24 November 2016

Mind mapping networked learning thesis 001

Back to the Open and Networked PhD, Jon Mason emailed me a link to a quite helpful guide to writing a research proposal, by DR Rowland for the University of Queensland.

One of the first suggestions it makes is mind mapping. I've always been reluctant to use mind mapping, given its limited use communicating to others and primary use of internal organisation of thoughts.. but this time I gave it a go.. I'm not sure if it has helped me, perhaps a little, but I still feel a bit perplexed on direction and focus..

11 November 2016

Badges: identify talent and brand by association

In 2015 we used RMIT University’s Graduate Futures Careers Fund to pilot badges as a possible way to improve the employment prospects of graduates from the Advertising Degree. Through iterative action research we developed, tested and reviewed: infrastructural support for badges; teacher, student and practitioner understanding of badge concepts and value and; what appropriate and meaningful implementation of badges might look like in the advertising industry. Despite the difficulties that other Australian educational institutions have found when trying to implement badges, we’ve identified three areas of value for badging in the domains of advertising education and practice specifically:
  1. Badges can highlight an individual’s talent and experience where formal accreditation does not, such as in co and extracurricular activities, work experience and peer relations and esteem
  2. Badges carry a form of ‘brand-by-association’ both for the issuer and the receiver, and that value intersects with notions of online identity management
  3. Badges present opportunities for unique methods of advertising, and these methods are potentially new content to be taught in the advertising program
The technology and infrastructure that presently facilitates badging remains precarious, disjointed and competitive. Institutional, teacher/student and industry/practitioner awareness and understanding of the use and value of badges remains low to nonexistent. The developing fields of ‘big data’, ‘artificial intelligence’, ‘blockchain’ and ‘online identity management’ are likely to displace the current value propositions of badges. More consideration around the notion of brand-by-association and identity management is needed - for example, institution-branded badges can highlight a person’s recent-graduate status, possibly at the expense of their work experience or specific skill sets. This can have a negative impact on employability in the advertising sector, where crude levels of professional ability are still used.

We therefore make the general recommendation that RMIT University not move into badges until an open standard format is reliably and more widely supported; until people can effectively incorporate badges into their identity management; and until wider understanding of the value of badges exists - especially in the idea of brand by association. We instead recommend that a range of niche experiments be conducted, each addressing these initial ideas and areas of concern, but from different discipline perspectives. From these experiments, a stronger understanding can be developed in the institution, and across its relevant industry partners, to help ensure better impact at a university wide implementation.

Link to report on Google docs

02 November 2016

A hackathon: Commons to Wikidata to Open Street Maps

Originally posted on DLDSC.team

Here's what we made:

A map of public art within 500m of the RMIT Campus

After photographing instances of public art around the RMIT Melbourne City campus, uploading them to Wikimedia Commons and creating entries for each instance of public art on Wikidata, we then used Query to visualise the Wikidata entries and discussed next steps into Open Street Maps and more.

Here's the map (link above) embedded below. Click the red dots to reveal content:

Our map uses live, open, user generated, linked Wikidata, including media loaded to Wikimedia Commons, visualised with the Wikidata Query tool. From this foundation we're aiming develop the presentation, exploring various functional and aesthetic dimensions.

Since hearing about the Wikidata project from Andrew Mabbett earlier this year, we've been looking for a time we could spend getting hands on, working with an expert, to quickly learn about creating and using Wikidata. Thanks to Alex Lum joining the Hackathon we hosted in October, we had our Wikidata expert on hand for the two days, generously showing us what he knows.

I wholeheartedly recommend Alex for workshops on anything Wikimedia related, especially Wikidata, as well as Open Street Maps. He is a modest, approachable and very patient teacher with a passion for Commons based open data. For the entire 2 days he patiently taught us everything from how to structure Wikidata through to how to visualise it in Query and Open Street Maps.

We documented our work over the two days in this Google Doc. There you'll find much more detail.

Other projects were proposed for the Hackathon too, but the Wikidata project won the most interest this time. Please refer to the planning and notes document for more information about those proposals.

What next?

