Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Week 11 : Academic Research in Zimbabwe


I made a blunder!    I completed Week 13 before I had completed Weeks 11 and 12.  So here I am back at Week 11 where we have been covering academic research in developing countries and more specifically, Africa.

In our videos and readings there was nothing at all about Zimbabwe

What is Happening in Zimbabwe?

So I did some rudimentary research on Zimbabwe’s preparedness for Open Access and the current state of affairs relating to the dispensation of scholarly knowledge.   I started by contacting an old friend, Howard Dean.  Howard was at one time the Director of the Institute of People Management of Zimbabwe (IPMZ) and had, and still has, a deep interest in scholarly research.  He started a journal under the umbrella of IPMZ which I recall reading in years past.  It was titled "The HR Journal of Academic Research in Zimbabwe" and Howard published HR related academic research through the journal.   However, in the midst of the Zimbabwe hyper-inflationary spiral of 2000-2008 he was unable to continue to finance the journal and it is now very much extinct.

Howard had his own take on the current state of affairs which was depressing.   The Zimbabwe economy is once again in disarray and he was of the opinion that little is being done in academia to promote and publish academic research.  But he put me on to Roger Stringer, a former Director of the University of Zimbabwe Publishing Department.

I spoke with Roger at some length on the telephone and he had similar views to current activity as Howard.  But he was aware of the work being done in Zimbabwe by INASP, AuthorAID and AJOL.  He told me of a journal titled Zambesia which published research done in the humanities and the Zimbabwe Journal of Agricultural Research both of which have, he believes, disappeared from the landscape.

Roger is still publishing under the name of ‘Textpertise’ but his work is largely in support of Aid Agencies. 

Google Searches

I then Googled a few sites and came across: -

The Zimbabwe Country site: http://www.inasp.info/en/network/country/ZW/ from which I discovered that a few ‘research’ articles have been published of late but unfortunately they lack empirical research of any kind and are more anecdotes than scholarly research articles.  Nonetheless they were of interest and I read ‘Reflections of a Trainer’ who trained the Zimbabwe Parliamentary staff in on-line research practices and  the abstract of “Building a Digital Library at the University of Zimbabwe”, a Book by Buhle Mbambo-Thata, published on June 3, 2007

Once again this book is purely anecdotal.

I Googled 'Zambesia' and found several links to bird life.  There was also reference to a main belt asteroid named Zambesia and discovered in 1932 by C Jackson in Johannesburg. 

Nothing related to academic research of any kind

I then Googled the University of Zimbabwe and ZULC – the Zimbabwe Universities Libraries Consortium.    I learned from the ZULC website that in June 2012 they were calling for papers to present at The Zimbabwe International Conference on Open Access, June 15, 2012.  Unfortunately it was not clear whether or not the conference was ever actually run as there was no follow up information of any kind.

Where to now?

So what is happening in Zimbabwe vis-à-vis Open Knowledge, Open Access and scholarly publishing?    The questions are yet to be answered.   I have e-mailed the author of ‘Reflections of a Trainer’ and hopefully this will result in future contact.  I shall also make it my business to visit the UZ Library in the near future when time permits.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Open Learning: Week 13


This week has been a little easier to handle than previous weeks –perhaps less to digest.

The Opportunity of Abundance

From “The Opportunity of Abundance” with Brian O’Leary I learned that the publishing business in the USA and probably worldwide – is in turmoil with the advances being made by digitalization.   Here in Zimbabwe publishing is not big business and is largely confined to newspapers.  The Zimbabwe Independent (newspaper) is having its problems.  Probably more because of the depressed Zimbabwean economy than the technical revolution.  But they have to publish online to be visible, yet they obviously don’t make much money publishing online.  Advertising is limited.  So they delay the digital copy by a few days in an effort to get readers to buy the hard copy.  The hard copy has a lot more information than the digital.  The Zim Independent is caught between a rock and a hard place – in order to survive they have to make money to pay the staff and the other overheads.  Yet in order to survive they also have to be online.

Openness: Decoupling the Future to Radically Improve Access to Education With David Wiley

I have ‘met’ David Wiley before on a previous MOOC so much of this presentation was not new to me.  But it did reinforce his views.  One question which Wiley raised but never answered is that college fees in the US have risen way above national inflation levels.  Why are college fees rising so steeply against standard inflation?

It was worth visiting Wiley’s website.  I sent him an e-mail asking him to answer this question.  So far no response!

Perhaps the most valid comment from this video: “The future is already here – it just isn’t evenly distributed yet”

Knowledge Unlatched

We were introduced to ‘Knowledge Unlatched’ through two short videos that were easy to follow. The principle behind the movement is Libraries pay a Title Fee to an author.  The Title Fee is fixed.  The more libraries that join Knowledge Unlatched, the more shared the costs and the lower the overall cost.


The readings focused on changes happening but not yet solidified in the publishing of scholarly articles and then a short discussion on MOOCs – the past and the possible future.  The most interesting discussion was brought to me by a fellow-student -  LauraF888.  In the discussion she referred us to http://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/moocs-failure-solutions which is a recent (7 November 2014) critique of the MOOC phenomenon.  It brought to mind my first e-learning experience which was on a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) with ILM (Institute of Leadership and Management).  Before we started the organisers told us what was needed to successfully learn online.  So for the benefit of my two readers here’s the requirements as so succinctly stated by ILM: -

Successful distance learning, particularly online, requires the learner to have certain characteristics, in order to fully engage in the learning process. These are:
1. academic and emotional maturity
2. specific goals
3. the ability to work alone
4. the capacity for self-starting
5. self-understanding and self-motivation
6. persistence
7. patience
8. self-confidence
9. reading and writing ability;
10. Contacts who can help with content problems; and an academic support system (at home and at work).

