I was asked to document my PLE on my first module. There it is pictured above. It had some gaps then, even more now. But having just been asked to talk about my PLN, all I can really say is that my network consists of every event that takes place between myself and my learning environment – life! That’s even almost still 100% true if narrowing it down to a Personal Digital Learning Environment, as I’ve interpreted it.
I thought a bit more about what differentiates the PLE from a PLN. It’s fairly obvious that the people are missing but I think I’d tried to cover that with the yellow ‘communication’ threads running through everything.
The timeline, linked above. Although it’s about the PLE & the tools within that I’d argue that the network itself is instrumental throughout. Without the network, the PLN, propelling me forward in various ways there would be no PLE. I also think there are many different PLNs connected to different parts of our lives. Whole important parts of my life have nothing to do with this digital PLN (thankfully!) and so, while they make up part of the bigger picture would appear in a separate PLN. I’ve updated the original mindmap to include some new thoughts. Bit of an ugly looking piece of work now but that’s not the point.
Cyber Explorations and Adventures of the Learning kind!
It’s a pretty lonely place, at least on the Open University ‘Deep Think’ Island and the University of Southern Queensland’s ‘Terra Incognita’, and…well, pretty much everywhere else I went!
Seely Brown and Adler’s 2008 paper “Minds on fire: open education, the long tail and learning 2.0.” provided quite a blast from the past – it was published at just about the time I was co-opted into teacher training and starting to realise that technology wasn’t going away. The article touches on many of the things that were firing me up at the time. Ideas on ‘Situated Learning’, Openness, collaboration, learner generated content and democratisation of learning. To be an effective teacher and to help nurture future teachers technology was obviously something that needed to be mastered, and quickly. Fuelled by a highly motivational mix of fear and excitement I plunged right in at the very deep end. The excitement stemmed from a growing awareness of all the emerging web2.0 tools and their world changing potential. The fear came from my own total lack of skills and the more and more frequent appearance of articles about Virtual Worlds and Environments such as Second Life potentially becoming the learning places of the future. I didn’t even own a Smart phone at the time!
Second Life in 2008
So, having purchased a cute little white Macbook and self taught the basic skills I ventured into Second Life. It wasn’t a happy experience. I stumbled about randomly, mostly with arms above my head as that’s how they somehow ended up and I had no idea how to get them down. When I lost all my clothes and couldn’t replace them I abandoned my avatar, naked and arms held high in some unknown location having never actually found one of these much written about learning spaces.
Second Life in 2020
So, having just read Seely Brown and Adler’s now dated article I decided to venture back and have a look for myself before delving into any research that’s been produced since. Pleased to say it was a somewhat happier experience in terms of navigating and managing to move the avatar around, though not much more successful in my mission to discover learning places than 10 years ago.
I didn’t hang around long in the ‘Welcome Hall’. Just long enough to change my avatar and figure out some basic manoeuvres – the Welcome Hall leads you through a series of tutorials and was full of ‘new arrivals’ all fairly disorientated but I was keen to see what sort of education spaces I could discover. Seely Brown and Adler talk about the University of Southern Queensland’s ‘Terra Incognita’, so I set off there first…Disappointment and some initial concerns about my skills when I found myself unable to get there. I was later able to find out why (see below in the research section) but in the meantime…
I decided to extend my cyber adventure and see what, if anything, I could find. The obvious place to start being the Open University. A number of locations came up in my search, but most were course specific. At the top of the pile sat ‘Deep Think’ inviting any staff or students to join. Now this looked promising…
Things appeared even more encouraging when shortly after arrival a welcome message popped up inviting me to to join the group by emailling a real person, which I did immediately before setting off for a look around.
Someone has clearly spent a lot of time building Deep Think with carefully landscaped spaces populated with interesting looking objects inviting interaction almost everywhere you look. ‘Anonymous Reflection’ boxes were dotted around suggesting you post your thoughts. I was unable to make anything happen, reflect or to get any info. There was no one else to be seen despite the multiple styles of ‘lecture halls’ and ‘study areas’ available, not to mention the enticingly named ‘Path to Enlightenment’. I decided my inability to access any learning must be because I wasn’t yet a member, but the total lack of any other avatar people seemed odd…
…And then I found the ‘Postmaster undeliverable’ response to my optimistic email. It seems that whatever might once have taken place in ‘Deep Think’ was no longer in action. I felt quite disappointed by now and although there appeared to be a number of course specific OU ‘islands’ after another disappointing visit to an English language class I left to try some online research regarding developments without stopping to see if any of the other courses are still live.
