PLENK 2010: Just Like ‘Watching Football’

Stefanie PankeBy Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education

This week marked the start of  PLENK 2010, a seven week online course on personal learning networks (PLNs) and personal learning environments (PLEs). The “Massive Open Online Course“ (MOOC) is sponsored and organized by the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute (TEKRI) of the Canadian Athabasca University. George Siemens (TEKRI), Stephen Downes (National Research Council of Canada), Dave Cormier (University of Prince Edward Island), and Rita Kop (National Research Council of Canada) serve as facilitators. In addition, several invited speakers will attend the weekly live sessions. More than 1300 participants have registered in the Moodle platform so far.

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Learnings from a MOOC

By Jan Schwartz

In fall 2008, I participated in a semester long MOOC — Massive Open Online Course — through the University of Manitoba. The name of the course was Connectivism and Connected Knowledge; Stephen Downes and George Seimens facilitated it. Of the over 2000 enrollees from all over the world, I think fewer than 30 took it for credit. It was one of the most fascinating educational experiences I’ve ever had, and by the way it was free. For those interested, there is a short explanatory slide deck.

I admit to being primarily a lurker in the early part of this course because I had no idea what connectivism and connected knowledge meant, but by the end of the course I had a pretty good idea. A lurker in this instance is similar to an auditor in a face-to-face class; she is there to soak it all up, but not really to participate. There were published readings each week, but most of the learning came from other participants. We posted on Twitter, blogs, wikis, social bookmarks, and Moodle, which was the “home” platform for the course. There were even some discussions happening in Second Life. (Yes, eventually I started to participate.) In addition there was a once a week synchronous discussion on Elluminate. Continue reading

Meet the Endless Summer – A Review of ED-MEDIA 2009

Stefanie_Panke80By Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education

The 21st annual World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications (ED-MEDIA) attracted 1200 participants from 65 countries. A diverse crowd, including K-12 teachers, university faculty members, researchers, software developers, instructional designers, administrators and multimedia authors, came together at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel from the 22nd to 26th of June with a common goal: to share the latest ideas on e-learning and e-teaching in various educational settings and at the same time enjoy the aloha spirit of tropical Oahu, Hawaii.

Organized by the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), the annual conference takes place at varying locations in the US, Europe and Canada. Thanks to funding by the German Academic Exchange Agency, I was able to join my colleagues in Hawaii to present two current research projects on social tagging and blended learning and en passant absorb the international flair and information overflow that go together with a packed conference program.


The attendees experienced a full program. In addition to various invited lectures, 210 full papers and 235 brief papers were presented, complemented by numerous symposiums, round tables, workshops and an extensive poster session. The conference proves to be exceedingly competitive with an acceptance ratio for full paper submissions of 37%, and 56% for brief papers. Eleven submissions were honored with an outstanding paper award. My favorite was the work of Grace Lin and Curt Bonk on the community Wikibooks, which can be downloaded from their project page.

Beginning with Hawaiian chants to welcome the participants at the official conference opening and the local adage that “the voice is the highest gift we can give to other people,” audio learning and sonic media formed a recurring topic. The keynote of Tara Brabazon challenged the widely held perception that “more media are always better media” and argued for carefully developed sonic material as a motivating learning format. She illustrated her point with examples and evaluation results from a course on methods of media research (see YouTube excerpt below). Case study reports from George Washington University and Chicago’s DePaul University on iTunesU raised questions about the integration into learning management systems, single-sign-on-procedures and access management.

Among the invited lectures, I was particularly interested in the contribution of New York Times reporter Alex Wright, who reflected upon the history of hypertext. The author’s web site offers further information on The Web that Wasn’t. Alan Levine, vice-president of the Austin based New Media Consortium, clearly was the darling of the audience. Unfortunately, his talk took place in parallel to my own presentation on social tagging, but Alan has created a web site with his slides and hyperlink collection that gives a vivid overview on “50+ Web 2.0 ways to tell a story.”

A leitmotif of several keynotes was the conflict between open constructivist learning environments on one side versus instructional design models and design principles derived from cognitive psychology on the other. Stephen Downes advocated the learning paradigm of connectivism and praised self-organized learning networks that provide, share, re-use and re-arrange content. For those interested in further information on connectivism, an open content class starts in August 2009. This radical turn to free flowing, egalitarian knowledge networks was not a palatable idea for everyone. As an antagonist to Downes, David Merrill presented his “Pebble in the Pond” instructional design model that — similar to “ADDIE” (analysis, design, development, implementation, evaluation) — foresees clear steps and predictable learning outcomes. Tom Reeves, in turn, dedicated his keynote to a comprehensive criticism of multimedia principles derived from the cognitive load theory, picking up on an article by Kirschner, Sweller & Clark (2006), “Why Minimal Guidance Does Not Work . . . .” The audience, in particular the practitioners, reacted to this debate true to the Goethe verse “Prophet left, prophet right, the world child in the middle.” As Steve Swithenby, director of the Centre for Open Learning of Mathematics at Open University (UK) posted in the ED-MEDIA blog: “Well, actually, I want to do both and everything in between. I can’t see that either is the pattern for future learning – both are part of the ways in which learning will occur.”

With blog, twitter feed, flickr group and ning community, the conference was ringing with a many-voiced orchestra of social software tools. Gary Marks, member of the AACE international headquarters and initiator of the new ED-MEDIA community site, announced that he has planned several activities to foster interaction. So far, however, the few contributions are dedicated to potential leisure activities on Hawaii. The presentation “Who We Are” by Xavier Ochoa, Gonzalo Méndez, and Erik Duval offered a review on existing community ties of ED-MEDIA through a content analysis of paper submissions from the last 10 years. An interactive representation of the results is available online.

