Four Ways Educators Can Think About the Future

Forward to 2014 new year conceptHow should educators think about the future? A better way to phrase the question might be, ‘how can educators best think about an unpredictable future for education in a connected and open learning environment’? A recent article Four Keys to Thinking about the Future featured in Harvard Business Review offers what I believe is relevant, practical and unique strategies that any individual faced with change or ambiguity would do well by. This post reviews the four methods outlined in the article and though written for a business audience the ideas are universal and readers will see how applicable each is to an education context. It was the symposium The Next Big Thing: A Historical Approach to Thinking About the Future, sponsored by the Legatum Institute, Harvard Business Review and the USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study that provided inspiration for the Four Keys article.

Confronting ambiguity is one of the issues that came up time and again…the day-long symposium, called “The Next Big Thing: a Historical Approach to Thinking about the Future,” [that] included a small, formidable mix of business leaders, technologists, historians, economists, defense experts, pollsters, and philosophers. 

Though there were few educators in the mix, [and the purpose of the conference was to examine how different disciplines think about the future] the outcomes appear relevant to all. The Four Key strategy differs from traditional advice on how to approach change in an uncertain future — it’s far more proactive. The Four Keys suggest incorporating a point of view with great depth and breath—it involves listening carefully something that is most difficult to do when holding firm convictions about a given topic, and studying similar patterns or events from history, not because history repeats itself, but because history often rhymes (Gedmin). The third key also provides a fresh perspective by encouraging individual think, in contrast to groupthink. Key four, learning to deal with ambiguity, is one we’ve all heard before, yet is stellar advice, though often the most difficult.

Four Keys as per Four Keys to Thinking About the Future
1) Enhance your power of observation, in other words listen up.  In our culture of infinite distractions, listening is becoming a lost art.  The article includes several links to related articles about listening and patience, though this essay The Power of Patience is brilliant.

2) Appreciate the value of being (a little) asocial. The author warns of groupthink, a dangerous phenomenon and encourages one to think outside of the box, yet how do you actually do it, when life and livelihood generally depend on operating inside a box? (Gedmin)

3) Study history. I couldn’t agree more with this point. So many mistakes could be avoided had someone done some research into what was done prior, identifying what worked [and didn’t] and why

4) Learn to deal with ambiguity. As the saying goes, just do it.

Conclusion
A worthy read as we head into 2014. The advice provided by the author sums it up well “consciously attempt to act on these four pieces of advice and I think you can only get better at anticipating the big things (and small things) that will come next”. 

Further Reading:

Three Social Trends That Will Influence Education in 2014

8540717756_396867dbab_cThere are patterns within the trend predictions for 2014 that are worthy of paying attention to. There is strong, if not overwhelming evidence that behaviour patterns of students, educators, employees and professionals are moving towards the use of social tools for learning, working and teaching. Collaborating seamlessly face-to-face and at a distance, bringing the human element to virtual interactions, and personalized learning will prevail in 2014; each facilitated by technology. But it’s not going to be about the technology, it will be about making connections by voice and/or visual, contributing to new knowledge, and learning with and from others—all mediated through social media. It will be the behaviours of students, lifelong learners and educators—their use of technology, specifically social media applications that will influence education in the upcoming year.

To date there have been a handful of predictions made by business and education entities about trends that will impact education in 2014; of the few there are common themes. What dominates is the idea that social media will serve users’ [employees, students, educators, administrators, etc.] needs for getting their work done (whatever that may be)—seamlessly and virtually.

Sources for Social Trends Affecting Education in 2014
The following post delves into the three social trends and the influence each will have on education sector. The sources chosen for this article are few, but solid (and are listed at the end of the post). The majority are from the education sector. The NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Education Edition Wiki for example, provides excellent insight into educational technology trends for 2014 (and is an interesting read). The majority of the content used for the Horizon Report published each year is generated in this wiki where education experts exchange ideas and engage in discourse. An article from the Nov/Dec 2013 EDUCAUSE Review provided yet another viewpoint on social media in education, suggesting that media ‘is coming of age’. Collectively the sources mentioned here, and the events of the past year provide a window into what we can expect in 2014.