More Recent Research on Learning in Second Life
Considering the fanfare given to this platform and others of its ilk back in the first decade of this century, there seems to be remarkably little follow through. Follow up research on educational initiatives in SL is quite hard to come by. For Deep Think I was only able to find an 2010 outline of the project (http://oro.open.ac.uk/21641/1/ICALT2010submission-poster.pdf (accessed 06-02-20)) An early evaluation taken from an introductory tour for tutors says feedback is positive. They liked the “visual design of deep|think and the important aspects of usability in terms of being user friendly and well signposted to aid navigation. A wide range of activities could be envisaged by the tutors in deep|think, from standard lectures to more social events.”
I have been unable to locate anything that might explain why it has been left to fossilise but perhaps the next sentences are somewhat telling: “their first consideration seemed to be the migration of standard lecture format activity into the 3D world…” It’s my opinion that the continued difficulties that many teachers seem to have adapting their delivery methodologies and resources to match the medium have had a significant impact on effective use of technology and helping students to build their skills. They also raised doubts about the students’ skills levels in using Second Life and the additional load this would cause. This is still an oft cited problem but I think stems from a fear that their own skills are inadequate to support a student who needs help.
Clearly at that time there were great aspirations that SL should fill some gap in education and perhaps for some it is still something to aspire to. There is plenty of more general research available as well as guidance on how to set up and manage learning in virtual worlds (see bibliography). The SL Education Wiki lists a number of different universities and learning centres who all appear to be thriving, though I didn’t try to visit any others. I had also thought it might be a place where language learning would flourish but was unable to find much going on in that department either and was surprised not to find a British Council space there. I did venture into one supposed language group that looked innocuous enough but having only just registered was kicked out for being too young!
Looking at the more recent research, and the lists of learning spaces available on the Wiki, it seems to perhaps be identifying as a good space for accessible learning. There is still quite a bit written promoting situated learning in Virtual Worlds and SL themselves are certainly still promoting their platform and claiming a ‘Premium User Base’ of over 60,000. But from my brief foray it’s hard to imagine anything very much useful happening there or anywhere being particularly busy. It’s possible the spaces I visited were never intended to be enduring, but I don’t think so. It’s also possible that if a tutor specifies a meet up in SL an area might become busy at certain times for focussed activity. But it certainly isn’t the melting pot of activity that I’d imagined it might be by now, there’s no sign of people hanging out and learning, in fact, no sign of any people anywhere except in the Welcome Hall.
Reflections on my cyber explorations
Second Life is a pretty amazing set-up. First up, it’s definitely pretty with it’s fantastic architecture, trees wafting in unfelt breezes laden with cherry blossom and peacocks strutting their stuff in the gardens that overlook idyllic looking seascapes, birds tweeting from the bushes and flying overhead…I stopped and hung out with a peacock for awhile, trying to figure out if anything I did had a reaction from it, I don’t think so – it could walk right through me! I’ve never played a video game so have nothing really to compare but it looks like a fairly complex and cleverly built software and easy enough to follow the tutorials and figure out how to get around. I guess for some, another positive could be the anonymity, the possibility to be whoever you want, although I’m not sure that would work in an HE group setting.
Although not specifically related to education, I did find Bloustein and Wood’s “Visualising disability and activism in Second Life” interesting. It has, according to their findings, become a place where identity can be explored and social activism can be nurtured
“In sum, identifying as having a disability in both SL (as an avatar) and in off-screen lives is for many of our respondents both a significant personal and political statement. In SL it can also be interpreted as a public statement of activism. It is a statement about identity and about the real or authentic self. For many of our respondents this also increased their claim to personal integrity. Criteria for belonging and acceptance, even of oneself, rely on the judgement of others for one’s sense of self is always ‘socially mediated’ (Gilpin et al., 2010: 260).”
