Monday, December 27, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Thursday, November 18, 2010
When I got to page eight in the paper I got excited. "Here finally," I realized, "is an area where Adult Literacy and Basic Education (ALBE) is ahead of most HE."
Fiedler & Väljataga say: "Many educators and educational researchers seem to maintain the view that it is quite appropriate to limit their efforts …(to)… learning activities on system one
We hold an alternative view.
…we first need to make an attempt to re-configure learning activities … in a way that allows the individual personal adult learner to actualize and execute control and responsibility … by modeling and actively shaping her own learning activity and its specific environment."
ALBE maintains that its responsibility is as much preparing learners for life as teaching academics. Essential skills to participate in today's world and attitudes for success are at the forefront of shaping the educational offering. This is because the majority of learners in ALBE classes have a history that has led them to regard themselves as failures. It's beyond the scope of this post to examine the legacy of Aboriginal residential schools, but it still informs a certain fearful expectancy that many adults bring to an educational setting. Their need for healing, and complicated life occurrences are some of the major issues that prevent academics alone, no matter how skilfully delivered, from meeting their needs. It’s still necessary to keep things interesting in class to motivate a learner, but it's essential to recognize that most of the drop-out occurs because "life happens", not boredom or difficulty in comprehending. That these students will put formal learning on the back burner, what Fiedler & Väljataga call System 2 and System 3 educational management decisions, is inevitable. That they should be penalized for it by denying them further access to education is unconscionable.
To address this situation we have, at the community level, made innovations that may not be possible at a central campus setting. Continuous intake, individual learning paths, and especially non-punitive attendance policies, all remove barriers to re-engaging with learning after a life event (e.g. childbirth, temporary employment, or judicial intervention) has interrupted schooling. Digital technology makes multiple individual learning paths much easier to manage than in the past, but buy-in on the part of the Institution and the individual instructor is key to allowing ALBE students to shape their learning activities to fit their complicated environment.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Kay Novak's PLENK introduction mentions a Second Life Unsymposium, which lead me to Rockliffe University's "World of Teachcraft". Using World of Warcraft (WOW) as a focus for collaboration, a half dozen teachers are meeting in Second Life to plan and support each other in learning how to use the world's most popular Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG). Within WOW they will collaborate as a team to complete quests and build up the level of their characters. Asynchronous discussion takes place in the course Moodle.
WOW is much more than just combat. Defeat is not final. Players learn through repeated attempts to complete complex tasks which then allow them to advance to higher levels. Characters have different abilities (such as healing, superior strength, damage at a distance, and magic) that complement each other in battle, making cooperation the key to advancement. A wide array of virtual goods that give an advantage to one character or another are bought and sold on open markets, making economics an important part of the game as well. Within the game, players communicate with each other by text and voice to coordinate attacks, tutor newcomers, barter for assistance, and share information about hidden dangers. There is an active community on the web that further supports players with information for solving difficult quests through forums and FAQs as well as facebook groups and twitter. There is even an in-game twitter client called "Tweetcraft"
This combination of multiple channels for learning to play a game, that itself includes multiple levels of learning, with the need for cooperation and collaboration makes this project one of the more intriguing ones I have seen. It's not quite enough to get me playing WOW, but it's mellowed my condescending attitude toward gaming. In the Unsymposium, several of the professors told how they used WOW in their real life classes on economics and other subjects that meshed with the themes of the game. Now they are taking it a step farther, bringing in teachers new to WOW to see if they can discover other ways this highly engaging MMORPG can complement educational goals in and out of the classroom.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Ease of use, universality, ubiquity, integration: these are the features that make the “big names” attractive. I admire the frontierspersons who boldly go. I’ll delight in the new territory they show me. For now though, boring as it may sound, I also need a proven, predictable environment that frees me to concentrate on getting work done.
Monday, October 25, 2010
I can assess my learning objectively, based on whether I’m using digital tools in a new way to solve problems, whether I’m finding new ways to draw in adult students to engage with learning, whether the new connections I’m making with people are to our mutual benefit, and whether my blog & discussion postings get responses.
To all of the above I’d give a qualified “pretty well”. New connections are certainly the most exciting. Conviviality Corners in Second Life brought me closer to individuals with similar interests. The prospects of having a few of them connect with my adult literacy class via Skype in the near future made PLENK seem suddenly very rewarding. (And hence extra disappointing to have to miss the SL interaction Friday. I misjudged the amount of help my adult literacy class needed for that "independent" learning activity I had prepared for that time slot.)
