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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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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Earlier today, over in PLENK2010, Eduardo Peirano started a discussion Personal Learning and the [...] Seven Principles of Good Practice in which he linked to a paper by Chickering and Gamson (1987) with the suggestion that the seven principles might be used to evaluate Personal Learning and the whole MOOC experiment.
What are the principles?
Good practice in undergraduate education:
- encourages contact between students and faculty,
- develops reciprocity and cooperation among students,
- encourages active learning,
- gives prompt feedback,
- emphasizes time on task,
- communicates high expectations, and
- respects diverse talents and ways of learning
On reading these principles and the short explanation, I was struck not by the idea of using the seven principles to evaluate some modern practice, per se, rather, by the realization that the principles are a long way from being even partially embedded in higher education at all!
To quote my response:
I am sad to say that it leaves me somewhat depressed as it’s my observation that we are still failing to deliver on this good practice nearly twenty years later (and I count myself amongst the guilty). A big problem, it seems to me, is that sound pedagogy is a very poor relation to the need to publish in HE, and though I’m late career and feel that I’m not in that rat race anymore, I still have so much to learn about how to teach.
I’m starting to feel that I should stop worrying about management systems and the personal environments and learn some fundamentals about how to encourage the Learning. I feel like a kid on a beach entranced by the pretty shells and oblivious to the ocean.
In my own case, I think that I should be worrying less about the technology of Personal Learning Environments, Networks and Knowledge technology and learning more about the educational theory that lies behind it.
Arthur W. Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson, Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, American Association for Higher Education Bulletin, March 1987. Republished with permission by the Faculty Development Committee of the University of Hawaii, Honolulu.
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The first week of #PLENK2010 is nearly over. Just one Elluminate discussion to go (16.00 Zulu, 17.00 BST). This is my first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) (it’s actually my first experience of any form of formal learning for quite some time) but despite all the dire warnings about information overload issued at the start, I actually think I’ve settled in quite nicely. I have read all the readings (and made notes!), read the interesting blog postings that have been published in The Daily, posted comments on a few of them, lurked in the forum and contributed here and there, shared bookmarks with the plenk2010 bookmark group on Diigo, and even contributed a couple of aggregation tools (see earlier posts this week). So, I think I am on top at the moment (though I must confess to being too scared to look at Tweetdeck for the #PLENK2010 hashtag).
Of the readings, I’ve found Alec Couros’s description of a PLN (Couros, 2010) resonated best with me:
personal networks are the sum of all social capital and connections that result in the development and facilitation of a personal learning environment.
I haven’t yet drawn my PLE – an activity that seems to be a rite of passage for this course – but if I did, it would look a lot like Joyce Seitzinger’s (@catspyjamasnz) excellent image that is available to view on Flickr.
Another interesting idea was expressed in Dawley (2009), a paper introduced in a discussion on PLE Competencies . She describes levels of engagement in social networks on a scale that goes from network discovery through to leadership via lurking, contributing, and creating. I like to think that I’ve stopped lurking and started contributing and creating. We’ll see if I can reach a leading role.
Next week, we move on to comparing PLEs with VLEs!
The new academic year starts for me on 27th September, and as I’ll have less time then, at least during the day, I will probably find that my participation drops off. But I hope not, because I think I’ve got a lot to learn and contribute.
Alec Couros, 2010. “Developing Personal Learning Networks for Open and Social Learning” in G. Veletsianos (Ed.), Emerging Technologies in Distance Learning, AU press, 2010. Available on-line.
Lisa Dawley, 2009. “Social network knowledge construction: emerging virtual world pedagogy”, On the Horizon, Vol. 17. No. 2. pp 109-121. Available on-line.
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The 17th annual conference of the Association for Learning Technology ALT-C 2010 has just ended. And though I did not attend, I was fairly fully engaged with the keynote and invited sessions that were streamed via CrowdVine in Elluminate and will be made available on the ALT-C channel on YouTube.
Here is the list of possible blogging topics (mostly questions rather than answers note):
- How to engage with Twitter.
- Why don’t academics use technology?
- Is the lecture dead?
- What can we learn from the hole in the wall?
- Should students be telling us what to do?
- Carrot and sticks: could we change academics attitudes to effective ICT [for learning]?
- Remote attendance at conferences – could it be better than being there?
- Using LiveScribe or similar in lectures (as a lecturer rather than as a student).
Hopefully, this page will serve as a reminder to think about and write some of these up over the coming academic year.
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My University has invested in a license for Learning Objects Campus Pack 4 and I’ve created a new blog in my new Personal Learning Space. I’m calling it Reflections for now and I’ll be using it to record ideas and thoughts on my personal learning and teaching experiences. I’ve changed the permissions to make the blog public with open comments. I can always change this later if it turns out to be a bad idea.
