This Charming Man…?

March 19, 2010

The Tragedy of the NBN

Filed under: nbn — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 2:25 pm

For a $43billion project the National Broadband Network is a frustrating beast. And on so many levels. Let’s start with the first release sites. I can really only speak about Melbourne so I will. Brunswick. Yes really, Brunswick.

Let us not pretend that Brunswick is a centre of inner-city poverty. Friends of mine, have had to move from the area because of gentrification. I suppose you can still get a two bedroom house for just sub $1,000,000. Mind you if you spend that sort of money I suppose you should be able to get 100Mbps connectivity, I’m thinking with a mortgage like that you’d not get out much.

But there is a point here. There are areas of Melbourne with chronic poverty, under-achievement, and social disengagement; areas where broadband take-up is really low. What the NBN needs to deliver right out of the traps is how connectivity can benefit people who currently don’t have the infrastructure or the cash to pay for it. Believe me I like Lygon Street as much as anyone (and I actually live in Brunswick’s twin of St Kilda), but the good middle classes of Brunswick are not going to return the sort of social, economic or cultural changes that the NBN desperately needs to do to be seen as a viable business case. Today’s Age has this piece which completely misses the point of the NBN and plays into the why Brunswick argument. The NBN needs to get the message out that the project isn’t about quicker downloads from Youtube and faster World of Warcraft play, it’s about the democratising goods and services, health, education and information. It’s about tele-health, open content, collaboration, empowerment. It’s about equal health opportunities, connecting learners, aspiration rising; all up making a real difference to those who deserve the opportunity to make their lives richer.

And then we have the cost. There is no point in having 100Mbps with a 3Gb download. Seriously. Really. Do these people know how much 3Gb is? 5 movies from iTunes? 15 hours of Youtube? But how much video or dare to say it consumer telepresence? It really is like giving someone a Porche when we’ve run out of oil. Pointless. Also, I’m not sure I’ll be paying $150 for speed and a half decent package of bytes, either.

This project is seriously threatened by the inability of the NBN and the Government to raise aspirations of the people paying for it (us), to give a coherent vision of the future of what the technology can do. The real business cases are not being sold. At this is an open goal to those in parliament who don’t like it, can’t see the point, and want to shut it down.

I’d like to see more press on how the NBN is changing peoples lives, and a little less about the parliamentary point scoring on this.

The NBN is a great idea. It will radically change people’s lives. Can the NBN get a new PR agency please?


March 17, 2010

The return of face-2-face learning and teaching, no really.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 12:43 pm

There is an argument (being put around by me) that the rise of e-learning was a response to a growing number of distance education students and to massification of education. And that landscape has responded with two actions. The first is the almost ubiquitous use of the Learning Management System/Virtual Learning Environment; the second the investment in reusable learning objects (RLOs). The drawbacks for these have been that the LMS/VLE is pretty teacher centred (even Moodle) and the the problem with RLOs is that they are just not widely used. That isn’t to say that there aren’t good RLOs out there, there are (see for a great example). But they are from the age of high production values, which offer very little on return over a three year period.

There has been some impact by social networking/Web2.0 approaches to education, but these are in small pockets. We’ve put into production a really nice open source educational Web2.0 platform (Elgg), but take up is limited. Why is this? Well I think fundamentally staff aren’t comfortable with the tools and it takes a lot of effort to make the paradigm shift from content delivery to content creation and collaboration.

These online tools have had to work within relatively low bandwidth. In education we have to still be mindful that not every student has ADSL. Even those with ADSL2 won’t have the promise theoretical maximum (my home account is still sub 5mps). But the revolution is coming. I’m talking, of course, about the National Broadband Network, the NBN. The Australian Governments attempt to put truly high speed connection out there, for all.  I’, not going to discuss whether and when this is going to happen, and just assume it will.

One day the NBN will be here. And it will change Australians’ live. Really. Honestly. How? Because it won’t be about getting stuff quicker. Of course it will, but the impact won’t be how I can get youtube videos faster, it’ll be about how I connect to goods and services, government, education, health. Personally, tele-health is the thing that will creep up on, and will dramatically change how we interact with health provision. How I interact with government and democracy will change radically. No more MP surgeries in their office, I’ll use my consumer telepresence attached to my HD TV to get my point across (politicians beware).

