Friday, December 4, 2009

Welcome to my PLE!

I've been working with a teacher to implement networked learning in his classroom. As you can see from my previous post, we had our challenges. However, we're working through most of the technical issues and I'm proud to present "Welcome to My PLE". One of the students in the project offered her personal learning network as an example. Enjoy the tour!!!

We would love your feedback.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Construction of Personal Learning Environments is Messy

My goal was to keep a running journal of my dissertation research on the blog. I suppose I could cut and paste my field notes, but that wouldn't be very reflective. Time is definitely the enemy. This doesn't amount to a deep reflection, but I feel inspired to share. I'm learning as much as the 7th graders about student construction of personal learning environments. The project has gone quite well in spite of numerous challenges and technical difficulties. I owe this to an unbelievably gifted and flexible classroom teacher in addition to 24 "normal" 7th graders who surprise me every day. Here's a short list of our many hurdles.
  • As the project began, the school network was locked down like Fort Knox.
  • The computers go into deep freeze when dormant for 10 minutes.
  • Deep freeze does not allow for new applications to be permanently downloaded. The process to fix this requires shutting down, turning off deep freeze, rebooting.
  • Most Web apps require users be over 13. Students turn 13 in 7th grade.
  • This is not a laptop school, but we managed to gather up 24 laptops - just enough. Three have gone down since the project began so some students are working on desktops in nearby rooms.
  • We were using NoteFish as a web-clipper and note taking program. We upgraded to the latest version of FireFox. Guess what? Not compatible with NoteFish.
  • 7th graders can be notoriously disorganized. This can be a problem when you're trying to manage numerous online accounts and passwords.
  • Occasionally, key Web apps go down. The probability of this is positively correlated with the importance of the activity.
  • Today as I arrived on campus, the power went out. No power, no network. At the same time 7 visitors arrived from a community leadership group made up of local business people who came to observe the class.
You would think from this list that every day was a new disaster. However, neither I nor the participating teacher see it that way. In fact, every day is a new science experiment, a new adventure, a new learning opportunity. The students are all engaged in their own unique ways... for the entire hour and 40 minute block. On the one hand, they've had to learn a whole new way of work riddled with frustrations and unknowns. On the other hand, they've embraced it with a vengeance. They work together to solve technical problems, dig deep to find answers, and share with classic 7th grade enthusiasm.

Happily, the power came back on within a few minutes. The students accessed the agenda on the teacher's blog from their Symbaloo account and plowed right to work on their individual scientific inquiries. The adults in the room were mesmerized. I didn't let on, but I was also mesmerized and smiling inside with pride for the kids. I have no regrets about the technical difficulties. There is always a work around. Sometimes the kids are the ones who figure out the best alternative plan. My only regret is that more students are not empowered to learn this way.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Welcome Guest Blogger Jennifer Roland!

The Best of L&L Giveaway

First, I’d like to thank Wendy for hosting me on my blog tour.
Wendy is one of the authors included in The Best of L&L, which is a collection of the best articles printed in ISTE’s flagship periodical Learning & Leading with Technology from 2003 through 2008. In addition to the articles, I talk a little about why I chose each, and many of the authors provide updates to place their ideas in a current context.

Her piece, “Kids Galore Helping Kids in Darfur,” was an amazing example of student-directed learning that had a huge effect on awareness of the human rights issues in the Darfur region of Sudan.

If you’d like to read her article and get a taste of the types of articles and commentary included in the book, you can read an excerpt on the ISTE website.

What about you. How have you used student interests to guide your learning choices?
Have you allowed students to design their own learning experiences?
How do you manage such an endeavor if students can’t agree on topics or the types of activities?

Answer one of these questions, ask a question of your own, or respond to Wendy’s thoughts to be entered into the random drawing to win a copy of the book.

About Jennifer Roland
Jennifer is a writer living in the Portland, Oregon, area. She holds bachelor's degrees in magazine journalism and political science from the University of Oregon. Her education also focused on history, economics, linguistics, and educational policy and management. Before embarking on her freelance career, she was a staff member at ISTE. Follow Jennifer on her blog tour at; each tour stop includes a chance to win a copy of The Best of L&L.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bringing Service Learning Back into Focus

It's so interesting how certain projects take on a life of their own and events sometimes converge to confirm that you're on the right track. Such is the case with the Kids Galore Helping Kids in Darfur Project. It's been three years since my third graders cooked up this idea and followed through with their vision of how to make a difference. The following group of third graders helped organize the Many Voices for Darfur 48 hour blog project and contributed to the supporting wiki. This year, I find myself in a position to (hopefully) have some influence over new social studies teachers through a course I'm teaching at UF, EME5432 Integrating Technology in Social Studies. I view service learning as the flagship of authentic learning and hope to share this passion with my students through a number of resources including:
Ultimately, I hope the pre-service teachers will embrace service learning and recognize the value it has in their teaching practice.

