Friday, December 16, 2011

The speech of the Great Dictator

The Speech of the Great Dictator of 1940

The Great Dictator

Packing up, moving on

I lost my job, ending 23 December (thanks UC). So, we bought a shipping container and filled it with our stuff. We'll store it and hit the road until we know where we are. Or maybe, just maybe, if I can wing it on the income front, I can talk Sunshine into the container house plan :)

20 foot high cube empty

Amazing that it all fit!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Maarten De Laat - networked learning

eLearning Reviews: Networked Learning
Interesting to see a formal researcher talking about networked learning at the same time we were running Future of Learning in a Networked World in New Zealand, especially along similar lines as Downes' Groups vs Networks talk at Auckland on that tour. But as usual, I'm surprised our informal group's work has been missed or ignored by the formal researchers.

Chapter 8 contains a synthesis study that looks at the processes and procedures involved in joint networked learning. The results of De Laat's case studies frequently concur with the literature he quotes. Finally, chapter 9 sets out these results and lists the implications for the PKN. De Laat's thesis ends with a description of a community-driven approach to networked learning, with a consideration of both individual and collective learning processes and results. He lists a number of guidelines for a more community-driven approach to networked learning and leads for further research.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Translated to Spanish

Diego Leal has, along with a few others, translated to Spanish some video statements I made in 2009 on the relevance of education.

They're perhaps not the best words I've ever used to introduce my thinking on the matter, and I hope Diego might also consider, Teaching in Dead, Long Live Learning or The Disconnect Between Education and Learning. But I realise that might be asking too much ;)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Testing the Blogger app on Android

Here I am, posting through the Blogger Android app. Curious to see how well it works, if it can handle video, photos, tags and whatever else

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I need a job

Last week, I was given notice by the University of Canberra that my services would be no longer needed. As much as I have tried to show that the opposite might be the case, my submissions to policy and strategy reviews, my demonstrations of new teaching practices, the research and development projects I manage, and the events I have coordinated, have not had the intended impact... On the 23 December I will be unemployed.

Yep, that's pretty rotten timing and I have a bit of a bad feeling about this one, so I'm using this blog to try and find an opportunity elsewhere.

In my CV (recently designed for recruitment agencies) I try to state what sort of work I'm looking for:

To gain full time employment in a dynamic organisation that draws on my strengths in research, innovation, teaching and policy in social media, online communications, networked learning and education.

Actually, to find part-time work along these lines, that paid enough to cover the bills would be perfect :) that would give me a little more time to hang out with Eve, and fiddle with those crazy experiments I do from time to time. We all live in hope.

Here's that CV in full:


So far I've sat a couple of interviews with private enterprises, including a media and PR firm interested in social media work, and I intend on making contact with a few educational organisations I've seen advertising positions too. I hope to find an organisation more ready for the ideas and methods I've been developing consistently over the last 10 years. If you know anyone looking for someone like me, or see something come up that you think I should apply for, please let me know.

OERU vs Pearsons vs OEU

Wayne Mackintosh is making rapid progress joining the dots around the Open Education Resources University (OERU), with some 15 "Anchor Partners" in the fold (although it is hard to say for sure, going by the info on their website). Those anchor partners include two universities from Australia, the Uni Southern Queensland and the Uni of Wollongong.

Cashing in on that word "open" is Pearsons Publishers, who made a dull thud a few months ago with their Open Class idea. Uni of New England is signing in with Pearsons around that, from which I imagine Pearsons will attempt to replicate Apple's iTunesU initial marketing methods, to secure their investment.

All these initiatives make the common mistake of overly focusing on content, and in doing so they are chipping away at the institution's strangle hold over assessment and accreditation - which is ultimately where these developments matter most.

OERU by name, seems largely focused on content, but under the hood they use scenarios that say different. They should drop the word Resources from their name, and go with OEU. At the moment the message is still heavily weighted to the idea that they believe content leads to learning, and are working on formalising recognition and accreditation through that channel of content. Leaving aside questions about content access resulting in learning, or that access to free and open content somehow results in learning (an abstract concept for most), ultimately it is the shortest and least expensive path to a respectable piece of paper that really matters here, and their scenario PDF captures that sentiment.

While OERU's principles around content are admirable, what is more exciting is what they are potentially establishing around educational services for assessment, recognition and accreditation services. If they can continue to develop that aspect of their initiative, and drop the suggestion that such services are available or somehow more valuable through the use of their free content, then I think their onto a game changer, if only by significantly undercutting the hyper inflated competition.

Video used in Alternative Ways to Earn Your Degree: Discussing OER University with Rory McGreal

If they were to successfully influence their anchor institutions to develop sophisticated Recognition and Assessment of Prior Learning (RAPL) services, then they would be enabling people who set themselves to learning, using any content or method they choose, including assignments that meet their own needs and those of the assessor's, an opening to formal education that has to-date been quite closed off.

Places like OERU are potentially important alliances for small to medium sized institutions and private providers who will have to compete with the likes of Pearsons, Google or perhaps even iTunesU, who are clearly moving into this space, or more obviously - the sandstone universities and aspiring global institutions like MIT, who stand to dominate the space the moment they choose to invest in flexible assessment services. If recognition of informal and networked learners were to become the focus of the likes of OERU, then they should change their name to OEU, let content play a very minor part, and work intensely on setting up innovative assessment methods, that meet the standards of the anchor institutions, and maintain integrity in the process.