The Three Social Trends 

images1)  Collaborating seamlessly whether at a distance or face-to-face, without technological barriers to get in the way is becoming a reality for professionals, students and educators, and will be integral to the education experience. With the selection of free and numerous high quality applications, and with a record of conversations and work stored ‘in the cloud‘, projects are available to access anytime, from any device. Google docs for example, allows several individuals to collaborate on one document; notes can be made, audio feedback incorporated, and team members can chat in real-time while editing the doc. Collaboration done remotely or within institutions is becoming synonymous with working and learning. Even more of a driving force for teamwork and creating knowledge though, is our current culture which embraces a global mindset. Collaboration today is becoming a necessity, not a nice-to-do.

Over the next year, students will drive the collaboration movement forward through peer projects, virtual study groups, and self-directed learning via their personal networks, though educators shouldn’t be far behind. One unexpected yet positive side effect of the MOOC phenomenon for some institutions, has been the positive outcomes from the collaborative experience among faculty members and institutional staff within and outside the institution. As a recent article in Forbes states, the silo mentality is challenged by social media—it’s not just about social anymore, it’s about creating something that reflects diversity.

 “Social is no longer just about collaboration. Social today is enabling businesses to break down organizational and hierarchical silos and barriers. It’s providing employees an opportunity to share knowledge and locate expertise.”  Forbes

The article in EDUCAUSE as mentioned earlier describes how social media tools are becoming viable methods for education endeavors.

“Social media tools will continue to evolve and flourish because they are not so much about the platform as they are about the content and about the credibility of the individuals producing and sharing the content.”  EDUCAUSE

2)  Humanizing interactions in online learning, meetings, presentations and classroom learning is an unmet need, soon to be addressed by the many new and improved synchronous and asynchronous tools. The lack of a ‘human touch’ has long been a criticism of online learning, but now as tools get better and the cost barrier falls, the ability to connect face-to-face virtually is becoming a reality in education, and will only expand over time as the comfort levels with the technology increases among educators. Tools used for synchronous chat and video conversations are Google+ Hangouts, FaceTime, WhatsApp, and Skype to name a few. It seems that students seek not only a connection with faculty and peers, but want a humanized experience, including personal feedback, especially in online learning. Asynchronous interaction (not in real-time) that is facilitated through other programs and applications, such as applications that record audio and video, are much improved and conducive to providing students with audio feedback. Learning Management platforms (LMS) also have improved substantially, many include robust tools for asynchronous communication.

Face-to-face interaction will not disappear; though as one educator stated in the New Horizon wiki, educators will need to create meaningful and rich experiences when  teaching in face-to-face environments. Lectures that are a one-way mode of communicating content will be a thing of the past. “I think this means that we simply need to make our face-to-face interaction more meaningful”, Sam in response to the notion that digital delivery will be the norm resulting in less face-to-face interaction.” NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Education Edition Wiki

Selection of Humanizing Tools

  • SlideKlowd an application that captures audience attention levels and incorporates audience feedback
  • Google Docs – Directions on how to incorporate audio feedback for student assignments
  • Twitter for Education, Center for Instruction & Research Technology, University of North Florida

3) Personalizing learning experiences where learners are taking control of their learning, not relying upon institutions or companies for providing education and/or vocational development they want and need, is just beginning—in 2014 the movement will continue. This applies to graduate students, educators seeking professional development, professionals, employees in the workplace, and life-long learners. The growth of MOOC platforms and Mozilla Badges, along with the ability to record and document alternative learning through various platformsLinked In, Degreed, for example, demonstrates how life-long learners are taking charge and engaging with education via social media, as well as using it for documenting and sharing.

“With the explosion of web 2.0 and social media tools and the integration of these tools into learning, it is no longer sustainable, economical, nor logical to leverage an internal faculty development staff to develop training resources for these technologies and train local faculty” Eva, NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Education Edition Wiki

globe_mouseProfessional development for educators will shift to a personalized approach, where educators build a personal network using social media tools, connect and collaborate virtually with other educators to fulfill their own learning needs.

