Monday, October 25, 2010

Deliberating Over Success

I can assess my learning subjectively, based on how successfully I feel I am grasping new concepts, and by the degree of satisfaction I get from the connections I’m making.

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

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

Motivated to Tweet

I couldn’t get motivated to investigate all the hype about Twitter until yesterday. Open Access week at Athabasca University featured topics relevant to PLENK; and I suddenly had the urge to spread the word. Skype was too limited – only a handful of contacts. It’s not really a topic for discussion forums. Ah well, perhaps the time had come to put aside my uncritical prejudice against the silly name and see if Twitter would deliver. Tweeted my first tonight. I’m xb7r.

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

Still Casting About for Lasting Connections

Vahid blogged and several others have commented about desiring to form sub-nets in growing our PLE but finding it difficult. I can identify with that desire, but also appreciate the facilitators' reluctance to "herd" us into groups. From the beginning we've been urged to find people with whom we naturally connect. Dave Cormier mentioned in his blog, " you’ll likely have found some people that are doing what you are doing, who are interested in what you’re interested in, or with whom your ideas seem to connect easily."

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.

Learning Theory

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.