Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Higher Ed sponsored PLEs...an oxymoron?

I was reading one of the items for this week's CCK11 session, which happens to be on PLEs. The readings was an Educause "7 things you should know about..." type of document. If you don't know what a PLE (personal learning environment) is, the abstract gives a good succinct overview:

The term personal learning environment (PLE) describes the tools, communities, and services that constitute the individual educational platforms that learners use to direct their own learning and pursue educational goals. PLEs represent a shift away from the model in which students consume information through independent channels such as the library, a textbook, or an LMS, moving instead to a model where students draw connections from a growing matrix of resources that they select and organize. 

OK, I agree, but reading the actual document created some cognitive dissonance (you ought to read this document, it's only two pages long). The scenario in this 7things document describes a photography course in which students upload their photos to a service, so that their classmates can comment on them and they can receive feedback. In turn students can subscribe to the feeds of other students and stay up to date with what their classmates are posting and provide feedback to them (presumably for some participation credit).

The problem I have here is that what this scenario is describing is essentially an LMS. You could accomplish the same exact thing in the confines of an LMS without the need to utilize things like Flickr, Blogger, Google Reader and so on.  The benefit of course is that the outside world sees you stuff and they might comment on it; thus giving you additional feedback, but the instructor doesn't seem to be interested in that aspect. So, the question then is, why not use an LMS?

It seems to me, based on the description of what a PLE is, that students should be pro-active on their own to set-up and maintain their own PLE with whatever services they deem important and useful and the develop their own PLN (personal learning network) with whichever persons/services/bots they deem that they would find useful being connected to. 

It seems to me that the University's role, if any, in a PLE-building-exercise, is to provide a information on a variety of tools (with pros and cons for each), give people hands-on time with the tools, explain the whys, hows and whos of the whole concept, and then let people decide what's best for them. It seems to me that the example in this 7things handout was essentially trying to do with a PLE what's been done with an LMS - and this doesn't work out that well.

Any thoughts?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Selwyn fan!

This past week I listened to the Neil Selwyn presentation (perhaps I am a week behind) and I have to say that I am indeed a Neil Selwyn fan or best rephrased, I am a fan of his critical point of view on technology and the bling use of technology in the classroom.

I came across Neil's work a few months back as I was finding academic articles on the subject of the Net Generation (also known as Millenials, Digital Natives, Generation Google, Generation C, etc. etc. etc.) - I was looking for emperical studies that tested the hypotheses that people like Prensky put forth about this generation, and I did find quite a few. An article is in the works based on all this research, but to make a long story short the empirical evidence does not support one unified monolithic generation where everyone is a computer-wiz which requires instructors to use technology (...or else!) A couple of Selwyn's articles brought a critical element into an otherwise uncritical view of these Net Gen claims.

As a technology person I love exploring the newest gadget, and if finances permitted I'd be an early adopted of whatever new thingymabob came my way. I also love sharing what I've learned from my experiences as an early adopter (or regular adopter for that matter), but I do realize that not everyone comes from the same background. Not everyone has access to the internet all the time, at the same speeds, and even if they do have access to it, they would most likely use it differently than I do. Most of my friends abroad for example don't blog - I'd love it if they did, so I could keep abreast of what cool new adventures they are up to, but the fact is that they don't.

Learners are the same. They may all have mobile phones, but do they all use them the same way? Do they all use them for the same purposes? If they have computers, what is their access situation? Do they share it with others? Are their family, work or social obligations such that they can only get online for an hour or so a day to check facebook and email, and perhaps some local news, and call it a day? Or are they connected every waking minute? Access and use of technology should not be assumed, and people who do have access, and plentiful access, should acknowledge their position of privilege. For instance not many can plop down $300 for and iPhone plus $80 per month for phone/text/internet access (if we are talking about mobile computing anyway)

Also, just because someone has access, doesn't mean that you should use that technology in the learning environment without first thinking and implementing a pedagogically sound teaching strategy. Just like you can't just throw money at a problem, you can just throw technology at an existing pedagogical approach and hope that something sticks. Something might stick, but in the end you may have lost time, frustrated learners, and wasted money.

If you haven't listened to it yet (or if you aren't following CCK11) - here's the link (MP3 File), it's about an hour long, definitely worth the listen!

Friday, February 18, 2011

7 years, 4 Masters, Full time job

The other day I made an observation on LinkedIn that 8 people had recently left the employment of UMass (LinkedIn told me so). The number seemed rather high, so I wanted, out of curiosity, to know who had left, was it someone I knew? It turns out that most of the people who "left" were teaching assistants, graduate assistants, or like me had added "student" to their profile under job. Back in the day LinkedIn didn't have a way to get recommendations for your student achievements which is why I added a Student "job" under employment, now of course they do so it's not that important.

In any case, I remembered that I too had a "job position" as Graduate Student, and since I recently graduated I thought it would be time to update my profile and say that I no longer have that "job". I have to say that while I knew that I was a perpetual student, it really surprised me that I had been a Master's Level student for 7 years! In 7 years, with a full time job, I managed to earn 4 Master's degrees....wow! I really surprised even myself!

Throughout my studies I looked at a number of things including: (1) the Telecommunications Industry; (2) Academic Library & Academic IT Department mergers; (3) Human Resources & Labor Relations; (4) Issues of Privacy; (5) Communities of Practice; (6) Educational Technology in Language Education; (7) Methods in Classical Language Education; and (8) the Web 2.0-ification of the Website of College Libraries . Some things were purely management oriented (the telecom industry for example was a strategic management thing), but other themes, like the Communities of Practice, crossed over throughout all my degrees.

