School and PLEs – Chalk and Cheese!

26 03 2010

After reading Steve Wheeler’s blog post I feel compelled to respond to some of the assertions he has made.

The PLE as a concept seems to have evolved in a very short time. One of the main problems is that there is no universal consensus about what it actually is. In fact, it isn’t anything: it is a term used by lots of different people to describe lots of different things. Some interpret a PLE as the collection of web tools that a learner uses, whereas others would describe this as one’s ‘personal web’. I subscribe to the notion that the concept of one’s Personal Learning Environment is not intrinsically digital, so can include things in the real and offline world, such as paper and personal connections with others.

But I do have some concerns. We have created and maintain an education system in which learners are not necessarily motivated to learn; it isn’t always the most pressing concern in their lives. The danger of identifying such a concept as a PLE is that it assumes that the learner knows the best way to approach their own learning. Similar to the problem faced by trying to identify one’s optimum learning style, learners may not yet have been exposed to the best approaches. Therefore, they may not yet be in a position to make those kinds of choices.

The PLE screams that learning is personalised and informal. However, schooling is often formal and teacher-led (even if you believe that there can be aspects of informal learning within a formal learning situation). It is easy for us to tie ourselves in knots trying to encourage the use of a PLE in school. Surely this is not possible? School may be a small part of a learner’s PLE. You simply cannot ‘implement’ a PLE in a classroom as Steve suggests. However, you can use formal learning within a classroom to influence a learner’s PLE, but it is their choice whether or not it is influenced.

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Virtual Learning Environments

14 08 2009

I’ve just finished an undergraduate Education degree at the University of Plymouth. Some of the module leaders there decided to make some use of the Universities VLE (Microsoft Sharepoint?!). This use was generally restricted to sharing documents with students (e.g. a copy of the module documentation, hard-copies of which were provided anyway). Some branched out to using a discussion forum, with limited success. Students often only commented once; they usually did not interact with others, but merely stated their viewpoint.

Steve Wheeler recently made another bold statement about the demise of VLEs and gave them a two fingered salute in his recent blog post. Perhaps Steve has a point when it comes to VLEs being used in a way as described above. Indeed, I propose that they must change in order to survive in my recent article on VLEs.

They are changing and they will survive. Why shouldn’t they? Steve argues that they constrain and control, but it is James Clay’s comments that really ring true for me:

Using an institutional VLE does not preclude using other Web 2.0 services and tools, on the contrary, a VLE  and web tools can be used together.

Bingo! We need to be able to support colleagues and learners in building their own personal webs and PLEs. What better way to do this than to allow them to experiment from their institutional learning environment. Once they feel empowered and confident about learning using these sorts of tools, they can begin to venture outside of the VLE. Of course, for myself and many others who have had the opportunity to experiment and begin building a PLE there is no contest. But for those who are yet to understand the power of Web 2.0, a VLE may just be the springboard they need. It may even be that use of the VLE itself encourages the learner to build a better, more flexible and personalised solution for them, such as their PW/PLE, instead!.

So, the VLE:

Dead? No. In need of renewed confidence? Yes. The first rung on the ladder to building a PLE? Definitely.