PLENK2010: Theory As Practice

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

In her weeks 4-6 report on PLENK2010, Stefanie Panke mentions a decline in active participation. In her final report covering weeks 7-10, she closes with a summary on what she has learned. In that summary, she quotes from a thread begun by Chris Jobling, who asks: “Am I alone in feeling that this course has gone through a development that seems like a frontier town in the American gold rush? Intense excitement and rapid growth at the start. Ghost town and tumble weeds at the end” (“Not with a bang but with a whimper,” 16 Nov. 2010, 08:50; Webcite).

The ensuing discussion is fascinating, and I found three comments especially so for the insights they offer about the drop off in activity and the course as a whole. They were posted by Jobling, Bruce Jones, and Larry Phillips.

In the following excerpts from each of the three, paragraph breaks have been omitted:

[Chris Jobling:] In my first PLENK2010 forum post I said “I consider myself to be fairly expert in learning technologies but not so much in pedagogy and I hope to be able to pick up something that I can use to improve my own knowledge as well as to get some ideas about how better to teach my students.” I’m not sure that I really achieved anything when measured against those goals, just an appreciation that in this field there’s an awful lot of jargon which requires PhD-like research study to master…and far more questions than answers. Perhaps the vain hope that there might still be something to learn explains why I’m still here. (16 Nov. 2010, 19:13)

Jobling’s differentiation between “technology” and “pedagogy” is useful because it provides a sense of direction or purpose, at least for one participant and perhaps many others: How can I use PLE/Ns to improve pedagogy? His concern about the complex and often confusing language used to define basic concepts such as PLE and PLN might explain why he’s “not sure that [he] really achieved anything when measured against those goals.”

[Larry Phillips:] I’m becoming a curmudgeon when it comes to jargon and renaming or redefining existing activities or technology (My current pet peeve is renaming posters, infographics). Consequently, I have little interest in PLE vs PLN or similar discussions. It’s a personal learning network/environment – every [person] has one from the day they are borne. The focus on the digital aspects is fine for what it is worth, just annoying when the digital aspect is confused with the whole. (17 Nov. 2010, 23:00)

Phillips’ comments illuminate concepts such as PLE and PLN: “Every [person] has one from the day they are borne.” I agree. PLEs and PLNs are part of our reality from day one, and information technology just happens to be the latest addition to “the whole.”

[Bruce Jones:] What I have found while reading some of the posts here is an academic ‘one-up-man ship’. I have also seen an attempt to discuss and project a futuristic approach .. what you [Jobling] have labeled, ” … PhD-like research …” using terminology and thought process’ from the early part of the last century. I read behaviorist thoughts and comments trying to justify constructivist principles. Like trying to find where the horse and reins go on a diesel tractor. I think you have a lot to learn from this course. You will just have to develop a PLE/N of your own using the hints and resources found here. (17 Nov. 2010, 11:26)

Jones’s comment underscores the issue of terminology and the role it might have played in confusing participants: “Like trying to find where the horse and reins go on a diesel tractor.” I didn’t register for PLENK2010, but I have dropped in from time to time to browse. Jones’s final statements capture my sense of how to get the most out of it: “I think you have a lot to learn from this course. You will just have to develop a PLE/N of your own using the hints and resources found here.”

In the end, those who say that you get out of the course what you put into it are probably right. George Siemens, Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier, and Rita Kop make their roles clear from the outset. They are “facilitators.” And as Jones says, “You will just have to develop a PLE/N of your own” – which also means constructing a personal, operational definition of PLE/N. This is the lesson of the course, and the facilitators are to be congratulated for a strategy that literally places the participant in the driver’s seat.

2 Responses

  1. “In the end, those who say that you get out of the course what you put into it are probably right.”

    I believe that this principle holds across the board. Those who sit in classes and mark time get very little from the experience and are wasting their time.

    Who can be blamed for this failure? In my mind, it depends heavily on the venue. In colleges, the students must take responsibility for the value they derive from their investment. After all, they’re adults.

    At lower grade levels, the burden shifts to the educators. They must find ways to allow students to put more into their courses. Not to put more time into them but to put more of themselves into them.

    It’s a tough assignment, but our children depend on it being done well, and they are our future.

  2. Harry: “At lower grade levels, the burden shifts to the educators. They must find ways to allow students to put more into their courses.”

    I agree. The early years are incredibly important. Perhaps the best investment of our ed dollars is to pour them into grades K-6. Reserve the highest K-16 salaries for these elementary school teachers, and select only the best. Limit class size to ten per teacher. Give teachers a flexible budget that allows for unlimited off-campus excursions and short trips. Reward teachers and students for innovative practices and outcomes. Provide them with the latest technology and maximum access to the web. Release them from the straps of standardized tests and allow them to construct their own measures of achievement based on projects and portfolios.

    Expect these teachers to empower students, to aim at developing independent learners; to encourage and cultivate collaborative skills; to give students the social networking and information technology skills to create PLEs and PLNs that exploit the strengths of the web; to turn children into students who love to learn.

    Hopefully, the results would be so amazing that the 7-12 educators will grab the K-6 baton and run with it, extending and expanding the student-centered practices to include increasingly less teacher handholding and more independence in small group and independent projects in on- and off-campus settings.

    To allow this to happen, 7-12 educators will need unprecedented funding support as well as new skills and attitudes.

    My guess is that changes of this magnitude in K-12 will resonate through our colleges and universities, forcing radical changes in practice.

    As Harry says, “It’s a tough assignment, but our children depend on it being done well, and they are our future.” And “our” includes colleges and universities. -Jim S

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