Friday, 24 April 2009

Business Models for Open Courseware - Version 2

This week on Yammer there has been a debate about opencourseware (OCW). The major contributors to the debate have been my colleagues James Neill, Michael de Percy, Keith Lyons and Alan Arnold. Some of the issues considered in the debate were:
  • What copyright protection to apply: copyright, creative commons (and which version), public domain or some other system
  • What should be included
  • How to host it: hardware and software
  • Philosophy of openness opposed to financial reality: how to make money from OCW
As the accountant in the mix, the last issue is that one that interests me. It is pointless for a University to provide OCW if it sends itself bankrupt in the process. So to start a debate, I am putting forward a number of different models of how to make money from OCW. These ideas are not necessarily my own but I cannot remember from where I have sourced the ideas so I have not referenced them. The list is not intended to be comprehensive, just a start for a conversation. Finally, the models are not mutually exclusive - more than one of them can be used at the same time. I have not conducted any analysis about the financial feasibility of these models.

The Models

The Advertising Model

Sell advertising space on OCW material. It is possible to use services like Google or Yahoo to manage this or to use more traditional advertising providers.

The Winetasting Model

Users can get a taste of the OCW material for free but have to pay if they want sufficient access to undertake a course. This is achieved by having all users register and restricting the free access for each user (for example, 5 free accesses per month). More intensive access will require payment. For this to work, materials need to be interactive otherwise a group of students will get together and download a portion of the materials each, using their free allowance, and then share the material.

The Pay to Go To Class Model

All the material is free but students must pay if they want to attend classes. This really puts pressure on academics to make sure that students see paying to attend classes as value for money.

The Pay for Assessment Model

All the material is free but students must pay if they want to submit assessment items and receive a grade.

The Pay for Accreditation Model

All the material is free but students must pay to submit a portfolio showing achievement of the learning outcomes and to have that portfolio assessed - this is similar to what is done with RPL and RCC processes.

The Consulting Model

This idea was contributed by James Neill - my apologies if I have misrepresented his views. The OCW material serves as a "loss leader" to attract consulting contracts to the University. The OCW material serves to establish the University's expertise in a particular field.

The key issue for Universities is not whether they want to participate in OCW, but how they are going to participate. MIT and OU-UK have already shown that big universities can move in this direction. Commercial (non-university) enterprises are also moving in this direction but have not got the free courseware idea adopted yet. Small universities which try and ignore the move to OCW will go the way of the dodo.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Kapyong Day: 24th April

Swamped by the remembrance ceremonies for ANZAC Day is Kapyong Day. The Battle of Kapyong took place on and around the 24th April 1951 near Seoul in the Republic of Korea (South Korea). During this battle, the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment (in association with other Kiwi, British, Canadian and American units) halted a major offensive by enemy forces. The Australian soldiers, vastly outnumbered by the enemy, repulsed the attack and prevented the loss of the South Korean capital (Seoul) to the enemy.

32 Australian soldiers died in this battle with a further 59 wounded and 3 taken prisoner. This battle resulted in more Australian casualties than any other battle since the Second World War.

Following this battle, the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment was awarded a US Presidential Citation for "extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of combat duties".

Further information about the Battle of Kapyong is available from the Australian War Memorial's website.

The Great University of Canberra Twitter War

Fibre optic cables burned bright today from the Great UC Twitter War. This war was fought primarily on the UC Chat email discussion list. Wearing the black hats were the latter-day luddites proclaiming email was best. In the white hats were the twitter champions. This blog is not a balanced, unbiased reporting of the events. As they say, history is written by the victors.

