Project-centered personal learning environments in e-research and open social innovation

Working in the field of open social innovation, and most especially when one considers institutions as platforms for civic engagement, it is almost unavoidable to think of the personal learning environment (PLE) as a useful tool for conceptualising or even managing a project, especially a knowledge-intensive one.

Let the definition of a PLE be a set of conscious strategies to use technological tools to gain access to the knowledge contained in objects and people and, through that, achieve specific learning goals. And let us assume that a knowledge-intensive project aims at achieving a higher knowledge threshold. That is, learning.

The common — and traditional — approach to such projects can be, in my opinion, simplified as follows:

  • Extraction of information and knowledge from the environment.
  • Management and transformation of information and knowledge to add value.
  • Dissemination, outreach and knowledge transmission.

These stages usually happen sequentially and on a much independent way one from another. They even usually have different departments behind.

This is perfectly valid in a world where tasks associated to information and communication are costly, and take time and (physical) space. Much of this is not true. Any more. Costs have dropped down, physical space is almost irrelevant and many barriers associated with time have just disappeared. What before was a straight line — extract, manage, disseminate — is now a circle… or a long sequence of iterations around the same circle and variations of it.

I wonder whether it makes sense to treat knowledge-intensive projects as yet another node within a network of actors and objects working in the same field. As a node, the project can both be an object &mash; embedding an information or knowledge you can (re)use — or the reification of the actors whose work or knowledge it is embedding — and, thus, actors you can get in touch trough the project.

A good representation of a project as a node is to think of it in terms of a personal learning environment, hence a project-centered personal learning environment (maybe project knowledge environment would be a better term, but it gets too much apart from the idea of the PLE as most people understands and “sees” it).

A very rough, simple scheme of a project-centered personal learning environment could look like this:

Scheme of a project-centered personal learning environment
Scheme of a project-centered personal learning environment
[Click to enlarge]

In this scheme there are three main areas:

  • The institutional side of the project, which includes all the data gathered, the references used, the output (papers, presentations, etc.), a blog with news and updates, collaborative work spaces (e.g. shared documents) and all what happens on social networking sites.
  • The inflow of information, that is data sources, collections of references and other works hosted in repositories in general.
  • The exchange of communications with the community of interest, be it individual specialists, communities of learning or practice, and major events.

These areas, though, and unlike traditional project management, interact intensively with each other, sharing forth information, providing feedback, sometimes converging. The project itself is redefined by these interactions, as are the adjacent nodes of the network.

I can think at least of three types of knowledge-intensive projects where a project-centered personal learning environment approach makes a lot of sense to me:

  • Research.
  • Open social innovation (includes political participation, civic engagement and awareness raising).

In both types of project knowledge is central, as is the dialogue between the project and the actors and resources in the environment. Thinking of knowledge-intensives projects not in terms of extract-manage-disseminate but in terms of (personal) learning environments, taking into account the pervasive permeability of knowledge that happens in a tight network is, to me, an advancement. And it helps in better designing the project, the intake of information and the return that will most presumably feed back the project itself.

There is a last reflection to be made. It is sometime difficult to draw or even to recognize one’s own personal learning environment: we are too used to work in projects to realize our ecosystem, we are so much project-based that we forget about the environment. Thinking on projects as personal learning environments helps in that exercise: the aggregation of them all should contribute in realizing:

  • What is the set of sources of data, bibliographies and repositories we use as a whole as the input of our projects.
  • What is the set of specialists, communities of practice and learning, and major events with which we usually interact, most of the times bringing with us the outputs of our projects.
Scheme of a personal learning environments as the aggregation of knowledge-intensive projects
Scheme of a personal learning environments as the aggregation of knowledge-intensive projects
[Click to enlarge]

Summing up, conceiving projects as personal learning environments in e-research and open innovation can help both in a more comprehensive design of these projects as in a better acknowledgement of our own personal learning environment. And, with this, to help in defining a better learning strategy, better goal-setting, better identification of people and objects (resources) and to improve the toolbox that we will be using in the whole process. And back to the beginning.

