Opening Education Sources….

I thought I’d write a little bit about why and how I’m encouraging students to create blogs through public sites such as blogger, tumblr and wordpress. I’ve attached some links to this page of the open source educational resources that influence how I approach the component of knowledge that I care about: the open-source knowledge creation part, for which the world wide web can be so useful.

The stuff we teach in Gender, Sexuality and Diversity Studies matters – on a personal and community level as well as an academic level, and the academic integrity of what we discuss and write about depends on a transparent and engaged link with our real-world communities. this is one of the founding principles of feminist epistemology 101 which I want to hold onto. In practice it means that we bring in real-world scenarios: case studies and current affairs, and that we have a commitment to share our critical analysis of these case studies with the community. We who have the luxury of generating knowledge do not own that knowledge – it is shared with the subjects of that knowledge.

Most university subjects have an online component based around a close-sourced softwear that is leased by the university from an external company. La Trobe has LMS, as does Melbourne University, and Deakin has it’s own system called ‘Deakin Students Online’. It’s a bit of a paradoxical shift from ye olde days of the internet (pre world wide web) when universities in Australia set up an interweb known as aarnet – an online information sharing platform. Now most university emails are located in servers hosted by Microsoft. Universities have shifted from the creators and respositories of knowledge to being large corporate consumers of information management softwear.

Online subject management is usually referred to as a ‘blackboard’, and used to be called WebCT before the branded packages such as LMS came in. I set up the blackboard for the first subject I tutored in at Sydney University 9 years ago, and to be honest, I haven’t found that very much has changed in 9 years. Administering the ‘Learning Management System’ part of the current subject I am running is painful and tedious, and mandatory, although unpaid. I use it to provide basic information, upload lecture notes and readings and as a way of monitoring assessment. (students post a note on the blackboard when they update their blog). However, as I learnt from last year, blackboard postings are not archived (or at least not in an acessible fashion). Last year students and tutors posted numerous links to current affairs materials, blogs, videos etc on the subject discussion board, however this year I cannot access any of them. Subject readings, lecture notes and lecture recordings remain the exclusive property of the university, only accessible to the fee-paying subscribers whose subject enrolment has been successfully completed, and only accessible for a short time period.

This is not the kind of knowledge economy that I want to endorse – hence the use of open-source blogging as a course component. However, I am still wrangling a little bit with web 2.0 softwear…. A couple of students had trouble with on the new google+ format. Google plus was google’s attempt to compete with Facebook – so it creates an online persona for subscribed users where a blog is included but can only be shared through social media or via email. I really don’t like the idea of subscriber based content – and believe readers should be able to access information outside of an app, social network or cookies collecting IP addresses.

I’m no expert on the technicalities of this tho – and still fumble my way through the parts of the interwebs that are workable and accessible in the now – incredibly limited time that I have to work on this stuff. I feel like I am doing 2 jobs or wearing 2 hats: managing the university administrative persona – and trying to create and sustain the ‘real’ processes of genuinely creative learning.

So I was delighted with the first batch of student blog posts and amazed at how many students started writing early. Reading through 90 blogs on a Monday was pretty full on, but to be honest – totally worth it! Most students made a serious attempt to make their blogs attractive and write posts that were considered and sensitive. and I have a hope that they may be able to start using the interwebs in more interesting ways that the bland buzzfeed social media half smile vapidity of small screen distractions in daily life. Encouraging students to develop their own practice as public intellectuals is the best thing that I can possibly teach.

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