So why doesn’t it appear to working as the educational utopia it was thought to become? Perhaps actually it is, just not at the same times and places as me. It was a bit of a whirlwind visit so more time researching and looking around to see if anything was missed would be helpful, but somehow I don’t think so. I’m also not sure I really want to. Although I’m a fan of Seely Brown and his ideas around Participation and Situated Cognition, I think stretching into Virtual Worlds is perhaps still a step too far. Those Deep think tutors were possibly right.
I also felt irritated by the suggestion that the whole world should need or want to access Higher Education (p.18). This seems to be in contradiction to much that the web2.0 resources can bring to educating the world. A further example of being so entrenched in current models it’s impossible to look beyond.
Personally, I also feel a resentment and slowly rising panic at the ever increasing amount of time we are expected to spend online. I work on a computer all day. My friends and family and family’s carers (two different lots, one of which also comes with their own App I have to monitor) expect me to keep in touch by text, email or messenger and respond within a reasonable time frame when they contact me. I’ve signed up for a distance MA so that brings a heavy load more of screen time just in reading, forums and writing assignments. Now we are required, on top of the forums, to blog and read each other’s blogs as well. If anyone dared to ask me at this point to go and hang out in study groups on Second Life as well I might be tempted to commit a virtual tantrum! Seely Brown (p.30) tells us that the world is speeding up and we need to speed up with it.
“In the twentieth century, the dominant approach to education focused on helping students to build stocks of knowledge and cognitive skills that could be deployed later in appropriate situations. This approach to education worked well in a relatively stable, slowly changing world in which careers typically lasted a lifetime. But the twenty-first century is quite different. The world is evolving at an increasing pace. When jobs change, as they are likely to do, we can no longer expect to send someone back to school to be retrained. By the time that happens, the domain of inquiry is likely to have morphed yet again.”
He’s right, we need to adapt but it seems that technology is speeding things up beyond a level that we are able to cope with and it’s possible that spending time learning in a virtual world such as Second Life is just one overload too many for the majority. Perhaps we’re thankfully not yet ready to slip fully into an unreal world when we’re still trying to make sense of the rapid changes in our real one, and so without outright rejecting it, uptake on Second Life hasn’t been what was anticipated. Perhaps it’s our addictions to other forms of Social Media that simply don’t allow time for another distraction?
Purser in “The Coming Crisis in Real-Time Environments: A Dromological Analysis” (2000) looks at how technology is shifting us from chronological time towards chronoscopic time and the impacts it can have. I feel that is a whole new post but will leave you with this thought.
Bloustien, G. and Wood, D. (2015) Visualising disability and activism inSecond Life, Current Sociology, vol. 64, no. 1, pp. 101-121.
Ever since I realised just what was out there, I’ve been fascinated by the wave of sharing that the web seems to have inspired. Apart from the fact that the web exists at all, it is the openness and sharing that I’ve found to be the most awe inspiring aspect of watching the web develop and grow – everything, but everything on there has been put there by a person (or at least initially) for us to use. Some we pay for but the vast quantity we don’t – or at least not directly.
I’ve wondered what has driven this. I’ve contemplated the world of EFL/ ESOL teachers where I’ve worked, where hand crafted materials and resources, even bought resources, have always been viewed slightly selfishly (in my view) by the teacher ‘I invested the time to make it (or buy it) so why should I share it?’ So what has changed?
I’ve thought of a number of possible reasons, just guesses, but potentially useful to follow up sometime:
Hard copy resources could get ruined or lost if used by many. It’s easier to save originals of e-materials then people can do what they like with their version/ copy?
If something is shared further afield it’s less likely to have a direct impact on the ‘competition’. Typical EFL/ ESOL classes can have students moving around between teachers and it can be gutting to find that you have a student saying “I’ve done this before”, especially when it’s your own resource you’re using!
Innate human desire for wide-reaching acknowledgement/ recognition!
Some sites require a commitment to exchange, so you are not just using other’s resources.
Today, as part of the H800 course material, I read “What you need to know about OER (Open Educational Resources)” (Daniel, S. 2012), which outlines a noble global effort, lead by UNESCO, to bring OER to organisations internationally. It seeks to operate and gain ‘agreements’ at government levels.
In the article In the State of The Commons (SOCT. 2015) the opening phrases went some way towards explaining some of my questions:
“Collaboration, sharing, and cooperation are a driving force for human evolution”
“We are hardwired for sharing. Harvard professor on evolutionary dynamics Martin Nowak calls it the essential “snuggle for survival” — evidence that sharing is not just a selfless act. Sharing has concurrent and lasting benefits, multiplied for the giver, the receiver, and communities at large.”
