Personal learning environments

Dominant design is the idea that, once a design has risen to prominence, all innovation will aim at improving it, rather than competing alternatives, regardless of whether the dominant design is better than the alternatives. The most commonly used example seems to be the QWERTY keyboard layout, which was implemented when typists would type fast enough to jam the keys of old typewriters. The QWERTY layout was designed to slow down typists in order to prevent jamming the keyboard. So, even though it’s not the optimal layout for typing, and we no longer have the problem of jamming keys, we still see all innovation aimed at improving the current, dominant design, even though it’s not the best.

Another commonly used example is the institutional learning management system (LMS). It would be hard to argue that this represents an optimal design for driving learning, yet this is the design that has risen to dominance in the higher education sector. All efforts to enhance online learning are therefore aimed at improving the LMS, rather than investigating the merits of competing alternatives.

One alternative that continues to be ignored is the Personal Learning Environment (PLE). Many others have written about this and I’m not going to try and summarise their work but I did want to capture some of the ideas that I find most appealing about the concept.

We say we want students to be lifelong learners but we encourage them to use a system – the LMS – that cuts off access to their learning artifacts when they graduate. In most cases they are cut off from all of their activities at the end of each year. There is absolutely no incentive for students to invest any time and effort developing a learning space that they will lose at the end of the year. All of their interactions, content, grades, etc. are all deleted – or at best, archived – and are lost to the student. The data that they created is mined and used by the institution to make choices about future cohorts but even that data is lost to the student.

Now consider the PLE, the primary advantage of which is the fact that control of the learning environment reverts back to the student. When the student enters the university they are given hosted space on the institutional servers and taught how to manage that space. Some universities are already moving forward with this innovative system, called A Domain of Ones’ Own. In this system the student controls their data and gives permission to the institution – or any other 3rd party – to use it.

Another thing that really stands out for me is the fact that learning consists – in large part – of creating networks. The networks may be biological in the connections you make with people, digital in the connections you make with devices and content, and cognitive in the neural connections you make over time. Learning is fundamentally about networks; Think web, not website. The LMS deletes your network when you graduate, while the PLE enables you to take your network with you.

The PLE enables us to connect with people as well as with systems. People have a central online space that they control and then choose how to best to use that space and it’s connected services to learn. They choose the tools they’re most comfortable with, pull in data from other services (e.g. Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) and are able to publish their work into any of those services too. A PLE doesn’t preclude the possibility of students being connected to their institutional LMS, it just gives them other options for connection and developing networks.

There are no single platforms that constitute a PLE and no set frameworks that describe how they work; they are personal to you. However, there are some design principles to take into account that make sense for networked learning. The collection of services in a PLE should allow for:

  • Diversity: Did the process involve the widest possible spectrum of points of view? Did people who interpret the matter one way, and from one set of background assumptions, interact with people who approach the matter from a different perspective?
  • Autonomy: Were the individual knowers contributing to the interaction of their own accord, according to their own knowledge, values and decisions, or were they acting at the behest of some external agency seeking to magnify a certain point of view through quantity rather than reason and reflection?
  • Interactivity: Is the knowledge being produced the product of an interaction between the members, or is it a (mere) aggregation of the members’ perspectives?
  • Openness: Is there a mechanism that allows a given perspective to be entered into the system, to be heard and interacted with by others?

In terms of the practical features of the PLE, it should enable the following activities:

  • The aggregation of personally meaningful information, resources and ideas in a variety of formats e.g. text, images, video, links, tags, etc., from a variety of sources.
  • The student should be able to remix those resources into different formats by reinterpreting, combining and editing them using their own personal insights.
  • It should be possible to repurpose the resources so that the student can use them for a different objective than what they were created for.
  • The student should be able to publish the newly created artifiact in a feed forward mechanism that adds new ideas to the world.

If we want students to take advantage of the enormous possibilities enabled by digital and online learning environments, we will have to challenge the dominant design of learning management systems in higher education. We need to think about systems that not only provide the support that students’ needs for their learning, but also create space for them to move in ways that suit them rather than the institution. The adoption of personal learning environments will not only require significant changes to institutional systems and how these platforms are provided to students, but will also challenge educators to think differently about the kinds of learning activities and assessment tasks that they use in their teaching practices.