It's a no-brainer really, and why the formal institutions are so slow to recognise the opportunities here is staggering. If a person can learn something through their own resources, and demonstrate their competence and levels of understanding to assessment standards that we can only assume are robust and have integrity by virtue of their regulation, then why aren't more institutions offering such a service to people?

There are many reasons, not least of all that the actual people who would do the assessing have difficulty separating assessment from their teaching and content. Based on my experience proposing and defending the methods we tested in BPS2011, these veterans of the institutions still expect attendance, and a certain style of teaching. They set assignments and exams that are more aligned to their content rather than to the assessable learning objectives. Then there are the faculties and discipline areas who see this level of service a threat to their bottom line. They imagine a future where everybody takes this pathway to accreditation and stop paying for teaching all together. And there are the die-hard believers in 'educational institutions for the public good', who resist all attempts to further commoditise education, refusing to acknowledge that most of that has already taken place, and that a new and diverse range of learning (I hope to show) is increasingly happening elsewhere, whether it be informally self directed, part time night classes, through networks and communities of practice, on the job, or a combination of all of these.

The freedoms and flexibility that would be opened to people in how they go about getting formal recognition for their knowledge and skills is conceivably quite wide, and is not a new idea at least in the vocational training sector. People would not have to forgo employment to satisfy compulsory or otherwise mandated classroom attendance. Migrants could have a greater opportunity to demonstrate their abilities than arbitrary credit transfers from a very limited range of recognised institutions. People raising families may have more of an opportunity to further their qualifications. Internationals can do more of their study at home, and spend less time in foreign countries with expensive costs of living. People in newly regulated professions may seek assessment of prior learning instead of enduring coursework again. And so on.

In many regards, demonstrating this concept is what motivates my efforts to obtain a PhD through informal and networked channels, but it's difficult because as yet, too few educational institutions have seen the opportunities open to them, and have not invested enough or any thought in how they might take the advantage in this. Instead they choose to continue limiting their intake to a mostly young, school leaving, reasonably affluent, perhaps even directionless class of people, effectively discriminating against all those who might adequately satisfy the assessment standards, if given the chance.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Teaching nearly over, back to the PhD

Banner for the unit. Image by Karenkayho on Flickr
Over the past 13 weeks, I've been working with Keith Lyons teaching a unit called Business, Politics and Sport. Our goal was to modify the pre-existing unit outline enough so we could run an open, flexible, invitational learning event, where we could curate a guest lecture series, put everything online (not so much on university systems, but on real-world web sites), to make attendance intrinsically motivated, and to set assignments that were challenging and that would make a valuable contribution to wider, open knowledge communities. It worked, and we're getting really good feedback.

  • In the end, we used UC's Moodle in a very basic stripped back form, making it open access, and providing a link out to the unit website, with a forum set up if anyone needed it
  • We set up a unit website on Blogger, which fed through to a Facebook page, and used these to document progress in the unit
  • We used Wikiversity to prepare the unit content, and develop and submit the assignments
  • There were three assignments: an essay on Wikiversity, an online presentation, and an "open book" exam, where open book means the use of personal computers and the internet in the exam.

BPS2011 sitting the exam
The exam was a success. The room had a buzz about it as all 95 participants filled the room, plugged their computers in, connected to the wireless, set up the chat rooms, and awaited further instructions. At the end, everyone agreed it was the most intense, exciting, and full-on challenging exam they had taken!

All of the essays are in, as well as the presentations, and all of the exam responses. Now begins the marking! All of the 95 participants have really risen to the challenge. We have some fascinating essays and videos published, from pole dancing to rock climbing, all with copyrights (hopefully) cleared, some with open standard format videos embedded, one in Arabic (although he will need an extension due to outside pressures), and many having been peer reviewed by other participants. The full list of works are here on the BPS2011 category on Wikiversity.

We have gained some really nice feedback so far from two of the participants already, and we're hoping for more when the exam and assessment is out of the way. We plan to produce a PediaPress printed book from some of the best essays, in combination with work from Ben Rattray's group working together on Wikibooks, producing a book of factsheets about disease and exercise.

It has been a pleasure to see this model of teaching work so well, and we can only hope to see it scale more with other staff taking up the principles and practices here. We're directing participants to engage in productive, real world knowledge communities, using contemporary information and communications technology, to produce openly accessible information from their work, drawing more on their intrinsic motivation than not, and it seems to have worked well.

When the unit is over, and the mountain of assessment is out of the way, I'll be using BPS2011 as a case study in my PhD. We were given an opportunity to implement some of our ideas on open education and networked learning, and while we couldn't take it all the way - for example, I would have loved to have tried open and rolling enrollments, or done more in terms of coordinating with other similar units or community groups, or mapped several of the learning objectives to vocational competencies where they obviously connect, we did manage to show something of a model worth thinking about. The workload has been well within the recommended limits - although the marking will be hefty, the learning objectives have plenty of evidence of being met, and the student feedback is looking excellent.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Climate Change scare machine

JoNova has a good post outlining, and partly accounting for what she calls the Climate Change Scare Machine. It's a bit harsh in some areas, such as in questioning James Hanson's income, but the chart really says it all, and could easily apply to any number of scares.. AKA Adam Curtis' Power of Nightmares

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Another day of inhumanity

The box of Cards Against Humanity, a party game.
By TeachingARobotToLove
Today was a tough day. It started nice, ended terrible.

