Malleable Musings

January 10, 2010

Google-opoly at #lff10

Filed under: Conferences — Tags: , , — Brendan @ 11:43 am

I’ve been attending a conference, “Positively Disruptive“, for the past few days. It’s the Beyond Distance Research Alliance online conference and is mainly being run through Eluminate (a platform I really like) and Second Life (a platform I’ve never really understood or got in to).

If you are interested in attending the “Positively Disruptive” conference it’s not too late – as the conference runs until the 14th January 2010.

Quite a bit of the conference content really interests me, however I’ve found it difficult to participate fully because of the family commitments and the day job.

There’s been more than one occasion where I’ve had to come out of the Eluminate session to answer the phone, meet a deadline, get the kids dressed or fed etc.

So tonight (last night) I thought I’d try and participate fully in a session called Google-opoly and I thought I’d make a diary of my experience of this session here as well as in the wiki. N.B. it is a working post and changed quite a bit over the course of Sunday 10th January 2009.  It may still change further!

The session was based around a custom Google Map and a wiki so I had to register my google account in advance.

Then at 6pm I signed in to Eluminate to do the orientation briefing. Unfortunately despite my best intentions, I missed most of this as I was cooking dinner at the time and had two screaming children. However I understood that I’d receive an email and a link to a Google Map and would be able to do the session later that night / the following day.

The email came through at 19:41 on the 9th January.  I had a quick look at the email which told me I was to start in Rio where I would be given a task. However I waited until my wife and kids went to bed and then managed to get a look at the map.

The welcome message said:

Welcome, Traveller…
You are at the threshold of the Mysterious Labyrinth of the 101 Possible Futures for Learning… Many have attempted to steal its secrets and many have failed… They have remained locked up in the endless corridors of the Labyrinth, to serve as an example to those tempted to follow in their footsteps, and their words were put up in the World Wide Web to the amusement of the world:
If your resolve is still undaunted, take the first step into the Labyrinth and try to reach the elusive Future of Learning treasure cove.

At each step in the Labyrinth you will have to make a choice, complete a task or answer a question.

On clicking on the map marker in Rio I was told:

The number of higher education institutions in the world in 2025 is three times the number of higher education institutions in 2010.

1. In your Travelogue on the wiki, list three arguments why you think the number of higher education institutions in the world in 2025 is three times the number of higher education institutions in 2010.
2. Find an image of Rio de Janeiro on the web. Cut and paste an image of yourself (or something representing yourself 😉 onto the image of Rio de Janeiro and save it. Upload it on this website:
Create a caption, using the website, for example: “I wish you were here in Rio de Janeiro in 2025”. Save the resulting image and upload it on your travelogue in the wiki.

In the Eluminate Orientation session we were each asked to pick a statement that we agreed with.   I didn’t see the question properly.  Due to lack of time I think I mis-read the question in the orientation, as I think by 2025 we might be seeing some aggregation rather than fragmentation. However I felt duty bound to come up with some answers that sounded vaguely plausible. These were:

  1. New for-profit private colleges entering the market.
  2. A funding regime that leads to a larger number of smaller specialised more regional undergraduate teaching universities. These are likely to be non-residential and more akin to sixth-form colleges.
  3. Population growth and the need to open new HEI’s to serve demand especially in countries like China, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia etc.

I then searched the web for a suitable image and a quote “tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:34 in case you are wondering). Took a photo of myself using the camera on my netbook and with a bit of cropping in Paint.Net I came up with the image below. I hope some don’t find it blasphemous.

I then hit my first problem. Wetpaint (the wiki we were using – another platform I really don’t like) doesn’t like Chrome and Safari.   It also isn’t that easy to use on a Netbook – and you may as well forget trying to update it from an iPhone.

From Rio I was sent to Valencia where I got the following instructions:

1. Think of three examples where an industry, area of knowledge, or any area of human activity in history or at present has undergone the types of changes that may lead to the increase in the number of higher education institutions in the world. Post your examples in your travelogue.
2. Find an image that you associate with each example and post it on the wiki with a short comment about why you think the image represents your example.
3. When you are done, go to Maui. You are doing great! Who knows, you may be luck enough to get out of the Labyrinth of the Hundred Futures….