The twitter champs had a number of compelling points:
  • Twitter is a pull technology - the reader chooses which tweets to follow. Email is a push technology - the writer chooses who gets the email
  • Hashtags allowed users to search for and to follow conversations
  • 140 characters kept the waffle to a minimum
  • Twitter is an emergent technology and its full potential is still unknown - we "need to live in the stream" to discover its potential
  • RT (re-tweets) spread the message virally
  • "Email is connecting with the people you used to know, Twitter is connecting with the people you would like to know"
The luddites arguments were the result of failure to understand what twitter can do and listening to myths rather than evidence:
  • It is too hard to know what to follow - that is what hashtags are for
  • Twitter is only used for inane conversations: what I had for breakfast type tweets - twitter is used for much more. Criticising the entire system becauses some uses are inane is like criticising PCs because some people play games on them.
Forensic analysis of the battlefield revealed a number of new users of twitter willing to explore (I had three new followers this afternoon as a result of the battle). It also revealed a number of lurkers to the exchange who were not interested in the war - the Swiss approach. Sufficient evidence to declare victory - where is an aircraft carrier when I need one?

Post-war analysis revealed the need to formalise some hashtags for the University. During the war I proposed #UCanberra but, in hindsight, #UCan will be better as it uses fewer of the 140 characters. Searching reveals that #UCan is not being used at present (#UC has been taken by the University of California). #UCan can also be appended for sub-units of the University. For example #UCanBG could be used by the Faculty of Business and Government.

The tweety of Versailles has left peace - for now.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Creating New Knowledge: Academia and Social Software

My colleague Michael De Percy has been driving a conversation at the University of Canberra about the role of what he calls "new media" in academia. I don't like his term - I prefer the more common terms Web 2.0 or social software to describe the same concepts. The term used, however, is not important; it is the concept and the conversation around it which is vital. This is my contribution to the conversation. Using a blog to contribute to this conversation may, however, be preaching to the choir.

Academia is the driving force behind the creation and dissemination of new knowledge in our society. As academics, we should always be exploring new ways of creating and disseminating knowledge. The tried and tested methods of monograph and peer-reviewed journal publication will still be a dominant method of achieving this but they are not the only ways. Social software adds new methods of creating and disseminating knowledge and we should be exploring the ways that these tools can leverage our existing practices.

We do not yet know if some or any of these tools will prove to be effective. Some may be like a supernova; burning brightly for a moment before disappearing from sight. Others may become ubiquitous like email and the WWW have become. But if we do not explore and experiment we will not know what is worth retaining. Not all academics need to be on the bleeding edge but they do need to be monitoring developments and ready to adopt when a development is shown to be useful.

The problem we find is that many academics are not willing to consider the new opportunities but are acting as latter-day luddites, trying to protect their outmoded practices. Some examples of this attitude can be seen in the resistance to Wikipedia: whether we like it or not, Wikipedia has become the first reference examined by students. To fight this is pointless; we need to harnass this to make it effective research.

Mary George from Princeton has coined the term wigwam research (Wikipedia - Internet - Google - Without - Anything - More). The wig is not the problem, it is the wam. We need to show students that Wikipedia, like a textbook, is a useful starting point for research but not the ending point. We need to explain the qualitative difference between secondary and primary sources and point out that Wikipedia is a secondary source. We need to emphasise the quality assurance that comes from peer review and highlight that Wikipedia is not peer reviewed. Finally, we need to show students how to use Wikipedia's references to expand and improve their research.

If we acknowledge that students will use Wikipedia and encourage them to use it properly, our attitude to it should change. Instead of fighting it, we can work to make it better. As subject matter experts, we can edit Wikipedia to ensure that its entries are up-to-date, complete, unbiased, and properly referenced. By working with Wikipedia, we can make our students better researchers.

Another example where academics are unwilling to explore social software is in the developments of networks. Most academics will acknowledge that the value obtained from attending conferences is not from the papers presented but from the networks formed. Attending conferences is an expensive (in dollars and time) and ineffective method of building networks.

Social software allows the creation of networks and the sharing of ideas among the network. Martin Weller uses epizeuxis to stress the importance of Twitter for networking. Social network sites like Facebook facilitate the personal side of network management, instant messaging and VOIP allow one-to-one communication, microblogs give one-to-many communication, blogs permit the sharing of ideas and comments on those ideas. Effective social networks can generate new knowledge more quickly and more cheaply than traditional network methods.

Academics should be embracing social software, not fighting it. We need to explore how it can make our work more effective.