First of all, we hope to show this as a proof of concept to the College and the University. We think of it as a potential Student as Producer curriculum project, perhaps in the School of Art most obviously, but any number of other subject areas could consider this.

This map will update as more and more people create Wikidata entries that use the genre property "public art" as well as the coordinate location with a well formed longitude and latitude. To see an example of such a Wikidata entry, click any of the red dots on the above map, and then click the link that begins with "wd..." In that example. The resulting page is a Wikidata entry with a range of property statements.

We will keep building this map, first using it as a professional development activity with our colleagues to inform them on Wikidata, Wikimedia Commons and Open Street Maps. We will spend a few hours walking around Melbourne's CBD photographing instances of public art and uploading to Wikimedia Commons using the Category: Public art in Melbourne, Victoria. We will then create Wikidata entries for each instance we document, making sure to include "genre" and "coordinate locations" to ensure the map grows.

Cathy Leahy is experimenting with more advanced visualisations of the data, and hopefully we can forge a collaboration with people in ICT or students learning programming, and will follow this post with another detailing her perspectives.

More detailed notes and resources

Please refer to the notes made during the hackathon for more details on what we create and what we used to create it.

29 July 2016

Learning analytics, even student dashboards, are they the wrong way round?

In a recent session discussing a learning analytics project, I seemed to be the only person in the room who was anxious about the whole idea again. I've been this way ever since George Siemens started the Google Group some 10 years ago. That anxiety culminated in a presentation I made to the University Analytics forum in Melbourne in 2012, which I'm sad to say, along with my posts to the forum, has generated little to no response. Is it just me and my tin foil hat, or is there a general reluctance to talk about an elephant in the room with learning analytics?

The best I've seen from the over all movement is a general agreement that it is ethical and progressive to develop analytics as a "student dashboard", that is to say that the effort is first and foremost about collecting data so that the individuals that the data is about can see and reflect on their own patterns, and in relation to the demographic groups that seem relevant to them, presently and historically. The antithesis of this is the collection of data for teachers and administrators to roughly calibrate their behaviouralist experiments - what most learning analytics projects are about.

But in this session recently, it occurred to me that even the projects that describe themselves as "student dashboard" projects, seem to be allowing themselves to be drawn a very long way away from the principles of why they are developing that way. Most of these projects that I have seen seem frustrated by the difficulty of obtaining useful data, and end up narrowing scope in on a single environment like an LMS or a handful of online social platforms, within a single course. They accept that this then renders the project an unscalable proof of concept, and acknowledge that they leave far too much out of a person's wider context to really get any useful insights. Is there another way to try and uncover insights about learning? A way that better fits the principle of student dashboard, and potentially encompasses that wider context that seems impossible to account for?

I'm suggesting a closer affiliation with the field of QuantifiedSelf. Who in the learning analytics world is investigating the large range of mobile applications designed to assist with time management and task completion, for example? It could be that one of these, or a combination of them, offer students an optional way to record and manage their own data, and to even pool in with an online community or collection for comparison and bigger pictures. This seems to be an approach that would inherently deal with many of the ethical concerns of a university gathering data on students - often without even a research ethics application!

It seems to me that this suggestion is to at least qualify the data currently being collected in the more top down approaches, if not control for it. But I suspect it's more than that. With the right additions, the voluntary and guided use of such apps and methods might be the very idea that "student dashboard" projects set out to achieve. The outcomes of projects that take this approach might be a range of suggested apps and guided activities to help participants make the most of logging their lives around learning; how to pool data for comparisons; and how to better design course curriculum to help students manage time and task completion.

A search for "time management" in Google Play reveals quite a few useful candidates to try out, many with data export ability. Learning designers could design weekly time management schedules around a course for example, for participants to run in something like TimeTune to stay on task. We could suggest that participants try using an application like Working Time Management, that tracks the time spent on projects, including communications with people in the project, similar with aTimeLogger, and simple activities where the group compares records. These are just the first few apps available in a search for Time Management.

