The SLENZ Update – No 26, November 18, 2008

A personal view

Can we unlock Ivory-tower gate?


I sometimes get the feeling  that some educators move into places like the web and virtual worlds in order to keep the lock on the gate or keep “control” of the world of learning – in other  words keep the learning  behind the ivory-tower  gate  – in a universe which is expanding learning opportunities exponentially outside the normal education system.

Google Search and the wikipedia system, as unreliable as the data  they dredge up or record sometimes is, has made information available to (initially) anyone who writes/reads English, and has access to a phoneline and a computer; almost any old computer. For  many the advent of the web as we know it today has made the ivory tower virtually irrelevant for true learning.

Communities of interest/barriers which tertiary institutions thrive on – and which I once thought were the reason for universities: where else could one easily meet girls with the same interests who were away from home and available? – have given way in many cases to web-based social networks, which today are more pervasive and often more tribal than fraternities or sororities. The ivory-tower communities of interest also encompass the professional groups which have grown out of tertiary institutions to ensure the closed-shop enclave nature  of some intellectual/professional pursuits and thus increase the workplace value of a tertiary education.(eg law and medicine).

But the barriers, which started to break down in the 1960s with the call for the establishment of “free” universities without examinations or structured courses, or in some cases attendance – even though re-erected by academics wanting to protect their patches – are threatened with complete demolition by the web with its virtually-free, anytime, anywhere  knowledge and/or propaganda.

Today anyone who can read and write can educate themselves, given the will, the discipline, a computer and a web link. But they still can’t get the piece of paper that would  allow them to be recognised as a “practitioner”: Medical associations and other groups, created alongside the English-speaking ivory-tower system, do all they can to keep the foreign-language/university educated, self-educated and non ivory-tower educated hoi polloi out, citing lower education standards in the university/country of origin/culture differences, or  non-recognised credentials.

I had hoped – and this is a personal, non-academic view – that there was a new force/ideas afoot with the Edupunk movement in the US, but alas I think I might have been mistaken and what is happening in SLENZ might be closer to the future, where the whole process of the creation of the SLENZ project has appeared to have been democratised, transparent and allowing input, albeit guided,  from all. It is also in many ways directed at adults who  the ivory-tower system has often conveniently bypassed.


I feel that even some of those in the edupunk movement [The revolution will be syndicated (], in proclaiming their attempts to break the ivory-tower barriers and break out of what they see as the stifling, red-tape ridden, zombified (LMS) systems are doing little more  than trying to preserve their academic power by taking the nuts and bolts  off campus, while hypocritically still keeping their roles as paid academics within their institutions. Their middle-class methods may work in a society where  computers and broadband gigabytes off-campus are virtually free, but in fact, also serve to alienate those who are the true revolutionaries in education and elsewhere, who are working completely (and often anarchically) outside the  ivory-tower system, like many of the bloggers on the web.  The edupunk movement, also like many of today’s great, well-washed, middle-class don’t seem to understand that Che Guevara was a “real revolutionary” who got down and dirty, not just a model for a tee-shirt logo.
To me the edupunk attack on zombie systems in Ivory-tower education reeks of the faddish criticism  which  often surrounds Bill Gates and the Microsoft Windows operating system. They both “suck” but if it wasn’t for the Ivory Tower system we wouldn’t have academics who could freely attack it by biting the hand that feeds them, and if it wasn’t for the ubiquitous Windows system we might not have the cheap PCs and the Web as we know it today.

Although, like PhD candidate and VW researcher, Sara Robbins-Bell (SL: Intellagirl Tully), I would be loath to have a doctor who had trained and graduated only in SL, or done his study through blogs, perform surgery on me,  I still think there is space for a much wider appreciation of the learning choices and desires of the students outside the ivory-tower system; learning through peers and users, even bloggers,  rather than academics. No longer can we view learning  in this way as second class to piece of paper with “graduate” on it.

The problem, however, for the self/web-educated woman/man is how to ascribe a recognised/accepted, standard measure to one’s capabilities in order to secure one’s first, paid employment. After that, of course, one  should be able to secure employment on the basis of work experience and references.

