PLENK2010: Week 2 – Personal Learning & Institutional Learning or ‘A Great Course in Diagram Making’!

Stefanie PankeBy Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education

Reporting on the activities and discussions within the Massive Open Online Course, Plenk2010, has become considerably more challenging since my first introduction of the course’s structure and concept. One reason is that the discussion forums of week one have been tremendously busy, producing a total of 427 postings. In many, if not all, the participants are blurring the theme of week one (general aspects and definitions) and week two (personal learning environments vs. learning management systems). An example is the side-debate that has spun around the problem of plagiarism and fake identities for the evaluation and grading of open learning activities.

The Personal Learning Environment in the Institutional Context: Plagiarism

Whereas some see open environments as an invitation to cheat and plagiarize, others believe that there are aspects of the PLE/N concept that could address students’ struggle with academic writing. Fred Haas, English teacher in the Boston suburbs and technology liaison for the “Boston Writing Project,” sees personal learning environments and open courses as a chance to routinely engage younger students in real research: “The biggest reasons for students’ inability to wrestle with issues of research and plagiarism have a lot to do with the kinds of tasks that they are asked to accomplish… Most traditional paper projects … are a kind of faux research with predetermined topics and poorly designed outcomes. They almost always encourage fake, pseudo-academic writing…. Until the tasks are opened up and allow for student-centered choice and autonomy about what they will research and how, the results will continue to be the same” (Sep. 2010, MOOC PLENK2010 Forum).

Towards Authentic Tasks: I-Search and Foxfire

Fred relates the need for authentic, personal tasks back to the work of Ken Macrorie’s “The I-Search Paper” (1988). I-Search is an inquiry-based writing assignment, based on the belief that when students possess a vested interest in a topic, rather than having a topic presented to them, they will be motivated intrinsically to research further in-depth and feel more comfortable in their writing. The completed I-Search assignment has four components: “a summary of what the student knows about the topic, a statement explaining why the student chose the topic including what the student wants to learn about the subject during the research process, a record of research activities, and what the student learned that was new as a result of the research process” (CompFAQ Wiki, March, 2008).

Having recently returned from the Smokey Mountains around Satolah, another example that comes to mind is the Foxfire pedagogy. Started in the late ’60s as an attempt to engage high school students in the English curriculum, the Foxfire book series today is an important source of first-hand accounts of traditional southern Appalachian life. The students preserve their local heritage by interviewing relatives and friends about topics of interest and then editing these interviews for publication in the Foxfire Magazine.

‘A Great Course in Diagram Making’?

This week started, somewhat unexpectedly, with a heated discussion about the concept-mapping exercise assigned in the activities section: “Draw your own personal learning environment; reflect upon the tools you use; think about potential alternatives.” I enjoyed the opportunity to dissect the idiosyncrasies that characterize my personal information management. However, several participants interpreted the assignment as contrary to the spirit of a connectivist course or took issues with the proposed concept mapping tool cmaps.

Already in the first week, a participant winked at the merits of drawing and creating for meeting the learning goals: “This is a great course in diagram-making. Everyone’s diagrams get prettier or more efficient, but what are we really learning about how to implement these things…?” (chazzo cahozzo, September 2010, MOOC PLENK2010 forum).

Indeed, a side effect of the course is that I continuously encounter new tools in diagram making and visualization. One proved to be a very nice add-on to my earlier article, “E-Comics as Teaching Tools.” Critics have lavished awards on the Web site kerproof. The handling is fairly simple, and yet it is possible to produce a moderately complex storyline – for example “My Visual Interpretation of PLENK 2010.”

Wrapping up the discussion on diagrams and promising  approaches towards personal, authentic learning tasks, I refer to a posting by George Siemens on the importance of artifacts in learning: “Creating something is an important activity. When you create a blog post, podcast, or concept map, you’re sharing your sense making activities with others. Others, who are at a similar point in the course, may find resonance with your artifact. Your sense making activity becomes a node that others can connect to and engage with. Multiple sense making artifacts offer more diversity than only centering activities around readings and resources that the instructor has provided.”

This Week’s Literature: Personal Learning and Institutional Learning

Is a personal learning environment opposed to the institutional infrastructure, or is the latter a part of the first? How can institutions support personal learning environments? And does the PLE concept mean that IT-departments and instructional design units finally do not have to deal any longer with learners’ messy and unnerving requests for infrastructure? Or, on the contrary, will the IT departments have to embrace open learning solutions like WordPress and support, e.g., “blogfarms” for teachers, students, and service units?

