Friday, November 09, 2012

Stop Stealing Dreams - Seth Godin not quite deschooling

Stop Stealing Dreams (the entire manifesto on the web) - Stop Stealing Dreams

I'm reading Seth Godin's manifesto attacking industrial strength schooling, and I think I've found an oversight and contradiction that seems to be common in some people's arguments about current school models being out of date because they don't align with idealistic/futuristic ideas of work.

This quote largely catches it:
If you do a job where someone tells you exactly what to do, he will find someone cheaper than you to do it. And yet our schools are churning out kids who are stuck looking for jobs where the boss tells them exactly what to do.
The US economy has apparently only offered 600,000 "boss tells you what to do" type jobs over the past 20 years. But are cleaners, sweatshop workers, burger flippers, retail shop assistants, police, the military, students and welfare dependent unemployed really on a downturn in the US as Seth implies? I'm a bit confused to be honest. Is Seth accepting the impact of Globalisation on western economies, and seriously arguing that our mass education system should completely change to fit the work profile of a privileged few? is Seth's manifesto another example of bourgeois writing leaning on working class experience to progress a poorly considered idea that ultimately benefits the bourgeois position?

Why should schools stop churning out factory workers? Seems to me that's what schools were designed for, not much has changed, nor could it be changed. Perhaps schools should be preparing people for military service, scab labor, homelessness and docile unemployment. We can't all be engineers, designers, culture creators and the like. Someone's still gotta take the garbage out, violently steel resources for the State, and make affordable food for those poor impoverished souls right? Or are we accepting that that is all done by migrants (who we assume don't go to school, at least not schools like ours). Unless we succeed at building cheap robots to do that work (and preserve the idea of welfare for those who would be displaced by that), the majority of work remains in that class, and so mass education should as well.

This is the problem with trying to use the vocational education argument back on itself, to prop up a change argument that is less about new work models and more about promoting a different level of social ideals - freedom and conviviality.

If Seth had of referred out to others writing on this topic, he might have at least encountered Ivan Illich, namely but not least his books: Tools for Conviviality, In Defense of Useful Unemployment, and Deschooling Society. A consistent thread through all of Illich's work is the anarchic idea that institutions like school, compel our cultural dependence on those institutions, and that we need to develop a viable alternative to industrialised living entirely, to begin breaking our dependence on those institutions. Reforming those institutions to drive such change is a tail waging a dog. And so it's not until we get much closer to a post industrial society, that we can hope for a more convivial experience of learning from one another, doing valuable, self sufficient and flexible forms of work, relying a lot less on schools to care for kids that must limit their learning to industrial strength vocational application. You might try and change the school system in the hope of shaping that more ideal society, but not without frustrating and disappointing those who are subjected to your engineering. Or you might simply make it more possible for people to forgo school entirely and discover and develop alternative ways of learning and being, but not without some fear and anxiety. We're a long way from either option, because in the end people need jobs to survive, those jobs are still very industrialised, and people caught in that need someone to take care of their kids while they're at work! A cruel and vicious cycle that seems to be getting worse with pre and post school childcare centres booming because both parents and grandparents have to work, just to pay landlords, financiers and banks off!

Maybe Seth will get to all this later in his manifesto - I hope so. It seems to me we have to stop using the "work is changing" argument, and look at the alternatives to our present ways. Those who are trying to break through the dehumanising effects of industrialism have some ideas and examples. The counter culture movement as they once were, the transition towns, the permaculturalists, the homeschoolers, the pre industrialised societies, cottage industries, free universities, small and ethical business, and hopefully many things I haven't found yet. If we can study their models and experiences we may find a way through to a viable alternative for more people, so that unschooling is viable for more people, and deschooling is more possible for others.

Qualitative Analysis of Learning

Qualified Self and Learning Analytics: from Quantification to Qualification

I think the learning analytic research should move from the current practice of doing quantitative data analyses to include in it qualitative analyses. The quantified self should be expanded to be qualified self.

Clay Shirky's criticism of the recent MOOCs

Inside Higher Ed has run a good article by Steve Kolowich, How 'Open' Are MOOCs? November 8, 2012
Shirky’s framing of MOOCs as a phenomenon of the open educational resources (OER) movement -- rather than of the online education or instructional technology movements -- comes shortly after Coursera struck a content licensing deal with Antioch University that drew a line on the extent to which the company would allow outsiders to use its resources without paying to do so.
It is odd to me however, that the obvious example of the best OER (by way of mission statement, its clear success, in its diligent maintenance of copyright, its use of open standard formats, and in its open governance) is too often left out of the discussion. The open free cultural works, and massively popular Wikimedia Foundation projects like Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, Wikibooks, Wikiversity, Wikinews, Wikisource, Wikitionary, Wikispecies, and more! Far and away more used than the new sites that are attempting to commercialise open education concepts, yet ignored by too many late entrants to this discussion. Is it a case of an elephant in the room not fitting in with our pre-existing categories?

Monday, November 05, 2012

I've found blockages in the university sector

Steps required to create a new course
Snakes and Ladders
Background image by Sezzles
On Flickr
This past 3 weeks, I've been working to identify the blockages to educational development within the Australian university sector. I was inspired by the remarks of Australian Vice Chancellors recently, who claimed that the regulation of universities was a significant impediment to innovation in our sector.

Looking at the 2 main pieces of legislation that govern the operations of university teaching and assessment, I could identify very few, if any blocks - in fact I may have found a couple of enablers (item 16 of TEQSA2011, and item 19.115 of HESA2003).

So next, instead of looking at the frameworks, guidelines and policies at this stage - where I expect to find a number of issues and perhaps blocks, I thought I'd try and find and describe the blockages that are well known at the "coal-face" so to speak. The things that are regularly talked about by teaching and assessing staff at all levels below Dean.

My hope is that by looking at the legislation and then what happens on the ground, I might be better equipped for finding the specific areas of interest in the various guidelines, frameworks and policies. Once familiar enough with those guidelines, frameworks and policies, I should be in a sound position for designing methods and systems, and advising others with more confidence that I can account for the problems that impact on innovation and development.

