Monday, October 25, 2010

Create your own tools. Create your own tools???

Week 7 for PLENK2010 has to do with PLE/Ns Tools - What Exists, What is Being Built?"

...Many of the tools that fit under the PLE/N umbrella have been appropriated by educators from other fields. This isn't necessarily a problem, but it does reflect a sense that educators are not building tools for themselves... Two significant challenges exist for educators and PLE/Ns:

1. Create new tools - what do we need? What functionality is missing in PLEs?
2. Improve end user experience - new tools, new interfaces, and ease of use.
My reaction is.. oh no! I have to create tools??? Please! Not me! Someone else has to do that! Of course we need better tools - and better integration of tools. When someone else does this, tweet about it and make sure Jane Hart and some of the others who report on new useful educational tools puts in her blog.

Speaking of tools: I'm loving Evernote - Better than bookmarks! If I see an interesting tweet, I email it to Evernote and go back and edit and tag the entries later. I went premium so I have access to my notes offline - and on my iPod Touch.

Speaking of more tools: I'm trying to get comfortable with Mendeley, but so far I'm feeling like I have to do a lot of typing. Mendeley is not doing much work for me automatically. It must be a function of the kinds of documents I'm saving.

And even more tools... I'm still trying to find just the right thing that's free and robust that I can use to make each entry my 50+ page bibliography on gangs in Central America searchable - I would like to be able to add keywords, etc. - and make the whole thing available to the public. No programming skills here - no institutional support since I'm retired - no willingness to spend my own money... I'm going to take a look at RefShare via RefWorks since I've got access to that.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

OER - why aren't more resources already available? What are the barriers to use?

I am following some discussions going on about OERs - one at and the other via . Common themes: we don't trust what's out there; we don't have time to create; we want to protect the content we produce; we fear that the material we produce is not quality; the material that is out there is not in our language; our infrastructure doesn't support use of OER material (not enough computers, poor networks). The only positive note: One participant, Rob Merkus, points out that many faculty already find themselves remixing material found on the Web - does that count as use of open educational resources even though it's informal?

Monday, October 18, 2010

What about students who fluff off?

So far I feel that the PLENK discussions of PLEs assume that students are actually trying to learn something rather than just get credit on their transcripts. The discussion has centered around ways of knowing if a student has some knowledge. How about if there are some students who show no understanding or misunderstanding? We might want to be bias-free, values-free in our assessment, but how about students who are just plain goofing off, gaming the system, etc? I work with institutions that give credit for having completed a course of study. I work with institutions that give certifications. There seems to be an assumption that if students are learning what they'd like to learn, they will do a good job. However I've seen people in courses that they elected to do, have no obligation to do other than being self-motivated - and just not doing anything much at all. Maybe they really want to learn auto mechanics. Then why did they sign up for this other course? No coercion! Totally self-induced! But... no evidence that they gave anything other than a superficial glance at the course content. That's what they wanted to get out of the course - Ok - That's their business - but what about grades? What if I can't tell that they learned? Oh well, this may have nothing to do with the PLE discussions at all. I'm feeling frustrated with some student work that I've seen lately.

Rita Kop wrote this interesting post about formal learners

This week (October 18 - October 24) there's a whole bunch of things going on at the same time: Open Access Week at Athabasca University, the NMC Symposium for the Future, two PLENK Elluminate sessions, a workshop that I have to present with a colleague, an online book talk where I also have to be present... an online instructor's meeting that's not until Saturday thank goodness... There's going to be some picking and choosing going on!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Next OER discussion from Commonwealth of Learning

The next OER online discussion forum from the Commonwealth of Learning starts October 20. This discussion will center on moving to practice. After attending an academic conference recently and listening to faculty who are active textbook publishers, I am discouraged. There were many complaints about working with publishers. The turn-over of editors is high. Editors are not always very experienced. Last minute changes are requested by editors dragging projects out. Publishers do not always follow marketing suggestions made by faculty. Complain, complain, complain! So why isn't open access textbook publishing considered an option for these textbook authors? The faculty appreciate the imprimateur bestowed by publishing with a well-known publisher: more respect from colleagues (even though textbooks tend to be undervalued when it comes to tenure and promotion); royalty checks even when the checks don't amount to much. I'm currently involved in a small way in two projects right now. In one case, the faculty member backed off working with an OER publisher after her dean told her that going with a mega-textbook publisher would be more prestigious. In the other case I don't know that OER was ever discussed. How disappointing!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Personal learning environments and assessment

This is "assessment/evaluation" week for #PLENK2010. It's the usual knotty problem: How do we know that participants in PLENK2010 have gained knowledge? Who cares? Personally I hate grading. As an instructor I would rather be responsible for responding, suggesting, cajoling - or whatever it takes to ask students to new considerations - not grading! But... being uneasy about judging the work of others is sort of wimpy, isn't it? The institution, employers, etc. want an estimation of how well a student has grasped the info presented in a course of study. Can I abdicate that responsibility when I've agreed to teach a course? No! So...if students are doing... personal learning networks and using a variety of tools - blogs, wikis, discussion boards, emails, media, documents, etc. - how do you as an instructor track all of that and provide a fair assessment? The readings available for this week (5) were philosophical - but I'm also interested in the logistics.

For me personally: I'm doing PLENK2010 just because. I don't need to be evaluated or certified or any of that. I attended the Elluminate session on October 13 and some participants were expressing frustration with all the material and trying to figure out if they were getting it or not. That's interesting because the moderators have reiterated that PLENK2010 is what you make of it. There's no particular body of knowledge to regurgitate. Somehow... the participants have some expectations about something that's called a "course"?