As Dave Cormier point out, the simple antagonism of PLE and LMS oversimplifies the idea of learners’ control: “It is easy to see the transition to PLE as the ‘rebel yell’ of education. . . . It is an easy vision to have as the discussion around PLEs is often put in opposition to LMSs and this often degenerates to “institution bad, learn on your own.” While this is a very interesting debate, it is not the same as the debate around learners managing their own learning content” (Cormier, 2010).

Wendy Drexler (2010) reflects upon the learning environments of teachers and students and develops a model for the networked K-12 student. “These include academic social contacts, synchronous communication, information management, and really simple syndication (RSS). Social contacts include teachers, classmates, students outside of the class, and subject matter experts. Synchronous communication refers to video conferencing and instant messaging. Information management activities include locating experts, evaluating resources, accessing scholarly works, and finding other open educational resources (OER). RSS encompasses blogging, subscription readers, podcasts, wikis, social bookmarking, and other social networks. Students will not necessarily make use of every subcategory; however, this list represents the tools available to the student for constructing a personal learning environment on a specific topic of study.”

Martin Weller (2010) investigates the “centralization dilemma” for IT departments in educational institutions. He proposes “that we move away from a centralised learning environment to a more distributed personal learning environment, which is constituted from a variety of existing third party tools” (p.3). At the same time Weller sees a natural tension between innovative educators who want a more liberal technological policy and the institutional reflex to control the technological environment. Weller concludes with a solomonic advice one should keep in mind for the next IT-department meeting. “This tension is not necessarily a negative force … forces the ‘centralists’ to engage with new technologies and to improve existing offerings, while making the ‘decentralists’ aware of many of the subtle issues around institutional responsibility and support” (p.8.).

This Week’s Elluminate Conference with Martin Weller

Today’s Elluminate Web conference attracted approximately 95 participants and featured keynote speaker Martin Weller, Professor of Educational Technology at the Open University. Martin frequently writes about educational media, open access and e-learning pedagogy in his personal blog “The Ed Techie.” He talked about how new tools like blogging and other social software applications change research and publication practices, as well as induce new forms of knowledge creation, for example crowdsourcing.

“I don’t really believe in the Net generation stuff,” said Martin. “Start using Twitter or the university will close down. That’s too simplistic. But social software will influence your academic practice, whether you use it or not.”

Further information and reflections of these questions can be found in the Social:Learn Project by the Open University.

2 Responses

  1. […] Ich kann auch dieses Mal nur unregelmäßig bei PLENK2010 vorbeischauen. Um so mehr freue ich mich über Artikel wie diesen von Stefanie Panke, die gleich die ersten beiden Wochen dieses Open Courses zusammenfasst (… und ihr PLENK2010-Abenteuer gleich in einem Comic-Strip festgehalten hat!). In der ersten Woche ging es darum, über die eigene persönliche Lernumgebung (PLE) nachzudenken, was viele Teilnehmer offensichtlich bildlich gelöst haben; in der zweiten (laufenden) Woche geht es um das Verhältnis von institutioneller Infrastruktur und PLE. Gestern gab es zu diesem Thema eine Session mit Martin Weller (Open University), an der ich eigentlich teilnehmen wollte … Stefanie Panke, Educational Technology & Change (ETC), 22. September 2010 […]

  2. Stefanie,
    Wow! I keep returning to your site because I like the way you have set it up and I like the way you are processing and presenting the content that you review.
    I wonder:
    How did you get the tabs along the top?
    Where did you get the comics?
    Good links to good people…Prensky, Keller, Cormier, Downes, Siemens, Zimmerman, Drexler, Aldrich, … and events.
    The content:
    The concept of PLE is one that is evolving, as people use and learn to use the new and emerging technologies. In curating the content from this group over time, I am able to better understand how to use the various affordances (content, technologies, etc) on the Internet to create a PLE that suits my personal/professional needs. I do see the distinction between the PLE and the LMS systems. These systems are designed for different purposes. The LMS is designed to support institutional goals. The PLE is designed by a learner to address a personal or professional goal. I learn from PLE, which suggests that the PLE is designed to support the learning of others. Clearly, those who are proficient using technology are educating others in PLENK 2010. Thank you.

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