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

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-06-06

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-07-26

Summary of PhD progress

I’m writing this after having read Christina’s post on her thoughts on the PhD process, and following a few of her links to other PhD students who are blogging their own progress. As I’m going through a little slump at the moment, I thought it might be useful to write a short post on where I’m at right now, to review what I’ve done so far.

A few weeks ago I spent 3 days on a writing workshop with colleagues in my department who are also registered for their PhD’s (there are 4 of us), where I worked on my systematic review (see the proposal). I managed to trim the original 103 articles that I gathered during my first, second and third search rounds, to about 60. Then I went through those 60 with a more critical eye, removing what wasn’t appropriate. Finally I narrowed the list down to 20 articles that we eventually conducted independent critical reviews on, and came to consensus with my supervisor, where we finally agreed on 7 articles that matched my inclusion criteria. The article is now ready to be written up, although I’m uncertain of the format. The outcome of the systematic review will be a peer-reviewed publication that identifies some of the ways in which blended learning has been applied in clinical education, and which will inform the development of my own module (one of the later objectives).

My fourth year research group has just finished capturing the data they gathered from a survey we drew up together, where they looked at the role of social networks to facilitate reflective learning. This survey forms part of my first objective, as well as the first component of my SAFRI project (which will later include focus group interviews with staff members, and an additional survey of the students). Immediately after conducting the survey, I have also held workshops with 2 classes so far, to facilitate the process of working within the network, and will be completing workshops with the last 2 classes in the next few weeks. Tomorrow the group will submit an outline of the first few sections of a draft article, and I’ll be presenting some tentative results at the SAAHE conference next week (see the abstract).

I’ve also recently finished a first draft of an article based on a small, wiki-based project I ran in our department last year (you can still comment on it). Strictly speaking it’s unrelated to my PhD as it doesn’t fit into the proposal, but is still work in a related field. Finally, I gave a presentation on PLE’s to the Centre for Teaching and Learning at Stellenbosch University. Again, PLE’s are not explicitly addressed in my PhD proposal, but as I’m leaning more and more towards that concept as having great potential in reflective learning, I think it might ultimately end up playing an important part in the project.

Now that I look back at my progress over the past 6 months, maybe a short break is in order…?

Posted to Diigo 06/18/2010

    • Salmon’s model moves away from the increasingly dated notion that the effective eLearning can be achieved through static learning objects (Downes 2005), and takes a social learning perspective with particular emphasis on communities of practice, providing a framework to support Wenger’s assertion that “learning cannot be designed: it can only be designed for – that is, facilitated or frustrated” (1998, p. 228).
    • Salmon’s model is also reliant upon scaffolding, extending Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (in Attwell 2006) proposition with the model’s structure implying that the moderator acts as an initial scaffold who gradually shifts responsibility for development to the learning community under their guidance, with learners developing their own scaffolding based on relationships with many within the community, and eventually, beyond the community.
    • Lead by Example
    • It is an essential part of our jobs to model what we would like to see
    • Get Personal
    • Be willing to share of yourself. Share your stories and your life
    • be willing to be open
    • Be Honest
    • you need to be willing to share your thoughts and opinions about things
    • Accept that You’re Human
    • Learn for mistakes and move on
    • Be Knowledgeable and Share
    • Share of yourself and of your passions. Make your presence in a space one that has personality and share what you have
    • Share the things you find online
    • Maintain Consistency
    • Maintaining consistency will allow your students to be comfortable in your space, understanding what happens there and able to concentrate on what they are being asked to do
    • Let it Go
    • Be prepared to see cycles between students and even within the contributions of single students
    • Don’t Give Up
    • How can we change what we are asking them to do in order for them to grow into their roles
    • “My job is to present the material in an interesting and meaningful way,” he would say. “It is the student’s job to learn that material.”