This long stint as a Masters student, through several subject areas, made me realize something that most people don't realize. Knowledge and knowing are not individual and unconnected silos - All knowledge and all subject are connected. Some more loosely than others, but they are connected nevertheless. The sooner we realize and accept that, the better the overall outcomes for future knowledge generation and knowledge dissemination.

Cross-Posted from my Club-Admiralty blog

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

LAK11 - some thoughts

OK, so my first MOOC is almost over...so what did I think?

I have to say that as an experience LAK11 was actually quite interesting. The subject matter was interesting (even though we tended to go toward the business/finance side of the house quite often) and there were quite a few interesting personalities that were part of the course.

The course started out with a bang! There were a ton of people in both the introduction round and in week 1...but then it fizzled! I am not sure why it did, but as the weeks went on, there seemed to be fewer and fewer people participating. Compared to CCK11 (now in its 5th week I think), the participation in LAK11 was mostly distributed at the beginning, while CCK11 seems to have more spread-out participation. I guess one reminds me of a sprint, and the other of a marathon.

I think that learning and learner analytics is quite a fascinating topic. I wonder if (and how) a MOOC on this topic (LAK12?) could improve - What can you do to sustain participation throughout the 6 week course, which in the end benefits everyone else in the course?

Your thoughts on LAK11?

In the end for me, it was cool, I learned but I would have loved to have seen more participation from fellow learners

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Digital Scholarship - does it quack like a duck?

OK, so I finally was able to listen to the digital scholarship podcast for CCK11 the other day (man, I cranked those speakers up quite high in some spots!) and I have to say that it was quite interesting (click here for MP3 link). I have to say that the concept of digital scholarship isn't new or alien to me, having listened to Dan, Tom and Mills on digital campus for the last few years (great podcast by the way, you should subscribe to if if you don't already).

In any case, what really struck me about the blog posts of fellow CCK participants was the question of "who is a scholar?" I think Weller (the presenter in the elluminate session/MP3 recording) had mentioned that blogging was one of the tools that digital scholars could be used. This seemed to me to bring about the question of who counts as a scholar and who does not. Is Paris Hilton a scholar? Is Sarah Palin a scholar? Well, of course not! Those people aren't scholars, but the important question is not WHO is a scholar but rather WHAT constitutes scholarship.

This to me seems to be a problem inherent in our society; we look for credentials first and then evaluate what we see in front of us. Sure, if you have a PhD and you are teaching at on the subject of chances are that you know something about that subject. That's your job. Looking for a credential is the quick and dirty way of establishing a scholar's credentials, but that's also the lazy way. Just because someone has a PhD, it doesn't mean that they are a scholar - they might be producing popular magazine articles that bear no resemblance to something scholarly.

Also, just because someone does not have a doctorate, it doesn't mean that they aren't a scholar, they might be interested in a certain subject and have searched the world far and wide for resources on that subject that they then have consumed and mulled over in their heads. They might be part of a group with other people that are interested in the same subject. These people have been called hobbyists in the past, often denied the title "scholar" because their scholarly pursuits have not been vetted by someone already considered a "scholar".

So who is a scholar? That's simple, someone who produces scholarship! And scholarship can be measured, scrutinized, commented on, expanded and sometimes in the end proven wrong!

What is scholarship then? Well, that's a tricky question. Are you talking about scholarship in general? Or are you talking about what counts as scholarship for the purposes of tenure attainment and promotion of professors? These two can be different! Perhaps this is a topic for a future blog post.

In any case, if we can define scholarship, then digital scholarship is extended to the digital realm, utilizing technologies and exploiting the benefits that those technologies provide toward producing scholarly work. We could just use a blog for example as paper replacement and just type out our scholarly work, complete with citations and a references "page", but then we don't have the option for footnotes! (I like footnotes, I dislike endnotes) In a hypertext environment however you can link to your sources (in addition to providing a references page), you can link out to external resources, you can have popup windows with footnotes, you can embed multimedia, and so on. In other words you can do things that you can't do on paper.

So, it's not really important to define the scholar, but rather to define the work produced. For example a carpenter is not defined by the ability to use a chisel, but rather on his ability to create a wooden stool that is visually pleasing and won't break.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Learning Theories: Back-of-the-napkin edition

I spent last week viewing and commenting on CCK11 blog post, but not really writing much about it. I saw a number of posts on digital scholarship, but I still haven't had a chance to listen to the MP3 file. Hopefully today on the commute home! The speaker has a really soft voice and it's hard to really hear him on the train (perhaps some audio post-processing is in order?)

This week in CCK11 we've got learning theories. luckily most of this stuff is a great review for me since we covered most of these theories quite a lot throughout the applied linguistics curriculum. We didn't much with connectivism though (which is why I am attending CCK11) since that was near the end of the semester.

In any case, there is a a nice ten minute video on YouTube that goes over the various major theories of education. If you haven't heard of educational theories, this is quite a good back-of-the-napkin figure to get you started. If you're in instructional design and you haven't come across them, no need to read several hundred pages of theory just to get the gist of things - view this and then proceed from there with the specifics.

So, have you all heard of these theories before and this is just a review, or is it news to you? What do you think about them?