There is much discussion among educators about how effective undergraduate students are at self-directed learning; how capable are young adults who don’t know what they don’t know? This point is debatable. However an emerging trend in undergraduate education is what might be called ‘alternative learning’, where the learner gets to choose his or her own learning path based upon their interests. Many readers may be familiar with the UnCollege program, which I wrote about last year. There are many variations of the ‘uncollege’ learning path, and this too will grow over time, however, this is another trend to cover in another post.

Conclusion
Though we can predict and make an educated guess what the year 2014 will hold for education, we won’t really know until we are in it—knee deep. The year 2012 named by the New York Times as the Year-of-the-MOOC, shook the foundations of education, and no one saw it coming. Will social media influence education by increasing collaboration, humanize the learning experience, and support personalized learning in 2014? Time will tell.

Sources:

Image Credit: Social learning, MKHMarketing Flickr creative commons

MOOCs as Non-Disruptors: So, Where Do we go From Here?

I like to call this the year of disruption,” says Anant Agarwal, president of edX, “and the year is not over yet.” New York Times (November 2, 2012)

Chaos Ahead Traffic SignMassive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are not disrupting traditional higher education as predicted by Anant Agarwal, president of edX almost one year ago. To date, MOOCs are not bubble-busters, tuition-busters, or even ‘democratizers’ of higher education. Granted MOOCs do show great promise for continuing education and professional development for working adults, but the value of MOOCs in undergraduate education is questionable. Moreover, the lack of data supporting positive learning outcomes with the MOOC format is for the most part, nonexistent. Given that considerable time, money, and energy have preoccupied institutional resources as applied to MOOCs, now is as good as time as any to re-focus and leverage what we do know about MOOCs gleaned from faculty and instructor experiences.

Discussions about improving access and expanding graduation rates by leveraging technology effectively has stalled in recent months by over-exuberance and misinformation about MOOCs. It doesn’t help that several institutions have excluded faculty and other affected stakeholders from conversations and strategic planning in the first place. Open dialogue about a variety of topics with stakeholders is needed, for instance discussions about i) the changes in knowledge acquisition due to abundance of information and resources, ii) the use of mobile devices, iii) student demand for learning anytime and anywhere, iv) online learning and MOOCs [and the difference between the two], v) open educational resources, etc.

The Way Forward
Constructive discussions leading to position statements or institutional guidelines for each of these areas should include affected stakeholders,  BUT a starting point is productive discourse by informed parties. A core element of any successful debate, negotiation or constructive discussion is knowledge of the topic at hand. Including a grasp of the differing perspectives of the issue. In this instance, institution leaders, faculty, and administrators don’t need to be experts in online learning, MOOCs or open education resources for example, but should be informed before engaging in discussions and decisions pertaining to changes in learning models or methods.

Fortunately, faculty documented experiences with MOOCs and online learning have come to light. For instance, a survey conducted for The Chronicle identified that faculty gained deeper insight into their own teaching and learning, and how online learning ‘works’. The majority of faculty claimed to benefit personally and professionally.

The demographics may explain the overwhelming positivity found among faculty members: 93.5 percent of instructors thought teaching a MOOC was beneficial to them personally or professionally, and 78.7 percent were likely to recommend teaching one to their colleagues.The Chronicle (2013)

Professor Karen Head of Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Literature, Media, and Communication, blogged about her teams’ experience developing and facilitating a MOOC, First-Year Composition 2.0.  Similar to other professors, her attitudes about MOOCs as a viable replacement for undergraduate education did not change, but the experience provided insight into her own teaching and learning.

