PLEs – the discussion develops

Amanda Rablin pose a number of questions to my previous post about MLEs and PLEs that I thought I’d respond to in a fresh post as they are questions of significance that I’ve not yet made clear in what I’ve written. Her questions and my responses are as follows:

Amanda Where does the concept of digital portfolios fit into your diagram?

Derek: Great question – and very topical. If you follow Helen Barret’s thinking, then the whole PLE is an ePortfolio. My thinking is still evolving on this, but here’s how I see things at the moment:

  1. when we are talking about ePortfolios were talking about two key components; (a)the repository(ies) of personal artefacts and (b)the means of exposing selected artefacts for a particular purpose.
  2. in a PLE, the aggregation of personal sites containing audio, print, video aretfacts forms that central repository (the key here is that they can all be searched, sorted, indexed/tagged etc for location and re-combining)
  3. The thing that is missing then is the tool for aggregating the selected items/artefacts and presenting/exposing them for a particular purpose – eg as a CV for a job, or as evidence for an assessment etc.

You’ll note that in my diagram there is reference to ‘portfolio’ within the school’s OLE – in my mind, this would be one of the equivalent of a personal repository, from which elements can be accessed to be exposed for a selected purpose. For another perspective on this see Julie Lindsay’s wiki.

It may be that at some stage in the future we’ll see an intermediate stage introduced (via a suitable piece of software) that allows all of the stored artefacts and items to be aggregated and indexed prior to being presented for viewing as a selection. (I think I have in mind something like my RSS aggregator, but with the ability to build up collections over time)

Amanda Do you think the school or system should provide protected (non-public) versions of web 2.0 tools so that students can explore them in a ‘safe’ environment? – as safety is often a concern if schools in some way endorse this environment.

Derek: Safety is a major concern, I agree – although our response can often be ‘alarmist’. That said, I think there may possibly be a place for the development of ‘protected’ versions of these tools that will allow educators to work with. Working with students to teach them the habits and accepted behaviours within these environments can be done safely before they venture out into the open world of the web.

There are already a number of such tools out there as I’ve blogged about earlier, and I know of some teachers who are using these as an alternative to the open environments.

In addition, a recent newcomer to the blogging scene, VOX, provides you with the opportunity of limiting both the viewers and those who can comment on your posts. This makes it an appealing product to use with young kids from a safety point of view. The good thing about this is that it makes it easy to migrate to other levels of access when you want to.

At the end of the day, however, we’ll need to acknowledge the fact that as far as a PLE goes, students are already working within the open environments, and are (often) ahead of their teachers in understanding the standards of behaviour etc of being a part of such communities.

Amanda In the development of a system, do you see that the items feeding into the PLE will be combined in a portal of some sort? Or do you see that a school would only provide an MLE with external links where appropriate?

Derek: The idea of establishing a portal as a PLE is something I’m keeping an open mind on. A couple of years ago I would have thought this was an inevitability – the only way to manage everything. Now I am persuaded to the view that a PLE is more a conceptual thing than it is a particular application or system.

My reason for thinking like this comes from looking at the ways in which young people are already behaving with these technologies. In some cases they have a blog which they have ‘hacked’ to the point where it acts as an aggregation point for their various other sites and communities. Others are using applications specifically set up to act as an aggregation ‘hub’, such as Vox, Mulitply, NetVibes, or PageFlakes for example.

A third option that is emerging now is the use of customisable browsers such as Flock or Firefox, which, with the addition of various plug-ins, can act as a central point of reference for the PLE.

Regarding the development then of a system, I think a school’s priority should be on the development of a MLE, and the components within it. As long as what they do conforms to open standards, and the principles of a services oriented architecture (soa) then it should be possible for links to be made with external systems as is appropriate – including the student’s PLE.

For some further reading on the nature of systems in this regard I’d recommend a paper by by Scott Wilson, Oleg Liber etc from JISC titled Personal Learning Environments: Challenging the dominant design of educational systems. They do an excellent job of explaining how current systems used in education follow a consistent design pattern that is not supportive of personalisation.

