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.

9 comments:

George Veletsianos said...

It's always a great idea to keep in mind the hurdles that the k-12 environment poses. I would love to hear more about the non-technical hurdles. Any further insights that you could post?

Wendy DG said...

Hi George,

I will post more details once I sift through all the data. The research question focuses on the processes students go through when building a personal learning environment. I'm not focused on other obvious implications such as teacher role and disposition; however, I can already see where this is critical to a successful facilitated networked learning experience. What has been most interesting is observing the differences in how students approach the construction of PLEs, how they are influenced by technology and others in the classroom, how they multitask while they work (varies by student), Internet search behavior, and how they synthesize content. It's not a surprise that students identified as advanced are also successful networked learners. What is most interesting to me is the level of engagement of struggling students and those identified as easily distracted in the traditional setting. At this point, I have not done enough data analysis to go into detail, but I'll try to post more as this unfolds.

Judy Jacob said...

I have been following your blog for sometime... though this is my first comment here.

Thought would drop by and send you this site for your opinion before I start using it with my class.

Wendy DG said...

Hi Judy,

Thank you for your comment. My opinion of the value of any Web application has more to do with the way it is applied in the classroom rather than an assessment of the tool itself. For example, there are a lot of lectures and videos available online for educational purposes. Just listening or just watching is a passive learning approach. So, the important question is what the teacher or learner plans to do with it. Flash cards are usually a knowledge-level learning technique often used for memorization. I believe the more you involve your students in the creation of the flash card content, the more active and valuable the learning experience. If used as part of a larger unit plan that also offers evaluation and synthesis of content, this tool could be helpful. Used by itself, I see it more as a study tool for test-taking. But, you may have more creative plans for it. It's really about learning and the instructional design, not the tools.

Charlie Strange said...

I got turned on to you web site by your video regarding the networked student.

I just want to say "SPOT ON". Keep up the awsome work.

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Kimberly Tharp's EDM310 Blog said...

Hi Wendy,
I am burning with curiosity about this 7th grade science class. What individual scientific queries were they investigating? Was the majority of the class curriculum independent research? Were 100% of the students successful in creating a functional PLN?

I am a middle school math teacher, beginning a new position in a private school. Nothing like this is happening in our school. The "shared teacher file" for forms and handouts is the newest cutting edge technology right now. Dr. Strange's EDM class is preparing me to introduce my students to the world of information available to them, but I am still a little baffled about incorporating it into the curriculum as it stands right now. To use a fishing analogy, I need to feed my administrators and fellow teachers just enough line to get hooked, and then slowly drag them into the 21st century boat with me. Please keep posting and sharing what is happening with your middle school students. Thank you for inspiring me,
Kimberly Tharp

If you are interested, please visit my blog
Kimberly Tharp EDM 310

Dre said...

I would like to wonder what you think of this online quiz that I'm going to use for my online education platform. Your right that k-12grades to have some hurdles they have to jump that are non-technical, I just want to see what you think of the quiz.