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:

LeighBlackallCV

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.