The host your own preference argument against Web 2.0 course sites

The Web 2.0 Course Site idea has many flaws, hurdles or counter arguments.

A major one is the issue of trust. Why should I trust a 3rd party to keep my classes data. Won’t it just go away?

The post about OpenAcademic.org that I’ve linked to (my first experiment with trackbacks in this environment) talks about one solution to this and has some posts stating the problem.

Potential responses might include

  • Why wouldn’t I trust some 3rd parties to be safer than University hosted services?
    Technically, this might be easy. But future business directions may not be such a sound footing. For example, I doubt many universities would claim that they will be safer, more available than Google. But who knows if Google might “go evil” at some stage in the future. And of course, not all companies are Google.
  • Web 2.0 depends on being open – the commercial imperative.
    A Web 2.0 service, the type I’m thinking of integrating, is based on the model of being open. Any Web 2.0 service that played silly buggers with its users data is going to go out of business real fast.
  • University hosted course sites go away.
    Most commercial LMS systems, as implemented in Universities, have course sites that only last for the teaching term and then the data is gone.
  • University hosted systems can be unreliable.
    Uptime can be perceived to be poor. I know a faculty here who has just lost 8 months of so of all email for everyone because of poor practice from technical staff.

Quote to support the Webfuse approach

A nice quote to support the approach taken with BAM and to some extent Webfuse

Therefore, research should be conducted to determine the best ways to integrate these tools into existing e-Learning programmes for students, health professionals and patients, taking into account the different, but also overlapping, needs of these three audience classes and the opportunities of virtual collaboration between them. Of particular importance is research into novel integrative applications, to serve as the “glue” to bind the different forms of Web-based collaborationware synergistically in order to provide a coherent wholesome learning experience.

Maged N Kamel Boulos, Inocencio Maramba and Steve Wheeler. Wikis, blogs and podcasts: a new generation of Web-based tools for virtual collaborative clinical practice and education. BMC Medical Education 2006, 6:41 []

full text

BAM, blogs and problems with spam blog lockouts

Have had a report from one of the students

i am facing a problem since 14 sept. that my blog has been locked by spam blogger robot.i have tried so many times to unlock my blog but it does not unlocked yet i am going late to send my blog for week 8.

Sounds a bit like an attempt to get an extension.

Turns out that there might be something to it.

A “feature” in blogger that “accuses” a blog of being the source of spam and shutting it down.

Still few details from the student but it does identify issues with this approach including

  • Influence of decisions by 3rd parties on the learning process
  • The need for the organisation of have and share knowledge about the decisions of 3rd parties

Google video as a host for streaming/lectures

I’m becoming interested in the notion of Web 2.0 course sites as the next step in the evolutionary development of Webfuse.

This details my first experiment with Google Video as part of that process. The Wikipedia page on Google Video has more detail on competing services, background and drawbacks of Google Video.

The idea

The idea being (am practicing my 30 second blurb on the topic) that instead of a University’s servers hosting all the software and content for a course that the course site make use of the multitude of free web-based services services. The University’s servers would then provide the “glue” that connects these services and any University specific services.

The point being to

  • Reduce cost
    The university doesn’t pay for the maintenance, network bandwidth and other costs associated with hosting the content and services.
  • Improve quality
    Is any University IT department ever going to provide a service as reliable and speedy as Google regardless of location?
  • Increase flexibility
    The reduction in infrastructure costs is one factor that could make the University’s elearning strategy more flexible. i.e. “we’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this server, we can’t change yet”

What I did

In the first half of 2006 I was the coordinator for <a href=”http://webfuse.cqu.edu.au/Courses/2006/T1/COIT11134/COIT11134, Procedural Programming. As part of that I used CQU’s video-streaming infrastructure to record my lectures. (I recognise that in a perfect world there are all sorts of pedagogical reasons why this is a bad thing, but there were many contextual reasons why doing this was a good thing).

The lectures page is the end result.

I took the downloadable video of the first lecture and uploaded it to Google Video. Here’s the process

  • Login with a Google account.
    I already have one thanks to my use of the Google news reader.
  • Fill in a form that requires the video file, title, description and then hit submit
  • The upload takes a while

In my case the upload appears to have failed. The browser message I received was “error occured in uploading”. No other information was apparent. Apparently, according to the Wikipedia page this is a known problem.

But not long after I received an email saying it was successful and including the url for the Google Video version of the lecture.

The result

Some observations on the result, particularly in comparison to the CQU services

  • Larger video picture – at least double the size
  • Startup speed that is comprable.
    Google is a bit slower, but not significantly. This should be no surprise
    since I’m doing this test on a computer on CQU’s LAN. This same test from a computer on an external network should show Google Video being quite a bit faster.
  • Much better cross platform support
    I’m on a Mac. Most of the CQU video is quite problematic to run on the Mac, given its Windows/wmv emphasis. Even the quicktime version doesn’t work well. Google video works great. Google uses a Flash based player.

