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Can we learn anything from an edtech journal archive? Creative innovations and AJET 1985-2007

Roger Atkinson

Of course the answer to this question is "Yes", though with the qualifier, "from my perspective and the evidence perused recently". To explain this "qualifier", for over a year I have been meandering along with a project for the current editors of the Australasian Journal of Educational Technology (AJET, n.d.), creating PDF versions for archival issues 1985-2007, which were published only in HTML (post-2007, PDF was already online for AJET). It was important to create PDF formatting that resembled the original printed issues, especially the pagination, thus ruling out an automated conversion. So 451 articles and editorials had to be read and reformatted. That constitutes "the evidence perused recently". As to "my perspective", the reformatting was time-consuming and perhaps a trivial, even pointless exercise (if HTML is already online, why replace with PDF?). So I kept notes along the way, hoping that the positive "Can we learn anything?" question would turn up something of interest to counter the negative, "Why bother?" question.

Working backwards in the AJET sequence, 2007 to 1985, it was not until reaching the mid-nineties that I found a worthy key theme: exploring Australian and New Zealand university contributions in creating educational technology innovations, in contrast to their adopting of innovations. Very broadly, this period showed much adopting, but little creating. To illustrate that contrast, considered below are three notable cases of creating that I perceive as emerging from that period or soon after: Moodle, Lectopia and Mahara.

Upon reaching the late-eighties, a second worthy theme emerged: how the focus of edtech attention has changed over several decades. In the mid to late eighties it centred on how to make a new technology work, progressing in the nineties into which technology to adopt, followed by how to use technology to change the culture of teaching and learning, then in our current decade characterised by how to advance the culture of teaching and learning using an integrated suite of influences (of which, technology is only one). Very broadly, a progression from technocentric to design for learning-centric. This topic is one for investigation in the future, along with numerous other themes and trends for AJET 1985-2007 that can be identified and are worth citing, very briefly, as potential topics for further research. These include:

You could quite reasonably tick "all of the above" as important trends evident from the archives, but to return to the first of my columnist's picks, the significance of Moodle, Lectopia and Mahara. The three are fine examples of innovative educational technologies developed in Australian and New Zealand universities, and are also instructive examples of diverging paths taken as they matured. Moodle (n.d.), a learning management system (LMS), and Mahara (n.d., a), an e-portfolio system, being primarily software innovations, went non-commercial along the path of open source software. By contrast, Lectopia, a web-based system for video recording and network distribution of lectures went commercial, being sold into the US corporate world, becoming Echo360 (The University of Western Australia, 2007). Quite interestingly, Moodle (Dougiamas, 2000) and Lectopia (initially named iLectures, in Fardon & Ludewig, 2000) originated in Western Australia, whilst Mahara originated in New Zealand. All three from the regional periphery!

Moodle, Lectopia and Mahara have another important feature in common. All three can be pictured as assemblies and integrations of components that were existing technologies already familiar to many through emerging new practices. To take an illustration from Moodle, online discussion forums, also known as web-based conferencing, computer-mediated conferencing and bulletin boards, became a familar topic in AJET from the late 1990s. To Moodle's founder, the discussion forum was a component that can "easily be added to the system in a modular way" (Dougiamas, 2000), along with others such as multiple choice questions, structured display of pages, user authentication, etc, although some software details underlying "easily be added" may be rather daunting:

The building of the first prototype of Moodle took me approximately one month of full-time work to complete, using free open-source software tools. These included: Linux (www.linux.com), for the operating system; Zope (www.zope.org), as the application server; Python (www.python.org), as a lower-level programming environment; Apache (www.apache.org), as the web server gateway; and a number of Unix shell scripts to control the system. (Dougiamas, 2000)
Although Moodle originated in about 2000, it did not receive any specific mentions in AJET until about 2008, though use of the generic term "learning management system" became common from 2003, and very common from about 2006. AJET and other journals did not provide a useful tracking of Moodle's rapid growth, which had half a million users in 2008 by the time it was first mentioned in AJET:
... Moodle had established itself by 2007 as a leading and award-winning open source LMS. From 1000 registered sites in 2004, it had gone to half a million users in 2008 and over a million users in 2010, with over 50 Moodle partners. Its translation repository AMOS held over 100 languages. (Moodle, 2015).
Moodle's sustained growth over a long period (long in an IT context) and its large number of users mark it as an creative innovation, very distinct from an adoptive innovation, though as outlined above, the flair was in creating a new system that assembled, integrated and refined existing components rather than in creating something completely new. There are quite a number of AJET articles based on adoption and utilisation of Moodle and other LMS, almost becoming commonplace after about 2010. Whilst these articles certainly are creative, innovative, and have well-earned places in the journal, their attainments are adoptive.

From the perspective of identifying IT industries that are spin-offs from our universities, Moodle has made only a tiny contribution to Australia's economy. Moodle's Perth headquarters and local staffing are very modest indeed (Moodle, n.d., b). However, in a broader perspective, Moodle can be seen as a substantial contributor to critically important IT services for higher education, which "... is one of the most successful new export industries in Australia" (Australian Government, 2014).

Lectopia originated at about the same time as Moodle (Fardon & Ludewig, 2000), and similarly AJET has no specific mentions of it, or its predecessor iLectures, its successor Echo360, or the generic term web based lecture technologies, until about 2009. However, earlier references occur in conference proceedings from about 2004, and the closely related topics of audio recording and TV broadcasting of lectures occur in AJET and other journals at earlier dates, even as early as the late 1980s. Similarly to Moodle, iLectures/ Lectopia/ Echo360 could be characterised as an assembling, integrating and refining of existing components: video cameras, microphones, controlling software, servers, and communications networks.

There are few publicly available insights into the reasons why Lectopia was commercialised, in contrast to Moodle's open source, non-commercial strategy. This extract from the press release at the time (UWA, 2007) suggests that "commercialization" was preferred over a non-commercial, open source strategy:

Lectopia exemplifies the model of an institution-backed project maturing into a technology primed for broad adoption by the education community. After considering several strategies for international commercialization, we saw one choice to give Lectopia well-deserved global exposure. ... (UWA, 2007)
Mahara is an open source e-portfolio (or eportfolio or ePortfolio) system initiated in mid-2006 with New Zealand Government funding for its development (Mahara, n.d., a). A later development than Moodle and Lectopia, Mahara has been reported in conference proceedings since about 2007 (Brown, Anderson, Simpson & Suddaby, 2007), though not cited specifically in AJET until about 2013. However, there are earlier references to e-portfolios or electronic portfolios in the literature, some developed with in-house software, indicating that Mahara is also an example of assembling, integrating and refining software components and practices that existed already.

Mahara's continued growth seems to be linked to acquiring partners (Mahara, n.d., b) who participate in Mahara's software development, or provide hosting, training and technical support services, or both. This extract from a press release (NetSpot, 2011) illustrates partnering:

NetSpot Pty Ltd ... is an eLearning technology services partner to the education sector in Australasia. NetSpot provides AARNet-based managed hosting for various eLearning Systems including Moodle for over 600,000 users. NetSpot is an official Moodle Partner in Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong, an official Echo360 hosting partner in Australia and a Mahara (ePortfolio) Partner.
....
NetSpot provides a range of eLearning services, including enterprise Moodle services, to education institutions in the region, many of whom are already using the Echo360 platform. Increasingly educational organisations are choosing to outsource the hosting of their enterprise eLearning platforms to third party vendors with specialist expertise in this area. This is particularly so for some smaller organisations that don't have the necessary IT expertise internally manage the diverse range of systems required. (NetSpot, 2011)
Not surprisingly, NetSpot (n.d.) has partnerships with all three of the notable cases of creating discussed in this column. Not surprising that an Australian-based edtech entrepreneur aligns with the most notable Australian and New Zealand edtech innovations! Perhaps during the remainder of this decade we will see the leading edge of creative edtech innovations, in contrast to adoptions, moving away from universities and into businesses such as NetSpot and its competitors such as Pukunui (n.d.; initiated in Perth in 2000!).

