What is this whole school thing about anyway?

Brisk sunny day on the east coast, cold enough to freeze the ground around here today. Had a lovely night with an international group last night, all the international students from UPEI put on a cultural evening for all the people that work with them. (I try to teach them academic writing) The food was fantastic alot of smiles and laughs, and hundreds of pictures taken, A real sense of community, where people get a sense of what other people are like. I found myself moving from table to table, trying to mix some of the groups, strangely trying to set an example of cross cultural belonging and friendship… strange to have finally moved to that role…

Which bring me to Leigh Blackall’s
against the LMS/VLE/PLE. I’m a big fan of Leigh’s writing, but i have to say that this time, i have a few problems with his position, and i’d like to start a little healthy debate on the subject. I have two main subjects that i’d like to cover, one concerning relative computer literacy and the other about what the school and learning is all about.

Who needs ALL of the internet

Why do we need a PLE when we already have the Internet? The Internet is my PLE, ePortfolio, VLE what ever. Thanks to blogger, bloglines, flickr, delicious, wikispaces, ourmedia, creative commons, and what ever comes next in this new Internet age, I have a strong online ID and very extensive and personalised learning environment.

I think that Leigh’s logic here is solid insofar as his ‘I’ is concerned. This is true for me as well, and for most of the people that are likely to be reading this blog. The majority of people will NEVER have an internet presence. By definition, there is no room for the ‘presence’ of 6 billion people. Some people, like Leigh, will do enough good work to have room on the internet for Stephen Downes to read their work and post it, most will never. Community environments like elgg allow for them to be noticed, and interacted with, by their peers. It’s a safe, controllable environment, away from the chaos and uncertainty that is that rather long list of tools listed. The PLE and to a lesser extent the VLE/LMS provide some security, some much needed structure and most importantly guaranteed interactivity. Technorati is claiming 21 million blogs or so (i have 4 or 5) where will the interactivity be when there are 200 million or 2 billion. A PLE like elgg allows for focus.

Learning from life

My thinking is that we need to build media literacy in our institutions, and not prevent it by building replicas.

A PLE is not a simulacra. There are many instances in this ‘real world’ that Leigh is refering to where the PLE is being used. I have several friends who have installed moodle and elgg as training and communication platforms for companies, from restaurants to government agencies.

So while I whole heartedly agree with the PLE and Scott’s reasoning for rejecting the LMS/VLE, I can’t say I’m with them on their alternative. In my view, the VLE, LMS and PLE are the same. A suggestion that the Internet, and informal networked learning are not enough. That people still need to come to school to learn. That people need to distinguish learning from life, that people need to download and install an application that will solve their learning needs.

If I understand correctly, ‘informal networked learning’ as it appears in the internet context, is ‘real life’ and the LMS/VLE/PLE are artificial. I’m not sure that i understand how someone would start informal learning in a ‘natural way,’ but i would love to have this further elaborated on.

My real objection to this is the part about ‘coming to school’. I don’t think that people come to school to gather knowledge in the traditional sense. In an ideal world they learn how to learn, they learn to work together, they learn how to kiss behind the water filtration system, they learn how to fight… and eventually how not to… they get the opportunity to know more than their parents do on all the above subjects… school still has this power (if used) to level the social classes. Now weather or not we replace the military classroom with another free, government sponsored place that isn’t called school but still allows them to do the things above and many more, we still need them.

A friend of mine was called by another parent from the community about something her son was doing on the internet. Suffice it to say that he was about ten and he was emailing porn to his buddies… This will happen. Kids will publish porn, just for fun, to push boundaries, to experiment, all part of the natural experience. How do we teach appropriate behaviour on the internet? How do we pass our cultural values on to the wired generation? In these PLE/VLE environments, where we guide by example, where we lead… where we teach.

12 Responses to “What is this whole school thing about anyway?”

  1. Bud Hunt Says:

    Interesting stuff here. I’m not sure I quite understand the argument, but here’s what I’m thinking after I read both your post and Leigh’s. (Disclaimer — I am on some cold medicine right now, and that might impact my judgment a little bit.)
    Aren’t PLE’s constructed out of bits of the Internet? For example, I use Bloglines to bring to me the stuff that I consider my “personal learning environment.” The advantage of something like Bloglines is that it siphons off a manageable drink of the fire hose that is the Internet. But I’m still a public participant.
    Because I have such a tool, the entire Internet can be a place where everyone has a presence — I simply take in the stuff I’m interested in.
    Of course, there are advantages sometime of having the learning spaces be private. That’s why I use a Moodle — to work online together in private. I don’t think either space is inherently artificial — I suspect that Intel is not using a blog to discuss the latest tech specs of its newest processors. But they might be using an in-house electronic communication tool.
    Aren’t both valuable, and can’t we teach (and learn via) both? Did I miss the entire argument?

