Friday, January 29, 2010

Progressing the PhD


A month ago I mentioned I was going to attempt a PhD by Publication at the University of Canberra. I still am, but I am withdrawing my expression of interest to do a PhD by publication, deciding instead to do a standard PhD by research.

About a week ago, one of my supervisors Keith Lyons recommended I reconsider the by publication route, explaining that the PhD by research offers much more flexibility on how and where I publish it, which for me and my principles around openness and popular relevance, will be pretty important.

Today I had lunch with another supervisor, James Neil. We discussed our thinking about my ideas of topic direction. We also talked about the need to balance my life with Sunshine and our first baby, my paid work, and this attempt to complete a PhD. I'm looking for the shortest route to the qualification, were I can efficiently learn things that will help my future prospects, and that will take me into topics I am interested in - helping me maintain motivation. This last point is important, but it could affect the earlier points.

Looking at the following content structure, and comparing it with my initial expression of interest, you may recognise significant scope creep. This is because in reality, the work with Sport Studies has broader implications in the Faculty, the University and the Australian Higher Education sector.

Proposed content structure

Deconstructing Higher Education
  1. What (if any) agreement is there on its purpose in Australia.
  2. Historical and present day influences on general development and direction.
  3. The common structures and financial models.
  4. Forecasting.

Critiquing the University of Canberra
  1. Situating UC in the Australian higher education sector.
  2. Critiquing its directional plans and policies.
  3. Analysing its culture of practice.
  4. Proposing open education and research in the UC context.
Describing a model for open education and research
  1. Describing a theoretical and historical background to a model of open education and research.
  2. Reviewing other models of open education and research.
  3. Situating a model within the University of Canberra context (including its external influences).
  4. Reviewing measurement methods for open education and research development.
Conducting a case study in developing open education and research practices
  1. Implementing development activities within a focus group at the University of Canberra.
  2. Monitoring effectiveness, and analysing impact.
  3. Analysing participatory narratives.
  4. Comparing the results with the larger culture of the University.
Conclusions and recommendations
  1. Financial cost benefit analysis
  2. Cultural analysis findings
  3. Individual action guide
  4. Directional plans and policy review recommendations

The research question that arises out of this then is: How does open education and research develop in an Australian university?

The purpose of a PhD (historically speaking) is to prove my ability to conduct research and form conclusions. I'm fully aware of my particular activist bias toward open education, and my weakness in accessing and considering all influences on that agenda. While I will personally aim to uncover as much shared truth as possible, I appreciate the opportunities that post, even anti positivist stances offer, in that my own position in this work remains present and relevant. This stance compliments my attempt to also define and model an open PhD project.

The open PhD

At the moment, the process I wish to follow is as follows:
  1. Use my blog (and related channels) for formative notes and reflection.
  2. Encourage supervisors to engage in discussion on my blog, and turn these considerations into content actions towards my PhD
  3. Transfer content actions into my PhD Wiki
  4. Invite supervisors and wider networks to assist in developing an annotated bibliography around this content. Items in the bibliography should openly accessible. Where they are not, and no alternative suites, I will pursue copyrights to republish.
  5. Draft sections on the wiki and post them to my blog for feedback
  6. Continue this spiral towards completed sections and chapters to the necessary style
  7. Produce a printed and bound version in three readership levels, as in the broadbanding information idea (children, adults, experts)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

1 minute video



My Android sets a 1 minute limit recording video, I dunno why. I reckon its enough for most things
http://youtube.com/leighblackall

Monday, January 25, 2010

Why bother with Google Apps?

The mighty Tony Hurst blogged about Open Uni UK adopting Google Apps recently. I could be mistaken, but reading between the lines, I'd say Tony is pretty underwhelmed by the move, right before he launched into Tony mashing awesomeness though.

But me too. I would be pretty underwhelmed as well. Don't get me wrong, I reckon Google is the better call over Live or even SharePoint, but re: them all I can't really see the point. Its a bit like providing email addresses to people who already have email addresses. No! its exactly the same. Why do we bother?