All these things come back into focus as ISTE's Jennifer Roland stops by my blog on Friday for a guest visit and a chance to win The Best of Learning and Leading with Technology. Welcome Jennifer!

Friday, June 19, 2009

The College of 2020 Today

The Chronicle Research Services recently released a report, "The College of 2020", an overview of some of the demands that students will make for flexibility and technology integration. As I read the executive summary, I realized these are all conveniences available to me at the University of Florida. (BIG caveat: They would not be available in all colleges or departments. At this point, I would expect at least this much from an educational technology program.) Here is the list:

Putting more courses online
Of 26 classes taken as part of my Educational Technology Ed.S and Ph.D programs:
Total face-to-face (4)
Blended (3)
Completely online (19)
Note: This does not include doctoral qualifying and dissertation research credits.
There are now full-time online options for Masters and Ed.S students, as well as an Ed.D cohort that is conducted primarily online. At this time there is not a fully online Ph.D program.

Taking classes at multiple colleges
This took some minor navigation through administrative red tape, however I was able to take the Connectivism Course for 3 credits through the University of Manitoba (because no such course was available at UF) and 8 credits of quantitative research from nearby University of South Florida (because this was required for my degree and not offered at the time I needed it at UF)

Monitoring classes on cell phones
Every single class I took, including F2F had some online presence whether is was Moodle, Blackboard, WebCT, or a simple website. Not only did I monitor these classes on my cell phone, I continue to monitor the classes I teach with it, as well.

Starting courses at multiple times throughout the year
Online education courses at UF are conducted in 8 week mini-mesters. They are offered on a rotating basis six times during the academic year.

Sign up to take classes F2F, then opt to monitor online
This was a little trickier, but not as difficult as you might think. I took qualitative research F2F with a retired professor who returned specifically to teach this class. You might think that he was very traditional, and to some extent he was. His courses were primarily lecture format, but there was good discussion, and significant group work. He integrated technology via PowerPoint in the classroom and online submission of all assignments. I had to be out of town for two of the class sessions, so I approached him about Skyping into the class while I was away. No problem. I was able to participate fully through a classmate's computer, ask questions, and offer my points of view from 2000 miles away. I think it helped that I was already established in the class before asking to do this, but I it was a good experience for both of us.

Office hours, study groups, papers-all online
Group work in the F2F qualitative research course was conducted using a wiki in combination with Google docs. This was initially student-directed by one group. When the others realized the efficiency, everyone was on board.

With the exception of a hand written quantitative (statistics) take-home exam that had to be turned in on the day of the F2F exam in the lab, I cannot remember turning in one paper or assignment in hard copy form. Everything was either submitted to a course management system or emailed directly.

UF is the flagship university in my state. It is nearly two-and-a-half hours away from my home. Nearby USF has an excellent College of Education, but I already earned a Bachelors and Masters from that school. It was in my best interest to obtain my advanced graduate degrees at a different school. This would not have been possible without the flexibility of UF's Ed Tech program. I do not feel that I compromised quality in any part of my graduate experience. In fact, I had a very difficult time transitioning back to the traditional classes. The pace seemed exceedingly slow. We were not able to cover nearly as much content or critical thinking in the F2F format as was possible online. Some of that had to do with instructional design, some with self motivation. Those are topics for further research and discourse. But, I've been very pleased with the education I have received in the program.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Google Wave, Networked Learning, and PLEs

Beware of focusing too much on the tools because they are going to change so fast we won't know what hit us. Just as I'm wrapping up the Networked Student article and designing the methodology for my dissertation research, I watch this demo of Google Wave.

By my calculations, it should hit the market just about the time I'm finishing the research component of my dissertation. So, what does that mean to the networked student model?

Well, the most difficult aspect of using this model with k12 students (or anyone else for that matter) is organization. How do we help students organize their personal learning environments to best leverage all this diverse content coming from so many different sources? One solution is to use iGoogle, PageFlakes, or NetVibes gadgets and widgets to pull all the learning apps into one page. iGoogle is great, especially for the younger students, because it limits the number of ids and passwords a student has to manage. (Though it cannot be made public which is a major frustration.)

