Open versus Closed

The focus of the learning this week is on PLE, which are considered “open” and Learning Management Systems (LMS) which are considered “closed.” Examples of LMS include Blackboard, Moodle and other content delivery resources.  They are considered “closed” because someone (a teacher) controls the content and the activities, unlike a PLE in which the learner personalizes their learning using the tools and content that suits them.

I hadn’t really thought of LMS as being closed before reading the PLENK resources this week, and in particular this transcript of an interview with several leaders in teaching and learning with technology.  I have been particularly interested in online learning for a few years and within the last two have begun to design online courses.  One of the things I have done is to incorporate elements of a PLE into those courses - encouraging the creation of delicious and Diigo accounts, using Adobe Connect to have the participants meet and interact with one another in real time, create blogs and wikis, etc. etc.  In that manner - I hadn’t considered the courses closed but realize now that if I am providing the learning opportunities - it really isn’t personalized. They are still completing the activities as a matter of completing the course, but I am not sure that it extends beyond that.

What is interesting about online learning is that it hasn't really reached our region yet.  I have tried to provide opportunities for teachers and administrators to engage in online learning because I think that they need to experience how different it really it in order to understand how to use it with students. Participation in those is low but loyal.  With students, it is mostly being used for credit recovery and I have found in reviewing much of the courses that the activities and assessments are "Google-able."  No critical thinking, no collaboration, no creativity.

Which makes me realized that most of our teaching right now is pretty closed - in fact, there are few classrooms (let alone buildings or districts) where I see networked teachers who have all you see in this model*:

The Networked Teacher (Couros, 2008) 

I am pondering how do we help the teacher become more networked so that they can develop a networked classroom?  And not networked for the sake of being networked, but because they can't imagine operating any other way?

PBL Thoughts

I have been spending the past two days working with regional colleagues on Project Based Learning (PBL) following the Buck Institute Model.  In wrestling with how to work with teachers around this model, I noticed that PBL also matched the Collegial Circles that I have written about previously.

The seven essential features of a "good" project are as follows:
1. Driving Question and a Challenge
2. Need to Know
3. Inquiry and Innovation
4. 21st Century Skills
5. Student Voice and Choice
6. Feedback and Revision
7. Public Presentation

In looking through the list, I realize that this is the exact process that the teachers go through when developing their focus and plan for learning.  What is really intriguing to me is the "need to know" piece. This isn't what content is needed, but the fact that what you are investigating is a real need to know (hoping you can hear the emphasis in my voice!) Meaning you want to learn about it.

Two more districts that I know of are moving towards this model for professional development - which captures the passion of teachers and for me, honors them as professionals. 

In the training, we have been wrestling with how to move "traditional" teachers to use the tools in their toolbox and embrace project based learning - at least a few times a year.  This model captures the passion of students and for me, honors them as learners.

Maybe if we set the model up for teachers, they will be comfortable with it in the classroom.


Week 1 of PLENK2010 has my head spinning.  Our first task as I understood it was to start to define PLE and PLN which fits into the reasons I wanted to begin the course: to flesh out the differences between PLE/PLN and a community of learners as I know it.  Interestingly, between the readings, the conversations and the new readings from the links in the conversations – I am learning that there is no one definition for either PLE or PLN.  Instead, they seem to be evolving definitions and points of discussion.  (Which means – if I use them, I should define them to give a context to those I am working with!)

As I am slowly distilling it from the readings, a personal learning network (PLN) is just that – the people with whom you interact and learn.  What I am discovering in reading and reflecting upon my own practice is that this network might be “one way.”  That is – I might consider some people to be a part of my network ( I learn from them) but I never engage with them.  While network implies interconnectivity, if I simply follow people on Twitter and never engage with them (reply or even retweet) or they don’t follow me back, I may still consider them part of my network.  They inform my learning.

A personal learning environment (PLE) on the other hand seems to be use to define the tools that are used to build and enhance the PLN – to encourage interaction.  Most of the reading and links seem to indicate that this environment is mainly “virtual” – meaning that it is not face to face but done by any number of the web tools that are available to connect and collaborate.  Wendy McGrath created a list of PLE guiding principles and one really stood out to me: accessible from multiple touchpoints.  This makes a great deal of sense to me as I think about how I use Twitter, Facebook, blogs and Ning to connect, learn and interact.  I have many of the same “friends” in these arenas but I interact with them very differently depending upon the limitations of the touchpoint.

In reading the week 1 discussion, Josh Underwood suggested the term “personal learning ecology” to try and capture the dynamic nature of PLN/PLE. Jennie Swann added to that by citing Brent Davis’ work* in which he refers to ecologies as “webs of interactions within particular systems.”  I am leaning a bit toward this usage as it seems to me that it would expand beyond just the “virtual” connections that can be made when made refer to a PLE.

As an example, I meet with a small sub-group of Communities for Learning three times over the course of a year.  Once a year the larger group converges upon Connecticut and we meet together for an entire week.  I connect with many of these people face-to-face between meetings and with an even smaller subset of that group virtually.  This is not just one learning network for me – it is the hub.  However, much of my work within Communities for Learning is also informed by a different group of people with whom I interact online via any number of tools.  And yet more of my work is influenced by those I interact with face-to-face on a regular basis.  Therefore my ecology, my system of learning, combines both face-to-face and virtual interactions with a variety of people.

Davis, B. (2004). Inventions of teaching: A genealogy. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Making Learning Transparent

For a few years now, I have been interested in the intersection between technology and my work as a Fellow in Communities for Learning.  As I have been engaged online through Twitter and delicious and my blogs, the terms  "PLN" and "PLE" kept cropping up.  And I have wrestled with them - their meaning, their value and how they are similar to/different from the learning community that I engage with.

I am excited to participate in the Personal Learning Environments Networks and Knowledge course which begins this week (it's not too late - you can join!) The course is part of a giant research project on PLEs and will examine the learning that occurs as a result of interaction and participation in a distributed community.  I am fascinated by this - both as a learner as well as someone who has encouraged the engagement of others online without really knowing if there are benefits!

I'll use this post to post questions and try to synthesize my thoughts and learning.  I encourage you to join the course but if you can't do that - try to engage here.  I'll tag all posts that relate to the course with PLENK2010 so you will know when the blog posts are on that versus the other fun things Jenn and I discuss. 

I hope to see you somewhere along this learning journey!

A Daily Difference

We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily differences we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee.
- Marian Wright Edelman

I think we are too hard on ourselves.  In our work, in our daily lives, in our relationships with others - we never think we measure up.  That there is something we could always do better.  That we could always be better.

The beginning of a new school year is always a bit rough for me.  I miss my students.  I  miss any students.  I miss the daily interaction with them, learning from them, feeling like I have a purpose.

Not that I don't think I have a purpose now. Just that it is different.

I left the classroom because I thought I could make a larger difference.  That instead of just impacting the students I had that year, I could impact ten times that number by working with their teachers.  That I could be a real change agent in the field of education - something that hasn't really changed in 100 years.

Maybe I set my sights too high.  Or maybe, I am not looking at the small differences that I make. I'm going to start looking closer.  And I am going to start letting others know when they have made a difference for me.

 Have a fantastic new school year!