I thought that with this question it would have been easy to talk about Moore’s Law and the Digital Revolution, however I think that this has been done to death – my favourite is this take on the Shift Happens video by a US private education group. So instead I decided to focus on two other revolutions and a mania so I came up with the following:

  1. The creation of the steam engine (which was a key driver in the industrial revolution) even helping to create new industries. File:Watt7783.png
  2. The French revolution which was a period of massive social and political upheaval that lead to a radical change in France and Europe.File:H P Perrault Prise de la Bastille (painted 1928).jpg
  3. Manias are financial bubbles – in Holland in the 1630’s the price of a Tulip bulbs including the Viceroy (pictured below) reached crazy levels . Could universities be operating in bubbles likely to draw in private investors – creating HEI’s in a bid to seek an unrealistic and unsustainable return on their investment?
    File:Tulipa Viceroy door Anthony Claesz. rond 1640.jpg

At this stage I’d worked out that the task was going to take a bit more than the hour that had been allocated.  So before going to bed on Saturday the 9th January I skipped ahead a couple of locations hoping and praying that Sandra who set up the Google-opoly task hasn’t made a Labyrinth with moving walls.  I did this as I knew that the following day I wouldn’t have much time and would need to be able to make updates via my iPhone.  On reaching Maui where I was asked the following:

1. Think of 6 factors which may facilitate the increase in the number of institutions in the world. You need at least one example of each of the factors listed below:
A. Social
B. Technological
C. Economic
D. Environmental
E. Political
F. Legal
G. Ethical/cultural
List your examples in your travelogue in the wiki.
When you are done, go to Bad Kissingen.

Having slept on it I came up with the following, at around 10am on Sunday 10th January (but I thought that some of the examples could have been stronger):

A. Social – a perceived need for members of society to up-skill, fuelling demand for higher education at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
B. Technological – the improvements in teaching technology allows the ability to teach large numbers of students using a distributed academic staff, lowering the cost of entry for potential new HEIs leading to a proliferation of new providers.
C. Economic – in an effort to reduce costs more students are living at home and so more regional universities need to be built.
D. Environmental – something similar to the economic argument, students and governments looking to reduce their carbon footprint so more local universities are needed.
E. Political – it is realised that higher education is no longer a public right and cannot be subsidised by governments. This leads to increased public / private partnerships and more entrepreneurial private HEIs focused on degree completion.
F. Legal – there’s an opening up across the world of the rules regarding what sort of organisations can award degrees.
G. Ethical/cultural – the war on terror continues apace widening cultural divides, this leads to a growth in small institutions tailored to specific communities.

In Bad Kissingen I was told:

Think of three ways in which each of the groups below will be affected if indeed the number of higher education institutions in the world in 2025. Write down your thoughts in your Travelogue in the wiki:

University administrators
For-profit producers of learning technologies.
Learning technology.

Ah, and send your fellow explorers a postcard from Bad Kissingen. Use the magical powers of the Internet, if you have to (i.e.fake one).
Good work! You are doing too well. If I were you, I’d be careful not to attract the attention of the Labyrinth Trolls with all your shining successes….

Go to Dubai

So again I found an appropriate image and the town coat of arms and a pdf of the back of a postcard and created the image below.

My thoughts on what will affect the groups were:


  1. More choice
  2. A more consumerist attitude
  3. More orientated towards a return on their investment


  1. Possibly further separation of roles, e.g. teaching vs research especially in more teaching only HEI’s
  2. A more corporate employment contract
  3. Maybe the end of academic freedom

University administrators

  1. More demanding and litigious students
  2. A more competitive environment
  3. Greater flexibility in working practice will be demanded

For-profit producers of learning technologies

  1. Concentration on the profitable areas of the curriculum
  2. More institutions looking for ways to differentiate themselves
  3. A need to be learner and meaner that state sponsored providers – does this mean cutting corners

Learning technology

  1. As there become more potential customers learning technology companies begin to make serious money
  2. Will proliferate – numerous HEI’s all running their own individual systems and software
  3. (I realised after the event I hadn’t thought about the open movement both OERs and open source software could become highly important.  OERs could either fragment and increase in number, as seems to be currently happening, or large OERs could be utilised by multiple institutions.)

Despite missing a reason I set off for Dubai where the following happened.

Ahhh, you were warned, you were warned!!! The Labyrinth Trolls are after you! You will need to enlist the help of some of the other adventurers exploring the Labyrinth. Find out who of the other Learning futures Festival 2010 participants is also in the Labyrinth and pair up with them to complete together the following task to save yourselves from the Trolls. Any means of persuading them to collaborate with you are allowed – you need their help!!! Except for threatening to delete their travelogues on the wiki – instant disqualification will follow. When you have paired up with a fellow explorer (communicate using the wiki, Elluminate or email), complete the following tasks:

1. Find out some information about the institution of your Collaborator. List who your collaborator is in your travelogue.
2. In your travelogue, list 5 ways in which their institution can prepare itself for the future you have described so far in your travelogue – the future of sharp increase in the number of institutions. What do they need to do in order to be “successful” in that future? What will happen to them?
Now go to Taj Mahal and hope that the Trolls have lost sight of you…

So I was stuck in Dubai until I found a collaborator.  I left a message on this blog asking if anyone could help and I left a similar message on my wiki page.  At this stage my wiki page contained the contents of the task of Rio and that was all.  I also sent a cry of help in a more targeted way in to the Twitter ether?  Around 3pm Amanda Jones left her comment below.  She’s a Consultant Gynaecologist with an interest in education that has taken her down the route of becoming Foundation Programme Director for a hospital in the Manchester area – she oversees the training of the newly qualified doctors for their 1st 2 years.