      Implicit in his statement was the idea that it was the student’s role to adjust to the various styles employed by different teachers. Whether the teacher featured a lecture format or a hands-on approach was immaterial – the assumption was that students were the ones who needed to be flexible

    • any failure on the student’s part to master the material was not the responsibility of the teacher
    • students moved along as a group, each doing the same set of assignments, each expected to master the exact same set of learning objectives by a date set forth in the syllabus
    • differentiating for a specific learner was perceived as showing favoritism
    • today’s teacher is expected to adjust to the varied preferences of students so as to maximize the learning potential of each individual in the classroom
    • Personalizing learning involves differentiating the curricula, including expectations and timelines, and utilizing various instructional approaches so as to best meet the needs of each individual
    • The challenge is not so much what those elements consist of but how to piece the elements together to form a cohesive strategy
    • But technology also plays a more important role in the personalization process. Ultimately it is the conduit for teachers to move to a learning approach that features materials developed for each individual student
    • One of the critical elements to a cohesive strategy involves the concept of a learning platform
    • First teachers must have a clear understanding of the learning needs of each student
    • teachers must monitor and assess student progress intently
    • Learning paths must then be created that match the aptitude and learning styles of every individual
    • One of the first elements is increased communication among educators themselves as well as with their individual students
    • That means increased use of email
    • Better yet, it means posting that assignment online for students and parents to access directly
    • No one educator could possibly create unique learning materials for every single student
    • An expectation that all teachers are ready for such steps is destined for failure
    • Whereas in Africa limited infrastructure is producing an information bottleneck, access in the UK is restricted by ‘denial of service’ restrictions placed upon a competent and fast modern system
    • how do we go about managing the risks more effectively to allow NHS staff to access online learning resources and tools which many of us take for granted
    • what processes people perceived as important for knowledge maturing within their organisation and how ell they though these processes were important. The two processes perceived as most important were ‘reflection’ and ‘building relationships’ between people. These were also the two processes seen as amongst the least supported
    • The issue of ‘reflection’ is more complex. e-Portfolio researchers have always emphasised the centrality of reflection to learning, yet it is hard to see concrete examples of how this can be supported
    • the amount of redundant, inconsequential, and outright poor research has swelled in recent decades
    • 40.6 percent of the articles published in the top science and social-science journals (the figures do not include the humanities) were cited in the period 2002 to 2006
    • As a result, instead of contributing to knowledge in various disciplines, the increasing number of low-cited publications only adds to the bulk of words and numbers to be reviewed
    • The avalanche of ignored research has a profoundly damaging effect on the enterprise as a whole. Not only does the uncited work itself require years of field and library or laboratory research. It also requires colleagues to read it and provide feedback, as well as reviewers to evaluate it formally for publication. Then, once it is published, it joins the multitudes of other, related publications that researchers must read and evaluate for relevance to their own work. Reviewer time and energy requirements multiply by the year
    • The pace of publication accelerates, encouraging projects that don’t require extensive, time-consuming inquiry and evidence gathering
    • Questionable work finds its way more easily through the review process and enters into the domain of knowledge
    • Aspiring researchers are turned into publish-or-perish entrepreneurs, often becoming more or less cynical about the higher ideals of the pursuit of knowledge
    • The surest guarantee of integrity, peer review, falls under a debilitating crush of findings, for peer review can handle only so much material without breaking down. More isn’t better. At some point, quality gives way to quantity
    • Several fixes come to mind:
    • First, limit the number of papers to the best three, four, or five that a job or promotion candidate can submit. That would encourage more comprehensive and focused publishing
    • Second, make more use of citation and journal “impact factors
    • Third, change the length of papers published in print: Limit manuscripts to five to six journal-length pages
    • and put a longer version up on a journal’s Web site
    • what we surely need is a change in the academic culture that has given rise to the oversupply of journals
    • Finally, researchers themselves would devote more attention to fewer and better papers actually published, and more journals might be more discriminating
    • the present ‘industrial’ schooling system is fast becoming dysfunctional, neither providing the skills and competences required in our economies nor corresponding to the ways in which we are using the procedural and social aspects of technology for learning and developing and sharing knowledge
    • Personal Learning Environments can support and mediate individual and group based learning in multiple contexts and promote learner autonomy and control
    • The role of teachers in such an environment would be to support, model and scaffold learning
    • Such approaches to learning recognise the role of informal learning and the role of context
    • Schools can only form one part of such collaborative and networked knowledge constellation
    • institutions must rethink and recast their role as part of community and distributed networks supporting learning and collaborative knowledge development
    • the major impact of the uses of new technologies and social networking for learning is to move learning out of the institutions and into wider society
    • This is a two way process, not only schools reaching outwards, but also opening up to the community, distributed or otherwise, to join in collaborative learning processes
    • At the same time new interfaces to computers and networks are likely to render the keyboard obsolescent, allowing the integration of computers and learning in everyday life and activity