I have a new bluetooth headset, that enables me to listen to music on the lakeside ride into work. It was a lovely sunny morning this morning, but as I pulled into work, a phone call interrupted a track from the beautiful Archie Roach, singing about another type of systemic inhumanity to that which I'm about to describe.

The phone call was from Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), who administer superannuation in Australia. I've stepped in to communications with them, to help Sunshine's mum deal with their incredibly dense bureaucracy. They are playing very hard ball with her appeal to get an early release of a small amount of her very small retirement fund, to cover the funeral costs of her mother. Femm is from the Philippines, speaks English as a third language, and struggles with mind numbing bureaucracy like most of us. APRA is refusing to release some of Femm's money because Femm can't provide them with the kind of receipts they recognise. Femm's mum's funeral was held in the Philippines, where receipts aren't common practice, and actually quite costly to get. The phone call was just more hard nosed cultural insensitivity from an inhumane person working in an over bearing Australian institution that nannies people's retirement funds, for some other greater good...

Then, directly after that horrible phone call, I stepped in to conduct a lecture, but couldn't sign into the University's network. My account had been suspended. I called the help desk who explained that my employment contract had expired. I explained I was giving a lecture, they said see your supervisor, and they couldn't give me access, even for the lecture I was apparently now giving as a volunteer. When I got home today, I discovered that I was left off the payroll too!

Now, I know the hard nosed people who seem to be everywhere these days will say I should have known my contract was going to expire, and that when it did, I'd be promptly taken off the system. Actually I expected my 1 year contract to just roll over like a lease or something, until someone met with me to say we don't need you anymore - especially as I'm teaching until the end of the year. I didn't get a single message from anyone that my contract was expired, and that my access to the network, and payroll would be stopped.

My supervisor is onto it, and being the incredibly humane person he is, will help me financially if this situation takes a while to remedy. We can't do anything about the network access however, so tomorrow will be another day of dodgy lecturing.

Our tools have made us blind to what it means to be human. Gestures of humanity are all too easy now, because by and large, blunt cruelty is just common place.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Lost Innocents of Kashmir

My Dad's film, Lost Innocence of Kashmir, made from Super 8 Footage he shot in 1989, was screened at Raindance yesterday.

It is a haunting, tragic and very relevant film, and I'm working on him to get the full version up, which he said he'll do once it's done the festival rounds. Montreal next.

Psy-ops, or black-ops, set everyone up for their fall in strategic places like Kashmir. Agitators cause trouble, trigger discontent, to which security forces respond. So starts the war of spin, propaganda and suspicion on the path to terrorism, retribution and torture. Meanwhile, poor refugees have nowhere to go. A personal story, told from memory, triggered by revitalising these Super 8 images of 1989. Filmed, written and narrated  - David Blackall Edited - Oliver Kutzner and David Blackall Music - Kraig Grady and David Blackall Lost Innocents of Kashmir was selected for the Raindance Film Festival, where it made its world premiere Monday 3 October 2011 at 15:45 in London. 
Lost Innocents of Kashmir has also been selected for the upcoming Montreal International Documentary Festival.
A short (22 min) documentary with a special emphasis on creating social impact, to create awareness, instigate change and bring a unique and personal perspective to the topic of world agendas being played out in a small place like Kashmir.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Opening up Science. ABC Radio National

Wikimedia Commons, picture of the year - 2011
At last! A large and well resourced media outlet has produced a radio documentary about the Open Science, or Open Academic movement. Opening up Science by ABC Radio National's Future Tense back in February 2010, does a good job explaining where our closed practices came from, why they're inappropriate now, and what's going on to change things and why. It interviews articulate voices who convey the principles and critique things like commercial secrecy.

While it does ask if there is really any evidence that open practices will solve the problems it says it will, unfortunately it didn't delve into questioning the deeper motives of movement, or the possible consequences, and surely we know that all change campaigns generate unintended consequences that can be retrospectively seen as negative to the initial principles or related ethics. Openness as a new kind of cultural domination, or neo colonialism for example, promoting a further homogeniety of thought rather than a diversity - most obviously in language and linguistic bias, or the very idea of 'science', or the constructivism that underlies that.

Admittedly there aren't many people asking these questions that I'm aware of.

MP3, 29 minutes. 13 Meg.


Dan Gezelter
Assoc Prof of Chemistry at Notre Dame University & Director of the 'Open Science Project'.
Julian Cribb
Science Communicator & Co-author of the book 'Open Science'
Dr Andy Farke
Project Head, The 'Open Dinosaur Project'
Dr Michael Nielsen
Author, 'The Future of Science' (forthcoming).

