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.

Does the PLE make sense in the connectivist context?

So I posted a little tweet tonight that got a few raised eyebrows from my esteemed colleagues. I sent it out because i’d been thinking it for a while… I’m preparing for a “where we are two years later” paper on my rhizomy stuff (not for any journal in particular, just think its time to write one, and i feel the need to pull strands together) and am trying to think a little deeper about how i feel about knowledge and learning.

This is definitely first draft thinking. I’m more than willing to have someone explain to me what i’m missing… (I’ll accept whole hearted agreement as well) Lets start with a couple of quotes from George’s 2005 paper. These are both ‘first sentence’ quotes from summary sections of the paper.

Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual.

Connectivism presents a model of learning that acknowledges the tectonic shifts in society where learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity.

My problem with the combination of the PLE and connectivism is that they seem to come from two different epistemic background. I guess that’s not necessarily a bad thing (to someone like me) but most people I’ve met like to live by one theory of knowledge at a time. Leaving aside the unrelenting desire to acronymize everything that has led us to the term PLE and its historicity as an opposite, learner empowered version of the VLE (virtual learning environment), it is also the current candidate as the child of the enlightenment. It is the location where the one, the individual (personal) stands their ground for learning, where they store ‘their knowledge’ where they represent their learning. We often hear of people talking about PLE’s as portfolios, this is the sense in which i mean it.

The PLN and the PLE, at any one time, are instantaneous reifications of the set of (as yet, unknown) rules which govern the complex interactions between resources, individuals and their own knowledge. Pat Parslow http://brains.parslow.net/node/1558

The key bit here (of an excellent post) is the part about knowledge ownership. The PLE (and the PLN) are a reification (interesting choice of words here as it, to me, means that it becomes a thing, something potentially real, a far stronger term say, then snapshot) and govern the interactions between a person’s different stuffs. It is MY place to keep MY things. To represent, further, how I am connected to the world and where i sit on the knowledge spectrum.

There is a distinct difference, I’m thinking, between this view of knowledge as something that can be possessed and something like connectivism where “Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements” and “learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity”.There is a desire, it seems, to return to what “I” have and what “I” know pulling things out of their connective space. It makes sense to make the attempt, certainly. The vast majority of what we call education is premised on the idea of knowledge being something that can be owned, that you can give and receive. What, I wonder, does knowledge co-created look like when it is taken back and possessed by an individual? This seems like a critical context shift that removes knowledge (and learning) from its connective state and returns it to something countable.(as opposed to knowledge and the learning thereof being non-counting nouns)

I’ve since received a few more definitions of PLE from the twittersphere (doubt, now, that this is first draft thinking?)

Share what you discover as “best”-I’ve never come up with a general def short enough to be of use; I define by processes @fncll

The essence of our characterisation of the PLE highlights its change in the locus of control of technology from institution to learner. (http://wiki.cetis.ac.uk/Ple/Report#Introduction via @scottbw)

In the former case, Chris seems (i’ve got a tweet which he claims doesn’t probably cover it, so i’m winging it) that it is the place from which he shares the best of what he thinks and comes across. And he does this very well. By this argument my blog would be my PLE, and if we’re using this as a definition, then i don’t really have much of a problem. But this is only talking about a publication medium. A means by which we are communicating. It is not the communication itself.

The second quote from the JISC/Cetis study is a more profound claim, I think. It’s about control and power. In it we see the student controlled classroom where they get to decide how they handle knowledge and learning… Student centred learning… there are certainly reasons to like that… but it’s not connectivism. Connectivism is networked learning, a student is not ‘controlling’ anything really, unless its the networks that they try to blend in with.

Things I understand i’ve glossed over
I understand that a cleaner treatment of the separation of knowledge and learning is necessary here. I’m not sure how I want to do it yet (that’ll be in the paper) pick the way that sounds best.
It’s PLE as “thing we should pay for and get designed and write scads about” that referring to… not the kind that is a major broadcast platform for an individual.

So what am I saying?
I’m saying that in a connectivist model, as i understand it, the learning (and i would argue knowledge) lives in the network, it lives in the connections that are part of each thought and idea. In the print world, we have an amazing maze of interconnections in references and works cited pages that go back (in some way or other) thousands of years, one cannot speak of ‘knowledge’ as being separate from that historicity nor of ‘learning’ any part of it without it being part of the whole. One of the prime affordances we have at our fingertips with the web is the ability to create these connections very quickly, and very complexly, we can also see far larger chunks of the network at any one time.

The Personal Learning Environment may simply be a misnomer. If it is, as (i think)Chris suggests, a fancy way of talking about a medium of publication, then it is more like a “Snapshot of my personal thinking platform” (SOMPTP) if it is, however, as Pat suggests, a place where my personal knowledge lives or, say, a place where my personal learning happens, then I’m thinking that it might disagree with the ‘non-individualistic’ nature of connectivism.

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.

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