The ‘Keepers’ (for want of a better word) of Creative Commons aim for a utopian ideal of an online world that is equal and fair, a lively, diverse and accessible community where positive, unexpected experiences occur. Originally set up to provide a technical and legal framework for shared resources and set up Licensing, the aims have extended beyond the original aim to include supporting collaborative and sharing communities. It seems a logical progression since the collaborators will be using the licences…
Though all this still doesn’t explain the shift in sharing hard copy resources and online. Perhaps is it that the larger pool of resources makes them immediately more useable, if organised well. Or perhaps it is the newness of it that causes need for closer snuggling? If that is the case, it seems to be effective as the article shows steep increase in the uptake of OER:
Between 2013 – 2014 Weller explored the uptake of OER in a series of three articles. Starting with the bold claim that ‘Openness has won!” he then explores the meaning of openness and what he meant by “it has won”. Some of it seems a bit like back-tracking (especially having read the comments) some of it, to be fair, must simply be part of the fact that this whole area is still very much in its infancy. We genuinely don’t know what’s what, it’s being made up, invented, on a daily basis as it evolves. Weller somehow doesn’t seem to recognise this is STILL early days and at one point in the second article says we are at “tipping point”
In the final article he makes an analogy to an iceberg and divides users into three catagories, with only the first seen (I presume though he doesn’t appear to actually say this):
Primary – main contributors and fully aware of licencing etc
Secondary – main goal is normally teaching. Use CC resources as part of this and contribute occasionally. Partially aware of licencing.
Tertiary – users. Little or not at all aware of licences.
He also mentions David Wiley’s concept of ‘The Dark Reuse”. that is, the users that can’t be monitored or included in data.
There also seems to be a lack of recognition from Weller (possibly a wildly sweeping statement) that the drive by HE for the uptake of OER must be economically driven…an idea to follow up some other time…
For my own part, as a practitioner in both education and marketing, I have used material for music in videos and images for PPTs Word docs and occasionally websites, ideas from places like SlideShare…I own up to being guilty of not always being of the licenses as I should be. Not always clearly recognising the source as I should. It’s not that I’m trying to pretend its mine, it’s often just sheer laziness (or too much multitasking and work overload – a time saving device, in my own defence?). I’m getting better but really do need to be more mindful altogether!
COMPARISON OF SOME OER SITES
As part of the course material I was asked to have a look at a number of OER sites and make some notes. It was a useful and interesting exercise but I have to admit all I kept thinking was : OVERLOAD! So much amazing and interesting stuff out there – I could spend ten lifetimes just getting lost in the OER resources! Quite possibly, the net result will be that I’ll steer clear of any of it, just in case I get too tempted!
Notes from the activity – it is useful to break them down a bit and compare. I found the ways in which educators are using MIT to be of particular interest. It also raised some questions I’d like to come back to and explore later:
TABLE COMPARING FOUR OER SITES
THINGS OF INTEREST
It was the first
In 2015 it had 2000+ courses
Made up of extracts of real courses: notes, tests, video
I like the choices based on Instructional approaches
Educators incorporate elements into own lessons
Educators use the courses to help with curriculum development
Linked to I Tunes U
Was there before You tube, Facebook…
200 million reach
OCW – open course Ware
Is there an app?
How is it moderated?
OPEN LEARNING INITIATIVE
Aims to address the gap between the drive towards teaching more & more diverse students and the time allocated to do this
Some alarm bells?:
Anyone who wants to learn or teach can.
Aims to transform HE?
Has only 27 active courses
Promotes active learning techniches.
Very bold claims made
Unclear how it works to teach – it says set up your own courses but thensays your courses are analysed to be maximised using their instructional design technology. Unclear how this works.
Is there an app?
How is it moderated?
Free courses (how many? 100’s or 1000’s?) graded at different levels
Good, clear and easy to navigate site.
Nice idea having badges (wonder how any actually collect?)
Good telling you how long the courses/ activities are.
Good having TV & Radio if want more ‘casual’ learning.
I found an interesting course but it was course 3 of 4 and I couldn’t find the others.
The site remembered me – I discovered when I saw a course that looked interesting, clicked and was told had previously completed 5%! Total forgotten….