But to continue with evaluating the successful use of my PLE, there doesn’t seem to be one single indicator of success, nor are all the indicators quantifiable. Blog responses could just as easily be flaming reactions (Not in PLENK of course). New twitter, delicious, evernote, and trailmeme accounts may lose their shine quickly. Whether the new connections last or fade, or produce value after the course, still remains to be seen. Taken together however, the sheer volume of new ideas, tools, connections, and innovative uses of old ones assures me that I am succeeding by my standards. For coming into PLENK not knowing what to expect, I have more than met my goals.
That does not mean I’ve necessarily succeeded by anyone else’s measure. While my own satisfaction is an important motivating factor, there are other important considerations.
I've already mentioned longevity. Stephen Downes encouraged us to keep writing. To paraphrase him: Even if it's absolute garbage, keep writing for a month, for six months, for a year, and then after awhile it's no longer absolute garbage. His "How To Be Heard" post (referred to in the Week 6 Facilitator Session) shows I have much room for improvement, even while assuring me that I'm on the right track. I believe it was also Stephen who told us, "If it's worth writing, blog it." On the other hand, I identify so strongly with what Steve LeBlanc wrote in Friday's Elluminate chat, "I work too hard to write well, so hard that I censor most of what I write." I can spend a week writing & re-writing a piece, and still go back and make more changes after posting it. I’m not yet sure whether I'll even desire to maintain a regular blog after the larger PLENK community disbands.
Cartoon lifted from http://donstuff.wordpress.com/2008/10/08/
But as for judging my PLE learning success by the degree to which I'm heard, by the number of comments on my blog, I have reservations about that. It might be an indicator of learning if my reflection resonates with someone else's experience. It's certainly gratifying to know, given how hard I work to write, that someone placed enough value on what I said to spend their time writing a comment. It encouraged me to comment on other people's blogs and posts more frequently. But I write because it helps clarify my own thoughts about what I'm learning. The temptation to write for audience reaction, to reach for fame or influence rather than writing a reflection, could hijack my learning. That's why I'm reluctant to place too much significance on voice or presence.
I'm a pragmatist. Ultimately the success of my PLE must pass the practical test of whether it can deliver the learning I need to become a better person and teacher. I believe PLENK is making changes in how I approach teaching. It may be difficult to judge by any objective standards whether it made any improvement at all in my students' learning experience.
I felt like I was a week behind again, still writing about assessment while PLENK had moved on to success, until I started to draft this blog post last week. I realized as I wrote, that success and assessment would be closely linked. On Friday I read Dave Cormier’s blog “My PLE model…” and my insight was validated. (I felt just a bit smug that I’d actually thought of it BEFORE reading Dave. He usually says just what I’m thinking, but before I think it, or at least before I realize I’m thinking it.)
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
This led me to thinking about the role motivation plays in my PLE. I pursue some things because I’m interested, other things because they promise to be useful. With limited time available, these two motivators play a large role in where I invest it. A quick search found several PLENKers Tweeting about Open Access week. Maybe it wasn’t important for me to add my 140 characters. Whether I decide to continue with this new tool will depend on how useful or interesting I find it.
My friends and family have long maintained that I'm a Twitt. Guess it's official now.
Monday, October 11, 2010
I've not been very successful at this apart from some give & take in the discussion forums. Three possible barriers (excuses?).
1. lack of synchronicity.
I'm still figuring out how to have my class of adult literacy learners work on their own so I can concentrate on the live sessions, if I get to log in at all. Reading the back channel while listening to the recorded version isn't' the same as having the opportunity to participate live.. I did manage to join the Second Life group at Chilbo last Wednesday. Very enjoyable; the group warmly welcomed me and it has great promise, but the RL class needed me and I had to leave just as our discussion was getting started.
2. lack of confidence
I'm hesitant to write off-the-cuff responses in the forums, self-conscious of the rustic sound of my written voice (even after careful editing) in comparison to the effortless erudition of the academics. I've previously mentioned the time it takes me to write a post or comment, and most of my reading and writing is relegated the limited evening left after work, exercise, supper, and life – when I choose to have a life instead of PLENKing.