“If we define success by the raw numbers, then I would probably say No, the course was not a success…However, if we define success by lessons learned in designing and presenting the course, I would say Yes, it was a success. From a pedagogical perspective, nobody on our team will ever approach course design in the same way. We are especially interested in integrating new technologies into our traditional classes for a more hybrid approach.” The Chronicle, 2013

Professor Duneier of Princeton taught one of the first courses on Coursera, Introduction to Sociology. Duneier openly shared his enthusiasm for MOOCs, writing an opinion piece after the completion of the courses’ first offering. However, he recently backed away from teaching his MOOC, due to the unfavorable contract terms between Coursera and higher ed institutions and its faculty. Duneier acted from an informed perspective, and his positional statement will no doubt influence the path and direction of MOOCs and online education within his own institution.

Princeton professor Mitchell Duneier told The Chronicle of Higher Education Tuesday that he will no longer teach his class out of concerns that it could undermine public higher education.  Duneier told the Chronicle that his Coursera class was “one of the greatest experiences of [his] career” and that he’d like to teach another MOOC at some point — but under the right circumstances.”  GIGA OM, 2013

And another perspective from Duke University’s Professor Starn:

“MOOCs are an exciting learning option, Starn said, noting, however, that it cannot compare to the value of a face-to-face lesson…Although his experience with MOOCs was mixed, Starn is choosing to teach the course again and is looking forward to it.”  Duke Chronicle, 2013

Conclusion – So Where do we go from here?
Higher education, especially in public institutions is complex—yet at the very least, stakeholders familiar with the current issues and events affecting higher education and their respective institution will benefit greatly—personally and as a voice in their institution. Imagine if all faculty, administrators, policy-makers, and board members participated in a MOOC or  online course as a student?

I close with this excerpt from Professor Head’s blog piece. She’s nailed it—”the positive conversation is just beginning“—will you be part of it?

“I’d like to close with this challenge: Please continue to think about the process and practice of teaching MOOCs as objectively as possible, using constructive academic discourse. We frequently hear this topic talked about in terms of “disruption,” a word I really disdain. I wonder how such a term—meaning disorder, turmoil, destruction —became the preferred way to talk about improving education. Why haven’t we gravitated instead to words like augment, extend, progress, or strengthen? Our MOOC has ended, but a larger, more positive conversation is just beginning.” 

Further Reading:

How Educators Can Make Time for Professional & Personal Development

Time business concept.What better time than the week after Labor Day, the traditional back-to-school kick-off, for educators to embrace opportunities for professional and personal development (PD). Though for some just the thought of beginning a PD course of any kind is overwhelming, even stressful. The most frequently cited barrier to engaging in extracurricular learning activities is time; not having enough of it, not being able to find it, and wishing for more. Warranted too, given the frenetic pace of our current culture. This post explores why embracing an online PD experience, whether an un-course, a MOOC or other, is enriching, fulfilling and motivating. I also address the time factor, and suggest how to approach investing time for PD learning with a different perspective so it becomes stress relieving, not stress inducing.

My original plan for this post was to share two PD learning opportunities that begin next week, Open Education Experience 2013, and How to Teach Online with Leeward College [both cMOOCs], but I decided to share first a viewpoint on PD that may be helpful for readers. I’ll will conclude though, with details on the two learning opportunities.

For an overview of MOOCs, and the difference between cMOOCs and xMOOCs, read The Ultimate Student Guide to xMOOCs and cMOOCs from MOOC News & Reviews.

Integrated Learning
The beauty of engaging in learning online within a community, in a MOOC format for instance, is that it’s driven by individuals’ learning goals, their contributions, and provides learning opportunities beyond what could be experienced solely in a face-to-face space. There’s also the added bonus of the opportunity to create a network of people to learn from and with, often referred to as a personal learning network. Yet learning this way should not be viewed as an extra activity on a to-do list. What makes PD successful is when learners choose to engage in experiences that inspire, that spark interest and motivation. Learning is not a chore when integrated within—with what you do, what you are passionate about.  I’ll provide an example here from my experience to illustrate the point.

