I tend to sense a touch of frustration in the post. Which I don’t think is at all surprising since the question “How do you implement PLEs into higher education courses?” is extremely complex. Doing anything to change learning and teaching within higher education is extremely difficult. This is made almost impossible when it is something that potentially brings into question not only the pedagogical practice of individual academics, but also the assumptions underpinning the administrative and technological bureaucracies that have accreted within tertiary institutions.
Institutions of higher education have essentially failed to implement “enterprise e-learning” in a way that caters for and values the diversity inherent in university teaching. I’m somewhat pessimistic about its ability to implement e-learning that caters for the diversity of university students – an order of magnitude (or two) greater level of diversity.
A way forward
That diversity, is for me, a clue to a way forward. Implementing PLEs within higher education is about a focus on the potential adopters, both the teaching staff and the students. By answering questions like: “What do they want?”, “What do they do?”, “What is a problem you can solve for them that makes a difference?” with something that is related to, or at least moves them towards the ideals of a PLE.
However, answering these questions should not be done by asking them. When it comes to something brand new, something that challenges established ways of doing things simply asking people “what would you like to do with X” is a waste of time. If they tell you anything, the will tell you what they’ve always done.
I wonder if this explains the current suggestion that the next generation of students don’t want their university life mixed in with their social life. They don’t want universities getting into Facebook and other social spaces. If the students haven’t seen good examples of how this might work, you can’t really rely on their feedback, they don’t know yet.
I’ve talked about the 7 principles of knowledge management and in particular principle #2
We only know what we know when we need to know it. Human knowledge is deeply contextual and requires stimulus for recall.
Which is why I like this comment from Jocene
He talks about the need to contextualise the PLE. Well, yes. My colleague and I have decided to push ahead with our own contextualised understanding, so we can start to reflect upon rather that speculate about our PLE work.
Get stuck in, try a few things and then reflect upon what worked, what didn’t. What did the students like, what might be better. This sounds like a much more effective way than researchers and prognosticators extrapolating what they think people will need and how they should use it. However, I think Jocene’s next quote highlights the difficult in drawing a barrier between teleological and ateleological design.
But we still keep getting stuck, half way over the implementation hurdle! If we telelogically suggest a way forward for any group of learners, then we are not facilitating a PLE, we are imposing our values.
Traditionally e-learning within universities is teleological and because the nature of teleological design is a complete and utter mismatch with the requirements of e-learning problems arise. Some colleagues and I have pointed these problems out in two publications (Jones, Luck, McConachie and Danaher, 2005; Jones and Muldoon, 2007).
One defining characteristic of teleological design is that the major design decisions are made by a small group of experts and/or leaders. There decisions are meant to be accepted by the rest of the group and are meant to be the best decisions possible. I think Jocene’s worried about this type of “imperialism” within PLEs. If she and her colleague make decisions about what should be done, aren’t they being teleological?
They don’t have to be, but it does depend on how you go about it. To my mind you reduce the teleological nature of your decisions by doing the following
- make small changes to existing practice;
- ensure that the changes solve problems or provide new services that will be valued by the participants;
- ensure that you will learn lessons/try new things/make different mistakes than you have before;
What does that mean for PLEs in higher education
Some quick thoughts on what this might mean in concrete form for implementing PLEs in higher education:
- Modify existing e-learning infrastructure to enable it to work with the Web 2.0/mashup/PLE technology and approaches.
e.g. generate RSS feeds out of various course management system (CMS) features and make them available to students and staff.
- Use the “web 2.0’ifying” of the CMS to build features that solve problems or provide better services for staff and students.
- Build some examples using these services (of PLEs) in existing social media applications – the obvious is probably facebook – but this decision should be guided by some of the following.
- Don’t be exclusionary, don’t focus all efforts on one type of PLE or social media application.
- Implement strategies and techniques to really engage with the students and staff to learn about what they do. NOT what they say they do, but what they actually do and experience. Use this insight to guide the above.
- Use the strategies and techniques in the previous point to observe what happens when staff and students do (or do not) use the PLE services and use that insight to identify the next step.
- Ensure a tight connection with and awareness of what other interesting folk are doing in this area and use it to inform the design of the next safe-fail probes you are doing.
- Try not to do too much for staff or students. The whole notion of the PLE is that you are empowering them to do things for themselves. If the “instructional assistant/designer” does too much for them it breaks this ideal and it also doesn’t scale.
David Jones, Jo Luck, Jeanne McConachie, P. A. Danaher, The teleological brake on ICTs in open and distance learning, To appear in Proceedings of ODLAA’2005
David Jones, Nona Muldoon, The teleological reason why ICTs limit choice for university learners and learning, In ICT: Providing choices for learners and learning. Proceedings ASCILITE Singapore. pp 450-459