I've recently started using the application Headspace, a charming application which isn't a life logger at all, though it has some optional features that could be used like that. It's primarily a 10 step course in meditation and mindfulness. It's pretty popular it seems, and interesting as a format for a course. The various tools and techniques for managing time, focus and headspace could conceivably be combined into one, as layers around a course on any topic, where students (if they like) can turn off and on those features, some of which offer guidance in time management, others an opportunity to measure, manage and compare their engagement with topics and projects.

Does anyone know of a learning analytics project that takes this approach? Such an approach would alleviate some of my anxieties about the field and its elephants, especially if they were to dgo as far as to investigate the source of the applications and determine what the companies do with the data collected. 

21 July 2016

Brexit and the urgency of open access and usability

A very interesting perspective on Brexit in relation to open access has been shared by Stevan Harnad in a discussion with Richard Poynder on the Open Access ePrints blog.

But one would have thought that the mature democracies would serve as a civilizing bulwark against that. Yet no, Brexit has shown that the same primitive, sinister, shameful inclinations are alive and well in the United Kingdom (and Trump is rallying them in the US too). 
No, freedom-of-information and open access did not serve as an antidote, as hoped. Disinformation profited more from the power of open media than the truth did. And the proliferation of destructive weapons is only beginning to be exploited by the genetic and cultural heirs of our most barbaric roots.
Perhaps both democracy and liberalism were always doomed; perhaps it was just a matter of time before the law of large numbers, the regression on the mean, would bring out the meanest in us.

The idea that the collapse of the 20thC socialist idea allowed market fundamentalism to grow unchecked, which has inevitably caused base populism and inhumanity to thrive, is a summary that rings true enough to me. But we can't yet know if this populism and inhumanity is leading to - as Harnad would characterise it - an apocalypse of humanity. Perhaps instead what we're seeing is a strange wisdom of the masses, bringing the collapse of 20thC capitalism.

The characterisation of Brexits, Trumpies, Hansonites as racist xenophobes doesn't ring true to me. It may be true that darker elements exist within them (as they do us all), but a more generous characterisation would pay attention to their better arguments, from the more thoughtful voices.

Here's Richard Boyd Barrett speaking about Brexit.

Bringing about the collapse of the EU - or more specifically the super rich and the corporate elites that lobby it, or voting for Trump is largely an expression of disillusionment with the political class and economic elite.

Here's the same argument that Barrett succinctly put out, but from the very people he spoke for - Why we voted leave - voices from northern England.

It is a worry that these arguments and perspectives are so quickly and easily dismissed by the "Progressive Left", and allowed to be characterised as racist, nationalistic and xenophobic.

There have been more hopeful phenomena that I would include in this general movement of resistance. There's the swaths of people that Bernie Sanders appealed to (as likely as it is that Sanders simply contains and ultimately controls opposition). There's the dramatic rise of Jeremy Corbyn, re-energising the socialist principles. There's some justice about to be served via Chilcot and The Killing$ of Tony Blair (to my knowledge, the first feature length documentary to be crowd funded). There's the fresh and progressive ideas of the PirateParty, the disruption by Wikileaks and Occupy, and the various inquiries and possible trails for the ongoing financial fraud and economic mismanagement globally.

How does this relate to open access?

I think the open access movement should focus on these sorts of hopes, and radicalise accordingly.

More than access, we need usability

It is not enough to lobby for educational media, academic research papers and data to be made openly accessible in the formats and customs that they are. Right alongside all that needs to go an active alignment to the issues of the day, and development of novel ideas around popular usability. Not just format usability, but designed usability.

Summaries and takeaways

If we consider the function of an abstract that goes with an academic paper - that it serves as an effective summary to the whole paper, then we should be willing to recognise similar devices in popular media and consider such designs for usability generally. Executive summaries, infographics, synopsis and trailers.

Partnerships with major information highways

Why is it still the exception to the norm, that the multi lingual Wikipedia, the media rich Wikimedia Commons, or the wonders of the Archive and Way Back machine are not entirely in the discourse and workflows of the public service information, research and education sector? Quite the opposite in fact, ignorant and disengaged snobbery prevails toward those bold projects. Why isn't it normal practice for people in those same public service information, research and education services to make bite-sized video abstracts of information and knowledge and distribute them on Youtube and Facebook? Why do they still insist on creating unreliable websites that block the Waybackmachine from archiving them, that will go offline when the funding dries up and have no distribution or communication plan through popular media channels? Why do the so-called professions of instructional and education design still obsess over how to use a learning management system, or how to work within the narrow band of restricted user-pay access, and pay little to no attention to ideas and methods for instruction and education in an open distributed network of society? In that area, the darker professions of advertising and public relations are far more advanced.

