Scarcity of explicit knowledge (books) led us to gather it into libraries.
Cost of access to books led us to gather them into universities and schools.
Cost of access to wise men led us too to gather them into universities and schools.
The digital made scarcity of knowledge no more an issue, and costs of access to experts dropped to nearly zero.
Why institutional Virtual Campuses or why institutional Learning Management Systems?
It still is difficult to tell good knowledge from bad (low information literacy levels around).
Thus, we have a need for a curation of knowledge, for guides, to validate all the knowledge that has been fixed in digital artifacts.
Not everyone can or wants to use the latest technology.
Many people still have low digital literacy levels.
Indeed, there are privacy, security and/or data ownership issues.
And we have to ease monitoring, assessment and evaluation tasks (we are not hee taking about the need to monitor, assess or evaluate — let’s assume for a moment that many people still want to do that).
So, PLEs or institutional virtual campuses?
We need to cope with both needs: the benefits (freedom) of digital technologies and some long-lasting (and maybe needed) trends.
We should be able to find a middle-ground solution between centrifugal and centripetal forces.
We have to keep intimacy, while allow third parties’ ideas in our conversation.
We want to keep noise out, while keeping a window open to the outside.
We should be free to either use an institutional tool, a third party’s, or one’s own, and nevertheless guarantee that conversation is the same for everyone.
We should be able to keep our own learning space while participating in a collective one.
And we should be able to keep a closed record of what a group did for later assessment or simply storage.
The second session was led by Ivan Serrano and myself, and presenting some preliminary results of a small research project we are both taking part in, along with other members of the GADE research group.
The goal of the session was to make a brief introduction to some web 2.0 tools and applications, and see how they had been put into practice in some localities. Our approach was neither to remain in the theoretical level nor to focus on the tool, but, on the contrary, to see what tools fit better in what participation purposes and goals.
Tools and applications
So, the first distinction I made was to tell tools (a way to do things, e.g. a blog) from applications (the different incarnations of tools, e.g. WordPress, Blogger, Typepad…). This distinction is relevant because we might find better applications for a specific use/tool than the most popular ones. Thus why focussing on the concept, not the service.
Directionality, quantitative: one-to-one, one-to-many, many to many.
Competences: basic, advanced, expert.
Platform: phone, Internet, both.
Though I believe the Platform will be deprecated because of the increasing pervasiveness of smartphones, that render it quite irrelevant.
Concerning applications, the main classification types are:
Kind of tool.
Cost: free, freemium, payment.
Hosting: installation, online service, both.
Mashable: open API or similar.
The latter a last-minute addition and that might well explain part of the success of the most popular tools, as mashability enables ubiquity of the tool, thus making possible to bridge all the tools one is using.
Slides 6 & 7 show a simplified matrix where the above mentioned categories are crossed:
Ivan went on with the applied cases, among others the following:
He ended up with some preliminary conclusions that came after the analysis of the preceding (and many other) participation initiatives. They seemed to be gathered in two groups and with different aims and characteristics:
Initiatives aimed at community building, characterized by being open, relational, fostering engagement, using free tools and aiming at a networked participation.
Policy oriented initiatives, characterized by being more formal (or formalized), focussing at decision-taking and representation, using own platforms and more “traditional” participation means.
Though all what we presented in this session is still in a draft stage, we believe that some interesting insights come from the e-participation experiences on the purposes-tools relationship. All in all, hi-engagement approaches demand more participatory and horizontal tools, and more top-down or traditional ones also demand traditional 1.0 tools. The error being, of course, first choosing the coolest 2.0 tool and then forcing the institution or the process to (against nature) adapt to the tool.
I had the luck to attend the fourth and last session of the Workshop on youth participation in youth policies — participated by local administration officers to explore new ways to engage the youth in public affairs —, this one focused on the role of ICTs in youth participation.
The session had three parts: a first one consisting in a brainstorm of challenges and opportunities, a second one on tools an case analysis, and a third one on proposals, unreported because it looked very much like the first part, but rephrased.
The first part, excellently facilitated by Manel Ruiz i Victor Garcia from INDIC, was based on Edward de Bono‘s Six Thinking Hats, where you perform a brainstorm of ideas under a specific approach (“wearing a hat”) and repeat it for all different approaches (we actually only did it for four “hats”). These approaches or colour hats are:
White: objective data, raw information. No feelings, no interpretation.
Yellow: optimism, positive thinking.
Black: what can go wrong. Caution, critical assessment.
Red: emotions, feelings, intuitions.
Green: possibilities, possible alternatives, creativeness.
In Introducing the Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment (HIPLE) I dealt with the different profiles, behaviours and needs that concur in online education (or online enhanced education). I also asked for a way to be able to give a satisfactory answer to all the problems that arouse with that concurrence while being able to swim and keep one’s clothes dry at the same time (as we say in Catalan).