My 10 Favourite Firefox Add-ons

One reason I like Firefox more than Internet Explorer is its availability of add-ons. My favourite add-ons are:

1 Zotero

I have written about Zotero in another post. Zotero is so good that it alone provides sufficient reason for adopting Firefox. Additional details about Zotero are available from my earlier blog post and from

2 No Script

No Script stops websites from running Java script, flash, shockwave, or pdf unless you authorise it. It lets you know what scripts etc are on the page in a balloon and allows you to permanently or temporarily allow that script. You can also permanently disallow the script or cancel previous authorisations. No Script gives me confidence to surf to unknown websites and especially to use Tiny URLs (or other URLs where the final destination is not apparent from the URL) as I know the risks are lower than would be the case if I was not using No Script. Additional details are available from No Script.

3 AdBlock Plus

AdBlock Plus prevents nearly all banner ads from loading. It works by maintaining a blacklist of banner ad URLs and blocking the loading of those URLs. Most banner ads are inserted into webpages by a link to a dynamic list of ads rather than have the ad included in the code for the page - AdBlock Plus blocks that link. Blocking these ads stops me paying for their download and gives me back the top part of my screen. AdBlock Plus settings are customisable by the user. Additional details are available from AdBlock Plus.

4 Australian Dictionary

Readers from outside Australia may have noticed the spelling of the words "favourite" and "authorise" above. This is not a mispelling but is standard Australian spelling. I am sick of American spelling checkers telling me they are wrong. Firefox allows me to use an Australian Dictionary and get rid of those pesky red lines.

5 Tab Mix Plus

Tab Mix Plus gives a variety of tools to manage tabs. The tools I use are: freezing tabs which stops me closing them by accident; showing tabs in multiple rows if I have too many open to fit on one row; a "closed tab list" which allows me to right-click and see the tabs I have recently closed and to re-open them; and changing the colour of the tab if the page has been updated since I last accessed it. There are many more tools available in Tab Mix Plus which I do not use or have not discovered yet. Additional details are available from Tab Mix Plus.

6 Delicious Bookmarks

This add-on gives me icons on my toolbar to enable me to add an item to delicious, view my bookmarks in a sidebar and to open my delicious website. It also gives me icons in my statusbar to indicate any activity in my network and if anyone has tagged anything for me. Additional details are available from Delicious.

7 Twitterfox

Twitterfox shows me in the statusbar if I have any unread tweets and allows me to read and write tweets in a balloon by clicking on the statusbar icon. Additional details are available from Twitterfox.

8 AutoPager

AutoPager automatically loads the next page of many multi-page websites and adds it to the bottom of the current page. This allows me to see the second and subsequent pages by simply scrolling down. This is especially useful with search engine results. Additional details are available from AutoPager.

9 TinyURL Creator and Long URL Mobile Expander

This is cheating as they are seperate add-ons but I have put them both in because they work together. TinyURL creator gives me an icon on my toolbar which allows me to create a TinyURL from the current URL and it puts the TinyURL in my clipboard for me to paste where I want it. Long URL Mobile Expander shows me the full URL in a balloon when I mouse-over a tiny URL. Additional details are available from TinyURL Creator and Long URL Mobile Expander.

10 Facebook Toolbar

The Facebook Toolbar enables me to go directly to facebook pages from the toolbar, to update my status and to open a facebook sidebar. This add-on also shows balloons to notify my of facebook events from my friends such as status updates. Additional details are available from Facebook.


Other add-ons I like which did not make my top ten include:

  • Yammerfox
  • Ghostery
  • LinkedIn Companion

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

E-Portfolios: Playing with Mahara

I have been attending some training programs over the last few months on developing a teaching portfolio. While the I found the ideas covered in the programs to be of great value, the technology which was being used to manage them was archaic - Noah would have rejected it. Some were keeping their portfolios on paper and storing them in lever-arch folders - ugh! The most up-to-date technology I saw was putting it all in an MS Word file - at least this was electronic and searchable but it is like putting a square peg in a round hole. It was not going to fit no matter how big a hammer you used.

To digress a little, for those not familiar with portfolios in general and teaching portfolios in particular, they are collections of documents, photos, certificates, letters and other artefacts which serve as evidence for any claims you may make. The reason I started looking at them was that they are becoming necessary when applying for jobs and grants and I had seen a couple of colleagues use them.

