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...