This month I’m learning through Statistics in Education for Mere Mortals, from Canvas Network.  I’m not taking this course because I love statistics, and I’ve already completed several statistics courses. But I chose to take the course because of a work project I’m involved with. I’m in the process of researching pedagogical methods and principles that are applicable to online learning environments, and at the same time studying participation patterns of MOOC learners. The course [which could be classified as a xMOOC], coincides time wise and content wise with what I’m working on now. The professor is not only teaching theoretical concepts associated with educational research, but is using the course participants for a research study about MOOCs. He’ll be sharing the results with the participants of the course. I benefit in two ways, 1) by experiencing the instructional methods used within the course which allows me to study pedagogy used in a given online course, and 2) by being able to review and analyze the MOOC research results. Thus, I find myself making time to invest in the course.

I’ve also completed a few cMOOCs, connectivist MOOCs, which is a different experience from an xMOOC altogether. To clarify though, one experience is not better than the other, they are merely different. My cMOOC experiences have been expansive, social, even organic in the sense that my learning was developed through a series of varied connections that fit together to produce sometimes unexpected [learning] results. Each of the learning experiences I’ve described here work for me at a certain time within a given year. Though I invest in personal and professional learning for the most part year-round,  it’s the type and level of participation that varies, and is dependent upon numerous factors including current work projects, personal commitments, etc.

How to Make it Happen
Professional development is most successful, when time is devoted to learning that aligns with one’s work, personal projects, interests, and/or passions. The result is, that rather than having to find the time for PD, it happens because we make time. Though I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that even with the best laid plans for PD, it can’t always happen. ‘Stuff’ can get it in the way—life happens. Having a strategy for learning though does support success with PD in the long run.

Tips for Making Time for PD
There is a learning curve to learning effectively in an online environment — how to discern what to engage with, when and how. Even how to use technical tools associated with online learning, whether it be the course site, Twitter, a blog platform, etc requires time to learn. I could devote a whole post to this topic, and I will do so in the #OOE 2013 course, during a webinar I’m facilitating, “Success in OOE 2013: How to Make the Most of your Learning Experience” on September 18, 2013 (OOE 2013 calendar here).

In the meantime, below are three quick and dirty tips:
1) set aside a set amount of time each week for your own learning, block the time in your calendar
2) find a course or learning experience that interests you, and register. Check out mooc.ca to find a calendar of upcoming MOOCs in a breadth of topics
3) write about what you are learning: blog, write articles, or keep a personal journal (though usually you learn more when you share). That’s only the beginning. I’ve included some resources to move beyond the quick and dirty at the end of the post.

Two Learning Experiences
cropped-Gweb_Logo211) Open Online Experience 2013 is a 10-month long learning experience that aims to provide participants with a rich, immersive experience into the study and use of educational technology in teaching and learning. It is a professional development program with a difference: it is open to any teacher or faculty member who has internet access, and it has been designed on a “connectivist” model. To register, click here.

2) How To Teach Online” is a massive, open, online course (MOOC) that takes a broad view of teaching online. This five-week MOOC is for instructors of all experiences who teach online. Whether you are new to online teaching or want to improve your craft of teaching, “How To Teach Online” is a great place to share, connect, and learn from others around the world.

This is an open-access MOOC – no fees are required to join and participate. For this MOOC to be successful, we emphasize and are dependent upon, participant contributions and discussions as a means of exploring how to teach online. Your contributions are what makes the MOOC a success. Click here to register.

Resources

Expert Panel brings Clarity to MOOCs in Business+MOOCs Hangout

Clear as a [cow] Bell

    ‘Clear-as-a [Cow]-Bell’, by hynkle

The discussion on the Business+MOOC: the Hangout video recording with its expert panel is a must see for individuals within organizations considering implementing a MOOC and/or wondering how it might fit in with the orgnization’s strategy. Even if you are not a business person, but want to learn more about MOOCs, you’ll find the discussion enlightening. The recorded session brings clarity to what a MOOC can accomplish and what it can’t, as well as raising issues for further deliberation. Hosted by Jay Cross, the discussion features educators, business leaders, and the ‘rock stars of MOOCdom‘ as named by Cross. In this post I’ll list the panel members, highlight key themes of the discussion, provide links for further reading. I’ve also embedded the video recording at the end of the post. The session recording is an hour-long, which I realize is a significant time commitment, but it is highly recommend for those wanting further clarity about MOOCs. Note: the session formally begins at the 09:30 minute mark.