Twitter seems to have developed into a ubiquitous companion of conference talks. Whether the short messages add to the academic discourse and democratize ex cathedra lectures or divert the attention from the presenter, replacing substance with senseless character strings, is a controversial discussion. Accordingly, twitter received mixed responses among the conference attendees and presenters. In the end, 180 users joined the collective micro-blogging and produced approximately 2500 postings — an overview may be found at Twapper. As a follow-up to this year’s ED-MEDIA, participants were invited to take part in an online survey, designed by the Austrian/German twitter research duo Martin Ebner and Wolfgang Reinhardt. The results will hopefully further the understanding of the pros and cons of integrating microblogging in e-learning conference events.

The AACE used ED-MEDIA as an occasion to announce plans for future growth. Already responsible for three of the largest world-wide conferences on teaching and learning (ED-MEDIA, E-LEARN and SITE), the organization extends its catalog with two new formats. A virtual conference called GlobalTime will make its debut in February 2011. Additionally, the new face-to-face conference GlobalLearn targets the Asian and Pacific regions.

Is ED-MEDIA worth a visit? The sheer size of the event leads to a great breadth of topics, which often obstructs an in-depth discussion of specific issues. At the same time, there is no better way to gain an overview of multiple current trends in compact form. Another plus, all AACE conference contributions are accessible online through the Education and Information Technology Library. The next ED-MEDIA will take place in Toronto, Canada, from June 28 to July 2, 2010.

The 375-Billion Dollar Question. And the New Agora

eskow_tnBy Steve Eskow
Staff Writer
3 November 2008

I’m a chronic reader of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Part scholarly journal, part  newspaper and gossip column and help wanted advertising, each week its reporting brings to me the doings and thinking of faculty, students, academic administrators and education officials and accrediting agencies and all the shapers of academia in the colleges and universities in the US and around the world.

Lately I’ve been bemused by that 375-billion dollar question asked in the October 3, 2008 issue:

“The 375-Billion Dollar Question: Why Does College Cost So Much?”

The article itself never really gets around to answering the question. But each issue of the Chronicle provides pieces of the answer—and often analyses that are quite convincing.

Here is the answer of Honor Jones, a student. Her piece in the May 8, 2008 Chronicle is titled “Invest in People, Not Buildings.”

eskow01“Everywhere I hear the sound of dump trucks. It’s my fourth year at the University of Virginia, and they haven’t stopped building since I got here. A new commerce school, a new theater. If  UVA is any example of the state of public education in general, we need to evaluate our priorities before another brick gets bought.”

In his “Meditation on Building”  in the October 20 Chronicle faculty member David Orr paints this grim picture:

“It is estimated that the construction, maintenance, and operation of buildings in the United States consumes close to 40 percent of the country’s raw materials and energy and is responsible for about 33 percent of our CO2 emissions, 25 percent of our wood use, and 16 percent of our water use. In 1990, 70 percent of the 2.5 million metric tons of non-fuel materials that moved through the economy were used in construction.

“Further, by one estimate we will attempt to build more buildings in the next 50 years than humans did in the past 5,000. Most of this development will be driven by individuals operating in a market system that does not account for losses of farmland, forests, wetlands, or biological diversity — or for the human need for community.”

So: to students—some thoughtful students—and to faculty—some ecologically sensitive faculty—the university invests in buildings, not people, not the environment. The counter, of course, might well be: how else does the university house its students and the apparatus it needs for learning? How would the critics provide spaces for instruction, for housing, for study, for recreation? Are there alternatives to the buildings, or are the critics beneficiaries of the structures they deplore?

Which brings us to the question of the new information and communication technologies and how to bring their benefits to the university.

Xavier University’s answer is typical: build a building around the new technologies, and have the students come to the building to use them.

From the Chronicle, January 1,2008:

“A $28-million building called the Learning Commons will be erected to house the organization and serve as a center for various educational programs. Users will be able to get technical help, use multimedia software at any one of a bank of computers, view the library’s online holdings, and have their reference questions answered.

“The library, which will be attached to the new building, is being refashioned as simply a warehouse for books.”

eskow02The Xavier officials, of course, could not have seen the October 17, 2008 issue of the Chronicle and the story headlines “Colleges Struggle to Keep ‘Smart Classrooms’ Up to Date,” which  describes such a “learning commons” shared by the University of Colorado at Denver, Metropolitan State College of Denver, and the Community College of Denver.

“Professors who hold classes there say that years of financial neglect have left the smart classrooms nearly unusable.”

Xavier, then, might find that its $28-million is only the beginning of its commitment to keep its Commons smart and usable.

We need—need desperately—a new Learning Commons: a new Agora.

There are those who point out that we already have such a commons in the Internet itself. It is a worldwide commons that need not be enclosed in buildings: indeed, its possibilities for serving students and teachers and researchers are limited when it is enclosed.

The new Agora of the Internet is classroom, lecture hall, library, and students can take the Agora with them and listen to lectures and read books and engage in dialog with teachers and students who are scattered in time and space.

MIT, Yale, Stanford, Rice have put syllabi and lectures online.

David Wiley, then at Utah State, let unenrolled students take one of his online courses, and gave them his own unofficial certificates to show employers: this as a public service. And Stephen Downes and George Siemens allowed more than 2,000 unofficial students to take their online course “Connectivism and Connected Knowledge.”

There is a new Agora in the process of creation, a new Commons. And it will flourish free of the constraints of buildings, and, if we let learning move to where it is needed, we will enrich the lives of all those who can’t find their way to our buildings, or can’t afford the price of admission.