Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Personal Learning Environments: Student Processes and Decisions

We in educational technology are often accused of focusing too much attention on technology and tools rather than cognitive processes. I've struggled with this myself, most often because I enjoy assessing the learning potential of new technologies. John Seeley Brown might call this tinkering. I get a charge out of playing with the tools myself and presenting them to my students to see what happens. As a teacher, I'm all about what is practical in the classroom (even if I sometimes try to push the limits of innovation). My evolution from teacher to researcher has been a long journey. All those prior years of classroom experience influence my perspective. I "know" something works with students because I feel it in my gut. There is never time to sit back and observe what happens before moving on to the next challenge.

Focused research on student construction of personal learning environments has given me the opportunity to sit back and watch learning from a process perspective. What processes do students go through when constructing personal learning environments?

(Click on the diagram to enlarge.)
The model above reflects the research findings. If you compare this version to the older Networked Student diagram, you see the shift from tools to processes.

As with a flowchart, the rectangles represent processes. The diamonds represent decisions. The student (or the student in collaboration with the teacher) decides which tools to use to support the learning processes.

Some processes in the diagram are not supported by tools, especially in the areas of learning and practicing digital literacy and responsibility. If we truly wish to empower learners and provide our students with the skills necessary to become independent networked learners, then direct instruction is critical and necessary in all five categories. I view the holes in this diagram as the teachable moments, as verification that teachers can be the facilitators of personal learning. Through direct instruction, we can teach our children how to fish, then step back and learn as much from them as they learn from us.

To ponder:
  • What do you think about the relationship between direct instruction and personal learning?
  • Do you see areas on the diagram that require teacher intervention?
  • How many of our secondary and post secondary students are equipped to construct effective personal learning environments?
  • What would you add to this diagram?
Meet one of the students who participated in this research project.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Networked Student from a Process Perspective

I've been working on The Networked Student Model from a process perspective. Having identified the processes students go through when constructing personal learning environments, I thought it would be interesting to see how the original model fit within the processes.

Here is the original.

Look what happens when we regroup and distribute the organizational tools and contacts amongst the processes. There are some definite holes.

This was a good exercise for me for three reasons.
  1. I realize the power of research, why it is important, and how detailed qualitative analysis can yield valuable insight beyond the experience gained merely in practice.
  2. In order to create a model that is practical for classroom use, I need to move beyond the organizational tools and include processes such as digital literacy, digital responsibility, synthesis, and creation.
  3. The development of API widgets for web applications such as NetVibes, iGoogle, PageFlakes, and Symbaloo provide organizational possibilities that offer powerful means for organizing content. This should also be incorporated in the model.
Next step: Revise the model to reflect the process perspective. (More to come.)