Why we Need Clarity
With any new phenomenon like the MOOC, it’s expected that there will be numerous misconceptions about what it can accomplish. There is a tendency to want to be part-of-the-action and get involved. This is a normal reaction. Though, better decisions can be made when there is full understanding of what the phenomenon can do for a given organization; how it might [or might not] fit in with the overall strategy. Numerous organizations may be considering the MOOC format to address a need or problem, yet its needs may be met more efficiently and effectively by another method or tool. These are the types of issues discussed in the session. Is a MOOC applicable to workplace training or education needs? What about to a business wanting to promote a service or product?

The Business+MOOC Panel
Host: Jay Cross
Educators:  Dave Cormier, Stephen Downes, Terri Griffith and George Siemens
Business People: Jos Arets, Bert De Coutere, Lal Jones-Beyy (from Coursera) Mark Finnern,  Jerry Michalski

Highlights of Hangout: Themes and Statements 

  • Definition of MOOC (Cormier), Massive: means scale, requires mass to facilitate connections within a network, Open: goes beyond ‘free’, means no barriers, not in a closed environment (i.e. within a business, only for employees), Online: changes the nature of learning, Course: provides a format and structure, a ‘flag pole’ for learners.
  • The user/learner is in control, not the business or course organizers. For this reason outcomes cannot be controlled and may differ from those intended. Organizations can’t control the message.
  • Learners need to be self-directed, intrinsically interested in the topic, and responsible. In other words MOOC format will not work for compliance training, or required skills an employee needs to learn for the job.
  • Scale is needed. A MOOC is not a MOOC with thirty, forty or even fifty participants.
  • Why is certification required? The point was raised, is providing a certificate for proof of MOOC completion not contradictory to the MOOC concept? The certificate model can be viewed as a carry over from the traditional education model. Discussion included using peer feedback and review as evidence of a learners skill level for potential employers. Another option—individuals demonstrate competencies for potential employers through simulation exercises, workplace contracts, etc.
  • Difference between and xMOOC and cMOOC (Downes). Coursera model is an xMOOC which is massive, though different from a cMOOC; is a format that is structured around established learning outcomes of a given topic.
  • Design Model for MOOCs. What is the course design model for a MOOC? This point was raised though not explored due to time constraints, but was put on the table as an important topic for future discussions.

Further Reading:

Conclusion
The recorded session of the Hangout is below. Fast forward to the 09:31 minute mark within the recording, this is where the session officially begins. There may be more panel discussions on this topic offered by Cross in the future—stay tuned to Cross’ Web page to keep posted. Enjoy!

How to Create a Robust and Meaningful Personal Learning Network [PLN]

This post describes how educators can develop a personal learning network that supports meaningful and relevant learning. The MOOC, Education Technology & Media, etmooc, is used here as a working example of how to develop a PLN.

My Personal Learning Network is the key to keeping me up-to-date with all the changes that are happening in education and how technology can best support and engage today’s students.” Brian Metcalfe: teacher, blogger at lifelonglearners.com

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A visual image of participants in an open, online course- etmooc, which shows the potential to find and create personal connections as part of one’s PLN.  (image credit: Alec Couros)

I wrote a post recently about how to develop a personal learning environment [PLE], the need and benefits of doing so,  for educators in particular. A PLE is a self-directed learning space; a virtual  framework that consists of tools to collect, curate and construct knowledge that is customized to an individual’s learning goals and interests.

  What is a PLN?
Another dimension of the PLE is the personal learning network [PLN]. Though the two are often used interchangeably there is a difference. A PLN is an aspect of PLEs, where the individual has a group of people within his or her virtual professional network, and the relationship with each is based upon a common interest, collaborative project or research. Communication and connections are made via social platforms or other Web applications, with the primary intent of sharing or gathering information. Both the PLE and PLN are based on the theory of connectivism, a learning theory conceptualized by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. The premise of connectivism is that the learner connects with nodes [connection points that deliver content or facilitate interaction] within a network, and subsequently develops knowledge through this series of connections.