Additional reading

Posted to Diigo 05/23/2010

    • Connections is a about the process where the human mind takes the same letters of the alphabet but puts them together in a unique way to create something that far more compelling than the parts that went before. All the components for innovation existed. The magic was in the connecting.
    • do something that introduces new connections into your routine today.
    • I believe that the best way to learn about the world is by connecting with it
    • Before we work with our students on using these technologies, it is important that we work with them to be strong digital citizens
    • Work with your kids (as a teacher or parent) and teach them how to be responsible.  Teach them that it is okay to communicate when things are not great.  They are going on the Internet either way; will you work to help them prepare for it?
    • there appears to be an understanding of supporting learners in constructing their own meanings and understandings, rather than passively consuming materials
    • there is a real excitement about the potential of using multimedia for learning, once more not just consuming but creating audio and video
    • many teachers also seem to understand the Learning Management Systems and Virtual Learning Environments are for managing students, rather than providing an active tool for learning
    • Many teachers, whilst aware of the possibilities of new media, say the education system makes it difficult for them to change existing tecahing and learning practice. The reasons vary but include lack of infrastructure, lack of understanding and support from management, an overly prescriptive curriculum, lack of time, and rigid and individualistic assessment practices
    • Can teachers themselves initiate such change bottom up through introducing new technologies and pedagogies in their own practice. Can we drive change through modernising teacher training? How effective are projects in embedding change? How about ‘innovation champions’? Can we persuade managements of the potential new ways of tecahing and learning offer?
    • This is not going to be an orderly change from ‘old’ policy and practice to a shiny new world of technology enhanced learning. It will be messy. the problem is not the modernisation of schools, but rather that our schooling systems are increasingly dysfunctional within our society and increasingly irrelevant to the way many young people communicate and develop understandings and meanings
    • A mutual respect between teacher and student must be created to ensure that there is an opportunity for optimal learning
    • 1. Kids need to feel safe
    • safe to make mistakes, share thoughts, and know that their ideas will not be attacked or ridiculed
    • Trust must be apparent for students to succeed.
    • 2.  Students are cared for as people first
    • We always need to teach kids FIRST then curriculum.  Remember that.  Always.
    • If you enjoy what you do, have a sense of humour, and can laugh in your environment, you will do better and enjoy what you do
    • 3.  Opportunities for fun
    • Staff are encouraged to allow students to use Ipods in the classroom to not just connect with the outside world, but to also just let kids listen to music while they work.
    • Allowing students to use them responsibly in the classroom while respecting the learning of their peers is just one way we can create a better environment for students to learn
    • 4. Ideas and opinions are valued
    • Even the most famous inventors have failed before but we have to show students that even when they fall short, it is all a part of the learning process.
    • Kids need to have the opportunity to show their understanding in a way that is meaningful and relevant to them
    • 5. Opportunities for individualized learning
    • 6. Understand their knowledge and guide them to further their learning
    • I do not believe that “marks” are the best basis for this because they do not give any feedback for growth.  As teachers, it is our responsibility to give strategies to improve learning and help them further their own learning
    • 7. Student as a leader in the classroom
    • It simply can mean that they have the opportunity to show leadership in areas they excel and are passionate in
    • I appreciate learning at all times, even if it is from a child.  Not only will students appreciate that they have taught their teacher something, they will go out of their way to further their own learning to ensure that it happens again
    • 8. Opportunities for all to reflect
    • Time has to be given to students where they can self-assess their learning and put their ideas together
    • It is not the avenue that is important, but the opportunity
    • Find time in the busy school day to let students reflect on what they are learning
    • Through writing this post, I realized that this is not JUST an environment that we should try to create for our students, but for all those that we work with
    • When I design, facilitate, or moderate webinars I come from a social learning perspective, which means that participation is key. I get rather uncomfortable if a session is filled with me talking to slides because I feel I’m not engaging my learners, and King backs this up so neatly, saying

      “discussing the material with others actually transforms how we think about it… During such interaction with another, we clarify ideas, negotiate meaning, develop new skills, and construct new knowledge: thus, learning becomes a by-product of that interaction” (1997, p. 221).

Misunderstanding the conversation around teaching with technology

I’ve been going through the collection of abstracts from last year’s HELTASA conference, looking for a citation for a poster presentation that I’d like to use for an assignment. This gave me an overview of the event that I didn’t pick up on while I was there, as I tend to focus on individual presentations while at conferences.

One of the other things I noticed is that when talking about e-learning (besides the fact that there are many interpretations of what e-learning actually means), many presenters spoke of a move towards customised Learning Management Systems, that exist separate to the lecture. There is still a clear demarcation between the classroom and the online space, with little in each space to complement the other. The only thing that changed in some cases was the way in which learning tasks are assigned and marks gathered i.e. how learning was managed.