But, imagine if email, chat, threaded discussion, live concurrent collaborative editing (in documents and wikis), multi-user games, photo sharing, language translation (as the user types), blogging, and other applications such as Twitter were all integrated into one interface that could easily be shared among a group of people. Enter Google Wave! All of these components are presented in the demo along with a playback feature that keeps track of the wave history. Better yet, it's open source and Google is encouraging developers to get moving with APIs that will allow new apps to run within a Wave and Waves to exist within external apps. What this means is that learning objects and whole interactive courses could be built upon Waves. (These are the times I wish I had better programming skills, or that developers would team up with some solid instructional designers.) Ultimately, students will be able to construct PLE Waves making it much easier to capture and organize their learning journey and the content they collect along the way.

Of course, the devil is always in the details, and we'll know more when Google Wave debuts "later this year". But, I really feel us moving closer to interconnected personal learning environments that students share and build collaboratively to solve complex problems.

This brings me back to my initial warning. We can't just teach our kids how to use tools. Somehow, we have to articulate the learning power of these tools and more importantly how students can recognize this power on their own as new applications emerge. We have to get them thinking about technology for learning and personal empowerment - not just socializing and entertainment.

One last question I have yet to seen answered...can a wave be made public?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

TIMN and Networked Learning

As I read David Ronfeldt's In Search of How Societies Work, I kept thinking how neatly this applies to the classroom and networked learning. I guess this is not a big surprise as the classroom is often seen as a microcosm of society. Tom Haskins inspired me with his post Combined Models for Pattern Recognition, and I wonder if there are others who have aligned Ronfeldt's TIMN model with learning.

Ronfeldt identifies four forms of social organization: tribal, institutional, market, and network (Ronfeldt, 2006, p. 1). Tribal structure deals with identity and belonging. The institutional form emphasizes hierarchy (e.g. state, military). The market form focus is competition and free trade. Network form deals with the connection of dispersed groups via emerging communication technologies. (Ronfeldt, 2006).

In the classroom, the tribal structure is evident in the kinship that develops with the teacher and between students. Teacher acts as leader. The institutional aspects of education include the schools, districts, state, and national standards and requirements placed on schools. It is also evidenced in the hierarchy of discipline (teacher, dean, principal, district). The market aspect of learning includes the outside forces such as textbook companies, software, curriculum packages, or online learning that is repackaged for other districts, states, or countries. Within the classroom, there is competition for grades, science fairs, history fairs, and placement based on standardized test scores. More recently, there are opportunities for students to create and share allowing some student products to rise to the top for reuse by others. Some classrooms are moving into the network form by interacting with others via network technologies, emerging web applications, and connecting to students outside the classroom.

As societies evolve through the forms, they do not abandon the previous structures. "If the addition of a new form occurs properly, the older forms end up being strengthened, not weakened, even as their scope is newly limited (Ronfeldt, 2006, pg. 3). I think this is an important point for all of us who argue for change. Most of our classrooms are still in the tribal/institutional structure (TI) with some penetration in market (TIM). I say that because most of the competition and free market aspects come from outside forces. The students have few opportunities to create knowledge and share with others for their learning.

Two big lessons for me as I consider the implications of networked learning:
  1. We cannot jump directly into networked learning and abandon the previous structures.
  2. The optimal learning environment is not networked alone, but a TIMN approach that continues to build relationships within the classroom (f2f or virtual), works within the current institutional requirements while trying to change those requirments, gives students opportunities to create authentic learning products that can be shared with others, and provides them with the tools they need to construct personal learning environments.

Ronfeldt, D. (2007). IN SEARCH OF HOW SOCIETIES WORK: Tribes — The First and Forever Form (pp. 1-102). Working Paper, Rand Corporation. Retrieved May 23, 2009, from

