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Thursday, September 23, 2010

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE - PLE's need Teachers

Call it a PLE if you like, to me it is connectivist learning. Other terms that i can identify with are Dave Cormier's 'Community as Curriculum' approach and Wendy Drexler's elucidation of Networked learning in the 'Networked student model' (video) .

I agree with Jenny Mackness blog post on Curation and Balance in that it is the process that is of most interest and relevance when trying to explain to staff and students the benefits of 21st century connectivist learning. I think however the terms PLE and PLN are with us to stay and so an appreciation of the differences between the terms is useful. From the various blog posts it would seem that the consensus is that a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is more concerned with tools and technology and that Personal Learning Networks (PLN) are more concerned with connections to people. I agree with these distinctions and I like Vahid Masrour's (PLE, i think i got it (for me, anyways) concise view of their respective functions.

  • PLE - "My PLE is where I store all my “keys” to the network. The PLE takes me to my PLN through various gates and paths." and later he says "PLE's are nice, and useful, but they're the ticket and ride, not the destination. The destination is the PLN."
  • PLN - "One of the key concepts for me in a PLN is that learning is a social activity.", "The PLN is then more akin to a community, but with much looser connections, described in the literature as “weak ties”. He also states "The key aspect here are the connections, and what I can do with them, in the sense of doing something with them, not just benefiting from them."
PLE's and PLN's in context
Before I move onto the main theme of this post - The role of the teacher in a PLE, I wish to just talk about the context of PLE and PLN use. I can think of three different contexts where a PLE-PLN will be in use:
  1. Unconsciously - Those who without prior knowledge of the terms PLE and PLN learn from online pursuit of their interests combined with ongoing general social interaction.
  2. True self directed independent learners who have naturally seen the potential of connective technology to enhance their own learning and understanding OR initially teacher supported users who are now confident working and learning autonomously in a self directed way.
  3. Teacher supported PLE's and PLN's
As educators who see the learning benefits in a PLE/PLN approach then i think we need to recognize the importance of teacher supported PLE's and PLN's and the need to educate both teachers and students in order to promote this approach to learning.

Balance and the Teacher as Curator/Facilitator
Jenny Mackness and Wendy Drexler both highlight the issue of balance (in many respects), but notably in the issue of teacher intervention and getting the right balance between supporting and scaffolding the learner experience and letting students independently develop and grow their own PLE's and PLN's.

This excellent post by Leigh Blackhall Regarding George Siemens curators and George's subsequent excellent response breaks down possible roles involved in networked learning that the teacher may be classified as (Expert: Someone with sustained contribution to a field, Teacher: experts with authority, Curator: play the role of interpreting, organizing, and presenting content, Facilitator: able to guide, direct, lead, and assist learners, not necessarily being a subject matter expert.

I note that George in his Networks, Ecologies, and Curatorial Teaching post likes the idea of curator to reflect the role of network administrators/organisers in a networked learning environment. Previously I have always used the term 'teacher as facilitator'. After reading George's definitions i believe curating is probably more apt. In a teacher supported PLE/PLN the teacher will probably do both roles.

Further to this I see the PLE-PLN as part of a learning strategy that runs alongside a more deliberate and social and active learning approach where more contrived learning tasks and activities are instigated to improve connectedness. It's all about context i think, but I note this may go against the grain of leading connectivist thinker Stephen Downes whose views are explored in this blog post - The groups and networks debate (I shall read more on this later).

I see the role of the teacher as curator/facilitator as absolutely critical to helping students to appreciate and then develop the PLE-PLN approach to learning. It seems natural to me that intervention can be gauged on a continuum whereby new PLE-PLN learners are quite heavily supported and this support gradually diminishes as the learners evolve into confident autonomous and self directed learners.

Making PLE's and PLN's work Better

Vahid Masrour finishes his blog post with these questions/observation. "I guess my next question then becomes: why focus on PLEs? Shouldn't we be trying to figure out how to make PLN work better?"

I think he has a good point. Development of your PLE is about working with technology, refining your use of tools to give you more keys or more efficient access to your network of people and resources. This process alone will enhance connectivist learning skills, but it is in addressing how to make PLN's work better that enhanced learning can occur. i.e how to improve connection making and strengthen connections.

We can explore this more at another time, but the main themes worth exploring in this regard are.
  1. Learner centered pedagogic development for teachers
  2. Technological and online skills and practices development for teachers
  3. Technological and online skills and practices development for learners
  4. More use of web conferencing for live interactive synchronous learning activities.
I'' leave you with an excellent book - Helping Students Learn in a Learner-Centered Environment: A Guide to Facilitating Learning in Higher Education, which will serve as a guide for face to face and online facilitating and focus thinking on how this pedagogic approach can be adapted using the online technology available.


