Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Semantic Web, Linked Data, Paranoia

Talk about strange connections. While watching Tim Berners-Lee on TED my mind dredged up an overlay of Howard Beale. I imagined him exhorting "I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell 'RAW DATA NOW!' "

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)

Although uttered well before the internet, Lewis made another observation that resonates with my forebodings about the neXtWeb. "…some men will take charge of the destiny of others. . . . The more completely we are planned the more powerful they will be."

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?)

Other Gleanings

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 was inspired by Chris Jobling's collection of word clouds to make one Kate's interviews for comparison. Click the image to see it in the Wordle Gallery

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

Some reflections - and a concept map

I expected a heated discussion with regard to the conversation about the incompatibility between connectivism and constructivism in the Friday Elluminate session (Sept 23). Surprisingly there’s nothing in the forums yet. I believe it was Stephen Downes who said he had come to the conclusion the two could not co-exist. I’m wondering which part of this description of constructivism is incompatible with connectivism.

"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

A few more links

I was delighted to find this 12 year old quote, since my impression was that PLN was a recent concept.
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.

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

So, What Have I Learned This Week?

At one point I thought I could understand PLE vs. PLN as a clear (if somewhat arbitrary) distinction between tools and sources. That was premature.

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

Reflections after the first Elluminate session

The “personal” aspect of PLE/N speaks to the fact that it is made up of components I personally use, and that those components will differ to some degree from anyone else’s. The objection that “personal” implied ownership, and therefore control, seems unnecessary to me. There is ownership in the sense that I select the environment or network components (tools and sources) according to what makes sense and is useful to me rather than chaffing under what’s forced upon me by an authority. But that’s quite different from proprietary ownership in which I control or limit someone else’s access to those same tools or resource people for their PLE/N.

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

Video Introductions

PLENK 2010 participant "newmania" posted a video introducing himself at

I liked the idea so posted my own at

BTW - I got the classroom cleaned up

Thursday, September 2, 2010

RSS answers

Aha! I found it, my RSS feed URL for Blogger, thanks to good ole google, and added it to the class feeds.

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


Set up and waiting for the course to start - been listening to recordings from the Critical Literacies archives while I work on my classroom.

Still need to figure out RSS feeds...