Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Google Scholar

I've been doing my lit review and searching for things like learning goals on Google Scholar. While the service works well, it makes you realize how much academic writing is still controlled by for-fee journals. It's so frustrating to find a great reference and then only get access to the abstract without paying $40 or whatever to read the rest. The web has changed our expectations for content like this.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Community Study

43 Things is still relatively new, so it's not surprising that there hasn't been much research done on it yet. A month ago I found 43 Things: A Community Study by Michael C. Habib, but I keep forgetting to post about it. It's more of an overview than an in-depth study, but there are some gems inside:
While some goals are related to 43 Things or elsewhere on-line, most goals will be carried out in a users offline life. Consequently, many of the entries are about progress in a users everyday life. It would then follow, that suggestions and ideas gained from other users of 43 Things are primarily being utilized off-line. This makes 43 Things a wonderful example of how weak ties and social networking online can be integrated into one's everyday life. This backs up the ideas presented in "The Internet and Everyday Life" (ed. Wellman and Haythornthwaite, 2002).

Usability for Rich Internet Applications

Not explicitly education-related, but Usability for Rich Internet Applications covers some of the patterns and design elements emerging in the current web apps. Think Flash is dead for primary web interfaces? Check out Fidelity Labs' Mortgage Search -- it's got clean navigation, a nice look, and quick interaction -- this could make a great learning object.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Tower of Babel

Babel Fish is hilarious sometimes. I got this gem translated from a Dutch post:
"Therefore here a vaster diagram of Jeremy Hiebert comes."
Wouldn't that make a great new blog tagline for headspacej? It would be fun to see a diagram of myself, more vast or not. I've been noticing a lot more international traffic lately, including another person in Spain who translated my PLE diagram into a Catalan version and posted it. Has the web finally moved beyond its early English-only roots?

It's easy to make fun of the garbled stuff coming out of these online translation tools, but in the bigger picture, aren't they just so Star Trek? It's amazing that I can plug the URL of German or French posts into a page and be able to understand enough of the translations to get the basic ideas. It's still difficult to use the tools to participate in a conversation -- I haven't had the courage to paste translated text into a comment box on someone's non-English site -- but it seems likely that the tools will keep getting better.

Update: Christian Long does some digging into the idea of the web as universal translator...

Friday, February 17, 2006

12 Days

Like I wrote in my comment on the post, this feels a bit like when you discover incredible new music and then find out that the band has just broken up: think:lab closing its doors in 12 days. It reminds me of my own blog-soul-search a couple of years ago, so I think I understand some of the reasons (read the whole post for some interesting insights on the challenges)...but this is a bummer.

Update 3/21/06: I haven't expressed how psyched I was when Christian decided to keep think:lab going, and he's been totally on fire ever since. This week he covers Time's cover story asking whether kids are too wired, with his usual depth and intensity...along with piles of other great stuff. So, extending my metaphor of the just-discovered-but-broken-up-band, I'm so glad this band decided to reunite and start touring again.

Personal Learning Environment Model

Thanks to some valuable feedback from Dave Tosh, Aaron Campbell, James Farmer, Aaron Nelson and Graham Attwell, I've spent some time fixing up my midnight-brain-dump e-portfolio model. As Aaron C. and James pointed out, the e-portfolio label just isn't working for these concepts anymore. It was easy to take potshots at institutions and vendors for wrecking the potential of e-portfolios, but it's not really true. It might have been the label itself that was too limiting from the beginning -- people believe that we store stuff from our past in portfolios. Maybe that past stuff shows some evidence of a learning process over time, but it exists almost entirely as artifacts of the past. That's still a valuable thing, and tools to help people store and display their stuff are now easy to find and use.

The standard models (and perceived purpose) of e-portfolios fall apart when you expect them to reflect something more holistic about who you are, what you're working on or thinking about right now, who you're reading and collaborating with, and what you plan to be pursuing and learning in the future. Better e-portfolio applications or methods will help us collect and publish our stuff, but we haven't (and maybe shouldn't have) really expected them to connect us to a network of people with shared interests and goals, or help me synthesize connections between my past work, current projects or future goals. It looks like the PLE (personal learning environment) is taking on those weighty expectations instead. Just as a PLE is not meant to be an LMS, the e-portfolio was not designed to be a PLE.

