Personal Learning Networks

Alec Couros' Diagram of the Networked Teacher of Today

Photo Credit: Networked Teacher Diagram by Alec Couros

Over the course of our semester together we have explored what it means to be a part of communities of practice. In our final session together we’ll reflect on these learning networks and how they could and will shape our learning environments. For this week, we will all read Educause’s 7 Things You Should Know About Personal Learning Environments and watch the 13 minute video interview with Alan November on Myths and Opportunities: Technology in the Classroom. We will then divide up a selection of the rest of the session materials and post here your reflections on your selection, especially as it relates to our two common items for this week. Finally, during our Friday class our final set of presenters will share their class projects with us and we will have the opportunity to reflect on our experiences this semester.

I want to thank you all for the rich learning experience we shared this semester. You’ve enriched my community of practice!

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22 Responses to “Personal Learning Networks”

  1. melinaanne Says:

    The article “The Mobile Campus” describes a project instituted by Abilene Christian University in Texas to provide all members of the incoming freshmen class with iPhones or iPod touches in an attempt to study the effects of mobile technology in the university environment. The results were overwhelmingly positive, with over eighty percent of both students and faculty attesting to the success of the initiative. Students were able to stay better connected to the course both inside and outside of the classroom and could also experience things in a more hands-on way. Of course, there are some drawbacks, as the sample size was relatively small (upper classmen, for example, were not given the devices), and clearer results will undoubtedly surface over time, when the euphoria of the initial test passes and the mobile reality sets in. While I am not as familiar with mobile technology, I am a great supporter of hands-on learning. As an undergraduate, I attended a university that used a block plan for courses. We took one course at a time, with each course lasting a little less than a month. Classes were intensive, but allowed for many “learning by doing” experiences. Geology classes, for example, could go to the Grand Canyon for a week. If mobile technology allows for experiences that go beyond the classroom and out into the real world, it will become invaluable to educators and students alike.

    There were a few things about Alan November’s presentation that really resonated with me. He echoed many of the points we have made in class this semester about the teacher learning how to relinquish control in the classroom and shifting towards an environment in which students become more responsible for their own learning experiences—and as contributors to the learning of others as well. I appreciated his comments on the risks of polarization in today’s web environment (Fox News, the Huffington Post), the fact that it is entirely possible to only get “your own version of the truth” and therefore believe yourself to always be in the right. The collaborative nature of personal learning networks and contribution-based learning could help students find more of a middle ground in the online world.

    • Karen Zook Says:

      Oh, drool, I want iPod touches for all my students. How beautiful would that be, to have them all able to access the web from the classroom on nice little portable devices? I’ve have them looking things up constantly. We just need a sponsor, and apparently Apple doesn’t really do that sort of thing much, despite awesome product placement (look at the second picture and please pretend you never saw the first one).

      It looks like Google has some neat Chrome-OS netbook devices coming out that will function almost entirely “in the cloud” which would be absolutely lovely for ed purposes, as well.

      • Eleonora Boscolo Camiletto Says:

        I agree, it’s a great initiative. One of the main obstacles to the diffusion of technology in the learning environment is in fact the lack of technology tools. Like Melina said, the project seize was small but I think this project will give good results because it instructs students on how to use the everyday technology that is accessible to them and apply it to learning.

        • claudiopi Says:

          I love the initiative, too. I think this results from a developed awereness of how important being connected with the “world” has become. I am pretty positive that incoming students would benefit a lot from this, since it would give them more support in a new learning environment. I suffered the lack of technology a lot this semester and if I could have had such a benefit, it would have changed my life. Totally. Technology shouldn’t be for an elite.

  2. Karen Zook Says:

    In an interview recorded in podcast format titled From Distraction to Interaction: Incorporating Cell Phones Into the Learning Environment (hosted by Educause), Lonnie D. Harvel talks about the possibilities for the use of cell phones in the development and extension of the college classroom environment.

    The technology discussed in the interview itself is, unfortunately, a bit dated–it predates the iPhone, which means it also predates all the advances in cell phone technology that have taken place in the last few years–but the basic concept of the applications of mobile technology in the creation of an immersive learning community is still relevant.

