Designing for Democratic Dialogue

More than Mating iPads

Tom Worthington FACS HLM

IT Consultant and Adjunct Lecturer, Australian National University

For Meta 2011 Conference, ANU University House, 11am, 26 May 2011

Tom Worthington discusses how to integrate on-line systems and buildings using metadata, to allow people to talk, learn and make decisions together, using a new $327M centre to be built in Canberra as an example. Tom outlines the work he has been doing at the Australian National University preparing online open source teaching materials on metadata, e-document and records management for public servants in Australia and developing nations. He argues that we need to go beyond the latest fads, such as iPads, and consider the fundamentals of how people have a discussion and make decisions in a globally connected democratic society.

Tom Worthington

ACS presentation on the USS Blue Ridge Joint Operations Control Center (JOCC) in use on the USS Blue Ridge

Not your usual workplace: USS Blue Ridge.

One of the more unusual discussion facilities I have used is the Joint Command and Control Centre (JOCC) aboard the USS Blue Ridge, flagship of the 7th Fleet. The JOCC has a briefing area with a map table at one end and a video projector. At the other end of the same open space were desktop computers and telephones. The walls, and ceiling are painted grey steel, with all equipment fixed in place.

From watching war moves, you may think a military command centre is all about people shouting orders into walkie-talkie. In reality, most of the time is a very quiet place with not much apparently happening. There are people on the phone, admittedly some of the phones are red (like in the movies) and some are linked to radios. There are people at ordinary looking computer terminals, laptops and having meetings in a collegiate environment. In short, wars are run much like a business, or a nation (should be).


Tom Worthington is an IT consultant and has been an expert witness in several court cases involving international patent, computer, web and Internet issues, as well as advising governments and companies on computer problems. He is a Adjunct Senior Lecturer in the Research School of Computer Science at the Australian National University. In 1999 he was elected a Fellow of the Australian Computer Society for his contribution to the development of public Internet policy and in 2010 received an education award for teaching Green ICT on-line.

In addition, Tom has an interest in architecture, environmental design, energy and water saving technology. He is the founding chair of the ACS Green ICT Group, and has been as a guest lecturer on the effects of ICT on architecture at the New Bauhaus Dessau and on smart apartment design at the University of Canberra.

One of the more unusual learning facilities Tom has used is the Joint Command and Control Centre aboard the USS Blue Ridge, flagship of the 7Th Fleet.

Tom is a past president, Fellow and Honorary Life Member of the Australian Computer Society, a voting member of the Association for Computing Machinery and a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Metadata for Education and Policy Making

metadata n. a set of data that describes and gives information about other data.

[1969 Proc. IFIP Congr. 1968 I. 113/2 There are categories of information about each data set as a unit in a data set of data sets, which must be handled as a special meta data set.]


1998 New Scientist 30 May 35/2 With XML, attaching metadata to a document is easy, at least in theory.

OED 2010

A small amount of metadata can be used in place of a large amount of data.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines metadata as: "a set of data that describes and gives information about other data...".

The power of metadata is that a small amount of metadata can be used in place of a large amount of data. This is useful in education, to bring meaning to what is otherwise a jumble of facts. In public policy metadata can be used to help inform millions of citizens and then distill their views on a topic.

Metadata for Education

lom xsi:schemaLocation=""
general - identifier - catalog: Australian Flexible Learning Toolboxes
entry: 506c02
title - string - language="en-AU": Apply work/life needs analysis to the workplace
language - en-AU
description − string language="en-AU": This activity provides steps and strategies to assist you in implementing a work/life balance program at your workplace ...

Adapted from: Apply work/life skills to the workplace (XML version), in Using Vetadata - Implementation support - E-standards for Training: Metadata, Australian Flexible Learning Framework, 2010

The Australian Flexible Learning Framework, has adopted the Learning Object Metadata (LOM) standard (which I was on the balloting committee for). The VET sector has tools for embedding this metadata into learning objects to make it easier for teachers and students to find relevant courses.