I can see a point if the hosting is inherently educational, like student's managing their own radio station, or news paper and the like - where learning the full woes of managing extensions, spam, servers and moderating terms and conditions should be understood by the budding media tycoons, but for all else, I don't reckon its worth the hassle. Leave it to the clubbies.

D'Arcy blogged his annual self doubt with a similar question relating to universities hosting blogs for students. Jimbo continues to stand tall in his own crop of dental floss, although we do detect growing paranoia in his voice. I still have not come around to seeing the use of hosting any of it. Same goes for an LMS of course. (Interesting to note the murmurs by Graham Attwell about clouds replacing the grotty little LMS).

But even with Google Apps you don't get much!.. an individual standard Google account has more features and functionality than if they were to use the Apps "provided" to them by their desperately-seeking-relevance institution. I'd be a little confused if my Inst was to thrust an App account at me. I'd wager that just about every student these days has a Google, Yahoo, or Live account anyway, and like FB if they see the use for such a thing, its pretty easy and highly likely they'll go get.

And if anyone's freaky about keeping personal data on a cloud, they probably should be just as freaky about a struggling university trying to do it too. Best they get a few pointers on cheap and easy self hosting if they've got worries about clouds and institutionalised love.

So all this, once again begs the perennial question, why does an institution bother "providing" all this when all we really need is cheap if not free Internet, and some sophisticated role modeling of the Internet as the platform. I guess its all just a matter of time.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How to produce, publish and distribute a journal these days

Ok, on this I am less confident - having not published a journal before, but I have submitted articles enough to know something about the process. I reckon my experiences publishing textbooks bring some credibility to this idea.

I want to have a hand in creating a distributed, networked, open journal here at UC. So far I have met with enough people who seem more than just interested in the idea, that we might be able to try something out that is quite innovative (as far as journal's go).

My line of thinking is as follows:
  • Anyone can submit an article, and that article is listed on the journal website, and anyone can review the article. There is a featured article review process however, and only a few make it through that.
  • The submission, review and communication around that process is openly documented.
  • All articles are able to be edited, copied, adapted and otherwise reused in whatever way imaginable. The primary data used in the formation of an article is also openly available as above, however methods of protecting privacy of subjects would need to devised, and if possible not in such a way so as to render the data inaccessible.
I suppose this is sounding very much like the principles of free software or open education. Those familiar with editing on the large reference wikis know this process well. But there are some differences in implimentation...

How would it be done?

There is a story example further down. Skip to that if you prefer that way of imagining.

As always, I propose that we do not set up a silo type website that requires us to build a user base from scratch. Instead I propose that we think smart about how light we can make the journal's actual website, and distribute functionality widely across various publishing and communication systems that people already use and prefer. In other words, the Internet is our open journal platform, where ever you may wish it to be.

This is not to say our journal does not have a website of its own, it is necessary that it does, for the sake of recogition and usability for some. I'm imagining a very minimal, clean skinned site that simply indexes the articles with a copy of the text displayed (in html, be gone pdf!!) and the various backchannels of comment and related media are harvested and displayed along with it.

After clicking a link to an indexed article title, imagine a main central column that is the text, and a right column that is the harvested responses - such as a twitter hashtag feed, a Youtube tag feed, a Delicious tag feed, links to related wikipedia/wikibooks/wikiversity articles, etc. The point is to capture responses from people based on what time and inclination THEY have, rather than require people to sign in and leave comments based on the limited functionality WE have. Networked communicators are familiar with this form of distributed discourse, so it s a matter of making it easier for others to track.

Of course, the benefits of networking responses and discourse like this is that we attract new and wider audiences and expose our authors to a wider range of feedback (not all rosey). In doing so we are open to any sort of feedback, I am comfortable with that, I think we can set up expectations to accomodate that too.