3. lack of colleagues
The majority of active PLENK participants are in HE whereas I am teaching basic literacy to disadvantaged adults. Don't get me wrong, this is a fascinating MOOC. I'm meeting intimidatingly talented people, gaining further insights into my own learning and self-imposed limitations, pushing the boundaries of my skills, and generally having a difficult time disconnecting. I have not yet been able to devote enough time, or exercise sufficient discipline, to narrow my focus on locating individuals with whom I have something in common. Or maybe I'm like the fourteen year-old too shy to ask for a date (OK I was still almost too shy at 21, but she has been worth infinitely many times over, the 15 agonizing minutes this nerd stood at the pay phone, dime in hand, getting up the courage to actually call. Now get back on track now, Jim :) It's possible I won't find cross-cultural adult basic education instructors in PLENK, but I am getting the idea of how to look for them in the wild. Meanwhile, it's a stretching and intriguing experience to "walk the PLENK" as someone put it.
I was encouraged to see some lively discussions and clarifications about learning theory after an initial display of ambivalence toward the subject. Studying formal learning theories for the first time (when I started teaching adult literacy a few years ago) was like installing shelves in a messy garage. I'd picked up bits and pieces of understanding about human learning behaviours during my years as a missionary, but suddenly I was presented with a system for organizing this knowledge. It opened my eyes to probable reasons why I'd had better success at communicating some things than others.
Labeling something does not mean I have to pigeonhole or limit it. The fantasy/magic story genre frequently uses a plot device where learning the true name for a person or thing gives one power over it. Having a name for a concept allows me (to believe I have) more control over the way I can use it. Knowing that I am a cognitive thinker not only explains why I feverishly desire to understand every why and how; it also helps me recognize that my fascination with explaining everything to death might actually bore the tactile learner to distraction. Understanding learning theories enables me to critically re-examine my assumptions and adjust my practice.
One outstanding link from Week 4:
Trailmeme and Eva Birger's example
– a great improvement over the traditional page of links. A must-try for the next time I need to lead a colleague or student through a series of web artifacts.
Yeah, I know this was last week's discussion topics. I decided to have a life on our Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend, so only completed it tonight.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
I like to think of myself as moderately tech-savvy. I'm the go-to guy among my friends who are intimidated by "real" techs. Therefore I was surprised at my negative reaction to the idea of pervasive data networks. Does anyone else find the phrase "our capacity to be known by others and by systems" just a wee bit disturbing? Or downright chilling? I think Paul Ellerman and Linn Gustavsson among others appreciate some of the creepiness.
Intelligent Systems which have no evil intent are nonetheless programmed to protect themselves and advance their purposes - largely without moral restraint. Of course, there are medical advances. Sure, there is money to be made. But subjectively, I can't seem to shake all the dystopian images, and not just Sci-Fi about AI run amuck. Even non-tech systems (think communism, religion, even pragmatism) exhibit a tendency to be usurped by individuals who are driven by a conviction that they are right. Because of this passion for what they are convinced is the ultimate good, they are not constrained by morality in their pursuit of the power to force others into compliance with their vision. Or as C.S. Lewis put it, "a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. … those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." (God in the Dock)
OK, after that Luddite rant, I'll try a more objective and pragmatic approach. There seems to be an inevitability about the advancement of neXtWeb technologies with invasive potential. Opting out, as Susan O'Grady observes, will hardly be an option. Even the Amish, with their religious aversion to worldliness, have only succeeded in delaying, not halting their adoption of technological advances. Our discussion needs to be along the lines of, "What are the ways we can help move this forward without destroying ourselves?" Rita's discussion about educators' influence may be one way forward. If we can't stop it, and can't opt-out, how do the altruistic develop a voice strong enough to counter the self-serving. (Is there actually altruism?)
Mendeley –totally new to me - introduced in the discussion forum on reference management programs. Looks like another must-try. Thanks to this course for alerting me to the existence of this type of tool.
Good link from Susan Grigor about Netiquette, although the tone in PLENK has largely been one of mutual respect and reasoned argument.
Great video by Kate Ray about Semantic Web - referenced by so many PLENKers I can't remember where I first found the link. Also read the great commentary by Dave Cormier analyzing the implications of the ideas expressed.
A couple of my favourite quotes from the video:
David Weinberger: "A little structure goes a long way if you combine it with, for example, a human being that had a lot of intelligence between his or her ears" (09:49) Do we really want computers to do it all so we don't have to think?