But education? Educators love face-2-face. One of the reasons  teachers and academics dislike e-learning so much is because the umbilical cord of presence is stretched to the point of anonymity. The NBN has the power to bring it back.

Imagine, I’m a full-time student, it’s Wednesday, and I’ve just finished my part-time job. My job is in the city, but the lecture I’m supposed to be at is 15km to the north of the city. What there is close by is the local library, which is plugged into the NBN and has a number of consumer telepresence points, which I can just walk into. And I do. And I dial into the lecture, real-time, HD, recordable, storable, sharable, and importantly interactive.

But the real power comes with student collaboration. What about study groups that transcend the campus, the institution, or even the nation state. The chatroulette of education? I study chemistry, and I want to use my presence to study with other chemistry students around the world. Why? Because we may have other shared interests, such as F1, World of Warcraft, or Abba. Effective study groups work because there are things other than the topic in hand in common. And we are fundamentally social creatures, who like to eye-ball each other.

For what it’s worth the future is face-2-face. Watch and see.

March 10, 2010

Student Centred Learning? …Oh, I’m sorry I thought you said Marxist Dialectic.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 1:33 pm

Crabby old me.

I’ve been working in education development longer now than I’ve done anything else in my life, apart from being a subject within the educational process. I’ve been taught, I’ve learnt, I’ve talked to 4am about James Joyce and the revolutionary way to teach Joyce, I’ve thought about how to teach and how students learn, I’ve thought about technology and how it can enhance the student learning process. I  had successes and some monumental failures (don’t teach ‘Of Grammatology to first year undergrads – you feel bad, they feel bad, you feel worse when the student evaluations come in; or give them a journal piece on gay sex in public places when discussing Edmund White – all I will say is messy)’.

This ramble is to get us to the subject of  ‘Student Centred Learning’. I swear I am really, really, really over this one. You know the concept of it is not difficult. Putting the student at the centre of the educational process, rather than thinking about the position of the institution, or teacher or lecturer. The concept is so rampant that primary and secondary schools have been doing it for quite some time. In Universities, we have what often occurs to me to be two camps. Those that think that we are on some some mission that will eventuate in some post-revolutionary socialist state where we will live in some pedagogical paradise (involving hugging ever available body no doubt), or the counter-revolutionaries that are holding out for the whack ’em with a lecture and a tutorial a week, in a it was good enough for me it’s good enough for them attitude.

Of course it never was good enough. Bad teaching has always been a defining quality of higher education the world over. But it didn’t really matter that much when you were

a) getting students, from the ‘best schools’, who were very good at playing the system

b) very bright working class kids who would get through on natural talent

c) a combination of both privilege and talent.

We have the revolutionaries. And I have worked with many of these folks, and pretty sure I was one of them. They who see the student centred approach akin to historical materialism, the we will get there in the end at some point, unknown, in the future. The lonely Socialist Worker, collecting signatures and selling the paper in an effort to bring about a new world order, as if getting enough signatures or buying a copy of SW would bring the prevailing hegemony down.

It is neither a step into some Stalinist dystopia, nor is it the promised land. What it is is a recognition that with hyper-massification of education you have to change your methods of teaching and learning. We are no longer just teaching the privileged elite, or the bright kids that shine. If institutions buy into the education for all argument (and funding), then they/we have a responsibility to extend the way in which we teach, and assess. The two essays per unit per student, may be quite convenient for me to mark each  semester (with a cheeky little red in my glass), but it hardly acts as a reflective, continuous, sustained piece of work for the poor bugger that has to make sense of my ramblings on Derrida, or the late 20th Century Gay Novel.

And the zealots? Get over it, engage staff in it, be persuasive and just do it; leave the tambourine banging to a Sunday where it belongs.

Oh, and before I finish my rant – educational leaders? It isn’t a balancing act between the believers and the non-believers, it’s a pragmatic approach to expanding student numbers, so take some responsibility for what happens in these courses rather than the paper trail around them.

Oh and if you want to know about that revolutionary way to teach Joyce? No idea. A certain feted Irish writer, who has just published an excellent book on hypochondria, and I cracked the teaching Joyce nut, but did it far, far too drunk in Brussels, and we couldn’t remember the idea in the morning. I’m pretty sure it was student-centred though.