Another aspect of this distributed and open communication, is to encourage the publishers of articles to engage in "popularising" their work. If through looking at their article they saw discussion taking place in a Wikipedia article, my hope is that would encourage them to at least monitor that, perhaps even contribute. Something less time consuming might simply be to look at a twitter stream responding to the article and be exposed to the occasional benefits of twitter. Likewise for Youtube and so on.

Not everyone has the time for all or even one of these backchannels, and that is fine - but enabling and engaging with them has tangible benefits they can take or leave.

You might have noticed the "anyone can publish, anyone can review" aspect. I've been trying to spread Russell Butson's new speak for students, calling them instead "emerging academics". The shift in thinking and behaviour that that title change brings to undergraduate study is interesting. Russell's work at the University of Otago (no link sorry) experiments with student run journals, where the emerging academics edit, review and publish their essays in their own year's journal. Russell tells me he has been doing this with much success with medical students.

This idea of emerging academics publishing their work has captured the imagination of a few lecturers here, and I would like to see it where an emerging academic's work was published on the same platform as an established or professional academic's, such as this open networked and distributed journal I am explaining.

I see no reason to separate works based on title or experience, but obviously there remains a need for a seperation based on quality. There would be an editorial process in place whereby exceptional articles are peer reviewed and featured. It is the featured articles of the month, quarter or year of the journal edition that make the front page. Articles that do not make it through this featured status are then managed through a user generated rating and tracking system. We may discover new and emerging talent through that system as well.

Finally, on the question of how to submit an article.

My preference is to encourage people to publish their work on their own channel, and then to simply provide the link. Their article would be instantly listed, and if nominated, it would enter into a peer review process toward becoming a featured article. If it succeeded in becoming a reviewed and featured article, it would be reformatted and stored on the journal site itself. Social media feedback channels and related media would be set up around the copied article. There are numerous ways we could approach this submission process including anything from straight emailing a submission, to tagging a work with a particular tag. The key here is that it should have been already published on a personal web space of some sort. The main point is to subvert the silo thinking prevalent in imagining a journal, and to encourage a distributed and networked approach for publishing and reviewing.

An example.

I write my article on Wikiversity with a finished copy on my blog. Linked to the article are pages documenting my submission, including research data, article background and editing history, discussion and other processing. When the article is complete, I send an email to the journal editor (as well as tag it in delicious with the journal's submission tag). This automatically lists my article on the journal's website (on the second page, not the featured page), where it awaits review in various forms. I can edit the information around the article such, as what it relates to in Wikipedia, as well as giving it a tag word for people to use if they wish to respond to it on Youtube or Twitter etc. Almost instantly the submission get's retweeted, and one or two people even blog about it. The journal editor contacts me to tell me my article has been nominated for featured article status, and that it will be officially peer reviewed. It undergoes that peer review process and successfully makes it through as a featured article. Now that it has official status as a peer reviewed journal article, I notice that 2 or 3 of the related Wikipedia articles have been updated with citations from my article. I correct a few minor typos on one of those articles, and occasionally notice a new tweet and youtube response to the article in the following months. 2 years later I am reminded about the article by a new blogger who has critiqued it, and I am now in the process of rewriting it with the help of that blogger and we plan to resubmit it to the journal. Over the years the journal has achieved a reasonably high rating and is now recognised as a legitimate peer reviewed journal by my employer who agrees to recognise my work and pay me lots of monetary reward for all my adventurous work... ;)

How to produce, publish and distribute a textbook these days


In 2008, I designed a production, publishing and distribution process for home grown text books at Otago Polytechnic. Ruth Lawson's Anatomy and Physiology of Animals was the first to test the model.

Anatomy and Physiology of Animals is a 269 A4 page paperback that is authored, edited and updated on Wikibooks, with a reformatted version periodically taken from the wiki and uploaded for distribution via the print-on-demand service Lulu.com

The Wikibook acts as a freely accessible digital version of the text, as well as offering opportunities for collaborative editing including potential student editing and expansion exercises.