Monday, October 11, 2010

People have other things to do

Stephen Downes noted that in #PLENK2010 "there is not the sort of effort being directed toward helping others as I would like to see. Some people observed that the course was not for people new to the material, but my thinking was that more experienced people should be creating introductory content to help people new to the material, that this is how they learn. And, on reflection, it leads me to think that it is traditional learning that leads to a selfishness in learning, as you are encouraged to focus only on your own learning (even when you are working in groups) and not on helping other people (that's "teacher's job")." (OLDaily archive October 8) I smushed that quotation up a bit - sorry about that - but I wanted to question whether "traditional education" is the issue. I wonder it's simply that people have other things to do. I'm thinking about Jon Stewart's remarks about "the Busy Majority." ( Involvement in #PLENK2010 is one more thing to do. This week (Week 5 apparently) there are readings as usual - and discussions to follow - and activities and presentations for those who are more actively involved. I never made it through all of last week's readings and discussions! Out of all the participants who's got the time as well as the will to create more information to help beginners with the concepts addressed by the course?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Personal Learning Networks - low-enough tech?

I'm getting started on reviewing the material for Week 4 of PLENK 2010 (Personal Learning Environments Networks and Knowledge 2010). I was also participating in the Commonwealth of Learning's discussion on OER (Open Education Resources.) Participants from Africa and other parts of the world noted that in some cases printed material still works best. Students may not have access to much in the way of technology - and even the distribution of printed material is hampered by lack of funds. In those cases what happens to the concept of a PLE? Is it still a "PLE" is what you've got is a notebook and the books on the shelf of your library and meeting up face-to-face with your instructor or other students and there's no zingy social media involved? I guess we're just up against the digital divide in some cases. (Another OER discussion participant also noted that African higher education institutions could choose to make education a high priority and get those networkds installed and teach teachers how to use technology. Archive for the OER discussions at )

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Graphic syllabi

Mauri Collins posted some information from John Walber at Learning Times on a podcast about graphic syllabi.

Robin Smith interviewed by Jonathan Finkelstein on graphic syllabi

Smith's book: Conquering the Content: A Step-by-Step Guide to Online Course Design"(Jossey-Bass) Chapter 1 "Design with Learning in Mind" is available as a PDF at

More on graphic syllabi:

Linda Nilson The Graphic Syllabus and the Outcomes Map: Communicating Your Course
Jossey-Bass 2007. Information about the content at

Nilson. Power Point on graphic syllabi

Smith points out that sometimes course material is organized by tools: Here are the lecture notes; here are the Power Points; here are the class readings; here are the discussions. She suggests that this doesn't help students grasp an overview of the concepts addressed in the course. A graphic syllabus can help students visualize the relationship between the concepts. However... I'm thinking about David Allen's GTD ideas where organizing your work by tools allows you to decide what you can tackle for "next actions". What "next actions" can you take to help you complete your projects when you are in your office? What "next actions" can you take if you find yourself with time to make phone calls? What "next actions" can you take if you have time to sit and read? I wouldn't want to give up organizing by tools. I would think that one of the best things we can do with our syllabi is help students organize the work for the course. Maybe I'm resisting the graphic syllabus idea. I just don't think "concept map" as well as some people.

In wandering around I found TeachPhilosophy101 (TΦ101) - an intro to teaching for philosophy faculty and grad students that addresses traditional face-to-face courses. This site seems to have social media, etc. relegated to a "non-traditional materials" tab - but blogs ,clickers, websites, podcasts more than one place on the site.

Friday, October 1, 2010

PLENK 2010 notes and other activities

The PLENK2010 Elluminate session on Wednesday (Sept 29) by Janet Clarey - interesting! She provided a lot of space in her presentation resulting in a lot of chat among the participants. I came away with names (Jim Groom ) and links to check out ( and and )
The group got on to the topic of privacy. What about tools such as Foursquare that pin-point one's location? Are we giving ourselves over to commercial interests? Is what we're giving up in privacy worth it? What about students' privacy when educators insist that students post their work without password-protection? Some say that privacy is a lost cause. Why fight it? We have more transparency than ever - as if we all live in a small town. Transparency become the norm. (What about the tragedy of the student at Rutgers who committed suicide after a video of him having sex was posted on the Internet without his permission? No right to privacy? How much life-logging do we need? Do we have a right to decide how we're presenting ourselves to a general public?)

Reading the Chronicle yesterday. An article by Jennifer Howard called Conference Explores How to Find—and Make Findable—Information in a Digital Sea (Sorry! this article is for subscribers only) sent me off to look at the ITHAKA Sustainable Scholarship Conference 2010 and then to Google's "user happiness" guy Daniel Russell's home page ( and then on to his SearchReSearch blog ( to see what he has to say about user research skills - and to his August 29, 2010 post "Why libraries?" and looking at his "20 Things You Probably Don't Know About Search... But Really Should () where he outlines six components of expertise (pure engine technique, domain knowledge, assessment, information mapping, search strategy, site-specific knowledge) and where he has some good examples of how to do a search - and then... over to Google Web Search - Classroom Lessons and Resources ( and "Why is Search Easy & Hard: Search Quality and User Happiness" and then back to ITHAKA to read up on their report on University Publishing in a Digital Age (July 2007) and then over to the ERIAL (Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries) site ( where I noticed that they have a book coming on Spring 2011 titled College Libraries and Student Culture: Learning from Collaborative Research.... I like the way anthropologists have become engaged in studying the use of libraries and library users.