Further Information


Title: Open Science - sharing knowledge in the global century
Author: Julian Cribb & Tjempaka Sari
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing


Track title: 'She Blinded Me With Science'
Artist: Thomas Dolby
Track title: 'The Dinosaurs Song'
Composer: Directed by Bernard Derriman


Antony Funnell


Andrew Davies

Global sized

Seattle, 1999
Why do people use the word "global", what does that even mean?

It means planetary (Earth limited). It means all the world, and everything in it. The air, the water, the soil, the plants, the animals, the resources, the climate, everything. If global is everything, then global is nothing.

Why not international?

Because international is limited to people, preserving their cultural differences, based on national borders.. nationalism.. imagine no countries.. did Lennon and all his listeners, really know what he was suggesting?

How about intercultural?

I for one feel very uncomfortable with the word Global, just as uncomfortable as I was with the word, "World" when economists started using it in combination "World Trade Organisation". Since the Seattle riots, and similar inspired events of the time, they seem to be using "World" less these days, and using the word "Global" more.

Who is they? Well, start with the hegemony of the dominant English speaking nations for a start. Namely the USA and UK. They're not alone in their regular-as-clockwork, violent and hypocritical intrusions on other people's relative peace and civility. They continually project their colonial aspirations, like policing a world war on terror, and their internationally destabilizing concepts like the Global Financial Crisis, as though it was affecting everyone in the world, because it affects them.

I simply don't trust those with power in the world today, so why would I accept their faceless, all encompassing terminology like, Global, Globalism, Global Financial Crisis, Global Economy, Global Warming, and the agendas those words convey. It seems obvious to me, the true meaning of Global. One that does not respect national sovereignty and cultural difference, or even begin to appreciate different perspectives. One that freaks out at a hypothetical future climate scenario, and ignores the very same scenario here and now today, and yesterday, and the day before, while it drops very expensive ordnance all over Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and God knows how many other secret locations. One that is a certain, identifiable class of diplomats, walking out of a meeting of nations in the middle of a speech from one of the last remaining voices of descent, like spoiled, bullying teenage girls, or more clearly - violent minded corporations and governments who will resort to such bullying to pressure other nations to alienate their enemy, and (apparently) one who is developing an arsenal to attack us all... did I mention Global Spin?

Globalism is a concept that wants not just everyone, but everything, to submit to the hegemony of the word, and is one I simply will not use. I feel so strongly about this, I even catch myself stopping midway through any document that uses it, and re-evaluating it on those terms. I know most people use "Global" unthinkingly, but that unthinking use is precisely why I re-evaluate what they write. What else in there is un-thought-through. Suddenly I see all our parts in this, it's an easy word to replace if you try, and doing so may start to remove your latent acceptance of the violence in your culture, and your unquestioning propulsion of an idea you might actually disagree with.

Monday, August 15, 2011


And we fought so many pointless battles with those who doubted the longevity of social media, and the value of open educational resource development. They wouldn't stop and reflect on the reliability of the Australian sector, from directories and actual educational content, through to public media initiatives like POOL.

The decommissioning of the Australian Flexible Learning Framework's Learning Object Repository Network (LORN), (at very short notice, and very poor timing for teachers I might add) comes as no surprise, and is another I-Told-Youz-So (ITYS) moment for those in the sector who have consistently questioned the wisdom of such expenditure.. but will the recognition come? Of course not. Will the same mistakes repeat? Of course they will. WASTE!

May I repeat the call (6 years on), for all Australian public investments in content, to adopt a Creative Commons Attribution copyright license regime (the only real inter-operability standard, and one finally endorsed by Federal Government) and fund a campaign to get that content distributed across targeted, popular, reliable and infinitely more useful media channels, like Youtube, Archive and the Wikimedia Foundation projects, and to lobby Australian libraries and archives to do more for capturing and storing Austalian content on its way out the door to these more popular and reliable channels, but in a way that compliments that trend...

Dear Colleagues,
Some sad new about LORN...

As you may have already heard...LORN is to be decommissioned from 31 August 2011.

From 31 August 2011 the Learning Object Repository Network (LORN) will be decommissioned.
This decision comes as the result of a recent review of the Australian Flexible Learning Framework and development of a National VET E-learning Strategy by the Flexible Learning Advisory Group (FLAG).

From 1 September 2011 users can:

1. Continue to browse and download free digital learning resources direct from the
Framework's Toolbox Repository - - which hosts the
Flexible Learning Toolboxes, E-Learning Innovations and E-learning for Industry collections

2. Cirectly access the jurisdictional repositories (TAFE VC, WestOne and Tasmanian Polytechnic)
subject to any access conditions placed on these by jurisdictions.

Skills Victoria has advised that access to the TAFE VC collection is limited to registered Victorian TAFE staff and RTOs only; please direct all enquiries to:

In the interim enquiries regarding access to LORN and the downloading of learning objects book marked through the 'My LORN' function should be directed to: Helen lynch, ACT Toolbox Champion, 6207 4031 or

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Adult and Community Education - CIT Solutions style

I was fortunate to meet Rob Howarth today - business manager of the Centre for Adult and Community Education, at Canberra Institute of Technology Solutions (CIT Solutions). I initiated the meeting as part of my effort to get to know existing community outreach work in Canberra, for the Access, Choice and Flexibility project I'm engaging in. 