So how will the PLE escape the limiting shackles that kept e-portfolios from growing beyond glorified CVs or assessment hoops for students to jump through? I'll oh-so-humbly quote myself from my response to Dave's thoughtful post on the topic:
"The main differences could be that PLE's will be seen to exist inherently in a social context, connecting data and contacts from multiple (and often free) tools, as well as being owned and controlled by the learner. All of these were key in your initial framework for Elgg, which is perhaps why people seemed to have a hard time seeing it as an e-portfolio solution -- it didn't fit their mental model. If those elements (social context, multiple tools, free/open, learner-owned and controlled) emerge as defining characteristics of a proper PLE, then it actually will be something really different..."
Instead of "really different" at the end, I should have said something like "way more valuable for someone trying to actually learn stuff." Anyway, I went back and revised last week's e-portfolio model and came up with a PLE diagram I'm happier with. The main changes:
  • Changed the name of the whole exercise from E-Portfolio Model to Personal Learning Environment
  • Removed the e-portfolio label from the unifying box in the middle and distributed it throughout the whole environment as a contributing tool with several specific functions
  • Renamed the unifying box in the middle to "Self-Directed Learning Tools" to reflect the types of tools and functions that connect these concepts above and below -- although the label still sucks, this is a significant conceptual shift -- we're not talking about a PLE (or e-portfolio) as a tool itself. I'm not even sure that it can be created or designed by someone for someone else. Just as each person's desires, abilities and past experiences are different, each person's personal learning environment should be their own unique combination of tools, networks and methods that help them accomplish their goals. If the learning environment is truly personal, the tools and the learning are self-directed by definition.
  • Changed the contents of most of the boxes to reflect more specific tasks, tools, activities and data -- the more people-friendly language of the last one was quickly swamped with acronyms and jargon, but I resisted the urge to label each arrow with RSS. The most interesting to me right now: sending data to and from LMSs in courses (most self-directed learners take courses occasionally), the inclusion of IEP (individual learning plan) and PDP (personal development plan) in the "What You Want to Do" and the PLA (prior learning assessment) in the "What You've Learned" box -- these are all concepts with huge potential...leverage points in revolutionizing education systems.
  • Changed a label from "What You Can Do" to "What You've Learned" so it reflects a broader range of knowledge, rather than focusing exclusively on doing. That led me down the path of splitting "What You're Doing" into doing and learning as well, which made it natural to do the same to "What You Want to Do"...the result is more buckets for learning.
  • Labeled the top boxes more explicitly with their relationship to the past, present and future
  • Made most of the arrows bi-directional to reflect the flow of data in both directions
So, here it is past midnight again and a week later and this is still a messy work in progress. The key flaws in the whole thing are the lack of relationship between the boxes, the ugly embedding of a network within someone's "identity" and the minimized role of information -- it's implied in several places, but seems like it should be more important in any diagram about learning. Feedback welcome, of course.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

UK e-Portfolio Roundup

Dave and Stephen pointed to this interesting e-Portfolio roundup from the UK. More good thinking about the possible future direction of e-portfolios, and a nice recommendation for Elgg.

Friday, February 10, 2006

E-Portfolio Model

I've been thinking more about personal learning environments and pondering how they might be different than e-portfolios. Is the PLE just a new label that seems to focus more on individual needs and has more latitude to include different kinds of tools? Did vendors and institutions kill the initial promise of e-portfolios by trying to turn the concept into a single tool (product) used to measure student achievement?

Some of this pondering came out of another attempt to represent what I'm trying to do with my thesis in a concept map. The last one was a bit of a mess -- at the start I thought it might be too narrow, but ended up putting out tendrils into everything else. So with this one I stepped back a bit, attempting to simplify the language (removing the jargon and getting away from protocols/tools/tech terms) and concepts to distill what a person might actually want to do with a proper personal learning environment.

I'm still most interested in that one box called "What You Want to Do", which is where learning goals and 43 Things comes in. Having tools to help learners chart the future has not really been considered a big part of the e-portfolio/PLA scene, but I think it is coming. Overall, this is a much bigger vision than I had anticipated, which means I'm probably off-track and going too broad for the thesis again. I ended up changing the label in the middle to "E-Portfolio" as I saw some old familiar elements emerging. Now I'll have to go back now to see how Dave, Helen, George and others did a way better job of conceptualizing this a year or two ago when e-ports were all abuzz...all part of the learning process, I guess.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Get a GRIP

Not much to report on the thesis this week -- I finally finished the mandatory Graduate Research Integrity Program that somehow fell between the cracks when I took a couple of leaves of absence earlier in the program. Mostly just hoops to jump through, but I was interested to find out which kinds of research do not require review by the school's ethics committee.