The Lulu book takes a stable version from the wiki and offers it in a printed and perfect bound format for US$24 a copy. The printed version is always up to date and available on demand - that is, 1 order 1 print, with ordering and postage handled by the Lulu.com service. Otago Polyetchnic no longer have to commit to a print run of hundreds to achieve the production cost savings, and no longer rely on a crapy spiral bound photo copy going at the same price.

Despite the availability of the free digital version, and despite the openness of the wiki and the relatively unrestricted copyrights over the book, almost all the students in the Otago Polytechnic course choose to buy a printed Lulu book, returning a useful royalty cheque sent in by Lulu.com to the Vet Nursing Department each year, helping to sustain the process. I imagine this purchasing preference would continue if at the end of each year the Lulu book was updated to reflect the encouragsed and coordinated contributions of the students of that year - so long as the price remained below the cost of making a photocopied bootleg version (more on that later).

Following the success of the Anatomy and Physiology of Animals project, the NZ Ministry for the Environment funded Otago Polytechnic to do the same for a text on Sustainable Business, using the widely referenced book by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise as its original source. This project is due for completion March 2010. Another project I know has followed this model is the Open Educational Resources, Educator Handbook.

I think this model would work for standard production and publishing businesses, maintaining (possibly even increasing) financial returns to original authors and editors. If publishers can work out a way to undercut the Lulu service, they could tap into the opportunities that these free and open texts offer with their less restrictive copyrights. A smart publisher would do so with a view to rewarding authors, editors and designers.

Taking the model further>>

There is some interest in this model where I work now with Sport Studies at the University of Canberra. One of the units taught here prescribes the text, Sport Management in Australia but there is a growing feeling that this text does not meet the needs. The publishers have contacted us asking if we would like to renew our subscription to the text, and this has presented an opportunity to propose the above model.

It would require the copyright holder to release the text under a less restrictive license such as Creative Commons Attribution or Share Alike. We could then upload the text to Wikibooks and begin editing a new version. Once we were satisfied with the new version, we would reformat it for a print on demand service, ensuring royalties on the sale of the printed texts are returned to authors and original rights holders to satisfy their concerns, but not so much as it would increase the cost of the printed text to such a level so as to encourage alternative copies.

A risk in this process is if we are unable to complete the new version of the text, leaving the original version open in copyrights. There are two ways to manage this risk:
  1. Produce a print on demand version of the original as a fall back measure
  2. Develop to new edition offline, and follow through with the release when it is complete. (this measure could increase the cost of development by limiting contributions to a limited number of editors)
Sport Management in Australia is 336 pages, but smaller than A4. I am guessing that the fee claimed by Lulu would be around US$20 per copy. It would cost more than $62 to create a bootleg photocopy, meaning the most we could charge for a printed text would be $60 (assuming we coordinated bulk shipping) leaving $40 per copy to cover expenses such as design and reformatting (a 1 off expense of master style guide), author royalties and release fees. 150 students are prescribed the text each year at the University of Canberra alone, and assuming most of those students purchase the text we would have recovered most of the direct costs within 2-3 years. If we manage to incorporate student editing exercises, then the printed text would carry with it a sense of invested ownership in the student users, helping to increase relevance of the text and of course encouraging sales.

And so we have a business model that does not rely on copyright protectionism, provides access and reusability to teachers and students without legal implications, and offers an opportunity to increase engagement with the text by way of student editing and additions.

I hope to convince my colleagues to initiate negotiations with the publishers of the out-of-date text, and see if we can convince them to trail the model with us.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Measuring our open education update: Delays in ethnographic study

The effort to conduct a small ethnographic study of Otago Polytechnic staff practicing open education has been delayed by management, delaying the research phase of the Measuring Our Open Education project. In the first instance, Otago Polytechnic was slow in preparing a contract for the external researchers, and now the new manager of the Otago University Centre asked to lead the study is asking the research team for a clearer idea of what is expected before signing a contract.

