Monday, April 16, 2007


After my recent experience of posting an article to a Wiki, I've been toying with the idea of building an online course on WikiEducator for massage therapy. There are some amazing potential benefits that I can see from this exercise, but also potential problems.

I've spent some time recently investigating whether it's realistic to deliver our theoretical material online. As discussed previously, a large proportion of our students are kinesthetic learners. In our current Yr 1 class 83.3% of our students have kinesthetic as one of their dominant learning preferences as assessed by the VARK learning styles questionairre. I believe that this is fairly representative of massage education as a whole. As a result of my investigation ino online learning preferences, I'm convinced that well-designed online education has the potential to be at least as effective as F2F for our student's theoretical material.

The wiki environment is attractive as a course-hub, as it provides the capacity to integrate multimedia in a way which is difficult to achieve in the classroom. I particularly like the way that learning can be easily chunked. The traditional university teaching model is to provide the students with reading material that they are expected to read before class. The lecturer then presents the same material to them with an emphasis on the areas that they consider to be important. This delivery of information is followed with assignments which are designed to assess understanding of key concepts. This method of delivering knowledge is not particularly effective, as it doesn't take account of the students natural learning processes. According to Cognitive Learning Theory students can only cope with a small amount of new information at a time. This means that delivery must occur only in small chunks after which the knowledge must be integrated with the previously existing knowledge base of the student. While I believe that most massage educators (and teachers in general) have an intuitive grasp of the need for integration of knowledge as well as delivery of information, it seems to me that wiki's some real advantages over the classroom. The multimedia context of the wiki environment allows short readings to be integrated with relevant case studies/real world exercises/video/3D Simulations/Audio/assignments/tests - everything that can be done within the classroom, but much more as well. In addition to the integration possiblities, it is not possible for a student to be completely passive in their learning experience (an experience which university lectures unconsciously encourage). The online student must engage with and navigate through the wiki.

You can see that I'm excited about the opportunites here as an educator.

Another of the great advantages of Wiki-based education is that educational resources can be collaboratively built. We're considering moving at least some of our education online, and I know that other providers within New Zealand are considering the same move. If all massage educators in NZ were to work together to build an online massage/textbook/resource, the combined resource would inevitably be far superior to something which any individual provider could create.

I've been tossing this idea around in my head for a few days now. There are some problems which have arisen - some resolvable, some which I have no resolution for yet.
  • If the course content was freely available, how would you justify charging for your qualification?
  • Wouldn't this lead to conflicts between massage providers over poaching of students?
  • Providers have different educational standards & foci how would this be dealt with?
  • Some providers could use the material without contributing resources, thus putting them at a competitive advantage
  • Having your course material freely available allows non-participants to benchmark your course without you being able to have the same insight into their qualification.

If the course content was freely available, how would you justify charging for your qualification?

The wiki course is analagous to a textbook. Any online student will still need their lecturer to facilitate learning, and the development of classroom community (via discussion boards, computer support, email communication, elluminate tutorials, etc.). They will need practical skill tuition and will need to be assessed on both theoretical understanding and practical competancy. I see no problem with charging the same rate for a course that utilised an open-source wiki.

Wouldn't this lead to conflicts between massage providers over poaching of students?

Most massage education providers within New Zealand have a unique geographical zone that they operate within. In most cases it would be unlikely for a student from one institution to transfer to another institution because the travel distances would be greater. In any case why would changing from the use of a textbook to a wiki lead to an increase in "poaching"?

Providers have different educational standards & foci. How would this be dealt with?

There is a move towards a uniform standard for certificate-level and diploma-level qualifications in New Zealand currently. The registration requirements of our professional association Massage New Zealand mean that a certain level of uniformity is necessary. I believe that while there are bound to be conflicts and disagreements over wiki content, we will be able to resolve them. Peer review of posted material will likely slow the process of the creation of the resource, but will also contribute to quality. We should be able to create a resource which covers material common to all providers and that satisfies the requirements of Massage New Zealand. If providers are interested in extending this base in any area there is no reason why they cannot create individual modules which do this. Individual programmes could then pick & choose which modules they require their students to complete.

Some providers could use the material without contributing resources, thus putting them at a competitive advantage
Having your course material freely available allows non-participants to benchmark your course without you being able to have the same insight into their qualification.

The creation of open-source content advantages all providers who do not create the content. They do not have to expend their resources on the creation of the resource, but they are perfectly capable of using it. This is the major problem that I can see with this type of project.

This would cease to be a real problem if the majority of online providers were involved in the creation of the resource. In this case the benefits would far outweigh the downsides.

The other option for getting around this type of project would be to place your content within a wiki-type context that was only open to members. Members would be required to contribute a certain minimum to the project annually to retain the use of the resource.

Anyway, it's an attractive idea. The big question is can we as massage educators get beyond the us & them mentality?


Leigh said...

Dave, I am blown away by the speed with which you are considering these new practices. It is great to have someone at OP to bounce ideas and concerns with. Needless to say I am quite excited by your thinking here, your concerns are very valid, and worth discussing at length.

I am back from Vancouver where I had the privilege of meeting the CommonWealth of Learning people responsible for WikiEducator. It was a very interesting 3 days discussing the future of the platform. I intend to blog a run down of my thoughts from it, and ideas on what WE at Otago Polytechnic might do to prepare.

Great post Dave - you clearly are a natural born edublogger :)

mackiwg said...

Wow Dave! - Wayne here from WikiEducator at the Commonwealth of Learning.

That's an excellent post! Your timing couldn't have been better. The community over at Wikieducator are thinking strategically about how to refine wiki technology based on educational needs following our recent Tectonic Shift Think Tank in Vancouver. Your post will go a long way in helping us develop appropriate strategies. Thanks for that.

I can't do justice to all your thoughts but will pick up on one or two points.

1. The freedom culture have no concerns with "economic" activity associated with free content. In fact we encourage this. There is no ethical dilemma in charging student fees when using free content. We do this in the conventional educational model and then still expect students to purchase commercially produced textbooks. With the free content model, we can actually reduce the cost of learning for our students. This is why we oppose the NC restriction of the creative commons.

I've reflected on some of these issues over at Terra Incognita.

2. With regards to different standards and approaches, the free content license permits derivative works without restriction. Consequently organizations can still add their own special touch without compromising the collaborative development approach. Its a classic win-win scenario. Some folk talk about the "co-opetition" model where we work together in order to compete better. Ultimately the learners win because quality is increased across the board, with the real potential of lowering the costs of education for our learners. Not too mention the quality that can be achieved through collaboration - the distance education experience has proved that we can achieve greater quality materials working as a team when compared to authoring alone.

3. Yes - it is possible for competitors to use free content. The point is you loose nothing by doing this. The fact remains that you will become more skilled and adept at reconfiguring free content resources for your own purposes at the expense of your competitors. Developing the knowledge and skills required for this environment takes time , and your competitors who do not work collaboratively would not have the skills to reconfigure resources for unique demands. Many folk don't get the mass-collaboration model - that's your strategic advantage.

4. Finally - I don't think that its sustainable in an economic sense to differentiate an educational institution's performance on content. Competitive advantage should be based on the levels of service provided during the teaching-learning situation and this requires skilled and knowledge teachers. Institutions that are basing their competitive advantage on their content will fail in the long run. Free content producers will lower their costs of delivery by an order of magnitude and could in fact start competing by lowering student fees!

Good questions - and thanks for your contribution to the freedom culture!

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