Web 3.0 video review, and some PLENK thinking

I just watched the quite excellent documentary by Kate Ray on Web 3.0. While I went into the video expecting a celebration of the awesomeness of a smarter web, what i found was a nicely balanced review of the upsides and downsides of the conversation and some quite dissenting viewpoints from the people she interviews. In the context of our discussions in PLENK2010 (personal learning environments, networks and knowledge MOOC) I think there are a couple of relevant points that impact the possibilities for education.

The internet is VERY NEW
In the beginning of the video a variety of the subjects (and they are all quite good subject btw) talk about how people get confused by the massive amount of information on the internet. How people get confused when they are confronted with too many options when they search for the word ‘camera’. This was from Chris Dixon, who described how research says that people are less likely to purchase a camera, and less likely to be happy with that purchase, if they reach that point of confusion.

I don’t see this as very surprising. Every week now, a cagillion people log on to the internet to shop for the first time, to surf for the first time, to tweet for the first time. I think of the feeling I had the first time I walked onto a camera STREET in South Korea. Every shop had cameras… the whole street. How was I to choose between stores… let alone picking out the camera I wanted? How would I know who to trust?

Right now the internet is still very new for most people. People will get better at using things that are scattered

This is where we are with the internet. It is still very, very new to 97% (made up stat) of the population. This is directly related to the ways in which we look at PLEs. People are unfamiliar with technologies, with this kind of social connection… this will come. In time. The drive that I see in development from the technological side of PLEs is to make it easier, more transparent, less work for the student. In doing so we disempower. We separate them from the means of their own production. Give them time. They may adjust.

The scary thing about the web 3.0 semantic extended next web.
I think the scariest part of the video for me was when John Hebeler said “Semantics merely adds extra information to help you with the Meaning of the information”. That’s all. It adds the meaning to connections. “How could you filter the internet so you could get the answers you wanted to get… ” But who is to decide what you ‘want’ from most of the things we ask. What is the best place to vacation on a beach? The best movie for a Friday night?

This is the root of what has always concerned me about the semantic web. If someone is to design a system that is to speak to how meaning is made, then that person controls what things ‘can’ mean. Clay shirky brings up this point near the end of the video, the history of at least western philosophy is replete with people trying to figure out what ‘meaning’ means.

I don’t mind PLEs being messy.

For the PLE, I would rather the connections between people be messy, and force students to take responsibility for their work, than create a system that makes decisions for how things ARE connected based on a method that then allows us to reassemble data later.

Everything need not be for everyone
Another comment by Chris Dixon – “If its indexed in a really unaccessible form, then it might as well not be out there.” One of the premises underlying this is that everyone needs to be able to find every bit of information put on the web. That somehow if an algorithm doesn’t index your material in a way that google can find it, it doesn’t exist. I can understand this position from someone who is in the business of selling things on the internet, but for the majority of people, the algorithms will never find them.

PLEs need not be ‘easily accessible’ (in a searching sense) for them to be hugely important to a learning community

The sharing part of an learning community is exactly like this. The things that people are sharing need not be ‘indexed in an accessible form’ to be useful to the people that they are working with. They could, I suppose, gain sufficient traction to be that someday, but learners on the internet need not see wide accessibility and attention as the measure of success.

The ‘semantic’ web impact, then, would be on the resources that people are looking to use that are outside of their defined social learning community. They would help in the finding of web resources… And sure, it would be very nice if there was a way to get through the chaff to the wheat when it comes to resources on the web.

I highly doubt, however, that the free/open resources that currently exist and are findable will be able to compete with a corporate learning space that suddenly has very accurate and powerful tools in its hands to promote its content.

Two more quotes to comment on
If I would start a news business today it would be designed to produce not one new bit of news. Clay Shirky. While I really saw Shirky as the voice of reason in the video this line struck me oddly. I don’t think that he is suggesting, in this case, that the media ‘manufactures’ news… but if he isn’t, than i would say that there is no ‘producing’ of news anymore anyway. All anyone is doing is popularizing news. The idea that a super-class of people is responsible for finding the news and sharing it is really something that is pre-internet.

John Hebeler “There should be enough information out there that you should be able to ask for something extraordinarily specific” This in some ways feeds into the ideas from earlier about there being a ‘right’ place for a beach vacation, but the idea that that most people are looking for ‘very specific’ things and that they could ask for it strikes me wrong. I would argue that most people only have a vague idea of what they are looking for when they start searching… and that figuring out what they are exactly searching for is part of the knowledge process.