Back to my problem - I was convinced I needed a teaching portfolio but I was not satisfied with the methods used to manage them. I was convinced that paper was not the method I was going to use. I could shove everything into a folder on my hard disk but that would not help with managing the information. I needed a tool that would help me manage the information. I started thinking about the management functions I would need. These were:
  1. Store multiple file types - doc, pdf, jpg, mp3, and others
  2. Multiple and flexible retrieval mechanisms
  3. Shareable
  4. Web accessible
  5. Secure storage
  6. Minimal cost
Given my biases, Web 2.0 philosophy and FOSS were also desirable characteristics. I have not done a detailed search for all the options but I think I have found a winner anyway. It is called Mahara. It is from New Zealand which just shows they can do more than play rugby.

Mahara is FOSS and Web 2.0. You can get a trial account from which gives you 50Mb of storage - way too little for a permanent solution but enough for a trial. If you go to Mahara, do not click on the "download" or "demo" links - click on the "Register" link to create a trial account - the "Register" link is extremely small and well camouflaged but you can find it with a bit of perseverence. Once you have your account you can start uploading and playing.

The only problem I have with Mahara from my brief experimentation is the teeny-weeny 50Mb storage. All I need to do now is to find a hosting service which will give me multi Gb of storage for a handful of shiny beads.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Bibliographic Software for Collaborative Research

In the dark ages of academia, researchers maintained an index card file of all their references. These 15cm by 10cm pieces of lined cardboard were the basic working tool for a researcher and the final stage of writing any paper was going through the paper and confirming the reference details against the index cards. Fortunately life has changed. A little over a decade ago, bibliographic software appeared on the market which replaced these boxes of index cards. Overtime, the functionality of bibliographic software has improved to allow simplified data capture from databases and catalogues, integration with word processors and customisation to meet the referencing idiosyncrasies of a variety of journals. But this generation of bibliographic software contains a significant remaining weakness - it does not facilitate collaboration among authors at different institutions.

Web 2.0 systems have opened imaginations to a brave new world of social collaboration. Bibliographic software has been slow to adopt the philosophy of Web 2.0. My image of a Web 2.0 bibliographic solution would have the following features:

  1. Single-click data capture from databases, catalogues and websites
  2. Able to record all research sources - paper and electronic
  3. Integration with word processors
  4. Customisable referencing styles
  5. Secure storage
  6. Standards compliant
  7. Accessible through any computer connected to the web
  8. Platform independent
  9. Free or very low cost for users
  10. Shareable at the user's discretion
  11. Use of folksonomies
  12. Facilitate creation of communities of scholars
Some of these features are available in some Web 2.0 systems. Delicious, CiteULike, LibraryThing, and similar systems all meet the bottom six requirements. Traditional bibliographic systems like Endnote meet the top six requirements. I have not been able to find a single system which meets all 12 requirements.

There are some systems which are moving in this direction. Endnote and RefWorks are traditional bibliographic systems which have expanded to be web based. However, both systems require an expensive licence and are cumbersome to use across institutions. Some of the journal publishers are providing systems free of charge but these systems lack the wordprocessor integration of the bibliographic software and do not work as easily with material published by other companies.

The system which comes closest to meeting the requirements is Zotero 1.5. Zotero is open source software but only works with the Firefox web browser. It provides downloadable addins for Microsoft Word and OpenOffice Writer. The libraries in Zotero are shareable at the user's discretion and this facilitates creation of scholarly communities. To see how these communities can work, click on the Zotero icon in the right-hand side panel of this post. Most references can be captured by a single-click on an icon in the website's address bar. The downside of Zotero is that the only version with all these features is still in beta release so may not be secure and reliable and that it is dependent on Firefox. I have not investigated the use of Zotero on Macs or Linux machines. Zotero is also currently involved in litigation with the owners of Endnote over claims of infringement of intellectual property rights.

Zotero promises to be the next leap forward in bibliographic systems and it can lead to great efficiencies in cross-institutional research collaboration.