Open access is little c conservative

In my opinion, the open access movement has been cobbled with conservatism while the PirateBay, Wikileaks and Aaron Schwartz have been trail blazers. There have been global issues that the open access movement could have been part of - taking relevant openly available information and distributing derivatives with usability in mind. More importantly, this workflow would have been made self evident by now - as getting information in multiple languages on Wikipedia and Youtube is self evident by now. Open access would not only be a matter of course, but creating usable versions of it would be expected as well. But we in the public service information, research and education sector generally seem happy to sit by and let popular debate degenerate into private public relations.

The defeat being discussed by Stevan Harnad and Richard Poynder, should be answered with radicalisation. I thought the very foundation of why we work toward open access and use was to prevent the world that Harnad and Poynder are resigning to. Can we now redouble the effort in linking up the research, information and education sectors with the radical open access and use movement? The justification for it would seem as urgent as ever.

Unless of course the masses turn out to be substantially wiser than the anxious experts give them credit for. In which case, they don't need them.

03 June 2016

No LMS - an argument for when your institution comes to reviewing their Learning Management System

It's amazing to me, that after all this time, this argument still needs to be made. But of course it does, the struggle it falls under is ages old.

Train wreck at Montparnasse Station.

Have you ever wondered if there is an end to the list of contradictions between university rhetoric and actions? At best, I guess, they are a result of well meaning change efforts, presenting perfectly reasoned argument against a cultural institution that has a large population and political magnitude that simply can’t accommodate even the most well meaning efforts to change.

  1. One size doesn't fit all = we all must (which is implied) use the Learning Management System to teach, learn and assess
  2. Accessible, relevant and engaging learning = digitised and locked in a system that resembles nothing like the rest of the Internet, or what you might experience in life after school.
  3. Looking for efficiencies and putting an end to the silly stuff = we pay huge amounts of money to license, train in, and manage a system that locks us in by design, when perfectly good and reasonable systems and alternatives exist for far less cost and far more gain.
  4. We need to personalise learning to individual student needs = we subscribe to systems that offer little to no opportunity to achieve this, that are designed to reinforce the paradigm we'd like to change.

The list goes on, and I'm not even sure I’ve picked the best examples. Safe to say, there are many more examples just a search, or conversation with the right contrarian, away.

Best arguments for LMS

The “best” arguments I've seen for using an LMS are:

  1. When used well…
  2. When used well, they provide the sorts of data we need for internal and external auditing.
  3. When used well, they offer students a reliable, one stop, private and secure online environment for learning

When used well…

I’ll leave the questioning of what “when used well” means for the reader's imagination, but I do suggest criteria around relevance and transferability - beyond the relatively short time we offer “learning” to people we tend to class as “students” or worse, clients, customers or consumers.

Data for auditing

If arguments that wag their dog don't frustrate you, then open a conversation with someone in student services. Those poor meats in the sandwich play a big role in gathering the information needed for audits. Aside from not being familiar with the term “LMS”, the person I spoke to recently wanted to tell me how complex audits are. The Student Management System naturally plays a very big part in audits, as do systems like a Course Repository (meaning the systems that store the course and program descriptions, requirements and sometimes curriculum and assessment types and descriptions). What I’m trying to suggest is that it's highly doubtful to me that the LMS plays much of a role in auditing at all, not least because it is hardly ever used well - even after all this time and money. If you find that it does, then ask does it need to.

The one stop, reliable, private and secure

This argument generally comes from people who know and use an LMS well, because they’ve complied. I haven't met anyone who makes this argument who then says that a one stop convenient, reliable, private and secure online learning environment can’t be achieved using common every day online systems. Gaining this perspective is really just a simple exercise in removing the LMS from the equation (in thought only, if action is too radical) to begin imagining how all these elements can be achieved without it. The skills gained immediately transfer to other areas of academic work, such as community and industry engagement, and other contact groups that typically have no need for an LMS and much more need for people who expertly know and understand the Internet.