PLE: experiences in personal learning

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to be invited to present at the Centre for Teaching and Learning at Stellenbosch University. I chose Personal Learning Environment’s (PLE’s) as the topic, not because I knew very much about them, but precisely the opposite. Considering that my PhD research is inevitably going to make some use of this idea in some detail at some point, I used the presentation to explore the concept and to deepen my understanding of PLE’s.

Thank you to Francois and everyone else on the team for the warm welcome yesterday and for the opportunity to share my own experiences in this space, however limited they may be.

Here’s the abstract and presentation:

Note: The first part of the presentation tries to contextualise the conversation within the scope of current ideas around the changing nature of education and information technology. The second part of the presentation provides some insight into how I use certain services, devices and concepts within my own PLE. The final part briefly explores challenges within this approach and provides basic guidelines that may facilitate the implementation of a PLE nonetheless.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-06-07

  • Mugtug | Browser Based Image Editing and Photo Sharing http://bit.ly/ca7pXs #
  • @johncarneyau Only now our tools allow us to do far more creative things than pen and paper did in the past #
  • @johncarneyau Then there’s not much difference betw a traditional teacher and a Steiner teacher? Teachers r teachers, technologies r tools #
  • @johncarneyau Not at all, there’s nothing in their philosophy negating the idea of using technology to explore creative learning experiences #
  • “Technology won’t replace teachers, but teachers who use technology in the classroom will replace those who don’t” – Higham (2007) #
  • Teaching and learning in social and technological networks – presentation by George Siemens http://bit.ly/cVIEQg #
  • Connectivist Learning and the Personal Learning Environment – presentation by Downes http://bit.ly/b5VKnK #
  • Trends In Personal Learning (audio and slides) – Stephen Downes http://bit.ly/cvsBsL #
  • “To ‘teach’ is to model and demonstrate. To ‘learn’ is to practice and reflect. Both imply participation in…an authentic CoP” – Downes #
  • On 7th grader #PLE video (http://bit.ly/9196KL) – amazing work, but don’t forget that the ToS mean she doesn’t own it & also can’t export it #
  • @jeffjarvis If you find yourself in Cape Town, give me a shout (I’m a huge TWiT and TWiG fan) #
  • @Czernie How bizarre, I just read that exact quote (http://bit.ly/9Ylxvb, slide no. 7) #
  • An Important Reminder about Feedback. Not only formal feedback is useful http://tinyurl.com/2udaokl #
  • Star Trek inspirational poster (humour) http://bit.ly/csbofi #
  • RT @allankent: @patrickkayton was killer finally getting to play with #cognician -> Looking forward to seeing what you build #
  • How Augmented Reality Helps Doctors Save Lives http://tinyurl.com/39ptoge #
  • @salfordgareth Can’t imagine not using GReader. Sync it to my phone and other offline readers all the time. Great 4 catching up and sharing #
  • Google Releases CloudCourse, an Open Source Learning Platform http://bit.ly/9rEB2y #
  • Google’s “Learning platform” clarified | John McLear’s School Technology http://bit.ly/c3iFqa #
  • BusinessDay – Software to help critical thinking http://bit.ly/aV8qYT #
  • Cognician – The original thinking guide http://bit.ly/9i0NqT #
  • @cristinacost #AMEE (http://goo.gl/TBYV) is my priority for 2011, but will do everything I can to get to SN & Learning http://goo.gl/SYS1 #
  • @doug_holton We’re enjoying #WPMU with #Buddypress finding it does everything we need it to & plugin ecosystem growing all the time #
  • @cristinacost @gsiemens Social networks and learning in 2011? Would love to play with… #
  • elearnspace › Einztein – company based on providing value to the OER of universities http://bit.ly/cUHgk1 #