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Just remotely attended Jane Hart’s keynote Social Learning = New Toolset + New Skillset + New Mindset at EdTech 2010 which was streamed live from the Athlone Institute of Technology on Thursday 20th May, 2010. It was very interesting because Jane encouraged the audience, both in the room, and logged in from the Internet, to help her to deliver the keynote by tweeting answers to some key questions as she went along. The actual slides are on SlideShare and hopefully the video of the keynote was recorded and will be made available as a permanent resource later.
The questions asked are worthy of some deeper reflection, but here is a summary of my instant responses:
- Q1: Which social media tool has impacted you most – personally or professionally?
- The answer has to be Blogger (or perhaps blogging). It’s the one thing that I’ve done consistently since I became aware that I was engaged in social media. I have accounts and have shared on Buzz, Delicious, Flickr, Picasa, YouTube, SlideShare, Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, Posterous, Tumblr, Ning and on and on … but the centre of my network is still this blog. It’s arguably not that social, but I share an awful lot on Google reader too.
- Q2: Would you rate Twitter as your TOP tool for learning?
- No! Personally, I learn more from my news feeds in Google reader. For teaching, I’ve yet to find the magic formula that will get my students to engage with me or my courses on Twitter.
- Q3: Formal Learning Models, do you use social media as an 1) add-on to formal learning, 2) embedded with formal learning or 3) for collaborative learning?
- The best I can claim here is 2. I’d like to do more 3, but I’m not sure how – or indeed how it would fit in our formal, traditional university models. To paraphrase: “no one ever got fired for using Blackboard!” (or indeed a blackboard) and formal examinations.
- Q4: If you are looking for help or information on a subject, where do you go first?
- It has to be Google. Jane mentioned YouTube and yes, I do find more and more useful stuff there in a format that’s easy to digest. Wikipedia is also on my list of useful places, but I find information there mostly because it’s high on the Google search result, not because I’ve gone to Wikipedia to find it. Google’s also behind the Open location field in all my favourite browsers, so I hardly ever use bookmarks: and Delicious is mostly write only!
- Q5: What collaboration tool do you like?
- I have no good answer for this. I like Google docs and Wikis, but I’ve yet to find a colleague who liked one or other of these at the same time as me! Most of my “collaborative” work has been with myself! I find myself commenting more than I used to on blogs and social networks if that counts! Perhaps I need a project where collaboration is a necessity. Even my work colleagues have so far resisted the charms of SharePoint, and though many use the VLE, not many seem to have recognized the value of the wiki there! I also note resistance from my students.
- Q6: do you use enterprise-wide social tools?
- Yammer took off at Swansea U. for a while: but it’s usage seems to have been embraced by a particular sub-group of the staff and there’s not much learning support there. I’ve played with Ning and Elgg and both have potential for both student and staff use. Ning decided to charge just as I’d started to generate some interest in using it for intra-organizational learning.
So what did I learn? Is social networking in my personal learning environment … definitely. In my teaching? The jury’s out, but this talk may have inspired me to try harder!
All in all an excellent keynote and a very interesting back-channel (Twitter certainly works at e-learning conferences!) The whole conversation is available by following #edtech10 on Twitter Search. But of course, that’s the whole conference, so look for @c4lpt and #edtech10 together; (#edtech10+@c4lpt) and follow the stream from the first tweet.
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… I’ve been mostly
- developing a new version of my project allocation tool in Drupal (permissions, CCK and views,.. oh my!);
- re-launching the annual research project selection round in Blackboard; and
- re-launching Social Engineering as a self-hosted Elgg site.
In the meantime, last-year’s research projects have been winding down (submission deadline was yesterday and vivas are in two-weeks), and we’ve been winding up to asking colleagues for the 500 or so new projects we are going to need for 2010-2011.
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I’ve just read Don Tapscott’s critique of the modern university (The Demise of the University, The Edge) and I’ve decided that I don’t want to be that lecturer who mainly broadcasts his lectures anymore. I know I’ve dabbled with all kinds of technology assisted media over the years: I’ve played with wikis, blogs, podcasts and Blackboard … but always as a source of information that is sent to students. There’s been little or no information exchange, it’s been largely a one-way, rarely a two-way conversation.
The primary delivery mode is still the 50 minute lecture with PowerPoint with the audience sitting, mutely watching, and often falling asleep. My technique may be “post Gutenburg” perhaps, but its hardly earth shattering. I need to facilitate learning by encouraging discussion: there has to be some actual conversation in my courses. I need to facilitate my Students’ learning and stop lecturing.
Shamed by Tapscott, It’s time that I also recognise that it’s time for a change. But how to proceed?
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