Northern Voice – Education Session

Hmmm.. just noticed that I had typed this up during the session yesterday, but never got around to posting it. Anyhoo, here’s my notes:

Brian‘s section:

  • I don’t have to take notes. Just go here to see all the cool stuff.
  • Wondering what the infinity symbol throughout represents. Brian, can you shed some light on that?
  • Some good points about using WebCT (and other closed course management sites) – students can’t preview a course to see if they want to take it; students can’t go back to the material (in a course that they paid a lot of money to take) after the course is over; students don’t even have access to their own work in the WebCT site after the course is over.

Next dude’sJim Groom‘s 1 section:

  • have all the students writing their own blog, then make one blog that is an aggregate of the feeds of all the students. That way each student can blog wherever they like. Very cool idea.
  • Talking about how easy it is to use WordPress to make a site for students to publish in (rather than just a reverse-chronological-diary type blog): “This is something even a professor can do.” It’s funny ‘cuz it’s true.

1Didn’t catch his name. I suck.Thanks, Brian, for filling me in on the names!

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  • Except with respect to closed course systems:

    –you wouldn’t want just anybody to be able to access the course materials, so an open system would still have “protections” to prevent access, so you would end up with the same problem, the need to provide previews of course material but not let any random into the course

    –the access to archives of courses and content and student submissions is not an issue to do with closed or open systems, it’s to do with retention policies… some profs at UBC request their courses be kept for students to access while at UBC, but what do you do when students leave UBC? Should UBC be required to keep those materials available ad infinitum?

    What WebCT and any other online learning system, proprietary or open-source, could do is make extracting and transferring people’s content easier. But the issue is a lot more complicated than just “WebCT is proprietary.”


  • Hi Kalev!

    — “you wouldn’t want just anybody to be able to access the course materials”

    Why not? In the case of UBC, taxpayers paid for course material development. And releasing course materials hasn’t hurt MIT, Berkeley, and countless other open educational resource providers.

    — “Should UBC be required to keep those materials available ad infinitum?”

    Required? No, probably not. But if they’re openly available sites like will do that for us. And if the content is easy to copy, then people who find it useful will be able to republish and enhance materials as they wish. The question is why we spend vast sums of money to make materials inaccessible.

    — “What WebCT and any other online learning system, proprietary or open-source, could do is make extracting and transferring people’s content easier. But the issue is a lot more complicated than just “WebCT is proprietary.””

    Of course, the proprietary providers have deliberately made it difficult to extract content. It’s called vendor lock-in. And you could pretty much blog full time (some people do) about what Blackboard has done to abuse the notion of universal standards across systems (in a way that’s absurdly more complex than moving content in and out of WordPress, but let’s set that aside).


  • Hi Brian,

    Taxpayers did not pay for course material development. They helped pay, perhaps, but if they had paid in full, then I and countless other students would not be facing tuition costs of $5000 a year and up. Your statement that education (in BC) is fully publicly funded is misleading and rather idyllic. In fact, the amount of government funding for education across Canada has fallen rather sharply, especially over the 1990s when the federal Liberals were slashing transfer payments to the provinces.

    As for the full release of course materials not having hurt MIT, Berkeley, and other educational providers, I’d be interested to know how the instructors there feel about it, rather than the increasingly corporate educational providers. Why in this very blog we’ve just been discussing the practice of other parties taking people’s content without consent and using it to make money through ad sales–and how abhorrent that is to most of us. It would be really naive to think that wouldn’t happen with educational materials.

    From an instructor’s perspective, especially say that of someone who does not have the luxury of being a professor with tenure, I can’t say I would be eager to release all the materials I’ve worked for hours on to the public without hope of anything but maybe one-time compensation. It would be one thing to have my research released and shared with my peers, because that involves a certain amount of prestige and the culture and customs around such releases are quite evolved with respect to credit being given where credit is due. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about teaching and research in academia, though, it’s that teaching is not valued anywhere near as much, and I think your comments tend to support that view.

    It’s also misleading to say vast sums of money are spent to make materials inaccessible. Of course part of the concern is the materials. The other part is keeping the students’ work and evaluations private between the instructor and the student in question. Or, perhaps to frame it in more friendly language, to give the instructor(s) and students more control over which parts of their material is made public, and how public it is made. I’m pretty sure lots of people would be uncomfortable being taught (and teaching) in a fishbowl.

    Depending on 3rd party, unaffiliated sites to provide reliable archives of course material is, well, uhm… if that’s what you want to propose, good luck to you with that. I’m pretty sure that plan would be vastly insufficient for most of the people at UBC, at least, although I guess it would fit well with the culture of denying accountability and refusing responsibility so prevalent in huge bureaucracies. It’s also a complete passing of the buck, because UBC should devote resources to providing such services itself, rather than hoping it just gets magically dealt with out there in cyberspace land by Web 2.0 fairies. But as I’m sure you know better than most, getting UBC to devote resources to e-learning is like getting blood from a stone.

    I will give you that the people behind open-source systems are probably going to be more willing to allow (and thus build into their software) easy content extraction because their values will hopefully be quite different from those in the corporate world. However, the fact that a system is proprietary has nothing to do with whether this transfer of content could be easily effected and I’m quite tired of seeing that erroneous notion perpetuated. As is usually the case, it’s to do with people, politics, and money, not the technology itself. So I think the proprietary vendors could be influenced to allow for this kind of functionality.

    I hope, though, that you aren’t misconstruing my attempt to correct the notion that software being proprietary has anything to do with whether content can be extracted from it easily or not as a defence of how WebCT works or of Blackboard’s business practices. After all, I hated Blackboard long before you likely even knew they existed. 🙂


  • Kalev, I know you have extensive background and expertise, and the last thing I want to do is pick a fight over here at Beth’s place. (Feel free to throw whatever stuff you want over on my blog sometime!)… But I can’t resist a few responses:

    It’s true that tuition has gone up, and government funding per student has dropped, and I think that’s shameful. But if this source is correct, “the share of student responsibility for funding their education has grown from approximately 20% in 1995 to approximately 30% in 2005.” So the public is still bearing the majority of the costs… especially when indirect costs are factored in…

    I honestly don’t understand how keeping materials away from public view improves the prospects of compensation for teachers. It does, however, benefit the software companies and publishers that have been inflating the costs of educational materials that we ourselves are producing. (A big factor in those rising education costs and tuition rates.)

    I am sincerely befuddled wondering what comments I’ve offered that devalue the work of teachers. I may have expressed myself poorly at some point, but I have all sorts of selfish reasons for wanting teaching and learning to earn a higher priority in the academy.

    And while I cannot make the following point briefly, it seems obvious to me that in the digital age any economic model built on information scarcity is doomed to failure. I liked this piece:

    I honestly believe that if we cling to a model of exclusivity and think our monopoly on accreditation will protect us, we may well find ourselves in a position similar to where record companies are now. On the other hand, universities can realize huge savings in content and licensing costs if we use the advantages of digital technology effectively. But that’s just my own instinct.

    It’s not hard to have public course content and still allow students to have private discussions. Tools like WordPress can let the students decide for themselves what work they want private and what they want the world to see.

    I’d say more, but I’d feel like an inconsiderate guest. Kalev, you have heaps of interesting and informed perspective, and though we clearly have some fundamental disagreements I hope to read more of your points in the future.


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