March 3, 2010

It’s about the content, stupid…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 4:41 pm

A few years ago I worked with a guy who used to say that, ‘e-learning was a hammer, to crack a nut’. By that I think that he thought people really got obsessed with e-learning system (or more correctly back then, the Virtual Learning Environment/Learning Management System), rather than how academic staff could change practice to improve their students’ learning experience.

Nothing has changed much. Except technology has moved on and the landscape of educational tools has become more complex. When I say complex I mean completely overwhelming. The landscape isn’t just what you do on a computer, anymore either. It’s the relationship between the physical here and now and the technology interface. Between the production of content and the delivery of content.

As ever the delivery of content is the easy one – want content to your laptop, iPhone, Blackberry, iPad? Sure we have people with imagination and skills to create these platforms. What interoperability to saw all these systems up in a neat parcel for students? Sure we’ll give you IDM. Want iTunesU, branded and purring like a tiger? Sure, will get those APIs going now.

I can rattle off half a dozen wizz bang, smart, integrated system that my institution have introduced. They are truly good applications that have the potential to enhance the student experience.

The problem with educational systems that don’t mandate that their teachers to keep up to speed on their teaching practices is just that.  No amount of excellent infrastructure, interoperability, and applications amount to a heap of beans unless organisations set standards for engagement by staff. Ultimately giving someone a 1970s Ford, or a 2010 BMW doesn’t matter if it sits in the garage because the owner doesn’t know how to drive.

Content is King, but Context is Kingdom. We are getting to the point where students are demanding more in terms of their experience, it’s time to mandate teachers to be up to date with the tools of their trade.

March 2, 2010

Google Wave – and the point is?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 10:55 am

So a friend sent me an invite to Google Wave.  I have an admission I am a geek. Truly. I work in the innovative application of technology to learning, research and business processes. I love it. I am at one with the shiny, shiny. even though I should be disappointed by the iPad, I am verging on harassing my Apple guy in Sydney, about when it’s coming out, when I can get one, will it be shiny, you get the idea. Geek.

But, for the life of me I cannot understand why anyone would use Google Wave. To be honest I don’t know how anyone actually uses it, like I mean uses it, as in find the ignition for the key. It sits there, looking blank and unattractive, like some vacuous super-model so full of ennui it can barely turn its head, let alone strike up a conversation.

I have some post, on two rather dull extensions, the dullest being a yes/no/maybe poll, it tells me it is installed, but neglects to tell me where I might find this brain haemorraging facile Manichean extension – yes, I know there is a maybe, but maybes are always the reactionary position who doesn’t want to say what they really think.

Anyway back to Google Wave – utterly impossible to use, see no point of using it, and I’m wondering if Google think the same, after all it has been in this restricted release for a long time. A productivity tool, that hinders productivity

March 1, 2010

Stanford Uni PBL rooms

Filed under: Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 6:14 pm

Technology being used effectively.

I told you I was bad at this

Filed under: Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 4:22 pm

I was scratching around for a blogging platform and thought I’d try WordPress only to discover that I’d completely forgotten I had this one up and running., and that I took the Smiths for inspiration.

It was almost three years ago I set it up to. Well I promise to try harder this time.

I’m taking a break from a briefing paper I’m working on – The Classroom of the Future. I’ve been working on this sort of stuff for a few years, which all cumulated in getting a new job in January this year as ‘Innovations Architect’. It’s basically looking at how technology can bring about business improvement. It’s fun, but has been heavy on writing papers the last couple of weeks. I blog more on this stuff when I’ve thought about it a bit more…


March 5, 2007

Yet another blog started…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 4:39 pm

snow_drop1.jpgI am very bad at doing this. I start, go manic and then tail off. My last blog was through .mac, which a nice system – but FTP based, which was blocked by my employer. So I would write on the train, going to work – or at work, like now, and I’d have to wait to get home and upload the damn thing there. As you can imagine this took a lot of the spontaneousness out of the whole thing. Result? Died a horrible, if gorgeous Mac, death.

Anyway, Summer is coming to an end here (here being Melbourne, Australia). It’s going to be my first Autumn and full Winter here having come from the UK last August. To be honest I haven’t been that homesick, it being hot, hot, hot. But my mind turns to the fact that at home the days are getting longer and the worst excesses of the Winter are now beginning to subside. I am a fan of Spring, stuff starting to grow, cold bright days, and my birthday.

I guess I’m feeling a bit envious of Summer being only a few months away rather than another year…

Hello world!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ihaventgotastitchtowear @ 5:07 am

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