What follows is some sweeping and very general statements to a number of blocks as I have experienced them working in the sector for over 10 years now. Many have said that the skill in change work is learning how to work around and through these sorts of blocks, but I have witnessed and been part of far too many failures at that game to know that, either the skill is very complex and held by a very elite few, or the idea of working around and through these issues is a little bit flawed.

So, at great risk to my personal safety and long and prosperous career, I'm listing these here as a kind of reference point in my on-going project to investigate the blockages widely reported on in the university education sector. Please forgive me if my sweeping generalisations offend.

Course and subject approval processes are dense and complex
  1. New course accreditation processes are very slow, dense and complex at best, and can become almost impossible when added to professional accreditation process, the political/technical issues in many change proposals, and the increasing casualisation of staffing and other issues brought about by academic capitalism.
  2. Subjects and even more modular units of study are held to course and faculty approval processes for them to attract funding and other supports that help establish sustainability.
  3. The local systemic idea of a course and subject is linear, time limited, access restricted, and protectionist. This presents sometimes intense ideological/political/technical difficulties for many change proposals

Centralised marketing tends to be generalised and risk averse

  1. Many educational change proposals today, such as open and networked educational practices, eventually confront central marketing policies, and brand management trumps educational and pedagogical design at the moment
  2. Efforts to adopt contemporary marketing methods (Cluetrain Manifesto 1996) are often at odds with established marketing methods, budgets and policies that are centrally governed
  3. Centralised marketing largely concerns itself with the University-as-a-whole brand, making it less responsive to subject level or smaller event needs.

Centralised Information Communications Technology tends to be too narrow and risk averse

  1. Centrally supported software is understandably limited and user admin rights are often not permitted
  2. ICT decisions are based on "business case" less than pedagogical and educational cases
  3. Central ICT systems are considered in terms of large scale "enterprise readiness", rather than smaller scale, distributed, networked and diverse needs
  4. Service has gained a reputation (unfairly perhaps) across the sector as being non responsive, and not enabling

Centralised Teaching Support tends to be too generic, under resourced and inherits the risk aversion of other central services

  1. Centralised teaching support services are understandably limited by the centralised systems, tools and policies of ICT, marketing and others that they help administer, and that they are resourced to support. They are often not resourced to respond to projects that are pitched outside those domains
  2. Their services are therefore more concerned with projects that can be managed at an all-of-university level, rendering support for small, niche, counter, and other projects where innovation can immerge, untenable
  3. This limitation to centralised service ultimately influences their employment decisions, the diversity in staff skills and outlook, and their networks, which risks their ability to respond to challenges and innovate

Radical ideas slides

Last week I was asked to contribute radical ideas for education, in the form of short snappy slides. Here they are:

Submission to MERLOT-JOLT special issue: Massive Open Online Courses

I couldn't really work out the proposal format for the MERLOT-JOLT special issue on MOOCs, and it's due on the 15th of November. I don't normally submit to journals, mainly because I just can't find the time or the call that I'd write to.. not to mention the rather convoluted process of having to create an account with the journal, and subsequently getting a regular barrage of 'calls for papers' from any number of other journals.

But I've been feeling like some history related to the open online courses is being left out - in particular the work I was involved in at Otago Polytechnic, where we attempted to measure the impact of the open online courses, as well as offering formal assessment to informal participants in the courses.

Here's the proposal text:
In 2007 Bronwyn Hegarty and myself started developing open online courses within Otago Polytechnic's Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Learning and Teaching - including formal assessment for people who took the courses informally.

Flexible Learning and Facilitating Online still run today, with new facilitators and new policies that formally endorse their existence. All seems well for open online courses, but the numbers of participants taking these courses have never been "massive", and the other courses within that Graduate program have not followed the model.

This paper will consider these and other outcomes, hearing from the people involved and looking at what they're doing today. We're searching for the useful takeaways, the things that might be learned from this early work projecting out of a little known institution in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Open and Networked Learning presentation

I've been asked to give a brief and initial presentation to people within the Faculty of Health at La Trobe: 

24 October 2012 between 1-2 in HS1 115 to give a presentation on open and networked learning processes, relating to the Internet. 

 If there's facility to project slides, here's what I'll use.. and this is still in development...

I'll try and record audio and add it here later...

The blurb I sent through:
Leigh is interested in open and networked learning, including academic practices. He will briefly talk about projects he's been involved in, that illustrate an approach to community engagement, research, teaching and assessment that is open and networked. Leigh hopes to stimulate discussion around ideas and projects that tend to challenge, inspire, and confront traditional university based practice.
Leigh has recently joined La Trobe as the Educational Designer with the Faculty of Health Science. His family have come down from Darwin where he directed eLearning at the Centre for School Leadership, Learning and Development. Leigh also worked as the Learning Commons Coordinator at the University of Canberra's National Institute of Sport Studies where he developed many of the practices he talks about today. Although he is not a New Zealander, he spent a significant amount of time as an Educational Developer with Otago Polytechnic helping them establish leadership for open educational practices in the New Zealand sector. Leigh documents his work on

Monday, October 15, 2012

No Blocks Found yet, for Australian university education

Pedestrian Green Traffic Lights Yerevan
By Heretiq
Wikimedia Commons
Last week I started searching for blockages in the Australian University system, blockages that might prevent the development of more open, networked and ultimately flexible teaching and assessment practices. I've just finished reading:

I used Diigo to keep my notes, and it would be wonderful  if others using this system might pop in and leave some notes as well! I'm reading through these laws in an effort to get myself informed enough to be having deeper level discussions around the opportunities and barriers to new or alternative ways of doing education.

In TEQSA and HESA I found only a few things that might be an issue, if not directly, then down the line in their implementation.


  1. TEQSA accredits courses only, not units of study, so there may be difficulty in getting new units or subjects up that are not attached to an accredited course. In saying that, there is a provision (41) where a provider can apply for self accreditation. I need to find out if it is common or not for a university to make this application.
  2. 26 makes reference to Threshold Standards and 58 makes reference to a Higher Education Standards Framework. Both sound as if they might be devil in detail when it comes to blockages at the implementation level.. I haven't read either through, or even located them yet.
  3. Item 134 spells out the functions and powers of TEQSA, and I couldn't help noticing item 16. the Principle of proportionate regulation. Is that a nod to 'the spirit not the letter'?