Rob is one of those guys who just emanates enthusiasm for ideas and his work, tempered by experience and sensitivity. Rob and his team are responsible for an amazing Adult and Community Education (ACE) program, culminating in the well known booklet that comes out twice a year in Canberra, listing a very wide range of short courses people can do in anything from Social Ballroom Dancing (8 x 1 hour sessions with Naomi Nicholson for $175) to AutoCAD (7 x 3 hour sessions with Alan Perry for $350). 

Rob's team operate a privately owned company, coordinating some 800 short courses that enrolls around 8000 casual students each year. CIT Solutions emerged out of the ACT Aid Trust in 1983, and have successfully established and sustained a self funded ACE program for the past 18 years. Anyone in the community can approach Rob with an idea for a course, and if the proposal has a good looking plan, and 3 good references, Rob will post the course in the booklet and go from there. The teachers remain independent operators, working under the banner of CIT solutions, many running the courses at their own venues with Rob covering insurance. Others use CIT and partner venues. The program is interested in very broad ranging, introductory courses, leaving specialist tuition and consultation to businesses and contractors, many of whom run intro courses for the ACE program. 

The business operates basically on brokerage fees. The teacher sets their rate, Rob ads an overhead, and that determines the fee for the course. If the course doesn't get the baseline number of students, it doesn't run. Simple as that. The courses are non credited, offering only a statement of attendance, but in many instances they can lead into formal and accredited courses offered by CIT. CIT retains the credited training, such as what industry needs, and Rob tries to compliment that where possible. 

In one sense, CIT Solutions' ACE program is a community outreach interface for formal training, in another it remains financially independent and therefore free of such conditions. I wonder though, if the program might benefit from another layer of outreach, creating an even further distance from CIT and other formal stakeholders. I'm thinking along the lines of The School of Everything and their Illich inspired, smart use of social media to enhance face to face gatherings for learning. Or what about the Free University Movement (re emerging from the 70s), like Melbourne Free University. Might Rob's business model be something those initiatives could use? I'm also wondering about the nature and potential of a relationship between businesses like CIT Solutions, and large, more established volunteer organisations like Melbourne's Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies (CERES), and other such community groups who even more clearly identify as community benefit initiatives. What if Rob's work interfaced more with those organisations, helping them to gain more traction and legitimacy in their wider communities, as well as interfacing with formal training and certification. And then there's the relationship that all of them might have with very large international projects like Wikiversity or Wikipedia...?

It was a very interesting, energetic, and refreshing conversation today, and frankly, a relief. Working full time in a place like UC can too easily prevent you meeting people like Rob, and the can-do attitude he brings to his work. I hope we will get a chance to meet and dream big and small again some day.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Greater Access Choice and Flexibility: Learning at University of Canberra

I'm part of a small group of people at the University of Canberra, tasked with writing a 'strategy' paper, for teaching and learning. As a first step, I'm asking my network both online and off, for their comments and suggestions. If you have opinions, comments, suggestions or experience with access, choice and flexibility in educative work, please send them to me, or write them into the wiki directly.

We'd especially like to hear from people who engage in educative activities outside the university and higher education system, and how they think we should relate to such work. I hope this post generates some activity on the wiki.

Proposal for TINA's Critical Animals panel

I've made a proposal to join a Critical Animals panel discussion at the This Is Not Art (TINA) festival later this year. The brief is for a paper and 20 minute presentation with 2 other panelists, discussing technology and archives... this is what I've pitched:

Leigh Blackall 

Leigh first saw the then 5 year old Internet Archive project when local Novacastrian Adam Bramwell showed their Way Back Machine in his talk, Tools and Techniques at the National Young Writers Festival of TINA 2001. Little did he realise at the time, the significance of this introduction. 

Early in 2005, began hosting the not-for-profit community benefit project,, and at the same time a for-profit, commercial venture called Youtube was started. A number of other commercial and non commercial ventures also came online, offering seemingly free and unlimited online publishing services to anyone and everyone.  

Both a capital rich business model, and a new or renewed perspective on community benefit has emerged, based on the affordance of storing almost anything and everything that anyone wants to say or show online. This phenomenon has altered cultural expression, and is challenging our libraries and archiving sector. What we have now is supposedly social and participatory media on an international scale, with questions being asked around regulatory mechanisms like copyright; or social concerns around culture and localism; or the business and political problems of broadcast media, and ultimately what the new roles for centralised galleries, libraries, archives and museums are.  

What is the role of our Australian libraries and cultural archives in the face of this increase in cultural expression, and greater access to collections online and off shore? Why are our organisations seemingly reluctant to appreciate this challenge, leaving projects like The Wikimedia Foundation, Project Gutenburg, The Internet Archive, The Open Library, Google Books and Amazon to pressure new roles for them instead? What are some examples of Australian initiatives to date, and what are some ideas for our future directions? These are the sorts of comments and suggestions that Leigh will bring to this panel. 

