My PLE model is the internet – no more system for me

I had hoped to get this post out last week, but the dissaggregation 2 post came out instead and here I am in the middle of week six trying to combine a post that addresses both evaluation and success… and then i realized… that kinda makes sense. The problem with creating an evaluation model for a PLE is that it will inevitably have a strong impact on the success of the PLE. If the PLE is essentially about emancipation (which Scott Leslie tells me everyone believes in the comments of the previous blog post) then the scaffolding applied to allow for evaluation seems like the other end of the counterbalance.

This post is as much a simple reflection on my own practice… I hope you find it useful.

Presenting The Challenge
In the passed several blog posts we’ve talked about how the PLE can contribute to people committing to learning in a different way. To learning as practice… as a side effect of the work that they do everyday. In a PLE modelled course all the work that you do can contribute to the overall work that you produce, it can interact with work that you’ve done before and, most importantly, it can connect with other people doing great work out there as well. Those connections between your work and the work of others is where the real magic, where the network in the uh… network… really starts to pay dividends.

But wither the facilitator… It’s all fine for people to go out and do ‘real’ work on the internet, but how am I supposed to know that they’ve done it. Sure they can tag it… but what about comments? Sure they can repost in their blog… but that takes it out of its normal context. How do you evaluate work done in a PLE? How do you make sure that you are out there connecting and helping students make connections? How do you provide enough scaffolding to ensure that ‘nervous’ or ‘resistant’ students are coming along? How do I help provide comments? How do i find everything? I mean… in my Moodle course I just press on someone’s name and i find all their work.

Building the perfect system
So… off I went to try and build the perfect system. I started years ago using html, moved to moodle, elgg and drupal (all content management systems of one kind or another).

phase 1. I taught my first online classes on invisionboard, a discussion board software. I had 200+ writing students all working collaboratively in a discussion forum, editing writing, talking shop… it worked pretty well. But I wanted more! I had tried to cobble invisionboard together with a variety of other pieces of software, you know, calendar, assignment tracking… and then I found Moodle.

phase 2. Oh wow, I thought, here’s a system with all of the things I want in the same place. They had forums, and wikis and assignments and a gradebook. Piles and piles of toys. Except all those things were in the same place, and I started finding things constrictive… Where were my students going to put their content when the course ended… I had students coming up to me wanting to continue the conversation. Did i just delete these courses where people were feeling like they were connecting with each other when they were done?

phase 3. And then I found ELGG. It lets people have their own identity. They could blog, they could… uh… manage files. Lots of cool stuff. You, yourself, can live in your own location, you can write to whom you would like, be open or not. Seemed kind of ideal really. But it was kinda hard to use, and people got lost in trying to make connections, they kept expecting the connections to be there… and they weren’t. At the time (elgg has changed a bit since then) there was NO real way to start in ELGG. You couldn’t easily just ‘go to the home page’ and this made people crazy.

phase 4. By the summer of 2008 I thought i had it all sorted out. I would build a system out of drupal, loosely modeled after the interesting work that Funnymonkey had done for/with us for the project. It had a blog, that could be public or private. It had a very simple organization, by date, of the people in your group who had written reflections on their blog, reverse sorted to allow you to comment on those people who hadn’t been commented on yet. It was all in one place, I had feeds coming out of it in a dozen ways. The other main piece of functionality is that I had an ‘almost-wiki’ where students collaboratively built a textbook from the course. It’s still there. No really… I still do the updates on it. I still have it.

There are others I haven’t mentioned, I made some detours down the wikis paths, and down some other ways. Suffice it to say that I’ve tried a few things on my way to trying to set one of these things up. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Building from scratch – writing your own html is annoying
Using a VLE – moodle (blackboard etc…) a blackbox, no matter how you open it up, its still designed to be top down, it’s not for empowerment, it’s designed to keep work tidy.
Using ‘social software’ – While some of the projects we ran with ELGG (youthvoices comes to mind, now transferred to drupal) were successful, it was difficult for people to get started in it. It was committing to a new country without knowing if you wanted to be there… tough to make that ‘yours’
Building your own – You have to own it. and when you own it… it doesn’t belong to your students.
Overall – These things are about the teacher. Not the students. I don’t know of a way to design a system that changes this.