  1. Item 19.40 makes reference to an opportunity for exemption from tuition assurance. I don't know what this means, and am wondering if its a way to make room for experimentation.
  2. 19.115 Makes mention of the Provider to have policy upholding free intellectual inquiry. This strikes me as a significant opening for establishing open and online courses, if having an interest in the content of courses qualifies as 'intellectual inquiry'.
  3. I couldn't get a handle Part 2-2, Commonwealth Grant Scheme, or how the fees and subsidies for courses work, but reckon I had it right back in 2010, all-be-it the actual dollar amounts having changed. I think there might be more money than I first thought to be available.

So, I could really find very little at this top level of legislation that would stand in the way of developing more flexible teaching and assessment practices. I have no doubt I will find them in the detail, either at the frameworks and guidelines level, or the local institute policies and guidelines (including professional accreditation bodies), or most likely in the instruments and tools we use to administer - not to mention the over all assumption that is not necessarily made apparent, about how education happens in Universities.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Searching for the blockages in Australian Universities

The Vice Chancellors of some Australian universities have been using the public pressure for change in teaching and assessment practices, to make claims that the over arching regulatory and funding bodies that generally govern universities here, are stifling innovation in the teaching and assessment space. Most recently I've seen Jane Den Hollander Vice-Chancellor at Deakin University write as much to The Conversation. And I'm told Jim Barber Vice Chancellor of University of New England made similar complaints at Creating New Futures.

I'd like to find out exactly what Jane and Jim are referring to, if it's reasonable to say that such regulation is stifling innovation, or rather if what I've always thought the problem to be - that the premise and traditions of education, copy-cat administration, and narrow approaches to ICT, are the true-er reasons for lack of innovation. As Mark Smithers and Joyce Seitzinger say in their comments to Jane's article on The Conversation, we don't need more money for the sorts of changes that are apparently necessary, and that numerous prejudicial attitudes and narrow minded approaches to ICT in higher education point to a cultural problem.

When floating some old (in this head at least) ideas for alternative ways of teaching and assessmen, (2009-2012 ideas, and 2006-2009), I'm so-far pleasantly surprised that I haven't been met with outright hostility or dismissal here at La Trobe. Perhaps I've tempered my verbal delivery of such ideas, or perhaps SD is right in saying the time is right for floating such thinking.

In a recent interaction with someone well informed on the administrative processes at this university, I was asking how we might go about setting up a recognition of prior learning process, so we can explore ways of formally enrolling people when they complete a subject, rather than when they start. Might this be a way to report 100% completion rates? No one fails or is recorded as dropping out if they enroll when they know they will pass. Courses would need to adjust to loss-lead funding arrangements, and that will probably be a sticking point, but then again funds will come in as they normally do because most people will continue to enroll traditionally, and when people taking the flexible enrollment route do eventually enroll-at-completion, they bring in another form money. How could we structure teaching, assessment, administration and funding around this inversion of process toward more flexibility and diverse income streams? Might we introduce more granular forms of assessment services through badging while we're at it, offering access and value to people not interested in full degrees? Would it then follow as a logical next step, to offer access to online courses for free, as another loss leader, but fee for more personalised tuition services..?

I was directed to:
  1. The Higher Education Support Act 2003, Australasian Legal Information Institute
  2. Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act 2011, Australasian Legal Information Institute
  3. Higher Education Policy, Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education
  4. Funding Programs, Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education
  5. The Advanced Standing, Articulation and Credit Transfer Policy, La Trobe University
  6. The Domestic Educational Partnership Policy, La Trobe University
So, it's in these laws, policies and funding arrangements that I hope to answer two questions:
  1. What exactly are the Vice Chancellors referring to when they talk about restrictive regulations? and/or
  2. What stands in the way of my ideas around inverted educational arrangements?
Have I missed a key document or consideration?

I've started a Diigo Group around these sorts of links, to use it as a note taking spaces in the hope that a few others might join in, Developing Open Online Courses in Australia.

And now for something from a time when the common good and forth estate were more important, Lyndon Johnson and the signing of the Voting Rights Acts.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

A true(er) history of MOOCs

A moose, not a MOOC.
Care of the USDA Forest Services and Wikimedia Commons
In my new job at La Trobe University, the word "MOOC" has popped into conversations. I've tried not to write anything much about Massive Open Online Courses, as the emergence of the meme and its adoption by large universities and businesses has irritated me just as much as I'm sure it has irritated others.

Many thanks though, to Dave Cormier for acknowledging other people's work leading up to the MOOC meme, 10 minutes and 34 minutes into the audio recording of a discussion with Steve Hargadon on the "The True History of the MOOC" (Massive Open Online Course) with Alec Couros, Stephen Downes, Rita Kop, Inge de Waard, and Carol Yeager. [Audio].

Unfortunately Teemu Leinonen was left off again, though I think his work with Composing Open Online Educational Resources (March 2008) was an important reinforcement of David Wiley's seminal work (linked in the acknowledgements section of Teemu's course) that inspired others who would develop the MOOC.

Before MOOCs flew the coup of the original developers and became the child of the celebrity universities and businesses, there were a number of people working on distributed open online courses. These early developer's work remained small scale, and remained largely unnoticed, and evidently forgettable. When the open courses run by the North Americans attracted massive numbers of people, this was the part that signified a new stage and development. The scale of participation around their open online courses indicated a possible tipping point for open and networked online learning, and suggested a possible business model, given the scale. The distributed approach to structuring open courses was a commonly accepted principle among the early developers of open courses and, as the discussion acknowledges, this distributed use of the Internet was the only practical way for people to support each other when learning in open online courses.

I tried to capture some of this history on the Wikipedia entry for Networked Learning, including copying Dave Cormier's videos to Ogg format and uploading them into the article. I was surprised when a new Wikipedia article had been created specifically for MOOC, firstly because it dropped off some of the history and content I was trying to construct and defend around the Networked Learning article, and secondly because the article had questionable notability at the time (criteria important to Wikipedia administrators). To date, the MOOC article remains poor to Wikipedia standards, with countless unsupported claims. This is not good for the preservation of the principles and values that informed the work of open and networked learning advocates.

Today, the publishing businesses and American universities are scrambling to occupy the MOOC meme, riding a bandwagon of value creating market development. I've ignored it until now. But when my local university is discussing MOOC as a new word and not an older acronym, and local media starts asking Vice Chancellors for their not-so-well-informed opinions, I'm compelled to find a position.