Leigh is a researcher, developer and commentator of things networked and social media. He is currently focused on a body of work around networked and social learning, that increasingly intersects with questions of culture, technology, and social studies. He is based at the University of Canberra, where he is employed to contribute to developmental work, and directional thinking.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Anyone cringe to death watching Q&A last night? Our brain dead PM, getting bludgeoned by an audience of wife bashers, yet turning her other cheek with that persistent monotony in her feminine resoluteness. We'll love her in the end.

We need someone with an understanding of semiotics and the ideology that is conveyed through such imagery, to deconstruct Q&A, and to bare its inner workings that are bluntly hidden from view, in that dark yet lit ABC studio. Someone like John Berger or Bill Nichols, but more contemporary and Australian, so as to pick up the more subtle cultural meanings.

Like reality television, Q&A pretends to be live, and it is, after all the staging and choreographing of what the producers think are the issues. Then there are the camera operators, the video mixers and the Twitter monitors, all reacting to that staged and choreographed tension, hunting for image based meaning, all too often semi consciously reinforcing new stereotypes, or not so subtly projecting their own bias and prejudice.

And I can't help notice, or maybe wounder, about the host, Tony Jones. Does he carry this sort of critical insight for his productions? Sitting there with a look like he knows better, like he's seen it all before, through his designer glasses that will age suddenly in a few years. Sitting there like a conductor of a country town marching band, he knows all the questions and the answers - the city slicker. Occasionally he spontaneously tries to circuit break the predictability of it all, but never so much as to disrupt the trajectory of the production - the message that is hidden from plain sight. In the end he surrenders to the "democracy" of it all, them the aristocracy, us the masses. Packaged in a new form of infotainment, all rising up from our technopoly.

May it all collapse some day.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Notes on Philippa Levy's methodological framework for practice-based research in networked learning

Project Vortex. Dimmitt Tornado by Harald RIchter
I've just finished reading Philippa Levy's Methodological Framework for Practice-Based Research in Networked Learning. I was looking for ideas and directions for my own work in progress, Networked learning a biomass heat transfer system, and was recommended Philippa's paper, along with several others included in Advances in Research on Networked Learning.

Philippa's paper is academically dense, and is careful to demonstrate her understanding of qualitative research traditions and frameworks, and where her work fits in. This in itself is a massive undertaking, suggesting months if not years of very specific reading.

To make such a comprehensive undertaking sound even more foreboding, a friend and reviewer of my work - Russell Butson (from the University of Otago) gives such foundational understanding of research some very heavy weighting:
All research is pivotal on methods – which requires sound alignment between:
  1. World view (philosophical framework)
  2. Methodical approach (methodical framework)
  3. Methods (operational framework – including the definition of what is data and how it is appraised/analysed).
You need to be clear on all of the above before you undertake research (empirical or theoretical). It’s easy to pick when a writer doesn’t have sound alignment between philosophy-methodology-methods-conclusions (it’s a measure of researcher honesty) 
All of this comes down to being honest as a researcher and therefore it’s about justice: justice regarding the topic, the participants, methods, the outcomes and mostly – the subsequent conversations (publications). Most research is dishonest breaking the rules of social justice. Publishing is seen as a private good (promotion – personal self-esteem) rather than a public good (the advancement of honesty knowledge).
I went back country skiing with Thor on the weekend.
We took a bottle of Tawny Port.
I agree with this principle.. although I have some reservations when it comes to what I see as the use of needlessly impenetrable language being used by academics who seek to demonstrate such an understanding. Essentially they render their work inaccessible to people who neither have the expertise, or the time to study up on the meanings of every second word. So, I'd take Russell's advice further, and suggest that an honest researcher is one who has come to terms with the specialist language, and is able to use plain language to convey the same meanings.

Philippa explains her approach to research, as being based in the ideas of constructivism, which is to say people develop their understanding of the world through their experiences, and through interactions with others - their knowledge is constructed (Chet Bowers has a few interesting things to say about constructivism however). Philippa cites action research as her general approach (although I think she meant Participatory Action Research, where action research is predominantly a work in progress, and knowledge emerges from that process, and participatory action research involves the people who are being researched, involved in the research process itself. It's a very democratic framework and approach, and with this as the basis, Philippa specifically uses practice-based research as her method, where she is using a case study of an educational course she was instrumental in running, for her study of people engaged in networked learning.

So, if I'm right, the framework for Philppa's research method can be summarised as follows:

Worldview = Constructivism, and related to that is relativism
Approach = Action research
Method = Practice based research through a case study

Philippa goes into much more depth and detail though, both to describe and to justify where she is coming from, and it is worth the read for that alone. Attempting to simplify her language is a useful exercise in testing your understanding of her framework too. I hope I got it right...

Unfortunately, Philippa's paper doesn't go into much depth with regard to the case study itself, which I think would have been useful for understanding the appropriateness of her over all worldview, approach and method.

Her case study is set within a university, and the people included in the study were all taking part in a course in that setting. Right at the outset then, I can see a potential problem - relating to the definition of networked learning (as I'm debating Chris Jones over on the discussion page of the Wikipedia entry of Networked Learning, which is easier to follow in the comments to a recent post on my blog). Philippa herself acknowledges some of the problems with this setting, but only in as much as it relates to her research framework:

One obvious structural dimension of the research relationship between myself and other participants in my project was my status as course leader, referred to in retrospect - albeit humorously – by one participant when she characterised me as “[like] the Vice-Chancellor – you were in charge!\

But I would take this issue further, and argue that the setting of Philippa's case study appears not to be networked learning, but online learning, or online education, where the structures and power dynamics remain mostly unchanged from how they would be in a formal education setting, where learning networks are arguably difficult to establish due to the artificial constraints of institutionalised learning practice.

