How PLEs make sense to me – Intro to emerging tech week 3

I was invited to talk in a very interesting conversation for the emerge folks last week and, while the reportage of said conversation was not exactly to my liking :) it did help me get my mind around how I feel about PLEs.

The discussion was about where the future of the VLE lies. A VLE (virtual learning environment) is usually a school sponsored tool that allows for administrative organization and coordinated course delivery. Our current course, Intro to emerging tech is being partially taught inside of a VLE (moodle) and we are taking advantage of the fact that we can monitor people’s logins… that it’s possible to have threaded discussion forums and that the user interface is very easy to organize. These are good things. The part where things get complicated is where we start to talk about power and where we start to talk about ‘Personal learning environments’.

Below is an excerpt of my written response to a blog post about an elluminate debate i was in :) isn’t technology beautiful. Some important things to note here regarding that. In last week’s conversations about identity I suggested that we need to be careful that we don’t say things ‘on the record’ or ‘on the internet’ that are easily misinterpreted. One of the other important issues relates to digital identity. It can be very important to monitor what people claim you have said, and to address those issues in a professional manner. Our online identity is all most people will ever know about us, and while there are some people that ‘aren’t worth the trouble’, who cause confusion for the sake of it, this was a comment by a professional that I respect in a Community of Practice that I belong to so I felt the need to address his post in the comments of his blog.

“There is a sense in which the VLE debate does bridge into a larger discussion about the validity of top down knowledge distribution from the knowledge depot… a model that started to lose its validity 10 years ago and is now working its way to the margins. We are in a post-knowledge-scarcity society and the VLE as it is currently conceived is still designed for transimitting knowledge scarcity. It presumes that the ‘value’ is in the knowledge itself, in the content provided by the university ,and that the contribution of the students is transitory and disposable. This is the old model, the model, ACTUAL student centredness not the ‘students get to talk’ model we’ve been sold for years, involves the student s creating their own knowledge in their own space… a PLE or Eportfolio or whatever you want to call it is created as a manner of course. It is the natural result of learning.”

This idea of life long learning being connected to the platform is one that I continue to feel stronger about the more that I work on these topics. If people are continuously working in a walled garden like moodle, they are going to have to make separate copies of the work if they consider it worth keeping. They are not, for instance, using that work to build a network that will last beyond the point of the course. They are also not building a body of work that they can refer to.

Why, you might ask, are we doing this course in a closed fashion? Well, I also happen to think that forcing people to work in the open without a clear sense of the implication of that action is also unfair. If people choose to blog and refer us to that work by using the course tag, and, maybe, referring to it in the blog posts… then that’s great. If they choose, for any number of reasons, that they prefer to keep all their work to themselves, that is also their choice. I don’t think its a good choice, i think that work shared is more valuable and more likely to come back to you better than when you started… I think that the best knowledge is created in an interaction… a ‘public PLE’ but that is not for me to decide for someone else.

So, I guess, for me my PLE is my community. I work in public at edtechtalk (which gathers my links and the audio that I work on), I work on the blog where i record some of the stuff that I’m doing. I work on a variety of projects, where I hope I can contribute to other knowledge creation events. (we are media comes to mind as well as the openhabitat project). But even with these projects, I post my thoughts here on my blog and then find a way to aggregate them to where they need to be… much like I’m doing now with this post to my students.

19 thoughts on “How PLEs make sense to me – Intro to emerging tech week 3

  1. Dave, as a participant in the course, and as someone who is very much in favour of open learning and open education, I have to respond to your post.

    Frankly, some of the things that I shared in our sheltered area of the moodle were only for the eyes of the course participants. In particular, I related anecdotes of other people who I could not necessarily share about pubicly. I had permission to share in the context of the course (yes, I asked), but it would not have been prudent to share it publicly.

    In order to protect my own digital identity, sometimes I have to filter content that I share publicly. I am very careful to NEVER openly criticize my employer or individuals in particular. This is important for many reasons, not just the fact that my own job could be at risk.

