Featured Institution: Otago Polytechnic

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WikiEducator helps advance open learning at the Otago Polytechnic

Centralised Support for WikiEducator

Exciting things are happening at Otago Polytechnic, in the South Island of New Zealand. A forward thinking Chief Executive in conjunction with the Educational Development Centre (EDC) are providing fertile ground for staff to develop open educational resources and practices within WikiEducator.

Staff at EDC say a happy side-effect of working in the open learning domain is that many of the staff have made efforts to improve their game. Closed environments like a password-protected LMS can hide sloppy practices. As Leigh Blackall says “In a closed environment ...we sometimes see compromised quality. For example, no referencing of images used in slide presentations, or breach of copyright, or even factual errors! In an environment where many can see, and a community that is more inclined to help than to criticise, these errors and oversights are quickly fixed”

EDC's Leigh Blackall, Terry Marler and Bronwyn Hegarty Photo courtesy of Leigh Blackall's Flickr

Some of EDC's teacher training courses are housed and developed on WikiEducator. These courses include orientation and skills development in WikiEducator as well as other popular publishing platforms and media-sharing services. For example, the Centre keeps materials for a course on designing for flexible learning practice in WikiEducator, with communicative support via a blog. The constant adjustments, corrections and improvements are evident on the Wiki page for the course, and in the documentation on the blog.

While WikiEducator uses a default Share Alike license, the community supports the free cultural works definition and therefore Otago Polytechnic can license their contributions under a CC-BY license by stipulating this on the Polytechnic's main page. In this way WikiEducator supports the institutional Intellectual Property Policy. (Creative Commons Licenses which contain a non-commercial (NC) or no-derivatives (ND) restriction do not meet WikiEducator's meaning of free content and these licenses are not supported on WikiEducator.)

Most of the Otago people working in WikiEducator said they learned wikitext by going through the tutorials on the help page and the cheatsheet. They find the free and supported access to MediaWiki software valuable and they really enjoy being in a place that feels 'right'. As Bronwyn Hegarty says, “Philosophically WikiEducator feels better. It feels like it’s more educationally sound. It feels like we’re part of a community. ... It’s (good) to be part of that community and I actually really like what the Commonwealth of Learning is doing and therefore I want to be associated with such a forward-thinking organisation. I’ve tried commercially free platforms like wikispaces, and to me it’s a cold lonely place.”

Leigh Blackall is working with active Otago staff to developed a structure they can use to develop materials on the wiki with consistency and re usability in mind.

Structure for design. Click for larger version
This image depicts one such model for a development structure revolving around the creation of Objectives pages that express the learning objectives related to a particular skill or knowledge attribute. Two subpages attach to the Learning Objective pages: one being Library of Resources and the other being a range of Learning Activities. Individual teachers can pick and mix from the resources and activities and use the learning objectives to build courses. Click here for a collection of Leigh's videos, including one on this wiki structure.

You can also see Horticulture - a course structured along these lines

An in-depth article on open learning, staff development and the new IP Policy at Otago Polytechnic can be found on Penn State's Terra Incognita.

One of the advantages of using open tools and working in the public domain is that people within the institution have started knowing more about what each other is doing. Much of the material in this article was gathered during meetings of more than one person and it was great to see people interested and learning from each other as they work in this new environment.

Blogs, WikiEducator and Travel and Tourism

Hillary Jenkins and Helen Lindsay
Hillary Jenkins received a grant to develop a Diploma in Applied Travel and Tourism. It was developed in WikiEducator and delivered via a blog

Prior to this, the Polytechnic ran two face to face travel and tourism programmes. The emphasis has now been placed on the development and delivery of one diploma. Hillary has found that the increased use of the internet, blogs and wikis is a far more realistic representation of the industry today.