The actual research team has had numerous meetings getting expectations and responsibilities clearly understood (and those meetings have been thoroughly documented), but the managers who were not involved in those meetings, nor I presume have they read the documentation, feel they can't understand the scope of the project, and so request more clarification before signing a contract that enables the already prepared team to go ahead with their plan.

We are talking about a small <$2000 project of video interviewing less than 10 staff at Otago Polytechnic and having those videos analysed for points of interest and significance, and a report prepared from that. This report would then be added to the professional and financial analysis conducted last year, completing the project of measuring returns on Otago Polytechnic's open education developments from 2006-2009. The professional research team, who have done this sort of work before, are quite sure this is a simple task.

So I am waiting for Russell to return from holidays, so we can meet and prepare a document for the managers to assess whether or not to enter into contract and allow us to proceed. I hate to think what extra and unbudgetted work we will have to redo if that does not satisfy them. Speaking for myself, I am quite put out by the lack of trust in us to negotiate an achievable project. The contract should have just been a formality. Micro management is alive and well at Otago Polytechnic and Otago University.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

On the Australian War Memorial and remembering war

Free entry and parking is great! Its large and interactive, fun in many respects. But I left the Memorial feeling uncertain of its message. Is it a war memorial? is it a war museum? Is it a military museum? What does the war memorial/military museum seek to teach us about war and our memory of it? Should it seek a quiet and contemplative space supported by ignomatic lessons never to be repeated? Or should it represent Australian culture in relation to its war history, and if so where were the more holistic references in the permanent exhibition to things like war's impact on family, politics, economy and so on, not to mention conflicts and wars throughout Australia's colonisation and settlement period? I think it can and should do both, and do more than predominantly remembering great battles and magnificent machines...?

I've always been told that war is a horrible thing, and that we should therefore strive to avoid today's and tomorrows war's at almost any cost. When I hear the words, "We will remember them, lest we forget" I think of this and respond, "and be mindful of how we remember".

So I went to the AWM expecting a somber, contemplative experience.. abstracted from anything figurative or potentially propagandistic, and appreciating all aspects and impacts of war on Australian culture. But the Memorial in combination with its museum left me confused and more than a little worried about the way Australians memorialise war.

Side note: I write this with the utmost respect for those who have been scarred through involvement in wars around the world. I am sorry if by reading this you become angered or upset with my views. Please be reassured that my concerns are small and insignificant in a growing sea of overwhelming pride that Australians feel for their memorialisation of war.

Critiquing Australian war memorialisation is not often seen, attempted by only a few. War fighting is deeply embedded in Australian national identity, marked by a cenotaph in every town, used annually in such events as ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day, both note worthy for a growing number of people (especially the young) attending these services with a seeming increase nationalistic flare. I myself attended an ANZAC day dawn service almost every year of my life from age 5 - 18, and every school gives a minute silence on Remembrance Day. Such devotion is generally considered an honorable thing by Australians, few question it.

Approaching the Memorial
As you approach from the car park you won't miss the impressive Centurion tank, and a large naval vessel half emerged from underground. These retired weapons aren't presented in any other way than proudly. Not destroyed or wasted, strangely ominous and impressive. There are a few other more thoughtful works within the Sculpture Garden that don't convey such an imposing non reflective message, but they are unfortunately over shadowed by the awe of these machines of once "active service". My guess is the tank and naval deck is to excite the kids and impress the parents as they approach the Memorial.. but for what?

Walking into the front of the Memorial requires a flight of stairs into a high arched and columned entrance way, yielding to the Commemorative Courtyard surrounded by a balcony walled by a long list of names that make up the very saddening Roll of Honour. All this is backed by a large dome chapel that is the Hall of Memory. All of it very obviously erected in 1941, quite in tune with the architectural sentiments dominating Australia and much of the world at the time.