Could it somehow link to accredited courses?
Who creates the resources?
Why no app?
I TUNES U
Lectures, videos, PDFs, MP£s.
Links for universities and other organisations
A bit of a warren finding things, but once there easy to download and access.
Haven’t tried on the computer, not sure if its possible?
It looks like a good platform for teachers but organisation must be registered – not sure how complicated that is
Lesson types rely on students having PDs? Or the school supplying them?
I’m a serial wanna-be blogger. A repeat would be blogger. The web must be awash with the debris of abandoned good intentions, with unused Blog pages being among the largest amount of detritus. If the web was a Word Cloud ‘Unused Blog’ would probably be right up there, big and bold. And, of course, contributing to that would be my own innumerable false starts. These could fall into some clearly defined catagories:
Some were on sites I’ve long since forgotten exist (maybe they don’t anymore). I may have registered out of curiosity to see what was on offer and had a little play around, or I may have registered with a genuine intention to keep up a Blog of some sort.
Some Blogs I set up and began but then fell into non-posting (normally life’s business), by the time I returned had lost the notebook with the login details and so would have to abandon and start again.
No real purpose to the Blogging – or scattered focus. Try to define it into one thing and then want to write about something that doesn’t fit and feeling stuck = period of non-posting!
Not sure who I’m writing it for – whether myself or an audience. In that case, what audience?!
I started the H800 (Open University Masters Module in Distance and Online Education) in February 2017. I wanted to start writing a Blog in October when I went through the registration and application process. But I didn’t.
Then, I wanted to start again when the course began. But I didn’t!
Then, it felt like I’d need to back date everything I’d wanted to write from October, and that seemed like too much, so I didn’t!
READING ABOUT BLOGGING
Today, among other themes and papers) I read “Characterising the different blogging behaviours of students on an online distance learning course” by Kerawella et al (2008).
There were a lot of things I didn’t like in the article. Assumptions it made and the presumptions it seemed to make (See my questions and thoughts on mindmap).
However, what the article did prompt me to decide to stop worrying about topic, tone, audience, being academic or being formal or informal…and just go for it. I nearly always have an internal dialogue running while I’m reading or note-taking, so this will provide a useful port for these (or at least as many as I can find time to write about).
Also to store extra links of interest to follow up or whatever else. So, I’m taking the plunge (again) with high hopes for ongoing recorded reflections…
The first thing to follow up will be the references in this quote from the article:
Characterising the different blogging behaviours of students on an online distance learning course. Kerawella et al (2008):
“Whilst there have been several studies about how blogging can support learning through, for example, the development of knowledge communities (e.g. Oravec 2003), supporting meaning-making (Fiedler 2003) and enabling the sharing of resources and opinions (Williams and Jacobs 2004), it appears that little attention has been paid to exploring the student experience of blogging. It is recognised that students need to develop blogging skills, such as finding a suitable ‘voice’ for learning (Mortensen and Walker 2002) and writing (Abdullah 2003) in a public space, but what challenges do students face when they are trying to blog? And how do their perceptions of these challenges impact upon the ways in which they use their blog?”
I need to check on the claims made by Oravec, Fielder and William’s and Jacobs because many precepts in the article article seem to be based on ideas drawn from here. In particular the idea that “students need to develop Blogging skills…”
Why? Is my question to this, but then I haven’t read around it yet.
Other questions raised are:
How can they say it was successful when only 15 out of 108 responded. Of those two didn’t participate at all and four only did because they thought they had to?
What impact has it had, positive and negative, that tutors and coursemates are reading the Blogs? This hasn’t been measured or really discussed other than in terms of community.
Tools. It states that students had wide freedom of choices, but the platform itself was prescribed. This could impact of the students’ feelings of ownership.
My mindmap below, based on the reading highlights other concerns or questions I have with some of the points made.
It could yet prove to be that I’ll fall once again into the ‘blogging avoidance’ catagory but I’m hoping there’ll be more of the others going on, with less of the self-consciousness but I’m sure this is almost inevitable to some degree if writing publicly?
Start formal studying, start blog. Maybe as a way to explore all the things that come up through the formal study that need a place to ‘park’… A place to informally explore issues and side issues relating to teaching and learning, and to store links worth holding onto and revisiting.