Let us put it into practice with a totally applied example using Twitter.
The typical situation
The context is an online course on e-Government. There is a character (ONcampus) which is a student that, for unspecified reasons, just wants to access the virtual campus to study and that everything that happens on the campus remains unknown for the outer world. There is a second character (ictlogist) that is also a student and uses several Web 2.0 tools for learning (call it a Personal Learning Environment or PLE), amongst them Twitter, and just does not want to use two nanoblogging tools, one on-campus and another one off-campus. A third character (OFFcampus) is a professional working on eGovernment and, as such, uses Twitter to interact with other people on the field.
What you usually would have is two conversations:
Inside the campus, a closed conversation that neither benefits from “outside” conversations nor contributes to them. Including the student remaining unknown to other people on the field.
Outside campus, an open but not-permeating-the-campus conversation and that forces some people to attend two conversations on the same field mostly with different people but similar purposes.
The HIPLE to the rescue
Imagine a nanobloging tool (e.g. StatusNet) installed inside the virtual campus classroom. Everything that happens in there is invisible to the outside world. But everything you tag with #uoc_egov (the “official” hashtag for the course) is published on Twitter.
In fact, everything you publish on Twitter with the #uoc_egov hashtag is imported onto the nanobloggin tool installed in the virtual campus, so everyone can see it. Thus allowing people to participate in the closed classroom from outside of the campus.
In fact, messages from other people alien to the closed classroom can also be seen inside the classroom, provided that (a) they add the #uoc_egov hashtag and (b) we have not added a filter to the closed nanoblogging tool that not only filters by hashtag but also by user (in this case, students could participate from their Twitter accounts but the classroom would only be participated by enrolled students).
Students can opt to participate only in the classroom and be invisible to off-campus users.
Students can opt to participate from outside the classroom and with their own tools. In the limit, they will only participate from their own PLEs and not from the virtual campus.
Off-campus students engage in real conversations with “real” professionals and experts in the field. Exposure is likely to be good.
Faculty and managers can, if thus desired, use the closed environment to “contain” what is to be monitored or assessed, and without the need to wander around “chasing” spontaneous and ubiquitous contributions from their students.
The increase of open APIs shouldn’t make these kind of developments very difficult. Of course there are thousands of applications and one will always have to choose which ones to “bridge”. But (a) there are not many really popular applications and, in fact, (b) that is what standards are for.
Both projects share some issues — I dare not call them problems, though some of them are absolutely challenging —that have definitely to be addressed before implementing any kind of project:
With the increase of broadband penetration and the popularization of Web 2.0 tools and spaces, most participation (and a lot of it, indeed) happens outside the campus, unlike what was usual just 10 (or even 5) years ago.
With the realization of the concept of long-life learning, it is increasingly difficult to tell students from non-students, and even from members of the university community from non-members, especially when one can attend conferences online, download learning materials or follow the faculty or institutional initiatives on Twitter or their own blogs.
Just for the two previous reasons, one’s own learning management increasingly happens off-campus too.
And yet there’s the issue of where the experts are. Some of the experts are in-campus, but many of them (other faculty, professionals, potential employers) are off-campus too. And we definitely want our students to meet the relevant (online) communities of experts and people they should (and we want them to) be in contact with.
But: learning monitoring does require a certain degree of centralization and closeness or quietness, for many reasons: assessment, guidance, “noise filtering”… Or, at least, some educators feel more at ease in these “controlled” scenarios. Not to speak about managers.
And: some people are reluctant to use all that arcane network technologies, because of lack of knowledge, lack of competence, even lack of social skills.
And: some people just do not want to have their identity spread all over the e-place, but to be able to manage different digital personnae. Sometimes for privacy; sometimes for security reasons.
So, there are people in and people off the Virtual Campus. There are geeks and explorers and digerati, and there are refuseniks and robinsons and goffmans too.
So, to respect and answer all demands, what do we need?
That the members of the university community that so wish it, can interact with their peers and teachers and all kind of educational resources with the tools and platforms own choice (e.g. off-campus), and thus concentrate or diffuse their activity at will.
That the members of the university community that so wish it, can maintain an idea of a campus as a space dedicated to learning, and use the tools within without having to disperse their energies (and attention) in (for them) low added value activities.
Despite the above said, tear down the concept walls of in- and off-campus, and member and non-member of the learning community. Let third parties participate of learning life, and let active and formal learners participate of informal learning or professional life.
What’s in a name
I ask for a hybrid-institutional personal learning environment. I ask for a HIPLE:
I am professor at the School of Law and Political Science of the Open University of Catalonia,
and researcher at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute and the eLearn Center of that university.
I am also the director of the Open Innovation project at Fundació Jaume Bofill.