teaching.
It seems everywhere I look these days, I see reinforcement for Teaching is Dead, Long Live Learning - I'm thinking to shift the focus of my "PhD" to where it should be.

The chapter goes on to quote Illich, from his article, Education without Schools: How It Can Be Done New York Review of Books 1971.
New educational institutions would break apart this pyramid. Their purpose must be to facilitate access for the learner: to allow him to look into the windows of the control room or the parliament, if he cannot get in the door.
Sounds like online, open education, even Gov2au to me... and yet most of these movements almost never refer back to such previous authors and modelists.

Anyway, on to reading this 1170 page text. If not for the failed institutions, then to build myself a house with poetry.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Student as Producer: A Pedgogy for the Avant-Garde

Sorry to steal the punch line, the 9 page paper is well worth the read:
So in answer to the question ‘How do revolutionary teachers teach?’ The response must be through interruption and astonishment, experiments with history, deconstructing the capitalist labour process by reconnecting intellectual and manual labour, and by creating Zones of Proximal Development. In other words, not teaching - so that we all might learn.

Student as Producer: A Pedagogy for the Avant-Garde; or, how do revolutionary teachers teach? by Mike Neary Centre for Educational Research and Development,University of Lincoln, Brayford Pool,
I would go so far as to say, Teaching is Dead, Long Live Learning...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Working to change things?: Showing ontological and epistemological appreciation

Venn diagram representing Classical Definition of Knowledge
Wikimedia Commons

In a discussion with Keith the affineur recently, he took the time to explain his position of "invitational development" more.

He used the concepts ontology and epistemology, and noted Marx' use of the philosophical branches (need to find more on this), to frame his point that we need to seek out an understanding of the "other", empathise with their situation acknowledging the limitations of all knowledge, and propose our alternatives non-confrontationally. He suggested that to propose an alternative to which the "other's" world view is put into fundamental opposition, is to be confrontational (even violent?), and likely non productive.

This conversation has come from the sentence in the opening paragraph I am developing for the OpenUC proposal.

Colored woodprint
by Samuel Coccius, Basle Switzerland. Wikimedia Commons
Here on 22 September, "Universities will need to go beyond the preservation of problems only they can solve", where I seek to confront the idea of a University, and put it in opposition with its own understanding of itself.

How might I seek to be more inclusive in the expression of this critique, and invite people (as opposed to 'Universities') to consider an alternative?

Perhaps, "People working in Universities may need to reconsider the nature of the problems they work to solving" gets closer, but now I realise that "People working in Universities" still situates an "other" and even an exclusive right to considering the question.

How about "we"? "We may need to reconsider the nature of the problems our Universities are set to solving"
I realise many will either think all this is just so logical, or even overly picky, but if they know me, they know I am confrontational... perhaps if it is possible for me to use this sort of pacifism, I will find new ways to make more successful change proposals, and even find more peace in my life! Yeah, I know, seems hardly likely.. :)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Student authored, open, psychology text book

Check out this video that explains James Neill's work with emerging academics, to produce a free and open text book for their class, Motivation and Emotion.

Student authored psychology text book

I've been looking forward to seeing a project like this, the closest I've experienced was at Otago Polytechnic, working with staff and publishers to produce an open textbook, but James' and his class are taking it further.

So I wondered the halls late last Thursday night to get some video of them in their early stages. I thought I had the right room but was lost. Thanks to James' principles in open education, a Google search was all I needed to find them. Trouble was, I couldn't get a connection for my phone! WTF! Eventually I found a bar of 3G and walked in on James working with his class.

I'll follow their progress closely, and get another video report at its completion. Hopefully we'll have a printed and bound version to complement the wiki.

Good luck James and all, this is a great project to see happen.

Recent Changes Camp, University of Canberra.. recently

Last month, we hosted a Recent Changes Camp at the University of Canberra (UC RCC). The Media Production Society helped out by making this great video of the day.

The original idea was to host a WikiMinia in Canberra, on the back of Wikimania in July... but then Laura Hale joined UCNISS as a researcher, and told me about the Recent Changes Camp tradition. When we decided to run with that, Laura was a gun in getting the UC RCC website up and running, and helping announce it through the networks.

Instead of 3 days, we held UC RCC for one day. 30 people attended the unconference, and came from as far as Hobart (Skills Tasmania and Tasmanian Polytechnics) and Sydney (Cancer Council and Wiki Media Foundation). The discussion agenda set by the participants included:

  • Wikiversity
  • Wiki community and usability
  • Wikis for applied learning
  • Conversations behind wikis
  • Wikis for Community Consultation

I think its safe to say it was quite a successful day. Feedback has been really positive, and plans are afoot to host another UC RCC early next year, this time for the full 3 days. Please get in touch if you'd like to be a part of that.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Software Freedom Day - Canberra 23 September

Software Freedom Day – what is it and why should I care?