Why I gave up trying to build a system
So then this summer I looked back at the 2008 course site i was still managing and said NO! I’m NOT doing it again. Everytime i throw away a system, a webpage, a moodle course or something like that I’m breaking up a community (even though the students have likely long left) that I tried to make my students believe was important to build. I’m breaking connections that others may have to my students work… The whole thing works against my philosophy. So i don’t do it anymore.

The internet is my PLE
In the course I taught this summer, I had the students go out into the wild with their work. I asked them to set up a blog on I asked them to get a twitter account. I told them that they would need to keep track of each and everything that they wanted me to evaluate and put it in a googledoc. I said “I”m not going to look for it, I want you to interact with people, keep track of it, and tell me why it was important.” You can see the full plan here… I wont belabour the point… those interested in such things can wander over there and take a look at it. I stopped building systems, and I’m happy about it.

So… what can this mean for evaluation
There’s no way of knowing whether my summer course will replicate itself, but i had the most satisfying evaluation experience of my professional career. My students each handed me in VERY different pieces to evaluate, each reflecting their own style and their needs after the course. They all did 10 or so blog reflections, which fit to a format. They each sent me in a ‘reflection and collaboration report’ which included a grade for them posting in comments they had made and explaining how those comments for formative in that context. They also handed in a “learning network plan” which included things like links they hadn’t followed, things they found challenging they might go back to, interesting people they could follow… things like that. I really enjoyed going through them.

So what can this mean for whatever success might mean
My goal for their PLEs was that they should be as individual and as focused on their own context as possible. I also wanted to make sure that the content was in a format that they would be able to use after the course as easily as possible. Their blog posts are still out there (though some people may argue that this isn’t necessarily great) but in collecting and choosing how to organize all their work, they each seemed to create something that was personalized enough that they could see it as a valuable go forward reference if nothing else. Maybe, for some of them, it was the start of getting networked enough to be able to carry on with the work on line in as professional way as possible.

Disaggregate power not people – Part two: now with more manifesto

I’ve been putting together a short discussion for my university around the reasons that a given professional might want to go ahead and blog. Why put thoughts out that are incomplete, that still need work? Won’t this impact my standing as a professional? Won’t some people misunderstand and think that I’m simply a sloppy thinker?

Some people will see your work that way… and i’ve had my share of that the last couple of weeks ( comes to mind) but the response on the disaggregate people not power post from a couple weeks ago puts the reason why i blog in clear focus. I started PLENK2010 very conflicted in my feelings around the PLE/N, unsure about where the technology ended and the learning begins, but with all of your help, I’m now feeling better 🙂

A word on PLE vs. PLN
For the purposes of this discussion lets agree that the PLN (Personal Learning Network) is a description of the network of people in which I learn. It is a description of people online or offline. This simplistic definition may strike some of you as unfair, but without getting the PLN out of the way, this discussion gets even more complicated.

Two definitions of PLE
Whether in the most significantly edited wikipedia article on the subject, the NRC and @downes run project ‘creating’ one or oft cited research on the subject, it seems clear that the dominant interpretation of the term PLE is a technological environment created to allow students a personal rather than a course based view of formal(ish) education. A technology which, as Wilson et. al suggest

is concerned with enabling a wide range of contexts to be coordinated to support the goals of the user.

the PLE operates at a personal level in that it coordinates services and information that is related directly to its user and owner. However, the PLE can also be considered global in scope as the range of services it can potentially coordinate is not bounded within any particular organization. The user can connect their PLE with social networks, knowledge bases, work contexts, and learning contexts of any size to which they can obtain access.