26 centuries of skills

Cross post from dangerously irrelevant. Decided to do a guest post… figured I’d want a copy here 🙂

In the past several years I’ve been very fond of saying that moving into the 21 century has very much been a return to our roots. We are finding words like ‘tribe’ and ‘community’ ringing through the din of post-war individualism and we are turning to each other with words of trust and collaboration. Some of us are starting to see the established (and, pre-internet, necessary) forms of identifying reliability, competence, insight and creativity as outdated and difficult to work with. We are looking to the whole identity of a person, to the ways in which they have built the work and network they have as method of vetting the people we wish to work and innovate with. We are less interested in degrees, in ‘certificates’, as, for many of us in technology or education, these degrees do not actually mean very much. These are not new things… they are very old things… very old words, coming back to us.

26 centuries ago, a now very famous philosopher was bemoaning the advent of writing. Socrates was very much afraid that people would use the text of a written book to simply recall things that were said… that there would be no need for them to understand and engage with the work itself. He very much worried about the ideas that were printed in a collection of pages, that once written down they would not be able to defend themselves, that the ideas would become stagnant and unmoving. He wasn’t wrong, I don’t think, to be worried about these things, as texts have very much become things that are static, that can be stagnant, and they’ve become things that we in education expect people to simply be able to ‘recall’ and not to understand.

800px St Michel de Montaigne Chteau01
St. Michel de Montaigne

5 centuries ago, a quite excellent philosopher was sitting in his reading room at what is a quite incredible Chateau. He was a very odd philosopher in some ways, as he saw working on books as a conversation with the authors themselves, and, indeed, as a long term conversation with himself. He would leave three or four paragraph reviews on each of his books, giving himself or a future reader of the book a sense of what they had to expect from this book should they ever pick it up. He was also fond of the personal essay. He would write of himself, of ethics and morals, of the things that were important to him in an open, easy style, that focused on the audience as much as the ideas. He was, in many, many ways… a blogger

80 years ago, a senate resolution was considered on the banning of dial telephones from every senators office. They claimed that this new fangled technology contributed not one whit to the efficiency or ease of use of the telephone, that it simply complicated matters, and they wanted to return to the manual phone. They complained that in order to efficiently use a dial telephone one had to be constantly concerned about the light being in the right position, and, iniquity of all iniquities, if one did not turn the dial the entire way around, one was connected to the wrong person. It was an impossible situation. And one, I might add, that was only solved by the installation of two entirely different sets of telephone systems running side by side inside the same building. One manual, run by operators, the other automated through the use of dials.

Three simple examples of people being a bit outside of their time. Our poor friend socrates was watching the dialectic, open discussion as the pathway to enlightenement and the refining of the intellect slowly drain away. Montaigne was out there, blogging to us, from 500 years away. And 100 powerful men were afraid to change, nervous of new ideas, and complaining that they didn’t work, rather than make the little adjustments they needed to make in order to live in a world that was changing around them. We are playing out one of the many sine waves of history. Control centralizes, and it moves apart. We need to lock many people up in one location to build a pyramid, then spread them out to ride horses through Gaul. We brought them back together again to work in the factories and are now coming to terms with spreading them out again.

One thing that certainly hasn’t changed is that the old guard is still slow to adopt. They are still comfortable in the ways that brought them to power, and many see any change of the status quo as an implicit threat to the power that they worked hard to get to. And we ourselves have mostly lost track of what we are trying to do when we educate people. Socrates, he was sure I think. We wanted people to understand justice, love, honour. He thought that if you forced people to question their ideas enough, you would come to see the truth. For Montaigne, he saw the sharing of himself, of his thoughts, of his humility of spirit as the best gift he could hand off to his fellow man[sic]. So often, though, education is just about maintaining what we had before.

If we are to teach 21st century skills, what are they for? Are they for the world we feel we know they need to live in, as with Socrates? Are we moving forward with Montaigne’s humility? Or are we simply going to try and make them the things that we understand… the three Rs of remembering and testing?

dave c.

PLE vs. LMS – disaggregate power, not people.

As PLENK2010 moves into week two we are taking on the debate between Personal Learning Environments and Learning management systems. My next post will address the differences between the two, but there is a major point that I’d like to address that digs into my distaste for the use of the word ‘personal’ in education.