Enter Forum (IV). mShools

Notes from the Enter Forum, 1st International Internet Privacy Forum, organized by the CCCB – Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, and held in Barcelona, June 16-18, 2014.

Mobile Learning Experience: mShools
Roser Cussó

  • Improve learning with mobile technologies, encourage learning with mobile.
  • Improve digital skills and promote digital enterpreneurship: a 105h course whose goal is building an app with App Inventor, collaboratively, mentored by tutors in the industry (Moodle with resources). Almost 6,000 students followed the course, +250 teachers, +250 centres, +200 mentors. The training of trainers will now be a MOOC.
  • Build and open environment for mEducation.
    • mSchools Market.
    • mSchools Lab.
    • mSchools Mobile4all

Enter Forum (2014)

Enter Forum (III). Round table on the Internet, Privacy and Education

Notes from the Enter Forum, 1st International Internet Privacy Forum, organized by the CCCB – Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, and held in Barcelona, June 16-18, 2014.

Round table on the Internet, Privacy and Education
Chairs: Genís Roca

Q: How can we approximate people that shaped their lives “the traditional way” (with books, with intimacy) in this new age? What happens with the digital divide? Sibilia: yes, there is a generational bias, but the market is approaching them (for profit purposes, of course) to get them in the new way of life. And, on the other hand, the connected self, the networked subjectivity is trendy, and valued by society, which also helps in bringing in outsiders. Camps: leapfrogging is possible in certain areas and this is also contributing to bridge some divides.

Q: What happens with the Internet creating new opportunities and spaces of freedom, but also causing a “panopticon effect” where everybody can be watched at, especially by governments, loss of intimacy, etc. Sibilia: not sure that this is the creation of the Internet, but more a strengthening of previous practices. What we are now living is more the consequence of some social fights and achievements of the past, especially those related with the libertarian ethos of 1968. But something went wrong or did not end totally well. A parallelism can be found in Latin America and their different revolutions and counter-revolutions: they also are the aim for a change, for achieving new roles, but with very different outcomes. But they all come from the same root. We are now having serious problems imagining an alternative to capitalism: the market also got networked, and got into some spaces whose entry was forbidden to it: the body, the school, etc.

Q: we have to vindicate a change of paradigm from learning to learning how to learn, how to manage knowledge, how to build one’s own network of people and resources. And this is the role that libraries have always performed and are nowadays focussing more in. Camps: we have to teach how to look for alternative sources of information.

Natàlia Cantó: what lies in between the walls vs. networks dichotomy? Is there a room in between for the urban landscape, for the city? Sibilia: yes, the Benjaminian approach of the flanneur is a very interesting one and it is part of the escape from the walled spaces. But maybe open spaces are the opposite to walled spaces, but what is the opposite, or the complement to the network? How do we scape (or disconnect) the network? Or can’t we? We sure have to thing about that. For instance, the different use of the Network is being done in different protests and demonstrations, which is not exactly the pattern of self-promotion, showing-up or lack of intimacy/privacy which seemed to be the (new) norm.

Enter Forum (2014)

Enter Forum (II). Victòria Camps: How to educate in an audiovisual environment?

Notes from the Enter Forum, 1st International Internet Privacy Forum, organized by the CCCB – Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, and held in Barcelona, June 16-18, 2014.

Victòria Camps
How to educate in an audiovisual environment?

When looking at cyberspace, we have to avoid being apocalyptic or integrated (à la Umberto Eco). It is “just” a different way to get information, to communicate, to buy, to engage people (in politics), etc. So, we cannot moralize over a world that is deeply and quickly changing from the point of view of an ancient regime that is fading away. We have to try and be objective. And the question is: is the Network a progress? Always?

The Internet has made some physical characteristics (race, gender…) irrelevant for discourse, has desacralized the centres of wisdom and creation of knowledge, has decentralized (or shifted) the centres of knowledge. On the other hand, knowledge is increasingly vulnerable in the Information Society: being informed is not the same thing as knowing something.

The Internet has proven to be a revolution for political engagement, as it contributes in building community.

