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Thursday, September 23, 2010

HOLD THE FRONT PAGE - PLE's need Teachers

Call it a PLE if you like, to me it is connectivist learning. Other terms that i can identify with are Dave Cormier's 'Community as Curriculum' approach and Wendy Drexler's elucidation of Networked learning in the 'Networked student model' (video) .

I agree with Jenny Mackness blog post on Curation and Balance in that it is the process that is of most interest and relevance when trying to explain to staff and students the benefits of 21st century connectivist learning. I think however the terms PLE and PLN are with us to stay and so an appreciation of the differences between the terms is useful. From the various blog posts it would seem that the consensus is that a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is more concerned with tools and technology and that Personal Learning Networks (PLN) are more concerned with connections to people. I agree with these distinctions and I like Vahid Masrour's (PLE, i think i got it (for me, anyways) concise view of their respective functions.

  • PLE - "My PLE is where I store all my “keys” to the network. The PLE takes me to my PLN through various gates and paths." and later he says "PLE's are nice, and useful, but they're the ticket and ride, not the destination. The destination is the PLN."
  • PLN - "One of the key concepts for me in a PLN is that learning is a social activity.", "The PLN is then more akin to a community, but with much looser connections, described in the literature as “weak ties”. He also states "The key aspect here are the connections, and what I can do with them, in the sense of doing something with them, not just benefiting from them."
PLE's and PLN's in context
Before I move onto the main theme of this post - The role of the teacher in a PLE, I wish to just talk about the context of PLE and PLN use. I can think of three different contexts where a PLE-PLN will be in use:
  1. Unconsciously - Those who without prior knowledge of the terms PLE and PLN learn from online pursuit of their interests combined with ongoing general social interaction.
  2. True self directed independent learners who have naturally seen the potential of connective technology to enhance their own learning and understanding OR initially teacher supported users who are now confident working and learning autonomously in a self directed way.
  3. Teacher supported PLE's and PLN's
As educators who see the learning benefits in a PLE/PLN approach then i think we need to recognize the importance of teacher supported PLE's and PLN's and the need to educate both teachers and students in order to promote this approach to learning.

Balance and the Teacher as Curator/Facilitator
Jenny Mackness and Wendy Drexler both highlight the issue of balance (in many respects), but notably in the issue of teacher intervention and getting the right balance between supporting and scaffolding the learner experience and letting students independently develop and grow their own PLE's and PLN's.

This excellent post by Leigh Blackhall Regarding George Siemens curators and George's subsequent excellent response breaks down possible roles involved in networked learning that the teacher may be classified as (Expert: Someone with sustained contribution to a field, Teacher: experts with authority, Curator: play the role of interpreting, organizing, and presenting content, Facilitator: able to guide, direct, lead, and assist learners, not necessarily being a subject matter expert.

I note that George in his Networks, Ecologies, and Curatorial Teaching post likes the idea of curator to reflect the role of network administrators/organisers in a networked learning environment. Previously I have always used the term 'teacher as facilitator'. After reading George's definitions i believe curating is probably more apt. In a teacher supported PLE/PLN the teacher will probably do both roles.

Further to this I see the PLE-PLN as part of a learning strategy that runs alongside a more deliberate and social and active learning approach where more contrived learning tasks and activities are instigated to improve connectedness. It's all about context i think, but I note this may go against the grain of leading connectivist thinker Stephen Downes whose views are explored in this blog post - The groups and networks debate (I shall read more on this later).

I see the role of the teacher as curator/facilitator as absolutely critical to helping students to appreciate and then develop the PLE-PLN approach to learning. It seems natural to me that intervention can be gauged on a continuum whereby new PLE-PLN learners are quite heavily supported and this support gradually diminishes as the learners evolve into confident autonomous and self directed learners.

Making PLE's and PLN's work Better

Vahid Masrour finishes his blog post with these questions/observation. "I guess my next question then becomes: why focus on PLEs? Shouldn't we be trying to figure out how to make PLN work better?"

I think he has a good point. Development of your PLE is about working with technology, refining your use of tools to give you more keys or more efficient access to your network of people and resources. This process alone will enhance connectivist learning skills, but it is in addressing how to make PLN's work better that enhanced learning can occur. i.e how to improve connection making and strengthen connections.

We can explore this more at another time, but the main themes worth exploring in this regard are.
  1. Learner centered pedagogic development for teachers
  2. Technological and online skills and practices development for teachers
  3. Technological and online skills and practices development for learners
  4. More use of web conferencing for live interactive synchronous learning activities.
I'' leave you with an excellent book - Helping Students Learn in a Learner-Centered Environment: A Guide to Facilitating Learning in Higher Education, which will serve as a guide for face to face and online facilitating and focus thinking on how this pedagogic approach can be adapted using the online technology available.



Welsh Cloggy said...

Hi Steve,
I like your post as it collates quite a few discussions that have been floating on the dispersed PLENK environment.

I also think there is an important role for the teacher. I see a wider, and probably more traditional role for the teacher. Not only would I like a teacher to help learners to aggregate information and point in the right direction of information. I see as another important role the giving of feedback as feedback is one of the most important aspects in making people think about their own ideas and writing. I also see an important role for a teacher as a 'critical knowledgeable other' or critical friend. People move along a continuum in becoming self-directed and autonomous, also in their level of information and critical literacies and will need a person to support them in this.

Unknown said...

Thanks for summing it all up, this helps make sense of it all.

(also thanks for quoting my post, glad it seemed relevant)

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