We are indeed at a tipping point it seems, but I'm concerned that the principles are getting tipped out! Principles of connected and constructed learning, open access, free content reuse, international, cross cultural and collaborative engagement, transparent processes and open documentation, peer to peer assessment and acknowledgement of people breaking conceptual ground in the lobbying and development of open and networked practice. I appreciate the efforts of the participants in the discussion hosted by Steve Hargadon, who attempt to express this concern.

So, what am I to do, when drawn into discussions at La Trobe referencing MOOC? Is it an opportunity to create space for the development of open and networked educational practices, or is the shallowness of interest and awareness ultimately a barrier to such an effort? Is the time right, in other words?

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Indigenous Australians and ICTs

While writing my last post, (which was really just a place holder for more notes on the idea) I tried to find research publications on the use of equivalent words and concepts to 'please' and 'thank-you' in traditional Australian Indigenous culture. I didn't find much out of a cursory glance, but I did find Cultural Issues in the Adoption of Information and Communications Technology by Indigenous Australians. Written in 2004 by Laurel Evelyn Dyson. Faculty of Information Technology, University of Technology, Sydney.
Abstract. This paper investigates cultural issues concerning Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and Indigenous Australians. Firstly, it examines whether the low adoption of ICTs by Indigenous Australians derives from a rejection of Western values embodied in the technology. A review of the existing literature shows no evidence for this. Instead, there appears to be an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response, limited only by a difficulty in accessing the technology due to cost, isolation, poor telecommunications infrastructure and low computer skills. Secondly, the paper looks at how ICTs can be implemented to reflect particular Indigenous Australian cultural concerns. Contrary to the view of the technological pessimists, who see computers as a vehicle for marginalizing non-Western cultures, ICTs are shown to be adaptable to other cultures, especially once people from that culture have input into ICT design and management. A number of examples of how this is being done in practice are given.
What interests me about this paper is that it responds to an issue that I have been trying to learn more about - that technology can mediate a form of neo-colonialism and cultural imperialism over non-western cultures. It also relates to work I find myself doing these days - developing online teaching capacity in the Northern Territory of Australia.

Before attempting a review and critique of this paper, I'd like to say I know nothing about the author Laurel Dyson, or the Faculty's work at UTS. I'm merely offering a response on my little blog, to a thankfully open access paper, in an effort to develop my own awareness and position around the issues, and offer something back - hopefully useful, even if critical.

Laurel's paper offers a response to the concern that ICTs embody an ideology that may be at odds with, or further influence and dominate sensitive, non-western cultures, specifically Indigenous Australian cultures. Laurel categorises such concerns as techno pessimism, citing Neil Postman as an example of "extreme pessimism" based on a reference to his book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology.

I'd never really considered critical perspective such as Postman's as pessimistic, a warning rather, and I'd certainly never thought such criticism might be construed as being " excuse to exclude already economically disadvantaged groups from the power and benefits of ICTs", as Laurel puts it. Unfortunately this startling suggestion does not get any expansion in the paper, but does repeat in the conclusion.

At that, I suppose I might indeed be pessimistic - that criticism of technology will ever get proper consideration by ICT producers, researchers and policy makers - if "pessimism" is deemed an appropriate categorisation of the criticism, and that suggestions of an undisclosed or unrealised agenda do not require further explanation. But I am impressed to have found an open access paper that has a crack at responding to such concerns, I rarely find that!

To establish an appreciation of the "pessimist" view, Laurel refers to Neil Postman to support a pretty good summary of the concern.
There have been many concerns expressed by computer ethicists about the nonneutrality of Information and Communication Technology (ICT). These worries centre around the idea that ICTs, like all technologies, come embedded with the values of the society which produced them.  Associated with this view are reservations about the extent to which ICTs can move away from the dominant culture for which they were designed and be adapted to reflect other cultural values and interests.  
I think Postman was a good choice to support this summary, he was a popular and accessible author on the topic. But to only use Postman was not enough. To have excluded Chet Bowers' Let Them Eat Data, or Ivan Illich's Tools for Conviviality, leaves out significant authors who have worked with people and communities dealing with the mediation of ideology in technology. Inclusion of these author's as references at least, might have offered readers variations, extensions and depth to the "pessimist's" perspective. I appreciate a paper such as this has only limited space, and that any number of major authors could have been used (McLuhan, Foucault..), but the critical theories that lead to the central question of this paper should have been given more support than a reference to a single author.

After the brief appreciation of the critical perspective, Laurel offered a response, starting with researched findings that had been published on Indigenous Australian rates of ICT adoption. In short, it was found that as of 2004 there were low rates of computer ownership, poor levels of computer literacy, low enrolment in IT courses at institutions of tertiary education, and low numbers of Indigenous professionals working with ICTs. To expand on this finding, Laurel then considered what levels of access Indigenous Australians had to ICTs. In short, cost, environment and difficulty in developing skills, were listed as barriers to access.

Rather than use these findings to suggest some confirmation of the concerns of the "pessimists" (such as a suggestion that Indigenous Australians were seeing little relevance in ICTs, perhaps because they did not recognise the "power and benefits of ICTs"), Laurel moved to looking at where Indigenous Australians were (and are still today) said to be accessing and adopting ICTs - the schools (in many ways another form of ICT said to embody and mediate a dominant ideology...)

In the section on ICT use by Indigenous Australian school children, one reference went to a 2003 project in Redfern, Sydney, where kids had access to a computer centre after school, and could surf the web, listen to music and play games, and that centre measurably improved the kid's computer literacy and skills. The other references went to projects reported on in 1987, 89, and 92.

I'm skeptical of the significance of the findings in the 1980s projects, in supporting ideas of successful engagement in ICTs up to 2004. Computing in Australian society in the 1980s was niche to say the least, and resembled very little of the personal, in-the-home, Internet connected computing that was undergoing rapid growth in Australia in 2004.

Furthermore, I don't think the enthusiasm of Indigenous kids in schools can be used as evidence to counter the concerns held by pessimists. ICTs neither had the time, nor the cross generational influence to know if concerns were developing in Indigenous Australian communities about the culture they encouraged. The projects cited by Laurel were working with children, who were no doubt negotiating a challenging tension between the dominant culture and their own, in school environments where the dominant culture had the proportion of power.