    We can be engaged and participatory in any number of online spaces – public-ish and private-ish. While it is true that anything digital can be passed on (another reason to put that filter in place when using email or even writing a Word document), some spaces are still quite restricted to participants while others are open to all.

    And thanks for giving me that kick in the butt to start saving some of my work in those “wall gardens”. I had a few worthy thoughts there that I should save for the sake of posterity…. :-)

  2. I like the analogy of a walled garden to describe the VLE – it is a protected space where you can feel secure, but it is not completely private. Technical staff pop up in my Bb site, or a fellow students admits to connections, often enough for me to remind students that they cannot know who is reading what they post.

    Can a PLE be a thing? Can an institution add Web 2.0 apps to their LMS and say “Students here is your PLE”? This is happening. I’ll do some research and post to the course forum.

  3. Hi Dave,
    Um, I’m not in Emerging Tech, but since you popped up on the feed :-), I thought I’d note that I appreciate the nuances you lay out here. I agree that “participating” can ultimately be the most productive process. But I’ve also observed both in my learning and in facilitating others that having a space to “practice” responding in online environments and to figure out how to manage digital identity without the “it will follow you forever and ever” fear are actually pretty freeing experiences for learners. I don’t think VLEs necessarily fit the bill for this, and as things evolve, learners might come into a course knowing this from the outset, but for now, offering some kind of playground/practice/do-over environment seems like a pretty learner-friendly concept.

  4. Dave – I came across your post via Stephen Downes’ blog.

    If I were a student now, but armed with what I know about these sort of environments, I’d have two blogs, one public, the other for me only, maybe giving access to a mentor on the latter, and put much if not all my written work (with links, embedded images, videos, etc.) into one or the other of these. I would also keep a local copy of each post for archival reasons – self protection

    If I then had coursework to do in a VLE, I’d copy and paste from one of these blogs or I’d link to a particular blog post. I keep control of my stuff this way, I decide what should be public or private, and it is not hard to work in other environments.

    I doubt most students would operate this way, but why not make a suggestion of that sort? Then, the implied obligation in what you write above is on the student, which is where it should be in my opinion.

    Also, on a more pedantic level, it is information that is abundant now. I’m afraid knowledge is still scarce, and wisdom almost entirely absent.

  5. Dave – I read your rhizome piece. I found it strange in a few ways, not the ones you might predict.

    1. Foundation of knowledge is — you said information. I thought you’d argue it is common assumptions, frameworks, or world view that are necessary to precede the negotiation. (If that is implicit, where does it come from?)

    2. As described in the piece I couldn’t see how the rhizome approach distinguishes cult behavior from knowledge creation.

    3. Likewise I couldn’t see how it ruled out the possibility of two separate groups each who negotiate in the ways you describe but then who come up with opposite conclusions. Is there knowledge in both? That would be odd.

    In other words, where is verification in the story? If you put verification in front and center, does the result differ so much from the older models that you critique?

    Be that as it may, the claim of knowledge abundance doesn’t follow from this piece. At least, I didn’t see how it does.

    By the way, my name is Lanny, not Larry.

    And on the content management, fine if the access is portable regardless of place of residence or employment.

  6. First… sorry about getting your name wrong… i wrote that with my 2 month old on my lap, and it makes my concentration wander.

    The distinction between our two views, I think, is a foundational disagreement on premises. You think “it would be odd” for “two separate groups each who negotiate in the ways [i] describe but then come up with opposite conclusions”

    I think this is a perfectly normal happening, it happens on a daily basis in medicine, in new fields like the ones described in the paper, in any number of social and political situations… Experts (and i don’t mean pundits) commenting on recent north american elections are an excellent example of this… would you refrain from giving either the ‘left’ or the ‘right’ the right of knowledge creation because they don’t agree with the other.

    We all start from separate premises and work in different contexts, those contexts and premises have a fundamental effect on what can be considered knowledge (depending on the field, please do not tell me that math (or some other ‘fact’) doesn’t work that way.) I would not, indeed could not, philosophically claim that what I’m saying applies to everything… it probably doesn’t.