    The study of cell phone usage being referenced in this interview was intended to facilitate student-to-student and faculty-to-student communication, and used the technology for two purposes: personal response (i.e., creation of a community of practice) and data collection. The idea of using a cell phone as a replacement for and/or extension of a personal computer was a relatively cutting-edge concept in 2007, so it’s interesting to hear some of the issues/concerns that are raised in this interview and compare them to the issues/concerns facing educators and students trying to use equivalent technology today.

    The primary advantage of cell phone use (and something I’m going to be talking about in my pecha kucha later today, as it happens!) is their utility in creation of an “immersive” learning environment; that is, a learning environment in which the barrier between classroom and not-classroom become less defined. Harvel cites the interesting flip side of this expansion of the classroom, though, mentioning that the faculty involved in the study sometimes found the expectation that they be, essentially, on-call at all hours to be exhausting. For me, the takeaway from that point was that faculty and students need to work together to establish reasonable expectations as the learning community’s practices evolve to incorporate new technology; we can’t just say “yay tech!” and run with it (as much as we’d like to), because the changing dynamic of the classroom environment requires us to be thoughtful about practices governing that environment.

    • carsten01 Says:

      I like your idea to lower the barrier “between classroom and not-classroom.”! But I wonder if students are willing to let that happen.
      Coming from another country I sometimes wonder to what extent we can motivate students to participate and study. It seems to me that in the U.S., in order to get a decent job, you are forced to go to college. Now if someone does not want to, s/he might try to resist college taking over her/his life.
      Do you think that due to the way the system is structured here in U.S. we have sometimes such a hard time motivating our students?

      • melinaanne Says:

        This is an interesting point. I completely understand why faculty would feel like they are always “on-call” when using something like mobile technology. I wonder, though, if students (or a majority of them at least) feel the same, or if they are so used to having an “on-call” life that it doesn’t matter if the calls are school-related or personal. I wonder (and honestly I don’t know the answer to this) if they distinguish between the two, or if the “classroom not classroom” caters perfectly to their super-connected lifestyles. We often complain that students don’t know how to write formal letters or emails to professors, and I wonder if this isn’t a result of not having to create a “school self” and an “out of school self”.

        • carsten01 Says:

          Thank you for sharing your ideas, Melina. I not sure if there is the luxury to distinguish between a “school self” and an “out of school self” as school and a career are just so demanding. If that is the case, than I think we need to emphasize this in our classroom. The career world, to a greater extent as the academic world -at the level our students are-, is still highly formal. And the likelihood that this changes is small.

          • jarcastillo Says:

            While I think the idea that erasing the barrier between “classroom and not-classroom” is excellent for anyone that is a student since we ultimately would like to be life-long learners, I cannot help but wonder if as students blur this barrier, the line between the student and the teacher is altered in a not so positive way. I would love to be accessible to my students as much as possible within reason, but I also do not want them to think of me as one of their “buddies.” Connecting in specific social networking platforms that are designed and catering only to the course would reduce this. A friend might accept that they slept through their final exam or left their homework within dog-eating reach, but are these reasons they should be able to text/send a quick message to their instructors about? I think as teachers we can see the value of crossing the barriers between classroom and not-classroom, but is that what our students are also understanding? (This comment comes in lieu of getting a short text-like email stating: “Sorry I missed the final. I emailed the Dean. I can make it up ASAP. Sorry for the inconvenience.” NOTE: This is a first for me.)

    • Niko Says:

      I listened to the same podcast (and just realized that this was not my reading part for this week). I absolutely like the idea of the “immersive” learning Lonnie D. Harvel is talking about and, as you said before, how the use of cell phones can lower the barrier between classroom and not-classroom.
      On the other hand, I asked myself several times if the examples he gives really show why it is useful to use cell phones in a classroom. I really like the idea of in-class polling systems that he mentioned. But then he started talking about out-of-class polling systems because good in-class systems were not very good (or did not exist?) at that time. Why should teachers use cell phones for polls OUTSIDE of the class? Aren’t there much better tools to make polls – on the web? And what about the cost? I, for example, have a prepaid plan without unlimited text messaging or web access. How can we make sure the everybody in the class can access mobile tools without high costs. (Especially when you could also do your poll with doodle and many other tools – which are free).
      About using the phone to access online tools: Not everybody has an I-Phone! You can use google voice with every phone because you just have to call to contribute. But not every student can access the internet with his/her phone (I can’t!).
      I know, my post sounds very negative. To be honest, I used google voice in my classroom and absolutely agree that they are advantages of using cell phones in the classroom. But I cannot get this “using cell phones for out-of class polls” out of my head – I’m sorry! (Using cell-phones for the sake of using it?)

