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.