    Verification is actually in the paper… but it is contextual, and varied… :) you see, we don’t even use these words the same.

    So… from my view, with the uptake of speed and communications, interactions between like minded, well informed experts drastically increases the number of people in a position to ‘create knowledge’ and the fact that so much of it is in public, creates an ‘abundance of knowledge’. It wouldn’t follow from your premises.

    And, just so you know, I had guessed you as a modernist and these are exactly the same objections that every modernist makes to this kind of work. The world is determinist, there are transferable observable premises that people can share, and truth/knowledge is objective and can be seen, observed and finalized. I don’t believe it.

  7. In the categories you list, I don’t know what I am. I’m trained as an economist and I subscribe to the scientific method when a controlled experiment is possible. We try something of this sort to troubleshoot when there are IT problems.

    There are many cases where controlled experiments are not possible and then there are conjectures or beliefs, which are contingent based on what info we have. But then a desire to find experiments to sort those out. If that makes me a modernist, so be it.

    I agree that the technology and speed of communication allows a community to solve an already specified problem much faster. And then to get to the next problem suggested by solution of the first. I’m not sure it does much for starting a fundamentally new path.

  8. Like others in the class, I like the analogy of a “walled garden” for VLEs. However, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve constructed a false dichotomy here. Don’t many VLEs have the capacity for students and educators to link outside the walled garden?

    I think a closed system is very useful for certain groups of students, such as students who aren’t yet comfortable with the technology, or students who need a few rudimentary lessons before leaping into a particular field full bore.

    I’m new to the concept of PLEs, but I think I can see how PLEs and VLEs could be immenseful useful, complementary tools.

  9. Hi Lanny,

    I have a funny feeling that this would be a great chat over a beverage or two. It seems we may not be that far from each other after all… possible that I’m just lowering the bar on the word knowledge…

    But I’m interested in what you mean by ‘starting a fundamentally new path’ are you talking about new kids of knowledge or new directions in a given field? Is this a connection to the ‘cult’ comments you made earlier on?

    I think this is an excellent point, adn I think I should probably include it in the follow up article. There is certainly a sense in which communities can morph into cults, looking inward and backwards rather than outside and inclusive. Is this what you mean?

  10. Hi Carrie,

    The dichotomy is in ownership… and really not quite a dichotomy as their is the possibility of third party ownership as well. In a VLE the landscape is controlled by the insitution, there are often many things that an instructor is incapable or directly ‘not allowed’ to do due to admistrative concerns of pedagogy, politics or security. The linear nature of our course page, for instance, almost imperceptibly (or not) forces into this ‘week by week’ linear approach to knowledge creation…

    There are defintely advantages to this in a introductory course, as it can be very difficult to learn new ways of building knowledge, new platforms and take over ownership of your learning at the same time… a problem that intimidated many in the CCK08 course.

    I didn’t quite spell this out in my post… and probably should have. thanks for teasing that idea out

  11. Dave

    If the opportunity avails itself, I will buy the first round.

    I was thinking about two distinct things. With the cults, I was thinking about true believers in unregulated financial markets, who maintained the belief in spite of evidence to the contrary, till the bottom completely fell out of the markets. Calling what they believed knowledge doesn’t do anyone a service, in my view.

    On the new directions, the thought is that learning and knowledge creation is something like a sine wave. There are periods of intense interest and growth, then that tapers off followed by a lull. The next upswing might very well involve others and initially be the product of an individual or a small group. In a not fully appropriate statistical analogy, groups often regress to the mean. The next new thing comes from an outlier. At least that’s my sense of it.

    Also, on the point of where the bar should be for the word knowledge, I suppose that depends on context. For decision making and management, I think it should be high, so we appreciate how much we don’t know, and view setbacks as opportunities for improvements. In this setting, if we used the low bar interpretation, every mistake we’d make would be a reminder that we’re a ditz for not having anticipated correctly ahead of time and give a false sense that perfect solutions are possible.