My conclusion is that there are some benefits to giving this idea further consideration.

Helpdesk and training – first step in SDO

Overall Aim

Make learning in SDO more authentic. Make it like the student is arriving at a real organisation as a trainee Systems Analyst.

Making that organisation CQU would enable us to leverage off the students interactions at the campuses, but also with our knowledge of the systems.

Training and Helpdesk

One place for them to start would be with training. Training to know who the organisation is, what they do and what their computing environment is like.

Then move them onto to do some helpdesk related work. Or at least to get a taste for it.

There are issues about the physical security aspect.

All of this is related to the systems operation and support aspect which is currently done in week 10. It should be first.

Assessement/Exercises

Exercises arising out of this could include

  • Assessing the different security levels of the campus at which they operate
  • Assessing the training regime
  • Identifying systems that may be past their use by date, i.e. need reworking

    This one could then lead into identifying a change that is needed and moving it through the entire life cycle. Or at least the first step.

Web 2.0 Course Sites

Thesis

That Universities can provide a better quality, more reliable elearning service and, at the same time, repurpose resources away from low-level infrastructure resources towards higher-level customisation roles, by replacing the current model for learning management systems.

The current model for course sites means that all content and technology used as part of course websites is hosted and maintained by the University and its technical services. The replacement model would instead have a small amount of local customisation but the majority of the technology and content would be hosted and maintained on the numerous free web services now widely available as part of the “Web 2.0” approach.

The Problem

The Top-Ten IT Issues, 2006 as identified by the 7th annual EDUCAUSE Current Issues Survey are (I’ve added the emphasis):

  1. Security and Identity Management
  2. Funding IT
  3. Administrative/ERP/Information Systems
  4. Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity
  5. Faculty Development, Support, and Training
  6. Infrastructure
  7. Strategic Planning
  8. Governance, Organization, and Leadership
  9. E-Learning/Distributed Teaching and Learning
  10. Web Systems and Services

Further on down in the article

For four of the past seven years, respondents to the Current Issues Survey ranked Funding IT as the number-one issue to resolve for the strategic success of their IT organizations and institutions. For the other three years, including this year, the issue was ranked number two

And the obvious conclusion is stated

Being realistic about IT funding when costs are increasing (and budgets are not) means pursuing ways to reduce costs and reallocate savings.

The increasing adoption of e-learning, as currently implemented, generally requires institutions to host the course management system and provide all of the services – including video and audio streaming.

This can be expensive and difficult to do effectively. Especially if the institution is aiming for a global reach. CQU has, for a number of years, had various debates and difficulties around its widely distributed campuses and how best to provide reasonable services to them. In particular, how to ensure that our widely distributed students and staff are able to access resources hosted at the central Rockhampton campus quickly and effectively.

A potential solution

Where ever possible the services required for e-learning, currently understood as a course website, should be implemented using services provided on the web. The work of the University IT staff should be focused on providing local customisations designed to encourage adoption and support use within the institution. Rather than fulfilling infrastructure roles.

Some examples

Potential Benefits

  • Provide more reliable services
  • Provide faster access to services
  • Save money on infrastructure
  • Re-purpose resources to higher up the stack
  • Address the skills shortage??
  • Able to “market” the institution as leading edge
    I’m not aware of any other University doing this. An experiement along these lines would place the organisation at the forefront of elearning.

Potential Hurdles

  • Barriers to the “everything is open” idea
    Most of these free web services are based on the idea of the content being available to everyone. There are a couple of problems with this idea

    1. Many academics are not comfortable with this idea
    2. Many academics use material provided by textbooks that is copyrighted and can’t be made freely available
  • Trust, and the host your own preference
  • Infrastructure is simpler than customisation
    Provision of servers, networks etc is a fairly standarised, “low-level” skill. Some refer to it as the “plumbing” of the computer world. Providing customisation at a business level requires a much greater level of skill and understanding. It’s harder to do.

More to come, but others are talking about this.

Other considerations

The personal learning environment (PLE) and Web 2.0 ideas are arguing that we should move away from the course website idea. There’s good reason to do this.

However, the way Universities and academics currently think of elearning is so closely tied with this way of thinking it will be around for awhile. In order to sell this idea to those people it needs to be packaged in a way that makes sense to them – that is compatible with what they know.

Implementation could provide scaffolding to enable the PLE idea and should help further investigation of that idea. Most of the tools/services I’ve mentioned above generate RSS/Atom feeds and/or have open APIs that would help.