Not that I'm trying to sneak through some unethical practices...but it would likely save some time if I could design the research so that I was only reviewing data that is already publicly available on 43Things (or in blogs, I presume) to meet this criteria: "Research about individuals in the public arena using only publicly available or accessible records without contact with the individual/s."

Monday, February 06, 2006

Push and Pull

A nice mix of ideas on differences between formal and informal learning and changing perceptions of e-learning in corporations: Push and Pull.

Friday, February 03, 2006

College Students Lacking Literacy Skills

Most College Students Lack Skills:
"More than 50 percent of students at four-year schools and more than 75 percent at two-year colleges lacked the skills to perform complex literacy tasks.

That means they could not interpret a table about exercise and blood pressure, understand the arguments of newspaper editorials, compare credit card offers with different interest rates and annual fees or summarize results of a survey about parental involvement in school.

The results cut across three types of literacy: analyzing news stories and other prose, understanding documents and having math skills needed for checkbooks or restaurant tips."
I know business and government leaders tend to rally around the need for more math/science/tech skills for workforce development, but if college-educated citizens can't understand a newspaper editorial, we've got way bigger problems than competitiveness and productivity.

Shamash Says

Shamash has a great personal reflection on finding life balance while working in education. It's a record of some of her journey through work and life and she appears to be approaching the crossroads:
"Maybe it’s time for me to switch careers: pursue my Ph.D. and teach at the university level or go to art school.

Maybe it’s time to take a year off and finish my novel.

Maybe it’s time to find a job that’s a better match with my values of living a balanced life."
In an earlier post, she used 43 Things as the inspiration for a writing assignment she gave to her students. The richness and variety of the results had her feeling hopeful and refreshed:
"Because, with a list like this, you have to think: If these kids are in charge of the world, it might not end up being such a bad place, afterall."
Her own reflective post has the feel of a good 43 Things list too -- big-picture to-dos full of desire for learning, creativity and engagement.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Comparing Formal, Open and Self-directed Learning

Stephen linked to Terry Anderson's excellent paper this week: Comparing Formal, Open and Self-directed Learning. Although he downplays the originality of the essay, this strikes me as a very clear, smart delineation of the different types of learning we're somewhat familiar with. It's not easy to classify these things in any meaningful way, but I think this is a great start.

Like Stephen, I'd probably quibble with some of the individual scores assigned to the different types, but I think that may be part of the point -- to get people thinking about different paths to learning and how each might be optimized. I'd swap the scores for Self-Directed and Formal learning on the "Freedom of Relationships" -- in my experience, I've had a much richer network of contacts and relationships in my self-directed learning (represented by this blog) than I ever did throughout my "formal" coursework for my masters program. And I was free to choose them from a vast pool of professionals all over the world, rather than being thrown together in an arbitrary class grouping with 25 people I had nothing in common with.

His focus on Open Learning is most interesting to me. It helps me understand his desire to integrate personal learning environments at Athabasca and makes me wish I had tempered my tone on my "expecting a screwdriver to work as a hammer" comment. These are worthy goals:
"Of particular personal interest is the capacity for Open Learning systems to increase their acceptance and attraction to learners by providing opportunities for social connection –- even while retaining control over the pace, place and time of that learning (see Anderson, 2005)."
I have also been saving a post from Choice Learning that references Terry's work and outlines another interesting project at the University of Alberta: Personal Life Recorder, Elgg and Personal Learner Space. Michael sees promise, but is also recognizing the difficulty arising from institutions providing "personal" learning spaces for students:
"We hope this social overlay of Elgg will enhance their learning experience, assist them in building an interactive, sharing community, and allow the 'mobile continuity' of their learning. In practice Elgg space should be owned by the learner – it is a collation of their portfolio of work and reflections. The learner Elgg space should live past the course, and could be integrated into the next course of the program or wherever they continue their studies. However as long as it resides on our school server, whether a student who is no longer registered can use that space is open to question."