She says she wouldn't have used WikiEducator if she'd had difficulty with it. It allowed her to develop a visually exciting programme and, together with the blogs, was infinitely superior to using their LMS because of its visual design capabilities and open access. Her worst difficulties arose through working on such a sharp cutting edge. While staff at Otago Polytechnic are fortunate that their executive has taken great steps in encouraging this sort of development, it takes time for all the policies and guidelines to catch up so Hillary had to venture into unfamiliar areas. For example, she had to negotiate the use of shared resources from affiliated institutions in an open environment. When approval was not forthcoming it meant teaching resources had to be redeveloped. To balance this, Hillary really enjoyed collaborating with people in WikiEducator – notably Brent Simpson and people in WikiPasifika and more lately contact with Steve Parket from TAFE in NSW, Australia.

She still has some worries about back-up of materials in WE and in how other people, namely staff, will manage using wikitext.

Collaboration on Study skills

Helen Lindsay, a learning advisor, is thrilled with the collaborative opportunities WikiEducator offers. She's worked with many of the staff developing their projects to adapt and develop student support for their courses. She herself has developed a Peer tutoring course (facilitated from a blog) which Hillary was very interested in, especially when she heard that some of the peer tutors had also been helping staff with learning how to use popular media publishing sites.

A real enthusiast for collaboration and free information, Helen is particularly keen on collaborating with learning advisers from other institutions and countries to develop excellent resources rather than having everybody re-inventing the wheel. The history and discussion functions make the environment quite safe. Study skills are something that all students should have access to and, as Hillary commented, online materials enable students to look at what is available anonymously and can help them get past any perceived stigma and encourage them to seek face to face help if they need it.

Integrating WikiBooks and WikiEducator

Ruth Lawson with her faithful friend and demonstration model.

Attracted by the accessibility and ease of editing, Ruth Lawson has transformed her course notes into a wikibook Anatomy and Physiology of Animals, that students will be able to download or buy via Lulu.

This was a very big project, with copyright of illustrations providing the biggest headache. Ruth says there a lots of animations on the web, but she had to create an enormous number of her own illustrations.

She is going to use WikiEducator to develop activities that interact with it and sees opportunities for providing relevant research projects for students where their work will then be incorporated into the book. She is mindful that students may not see learning wikitext as their core business and, like everyone else I spoke to, is looking forward to the day when WikiEducator has a really easy-to-use comprehensive wysiwyg editor.

She is very happy to be contributing to resources for other people to use but says, “It's all about making relationships when you contribute. You don’t actually contribute very much or know what it’s about until you’ve formed relationships with people.”

Building a Community

David McQuillan at his desk

David McQuillan, who co-ordinates a diploma in massage therapy, agrees. He says , “To me, the whole benefit of WikiEducator or a wiki platform is potential collaboration with other people so I’ve set up a project and I’ve tried to invite people to come on board and contribute to that.” He hopes that now there's a structure, and other people start to see that and use it, they’ll be honour-bound to contribute as well. He's sent invitations via various massage organisations he belongs to, but contributing to the internet seems to be new to most of his colleagues internationally. So far he's only found one other massage therapist who blogs.

David is really interested and impressed by what Ruth has achieved, but as he feels good textbooks already exist in his field, he's concentrating on producing interactive exercises for the Massage Therapy Diploma he co-ordinates.

David says that the Community Learning Centres (CLC) are vital to the strategy. Most students within Otago have access to a Community Learning Centre where they can get IT support. David says that it's vital to the strategy they they can go somewhere to get support and overcome their fears and gain confidence.

He has three other staff members involved in the development and they’re all using WikiEducator. He says, “They're trusting me that they will be able to do it and just kind of going along with it. I have said that I don’t think it’s realistic for us to jump into doing everything in that format next year because of the copyright issues so in the meantime we’ll combine (it with) the use of Blackboard for things that we can’t (develop in time)".

David had discovered that Open Office will now export to mediawiki text, which he thinks may help everybody. Ruth's ears certainly pricked up at this. For the mass of work she's done, it would have made things much easier and will make students contributing projects far more feasible.

This leads me on to a story that illustrates the support and input you can get from WikiEducator. David started a page on editing using Open Office in WikiEducator's Tutorials on 20 December and invited others to contribute to it. By the time I looked at it on January 3, User:Mackiwg and others had refined it mightily.