These thoughts on where education is going and the on-going need to develop critical literacy in the learning population in general, if we are going to benefit as much as we should from the educational possibilities of the web in all its forms, were brought to mind by two blogged articles and videos which I am grateful that academics Leigh Blackall (SL: Leroy Goalpost) and Dr Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga) pointed me too.

Although long (54 minutes and 55 minutes) they will reward you by giving you an inside view on where web-based education in 21st Century US could be going. The first, a streaming and streamed video presentation at the New Media Consortium, suffers from 15 minutes or so of old-hat waffle posing as SL theatre which is fairly old hat, while in the second, Sara Robbins-Bell, starts well  on where education is  going for the millennials but then fudges the issue with her solutions, which I personally felt were more about keeping academics in control than in actual learning for students. Her reference to the on-going need for critical literacy education hit a nerve though.

Leigh, a SLENZ “learning designer”and educational developer with Otago Polytechnic, said, for him, the significance of  “zombies, edtech survival and edupunk ” [“The revolution will be syndicated” [(]  was:

  • Innovative approach to live presentation in the education technology sector.
  • Primary content was developed outside SL and so an example of reusability and accessibility.
  • Use of a Zombie Flaming theme as an ice breaker in a live presentation in SL.
  • Zombies as a kind of homage to some SL pop culture and griefing fun.
  • Streaming videos into SL.
  • Generation of Machinima from the presentation (more accessibility and reusability).
  • Inspired after event edtech blogging interests.

For another report on the presentation go to

Meanwhile Diener,  [], who has created the the Long White Cloud island in SL (Long White Cloud/31/38/27) for Auckland University, returned from the Educause 2008 conference, “overwhelmed with the sheer bulk of information I encountered. “


Describing Sarah Robbins-Bill presentation, “Social Media and Education: The Conflict Between Technology and Institutional Education, and the Future” ( as a highlight he said she presented “a quite challenging picture of the future of higher education in an era of rapidly expanding, free, and leveraged technologies” before “highly” recommending that one should view it. Some of you may have seen it in the Educause 2008  link files posted previously, but you haven’t it is well worth the time spent with it.

In his blog Scott also recommended a new online 2.1MB book, “The Tower and the Cloud – Higher Education in the Age of Cloud Computing,”  edited by Richard Katz. Click on book cover.

4 Responses

  1. I’ve got a few problems with your argument.

    1. I’m not sure how making content open, accessible and freely reusable constitutes “trying to preserve their academic power.” The rationale for moving off campus and out of the CMS is to open the conversation and enable the use/reuse of the pieces by anyone who’s interested.

    2. The hypocrisy of remaining employed by a university is certainly debatable. You could easily argue that if you’re going to change education being part of it would make sense. I’d say if you are actually doing something different and freeing up at least your piece of the “Ivory Tower” then you are doing something useful and something that might spread. Jim is doing more than that and creating a model that other universities are following. That is something worth doing whether within the ivory tower or without. I measure people by what they do not where they happen to work.

    3. Your statement “middle-class methods may work in a society where computers and broadband gigabytes off-campus are virtually free” is absurd given your advocacy for SecondLife as the supposed answer. I’ll happily compare the bandwidth and processing power requirements of a WordPress blog to SecondLife. Following that with the idea that using say WordPress would “alienate the true revolutionaries in education and elsewhere, … are working completely (and often anarchically) outside the ivory-tower system, like many of the bloggers on the web.” So the bloggers will be alienated by using one of the most popular open source blogging platforms to enable information to be made more open and portable? Sure.

    4. So it’s wrong to remain employed in higher ed and it’s wrong to criticize it because it’s “faddish” and w/o both Gates and higher ed we wouldn’t be where we are today? I think I should be able to criticize whatever sucks at the moment. I don’t have to care about its role in getting things to where they are if where they are now isn’t good enough.

    5. If we want to set up Che as the model and be less metaphoric with the idea of revolution you might look at him a little closer yourself. I guess “down and dirty” includes torturing and killing people for deserting or being suspected of being informants. So if that’s the model you’d like the “well washed middle class” to follow more explicitly I guess I’ll need to see you lead the way on that. Let me know who you’re going to torture and kill first.