The distinction, then, between a VLE/LMS and a PLE is that the former is course or institution based, and the later is person based, irrespective of the courses that a person is taking. The history of PLE wikipedia article cited earlier is a long string of technology projects that detail the ways in which we can create a technology that will increase the global ‘range of services’ that will allow an institutionally supported system to allow the student to set their own goals, organize their learning content and to allow their formal work to interact with ‘the real web’. (this if you’ll allow that in the quote above, the clear distinction is being made between “their PLE” and “social networks, knowledge bases, work contexts… etc…)

Definition 1 –This is personal (as in, given to one person) learning environment (as in, space identified by the institution from which you can then connect to the free web)

Here are some live blogging notes from Michelle Martin while listening to a Stephen Downes talking about his PLE… he speaks of flickr and googledocs and skype and gliffy as PLE. Or, a tad more colourfully

This from Scott Leslie. This is clearly not ONE technology that allows you to work with others… the middle section of the diagram are about the physical location of the learner (say desktop), and then they extend from there. They include technologies, people, relationships, events, from a ‘personal’ perspective.

Definition 2 – This is a Personal (as in, me the person) learning environment (as in, the ecology in which I learn)

So we have two views
In Definition 1 we have PLE as a pedagogical change in education from a course based focused to a learner based focus. In Definition 2 we see learning as irrespective of any formal system, it is a PLE that describes the world as it is… with communication streams be they telephone or twitter, as the ecology in which I learn. In this second definition you will see my rebel yell of education referred to in the earlier Disaggregation post.

Definition 1 as power maintained
In the first definition we have a system that is ‘created for’ students, that is maintained by a university (and, one would imagine payed for by their fees payed to the institution) where lines of connection are created that the student may then fill. It is a software system that locates the students in a concentrated area that makes it easy for them to find each other, easy for a professor to find their work, and makes it easy to get things started. It is preferable to the VLE in the sense that a student gets to keep working on things from one course to another, it provides that e-portfolio style location for their work, gives them an individual presence inside their learning institution.

These are all services provided FOR the student by the institution. Services that, usually, will then be taken away once the student moves on to other learning areas. Now, you might say that I can export the content of my work, or through some SCORMish mumbo jumbo i could move it from one institution to another. It’ll be fine, i’m told, as long as we have good standards. But this version of the PLE is controlled by the institution. The institution holds the switch, they control the pathways that are allowed for learning, the connections that can be made (maybe by decision, by technical ability or by standards imposed guidelines)

While i see this as preferable to the coursed based LMS, it still leaves the learning in the hands of the institution. This means that if you leave, even if you take all your content in some exported format, you lose the connections of your learning. Any links in and out of your work get borked, any habits that people have of coming to visit your work go away, your work at creating a sense of place go away. You do not own it.

(caveat: I am not speaking of learning in the sense of ‘coming to know a thing.’ The majority of introductory classes probably belong in a nice structured VLE. I’m thinking of student ‘becoming’ professionals or, better, those who are already. /caveat)

Definition 2 – disaggregating power
There is a very different power relationship between being given a space which ‘enables contexts’ and ‘allows supports’ for a user and a space that you build and support for yourself. It dodges those institutionally created problems of student mobility, of losing the connections formed in your learning and gives you a professional ‘place’ from which you can start to make long term knowledge network connections that form the higher end of the productive learning/knowing that is possible on the web. The power is disaggregated in the sense that while attending an institution of learning you are still under the dominance of the instructor or the regulations surrounding accreditation, but coming to your learning space is not about that dominance. The power held (and, i should probably add, that you’ve given to that institution in applying for accreditation/learning it’s not (necessarily) a power of tyranny) by the institution only touches some of your work, and it need not impede any work you choose to do.

Here’s where I get to the part about the ‘personal’ that’s been bothering me
The danger in taking definition two as our definition for PLE is that we lose sight of the subtle, complex dance of person and ecology so eloquently described by Keith Hamon in his response to my post. Maybe more dangerously, we might get taken up as thinking that learning is something that happens to the person, and not as part of a complex rhizome of connections that form the basis of the human experience.