It was a course, delivered in sequence by a 'teacher', to a cohort of people called students or learners, who can usually be identified as a class, determined by economic status, profession, age, gender, or sometimes even religion, managed in an administrative system, where the 'teacher' prescribes 'constructivist' learning activities, despite probably identifying as a facilitator, and involving some form of assignment and assessment process. And on the critique of institutionalised learning goes (see Deconstructing Behaviorism within Social Contructivism and To Facilitate or to Teach). I can't know this for sure, but if Philippa is using this 1999 example of Internet-based continuing professional development: Perspectives on course design and participation, then it appears to be the case.

I don't accept such settings as being places of networked learning - enough to find anything particularly useful in research at least. But my definition is at odds with what Chris Jones asserts is the authoritative definition, where the use of computer networks is what distinguishes networked learning from other forms of learning. That authority to a definition is also drawing from research almost exclusively dealing within university settings. I'm at pretty extreme odds to the establishment it seems...

In the process of looking for Philippa's work, I came across a paper that supports my position in its introduction at least, that networked learning is not limited to computer based networks. It's by Benjamin Kehrwald from the University of Southern Queensland, in the Faculty of Education, and its called: Learner Support in Networked Learning Communities: Opportunities and Challenges. Benjamin's introduces his paper with:

"The network component of networked learning refers not only to technology, but also to particular social structures (networks) in which relationships are structured by networked logic and the accompanying notions of culture, power relations, production and experience ( Castells, M. (1996). The information age: ecomony, society and culture volume 1. Oxford: Blackwell.)."

The Castells reference lead me to this book: The Rise of the Networked Society (2009), with chapter 3 devoted to, The Networked Enterprise: the Culture, Institutions, and Organisations of the Information Economy.

As with my challenge to the definition that Chris Jones is defending, Benjamin is using Castells to point to a wider understanding of networks and networked learning. With this wider appreciation, the likes of Philippa Levy's work, indeed all the papers in the book I found her paper in, (Advances in Research on Networked Learning, edited by Goodyear and others), are bound by the more restricted definition of networked learning, not just determined by computer networks, but by institutionalised settings for learning. Even Benjamin, who acknowledges the wider scope of it, limits his work to university staged courses.

What a shame universities, the places where most commercial free research and theorising can afford to go on these days, appears so consistently limited in its outlook with regard to networked learning theories and research. This partly explains why technology like Learning Management Systems have survived as long as they have - because so much of the research that relates to questions of learning, online learning, open and distance learning, and even networked learning, have referred back onto their own institutional settings, inside very limited frameworks for learning, such as coursework for classes. How this has gone on for so long in the face of popular referencing of Lave and Wenger's Situated Learning and Communities of Practice, and unjustly scant references to Illich's Learning Webs and Conviviality, remains a mystery to me, accept that it is further evidence of the university based education researcher being far too introspective.

I'm becoming more confident that I've found a significant gap in the literature around networked learning, and sincerely hope that if those mentioned above come across this post, they will enter into a discussion with me, in the spirit and tone I've established here - which is I hope, not one of outright hostility or disrespect, but admittedly one of significant challenge, and one I think is needing a defense.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Progress on ubiquitous learning paper

I'm still working on the second draft of the Ubiquitous Learning paper, after receiving some thorough feedback from my network (logged on the talk page).

Alex Hayes prompted me to submit an abstract to his AUPOV2011 conference in Wollongong later this year, so I've used the opportunity to continue to practice talking about this topic, that seems to be dominating my thinking space lately.

Alex has created an interesting set up for the AUPOV2011 conference website, asking for audio submission via SoundCloud, where he racks them up on the site. I've submitted mine on SoundCloud:

Leigh Blackall AUPOV2011 by Leigh Blackall

And here it is on the Internet Archive:

Where does it end?

I just received an email that does not appear to be spam, and seems to capture in it all that is wrong with university education in ... well, not just Australia I'm sure.

Here's an excerpt:

"The Science Reference Group also approved the Science Standards Statement before we presented it to the Australian Council of Deans of Science (ACDS). The Science TLOs for bachelor level degrees in science have now been formally endorsed by the ACDS. They took particular note that the 'generic' science TLOs have been successfully adapted by the Chemistry Working Party to their specific disciplinary context. The ACDS has affirmed their support of the LTAS project by agreeing to support implementation of the project outcomes via the ACDS Learning and Teaching fora, and through the Science and Mathematics network to be established this year. The next stages will include, for example, to develop teaching activities and assessment tasks that match the TLOs. This will help to ensure that the project's outcomes continue to be relevant to academics, students and employers."

Monday, July 04, 2011

Open Definition

Janet Hawtin relayed a link into the TALO email list, from Alex Hayes pointing to the Open Definition: Defining the Open in Open Data, Open Content and Open Services.