  2. Leigh Blackall Says:
    Hi Dave, Bud. Thanks heaps for continuing on this topic, its rare that I get to read a rebuttal to what I think up – perhaps leading me into a false sense of security with my points of view – so thanks.

    If I may, I’ll use some of my experiences with online learning, both as a student and a teacher, to try and nut the argument out a bit.

    Firstly, as a uni student in 1995 I was given a student email account, my email address was somthing like s95034790@studentmail.com (actually, I think it was worse than that, something like s95034790@alinga.studentmail.com, no wonder noone on email took me seriously ;) . 3 years later someone showed me Hotmail, and I wondered why I was putting up with the student mail with its 1meg or less limit for so long – or why I even needed to be using student mail in the first place… I think it was a student management thing.

    Then, as a student in 2001 I was asked to participate in an online course (teacher training actually) using Blackboard. I knew a little about computers and the Internet by then, but spent most of my time trying to explain to my classmates just how Blackboard worked. At least 1/5th of the class dropped out of that course, sighting Blackboard as the issue… Than a friend showed me Blogger, and I got to wondering again…

    When the 2001 course unenrolled me and the remaining classmates, they deleted our forums. That sealed it for me – I swore I would never use a ’system’ to communicate and conduct my online learning with again. At best, I might post into a forum a link to my blog or what ever.

    After teacher training, I found a job in an innovations unit trying to help teachers get a grip on another LMS being used. The poor teachers hated it, but they had been told in no uncertain terms that online learning was the future, and learning how to use this LMS was the way to the future. Then I met a teacher who showed me Moodle, and I got to asking why on earth my organisation was spending millions of dollars on this LMS, when Moodle was free. I realised that the LMS we were using would not be around for much longer. I couldn’t face all those teachers trying hard to learn our present system, knowing that no sooner would they have worked it all out, than I’d be showing them a new LMS.

    In the end, I decided that it would be better to teach teachers and students how to use tools that would be relevant to them outside of school and work as well. I started showing teachers how to use Blogger – most loved it! I showed Gmail and GoogleGroups – everyone asked why they were settling for an email service so inferior! I started showing Del.icio.us – most loved it! I showed Bloglines – most were amazed, but few took the leap to RSS I must admit.

    Why, I asked myself, were the teachers who were so resistant to the LMS stuff, suddenly so keen on these tools? Why could they so clearly see that these tools were better? I’d say it had a lot to do with the speed in which they could get their stuff online. They didn’t have to negotiate with IT support for server space, no QA process, just them and the Internet – nothing in between.

    So, I have a choice. People only have so much handling capacity for the new technology. I could keep showing people how to use the LMS and suite of tools that would be of use to them only when within the organisation, or they could start learning tools that would be useful to them outside as well. I don’t think both would’ve been OK. Too much to take in and all that. The answer was obvious.

    This, and many other reasons is why I make the classroom/real world analogy. The extra curricular activity that you mention and credit school for Dave, occurs in may other places besides school. And with school banning iPods, IM, most social softare, and probably blogging, I think the school environment is less and less likely to have such a role. Our kids will have to learn how to fight, and how not to fight in some other place.

  3. Harold Jarche Says:
    Reminds me of this comment I made, on the fact that the new media can’t fit into the classroom:
  4. dave Says:
    Thanks for chiming in gentlemen…

    First, sorry for spelling your name wrong Leigh… seems i’ve been doing that for a while. Blackall. Got it.

    Bud – Yes. I agree. Tools are just that, regardless of how they are packaged. Some of the packaging is better, some not so good. but…

    Harold – yes, no telephone. :) and it’s taken years to get the computers in there. And, for now, the training isn’t even in the BEd programs. The academics are the one’s who need the push… at the end of the day, they are the only one’s who influence both the teachers and policy. It can be changed, but it’s gonna take a long time.

    Leigh- I think we’re talking about power here… it always comes back to this one way or the other. Who controls, who designs, who has the power to delete. My experience has been very similar to yours. Some rebuttals.
    1. I’m certainly not suggesting that people ONLY use ?LEs. In my writing class my students have our blocked VLE (class negotiated) and i’ve set them up with their own blogs and encourage them to work on their assignments on forums elsewhere on the internet. That way, the things they learn in my class they will be able to use out in the internet. Some external things are better. I don’t even use my university email account… when i start at a new school, i get them to put a forwarder to my personal account. Gmail is better. no doubt.
    2. That’s why we need to take the PLE off the school server. I’ve started a pilot project with 8th graders to do just that. Would love to have your input on it. Would also love to have you come on the show someday, we could ‘talk’ about some of these issues…
    3. (same as two) We definetely need continuity. We also need publishing of work. This is the final step after the ?LE work is finished. Students need to be encouraged to take their essays, research etc… out of the moodle and then onto blogger.