The section on ICT use by Indigenous Australians engaging in tertiary levels of school education made reference to one project, reported on in 1993,
Henderson, L.:  1993, Computers:  A Tool of Empowerment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education, in N. Loos and T. Osanai (eds), Indigenous Minorities and Education: Australian and Japanese Perspectives of their Indigenous Peoples, the Ainu, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, Sayushi, Tokyo.
where an acknowledgement of the concerns of the pessimists is offered:
Henderson warns of the necessity for computer software and its deployment to be culturally appropriate.   She notes the dependence of much computer teaching on drill and learning of facts,  rather than discussion of complex issues, and sees computers as having the potential to  reinforce the existing power hierarchies rather than challenge them on behalf of less  privileged groups if used inappropriately.
Given that open source software and hardware has made next to no in roads into schools, or across Australian society generally, I struggle to see how it has been possible to address these concerns, such as to modify commonly used software or "deploy" that software in culturally appropriate ways... hat tip to the APY Lands Project, and the One Laptop Per Child Australia project - a project I have had reservations about however.

Finally, Laurel lists a range of examples where ICTs are said to be empowering Indigenous Australians. Here I offer a critical response to a few of them.

Information systems for cultural maintenance
The file serving of digitised elements of culture does not necessarily serve to "ensure its survival". If digital repositories are neither accessed or engaged with by the majority of people who own that culture; and given that those repositories aren't able to convey the more complex meanings in language, song, stories, iconography etc; and if nothing is done to stem the dominant culture overwhelming efforts to pass on traditional culture to younger generations, how is a digital repository "ensuring the survival of culture"? At best, I can see that it might help reduce ignorance and a sense of stigma toward traditional culture in the dominating culture, but preserving and maintaining living culture seems to me to be an over statement...

Language learning
What I have learned about Northern Australian languages is that they are very complex, where names and objects embody dense meaning and association. I'll have to assume that living languages down south carry the same complexity. The non indigenous people who speak some of these languages admit that although they are fluent, having not grown up with the language they misunderstand much of the meaning, and they may never be fully functional members of the culture they speak the language of. Having access to recordings and language learning resources through computers and digital media will have the same limitations if not more.

In saying that, I attended a presentation of the Country Lines project where a team of media producers are working with a non Indigenous fella who is a fluent language speaker, to develop 3D animated depictions of stories in Indigenous Australian songs. The result is reportedly an enthusiastic response from the kids and elders alike, because the stories are appearing in a contemporary (dominant culture?) medium, which is helping to reduce a local sense of stigma for culture and so helping to maintain an audience for the elders in the younger generations. But it must be a bitter irony, to see that through the processes, artifacts and consumer economics of a dominating culture, is the hope of retaining some interest in some traditional culture.

Protection of Indigenous intellectual property
Laurel described a technical development in XML to mark and technically "protect" Indigenous intellectual property. Never mind the idea that intellectual property might be a concept being foisted onto Indigenous Australian culture here, despite its very problematic existence in the dominant culture, there are of course numerous examples of crass appropriation of Indigenous Australian culture by art dealers and tourist souvenir producers, and many others. I can't see how rights management software will do anything to prevent this, just as the music and entertainment industry is always on the back foot with digital recording and reproduction technologies.

But what of the dubious respect given to the moral rights of Indigenous Australians? How many photos have we seen of Indigenous Australian kids happily playing with computers, being used to promote a positive angle on the deployment of say, the One Laptop Per Child project, or the delivery of iPads into remote Indigenous communities? Was an informed consent really obtained for the use of these children's image for endorsement on websites, newspapers, brochures and conference presentations? Or did they simply rely on the blanket release that schools and their departments collect?

ICTs more broadly, could be said to be creating problems in their "solutions", that were non existant, or not so prevalent before. In the case of IP, introducing yet another legal concept with technical complexity, without the communities having much of an opportunity to consider the range of implications and possible alternatives.

Let me finish in saying, I have no experience or expertise with Indigenous Australian cultures, and the projects that Laurel reports on is admirable work. I'm just an arm chair commentator writing to the relative security of my own blog, to a quickly diminishing audience. Perhaps this should be enough to realise I probably shouldn't express an opinion or position on this highly sensitive and important subject at all, but in this instance I've randomly found a research publication that is speaking to an issue I have spent a little time delving into. I admire the work that anyone is doing to help Indigenous societies flourish anywhere, especially in Australia. I'm pretty certain that I don't harbour " excuse to exclude already economically disadvantaged groups from the power and benefits of ICTs".

I think I have witnessed both the empowering and disempowering aspects of ICTs enough to have developed a significant amount of skepticism toward the technology and especially the unnerving tendency of people to use it to amplify our pre-existing conditions rather than solve any problems. I guess I am joining with Illich, Postman, Bowers - not in pessimism, but in pleading with other professionals working with ICTs, to develop much more of a critical, reflective and self conscious appreciation of their work, and find a way out of having to justify work in terms of return on investment, and measurable success.

Friday, August 03, 2012


Sunshine, Eve and I just returned from a week in Ubud, Bali. Despite the seemingly unchecked growth in tourism in Bali - the people and their art, their land and its beauty have retained so much.

Here's an 8 minute video we made on my phone at nights.

Please, thank-you, ownership, attribution

By Steven Depolo
I'm amazed at how relatively difficult it is to teach Eve to say please and thank-you. I bet many people wonder why it should be so difficult, to instill such a concept onto our children. But what is that concept exactly? It's of course much more than politeness.

I think it's about ownership and attribution. Now, just suspend your possible reaction to a negative connotation on the word ownership in relation to politeness. To say "please" to someone (as in to embellish a request, not to ask for pleasure) is to acknowledge that person's sovereignty over something - or ownership. To say "thank you" to someone is to acknowledge their giving something of that to you. (I don't have anything to support that assertion, I just made it up. Any linguists out there want to set me straight?)

So, if it is a common difficulty to teach young children when to say please and thank-you (and I mean difficult in relation to most other concepts and actions at that age) could it be that ownership and attribution are instinctively foreign concepts to grasp for people generally. Might we infer from that some sort of evolutionary meaning? Or that ownership and attribution are ideas and behaviours unique to some cultures and not a ubiquitous across all human culture?