Posted to Diigo 05/21/2010

    • What do I mean by presence, and why do I think that it is relevant to PLEs?
    • 1. Presence as social richness
    • Communications are expected to somehow express the ‘social, symbolic, and nonverbal cues of human communication’, which is of course difficult in an online environment.
    • 2. Presence as realism
    • By creating a sense of reality  in the pictures they produce and create an experience that would be plausible in real life (Lombard & Ditton, 1997)
    • 3. Presence as transportation
    • The idea in this form of presence is ‘the degree to which participants of a telemeeting get the impression of sharing space with interlocutors who are at a remote physical site’ (Mulbach et al, 1995, p.293)
    • the participant perceives to be immersed in a virtual environment
    • 4. Presence and immersion
    • 5. Presence as social actor within a medium
    • A heightened form of presence is created, where it seems that an interaction with the viewer or another person is taking place on the screen, while in reality this is not the case
    • 6. Presence as medium as social actor
    • deep and meaningful learning results if three forms of presence play a role in education. They highlight cognitive presence, that ensures a certain level of depth in the educational process, which could be compared to “intensity” as highlighted by Shedroff (2009) in developing web-based experiences and “Vividness” by Lombard and Ditton (1997) in the creation of meaningful online experiences
    • Anderson (2008) also refers to social presence, which would be similar to the social presence described by Lombard and Ditton
    • in a formal educational environment that of a teacher presence
    • In PLE based learning the teacher presence is not there, but you could argue that there are knowledgeable others out there on the Web who might to a certain extent take on that role
    • The higher the number of human senses engaged in the activity, the higher the presence experienced will be
    • ‘visual media have more social presence than verbal (audio) media, which in turn have more social presence than written media
    • ‘The number of inputs from the user that the medium accepts and to which it responds’ could affect presence and the level of experience, while the type of input by the user, ie. through voice, video, or button clicks, and the type of response received was also seen as an influence on the level of presence (Lombard & Ditton, 1997, p.18)
    • So the higher the level of presence, the higher the level of involvement in the online activity and the deeper the experience. The question of how to create presence in the design of a PLE is an important one as at the heart of PLE-based learning would be a high level of engagement and depth of learning
    • The fruit of collective intelligence, which I (and others) have described as an emergent phenomenon, results from the linkages and connections between individuals, and not a counting of properties (such as survey results) of those individuals.
    • This emergent knowledge is not intended to compete with, or replace, qualitative or quantitative knowledge
    • Connective knowledge, in other words, does not refute or overturn existing knowledge; rather, it offers us a *new* type of knowledge, that *cannot* be confirmed or refuted by simple observation of data
    • why shouldn’t students’ work be available to other (future) students.

      Instead of binning their work after they get their marks, why shouldn’t we be making it available to others so that they can learn from their peers, from what others have done.

      He talks about this as if it were so obvious. Yet in academia we’ve always made sure to hide students’ work… ooohh the plagarism…. [it’s better to avoid plagiarism at all cost than actually educate not to plagiarise…]… in real life, we all look at what other have done to improve our work. Something isn’t right here!