The PLE/LMS debate is not about autodidacticism, it’s about the decentralization of power

It is easy to see the transition to PLE as the ‘rebel yell’ of education. The splitter leaving the fold to strike out on their own to a place where they can make their own decisions, commune with knowledge on their own terms, thank you very much, and not be under the evil yoke of a power mongering educator and not have to suffer the ignominy of working in groups with other classmates. The lone learning warrior, learning on their own, without guidance. It is an easy vision to have as the discussion around PLEs is often put in opposition to LMSs and this often degenerates to “institution bad, learn on your own”. While this is a very interesting debate, it is not the same as the debate around learners managing their own learning content.

I see learning as a social activity. I don’t care if you’re engaging with dead white men in a book, it’s still a conversation. (albeit one sided in that case) The problem with the PLE (when contrasted with the LMS) is that it can easily move the focus to THE LEARNER and not THE LEARNERS. In this way the move from LMS to PLE can be seen as a move from with people, to without people. We don’t learn much alone. We need to keep the focus of the discussion on the disaggregation of power, not the disaggregation of people.

My own PLE (if i were to call it that) is very much about the aggregation of people. It is about me having the choice of which people I aggregate. It is a plurality. This kind of plurality, the kind of engagement with the network of knowledge on your own terms is about choice. The traditions of education are not so much about the student having choice but about the institution of education having choice (the LMS). This, in my mind, is the central distinction between PLE and LMS.

When we disaggregate the power in education, we empower individual learners. It can encourage them to learn more than is presented in the curriculum. It can encourage lifelong learning. PLEs provide an excellent venue for this to happen. This does not mean that the role of the educator, the guide or the facilitator has evaporated. The great thing about MOOCs is that it brings focus to the many different things that we are all interested in learning, it provides a community of learning, a community curriculum for us to engage with. This, to me, is what the PLE is all about.

Open Learning – leveraging the web for collaboration

This is a moodle book I’ve put together to give people an introduction to open learning at UPEI… It still needs some work… but there it is.

This topic considers the concept open learning and explores how being open as an educator can increase the chances for collaboration, access to knowledge and promote lifelong learning in students.

UPEI Virtual Learning Environment

Course:
UPEI E-Learning Community

Book:
Open Learning – leveraging the web for collaboration

Printed by:
dave cormier

Date:
Wednesday, 15 September 2010, 09:48 PM

Table of Contents

1 Introduction to open learning

The term ‘open’, when seen broadly, essentially refers to the idea of sharing. It may be that the content of a given course is being shared, it might be the learning methods or perhaps the course itself.

Why should I care?

  1. Access to resources – There are thousands of resources out there for most disciplines freely available for reuse. This can lead to more interesting classes and reduced preparation time.
  2. Access to new approaches – there is, at any given time, likely an educator struggling and overcoming the same issues in the classroom. Much can be learned from reading and participating in their experiences.
  3. Access to new educational experiences – open courses (free to access) have started around a number of topics. This fall, PLENK2010 is studying the research and practice around the usage of PLEs (personal learning environments) and PLNs (personal learning networks) in an educational context.
2 What do you mean by Open

What is openness?

Openness is not a panacea. It will not suddenly teach students or spread ‘good’ education, nor is it free of cultural baggage. There is a vast amount of money currently being spent on open education and some kind of return is expected, even if it is not to be the direct return of actual clients purchasing the content. Many of these projects also seem to exhibit a potentially different kind of openness, and suggest that there are different degrees and ways in which a given piece of content or educational experience can be considered as open. With the language of educational openness now reaching the national level with major OER projects in the UK and Canada the field appears to be moving into the mainstream.

The moniker of openness – like its much maligned cousin ‘free’ – comes in many guises. With the word free, as in free software, we might call it free because the user (as in the case of gmail) does not need to spend any money to use the product. The software is free from inherent monetary charge, but it does have hidden costs in the permission given to Google to search your email data and the subliminal viewing of advertising – an activity that most corporations would have to pay money for. Free, in the sense that The Free Software Foundations uses the word, means that it is not owned by anyone and it is not bound by any licensing that restricts what someone would like to do with it. It is also, usually, free of charge. In common usage both are “free”, but in practice they are very different things.