I have heard that many indigenous cultures, mostly hunter gatherer societies, have very different ideas about ownership, especially when it comes to land and personal possessions. But I don't know enough about that to say...

Youtube and copyright

We've all noticed the not-so-subtle changes happening in Youtube. Advertising has almost killed the enjoyment on way too many videos, and copyright clamp downs is making it far less useful for finding recordings of significant TV broadcasting events, and other such things that are in the realm of copyright. On the one hand, it is remarkable, the technology that must be in play to automate Youtube's clamp down. Take this not so remarkable video I shot in Singapore.


It's set in the Far East Shopping Plaza. It's part of a series of mobile videos I shot of my daughter Eve. The audio in the video is the sound system of the shop I was standing next to while making the recording. Youtube has identified that track, and blocked the video in Germany for my alleged copyright infringement.

Naturally, I've disputed the copyright claim, on the grounds of "Fair Use". It is interesting to note that an option in the dispute process is "I'm not using this for commercial purposes". I didn't see educational use as an option, but I suppose that would come under Fair Use as they call it in the US. 

So, if you're in Germany, I dunno why, but you probably can't watch the video I'm referring to here. Don't worry, you're not missing much, but the way Youtube is managing copyright is interesting.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Technocrats seek to take everything!

I received email soliciting my posting this image:   
Components of a 21st Century Classroom - An infographic by the team at Open Colleges

My reply:
Hi Libby, 
You wrote: "I noticed your blog and thought you might be interested in an infographic my agency just rolled out about the 21st Century Classroom. Take a moment and give it a look: > > >" 
I have two comments, in the form of links, relating to what your graphic leaves out - critical refection, of it's own. 
Technopoly and Duck Dodgers 
Regards, Leigh

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Privacy in the Clouds you ascend, fly and fall through

Richard Hall recently uploaded a good presentation, The Cloud and Higher Education, with the main thrust being around the questions of who owns data on cloud services. This is a question of sovereignty, and whether data on cloud services are governed wholly or in part by the laws of the country where the server or company is head quartered (predominately major quake zones in the USA).

My work interfaces with the Northern Territory Government from time to time, and while they've put out a number of pretty good guidelines regarding agency use of cloud services,
  1. Cloud Computing Policy and Guidelines 
  2. Cloud computing and record keeping 
Both from NTG Dept of Business and Employment
apart from these documents (which in short advise the use cloud services for anything that is classified less than Restricted) the general tone of conversations I find myself in with government staff and the like is one of defensiveness, ignorance and risk aversion. It reminds me a little of the sorts of 'conversations' I was in back in 2004 when "Web2.0" was their problem. I'm not dismissing their concerns, not at all, but isn't it all just pissing in the wind? Can we find a way to identify and discuss the deeper more complicated issues please? Richard acknowledges these in his slides on 'values' and local economic considerations...

I want to introduce a different take on the questions of privacy and security though.

Do government agencies and universities really think that data stored on their servers is secure and private? Climategate, Wikileaks, News International, Windows GodMode, or a Timeline of Security Hacking. Do we seriously think The Patriot Act and other legislation enables or reins in surveillance already taking place? As more and more data moves to open, can we maintain service in an efficient and reliable way?

Safe Browsing—protecting web users for five years and counting. Google Blog June 2012

Energy efficiency in the cloud. Google Blog June 2012

Assuming you're answers to these rhetorical questions fall into line with what I'm thinking, then we might agree that government servers are not only as insecure as any server out there, they are probably targeted if not openly used for the collecting data -  legitimately or not. Shouldn't we instead be asking where can we store data that is more reliable, efficient and secure? We might ironically find it to be the very place we not accepting - the Cloud. It's a slightly different tone of questioning from the one used to date, that wants to imply that servers other than our own can't be trusted. 

And, just to confirm with all the skeptics out there, yes, I really am drinking the Google cool aid, big time!

Google recently published a report on all the government and private take down requests they received for the period 2009-2011, in their effort to become more 'transparent'. While the level of detail revealed could have been more, and I guess we have to just trust they are being honest in both content and intent, if Google keep going down this route we - the average jo citizen, might gain just a little more than relatively simple cloud services for our agencies, we might gain a bit of insight on their work as well. 

Australian Government requests to Google for data on individual users for the July to December period of 2011. Google Transparency Report, June 2012.
Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the past couple years has been troubling, and today is no different. When we started releasing this data in 2010, we also added annotations with some of the more interesting stories behind the numbers. We noticed that government agencies from different countries would sometimes ask us to remove political content that our users had posted on our services. We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it’s not. Google Blog June 2012.

But who watches the watchers? Thankfully there's Google-Watch, but we need more and better. I note the disturbing absence of a Criticism or Reception section in the Wikipedia article for Google or Google Drive, yet there is such a section on DropBox!?

I would dearly love to hear a way we might achieve the functionality and service offered by the likes of Google, but without necessarily compromising our conviviality, local capacity building, and local employment etc.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Our baby's poo, disabling professions and open data

Eve woke this morning, crying in pain. She had passed one horribly large rock of poo, but more was still to come. And blood!

Our first port of call for every single issue we've had raising Eve has been the forums. My wife Sunshine would make a great case study in open and networked online learning.

This story illustrates how the professions have let us down, again, and how open data may bring unintended consequences if left unattended.

I searched, "baby poo stuck pain blood". Eve cried in the other room, and Sunshine called out "more blood!" In under 2 seconds I was reassured. To see that so many other people had been through this. If nothing else, that reassurance alone is the single most valuable thing about these forums, and the Internet. We're not alone, others have been through this, and their experiences are here to read. I clicked the result at a baby forum with the most activity and closest sounding description of the issue. While sunshine tried to reassure Eve, I called out sollutions as I read them. Vasaline. Cotton wool tip. Raise her knees to her chest. Push her perenium. Give water. Warm bath. Drink more water in future. It'll be ok.

Everything did work out OK. We played cartoons (downloaded from The Pirate Bay), and I read the forums some more, to share in the soothing words of other parents, all relieved they had helped each other through some drama, and that everything was ok - back in 2010 in their instance.