Metadata for Policy Making

... "DC.Title" content="Information policy reports: Office of the Australian Information Commissioner "
"DC.Identifier" scheme="URI" content=""
"DC.Date" content="2010-11-1"
"DCTERMS.Subject" content="Information policy reports"
"DC.Description" content="." ...
"DC.Coverage" content="au" ...
"DC.Rights" content=""
"DC.Coverage.Jurisdiction" scheme="AglsJuri" content="Commonwealth au" ...

Adapted from: Information policy reports, Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, 2011

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner launched "Principles on open public sector information", and a "Report on review and development of principles" at this conference yesterday. The web page listing these reports contains embedded metadata, using international and national standards to make the documents easier to find.

The OAIC could improve citizens access to the documents, by including metadata in the HTML versions of the documents themselves, and also embedding the Creative Commons licencing information. This would allow a web search to find the document directly, rather than finding a web page which mentions the document.

In the next presentation, Senator Kate Lundy will discuss how metadata can be used to enhance consultation on public policy.

Mating iPads: Making Technology Use More Complicated Necessary

Writing with stylus and folding wax tablet. painter, Douris, ca 500 BC

The calendars for two iPad devices can be synchronised.

But the Apple web site has more than 50,000 items on "Sync iPad calendar".

Writing Tablets have existed for thousands of years, with simpler solutions.

The use of metadata in a HTML document takes some level of sophistication from the user, the use in a learning object much more training (and software). In this case the software will run on almost any form of computer, smart phone or tablet computer. However, there is a risk in technical straight jackets, where applications will only run on a limited range of devices.

Some months ago I attended an educational meeting to discuss preparing an e-learning policy. I took my Linux net-book computer to the meeting. Everyone else at the meeting had an Apple iPad, except one person who had two Apple iPads. When I asked "why two?", they replied they were "mating the iPads". My thoughts of breeding iPhone from the union where dashed, when it was explained this was interfacing the two devices so as to exchange calendar data. It was not clear to me this was a good idea. The Apple web site has more than 50,000 items on "Sync iPad calendar, indicating that this is something which causes problems.

While information technology has advanced in the last two thousand years, the physical and mental abilities of teachers and students have not changed greatly. Ancient wax tablets are about the same size and shape as modern tablet computers, as the hands and eyes of the ancient users are much the same as those of today. Similarly the shapes of rooms are not so different.

Democratic Architecture

Ancient Gymnasium at Delphi, Greece
  1. Ancient theatre at Delphi Ancient theatre at Delphi
  2. Ancient Gymnasium at Delphi

Modern equivalents:

  1. Asia Pacific Hall Centre for Dialogue, SFU
  2. Purple Pickle Cafe, Sports Building, ANU
Asia Pacific Hall of the Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue, Simon Fraser UniversityPurple Pickle Cafe, Sports Building, ANU

In 2008 I visited Delphi in Greece. Ancient amphitheatres such as the theatre at Delphi have the same shape and proportions as modern university lecture theatre and discussion forums, such as the Asia Pacific Hall of the Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue, Simon Fraser University, or the Harvard style rooms at ANU which Bar Camp is being held in. The curved stepped design of these rooms is required to allow a large number of participants to not only see a speaker at the centre, but also each other.

At a less well known location about 1 km down hill from the Theatre of Delphi, is the gymnasium. This has a flat exercise area, some old olive trees, and what was a covered walkway(stoa) carved into the hillside. This was where the ancient philosophers did their teaching, sitting in the stoa, discussing the students going past. On returning to the Australian National University (ANU) I noticed the opposite my office at ANU there is a modern gymnasium, with a covered walkway outside and a Cafe. The lecturers meet to discuss educational issues here much as they would have done in ancient Greece, watching the students go past. This area performs a function as important as the formal lecture theatres, providing a place for informal interaction.

In designing buildings for education, it should be remembered that the primary need is to provide spaces for people to interact in. The equipment and services in the building are there to help people interact with each other. The technology is there to assist human interaction, be it face to face or computer mediated.