Networked Student Challenges

I believe in the potential of networked learning in k12 education. From a research perspective, I'm also painfully aware of the challenges. My dissertation research will analyze the networked student model in a middle school science classroom. I'm trying to foresee every possible obstacle. There are many. Some are theoretical, others quite practical.
  • Fitting within the framework of required curricular standards
  • Giving students a choice of topics that maintains the learner's freedom yet falls within the life sciences curriculum
  • Permissions and age limits for using many Web applications (most require that users be 13 or over. Many 7th graders are not yet 13.)
  • Working with tech administrators to open blocked sites
  • Balancing structure to maximize learner motivation (points/grades/supervision) while allowing for learner control
  • Designing assessment options that promote deep synthesis of content
  • Providing opportunities for students to learn from each other
  • Protecting students from inappropriate content
  • Time required to teach organization, digital literacy, and technical skills
  • Teacher buy in (I'm not as concerned about this as I am working with an open-minded, enthusiastic teacher who is not afraid to take risks. I also find that science lends itself well to a student-centered, experimental approach.)
These are the issues I know we will face. It's the unknown unknowns that really worry me. What else?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Crowd (Re)sourcing

Zotero is a user-friendly, time-saving tool for "collecting, managing, and citing" your research. In the past, I used the University of Florida's subscription to RefWorks for research papers, but as I began to collect and organize resources for my dissertation, I wanted an open solution that better supported online research. I loved the idea that Zotero was created by actual researchers at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. I learned about Zotero from co-creator Dan Cohen and Mills Kelly through their Digital Campus Podcast. Now, with the release of Zotero 2.0, I can:
  • synchronize and back up my library with Zotero's servers and access my resources from any computer
  • share my research resources and notes with others
  • follow colleagues and fellow researchers and gain access to their work
  • create groups specific to research areas (e.g. Educational Technology)
  • export selected resources to a bibliography in the format of my choice in seconds (previously available)
In keeping with my philosophy of open access, especially with regard to research, I'm sharing my dissertation resources in two ways. You can view my personal Zotero Dissertation Research Library or, you can view, access, and add to the Zotero Educational Technology Group. Feel free to contribute, join, share your own resources, and/or take what you can use. You do not have to be using Zotero to view the resources. You will have to install Zotero to add or edit the group page. I have not been able to upload my citations into the group library due to a programming glitch that should be fixed in the next couple days, according to the Zotero Forums.

As you can see below, Zotero opens/closes in an adjustable window at the bottom of your browser. Here you have immediate access to your research resources including articles, notes, and website notations.
We all become quickly accustomed to the familiar, so Zotero may not be a good option for people who are well-entrenched in other citation tools. This just happened to be a good time for me to make a switch.

P.S. I've been experimenting with Evernote as a research tool for younger students. As always, feedback is greatly appreciated, especially if you have been using it with your students.

Friends and Family - I'm Still Here!

I'm so happy to report that I've finished my doctoral coursework. The qualifying exam is scheduled for August 26. Research proposal is going through multiple revisions. I have a solid plan to work with an energetic, enthusiastic seventh grade science teacher to help students construct personal learning environments similar to the one highlighted in The Networked Student Video. I've also finished the first draft of a related article I hope to submit to the British Journal of Educational Technology. Of course, there is plenty to do. But, yesterday was the first day in a very long time that there wasn't something I HAD to do on that day. I feel a little like the survivalist who was holed up in a bomb shelter for 4 years and emerged to find the world still bustling by. Yes, I'll be returning to the shelter for a little while longer, but at least there will be day passes.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

DotSUB and Networked Learning

I had an interesting conversation this morning with Michael Smolens, founder of He got me thinking (even more) about the power of community, what that means for networked learning, and what networked learning could mean for the world community.

I learned about dotSUB when someone contacted me for permission to translate The Networked Student. It has been translated into Czech, Portuguese, and far. That had nothing to do with me. But, now people in other parts of the world have the opportunity to hear that message in their native language and consider the possibilities.

Check out the documentary, Zeitgeist, over 288,000 views, translated into twelve far. There's a lot of potential to build community here.

Michael challenged me to consider some of the implications to education. Immediately, I think of the opportunity for language learners to view translations, or better yet create them. That almost seems trite when you start to think about the implications for connecting with people all over the world, the opportunity to expose our students to the work of others, to share their work beyond the boundaries of language. Consider this quote from Teachers without Borders. "Brains are evenly distributed throughout the world. Education is not."

Ponder beyond the immediate value to our students and imagine the reach of every teacher and student in the world extended to a global audience. The possibilities are mind boggling. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative intrigued me. Its educational component has not been as successful as I (and others) had hoped. But the project certainly had an impact on the development of less expensive computing and networking devices. As more developing countries gain access, there will be greater opportunities to collaborate. Language barriers are challenging but not insurmountable, especially with the world community contributing to the translation process.

What do you think? Beyond the obvious, what is the educational potential of programs like dotSUB?

To see the subtitles in the languages available, click on the drop box in the navigation bar below the video.