Twitter 6x6

Twitter 6×6 (Photo credit: Steve Woolf)

PLN versus PLE
The personal learning network can be a rich source of learning that fosters connections that become part of our professional development as the quotation at the beginning of the post from Metcalfe describes. Yet building a PLN takes time, energy and purposeful actions, which is why I find it helpful to delineate the two concepts. A PLE can be created independently, building and collecting content sources from the Web, including creating content through blogs, podcasts, Slideshares, etc. A natural extension of one’s PLE is the development of relationships with individuals that emerge from the process of building the PLE, which is how the PLN develops. When connections from a PLN are engaged, knowledge creation becomes interdependent.

Example of a PLN
I will use my own PLE building experience to illustrate the process of developing a PLN, which I have developed  through a variety of vehicles: this blog, Twitter, Pearltrees, Goodreads, and by participating in various MOOCs. This process has allowed me to establish personal connections with numerous knowledgeable and interesting individuals. I developed the majority of these friends through comments on blogs [mine and theirs], Twitter and email. That is the beauty of a PLN, it is dynamic—expanding and contracting as time and energy allows.

Logo for etmooc from etmooc.org

Logo for etmooc from etmooc.org

How to use a cMOOC develop your PLN
The nature of cMOOC is to learn, to connect, to share and create knowledge, which makes MOOCs an ideal venue to build a PLN. Though the level of participation and involvement is up to the learner, if one does not want to, or is unable to build personal connections due to time constraints, that is acceptable and appropriate, there are no rules to cMOOCs. However if building a PLN is a goal, the onus is on the individual to reach out to make connections and develop learning relationships.

In the etmooc we are primarily using Google+ Community , Blackboard Collaborate and Twitter to interact. Blogs are the primary tools that make learning visible, where participants write about and share their experiences about what they are learning.  I’ve listed several strategies that might be helpful to readers who want to develop their own PLN within a cMOOC:

  • Participate in the introductions by creating a personal introduction and by reading others. In a large MOOC it’s impossible, and unnecessary to read all.
  • Engage with participants through introductions by commenting on fellow participant introductions, two or three is ideal.
  • [Try to] Participate in at least one of the events planned for a given week, i.e. webinar, Twitter chat, or Blackboard session. It is through these interactions that you are likely to find someone with a common interest. All the MOOCs I’ve been part of, have a community of organizers that provide support and resources in all aspects of participation, for example how to participate in a Twitter chat, how to use Twitter or set-up a blog etc. etmooc is a good example of such support.
  • Participate daily (if possible), by reading blog posts, daily updates, following/participating in Twitter conversations.
  • Contribute and share by commenting on others’ posts and engaging in conversation. I have found it is through conversation within a blog’s comment functions that I first established my PLN connections. I aim to be supportive of readers that do take the time to comment by responding to their comments and reading their personal blogs.
  • Look for opportunities to join and participate in sub-groups that often form within a MOOC. As we see from the web diagram of the etmooc, there are hundreds of participants—it is through the more intimate groups that spontaneously develop where  more meaningful and deep connections are made.

Closing Thoughts
Developing a PLN does require a commitment of time and energy, but the rewards are abundant. Not only does interacting within a virtual space satisfy the need for social interaction and connection, it also can be the method of professional development, personal satisfaction, relevance, adaptability, and most importantly—may allow us the opportunity to make a difference.