Modern lecture theatres can have sound reinforcement to allow a voice to carry further. Large visual displays can display the course materials further. However, if the students can't see each other and the lecturer can't see them, there will be little sense of being part of a joint activity. This applies to both physical and on-line learning environments. Modern materials, such as glass, can allow students to feel part of a larger body while having a quieter and secure place to study. Electronic displays can enhance the experience.

Learning Commons Designs

Artists Rendering of the New Gungahlin LibraryGungahlin Library Plan

The University of Canberra opened a new Teaching and Learning Commons in 2011, just above the refurbished refectory. The learning space is a mezzanine, allowing the students to look down at what is happening in the refectory. This brings the education more into everyday life. As well as display screens in the classrooms, there are digital signage screens in the common areas outside. Normally these display announcements of events, but can by used by students for informal group sessions.

The new $72.4 million Gungahlin College in Canberra has a simialr community ethos. The College will accommodate 900 upper secondary students and includes a CIT learning centre (for vocational TAFE education). The college library will be available to the community, providing the local public library, with learning rooms for adults and children.

These new learning facilities are complemented on-line systems developed for education so students can meet, discuss and learn. The same facilities can be used for public policy discussion.

Forums for Education, Dialogue, Deliberation and Decision Making

Model of the proposed Austrlaian Centre for Dialogue Building, design by Alicia BaylRoyal Roads University Learning and Innovation Centre

Royal Roads University (Canada), is constructing a Learning and Innovation Centre building. One floor will be a "Centre for Dialogue" for community discussions. This is intended to carry out a similar function to that of the Wosk Centre at Simon Fraser University. However unlike the Wosk centre, which is essentially a conference centre with very specialised discussion rooms for face to face interaction, the LIC building will be primarily a teaching centre for traditional lectures and computer meditated communication, with dialogue as a secondary role. This will allow the facility to be used much more intensively and thus provide the community with a better return on its investment.

The "Australia Forum", is a proposal from the Canberra Business Council for a venue in Canberra for meetings, dialogue, cultural events and occasions of national importance. There is a Scoping Study available for the project. This complements the Australian National University's "Australian Centre for Dialogue Project". There is a Vision and Mission Statement (PDF) and a brief explanatory movie. The Australian facility would be modelled on the Wosk Centre. In 2007 an architectural competition was held for the design of a proposed $26M "Centre for Dialogue", to be a building built in Canberra. In April 2011, a proposal to incorporate this into a $327 million conference centre and hotel complex was released.

The new proposal differs from the previous proposal, and similar buildings in Berlin and Athens. Buildings such as the House of World Cultures Berlin and the Zappeion Athens, are located in parkland, isolating them from city facilities and making it difficult to have a useful functional facility, more than just an expensive symbol.

I propose that the new Canberra complex can be used for education, as well as a dialogue centre and conference venue, using the same electronic and physical facilities for all these functions.

The New Library of Alexandria Did Not Burn Down

As demonstrations continue despite the delegation of presidential powers to the Vice-President, the Library continues to be protected by the people. Alexandria saw massive demonstrations throughout the city (see video). Young students from the university designed and made a huge National Flag, and put it on the steps of the Library (see images) which elicited cheers from passing demonstrators as the director waved to the crowds (see image)....

From: "Under the protection of the People", Bibliotheca Alexandrina, February 2011

The best current example of a cultural centre contributing to democratic development of a nation is the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. The previous Library of Alexandria was founded around 290 BC and was destroyed by fire around 48 BC. A new library was opened in 2002 AD. Dr. Ismail Serageldin, Director of the library dramatically related described how library staff joined hands with members of the public to protect the library during the 2011 Egyptian revolution. Dr. Serageldin also described how the library spread "the values of democracy, freedom of expression, tolerance, diversity and pluralism" and so helped bring democracy to his country.

More Information

Slides and printed notes (ODF Format) for these notes are also available.

Copyright © 2011 (Version 1, 25 May 2011) Tom Worthington

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Designing for Democratic Dialogue: More than Mating iPads by Tom Worthington is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia License.
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