Openness suffers from the same confusion. A thing can be open in the sense that you may use or interact with the product of a process created by a university. This might be called OER as ‘project’. This is the sense in which Open Educational Resources like the ones at OpenLearn and MIT’s Open Course Ware OCW are open. Rebecca Attwood’s article in the Times Higher (September 2009) mentions that the tuition at MIT costs $36000 a year and claims that this is the worth of the OCW project to its users. Elsewhere in the article she reports that MIT found “it would be impossible to transfer the kind of education it provided on campus to an online environment.” This kind of openness bears a striking resemblance to the kind of software that you can get free of charge. You get access to the cold hard facts of the course, not the heart and soul.

Another kind of openness, OER as ‘practice’, opens up the learning process to the scrutiny of the watcher. It is transparent rather than free of charge. The work done by Alec Couros at the University of Regina (Couros, 2009), and the MOOCs that are being taught at the University of Manitoba, are excellent examples of these (Cormier, 2008b). In these cases, the classes are open for people not only to read the content and the syllabus, but these visitors can be part of the learning process. The role of the institution becomes one of accreditation.

See Dave Cormier, “Open Educational Resources: The Implications for Educational Development,” Dave’s Educational Blog, November 24, 2009, http://davecormier.com/edblog/2009/11/24/open-educational-resources-the-implications-for-educational-development-seda/

3 Open Content – Free stuff you can use

The first question that people have about ‘free’ content is – how do I know that it is any good? If they are giving the content away, it must not be worth anything. There is some truth in this… when MIT began giving away their content in 2001 they did so upon the realization that they could not make any money with it. This is an important distinction. There is a difference between things that have ‘worth’ and things with which ‘money can be made’.

The content available online from educational institutions, individual educators and students can have a great degree of value to those using it. There may not be, however, a business model with which those institutions or individuals could make a living selling that content. In some cases, particularly in the case of individual, they do not wish to make money from the content.

The list of Open repositories on wikipedia is a great place to start. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_content#External_links

4 Open Teaching

The opening up of the teaching process is an important dimension of openness in education more broadly. Increasingly, educators are able to share and participate in the trials and successes of their fellow educators as they tweet and blog about their work. This process can be as simple as posting ideas for the classroom or as profound as posting daily reflections on the successes and failures of different approaches.

See Alec Couros Open course

Some of my own work opening up an edfutures course

5 Open Courses

In an open course, participants engage at different levels of the educator’s practice, whether that be helping to develop a course or participating in the live action of the course itself. This is distinctly different from the idea of open in the open content movement, where open is used in the sense of being free from the intellectual property stipulations that restrict the use and reuse of content. The distinction between openness in practice and openness in content is significant in cost as well. Creating content requires time, effort, and resources and opens up numerous discussions around intellectual property rights. However, openness in practice requires little additional investment, since it essentially concerns transparency of already planned course activities on the part of the educator.

The PLENK2010 course running this fall is an excellent example of an open course available to participate in both as a participant or to get a sense of how this kind of course works. Feel free to join the course, or lurk alongside by going to the PLENK2010 home page.

Here’s a larger list of open courses from The Chronicle of Higher Education http://chronicle.com/article/Opening-Up-Learning-to-All/124169/

6 What you can do right away.

  1. Start a blog on upeiblogs.ca to share you work with others in your field by sending an email to davcormier@upei.ca
  2. Check out the most famous open content project at MIT. Here’s one on Musculoskeletal Pathophysiology
  3. Find work done by other professionals from your field through the open content links available here.
  4. Join the PLENK2010 course to get a sense of what an open course looks like http://connect.downes.ca/
  5. Here’s a larger list of open courses from The Chronicle of Higher Education http://chronicle.com/article/Opening-Up-Learning-to-All/124169/
  6. Here is an introduction to OER from the wikiversity project http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Open_educational_resources

5 points about PLEs PLNs for PLENK10

The concept of the Personal Learning Environment in all of its wondrous forms has been one that I’ve struggled with over the last four or five years that I’ve been familiar with it. I’m very excited to be taking part in the PLENK10 course in order to take the time to focus on these ideas and get a clearer sense of what I mean by the word. I would add, that I think this is one of the central values of an open course… it provides the opportunity to bring clarity to a subject in a field… even if we end up with different clarities 🙂

The PLE related to the LMS (LCMS, VLE etc…)
I came to the idea of the PLE as an alternative to the LMS (learning management system, blackboard, moodle, desire2learn etc). There is a sense in which it is the opponent of the institutional sponsored and controlled LMS and as that I am quite fond of it as a student controlled alternative. Recently, however, institutions have been getting themselves (or have considered doing so) into the PLE business and have set up locations for students to have their own personal learning environment (ELGG at athabasca comes to mind). This can take away from some of the advantages of students being responsible for their content and feeling a sense of ownership for their content. It can, however, remove the somewhat tricky task (not to mention digital dividing task) of having a student setup their own PLE location and managing it themselves.

