Saturday, June 02, 2007

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 45: Cyber College 2 -- visions, volunteers and shoestrings

There are two ways to get something big going:
[I] One way is to inject major money, promote to the max to gather an initial wave of support, and roll out like a stream-roller that seems to be "unstoppable."

[II] The other is to have a powerful, transforming vision that draws people, who willingly volunteer time, effort and skills, and then personally share what they have discovered with others, leading to a snowballing effect that gains support and speed as it goes. (Key lesson: Money is "nice to have," and fertilises growth, but a sufficiently powerful movement can get going and grow fast and strong on a shoestring budget.)
Both can be effective, both require high quality (and preferably high integrity . . .) leadership, and both face the challenge of gathering support for "the new way."

To see a recent example, consider the now famous Linux computer operating system. It started out in 1991 as a student's course project, when Linus Torvalds asked for support online to help him create a Unix-like operating system, based on the famous educator and computer scientist Andrew S Tanenbaum's educational version, Minix. Soon, volunteers from all over the world collaborated to help create what is now maybe the best example of what open, volunteer-developed software can be like. Indeed, eventually, many large corporations injected billions into the ongoing growth of Linux and associated application software, software that now by and large runs the Internet.

(NB: Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia that is the source of most of the links just above, is another example of what volunteer inputs can do -- and as its persistent problems with ideological and sometimes commercial biases shows, of the danger that people with a hidden agenda can sometimes subvert the course of such a movement from its original vision. In large part, so are the Worldwide Web [which also more or less dates to 1991, as a way for Physicists to share their research papers with one another in a collaborative community!] and the blogosphere, of which this post is a part. BTW, the brevity of this last reference article on Wikipedia is itself telling on Wki's institutional biases! Of course, each of these three movements plays a part in showing a way forward on creating a regional Cybercollege.)

But this is hardly a new idea. The Christian church began -- on a shoestring budget! -- as the first intentionally global volunteer movement 2,000 years ago; and, because people encountered God in the face of Jesus and through that found their lives transformed in a community of discipleship, love, mutual support and service, it thrived in the teeth of the fiercest persecution and has in a great many ways tremendously blessed the whole world. (It has also suffered from the same precise problem of people jumping on to "the wave of the future and trying to subvert it to serve their personal agendas; leading to many a sad episode in the history of the past 2,000 years.)

How does all of this tie in with our focus on creating a regional Cybercollege towards deformation and transformation in the Caribbean and beyond?

In several ways:
1] Vision-Power: It has been said that a vision is a way to build the future by inspiring and motivating people who see how a better way can emerge out of and transform the present to turn hope into reality. So, if a regional Cybercollege is a means to build a brighter future that helps people fulfill their hopes and calling under God, it can catalyse a movement that can grow and help that future to materialise.

2] Volunteer-power: A powerful vision tends to attract volunteers who put in effort that would otherwise require enormous direct investments of money that probably could not buy inputs of half the quality that inspired people will joyously and freely give. (But of course generous support in cash and kind fertilises such voluntary efforts and multiplies their effectiveness. The freeness mentality by contrast, starves growth, as trying to get something for nothing all the time is in the end self-defeating.)

3] Example-power: In the early 1980's, the UCCF-UWI interdemnominational Christian student fellowship -- itself a capital example of the power of a volunteers-based movement operating on a shoestring -- once had a cell group leaders training programme that bore a peculiar but insightful title: Leadership: service by example. In short, in light of biblical texts such as Luke 6:39 - 40, the young student leaders recognised that leadership, in the end is by example, for good or ill. So, to catalyse a movement, words are important but never enough. One needs to sacrificially model its vision and values in one's own life, so that others can see and follow for themselves. So, if necessary, we need to show how a college can be the C21 equivalent of the famous story of the log by a trail-side with the right men sitting on either end of it, conversing about matters of substance.)

4] Web-power: As we have seen, the Web offers several powerful technologies that can be used to create what we have called a Cybercampus -- an online learning environment that provides many of the resources that one would find on a traditional on-the-ground campus. That is, we substitute clicks and bits for walks and bricks. ("Clicks and bits" -- BTW, as helpful, including not only "live" access to the 'net but also the creative use of multimedia CDs and DVDs as well as old fashioned paper-based materials -- are a whole lot cheaper than "bricks." It is also easier to move bits to where people are, than it is to move people to where a campus is, even just across a city much less a region that is about 1,000 miles across, with dozens of countries separated by miles of sea!)

