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2009 – That was the year, that was. December 27, 2009

Posted by IaninSheffield in Inspiration, TELIC.
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It’s been quite a year, one way or another. Like many schools, we’re currently engaged in a number of quite significant ICT developments, not least of which is wide-reaching review to take stock of where we are. It’s been a big year at work for me too – my role having expanded rather. But that’s all good. It doesn’t worry me at all in the way it once might and I feel better placed than I’ve ever been to look forward to the challenges that 2010 might bring. I feel that way, more so than ever before, because of a couple of things which happened during 2009:

  • I was introduced to Twitter, thanks to @geoffowen.  Other than using Delicious, I hadn’t really ‘got’ the social networking thing; I simply wasn’t aware that the tools that mediate social networks could be levered for personal and professional learning.  Twitter changed all that . . . or rather the people who have begun to form my learning ecosystem changed all that.  My views on professional development have changed . . . in fact my views on many things have changed as a result of being able to benefit from the wisdom of others.  As someone for whom the formal learning experience was always predominantly a solitary activity, I’ve begun to appreciate just how much more powerful social learning actually can be.
  • I attended my first TeachMeet. I was amazed at the concept, at the enthusiasm and ingenuity of the presenters and was delighted to be surrounded by nothing but positivity towards ICT . . . on a Friday evening, after a week’s work!  I met some of the marvellous people I had begun to follow on Twitter and found a whole load more I followed soon after.
  • I found blogging.  Sure I’d read plenty of blogs, subscribed to a number and even stirred up the courage to comment on a few.  But as is evidenced here, I finally took the plunge and began my own.  Why?  Well for me, it’s a way of getting thoughts out of my head – in giving them physical form they have to be refined, distilled and made coherent (yes I know that doesn’t always come through thanks very much!).  Even better are those  occasions when someone comments on a post, which stimulates you to clarify or expand those ideas yet further.
  • Got me an iPod Touch.  The two colleagues with whom I work have iPhones and I began to see that there was a whole lot more to them than just being a ‘cool’ phone . . . but I didn’t and don’t need a phone like that.  And then I found out that the Touch does a lot of what the iPhone does.  Boy has it opened my eyes to what mobile learning could be!  It’s simply the smallest workstation you could have.  (I think!)

There’s been a whole load of other stuff that’s gone on too, but I think these four things have had and will continue to have the biggest effect on the way I learn and the way I’ll approach my job.

Thanks, 2009.

PLE, VLE, MLE, FLE, LMS . . . aren’t there enough TLA’s? November 8, 2009

Posted by IaninSheffield in TELIC.
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From Moggs Oceanlane on Flickr

Learning Platform, Personalised Learning Environment, Managed Learning Environment, Virtual Learning Environment, Learning Gateway, Learning Management System. So many terms have evolved for describing the mechanisms or spaces we provide for learning online. Why is this? Do they all mean the roughly the same thing or do they all provide different affordances? When we think of the real learning spaces we associate with schools, we think classroom, gymnasium, science lab, workshop, and we all have a reasonable mental picture of what those spaces are, how they’re used and what we do in them, possibly because as younger people, we’ve all experienced learning in those spaces. But VLE? What mental image does that conjure up . . . if any?

For me there was a chronology to my understanding of these terms which began around 2001(ish!) with VLE. As I understood it, a VLE was a way for teachers to provide access to learning resources for their students and those resources could be marshalled into sequences of activities which provided a learning journey (shudders as thinks about current overuse of term ‘journey’). VLE then developed into Managed Learning Environment and I saw this as an integration with schools’ information management systems which therefore expanded what was possible. Learning Platforms and Gateways bubbled into view next, offering additional functionalities like collaborative features, assessment tools and Web 2.0 technologies. With the current focus on Personalised learning, it’s hardly surprising that the latest incarnation would be the Personal Learning Environment in which the learner is better able to enlist features, tools and learning activities they feel are appropriate to their needs. But they’re just my observations and others will doubtless think differently.

There is a common theme though . . .the word learning occurs in each term. An accident? I hope not. VLE’s felt more like a teacher tool, where information was pushed in the students’ direction in the order chosen by the teacher; perhaps they should have been called Virtual Teaching Environments. In a sense they mirrored what took (and takes) place in many classrooms. Appending the term ‘Managed’ to learning environment did nothing to alter that; indeed the term has even greater connotations of control – was it the organisation doing the managing? Similarly Learning Management Systems. With Learning Platforms and Gateways, we’re hopefully getting closer to the ‘learning,’ though platform implies at least some measure of pre-ordained structure, whereas gateway suggests an access route, maybe a looking glass to wonders beyond! Until finally we arrive at Personalised systems in which some degree of control is given over to the learner. However, as George Siemens observed, ‘PLEs aren’t an entity, structural object or software program in the sense of a learning management system.’ So they might include a VLE as element, but may also include social networking sites, media storage and distribution sites, blogs and RSS feeds. They might also include the local library, newspapers handed out in the street, periodicals delivered to our door, friends we hang out with in the pub and the TV we might slump in front of at the end of a long day. It’s likely then that the truly personalised learning environment has incredibly fuzzy edges which blend together both online and offline worlds. George Siemens would rather have ‘ecology’ than environment. I think I prefer ‘ecosystem’ – it’s more to do with ‘community’ and ‘interactions;’ surely they’re at the very heart of learning? PLE – Personal Learning Ecosystem . . . wonder if it’ll catch on?

Gretchen Frage's PLE

From Gretchen Frage on Flickr

Next post has to be – visualising my personal learning ecosystem.