Returning to the title question, "Can we learn anything from an edtech journal archive?", whilst the concluding answer is still "Yes", there is an additional and darker qualifier, "What do we not learn, or learn too slowly, from an edtech archive?" As illustrated above, AJET's archives show quite long delays before the first specific appearance of the three innovations discussed in this column. Conference proceedings, press releases and informal Internet channels such as blogs and newsletters moved more rapidly on dissemination of creative innovations in edtech. That may become more pronounced as NetSpot and its partners and competitors continue to gain a greater share of the work in delivering IT servives in higher education.

It is a breathtaking and perhaps saddening irony, that my reporting of the cases probed in this column depended quite heavily on going beyond AJET the academic research journal, into the kind of literature that is severely discounted in the Australian Government's attempts to pursue "research excellence", namely conference papers, press releases, newsletters and the like. So, after beginning with a question, we end with one, "How can we reform the Australian Government's attempts to pursue research excellence?"

References

AJET (Australasian Journal of Educational Technology) (n.d.). http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/

Australian Government (2014). Budget 2014-15: Higher education. http://budget.gov.au/2014-15/content/glossy/education/download/Budget_Glossy_education_web.pdf

Brown, M., Anderson, B., Simpson, M. & Suddaby, G. (2007). Showcasing Mahara: A new open source eportfolio. In ICT: Providing choices for learners and learning. Proceedings ascilite Singapore 2007. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/singapore07/procs/brown-poster.pdf

Dougiamas, M. (2000). Improving the effectiveness of tools for Internet based education. In Flexible futures in tertiary teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University. http://ctl.curtin.edu.au/events/conferences/tlf/tlf2000/dougiamas.html

Echo360 (n.d.). Higher education's first active learning platform. http://echo360.com

Fardon, M. & Ludewig, A. (2000). iLectures: A catalyst for teaching and learning? In Learning to choose, Choosing to learn. Proceedings ASCILITE 2000, Coffs Harbour 9-14 Dec 2000. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/coffs00/papers/mike_fardon.pdf

Mahara (n.d., a). Open source eportfolio system. https://mahara.org

Mahara (n.d., b). Partners. https://mahara.org/partners

Moodle (n.d., a). https://moodle.org

Moodle (n.d., b). New Moodle HQ. https://www.flickr.com/photos/moodler/sets/72157623325227250/

Moodle (2015). History. [viewed 28 Feb 2015] https://docs.moodle.org/28/en/History

NetSpot (n.d.). About us: Enabling technology for education. http://netspot.com.au/about-us/

NetSpot (2011). NetSpot and Echo360 team to reduce IT burden for Australian clients through premium hosting service. (NetSpot press release, 6 July) http://www.newsmaker.com.au/release/pdf/id/9934

Pukunui (n.d.). http://pukunui.com/au/

The University of Western Australia [UWA] (2007). US company acquires UWA-developed Lectopia system. University News, 28 August. http://www.news.uwa.edu.au/aug-2007/us-company-acquires-uwa-developed-lectopia-system

Author: Roger Atkinson retired from Murdoch University in June 2001. His current activities include honorary work on the TL Forum conference series, Issues in Educational Research, and other academic conference support and publishing activities. In mid-2012 he retired from a 17 year association with the publishing of AJET. Website (including this article in html format): http://www.roger-atkinson.id.au/

Please cite as: Atkinson, R. J. (2015). Can we learn anything from an edtech journal archive? Creative innovations and AJET 1985-2007. HERDSA News, 37(1). http://www.roger-atkinson.id.au/pubs/herdsa-news/37-1.html


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