There’s an interesting debate forming around this post from George Siemens (My Personal Learning Network is the most awesomest thing ever!!) and a response from Jenny Mackness (In defence of lurking).
George’s stance is that you can’t really learn in a community unless you are contributing something, Jenny’s that it’s OK to observe and not contribute. There are lot’s of other interesting points of view expressed in the comments.
To me, I feel I got more out of PLENK2010 by being an active contributor, although in the end I wasn’t sure if I’d learned that much. I think there’s a parallel to be made with large group teaching as a whole: in a lecture of 250, it’s going to be a brave soul who contributes. Perhaps the same is true of a MOOC. Maybe, PLENK2010 was just too big, and the people who “lurked” will be active participants next time. Maybe, it needs to be M for “medium-sized” rather than “massive.”
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Those of you who are regular readers will know that I spent 10 weeks from September to November immersed (almost literally) in the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Personal Learning Environments, Networks and Knowledge (PLENK2010). As already reported, one of the highlights for me was the guest appearance of Maria Andersen and her intriguing proposal for developing SOCRAIT, a Socratic questioning layer on the internet consisting of a Learn This button, a social gaming-like motivation and reward system, and channeled expertise designed to provide a personalized learning for the masses. A disruptive technology indeed!
Well, a pre-print of Maria’s paper The World is My School, due to appear in the January-February 2011 issue of The Futurist, has just been posted (http://bit.ly/socraitpdf) and Maria is looking to spread the word virally using the twitter hashtag #SOCRAIT.
I invite you to read Maria’s paper and use the comments to answer these questions:
- Could a system like SOCRAIT work?
- Would you use it?
- How would you implement it?
- Could you see yourself using it in your own learning?
- Could you adopt it in your teaching?
- Would it be disruptive?
I’m pretty certain that if someone builds SOCRAIT, I will use it.
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Short answer … not much. At least that’s how it appears to me at the moment.
I do know that I’m all PLENKED out, somewhat depressed and not looking forward to immersing myself in #jiscel10.
Perhaps it’s a symptom of SAD, or maybe I’m just in mourning.
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Week 7 in PLENK2010 was concerned with PLE/N tools (What Exists, What is Being Built?):
Many of the tools that fit under the PLE/N umbrella have been appropriated by educators from other fields. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but it does reflect a sense that educators are not building tools for themselves. The software that we use in this course is a bit of an exception. We [the facilitators] rely on various open source tools (Moodle, WordPress), proprietary tools (Elluminate), and tools that have been developed with feedback from facilitators and experiences in other open courses (i.e. Stephen [Downes] has written the software for The Daily and content aggregation – gRSShopper).
To use these tools for teaching and learning requires a certain skill set on the part of end users. Two significant challenges exist for educators and PLE/Ns:
- Create new tools – what do we need? What functionality is missing in PLEs?
- Improve end user experience – new tools, new interfaces, and ease of use.
For me, the highlight of the week was the Wednesday discussion (Elluminate recording here) in which Maria Andersen presented her ideas on a new transformative personal learning idea Learn This based on the simple idea that “learning should simply be by way of Socratic questioning, where questions are rephrased as answers.” 
Knowing little about Socrates, the Socratic method or dialectics (apart from a vague recollection of an episode of In Our Time), I was keen to explore how the Socratic questioning might work. So I turned the week’s questions into a discussion Socratic questions about PLENK in which I posed the questions:
- What new tools do we need to create?
- What functionality is missing in PLEs?
- How could we improve the learner’s experience?
The discussion that followed has been wide ranging and extremely interesting. It even attracted the spirit of Socrates himself. Furthermore, it is still ongoing, so I will not attempt to summarize it here.
As PLENK moves into Week 8 (Personal Knowledge Management) I’m still not sure what a personalized learning system based on “Socratic questioning where questions are rephrased as answers” would look like in practice. But herewith, I open up the debate to a wider audience.
 Andersen, Maria H. “The World is My School.: welcome to the Era of Personalized Learning”, (to appear in The Futurist, Jan/Feb 2011). See early draft: Holy Grail in Education.
Image of a bust of Socrates by Victor Wager, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia. Photographed by Greg O’Beirne. Part of the Wikimedia Commons.
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At PLENK2010 participant Heli Nurmi’s request (see Test Your Blog Please), I submitted the URL of this blog to http://www.typealyzer.com/ to have it subjected to a Myers-Briggs personality test. It turns out that these scribblings reveal me to be an INTP type (The Thinker)
The logical and analytical type. They are especially attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.
They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.
|Image Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Thinker,_Rodin.jpg|
I’ll have to think about that!
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You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
– Inigo Montoya, the (film of) The Princess Bride
. Novel and screenplay by William Goldman.