      • Eleonora Boscolo Camiletto Says:

        ha, Niko, I totally see your point! I can see that happening in a school that does something like the initiative Melina was talking about, providing students with the tools, in this case a phone that can access the internet. Then I understand the usefulness of such a project, being able to have the students connect and feel part of the class even when they are outside the classroom, and what is the thing that you always carry with you?The phone.
        I also do understand the money issue and I think it’s something to really take into account because it can affect very much the participation in tools.

        • Niko Says:

          Yes, I agree that providing students the tools to participate in online-communication would lower the costs for the students and the money issue would not be on the students side anymore. They always carry the phones with them and could access online tools from wherever they are. But is this really what we want to? The students can also access online content from their homes and do not nessecarily need to access them from their mobile phones. This would reduce the cost (if the school provides the phones – for the school) and you are not always ‘available’ for the teacher. I know that we try to establish communties of practice and that we want them to use and work with the target language outside of the classroom. To a certain extent this is great. But just imagine you as a student. Do you want you cell phone to be a ‘classroom tool’ on which you receive tasks from your teacher.. when you are having dinner with your family.. when you are out with friends etc. Isn’t that just too much? Having the chance to access it from everywhere is great. But students want to access it when they decide to access it… and in this case they can just take their laptop and go online.

      • beatebirkefeld Says:

        This discussion brings up some of my thoughts towards the thinking that 20th century education had to adapt to the 21st century learner. Students are willing to be available online 24/7 and use technology tools in their daily lives. We no longer need to teach them how to use an electronic tool (we probably never had to) but the job of the 21st century teacher is to feed these tools with information. There are so many possibilities that arise with this change. Also, I agree that the border between “school self” and “out-of-school-self” is vanishing. Students write emails to me as if I were their Facebook buddy and think I will answer within five minutes. It seems that quality becomes less important for this generation, but other things are of more importance – getting information fast, demanding creativity in the classroom, the ability of their educators to teach them only the necessary information they need for their own interests and nothing more that could distract them from their goal (time is precious) – to name just a few. At the same time I can relate to Niko’s comment. It seems a rather desperate try to engage and motivate students through the use of cellphones because everything else has failed.

    • aljarrash Says:

      I’m with the idea that cell phones should be one of the devices to be used in the classroom and as a tool to help developing the teaching process.I was really surprised the first time I came in to the class to find all students were texting and even the time of explanation.I was a bit nervous about that.I asked myself why did they allow students to use their cell phones in the classrooms?I saw that everywhere you go you find students are holding their phones to text or listen to something. I thought to myself why shouldn’t we take a step to teach and use cell phones in teaching as one of the good tools.Why don’t we exploit cell phones in teaching?Cell phones can be used instead of personal computers in some places.In my country as an example,it is easier to get a cell phone than to get a computer.I know we have to think on the way how we use it and develop that.I agree with Karen that the changing dynamic of the classroom environment require us to be thoughtful about practices governing that environment.For me ,using cell phones in teaching and trying to get more ideas on how to do that is something worth while it is easy and everyone is using it already.