You might never want to look at the nuts and bolts of the software you use, so why should you support Software Freedom Day? To keep the software you want to use free of charge, and to make sure that the people who can improve it continue to do so. You probably already use, or know of, some open source projects - Firefox (a web browser), Thunderbird (an email client) and Open Office (word processing and spreadsheet software) are all completely free programs used by millions of people worldwide.

The developers who write and maintain free and open source software do so because they are passionate about it – they're not paid for their work, and they don't expect to be. By using and distributing their programs, you are helping them to continue making great software for you to use free to charge. Just by copying the software and handing it to your friends, you're supporting those people who have written the code, and who work hard to maintain it.

But wait! Isn't copying software illegal?
Copying open source software is not only legal, but encouraged. With proprietary software that you pay money for, the source code is under lock and key, so you can never be quite sure what you're getting. It could contain viruses or adware, have security vulnerabilities, or just be unreliable and unstable.
Open source software is not only free to use, and free to share with your friends, but it's also a step towards personal freedom for everybody. By supporting Software Freedom Day, you're supporting the open source community and helping to keep knowledge where it belongs – in the hands of the people who created it. 

OK! I'm excited! Where do I start?
Drop in and see the Canberra Software Freedom Day team at the Computer Fair in the Bus Depot Markets this Saturday 18 September. See free and open source systems in action, get your own free copies of the software, and ask as many questions as you want. There will also be plenty of prizes and giveaways.
Drop in to the Install Fest at the ANU (CSIT building - Room N101) the following weekend on Saturday 23 September. Bring your computer and we'll provide the software and help you get up and running.
What if I can't make it?
Jump online and check out these websites:

Or email the Canberra Linux Users Group at and we'll do our best to help.

See you this Saturday!

No such thing as being technology agnostic

A small group at my place of work have been jousting the ages old (but ultimately quite shallow) debate about free software vs commercial software in education. While I'm looking forward to the possible fall out of a Richard Stallman talk in Canberra next month (more likely an ignored flash in the pan), a relatively new phrase has been used in this discussion, "to be platform agnostic" which seems to me to be a way of dismissing or exiting the conversation on the ethics of technology use in education, let alone the ethics of education itself!

At the same time I've been participating in the Learning Analytics email group, where people are discussing various forms of data collection and analysis for education. Earlier this month however, Brent Simpson quoted Illich, introducing very much an ethical consideration around technology. Brent's thread didn't get very far, with very few responses, and perhaps even a fairly serious misunderstanding that drew the potential of the discussion to a close.

For back up and for blog content, here's my recent post to Brent's thread in the Learning Analytics email forum:
Tools for ConvivialityStill thinking about the ethical dimension that Brent tried to introduce via a quote from Illich's Tools for Conviviality.

In short, Illich called for more thoughtfulness on the selection and use of tools.. tools in the broadest sense of the word, including institutions. He wanted us to select and use tools that had in built affordance for maintaining people's self determination, rather than leading us into a dependency with many forms of loss. The quote Brent used, at first seemed to confuse that argument with an interpretation by both myself and George that Illich didn't properly distinguish the difference between information and knowledge, but we were wrong.

That quote again:
"The world does not contain any information. It is as it is. Information about it is created in the organism through its interaction with the world. To speak about storage of information outside the human body is to fall into a semantic trap. Books or computers are part of the world. They can yield information when they are looked upon. We move the problem of learning and of cognition nicely into the blind spot of our intellectual vision if we confuse vehicles for potential information with information itself. We do the same when we confuse data for potential decision with decision itself." Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality Part 4 Recovery: The Demythologization of Science (1974)
Certain tools extract certain types of information, leading us to certain types of limited knowledge. This is a common critique of the scientific method of research.. something like, two scientists in a dark room with an elephant. One has hold of the tail, the other has hold of the trunk. They both agree they are holding a snake. (Does anyone have the source for that analogy?)

Understanding Media: The Extensions of ManI misunderstood the Illich quote, and thought Marshall MacLuhan's famous text, The Medium is the Message was a strong contradiction to what Illich appeared to be saying. But another famous MacLuhan quote reaffirms Illich's true meaning,

"We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us" Understanding Media (1964)

Some people in the Learning Analytics email group have asked questions of an ethical dimension, such as Who are analytics for? Who controls them? Who switches them on/off? Aside from Brent's attempt to bring some body to those faint concerns, we really haven't gone far with it. This is a common problem in the educational technology network, and has been for quite some time. The impracticality of media ethics.

Recently, Richard Hall in the UK has been blogging a deeper ethical reflection on technology in education, hitting my radar when he posted Open Education: The Need for a Critique. Some of his work, combined with the historical theorists he refers to, and the few others in the present educational technology network who are asking some challenging and perhaps unanswerable questions, is what I hope might be included in the Learning Analytics forum or conference at some stage.