Friday, September 17, 2010

A Deliberate and Effective PLE

Initial reading that has help me to formulate my opinion on this topic is the excellent Developing Personal learning networks for open and social learning article by Alec Courous who explains the rationale for choosing a primary free and open learning environment and describing the course facilitation model to promote an open an social personal learning network, John Mak's Research into the Design and Delivery of MOOC blog post which contains a number of prompts in relation to open and social learning compared with the more structured and traditional way of learning, Dave Cormier's 5 points about PLE'S and PLN'S which gives a good overview of key points on the topic and Scott Leslie's Mother of All PLE Diagram Compilation.

Thinking about my own PLE in relation to the reading led me to developing my own PLE Model. The thinking behind the model is outlined below the following diagram.

Questions that crossed my mind were:

1. Is your PLE Deliberate? By this i mean has your PLE just grown organically by adding and experimenting with different services or have you deliberately organised and designed your PLE to suit your learning Purpose.

2. What is the Purpose of your PLE? which leads onto the question...

3. What model of a PLE fits your purpose? (need to review PLE Models)

When considering Question 2 further questions come to mind such as:

4. What do you do in a PLE?

5. What is learning in a PLE?

Once you have a better understanding of what you do in a PLE, How you learn in a PLE and what the purpose of your PLE is you can in a more informed way address the question

6. What technically do i need to do to make my PLE Effective?

So - What about my PLE, is it Deliberate, does it have a purpose
In asking myself is my PLE deliberate the simple answer thus far is NO. Yes i do have a collection of tools that i use to help with my learning and maintaining personal connections, but previously i have not thought through clearly what i hope to achieve with my PLE. Until now most of my learning is driven by my immediate needs, the galvanising effect of being enrolled on a formal course or involved in informal but Studious and intentional courses such as this MOOC and serendipitous casual learning.

When thinking about the purpose of my PLE it strikes me that i have needs for a number of distinct learning situations, but i shall concern myself with my primary interest which is learning and education and in particular social, active and participatory learning.

Towards a Deliberate and Effective PLE
If we start with the premise that when creating a deliberate and effective PLE you are signed up to the notion you can enhance your learning by learning in an open, social, participatory, sharing way then at the most abstract level I think of what you do in a PLE as the 3x3.
1. Collate, filter/sort and share TOPIC/CONTENT information
2. Collate, filter/sort and share PERSONAL ACTIVITY
3. Collate, filter/sort and share NETWORK ACTIVITY
By actively contributing to these activities you will be contributing to your own and others learning. It can quite a demanding business, but being organised and deliberate will help and being kind to yourself in recognising that you may not have all the time you would like to contribute fully will help as well.

Practically - What do you do in a PLE?
It was interesting perusing the diagrams at Scott Leslie's Mother of All PLE Diagram Compilation, but quite overwhelming at times. Nevertheless it did help me consolidate what i believe occurs in a PLE and consequently has now given me a model to follow in constructing my own deliberate and effective PLE.

To simplify and understand what you do in a PLE I have broken down the key elements to SIX key activities plus your CONTROL center of Choice. We'll call this the CONTROL PLUS SIX model. Linked into this model is the recognition that the web based tools that you use in this model will have multiple uses and can fit in any of the six activities depending on your own learning purpose. The six activities that i have identifed are 1. Data Gathering, 2. Publishing, 3. Communication, 4. Collaboration, 5. Reflection and 6. Planning.

I think most activities can be bracketed under these headings. I welcome any thoughts as to whether these broad categories do indeed capture the range of activity that ensues in a PLE.

The Control Plus Six PLE Model

0. The control centre: Whatever you use to pull together all the collating, sorting and sharing of topic/content information, personal and network activity. May be a combination of tools, not neccessarily just one. For example a Wordpress blog, Integrated Google tools, Personal Blog with Tweetdeck and RSS Feed reader.

1. Data Gathering : (Inbound Activity) - e.g. diigo, delicious social bookmarking, google search, network tweets, network blog posts, facebook links
2. Publishing: (Outbound Activity) - e.g. blogging, creating multimedia, presentations, articles
3. Communication: (Inbound and Outbound Activity) - e.g. discussion forums, tweeting, email, social networking (i.e facebook), web conferencing, instant messaging
4. Collaboration: (Inbound and Outbound Activity) - e.g. wikis, google docs, project collaborations, presentations, research, article writing
5. Reflection: (Neutral - Home Activity) - e.g. blogs, wikis, notes (facebook, diigo)
6. Planning: (Neutral - Home Activity) - e.g. google calendar, project management (i.e basecamp)


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