Resources

How To Create a Personal Learning Environment to Stay Relevant in 2013

“Our understanding of learning has expanded at a rate that has far outpaced our conceptions of teaching. A growing appreciation for the porous boundaries between the classroom and life experience…has created not only promising changes but also disruptive moments in teaching.” EDUCAUSE Review, 2012

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This quote from Disrupting Ourselves: The Problem of Learning in Higher Education (Bass, 2012), gives a good a reason as any for educators to develop a Personal learning Environment [PLE]; a space where we can keep up with the experimental modes of learning, instruction, changing pedagogy and instructional methods that surfaced in 2012. In a previous post I introduced the concept of PLEs and touched on why educators may want to consider developing a PLE for 2013. In this post I’ll outline how educators can develop their own PLE, where to start, and I’ll provide specific action steps, and what tools to use. First though, I’ll share three convincing reasons why we should get serious about PLEs—why they aren’t just for students.

Three Reasons Why Educators Need a PLE
Education is in a phase of disruption (not news to anyone)—and it’s not just a blip or a bump, but is what Harvard professor and author Clayton Christenson describes as disruptive innovation. This concept describes what is happening in higher education now. We can see disruption in the new forms of course delivery  (i.e. Udacity, Cousera), teaching methods (i.e. flipped classrooms), and new learning models (i.e. competency based learning). These experimental forms of teaching (MOOCs) and assessing (peer review, assessment centers) are changing how educators teach, and impact the student/instructor relationship. Below are three [convincing] reasons why educators should consider creating a PLE:

  1. We need to disrupt ourselves: The model of higher education is at a turning point. PLEs provide a framework for us to expand our knowledge in our areas of expertise, and in teaching and instructional methods that are and will be appropriate and relevant for the digital era.
  2. The Instructor’s role has changed. The learner is moving to the center of the learning and teaching model, and relies upon a variety of sources for learning. PLEs will help instructors not only stay relevant in his or her field, but will provide an opportunity to learn how to use tools that will enhance instructional methods and adapt to the changing paradigm.
  3. Access to the Internet has changed how we teach and learn—forever. New tools devices, and applications are changing our culture and society. Education is not immune. We need to adapt and respond—PLEs will help us to do so appropriately by responding from a position of knowledge and understanding.

Creating a PLE: Where to Start
Begin with a model: As I wrote about before a personal learning environment is considered to be a concept rather than an entity—and concepts need a framework or model to flesh out the details.  As with any other model, a diagram is helpful in describing, shaping and explaining the concept. However, by the very nature of PLEs each diagram will be unique. If you peruse this site, you will see what I mean, no two are the same.

Personal Learning Environment: Janson Hews

Personal Learning Environment: Janson Hews (Photo credit: Janson Hews)

There are several helpful articles describing how to create a PLE on the Web, including several with a focus on creating a Personal Learning Network (a component of the PLE). Below are guidelines gleaned from the resources collected, which I’ve compiled into four steps.

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Chris Sessums “Weblog Brainstorming” diagram, eduspaces.net

  1. Decide on upon areas of focus: establish personal goals for learning. A PLE is holistic, and can include professional and personal interests.
  2. Determine which Web 2.0 tools to use: A PLE requires use of Web tools and applications to create a personal and virtual learning space. A PLE is also dynamic—the learner is an active participant and doing the three key functions: Collect and curate relevant content, resources into a meaningful collection in a virtual space, Construct and create to develop new knowledge and understanding. This could be through blogs, Slideshare presentations, Wikis etc. Sharing is inherent to a PLE, learning does not happen in a vacuum, but involves communicating with others. Another phase in a PLE is collaborating, working with peers to create new knowledge through digital objects, documents, etc. Start slow, it takes time to learn a new application and build and develop content and resources.
  3. Establish time each week to developing the PLE. It takes time to develop and grow a robust PLE.
  4. Create a diagram of the PLE. The purpose of the diagram is to provide a framework for learning goals, identify tools and provide a digital footprint and record of the PLE.

Closing Thoughts

  • PLEs are dynamic, they change and adapt to learning needs and goals.
  • Start small – developing a PLE takes time.
  • If you are able, share your thoughts or diagrams – I am sure readers would appreciate hearing from other educators.

To read the follow-up post on Personal Learning Portfolios and how to create on, click here.

Resources:

Photo Credit: Learn, by Marc Brannan, Flickr