(This bit is out of order as I noticed with 1hr 30 to go that I missed something. Damn, just noticed I’ve missed listing 5 ways in which Amanda’s institution can prepare itself for the future I’ve described so far in my travelogue.  N.B. I’m not sure that we’re going to see a major increase in F1/F2 training providers, given that it’s a subsidised area – isn’t it? However I’ll give this a go.

  1. Ensure that they are tightly linked to the Royal Colleges
  2. uncertain
  3. uncertain
  4. uncertain
  5. uncertain

Unfortunately I didn’t have much thinking time at this stage and only got the first thing Amanda’s institution should do.  One of my fellow Google-opoly players, Mick Norman, came up with the following ideas:

Here are my five suggestions to help with the increased number of students in 2025.

  1. As there won’t be enough time or real live patients for trainees to learn from, virtual patients in Second Life and other virtual environments will become essential. Using both live patients and virtual patients before the student numbers increase will help ease the transition for both teaching staff and students.
  2. Using OERs will enable the hospital to maintain a high quality of teaching resources to larger numbers of students.
  3. Distance-based learning means that students can learn from all round the country, but attend physical placements in or near their own homes.
  4. Constant training (as mentioned above in San Francisco) will mean that whilst the hospital will have many more students enrolled, they are not necessarily all training at the same time, meaning that live placements can be optimised.
  5. Improvements in virtual patient technology will mean that the physical placements in hospital that do take place will not need to be as long as they are in 2010. (I think I’m stretching into idealistic here!).

Looking back I’m sure I could have come up with a few more ideas if I’d thought more about this or had a bit more time.)

So with 4 hours to go I moved on to the Taj Mahal and was told:

You will need some more collaboration now. Look again at the travelogue of your collaborator and list in your own travelogue 5 possible future developments which may prevent from happening the future that your collaborator is working on. Write them down in your travelogue.
You are almost done. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel of the Labyrinth. Or wait… Is it the incoming train? You have to move fast! Go to Sozopol.

Looking at Amanda’s possible future, I’ve come up with the following five developments that may conflict – I’m a bit ashamed that most of these are UK-centric and might be a little outlandish – but maybe not:

  1. Businesses saying that they don’t really need graduates – there was a piece in the news this week about SME’s in the UK thinking that A levels were graduate qualifications.
  2. A new form of power source is discovered that is cheap and non-polluting in Fudan University (China) in 2012.  They invest the patent royalties in their university – it grows in size and status, buying out lesser facilities like MIT.  In turn this triggers fewer big name brands in education.
  3. The pressure on universities in some countries to get students through the courses quicker and cheaper causes a international schism.  In particular the new UK two-year degrees are not recognised at all internationally.  The UK’s competitive advantage in the international higher education market is in tatters.
  4. The government decides to introduce a national higher education curriculum and states that to ensure conformity that all undergraduate degrees will assessed and issued by the new University of Great Britain headquartered in Milton Keynes.  Regional universities that are not research centres effectively become little more than schools teaching to a particular syllabus.
  5. The latest 2012 World University Rankings uses measures in which very large universities are advantaged – this leads governments to start merging institutions for reasons of national pride.

Hurrah I could then move on where I find the following:

You are safe. And it is the end of the labyrinth. In order to be allowed to come out, you need to complete one last task:
1. Think of three common practices in learning and teaching in 2010 which may disappear by 2025. List them in your travelogue. Post one image for each potential Dodo.
2. Think of three ways in which you might need to change your work/career to prepare for a future with many more students. List them in your wiki.
3. Select all the text from your travelogue and paste it in the Wordle application here:

When you have created a wordle that you like, press ALT and PrtScrn on your keyboard. Open the Paint programme on your computer and press Alt+V. this will paste your wordle in Paint. Save the image as a jpeg and post it in your Travelogue.

Hurray! You are done!!!! Come to the live conclusion of Google-opoly on Sunday at 6 in the elluminate Room for a discussion of your adventures with the other survivors (if there are any, the Labyrinth is an unforgiving place)….

