Tag Archives: risk

Educators angry at losing investment in Second Life

Jeff Young’s article Academics Discuss Mass Migration From Second Life reports that many educators are angry at changes to the fees charged for Second Life. But educators shouldn’t be angry or surprised when companies like Linden Labs change the rules and start charging hefty fees. After all, it’s a proven business model on the web: get buy-in by providing a free or low-cost service, then raise the fees once a subscriber base has been captured established.*

However, we have every right to be disappointed when large amounts of public funds are spent on projects developing virtual learning spaces which could disappear overnight. It’s exciting and essential to explore the educational potential of tools and systems such as Second Life, but significant investment requires caution. When locked up inside a proprietary system, the value of ‘virtual real estate’ can be reduced to zero overnight if it needs to be rebuilt from scratch.

Decision makers who allocate substantial funds to such projects should expect standard risk management practices to be in place to ensure that loss of investment is minimised. It’s common sense – and in a shrinking economy, anything else is unacceptable.

* I’m not saying that I support this model, just that it is prevalent and it is predictable that private companies will act in the interests of their shareholders first and foremost.

Related post: How secure are your course materials online?

Image: Instituto de Estudos Avançados

Wikis, learning and faulty knowledge

Information and knowledge in a vocational education setting often has a significance beyond that in more academic courses: in fact, the life and well-being of the students and members of the public may depend on its accuracy. Consider the following scenario:

CC: photo Robert LawtonJan is a nursing lecturer in a department which has recently begun to incorporate a ‘community of practice’ approach, including the use of a wiki for students and staff to collaboratively build publicly-accessible knowledge resources. She logs in one Monday morning and sees that a student has added to the page on clinical practice, including information which is contrary to accepted practice and could put patients’ health at risk.

Jan is appalled: What if another student read that information over the weekend and put it into practice? What if a practising nurse has read it and is about to complain to Jan’s head of department? Jan immediately deletes the incorrect information, then wonders whether she has done the right thing.

How should Jan have reacted? In fact, if Jan’s department had been through a thorough planning process, the risk of faulty information being contributed as well strategies for dealing with it would have been identified prior to implementing the collaborative activity. So Jan would have known exactly how to react.

Some e-learning specialists feel that Web 2.0 tools like wikis have no place at all in vocational education because the risks of ‘faulty knowledge’ are potentially so great. I don’t happen to believe that, but I do believe we need to identify the risks when we are planning, along with what we will do when ‘faulty knowledge’ is contributed. And we need to share this with students beforehand, so that they too understand the risks and how these will be handled.

If we do identify that there is a risk of ‘faulty knowledge’ being contributed, we need to also identify how we will:

  • Monitor the wiki (ie how will we know incorrect information exists?)
  • Deal with the published incorrect information (eg is it deleted, corrected or annotated?)
  • Correct the students’ faulty knowledge (ie that underlies the incorrect information)
  • Maintain a democratic and motivating collaborative environment while retaining the right to intervene
  • Communicate the risks and how we’ll deal with them to students

I believe the potential benefits of exposing ‘faulty knowledge’ outweigh the risks – but we do need a well thought-out plan for dealing with incorrect and potentially dangerous information.

Photo by Robert Lawton