Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Recommendations to La Trobe Uni in its considerations of open education practices

We held a public and open conference on open education last week. One of the sessions at the end of the day was to begin formulating recommendations to La Trobe University. This is a much more complicated task then I first considered. I realise now, my preference to work with the individual staff member up to the executive manager - rather than from the executive down, via policy change and directives. So in my own suggestions for recommendations, I've included things that ask the executive to look for and acknowledge work that is already taking place, and to resource pilot studies out in the Faculties so we may benefit from each other's more informed positions over time - say 12 - 24 months. While others are working in a Google Doc, I'm sticking with the wiki, for my part.

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an oversight and contradiction that seems to be common in some people's arguments about current school models being out of date because they don't align with idealistic/futuristic ideas of work.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 http://leighblackall.com

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?