  5. Bubbling Minds » Blog-arkiv » LMS, VLE, PLE Says:
    […] Der er en meget spændende debat i gang i øjeblikket om LMS (Learning Management Systems), VLE (Virtual Learning Environments) og PLE (Personalised Learning Environment) her, her og her. Leigh Blackall indtager det mest radikale synspunkt og erklærer død over LMSer, VLEer og PLEer – hvad skal vi med dem, nÃ¥r vi har internettet, mens Dave Cormier klapper hesten og mener, at det overvejende flertal aldrig vil fÃ¥ en “Internet presence” (eller blive læst af Stephen Downes) – der er simpelthen ikke plads…… […]
  6. Miguel Guhlin Says:
    Howdy…wrote a response back to you at http://www.mguhlin.net/blog/archives/2005/11/entry_731.htm

    Thanks for the great conversation!! Leigh is right on target.

  7. Leigh Blackall Says:
    Hi again Dave, Harold, Bubbling Minds, Miguel.
    I remembered to come back. Sustaining conversation in the comment areas of blogs can be difficult hey! Why all blogs don’t have email pluggins I dunno… You’re right, I should just track back to a post, but for some reason it doesn’t work for me…

    I think Downes covers some exciting terrain about the classroom in his recording of eLearning 2.0 Alberta Cut. I’m not sure if that’s what Bubbling Minds was pointing to, I don’t understand the language of the comment :(

    Dave, I totally agree that its about power. Ain’t it always! Its also political. Not much dif really come to think of it.

    I’ve been meaning to read more on anarchy, looking for anarchist views to education. As it strikes me that the natural politics of the Internet is anarchic. I’m not talking black shirt, bomb throwing, anti christ anarchy – I’m sure there’s more reason to it than that. Which is why I think a bit of historical research is needed on this topic.

    Know any well informed anarchists to bring into this? I would be very interested to see if new thoughts and directions could be spawned from such a different angle..

  8. Leigh Blackall Says:
    not sure if my comments are getting through, but wikipedia has quite a massive entry on anarchism, quite interesting…
  9. Andy Roberts Says:
    I’m not an anrchist but I do agree with Leigh on this one, having dipped into the conversation via Downes


    and just noted that Siemens has picked it up as well.


  10. Leigh Blackall Says:
    what I’ve found so far on anarchism… no ideas yet, but it fits at least.
  11. Mona Says:
    Hi all,

    An interesting debate on LMS and VLEs. I would like to add my comment over here, at first I asked myself why would we use lms? Are VLEs important in the learning process? Actually they are when we talk about Distance Education or Blended learning. It is more like managing the learning process. It is true that some are difficult to use or even makes the user annoyed but at the end, who would benefit from it? Is it the learners? Why would we go against them, while we can develop or give our opinions on what can be added to LMSs.

    It is true that learners can learn from the internet and other people, still it is important to learn from the instructor or other learners who takes the same subject, and contribute with them.

    Why don’t we just integrate Blogs and the other interesting tools with the LMS to make the learning more exciting and learner centered. Wouldn’t be a good Idea?

    Every technology and tool has its advantages and disadvantages, we can benefit from the advantages and try to reduce the disadvatages of it by developing or adding what we need or what is the Learner need, since he is the ONE we care and try to facilitate his learning.

    I might misunderstood the argument, but thats what I came up with when I read your interesting article. Lets not say Die LMS, lets just wait for the new LMS and Blogs, del.icio.us, bloglines’s Baby :)

  12. Virtual Canuck » PLE’s versus LMS: Are PLEs ready for Prime time? Says:
    […] I’ve been trying to get my head around the viability of moving educational programming from institutionally centered Learning Management Systems (LMS) systems, or even institutionally owned and controlled educational social systems like Elgg or Barnraiser, to a distributed and likely syndicated set of tools often referred to as Personal Learning Environments (PLE). The recent postings by Leigh Blackall, response by Dave Cormier and the work of Paul Trafford and his RAMBLE project at Oxford got me thinking. James Farmer’s pioneering 2004 work applying our Community of inquiry to blogging and Michael Hotrum’s comments on that work are also incorporated in the ideas below. […]

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

6 thoughts on “What is this whole school thing about anyway?”

  1. Hi Dave

    Thanks for this post which has got me thinking. I am trying to get my head around what a PLE is for my own personal studies. I have come to the conclusion that I take Leigh’s stance on this. But at the same time, your words did ring a bell. I am very confident with the Internet but I have been watching colleagues and students struggle with the ‘chaos’ of the Internet, so I can see why some would prefer a more ‘enclosed’ site that acts as a one stop shop. For me, my blog is my one – stop shop but as far as personal learning is concerned, I guess it’s each to their own. Thank you, Sarah

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