I'm involved in a research project evaluating openness in the Australian Research Council's (ARC) Excellence in Research for Australian (ERA) initiative. Our project is in its early stages, where we think we have sorted out a purpose and methodology.

The ERA is the primary driver and reward process for research conducted in Australian universities, partly by putting out a list of academic journals that they recognise as 'quality', and rewarding researchers based on what research is published in which journals. Some of you may have caught the news recently that the rankings in the ERA list has been dropped, acknowledging that it was having an adverse effect on research directions in Australia. The overall thinking behind the ERA initiative, is to somehow quantify research in Australia, hold publicly funded research more accountable, and to be in a position someday to report on Australian research outputs in an international comparison (Globalism).

Of the many consequences of the ERA initiative, our research is focusing on its influence over academics at our university who might be attempting to adopt open academic practices. We are evaluating both the journal lists, as well as the ERA guideline documents, for any recognition of principles of openness, especially in the light of the obvious policy trends internationally, not to mention market trends such as major publisher's attempting to develop open publishing within existing business models like authors paying for their papers to be published as openly accessible.

We are still in the early stages of our project, but can already see that the ERA lists have next to no open journals in the discipline areas of education, health and governance, with our criteria for open journal being:

  1. Accessible (online)
  2. Reusable (copyright)
  3. Reusable (format)

We would have liked to have included "open governance" in our criteria, such as the reviews of articles being also accessible, but elected not to include it this time.

While we've been using older initiatives to develop that evaluation criteria (such as the Free Cultural Works Definition), this new site involving some of the same people, helps support our criteria further.

On another note, and in a new post entirely, are my questions about openness generally, and recently as they relate to Neil Postman's ideas around Technopoly and information glut...

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Not since 2002, when I read Teaching as a Subversive Activity, have I sat down to read another book be Neil Postman. I can't explain such neglect on my part. But, as with Illich I want the people in my network to explain why we are not referring to Postman more? His 1992 book, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology for example. I know Shirky and Wesch both mention Postman by name at least, and maybe i just miss other references. Certainly i seem to be more impressionable, but it seems to me that the points made in this book are very important to our discourse, and missing.

I'm sitting in the sun at South Bank Brisbane, waiting to join the Wikipedia Brisbane meetup. I've just finished the introduction to Technopoly...

Function follows form. P7

New things change old words. P8

Undeserved authority. P9

Private matters made known to powerful institutions. P10

Technologies change the way we think and feel. Ideologically. P12

On assigning marks for student work as a strange conception and Techno implementation. P13

The unforeseen consequences. The clock for God, but serving Mammon. P15

On computers in classrooms. The balance between orality and text is tipping to text. P17

Technology as ecological. P18

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What is a definition of networked learning?

A UK academic has been assisting with the editing of the Wikipedia entry for Networked Learning, and it looks as though we might disagree on a suitable definition. I take issue with a definition suggesting that networked learning is tied to ICTs.

The most stable definition of networked learning was developed by CSALT, a research group at Lancaster University, UK. Their definition states that networked learning is "learning in which information and communication technology is used to promote connections: between one learner and other learners, between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources." [1]The central term in this definition is connections. The interactions this term points towards include human interactions with materials and resources, but interactions with materials alone are not sufficient and networked learning requires aspects of human-human interaction mediated through digital technologies. This definition takes a relational stance in which learning takes place both in relation to others and in relation to learning resources.[2]

I challenged the CSALT based definition when it first appeared back in August 2006, and tried to pen a more inclusive definition that didn't exclude methods of networked learning that weren't based on computing or computer networks. But Chris stands by the claim to an authoritative definition.  

The definition is in current use and it is one of the most widely referenced over the past 9 years. Opinions on the definition may vary but it should be represented as it is in circulation and supported by severla books and the conference series. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Chris R. Jones (talk • contribs) 16:06, 16 March 2011 (UTC)

To be honest, this Wikipedia project is the first I've heard of CSALT, and I've not yet attempted to verify Chris' assertion to authority. My perspectives on a definition are shaped by reading Illich, Downes, Siemens and more recently Wenger (of course many others, but these names capture it), but I find it difficult to use such references to support a rewording of the definition, in the face of an academic institution. I'm wondering if anyone reading this might assist? Either in changing my mind, changing Chris', or helping us write an inclusive definition with all necessary citations.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Review and feedback needed on: Networked learning a biomass heat transfer system

I've finished a first draft paper, of a research project that I hope to build into my networked and open PhD. From 9 - 17 June 2011 I am seeking comments and feedback on this draft, which I'll document in the discussion page, and incorporate into a second draft by mid July 2011. I'm following a similar process with the other publications I'm drafting on Wikiversity, many thanks to everyone who has offered review and feedback on those.

Networked learning a biomass heat transfer system

From 2008 to 2010 I casually studied Jean Pain composting, or the heating of water using compost. This paper reviews my attempts to use networked learning methods to study Jean Pain Composting, including research and practical study involving an actual replica build. The objective of this research is to present an example of networked learning being applied, to identify instances of tangible learning, to find a reusable method for analysing networked approaches to study and practice, and to begin a consideration of questions on what an educational institution's role might be, in a relationship with a networked learner like me.