    • Providing information is not really creating knowledge
    • there has always been and there will always be good pedagogy with or without technology

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-02-15

  • @ryantracey Agreed. The process, rather than the certificate, should be emphasised #
  • RT @wesleylynch: Video comparing iphone and nexus – http://ow.ly/17iBb. Can’t imagine how the iPhone will survive, Android is already better #
  • RT @psychemedia: Are Higher Degrees a waste of time for most people? http://bit.ly/buKpOW. IT professionals are hardly “most people” #
  • University finds free online classes don’t hurt enrollment http://bit.ly/9zztuR #
  • Mobile Learning Principles – interesting, but unrealistic in a developing country. “Mobile” does not = smartphone http://bit.ly/97WUu4 #
  • Presenting while people are twittering, an increasingly common backchannel. Be aware of it and use it if possible http://bit.ly/bymSUE #
  • Presentation Zen: The “Lessig Method” of presentation. Great resource on improving your presentation skills http://bit.ly/aTykYr #
  • About “P”! « Plearn Blog. This post raises some interesting questions about the challenges of using PLEs http://bit.ly/9cDqd6 #
  • Crazy Goats. I don’t usually share this sort of thing, but this pretty amazing http://bit.ly/9Hg32e #
  • Learning technologies in engineering education. For anyone interested in integrating “distance” with “practical” http://bit.ly/a9lclC #
  • Think ‘Network Structure’ not ‘Networking’. I always thought “networking” was too haphazard to bother with http://bit.ly/acuw1g #
  • Clifton beach earlier today. I think I like it here http://twitgoo.com/dv85w #
  • @davidworth Hi David, thanks for the blog plug #
  • @sharingnicely: go around institutional pushback when policy is unfriendly to OER #OCW #
  • @dkeats: free content enables students to use scarce financial resources to acquire tech instead, which grants access to vastly more content #
  • Butcher: the curricular framework must drive development of OER – content comes after learning #OCW #
  • Neil Butcher from OERAfrica: OER can’t work without institutional support #OCW #
  • Why is copyright in OER even an issue? Copyright applies equally to OER and non-OER #OCW #
  • If you think of a degree as a learning experience, rather than a certificate, formal accreditation is less important. See P2PU #OCW #
  • Is there a difference between OER and #OCW I’m wary of the emphasis on content as a means of changing teaching practice #
  • @dkeats Improvement in quality is always important, isn’t it? No-one is aiming for mediocrity #
  • OCW workshop at UWC today, OCW board present incl. MIT OCW, should be a good day, quite proud its happening here #
  • RT @cristinacost: RT @gconole: Sarah Knight on JISC elearning prog including excellent eff. practice pubs http://bit.ly/c1wVF6 #
  • RT @c4lpt: MicroECoP – Uisng microblogging to enhance communication within Communities of Practice http://bit.ly/9ofx3O #microecop #
  • Making the Pop Quiz More Positive. I like the change of mindset that the post suggests, pop quizzes aren’t punishment http://bit.ly/d5IiMV #
  • @cristinacost Looks good, you’re further along with your project than I am with mine, I might have to come to you for advice 🙂 #
  • Problem-Based Learning: A Quick Review « Teaching Professor. Nice, short summary of why PBL is a Good Thing http://bit.ly/cOAQeY #
  • @cristinacost What’s your interest in Buddypress? I recently set up WPMU/BP platform for physio dept social network to explore CoP #
  • Microblogging to enhance communication within communities of practice http://bit.ly/a0saa4 #microecop #
  • There’s a war goin’ on here, donchaknow? Retro copyright posters at EdTechPost http://bit.ly/aBsVwu #
  • Post by Howard Rheingold on crap detection on the internet should be required reading for everyone online http://bit.ly/dsGtha #
  • Scroll down for the 5 C’s of Engagement on Postrank’s “What it is” page. Is it useful for building social presence? http://bit.ly/983dcL #
  • Great post on 3 strategies to manage information: Aggregate, Filter and Connect. The last one is hard (for me anyway) http://bit.ly/diItNr #
  • Great post on the importance of not only filtering information, but using it meaningfully http://bit.ly/bk21Ol #
  • Siemens’ post on moving from educational reform within the system, to a “no boundaries” approach http://bit.ly/bMnKXu #
  • Web 3.0 and Its Relevance for Instruction – interesting article on how a next generation web could be used in education http://bit.ly/axYyEr #
  • Freedom helps kids learn more « Education Soon http://bit.ly/bBbGvB #

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