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 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.)