And my answers were (links go to the images – haven’t had time to insert them yet):

  1. Physical books and libraries.
  2. Paper based forms / documents – application, registration, transcripts
  3. Vivas – to be replaced by other forms of assessment (probably continuous)

How will my work/career need to change in a future with many more students?

Given my role I don’t know if it will change because the university is working with more students.  I need to think about this a bit more.  In a sense, I’m a step removed from students.  I work in international marketing and partner management at the University.  We may end up working with more/different partners who will need greater support from me/the university.  However I think it will be other sorts of changes particularly political and technological that will drive change in my work and career.  I need to remain informed about the possible futures and changes to the regulatory frameworks that affect the environments in which I/the university works.

And here is my wordle (I did this at 7pm whilst waiting for the wrap -up session to complete).

It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I have since updated my wetpaint wiki page.  However given that it is an open wiki that anyone can edit / delete I thought it was important to have the content here as well.

Congratulations to all of my fellow Google-opolers who escaped the labyrinth and well done Sandra for setting up a really interesting exercise.



  1. I’m stuck there too, do get in touch.

    Comment by Amanda Jones — January 10, 2010 @ 3:05 pm

  2. Brendan, thank you so much for this detailed travelogue. As part of the team working on this festival, I truly value the feedback especially the tech difficulties you’ve experienced and detailed here —- good to see where fixes are needed. Appreciate your enthusiasm! This is just how we hoped busy people would react to the conference — fit it in wherever and whenever.

    Comment by Terese Bird — January 10, 2010 @ 3:41 pm

  3. Terese, I’m glad you like it. It’s been really interesting taking part.

    BTW: it’s not really a technical issue (my browser preferences just doesn’t work that well with Wetpaint). It’s also a lifestyle/time issue. Two small children who demand attention and my wife is working today. I can update wordpress from my iPhone whenever I grab a minute or two so I thought I’d try it this way round.

    Comment by Brendan — January 10, 2010 @ 3:59 pm

  4. Another advantage is that I can share the url to your travelogue here without fear that someone will log in and delete it as is the case now with the wiki. The wiki I would only feel brave enough to advertise to people after I have locked it for comments, which defies its purpose really. Brendan, thank you for the feedback and for the brilliant travelogue! Maybe next time LFF10-11 should think of activities for the families of the people involved in the festival as well :).

    Comment by Sandra Romenska — January 10, 2010 @ 6:06 pm

  5. Sandra, I agree totally about deletions – this was also running through my mind.

    On family activities I thought about getting my eldest to drive my avatar in Second Life but decided against it 😉

    Families are positively disruptive!

    Comment by Brendan — January 10, 2010 @ 7:12 pm

  6. Really enjoyed the exercise. Can I encourage you that life just gets better- daughter took over making dinner at 7 pm, and has kept my wine glass topped up during the discussions. Light at the end of the tunnel!
    And the day she was born on 4/9/92 our 1st fax/ modem arrived. We had to do 150 mph along the M62 (now M60) to get me there in time….

    Comment by Amanda Jones — January 10, 2010 @ 8:24 pm

  7. @Amanda Oooh lucky you – I can’t imagine my two ever cooking dinner. I’m very jealous. It really was a good exercise wasn’t it.

    Comment by Brendan — January 10, 2010 @ 8:29 pm

  8. Definitely food for thought- both as to what the future holds, but also how I can use a similar feature in education.

    Although I got started a long time ago (got the fax/modem to get into BIDS- THE PRECURSOR OF MEDLINE)have struggled to keep up in the archaeic NHS. But will continue to plug away!

    Comment by Amanda Jones — January 10, 2010 @ 9:24 pm

  9. Post event, I started thinking about technically what would the best way be to improve the way the exercise works. I wondered about a WordPress MU installation but then thought couldn’t you run this entirely from within Google Maps. After all given that we are collaborators on the map and Maps is essentially a wiki with RSS output it could provide a much better user experience with the security of knowing that only collaborators (people involved in the exercise can delete things). What you might do is to ask participants to drop a marker near each city that they visit. This has several advantages – one is that Maps can connect via RSS which can then be filtered and diced and spliced as need be and sent to either a page or a feed reader as an example see this Yahoo Pipe and enter the word Washington. The second is that participants can see who else is near them or has been where they have been. The one disadvantage is that we’d need somewhere that people could upload images to as I don’t think you can upload an image to a Google Map.

    Comment by Brendan — January 10, 2010 @ 10:54 pm

  10. […] Brendan’s blog on his journey through the labyrinthine google-opoly task: […]

    Pingback by Day 5 at the LFF and still going strong… « Beyond Distance Research Alliance Blog — January 13, 2010 @ 9:35 am

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