5] Microcampus power: On the other hand -- as the log-college story suggests -- there is no substitute for people coming together to discuss and think through things face to face. For this, we can easily observe that no other institution or movement in the Caribbean has a network of locally based facilities that rivals the churches and church-associated institutions across our region. Similarly, no other institution or movement has in aggregate the sort of resource-people who sit in our pews week by week. Such facilities have room, have people, and credibly can access the resources to get reasonable bandwidth Internet hookup and a cluster of PCs to form a local area network. That means that if we can use small clusters of Internet-linked PCs that tie local churches and similar already existing bases of operation to the Cybercampus, we can have an almost instant regional network of micro-campuses tied together by a regionally integrated learning environment. (BTW, This would instantly dwarf the scope of the UWI Distance Learning system!)

6] Moodle power: Above, I sopke of how several web technologies provide powerful tools for creatign effective learning environments. It seems, we can do this through one-stop shopping. For instance, just now, after a simple web search, I have downloaded the generic version of the "free" Internet learning environment, Moodle, as a Zip file. (This is of course the web-based learning environment that UWI's Distance Learning programme is now implementing, in whatever pattern best suits their particular approach.) According to Wikipedia,
"Moodle is designed to help educators create online courses with opportunities for rich interaction. Its open source license and modular design means that many people can develop additional functionality, and development is undertaken by a globally diffuse network of commercial and non-commercial users, spearheaded by the Moodle company based in Perth, Western Australia. . . . .

Moodle has many features expected from an e-learning platform including:

  • Forums
  • Content managing (resources)
  • Quizzes with different kinds of questions
  • Blogs
  • Wikis
  • Database activities
  • Surveys
  • Chat
  • Glossaries
  • Peer assessment
  • Multi-language support (over 60 languages are supported for the interface [2])
Moodle is modular in construction and can readily be extended by creating plugins for specific new functionality. Moodle's infrastructure supports many types of plugin
7] Accreditation power: In our region, accreditation of quality of learning is a rising concern for tertiary level education, and one that is dominated by Governmental or Quasi-governmental organisaitons, e.g. Jamaica's University Council, and of course the sheer weight of UWI. Even at secondary level, CXC is a regional, quasi-governmental agency. This is understandable given our region's history, but it tends to obscure the actual origins of the modern accreditation movement as a voluntary, mutual recognition of quality of learning environments, experiences and outcomes. So, why not just go back to the roots?

8] Standardisation power: That is, if we are able to come together across the region and mutually develop, standardise and recognise the quality of learning environments, experiences and outcomes, we will have a basis for respectable certification of learning outcomes. At the upper end, we can also integrate these into well-understood certifications through external exams [e.g. through CXC exams where appropriate] and through awards such as Associate and full degrees and Diplomas etc. This last, of course, would best be done through integration with the existing network of Christian Bible Colleges, Seminaries etc, and wider regional initiatives in accreditation. That way, we can provide a supportive system for equipping people as effective disciples and servants of God in the home, church, school, workplace and community.

9] Education power: Similarly, through providing second-chance secondary education, bridging studies to tertiary education, useful undergraduate qualifications, degree completion, and eventually paths to graduate and professional qualification, we can create empowering paths to successful careers and community leadership, thence reformation and God-blessed transformation of our region and the world beyond.
Can we do this?
Obviously, yes. [It may help for me to note on this, that I have some practical experience in developing undergraduate and graduate level educational programmes.]
Will it cost too much?
Not if we start with a vision, then mobilise volunteers who come together in a powerful movement, and especially if we support the volunteers generously. [My estimate is that startup investments of the order of a few thousand to a few tens of thousands of seed-money dollars would potentially have a very rich payoff, once several sites sign-up to become the first several microcampus centres -- I have a few in mind even among the circle of readers of this blog. In effect think of the first phase as "Sunday/Sabbath school on steroids," towards mobilising the people in our churches through structured and certified training towards God-blessed transformation of life, family, community, region and beyond through the power of the gospel. As we have already discussed, we already have in hand content for several startup courses, and could develop a system of certificates based on basic discipleship, basic leadership and community leadership.]
How can we start?

Actually, we can in effect say, "we have already started" -- of course, on a shoestring. Through this blog, we are sharing a vision, which is reaching several people who could credibly get this ball rolling down the snow-covered hill. As the previous post here shows, there is more than enough course material for creating "Version 1.0" of a three-tier discipleship, service and leadership training programme.

So, the key question is really . . . How can we sign up?
Easy: just email me [reply if you got this by email, look up the contact us in the Fulness Focus reference site under "Links" if you are looking at the blog at Blogger], and then let's see how we can get really rolling.
That brings us to the now-traditional three-headed question: Why not now? Why not here? Why not us? END

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