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.

Monday, September 13, 2010