This week, I was in Gegynog
at the final meeting of the Gwella
participants. While there, a few people mentioned the phrase digital literacy
. A variation of the phrase cropped up in the introduction to the readings
for Week 6 of #PLENK2010 (see the Wordle above). It’s also a key theme of Robin Good and Howard Rheingold’s post New Media Literacy in Education
which was one of the readings. Furthermore, it popped up in Wednesday’s discussion as reported earlier
Like the Dread Pirate Roberts who keeps climbing the sheer cliffs after Vizzini has cut the rope:
HE DIDN’T FALL? INCONCEIVABLE?
The persistence of this phrase makes me think that it’s a topic that I can get my teeth into for the remaining four weeks of PLENK 2010. Perhaps I’ll be able to find out what it means.
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On Sunday, I finally found the time to listen to the recording of guest Will Richardson, author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, from Wednesday’s #PLENK2010 live Elluminate session. In this session, Will gave a short presentation Using PLE’s Successfully and a couple of things came up.
First was a summary of the recommendations on 21st Century Literacies from the US National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) :
- Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
- Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
- Design and share information for global communities to use for a variety of purposes
- Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
- Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
- Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.
This is a pretty sophisticated set of competences that I would struggle to demonstrate. It’s even more challenging, when you consider that these are the aspirations of a professional body for teachers of high-school age children! Do we even do this for our undergraduate and postgraduate students? Would I and my colleagues be competent to teach these high-level digital literacies  to them?
The second theme was a set of principles for creating and successfully using a PLE:
- Pursue your passion.
- Read widely.
- Add value.
- Be personal … sometimes.
I can see how these principles might apply to my own PLE, which for me is centred around this and the Learning Lab blog
. But it’s not quite so obvious how it might apply to our students. Too often, we try to get them to engage with the tools of a PLE by telling them that it’s good
for them, and we then try to get them to engage with a topic related to a course we are teaching or a topic within a course of our
choosing, and we try to force them to engage by assigning credit. Would they engage more if they were able to pursue their passion
while we supported their learning as mentors rather than assessors?
- Definition of 21st Century Literacies, National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), February 15, 2008. URL: http://www.ncte.org/governance/literacies.
- Barbara R. Jones-Kavalier and Suzanne L. Flannigan, “Connecting the Digital Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century”, Educause Quarterly, Volume 29, Number 2, 2006. URL: http://bit.ly/dabAsD.
- Sir Ken Robinson, Changing Paradigms, RSA Edge Lecture, 16 June 2008. URL: http://bit.ly/bMz8FM. video: http://youtu.be/mCbdS4hSa0s.
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Today’s live #PLENK2010 session was ostensibly about assessment in a Personal Learning Environment but it seemed to be more about how PLENK2010 (the research project) could assess whether the participants (us) could assess their own learning or indeed whether or not it was possible to assess what learning actually happens or could happen in a Massive Open Online Course. In other words, we PLENKers are lab rats running the maze of a completely unstructured learning experience so that the people in white coats can observe us and form theories about how lab rats learn so that they might build the personal learning environment of the future.
(And wasn’t an early lesson of the first two weeks that a platform built by a third-party is not a personal learning environment and is therefore by definition a VLE/LMS and must by the philosophy of this course be a bad thing?)
Maybe I’ve taken the wrong message home with me … but I feel like I’m somehow under the microscope, and I’m not sure that I am comfortable with that role.
One thing I am sure of is that if I set up one of my courses like PLENK2010, my students would have all bailed out by now and I’d be having to justify my teaching methods in front of the Dean.
I might be enjoying myself immensely, despite falling badly behind on my coursework, but I think my students might be more goal oriented, and I’m not sure yet what I can transfer to my own teaching.
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In response to George Siemens’ Week 4 discussion topic “Is it the topic or the period in the course?“, Vahid Masrour said
“I have a suggestion… posted in my blog [Where is MOOC's social network?"], but in a nutshell, i think the MOOC should provide better+easier means to ‘cluster’ for the participants. A Facebook-like profile if you will.”
In one of the comments to Vahid’s post, Rita Kop said:
“We were hoping you as participants would come up with these groups/ connections. Please start these initiatives and get people involved. In a conenctivist [sic] learning event we can all manage, organise and develop structures.”
I saw that as a challenge, and thinking that Friendfeed might be the scaffold on which to build such an ad hoc social network — other possibilities, e.g. Ning or Elgg costing money or hosting to set up — I went ahead and created a public group. The URL is http://friendfeed.com/plenk2010: come on over and see what you think.
[This is cross posted from the reply "friendfeed as missing PLENK2010 social network?" which is part of the Week 2 discussion: Scaffolds and helpful hints for [PLENK2010] course started by Susan O’Grady]
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The faciltators said we couldn’t possibly read everything, but I feel like I’ve not read anything from Weeks 4 and 5. As you can see there’s a huge amount of discussion going on in the Week 4 forum and it’s already building up in Week 5 which has just started. And that’s not even counting the twitter feed and The Daily. I feel like a marathon runner who went too fast for the first 3rd and is not going to make the 13 mile marker.
Part of the problem is the encroachment of my real job … but still, I need some encouragement here.
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