The Hall of Memory holds The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier surrounded by stained glass windows and mosaics of tall robust figures in the classic socialist realism style. These figures depict the different military corps and roles (as they were in 1941 Australia), subtitled by what are apparently personality traits of fallen service men and women - and more than a little suggestive of something the rest of us should aspire to? Words like "coolness" (that was a word in 1941 it seems!), "devotion" (attributed to the only female figure in the room), "candour" and so on.. No words that might actually represent a fuller memory of war like loss, horror, tragedy, or regret.. better to have no words at all, or figures for that matter. I was dismayed to see that one of the stained glass figures for "Patriotism", has a misrepresentation of the Southern Cross (Crux star constellation as is found on the Australian Flag). The depiction is radically out of proportion, with the Epsilon Crucis out by a long shot! I'm not sure how such an obvious error could happen to such a significant national emblem in such a nationally significant building, but it did little to aid my over all skeptical appreciation of the depth of memorialisation.

A conflict of interests?
I couldn't help but wonder about all the contributing factors having input into the design of the Memorial leading up to its opening in 1941. There would have no-doubt been the straight forward desire to memorialise the names of military personnel who had died in wars to date, tempered somewhat by a respect for those still mourning their passing. But there would have also been some political desire to at least not depict the disgrace of war, so as to uphold a popular commitment to Australia's role in WWII Europe and the Pacific. It seemed to me these two partly apposing agendas of mournful reflection and propagative zeal meet most obviously at the Australian War Memorial. The quiet sombre atmosphere of a non figurative Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Roll of Honour, surrounded by motifs of nationalism and dutiful sacrifice.

A memorial or glorial?
The more sombre and abstracted notions of memorialisation are completely lost to the enormity of the museum down stairs. whether it’s a war memorial museum or military museum I can’t be sure, but a lot can be said for what it chooses to display next to what it chooses not to. Given that it is housed by the Australian War Memorial, I would question the appropriateness of it being a military museum, as there is surely more to the experience of war than military success, failures and memorabilia.

Central to the museum layout is the Hall of Valour. Devoted to those awarded the Victoria Cross for acts of bravery. The amazing array of short stories of impressive feats are lost to the curiosity drawn away by the objects and and installations in the adjoining rooms.

There is a large wing devoted to WWI, largely made up of models of significant battles, and objects of innovation attributed to an idea of Australian ingenuity at the time. In an opposite wing is a notably different style of exhibiion for WWII. More immersing installations including a vibrating booth with audio visual display simulating a bombing run over Dresden. A forward wing houses exhibits of the War in the Pacific, and a recent extension housing full scale aircraft from WWI and II and the Japanese Mini Sub used to attack Sydney Harbour. On a lower floor again is a wing devoted to conflicts after 1945, notably Korea, Vietnam and Malaysia. Other wings on this lower floor include a Research Centre and a Special Exhibitions Gallery - exhibiting theme at the time I visited was "Love and War".

All of this comes together to make a very impressive museum, interesting to all ages, and presenting a mainstream, text book view of Australia's military involvement in war. Notably absent however were memorials or exhibitions for conflicts and wars between Indigenous Australians and 18 and 19th Century European Colonisation. Also absent was any significant mention of Australian's who actively resisted, protested or objected to participation in wars.

The obvious focus on battles, machines, objects, and recordings comes at the expense of a more holistic appreciation of the Australian experience of war. The impact on family life, politics, demographics, health, education, culture are obviously more difficult things to capture and represent in a museum, but not impossible. Relegating such concerns to "Special Exhibitions" instead of being interwoven throughout the permanent exhibitions trivialises these experiences and promotes a very narrow understanding of what the experience of war was for all Australians.

If the intension of the museum is to be military focused, then I can understand its curatorial direction, but would ask that it detach itself from the memorial entirely. If it is a war memorial museum, then I am left deeply troubled by the way it chooses to remember and commemorate war. Far from discouraging future participation, it reduces it to a fan fair of great stories and impressive machines, forgetting what it really meant to suffer and die for war, and not only by those wearing a uniform.

It seems to me that we are willfully forgetting what a war is. Lest we forget.