Tim Berners-Lee: (People are) "trying to make it work so much, they’re not going to imagine what things people will be able to do with it once it’s working and it’s well-deployed." (13:30) Sort of like the nuclear physicists who could ignore the horrors of nuclear weapons.
I think I'm picking up what the semantic web is about. Computers should not only store data, but understand what they store so they can intelligently sort, filter, and recommend it. To do so they need humans to change and standardize the way they enter data about the documents they store on the web. George Siemens says, "…if the web can’t be shaped to function as people think, then people must be shaped to function as the web operates. Human thinking and meaning-making are not machine-processable. Cognition is too messy and too contextual"
(Would a computer ever cross-link Tim Berners-Lee with Howard Beale?)
Sunday, September 26, 2010
"We socially construct meaning through our everyday interactions with others in which we represent back and forth to each other our negotiated sense of reality. Learners should be capable of comprehending a variety of interpretations in that social process and using others’ ideas in arriving at their own interpretations of the world. Knowing is a process of negotiating sense, not transmitting fully developed truths."
(Wilson, B. G. (1996). Constructivist learning environments: case studies in instructional design. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey 07632: Educational Technology Publications, Inc. pp. 95-96)
This seems to me a very sound theoretical basis upon which to collaborate in solving the complex problems we face in today’s world.Dave Cormier has done a lot to clarify things for me this week. I just found his video “Massive Open Online Courses for Network” and a light clicked on (OK I’m slow) that this is really a chance to grow our network – while we engage in a discussion about it. I like the nested objectives. The image of the open door was powerful.
He also finally helped me understand his objections to the adjective “Personal” in PLE/N with his posting “Disaggregate Power not People”. I hear some of the “rebel yell,” but mostly I hear people saying their PLE enhances whatever LMS they are “forced” to accommodate.
Definitions: PLE and PLN distinctions are no longer of great interest as I see the terms being used almost interchangeably on the internet. Maybe it really is a US/UK thing as Rita Kop suggested in our first Elluminate session (15:25 into the recording)
Rita also had some interesting insights on two-way communications. So often I don’t reply to a blog or forum I really enjoyed or learned from, because I can’t really think of anything to actually further the conversation. I’ve wondered if there is any value in just saying “I agree with you.”
Finally, I've posted a simple PLE concept map in the "Early Concept Maps" moodle forum. Click the image below to view my much more complex and personal one. I'm still waiting for a Knowledge Soup to which I can post the actual Cmap for collaboration.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Copyright ©1998 Daniel R. Tobin
How can your learning network help you?
- By helping you to sift through all the data to identify the information that will be most useful to you.
- By helping you to identify learning resources and opportunities.
- By coaching you and answering your questions as you try to apply your learning to your work.
- By sharing their wisdom with you through dialogue.
There's much more information on The Educator's PLN than I can absorb, but like PLENK, it provides a place to start. Aggregating & filtering sites like this purport to be PLNs, but in actual fact, this would be one node on someone's personal network.
Here's another diagram that helps make sense of my place in the journey to using new tools for learning. Jeff Utecht explains it more fully on "The Thinking Stick"
Karl Fisch cross posted an ISTE article which sees a PLN as a kind of filter to keep from spending too much time sorting through the mediocre. Seeing a PLN as a filter instead of a means of access gives a different slant to it.
Chris Smith has posted a really long list of tools neatly classified & explained.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
I partially understand the "ecology v.s. environment" exchange in the "PLEs and PLNs" discussion. The term "ecology" is suggested as an alternative to distinguishing between the environment and the network. I've used this as my starting point on my diagram (detailed view here)
To me there is a distinction between the environment and the network, but the boundaries are blurred. The trouble is that I just can't diagram or contemplate my PLE without involving networking tools and the sources with whom/which I network. ("Sources" as I use it, includes both contributors and consumers of information – I'd say "people", but sources also include print, videos, etc. that don't require interaction with the author.) The environment isn't just limited to physical spaces (office, classroom, kitchen table, couch) where I park my carcass while I'm engaging my mind in learning. Images and sounds, the feel of a keyboard or weight of a book, the abundance or absence of distractions, the uneven speed of my satellite broadband are all part of my learning environment.