    Having a mature view about uncertainty is hard. And it is important to acquire. So even in the classroom setting perhaps the bar should be high, but I can see a flip argument that the labeling of the activity could impact student engagement and anything that encourages that needs to considered seriously.

  12. Hi Dave,
    I think you have raised some important points on on-line discussion (Elluminate), forum and blogs postings etc. and found them very useful.
    I have created a response post on my blog: http://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com
    As I am not registered in your class, I have not fully understood the issues your class is facing. I could only relate to the CCK08 that I have attended, for the sharing of views
    What are the general views of students of your class? Are they all different? Is digital identity an issue in your “closed class”?
    Cheers.

  13. Dave, nice post, good debate. Do you want to expand on “we are taking advantage of the fact that we can monitor people’s logins…”

  14. Hello Dave,

    Now I do understand why, since I’m not enrolled in the class, I can’t really be a part of it. And I am sympathetic to what I think I understand as your view: a course management system (or instructor/institution-created VLE) is necessarily a walled garden due to concerns about pedagogy and privacy, both of the instructors and students.

    There does seem to be a variety of approaches. Some classes, like CCK08, are completely open and for the most part force learners to create their own systems which, as you’ve noted, creates a high bar. Others, like Couros’ EC&I 831 class, have a layer for enrolled participants and a layer for those who aren’t enrolled (which is what I was hoping would happen for your class).

    I teach my online classes using Moodle (I have used Blackboard before)and as the instructor am currently feeling restricted by my VLE. In addition to technical issues of the hosting company (I can’t host it myself, and the site goes down inconsistently), I have to go into each class separately, the system doesn’t let me know when I get Messages which class the student is in, it’s awkward to set up anything “above” the individual sections (like synchronous office hours). As with Blackboard, I find myself linking out a lot (as Carrie notes is an option). Ultimately, I may use the VLE only for its handy gradebook and assignments functions, and maybe the asynchronous forums (I like Moodle’s nesting format), but not much else.

    So thank you for pointing me to this post — it’s helping me reconsider whether I should throw up my hands and abandon VLEs all together (my typical response when they go wrong technically). I can think of a number of students who would be horrified to have their work read on the wider web, not only beginners but those who are insecure about their writing or scholarship. There is a confidence for these learners in being in the walled garden, where they’ll be less embarrassed to learn in front of others.

  15. Dave & Lanny,

    I have been enjoying reading your conversation in this thread of comments and would like to weigh in and perhaps make a distinction that will help to integrate your two viewpoints.

    From the perspective of both philosophy and science, I see that your discussion stems not from so much a conflict of ideas as from a conflict in your perspectives.

    My hope is to shed some light on this topic by making a distinction between scientific domains of knowledge and non-scientific domains of knowledge.

    I will discuss Lenny’s use of the word “knowledge” within scientifically-accessible domains of knowledge then consider Dave’s use of “knowledge” as it applies to non-scientific domains.

    I am trained as a scientist and like Lenny tend to believe that experimentation followed by rigorous analysis is necessary to produce verifiable knowledge. Scientific knowledge is not the result of large numbers of community members creating their own set of opinions no matter how well argued. The history of science is full of examples of “knowledge” generated by common scholarly beliefs that had no grounding in scientific verification.

    That does not mean that I believe that scientific verification is the end-all and be-all. It simply is a powerful means of differentiating between true “knowledge” vs. opinion.

    Why do I say that scientific verification not the end-all and be-all? For many human problems, rigorous verification is simply not possible. The most common example is the problem of human “love.” Human social dynamics are simply too difficult to reduce to a reasonable number of experimental variables. Poetry is a much more reasonable approach to understanding love!

    Scientists tend to distinguish between the domains of “knowledge” that lend themselves to scientific analysis and those that do not.

    I would venture that scientific knowledge has great value but has a very limited scope and doesn’t lead to wisdom, whose proper domain is the human affairs. And like Dave, I believe that wisdom can only be achieved in dialogue.

    Anyway that is my synthesis of your two seemingly opposing views. I hope you liked it ;-)

    Greg

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