I think there’s still a strong belief that “teaching with technology” merely involves moving content online and into digital walled gardens, cut off not only from the greater online community, but even from students who aren’t registered for that particular module. There seemed to be a lack of understanding that the most important aspect of introducing technology into teaching, is that there must be a change in practice that is associated with multiple, bi-directional communication channels. Even the addition of multimedia shouldn’t be seen as an end in itself…it’s just a way to add meaning to the message.

This change in communication is what is fundamental. It’s about moving ideas, as well as moving between and through them in a way that’s difficult to do in a traditional lecture format, but which complements the lecture (or small group discussion, etc.). We need to move away from the idea that integrating technology into teaching practice is an either – or proposition. The traditional and the new need to blend into each other, using each strategy to reduce the limitations of the other.

Mozilla Open Education course: seminar 2

Open educational resources

I missed the second session of the Mozilla Open Education course that was held about two weeks ago because of Internet issues, and only just had the opportunity to listen to the audio. Here are my notes from the session, which featured a panel of experienced users and creators of Open Education Resources (OER).

Began with an overview of the open ed movement / background to set the context against which the case studies are set…what is the big picture? OER features many people involved at many levels, using many technologies and business models are being built around this idea…shows it’s an idea who’s time has come.

Create a movement of diversity, seeing how different ideas play off one another.

Fundamental adherence to openness means that ideas and content designed for one task need not be delimited to that task but can be “re-packaged” for others i.e you needn’t design materials for everybody, just for your own needs, but then to endow it with the characteristics (legal and technical) that make it available for everybody to redesign.

OER should be:

  • designed to give learners access to a broad array of tools
  • available for anyone to use/share/adapt to their needs
  • relevant for formal/informal and lifelong learning needs

Open licensing is crucial – current systems undermine the premise that creative content can be shared and changed, therefore OER is important for catalysing new ways of learning, critical thinking, collaboration, engagement, reflection

Education is the key to an informed population, therefore it needs broad, optimistic ideas that do away with the notion that “you don’t get to have an education because of your circumstances”.

4 topics that came from previous interviews:

  1. Open means not being afraid to solve problems publically (and to fail publically)
  2. Open means creating space for people to do things that you don’t anticipate
  3. Open means giving up control
  4. Open means sharing models that others build on for quick diffusion of good ideas

What is an edupunk and how does it relate to online learning? Edupunk came from a notion that you could do a lot in education by yourself, and not being afraid to fail. Moving against the corporate base who designs courses based around management, rather than learning (isn’t this a bigger problem within Learning Management Systems. Take this further with the idea of “managed learning”). Also, proprietary, no control, they shape our learning experience.

Traditional methods of learning and teaching are clean, easy and simple for lecturers to follow, textbooks are available, curriculum can be moved through in a predetermined way, boundaries are evident. Open source communities allow involvement with real things, which can be scary…you don’t always know where it’s going. The opportunities to talk about things that wont’ come up in other contexts adds to a richer expereince. Better place to learn because it scales.

Discussed issues with institutions catching on to and embracing change, eg. hosting content on external servers.

Difficult to get students to contribute to blogs:

  • Thought no-one would read it
  • Thought that if they did read it, they’d think it was stupid

Realised that by aggregating content, they could draw a much larger audience. Students were blown away by comments on blogs (profound moment when the person you’re blogging about comments on your blog). Aggregation helps build critical mass. Powerful idea that people from all over the world are reading your work and following it.

A key competency is understanding how to manage online identities. Posts can’t be thrown out there, reflection before posting is important because these conversations are available forever. People beocme more conscious about how ideas and conversations can travel.

Surprised at how few students read and understand how blogs work. Need to teach them how the internet works. Communciation needs to change, tone, strategy. “Learning to write in a way that honours the web”. We need to spend time teaching students how to communicate online, in a living and open way. It’s wrong to think that this is the Facebook generation and that they know how to do this.

Students taking control of their work and presenting or “re-presenting” themselves online. Where they live online and how they work online. Online identity and data portability. Moving beyond the limited view of institutional services…not about email addresses or university webspaces…framing their own online identity outside of the institution.

Regarding Weave for an “educational passport”. Students taking their own digital identity and learning experiences with them when they leave univerity…portfolios of learning that they own. Storing personal information through the browser that the student owns and can always access. Aggregating online identity through your own domain.

Not about building resources, it’s about building community. Forget about building the one hoop that you can re-use every year to make new students jump through. How can I make sure that my community of students is healthy and finding their own hoops?