Learning (and I don’t mean definitions or background) and the making of connections of knowledge is something that is steeped in complexity. At each point we are structured in the work (written in a book, sung in a song, spoken in a web session) of others that constantly tests our own connections and further complexifies our understanding. This is the pattern of knowledge as i understand it. It is organic, and messy, and subject to subtle manipulations (intended or otherwise) of power. Having a place of ownership within that complexity, whether we call it ‘the personal’ or not, is vital to emancipated thought.

We have created an educational system that focuses on the content to be distributed from teacher/institution to a student. We have controlled curriculums and then told students what, where and when to learn. Students have been taught to obey and now we want them to decide. Definition 1 described above does not, in my mind, leave enough room for that decision, for control of learning. It certainly disaggregates the institutional framework of learning (courses) but it does not disaggregate the power of the insitution. Definition 2 is far more personal, the power is centred in the learner. You can have your own blog, your own place to store your files, pictures, conversations and, most importantly, a place to centre connections.

We need to remember that the ‘personal’ is about emancipation, not about being alone. Learners need to remember that the connections are still needed, they just need to go out and make them, they will not be provided. The side effect to the power granted, is that simply ‘doing the work’ (read: posting my response to my blog) is not the end of the work. The work needs to be connected to others, learning is still about people.

Cluster and Focus -> Surviving week 4 of a MOOC

Had a quite excellent weekend of meetings with George Siemens, Sandy McAuley and Bonnie Stewart regarding our research on MOOCs. We’ve rewritten a good deal of the stuff from the video I released a few weeks ago about how to be successful in a MOOC based on some of the feedback we’ve gotten, some discussions I’ve had with people in the different elluminate sessions and the results of our narrative enquiry. We have four broad steps for success in a MOOC… but as we’re already a few weeks in, I’m going to focus on steps 3 and step 4.

The distributed nature of a MOOC offers a variety of challenges to the participant. PLENK2010 central has a list of suggested readings for the week, two live events and a discussion area for people to connect in. ‘The Daily’ rounds up the posts and tweets from the day and keep people apprised of what is going on in the course. But this is only content. It’s a description of connections maybe, but it hardly satisfies the goals of the MOOC as we’ve talked about them?

We’ve noticed, MOOC after MOOC that weeks 3 and 4 are the most difficult for students. The ‘newness’ of it all has faded at this point, we’ve covered some of the more basic material, and for many participants, its enough time that they start to sit back and reflect on the experience and evaluate if this is something that they are going to be able to commit 6 more weeks to. Why finish the course? Why continue to participate? How do I get the most out of this process?

There are two main questions surface over and over again throughout this course. The first, and most enduring question is

What am I supposed to do now?

Followed closely by the second most common concern

How am I suppose to keep track of all the things that are going on in the course?

Step 3 – Cluster
One of the easiest ways of dealing with the scattershot nature of this course is to pay close attention to your clusters. By this point, if you’ve been participating and working along with others, you’ll likely have found some people that are doing what you are doing, who are interested in what you’re interested in, or with whom your ideas seem to connect easily. This is a natural clustering process that happens in a network… it’s a combination of making strong ties to a smaller number of people, looser ties with a larger number beyond that, and maybe not paying attention to other work that you find distracting or doesn’t fit in with where you see yourself going.

Step 4 – Focus
Any MOOC is necessarily going to need to be directed by the participant. There is not way to do reasonable consultations with 1400 people, and no way to create a set of activities that is going to satisfy the needs of those participants nearly as well as they can do that themselves. So… this week you need to find a point of focus. I think that those who do well in MOOCs are often those who find something in their professional activities, find a particular angle of interest in the learning materials… something that they can turn into their own final project. This might be something that you do with your cluster, and it might be something that you do on your own. Focus. Find it.