The No LMS argument is well over a decade old

But people have been making this argument for more than 12 years! (not counting the early resistance to the LMS when it was first introduced by central administrators and like minded people in the late 90s, early 2000s). The most cited article that I have written on the subject from that long ago is: Die LMS Die, You Too PLE!

Thankfully the PLE developer community seemed to listen to arguments like that and ended their attempts to bring personal learning into one system. They switched focus to articulating and demonstrating it as a concept, a framework, a keyword to counter the idea of system-managed learning. It became Personal Learning Network.

It was too late for the LMS however, having by then convinced most institutions to sink millions/billions into LMS licensing, policy and support. No escape plan was ever devised, and we keep paying the exorbitant price of that poor leadership to this day.

But if my style of argumentation puts you off, or if you think I'm merely alluding to substance without offering much directly, just do a cursory search for debates over the LMS yourself (keeping in mind that there are an awful lot of people whose only source of income and self esteem is from supporting an LMS). You should hopefully see that almost no one thinks they are a good way to teach and learn. Disregard feature comparisons between different LMS, that side track is futile and small minded. The disagreement is whether or not an LMS is necessary! Anyone in the field not entertaining that debate is just being overly pragmatic under muddleheaded leadership.

In 2009, Educause published an article that summarised the anti LMS position, and suggesting an already abundant alternative: Envisioning the Post-LMS Era: The Open Learning Network. My link to that goes via a blog post I wrote about the article - a shameless and demanding act of self aggrandisement.

The LMS is in the way

The ideal in my mind at least, and if we are to persist with our simplistic ideas and designs for how people teach and learn, is that it ought to be a seamless and richly useful experience between the stages of becoming inspired, finding a topic to learn, learning it, and if necessary demonstrating knowing it or doing it. If we can agree on that very broad ideal, then we might begin to see that the LMS (and the perspective that enables it to exist) is a massive obstacle to approximating that ideal today, or building toward it for tomorrow.

I'd just like to acknowledge at this point that there are some areas of knowledge, some ways of knowing, that are not conducive to this ideal of technically accessible and seamless learning and knowing. But I would say that these areas are an exception, and that the LMS, or even the Internet, may not be good ways to facilitate learning in these domains...

Here's a proposal for escaping the LMS. It applies at any stage, but most obviously if or when you're migrating from one LMS to another such halfway house. If you’re already outside the LMS, good for you! Keep it that way. Help others out.

More for before, or later - a time that never was

If for some reason you're interested in what I've done, written about or referenced in regards to the LMS and the Internet over the years, I primarily use the tag #InternetAsThePlatform to organise my contribution to all the wonderful noise.

01 June 2016

Staff profiles

Not a bad little video introducing how to set up a personal learning network

The ideal

When I look up a teacher or academic, a rich array of images, videos, presentations, publications, websites comes up in the search results. Top of the list is either their website or the staff profile for their primary place of work.

The reality

Most often than not, no images, no videos, no presentations, a few inaccessible publications, and no websites. Top of the list is an very empty staff profile page in the website of the place they may or may not be working.

What to do

RMIT's HR, Marketing and Academic Developers need to come to a common understanding on the above, reflecting on the fact that more than 70% of teachers and researchers are causally employed, and pool their resources to support people who are willing to generate substantial online profiles, and recognise those who already have one.


Digital Learning DSC has been working in the online identity management space for a while now, under the umbrella concept of networked learning. Some of the Schools in DSC have taken to the idea that "A Google search result is your portfolio". Some teachers are entering into discussions around the idea that by supporting students, teachers and researchers to develop rich and connected online identities, their various accounts become valuable learning networks to each other, and valuable professional networks to a range of central entities, including RMIT, its Colleges and its Schools.


So we're gradually designing learning activities that help build those substantive learning networks, to gradually have an impact on the ideal described above. Invite us in for a chat!