  3. carsten01 Says:

    In his session “21st Century Skills: Learning for Life,” Charles Fadel talks about the “m-Person”. The term refers to the way people have to have knowledge in the 21st century; broad as well as in depth in several fields. The question is how to achieve this?
    In order to specialize in several fields and additionally acquire broad knowledge about others, we as life long learners have to educate ourselves. But how to do so? It seems as if open content is the way to achieve this. But does it allow learners all over the globe to accumulate knowledge in the way it is needed? “No,” argues Viki Davis in her article “Questioning the Future of the Open Student.”. Sherises several questions about open content material. Is and how is open content material reviewed in order to ensure quality? In what ways can learners use it? What about those learners that do not speak English, is there enough open content material produced in other languages but English? Can sources of open content continue funding such projects?
    Besides funding problems and language barriers, I find particularly interesting the question of teaching. When learners can study a course in World Literature at home, do they need a teacher? Can a personal learning environment be as good as a professor? I was wondering, what your take on this question is.
    I think Alan November has a valuable point of view when he compares the teacher centered class with a factory in which the students are being told what to do. In his opinion we need to shift to what is needed in the work-world today; pro-activity, flexibility, leadership, teamwork.
    It takes, I believe, a change in paradigm in our students. Form being told what to do, which they experience in the majority of their lives as students, to the factors November mentions, and to bring this change about is part of our work as teachers.

    • Eleonora Boscolo Camiletto Says:

      Carsten, I think you raise a good point here when you talk about open content material that is mostly in English and therefore not accessible to everybody, which is at the same time a contradiction. As far as the PLE question in concerned, I think pro-activity is the key work. Students need to be proactive and classes shouldn’t be teacher-centered but I think the role of the professor as a ‘guide’ for the students isn’t something we should underestimate.

    • beatebirkefeld Says:

      I think that’s an interesting point, too, Carsten. The internet is dominated by English and Spanish with most of the educational resources written in English (I have no proof for that unfortunately; it is my personal observation). The fact that resources and content are written in English also assimilates cultural forms. I wonder if we can almost speak of colonialism in education. Other languages such as Chinese and Arabic are also in the rise when it comes to the production of educational resources, but more people will speak English in the near future (if not already) than people from different cultures will speak Chinese or Spanish. Who assures the fair distribution and content? Do we need a global education quality assurance?

      • jarcastillo Says:

        I think these are excellent points you bring up Beate regarding a possible “colonialism in education” by English dominated resources. One of the great things about our role as foreign language instructors is that we can be at the forefront of not letting this pedagogical “oppression” continue. Like postcolonial theorists, we can “speak and produce alternatives to dominant discourse” in our own specific languages and fields by making things accessible in languages other than English. This can be done through translation projects (as we saw at the very beginning of the course through Diego Leal’s Bringing It OUT a Notch), which can lead individuals to discuss specific topics regardless of language barriers. Also, as we reflect on our own teachings and work on our communities of practice, we can express our thoughts, theories, suggestions bilingually (or more if possible) and expand our communities of practice into a polyglot group.

  4. beatebirkefeld Says:

    Dean Shareski made a video for the K12 Online conference titled “Sharing: The Moral Imperative”. He discusses the idea of sharing teacher’s resources and other inspirational story material which help us learn. In his opinion, we do not only have the opportunity to share, but we have an “ethical responsibility” to put our work and the work of others online. In the past, school districts had to pay a lot of money for materials; there were only glimpses of sharing resources among teachers limited to the same school or district. Teachers were constraint to reach out for other resources by time, limit, and geography. With the internet, we now have the opportunity to not only learn from other school districts, but from other countries; and many times this opens a door to critical approaches that we could not grasp before. Today, students have become direct beneficiaries of the work of others. Those “others”, Shareski continues, are not faceless resources like the developers of textbooks are for instance, but today they are real people with whom we can communicate virtually: “It is almost as if they were sitting in the back of the classroom ready to debate and clarify questions and ideas. That in itself changes education.” The same way learning shouldn’t be composed of only the classroom, teaching should not be confined within those four walls either. Shareski closes his argument saying that we have an obligation to share; everything else would be unethical.
    I find it interesting that he is making the open share concept a moral obligation. Shareski pledges for educators (and learners) to contribute and learn from another. The notion of contribution is also mentioned by Alan November, who makes a similar pledge for the reformation of the educational system. In his view learners are no longer just learners, but contributors. If every piece of work is a contribution than we need to redefine the words “learner” and “work”. I support his claim for an interdisciplinary approach to education, and a community of self-directed, life-long, self-empowered learning.
    But with all this shared information online, I am still questioning myself, how we pick out the more important from the lesser important information specific to our needs? We talk about an information overload and for me this is definitely still an issue. Even cataloging tools like Diigo can be overwhelming and they still don’t have the ability to filter “useful” from lesser “useful” material.