I have found these characteristics to be largely correct and I recall discussing them with a fellow-student in China on my first MOOC – E-Learning and the Digital Space.  She suggested that ALL learners in whatever environment needed all these characteristics.  I argued that a lot of students (in classrooms) do not have these characteristics and the work of the teacher very often, is to instill them.  This led to another discussion which is not important here.

But what is important is that those who enroll on MOOCs need these characteristics to succeed and when they don’t have them, they are likely to drop out.  Perhaps what is needed to keep them on track is a mentor.

Will the MOOC die a natural death because it is not fulfilling the perceived objectives of the organisers?   Remembering that the perceived objectives of the organisers is to bring education to the ‘developing world’ and to those who ‘need it most’

That remains to be seen.  For the moment there are still thousands of people enrolling on MOOCs from all over the world and when the success rate (completion rate) is only 10%, when 100,000 people enroll and 10% succeed, 10% translates into 10,000 – a large number of better educated people.

Final Thought

As a final thought:  I am not sure who put this in my head but it has great significance

“The quality of education depends on the depth of mental processing”

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Open Knowledge: Week 10

Information Overload and More

This has been a useful week of learning on Information Overload, Filter Failure and Information Literacy.   The problem with overload is not all that new.   There is so much to learn.  This course has also been a case of ‘information overload’ and I have seen a few comments from people who have become lost in the myriad of information that has been presented to us.   Without my Learning Log I would be in deep trouble.  I passed on the idea of the Learning Log to one troubled learner from Asia and he has thanked me for it.

Clay Shirky tells us that it's not Information Overload - it's 'Filter Failure'  

I find there is a disconnect between what we were told by Dr. Levy in his short presentation in the street where we saw dozens of people walking across the street while texting/talking on their mobile phones or sitting on street corners working on their laptops and what we are told by Shirky and his ‘filter failure’.  I am suffering from information overload right now, not because of filter failure but because I want to learn while I am also working.  I have been on MOOCs before and had to do a lot of extra work to learn, but I have not been bombarded with as much information previously.  On this course I have personally filtered OUT the ‘Additional Resources’ simply because I have to filter out something to remain sane.

In consequence I have learned of additional values to the use of learning logs as a result of this last week.   I now realise the LL has enabled me to move from being a nondescript learner to what the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) terms an INTENTIONAL Learner.   An Intentional Learner, according to ACRL is one who ‘can adapt to new environments, integrate knowledge from different sources, and continue learning throughout their lives’ and it has also enabled me to (partially) deal with the massive information overload that many of my colleagues on this course must be experiencing.

A Learning Log

I commend the Learning Log to all my blog readers (well, both of you).  In a nutshell (to avoid even more information overload): -
1.  Write up your learning experience
2.  Record the source of learning and in this day and age, include a URL link
3.  Write up your thoughts about what you have learned – do you agree with the source?  Does the information have value?  If yes, what kind of value?  Do you need to explore more from other sources?
4.  How and where will you use what you have learned?

Another very useful piece of learning was to identify the traits/skills/habits of ‘Information Literacy’.  IL is the set of skills and knowledge that allows us to find, evaluate, and use the information we need, as well as to filter out the information we don’t need. 

So filtering is a key IL skill.

Crap Detection

Howard Rheingold introduced us to 'Crap Detection' and the need for curiosity.  It's not only on the Internet that one needs to beware of 'crap'.  We get enough of it from news agencies the world over.  It struck me that because of 'crap' all of us need a mentor, whether young or old, rich or poor, we need to discuss what we are learning with someone else. 

Jagtar Singh 

Jagtar tells us that IL should include learning to know, to do, learning to work together, and learning to be better than the best.

I can’t put it better (or shorter) myself

Doherty, J.J. and Ketchner, K. 

in a 2005 paper titled ‘Empowering the Intentional Learner: A Critical Theory for Information Literacy Instruction’ http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/~mbolin/doherty-ketchner.htm tell us more about the IL person:

“in order to thrive in the 21st Century, the intentional learner should be: -
1.  empowered through a mastery of intellectual and practical skills;
2.  informed by knowledge about the natural and social worlds and about forms of inquiry basic to those studies;
3.  and, responsible “for their personal actions and civic values.”

I like the reference to responsibility for all too often in Africa I hear about ‘empowerment’ but so rarely about ‘responsibility’ 


To conclude this has been very useful to me this week because I was approached by a former friend who has a son who has been given management responsibility at his place of work and he needs to learn the basics of management.  I have been able to apply some of the principles of Intentional Learning to help this young man achieve a better future.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Week Nine: Scholarly Publishing

We have focused this week on scholarly publishing.  The old and the new.  The traditional and the Open Access. I think that my major learning point this week is that publishers do a lot more than just publish.

1.       They register – and time stamp to officially note who submitted scientific results first
2.       they certificate through peer-to-peer reviews,
3.       they disseminate scholarly articles
4.       And they preserve them for posterity.

Elsevier – one of the world’s largest scholarly publishers employs and/or supports thousands of people – editors and staff,  editorial board members and 300,00 referees and 600,000 authors

Then we have ‘predatory publishers’ emanating from the third world, disrupting and corrupting the business – although I suspect the predatory publishers can be quite easily identified.

We also learned about the peer review process.  The complexities, the differences between blind, double blind and ‘OPR’ (Open Peer Review).  We also learned that the peer review process, which is considered an essential element of ensuring quality of scholarly publications, doesn’t work very well at the best of times.

In the end the future of publishing will come down to ‘money, money, money’.   Will the Open publishing houses survive?  Will the massive publishing businesses put open publishing out of business?  Will the University press survive?  Or will the demand for ‘open education’ smother the demand for money?