But I'm telling this story because I'm angry. It's that same anger that has driven me through the education sector these past 10 years. I'm angry at all those professionals who when asked about the Internet, like broken records of nothing substantial, they almost always mumbled some nonsense like, "you can't trust the Internet"... And if that useless display general ignorance wasn't enough, they usually plucked some extreme story they had no first hand knowledge of to supprt their general opinion. They almost always completely missed any of the sociological importace of the Internet, that we're alone together, and the purpose of their profession will come under question.

A frame from the LMS Comic

Ivan Illich wrote, Disabling Professions in 1987, and unless anyone out there thinks I'm wrong to generalise professional ignorance regarding the Internet these past 10 perhaps 20 years, then I think it can be cited as a specific example. Instead of investing in direct engagement with ICT projects expressly designed to enable people: free software, open standard formats, open hardware, free copyrights, free content initiatives, and an impressive array for communication channels that many lay people use to help each other, the professions chose to ignore all this, denounce popularism, and compete with these enablers. They spent millions of public money setting up their own, parochial websites, offering no cross over into socially relavent channels, restricting access with passwords, preventing reuse with copyright, and ultimately offering very little that was useful compared to what was happening through volunteerism in other channels. And then, time and time again, the professions would close down their useless websites due to a change in funding heart, leaving it up to another generally ignored space, The Way Back Machine at the Internet Archive, to pick up the pieces.

Almost all Australian government websites still, to this day, have no or useless RSS feeds., EDNA, LORN, the list is long for dead education projects. Most public schools in Australia block channels like Youtube, and do nothing to fix their networks so that Wikipedia can be edited. Most public servants have only a basic understanding, and no critical appreciation of free software and interoperable formats for the documents they pass around. It's endless!

Of course, there have been exceptions. Mostly in the last couple of years. In Australia, one of the first that I can remember was Picture Australia setting up a group on Flickr, to leverage the popularity of that channel and capture and retain images of Australian culture getting passed out to Yahoo! Trove is another noteworthy project, harvesting content through the PA Flickr channel, combining it with the National Library's own collections of digitised print-based archives, and making it all openly available online, complete with citation code to aid reuse in Wikipedia and related projects. Another Australian library project is the State Library of Queensland loading their historic and out or copyright pictures to Wikimedia Commons, to also aid reuse in Wikipedia and related projects.

But these are by far the exception to the rule. No Australian university or training college has significantly engaged in the development of open academic practices that I'm aware of. A few have symbolicaly joined the OERU, and we tollerate the ongoing ignorance from people in high places of Australian Research, but some don't let it pass. I'm not aware of any effort to make the Australian health and medical profession's knowledge more accessible and useful, although the Australian Cancer Council may be the first to try in some small way.

Many would attempt to cite the Gov2au campaign as trying to make the political and public service professions more enabling, and while on the surface it may appear to be so, I worry about what's beneath, and I worry about the apparent absence of critical discourse about the ideas.

Take "open data" for example. How is it that open data isn't integral to the scientific method anyway? How did it come to pass that access to scientific data would be allowed to become so exclusive, despite the technology rendering such practices obsolete? Why did a couple of Swine Flu Vaccine researchers get access to a large amount of unpublished data from the pharma developing a vaccine?

An even more obvious question might be around who stands to gain from open data, how they might gain, and what might be done to ensure open data initiatives remain enablers, remembering the technology cuts both ways...

For example, copyright and reuse of open data. While I'm a big advocate for zero to attibution only copyright generally, when it comes to software code and data, there's a good reason for applying the Share Alike restriction. If data producers suddenly make their content open (and  still no one questions the merit of scientific conclusions drawn from what must have been closed data btw) that producer might consider their new found openness as enough of an effort in making their work accessible and useful. They may stop at this open data stage, simply making their formats conform to open standards, licensing their data sets with Attribution only copyright licenses, and making it accessible online. As the Internet becomes even more flooded with all this wonderfully open data, who among us has the capacity to check and make sence of it all?

The professional agencies that released the data will believe that openness was enough from them, and think to do little more to help people get meaning from it all. The hopeful among us will turn eyes to the politically unaffiliated volunteers who make free software and content, and they'll produce the wonderful examples and feel-good stories that will become the stock stories for anyone and everyone who utters the words open-data.

But the stories we won't see will be the private entities drawing on the open data for private, maybe even disabling, interests. A company like Murdoch Press might cherry pick data, as they do, and spend money visualising those cherries to tell a story they think needs to be told, or untold. They'll publish that visualisation in a nonreusable format and copyright license, for a restricted influential audience. And that would be their right under the CC By license that the original data was made available under. Further, the Public Service Information agency that released that data in the first place, may just close down their own efforts to visualise and make useful all their data, happy for the company or corporate entity to do that work for them, all be it in a highly selective manor. They'll dub it "industry engagement" for "selling science", and win Linkage grants for it. And they'll end up paying eye-gouging royalties for the "partnership" too!

The wider public and their tax funded data will be right back where they started. Practically unusable information, save for the heroic unrewarded volunteers, who's stories fed the corporate lobby to make more data "open". Our deliberation will remain polarised and heated, and we'll continue to fall into economic traps because no one could make sense of all that open data. Share Alike, the capacity to police it, and rewards and recognition for enabling projects, may be the only way to ensure that all visualised derivatives of data come to us with reusable copyrights, and hopefully useful formats.

This ramble started in baby poo and ended in copyright for open data. What's it was really about is how we continue to enable our society, and guard against all that which would disable us. I hope it made at least some sense.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


A recording made on Seminyak Beach.

Here's another mixed to skiing footage

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Health research in Australia goes open access.. finally!

I learned today, that the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) will mandate research that is funded by them, to be open access within a year of publication. A good first step I think, but conservative as always.

Almost precisely the advice I was giving at UC that, I think in part, cost me the job there. The other part was my insistence I suppose. I tried to use the prediction that NHMRC would go open access, to convince a UC Research Committee that they should start developing pre-emptive research publication and storage practices, given the real time it takes to adequately resource and develop anything like adequate practices within a university.

NHMRC are moving faster than expected, by Australian standards.

Need to include this in the Open Data Wikibook:

Friday, April 27, 2012

Google ads

You gotta hand it to Google, they tend to have ideas from time to time.