The answer…
The answer to the two questions, then, is that by clustering, you’ll be able to concentrate in deeper ways on the work of specific people. For many people this is going to offer a richer experience than trying to loosely follow a hundred people and their work. The answer to ‘what do i do now’ is simple… it’s up to you. The MOOC provides a jumpstart on a topic, some guidance, some access to people who’ve spent a bunch of time considering this stuff… and it provides access to a ready made network for you to borrow and make your own. The success of the process, from there, is up to you.

Of course, some of you just love being in the chaos of it all for ten weeks… and that’s good too 🙂

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.

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.

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.

Huh? Open Course – Personal Learning Environments, Networks, and Knowledge

For those of you who might have been following along with my twitter feed and blog posts over the last 18 months or so, you will realize that I’m a little suspicious of the ideas around PLEs and PLNs. It may come as some surprise, then, that I’m going to commit a decent chunk of my fall to working with George Siemens and Stephen Downes on the Personal Learning Environments, Networks and Knowledge open course. The course is starting the 13th of September and follow for eight weeks after that with the last week starting the 31st of October.

If you’re interested, you can sign up here

Why I want to do the course
First, and foremost, the chance of working with Stephen and George again is always appealing. I played a bit part in CCK08 and quite enjoyed it… Too often in educationland we either spend our time shouting from across vast distances or agreeing intensely with each other. Working with Stephen and George always promises neither of these. Both are able to take very strong positions and have them challenged. I always end up a better thinking after having participated in discussions with either… working with both is a particular treat.

I’m also interested in working through my own ideas around Personal learning evironments, networks and konwledge. Up until about 18 months ago I spoke with some conviction about having a PLE, I even created a platform or two where I thought students would be able to create their own. Since then I’ve become suspicious about some of the fundamental premises around the concepts and whether there is a cognitive dissonance to the whole projects which leaves it impossible to pursue. My main concern is in the performance of the individual. I enter the course, then, as someone with a fair amount of experience with the topic, but looking to become more sure of my own position.

Finally I’ve always been interested in the voice of The Gadfly in learning. Too often, I think, we feel the need to agree with the concepts that we are in the process of covering in a course. In a transmission model of learning, things tend to get parcelled out into positions that must be categorized before they can be learned. Objects of learning that can then be transmitted. While it is necessary to have some foundation (in the sense of a shared semantic between participants) I like the idea of being a co-facilitator in a course where I have serious questions about the content and goals. That is not to say, of course, that Stephen, George and Rita are somehow blinded, I’m sure they have their own questions and concerns, but I’m looking forward to trying to think deeply on the topic without the pressure of agreeing with it.

The course
Again I’m seeing the value of ‘the course’ as a tool in my own learning. Alan Levine recently wrote an excellent post challenging some of the ideas and language we are using with open courses. As I approach the PLENK course, I’m realizing that it gives me an event to think around, a way to choose amongst the thousand things i could be doing, an invitation to think deeper… One of Alan’s concerns is the timeframe… the constraint on thinking. Why, he wonders, attached the open network to a fixed course. My feelings are, rather, that its an event for the open network to join into. A thinking party. An invitation to think about this one thing instead of many others.

What I’ve seen in the five years we’ve been doing edtechtalk is that people come and go, they focus on it, they fall away from it… it’s useful to them and then it isn’t. We have some community members who’ve done hundreds of shows, some who’ve done a couple. We have guests who come to many, many shows, and some who return years later after coming to one. This, i think, mirrors your description. We have a fairly large mailing list that goes out with an excellent newsletter maintained by a community team.

However. This, I think, only works for those people who are on the heavy end of the involvement pendulum. It is difficult to ‘try out’ edtechtalk. Many people tend to feel like they don’t really belong… because belonging take a long, open amount of commitment.

Enter ‘eventedness’. Dave White and I came up with the word to describe what the quality (and the effect) of ‘having an event’ had on people’s willingness to invest in something that they weren’t near on the interest continuum.

Many, many folks would not join a ‘futures of education’ community, but would like to know something about it, and so join an open course. This is the ONLY reason to have courses… people who are deeply invested in futures don’t really need one.

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