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This was Hump Week for our PLE Project.  The half of the class that was getting course credit for their participation are on to a new course and the rest are at or are nearing the midpoint of their measured time in the project.  I’ve been referencing the Biggest Loser TV show by telling the students that they are leaving the ranch and we’ll see them back for the final weigh-in at the end of April.  The purpose of this phase of the project is that they are now, having learned some of the basic tools, on their own to use the tools in whatever way makes sense to them.  I am moving from a teaching emphasis to a questioning and data collection emphasis.

The questioning and data collection began in earnest with the receipt of the students video tours of their PLEs.  Taking inspiration from videos I’ve found on line and assignments that I’ve prepared myself, I had the boys create short videos explaining the construction and rationale behind their PLEs.  I find it very interesting to hear how they talk about their creations in the context of what we have discussed in class.  I would encourage you to flip over to the PLE Project page on this blog, read the assignment and click on the links to the blogs.  While about half of the group has yet to post their videos, the ones that are there (they tend to be at the top of the link list) are interesting viewing.  You will note in the assignment that the content of the video was left up to them with a number of prompting questions that they could choose to use or ignore.  It is as interesting to think about what they chose to discuss as it is to hear what they had to say.

I have also had them complete a mid-project survey.  The kinds of questions I asked fell into two groups.  One set was designed to see what kind of changes in thinking and behaviour had occurred since the project began and the other set looked at reflection on the concepts and processes involved.  I also had a couple of discussions with the in-class group that looked at a the concept of creating a template for a PLE that would be distributed to all the students in our school as a starting point for building their own PLEs.  We have created a mindmap of the connections that would be made with a templated PLE.  Following are some thoughts coming out of the all of that feedback.

  • It is interesting to here comments about the tension between privacy and the need to put one’s self “out there” in a connected learning environment.  There is no doubt that working in the world of Web 2.0 has some risks in the same way as letting your child go unescorted down to the local corner store.  The web makes it easier for potential threats to come from anonymous sources, but it also allows reports of incidents to be publicized much faster and to a far greater audience than ever before.  At the same time, one can only learn about the world by being part of it.  A PLN of 1 doesn’t allow that person to be exposed to new ideas.  What is the balance between maximized connected learning and helping students to learn appropriate behaviour online?
  • One of the three primary parts of a Personal Learning Environment, as I understand it, is the portal.  While it is often not possible to get all feeds to unite in one place for convenient “consumption,” it is interesting to see how each person feels about how many consumption points they are comfortable with.  There is always a balance between convenience and power.  While there are tools that allow me to do amazing things with my Twitter feeds, it is also nice to have those feeds embedded in the same space as all of my other RSS feeds and other webpages; even if this means sacrificing some power.
  • I have to admit that my focus has been on connected learning and it took no time at all for the students to set me in my place in terms of the need for personal organization tools in a PLE.  A number embedded their email (or a link to it) within their personal portal or dashboard.  When we discussed how to best communicate after we stopped meeting on a regular basis, their was little confusion: Facebook was the preferred tool, despite the fact that it hadn’t been discussed as a learning tool and was not, at that moment, a part of very many PLEs.  As a group, we need to spend more time thinking about the other elements of personal organization that need to be included.
  • I am confused about bookmarking.  We discussed Diigo and Delicious as great tools for social bookmarking and the differences between simple bookmarking and searching and organizing bookmarks within a network.  We even linked our Twitter accounts to Diigo to make bookmarking easier.  We also discussed! and they all have a link to my PLE! page.  Yet, when videos and surveys were completed, there was a single mention of bookmarking/curation tools.  I’m left wondering if bookmarking is preferred to be private.  Maybe my students feel that the web is so much in flux that bookmarking is really not effective.  The next time they have the same information need, they will re-perform the search.  This is certainly an area that I need to follow up on.
  • In the process of discussing potential templates for a uniform starting point for a school issued PLE, it was mentioned by at least one person that PLEs should not be “required.”  I found it interesting that they all seemed to be sold on the idea and were enjoying the project and class time together enough that they were amenable to my (joking) suggestion that I fail them all in order to spend more time working together on it.  Despite that, there was still a feeling that a PLE is not for everyone.  I wonder how much of that relates to a prescribed PLE and how much of that is a recognition that people work differently and a digital tool is not the best mode for some people.
  • The last point regards self-motivation.  Every student recognized that they had not taken their PLE far enough.  Some found it extra work to spend time building and working in their PLE while others just found that they had other ways of working and they’d neglect their PLE inadvertently.  I know that I need to have a tool in my hands or in front of my face 24/7 for it to become part of the way I work.  When I first got my first iPad, I put away my laptop and tried to live on the tablet exclusively.  Through that process, I learned what each device was best at and I now go back and forth regularly.  Had I not made the decision to work exclusively on the iPad however, it would still be sitting on a shelf collecting dust.  There needs to be a concerted effort to put the PLE (portal and portfolio) on the browser homepage and start each day from there.

I’m really looking forward to the coming 6-7 weeks.  We will all learn a lot about what is key to a successful PLE by living in it.  I hope that we all make an effort to put it central in our lives and that the functionality and set up gets refined over time.  I hope that the students unearth more tools and concepts that I have yet to consider and that we can all grow together so that we ALL leave the project with a way of working that is more effective and efficient.

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