  5. Eleonora Boscolo Camiletto Says:

    Clive Thompson’s article explains the existence and popularity of social network tools such as Facebook and Twitter as the humanity’s response to the 20th century “anonymity of life in the city” and “the wrenching upheavals of mobile immigrant labor”.
    He describes the changes that these tools provoked in people’s lives and refers in particular to the introduction of the ‘news feed’ tool on Facebook.
    Clive Thompson explains how Facebook users were initially intimidated by this feature because it just took control over their personal information and delivered it among other users. There actually was Facebook ‘petition’ to have privacy settings that could allow users to decide what information they wanted to share and with whom.
    This reminded me of the article I read last week on the virtual identity and what we can do to better control and master the tools that govern it.
    Thompson goes on sharing his personal experience with Tweeter and how he learned to understand it. At first he thought it was an over whelming tool that offered false ‘friendships’ but later realized the meaning of being virtually connected to somebody and how this sometimes mean more that it might seem. He explains his experience following people on twitter and feel ‘so totally, digitally close’ to them.
    Thompson concludes, as he puts it, this is ‘a philosophical act’, the act of knowing yourself through others and calls the popular status update ‘a literary form’.

    Alan November’s talk touched many point that we discussed throughout this course but I think the one thing that struck me was his acknowledgment that certain technology is in fact a distraction for many learners. This is something we discussed many times in this comment section and I think he makes a good point in defining what might be a distraction and how can we avoid distracting students with the use of other technologies.

  6. claudiopi Says:

    Karl Fish on his post talks about PLNs (Personal Learning Networks). Not a new idea, he says, but it is something that has now to be reconsidered due to an ever-growing web 2.0. What is good quality? How do we recognize bad from good quality on the Internet? It is certainly something to reflect on.
    Fish says “it’s critical for our students to create, nurture and expand their PLNs. It’s also critical to include varied viewpoints in our PLNs, to make sure we don’t continually reinforce our already held beliefs.” And this is a very important statement. Did you ever feel like preferring to keep navigating or using the same websites because you are afraid of exploring new “spaces?”

    He then reports a very interesting comment by Howard Rheingold, who says that “loss of certainty about authority and credibility is one of the prices we pay for the freedom of democratized publishing. (…) today’s media navigators must develop critical skills in order to find their way through the oceans of information.”

    I think at this point it is the same problem of being able to filter the information, but this time Fish switches his conern to the learning aspect. It seems like now more than ever we need to have a critical eye on what is being published. How to do that? Expansion is the answer. The more we read, the more you learn and understand about good quality. And students who are encouraged to use and publish on the web should be taught this, according to Fish.

  7. jarcastillo Says:

    Educause’s 7 Things You Should Know About Twitter describes the online application as a “virtual water cooler” where people can exchange ideas from the most trivial, to the most personal and/or professional “that is part blog, part social networking site, part cell phone/IM tool.” Twitter allows its users to get to know each other on a more personal level our professional colleagues (or at least as much as they/we are willing to disclose within the character limits), which also improves the sense of community and the collaborative work we can do. In terms of the implications for teaching and learning, the article emphasizes how Twitter demands students to be active participants by “fostering interaction on a specific topic,” similar to what clickers do (at a more basic, multiple choice-level). Twitter’s posts cannot be longer than 140-characters long, “forcing users to be brief and to the point—an important skill in thinking clearly and communicating effectively.”

    In Why I Still Love Twitter, Isabelle Jones discusses how Twitter has become an important part in people’s lives and sums up some of its most important and common uses. Jones confesses that she was “at first…uncomfortable with the mix of formal and informal and personal and public,” before listing the many things she misses when Twitter is unavailable. Among the most common uses, she includes: getting advice (technical, specific, personal), sharking links, discussing issues (around the globe). Individuals are able to exchange information and establish communities with just about anyone (with a Twitter account). Jones gives a great walk through of what Twitter is all about and perhaps most importantly provides us with several links on how to get started and some ways in which teachers and students can use it in the classroom.


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