Problem: How do we get people looking in the space we use for ads more?

Solution: Use that space for handy tips every now and then

I noticed in my gmail ad space, not an ad but a handy tip:

"Empty tissue boxes can provide easy and handy storage for plastic grocery bags."

That alone will probably see me looking at the ad bar a little more often

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


A trench at Lone Pine after the battle,
showing Australian and Turkish dead on the parapet
Image from The Australian War Memorial, through Wikimedia Commons

Re-enactment of Gallipoli landing from Jax on Vimeo.
Today was ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, which was established as a British Empire Colonial Force during World War One.

ANZAC Day is held annually in Australia and New Zealand, beginning with a 4.30am dawn service to commemorate the ANZAC amphibious invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula, in the Aegean Sea, Turkey, in what was then the Ottoman Empire, on the morning of 25 April 1915. The operation was a failure, and 8 months later the ANZACs along with the British, French, Indians and Canadians evacuated the siege on the Ottomans, with combined casualties of 392,338 (the vast majority Ottoman). This was the beginning of Australia's involvement in WW1, and many in Australia strangely believe it to be a nation defining event!

In Australia, ANZAC Day, along with Remembrance Day, has come to commemorate many wars that Australians have participated in. Some have even forgotten the associations with New Zealand. The wars not remembered however are the Australian Frontier Wars, The New Zealand Wars, The Boer Wars, or the many secret special operations carried out by Australia's Special Air Service and Special Operation's Force. Nationalism in Australia, is sadly defined by limited perspective on war.

In school we are taught some bizarre story about how or what WW1 was about. Something to do with an assignation of an Arch Duke in Europe, leading to a crisis between Germany, France, England, and other colonising imperialists.. and somehow that crisis in Europe lead to ANZACs being deployed across the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Europe. Some say WW1 was actually a British campaign to prevent Germany completing a railway from Berlin to Baghdad, and securing it's interests in oil there. They say WWI was the first of many oil wars to come (9.27 Mins).

The way in which Australians remember their wars is important to me. My teenage friends and I spent most of our adolescent years dreaming of the day we would 'serve' in what was a kind of right-of-passage to us as boys to be men. Some of us went on from Army Cadets to join the Army. I joined the 1st Commando Company. While I dropped out pretty soon after my initial training, others stayed at it. Had I stayed, I might have ended up in the 2nd Commando Regiment, deployed to Afghanistan and possibly even participating in that terrible masacre there. I can hand on heart say, that ANZAC day, along with many movies, inspired and motivated my interest in a combat military career. Lucky for me, I found a girlfriend who cured me of such junk thinking.

If we as a nation and as individuals, could remember war differently, without the nationalism, militarism, fetishism, suggestion to boys of what it means to be men... if we could cease using words like service, suprime or ultimate sacrifice, bravery, valour, and others like it... if we could rethink our memorials and museums... if we could instead stay away from nationalistic gatherings - hopefully in the peace and love of our friends and families, reflecting on the true and untold costs of war, remembering the parts we each play in causing our conflicts and wars, and even burning effigies of politicians and corporations who failed in their honesty, diplomacy and setting right their many injustices of the past and soon-to-be-present, then ANZAC Day would be something I would maybe participate in.

Lest we forget [be careful how we remember]


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Agenda Benda 1999

I'm absolutely stoked to have found John Normal again. In the 90s, he inspired me a great deal. Doing the zine political mashup like no other, he made meaning where so much of it was missing.

This was a bit before the Internet took over, and I lost the copies I had of the Agenda Benda zines he put out. But now, thanks to Facebook, we've connected again, and he's pointed me to his recently revived website

John e Normal - Zines

Open Assessment

I had to repost this after accidentally deleting it!

Peter Rawsthorne maintains his long held interest in developing an open source, peer to peerassessment system, and in many ways I think what OERu is doing today is to some degree informed by Peter's contributions to Wikieducator 2007-2010...

Achieving a critical mass seems to be the biggest problem to the idea of successfully developing a P2P Open assessment system. Linking it to formal and informal learning, and open education would be a logical place to start toward attracting some of that mass.

Maybe thinking about how people begin to go about learning something.. let's say it's a Google search at some stage. That search often leads people to either Wikipedia and/or Youtube both for a quick overview, and developing something in either one of those spaces is not only possible, it seems to me to be the place where one might hope to find enough of a critical mass...

Wikipedia has a sister project called Wikiversity, and their association affords a rather large graphic link on any Wikipedia page to any Wikiversity page. That link could read, "want to find out more about this topic, join a peer to peer assessment project" (Link to related Wikiversity page). That Wikiversity page could be any number of things to do with the topic found on the Wikipedia entry.. an index of open research projects, or a collection of lesson plans, links to more content, and links to a range ofassessment options, including assessment driven learning schedules, or guides for collecting a range of evidence for more formal assessment, from peer assessed badge systems through to Nationally recognised certification systems... the first project I ever witnessed attempting this was Michael Nelson's Web Design course on Wikiversity, where he was developing that space specifically for his Australian TAFE students, but in such a way so as to invite other formal assessors into the project and offer formal recognition for people learning web design through that Wikiversity project. Critical mass did not come :(

The search that leads to Youtube is a space that's a little harder to occupy. But at the very least it could be via instructional videos loaded to Youtube, to attract viewers and link them back to a Wikiversity page that offers a range of options for further learning, including assessment. That Wikiversity page could well include a suggested activity that has the punter returning to Youtube to upload their own videos in an effort to attract peer assessment there, or to simply generate evidence for more formal assessment.

These suggestions - to occupy two of the most popular open education spaces on the Internet: Wikipedia (and associated projects) and Youtube, is an attempt to attract critical mass toward the idea of peer to peer, open source assessment. Perhaps there are better spaces to attract that mass though (?)

That mass needs to be significant if there's truth behind the claim that a project like Wikipedia is created by less than 1% of the total number of people who use it. An open source assessment project could not expect to attract any more than 1% of the people that might look at the project, so the need to occupy popular domains becomes even more compelling I would think.

Next though, the model for open assessment needs to be simple and attractive, with obvious value to the wide range of people who may be interested. I'm wondering if something could be learned from the Local Exchange Trading Schemes, to try and generate some form of value in the assessmentsystem?