    I don’t know. I get the feeling that you didn’t watch the presentation and if you did, I don’t think you understood the majority of it. I’d try sticking a little closer to what you know and understand. Maybe you’d do better covering Second Life.

  2. Tom. Thank you for your great comments which are completely valid in many ways.
    However, it is obvious that we live real lives in two very different worlds and virtual lives in different eworlds despite on-going globalisation in both real life and elife.
    A student of the 1960s I believe the campuses and networks of all tertiary institutions should be open, accessible and free and that there should be no need to move off campus to make them so: rather than one picking up ones marbles to go play elsewhere one should be continuing to play “on campus” and making the changes there. After all that is where one is getting paid. However, I would believe that could be a problem for change-facilitators such as yourself because those who have most interest in preserving the Ivory Tower as it now is are many of the academics on the inside.
    On point 3, I was alluding to a region specific fact applying mainly to New Zealand where because of past monopolistic practices Broadband costs users on a bandwidth basis an “arm and a leg” and often doesn’t operate any faster than dial up outside the main metropolitan areas. I was not debating the bandwidth usage between bloggers and the use of MUVEs such as SL. The problem in many regions, outside metropolitan centres and in many countries outside the US is the fact that online 3-d virtual worlds at this stage don’t work to a level necessary for education and are costly to use for the individual student..
    On point 4 I would agree that you should be able to criticise whatever sucks at the moment in the same way I can criticise whatever you say. In fact I do not believe there is any real progress without constructive criticsm, even if only self-criticism.
    Hmm you used Che as a model! But,as a guerrilla fighter, as with most of today’s terrorists, he probably considered, rightly or wrongly, the ends justified the means. Che realised that he couldn’t keep his cake and eat it too.
    Yes I watched the presentation three times. My main turn-off, I think, was scene-setting which I considered both out-of-date in SL terms and a waste of time although some academics I know considered it “wonderful”.

  3. The argument that transformational change can occur in a closed system like Second Life rings hollow, given that they can close you down at their whim. If this was happening in an environment where you had real control over your data (like OpenCroquet or OSGrid or OpenSim) you might be on to something. But building courses in second life has a lot in common with attempting to build equity in a rented apartment (and yes, you get the middle class metaphor free of charge).

    Also, re “the whole process of the creation of the SLENZ project has appeared to have been democratised, transparent and allowing input, albeit guided, from all.” — I love reading lines like this, because they describe what open source communities have been doing for years. Yet, somehow, when an academic notices it, or a technique gets applied to education, it becomes revolutionary and new. The same argument can be made about the similarity between MOOCS and open source communities.

  4. Bill,
    This is my personal view: For SLENZ, I believe, Second Life is only a toe in the water of virtual worlds as it were. Currently, however, it is the best, most economic and arguably most effective place to learn how to use virtual reality in an educational setting and to determine what benefits, if any there are in virtual reality simulations used for educational purposes.
    In fact, I personally believe that Entropia – as apparently does NASA – might potentially be the best current vehicle for virtual world learning but it still has a long way to go. My experiences in OpenCroquet, OSGrid, OpenSim, Prototerra, Wonderland, RealXtend and others also would suggest to me that although interesting they don’t yet possess the “reliable”, effective platforms for real research into practical educational technques in 3D virtual reality.
    For better or worse Second Life currently does and with the present moves towards interoperability between virtual worlds being initiated by IBM and Second Life (Zha Ewry et al) I believe it will remain so for some time.
    That, I believe, is where the SLENZ project is coming from – but, although a research project based around activities in Second Life, it is monitoring other virtual worlds and developments.
    SLENZ could sit on its hands and wait for a perfect virtual world – but by then the game might be lost.
    Finally, to use your rented apartment analogy, SLENZ, in my opinion, is not attempting to build equity in Second Life or any other virtual world. As in using an apartment to write a thesis or invent a technique, SLENZ is using Second Life to gain valuable, transportable knowledge to be possibly used elsewhere, a point often missed by folk who wrongly equate pixel building with bricks and mortar building.
    In considering virtual worlds, I feel one must make the transformational step, of walking completely out of the real world. Second Life can be used for this purpose.
    But it is only a beginning.

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