I picture my network in terms of tools for connecting with sources, but it also includes the sources, live or virtual. Since the user-friendliness of those tools or sources influences the degree to which I utilize them, that becomes part of my learning environment, even though I think of tools primarily as network components. My network of people could not exist without the tools I use to communicate with them. And how can I distinguish between the person and the nature of my contact with him/her? People are part of the network, but their personality is part of the environment?
Then there is the whole question of actual vs. virtual. From many of the postings in PLENK, it seems we are especially considering the electronic environment and network. But I've visited that one before and haven't changed my mind that it's a blend.
Simply becoming aware of the concept of a learning environment and network has already helped clarify my understanding of how to make better use of it. While there is little consensus on semantics, the discussions have given me a fairly well-rounded picture of the wide-ranging scope of the topic.
The PLE/N vs. institutionally supported LMS comparison was sparked by #1 of Dave Cormier's 5 points. The LMS caters to the learning institution's need (compulsion?) to manage the flow of information. There's a place for managed information in formal training. LMS almost never have the free-wheeling, open-learning concept PLENK promotes. Enduring learning relationships are difficult in an institutionally supported LMS. Dave's cute "extr'ORD'narily hi-tech video" on Community As Curriculum as well as numerous other posts point to the advantage of having a self-sustaining network that endures after the course ends.
What really interests me, is how learning through a PLE can be recognized and accredited by the institution. Illych abandoned the institution in "Deschooling Society". I wonder if the institution can be opened. It's ironic that my institution promotes independent learning; but the students are conditioned to demand structure. Those are the threads I'll be watching and bookmarking more actively in days to come, now that I'm comfortable with my understanding of what a PLE/N actually is.
Friday Elluminate notes (really skimpy)
Curation – questions about authority, popularity, democracy
Curator’s views of what’s worthy (not necessarily what he agrees with) will shape what gets preserved - long tail vs. wide tail – George strongly believes it's natural to grant long-term and quality contributors greater prominence - but only in their area of expertise.
Wide tail is a goal – long tail is reality about what gets exposure.
In response to concerns about censorship, Dave suggested that depends on how many curators there are.
My thought - is that multiplicity of curators results in scattered and fragmented information in many diverse places, almost as difficult to sort through as the original information was. I want freedom to go anywhere, but need someone trusted to give opinion on what's most worthy of my time – an exemplar if not a guide.
Backchannel chat on backchannel chat – SL classes on backchannel were required because students have been programmed not to talk in class – extremely interesting. Backchannel is extremely important to my processing information – just as valuable and less disruptive than sharing the mic.
Education institution vs. PLE/N discussed again – should students pay the institution for content when same content is available for free?
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
From discussion forum :
The term "Personal Learning Environment" was new to me when I enrolled in PLENK, but as I read the materials over the last few days I realized that I’ve used one for a long time. Rather than learn from a single source I’ve always selected my information from an eclectic (and often contradictory) assortment of sources - books, radio & TV, exchanging letters & tapes, lengthy telephone or F2F conversations, and personal experiences. With dial-up, my options expanded to include email, listservers, and the web (before it became too graphic-heavy). Since the arrival of Satellite broadband in our isolated community in 2007 (yep, we joined the 21st century a bit late) my range of available sources and tools has expanded exponentially. Ken Anderson (Link) suggests, “maybe it is useful to think of a capital PLE post Web 2.0, and a lower-case ple, pre Web 2.0, to acknowledge that a personal learning environment is not a new concept.” I like that. It also acknowledges that my PLE still includes all the elements (well, maybe not snail-mailing cassette tapes) that formed my personal learning environment before Broadband.
As I understand the current discussion, a Post-Web 2.0 PLE seem to be not so much about the tools as it is about how the tools can complement each other in enhancing the learning experience. This course has opened my eyes to many new ways to use multiple tools in concert. Not only am I learning new tools, but it’s been informative to realize how others use them together. Emma Stodel started a discussion on competency levels that will be useful in making my way forward. Kay Novak posted a link to a document by Dr. Lisa Dawley containing very interesting analysis of levels of engagement.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Thursday, September 2, 2010
If text is your learning style there's a simple help file at
or you could listen to Dave Saunders explain it in a video clip on his blog
(btw I also learned RSS stands for "really simple syndication" according to Microsoft)
'nuff fun stuff - gotta get back to de-cluttering my adult learning centre