Amanda How do the PLEs of students link in to each other? eg. Would it be like a myspace or elgg experience or would they be making connections with each-other through the public tools and within the MLEs separately?

Derek: At the heart of a response to this question is our understanding of how the nodal network operates, with each individual having responsibility for their own particular ‘node’ etc.

In this regard, I see applications such as elgg and myspace as being useful models for how individuals may create their PLE, and the fact that these tools have quite powerful “community building” functions built within them makes them more useful still. However, the important thing will be the adherence to open standards and specifications (such as RSS) that will allow for the easy exchange of data and resources.

Hope that’s helpful?

2 thoughts on “PLEs – the discussion develops

  1. Hi Derek. Helen???s opinion that ???the whole PLE is an ePortfolio??? would seem to me to miss the point somewhat – more like an ePortfolio is a a sub-set of a PLE. A PLE being a philosophical belief that is in part enabled through tool/s that allows learners to immerse themselves in a web of network learning as articulated by George Siemens Connectivism – I found the link for those who haven???t yet read this paper.

    On another note, I would suggest that a third key component of an e-Portfolio, in addition to the repository(ies) of personal artefacts and the means of selecting ???views??? of content is the ability to selected audience is the ability to post evaluative comments either from the owner of the portfolio or those that it is shared with.

    What I am trying to get at is that it may be more profitable in terms of learning if the e-Portfolio is not seen as a process rather than juts a product.

  2. In response to Derek’s answers and the earlier question of ???will there be a superspace??? that brings PLE tools together and exists somewhere between an MLE and a PLE, our response is an resounding YES. Moreover, the new space will answer Derek???s concern over the ???anarchic??? ideal espoused by some exuberant PLE advocates.
    We envision an nPLE (networked personal learning environment) that involves a learner profile/portfolio designed in a Web 2.0 social networking style similar to MySpace or Facebook. The learners PLE will exist in a global network independent of institutional education. Teachers will have profile pages as well and will be able to create groups (classes) within the network and assume control of administrator functionality within the context of the group. Hence, when it comes to categorizing the next generation learning environment as PLE or MLE, we see a version what not ???either/or??? but ???both/and.???
    The new online learning environment will be truly open, globally networked, truly student-centric, and served as a framework for social software applications such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, flickr, etc. The vast network of learners and teachers (from all levels and from inside and outside institutional settings) will contribute to an immense open library of learning materials capable of containing or linking to the content created in virtually any tool (blogger, wiki, flickr, youtube, podcasts, etc). The new OLE would also have an extensive API set, thereby enabling users to program new widgets and learning tools for it.

    Yes, the next generation online learning platform *will* integrate LMS functionalities relevant to the practical administrative needs of teachers. But these LMS functionalities will derive from presuppositions about the effectiveness of project based learning, modern teaching methods, and an understanding that students are acquiring new competencies for accessing and developing knowledge outside the educational sphere. The LMS will not look, feel, or smell like an LMS (smell is important because in our opinion, most LMS???s, well, kinda stink-???they re-engrain 19th century teaching models in new one-to-one wired classrooms, thereby foreclosing potential of the school???s technology investment.)
    The new nPLE would empower the teacher to not only be efficient in the practical aspects of adminstering their course but also to be an effective guide in the Web 2.0 world. The framework would allow teachers to meet students where they are already at in the Web 2.0 world where many are already active participants.
    If such a comprehensive, flexible nPLE (networked personal learning environment) existed, would it not inaugurate the new era of education that is the subject of so much discussion? It seems to us that it would.
    This is the topic of a whitepaper we???ve recently authored, titled ???In Search of the Next Generation Online Learning Environment.??? http://www.ectoprep.com/ecto2/static/Ecto%20-%20Next%20Generation%20Learning.pdf
    In fact, we are have launched the initial elements of this nPLE.
    We call it Ecto. http://www.ectoprep.com
    We look forward to further discussion of these topics.

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