POINT 1. The PLE differs from the general usage of the LMS in that it is not course focused, but rather focuses on the learning the student is doing over the length of their learning journey. By extension it tends to allow for the student to control the way their own work is organized.

Personal Learning Environment vs. Network
There is a difference, I think, between these two things but the difference is often bound up in what people call ‘semantics’. I use the scare quotes on semantics because it is a particular kind of a semantic debate… its mostly about how people use the words environment and network. The distinction, as i understand it, is that the folks who talk about PLN are focusing on the people that make up the learning that they are doing and believe that the PLE people are mostly concerned about the technology that makes up the learning space. (blogs, wikis, webpages, forums, broadcasts etc…)

POINT 2 – PLEs are (to me at least) the ecologies within which PLNs operate

This is not true for all people and in all circumstances. There are people for whom the idea of PLE is far more broad than this and people who might claim that their PLN (say connected via twitter) requires not PLE (definitive place). I’ll be interested to see these ideas challenged over the PLENK2010 course.

VERY Personal PLE – I own and control all my own stuff
I think that this work done by Jim Groom is the most rarefied version of the PLE in Higher Education. Students are instructed to choose their own domain, find a hosting service and create their own blog space. The instructions detailed on Jim’s blog are clear enough for anyone with a basic understanding of the internet and a willingness to make an effort to be able to follow. The PLE, as it is layed out by Jim, is really a space controlled by the student. It becomes a space that can exist outside of the institution that a given course is being taught it.

POINT 3 PLEs need not be supported by educational institutions

The upside for this is, obviously, that the work done by the student will continue on as long as they are willing to pay their server bills… and the downside, is, well, the server bills.

Who put the P in learning environments/networks?
I understand, I think, the PLE/N in the sense of me as a life long learner. I still worry about it when we talk about knowledge being something that is personal to me when we are, at the same time, calling it connective, emergent and/or rhizomatic. How can knowledge be ‘mine’ if it exists in the connections between different ideas? So I don’t like the usage of the term personal in that sense, but if it means that I have a stake in the ground (say this blog, my twitter feed, edtechtalk) from a technical/URL perspective then so be it. I think it takes away from the fact that my work is part of the larger community that i work in… but its not a point that i want to fight too much about.

What I am more interested in is the idea of calling something ‘personal’ in a more formal course. My work online and my work trying to structure good courses for students (f2f or not) has left me with a certain suspicion about the idea of PLE/Ns in formal courses. My problem lies in the double trouble that exists around ‘telling’ someone that this is going to be their personal space, and the other is around the idea that TIME is very short in most courses, too short, really, to create a ‘network’. In a recent course I taught, I explored the idea of a Learning Network Plan, which was a plan created by students which included their long term life long learning strategies/tools/nodes that they hoped to develop after the course was finished.

POINT 4 Ownership(personal) and Time(network) are critical impediments to implementing PLEs and PLNs in formal education. That’s not to say it isn’t possible, just that they need to be addressed.

Assessing PLEs
Oh my. How do we know that any learning happened? How can we possibly organize all the work that students are doing so that they can find each other’s work and so that I, as an instructor, can review all their work? These (and many more) are some of the difficult practical issues around the PLE PLN in the classroom. In the course I linked to in the last section, I put the onus on the students to copy/paste a link to each of their blog posts, to important comments they had made structuring other people’s work (one of our students or not) and important connections that they had made between the information/knowledge we were covering and their experience during the course.

I set a fairly open review policy but learned halfway through the course of another method that apparently everyone but me knows about. A colleague of mine habitually allows students to choose the grades they are going to get based on the amount of work they are willing to cover and the depth to which they are willing to cover it. This, combined the the idea of a PLE/N did a great deal to reduce the stress levels of my students. I created a lowest common denominator and a highest reasonable work quota. The reason for this and one of the dangers of the PLE/N that I hadn’t foreseen, is that with freedom, some students were working way, way too much. Given their own space to work and freedom to choose, they were going too far. unexpected.

POINT 5 Putting the responsibility for reporting networked open work on students is ok as long as you give them a low and high end of the amount of work that is reasonable.