One of the most important rights in this new Internet-led age is the freedom of expression.

But every right of freedom has to have its limits, and the limits of freedom of expression are privacy and honour.

And what happens with the respect to one’s own privacy? That is, what happens when people do things on the Internet that they would never do offline. Are we losing intimacy? Is there a right to be forgotten?

Democracy can be deeply changed thanks to the Internet, but we need lots of good information so that we can decide on solid ground. But who certifies what is quality information? We need new professionals — or traditional professionals focussing on specific tasks — that filter and certify good information: journalists, teachers…

What happens with intellectual property? It is property as in the offline world.

On the Internet, we need self-regulation and self-regulation means education: formal education, education within the family.

Enter Forum (2014)

Enter Forum (I). Paula Sibilia: How social networks transform our intimacy?

Notes from the Enter Forum, 1st International Internet Privacy Forum, organized by the CCCB – Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, and held in Barcelona, June 16-18, 2014.

Paula Sibilia, author of La intimidad como espectáculo
How social networks transform our intimacy?

We are living an age where our many technological devices — e.g. mobile phones — are pervasive and we “cannot live without them”, but this is happening because something had already happened, a change had already taken place decades ago. How is that we became “compatible” with our devices? Our ways of life accommodate to the devices, we made our lives compatible with our devices. And it’s both cause and consequence: we became compatible with our devices, but we built our devices because we aimed for a change.

During the modern era, and especially since the XIXth and XXth centuries, reading (especially fiction and novels) became a mainstream routine, and it was something that happened in silence and in isolation. Same happened when writing: both writing and reading was an intimate activity, something you did on your own. These activities required concentration, dedication. And even a specific place, a walled one — including schools.

This exercise of introspection was necessary to build one’s own subjectivity, one’s own identity, one’s own self. One’s own self compatible with the world that was being created since the Industrial revolution and all along the industrial era.

What changed in recent times?

We’re witnessing a shift from the intimate individual to the networked one. Which is changing the way to define our subjectivities, to deal with the world, to deal with others. We’re leaving behind the need of “a room of one’s own” (à la Virginia Woolf) for being and we’re moving towards a new paradigm of building one’s ego, one’s person, one’s subjectivity.

And this is of course radically changing education, we’re tearing down the walls we built for preserving our intimacy, much needed for building our selfs (¿Redes o paredes? La escuela en tiempos de dispersión).

Now, being visible, being online, being networked is the essence of time. And it shapes the essence of our own beings, our own self, our own identity and our own identity.

Our subjectivities are not alter-directed, instead of intro-directed or self-directed. We needed silence and intimacy, now we need crowds and openness. We were confined inside walls, we got rid of them, we became free… only to fall inside the network. Is that freedom? Is it not? It’s just different, much different indeed.

If we look at the school as a technology, the technology of a given age, the technology that we made compatible with a given age… it may now be the case that this technology, the school, if the age changed, it may well now be that the school became an incompatible technology for the new age.

So, it looks we got free, we unconfined ourselves. But. Can it be that the private sector could be capturing these free ones for their own profit? Could it be that the disclosure of the school is now being captured by the market? Is it possible that, in the quest for freedom we disclosed education for it to fall in the arms of private ownership?

We may agree that tearing down the walls of the school, disclosing education, is a much better scenario for knowledge to be created and transferred. But, instead, we may now need to create spaces for dialogue, for debate, for thoughtful exchange. We disclosed the spaces of knowledge, which is good, but we destroyed along the spaces for dialogue and debate, which is not.

Enter Forum (2014)

MOOCs, cMOOCs and xMOOCs: time to split up

Keep calm and MOOC away poster

Some weeks ago I was contacted by a doctoral student who is doing her dissertation on MOOCs. She was sending along a questionnaire on how to define and characterize MOOCs to which I had hard times to answer. The reason was not that the questions were specially difficult, but that the answers had very different mileage depending on whether you had in mind cMOOCs or xMOOCs. The feeling was not new: every time I read on the news something about MOOCs or have a conversation among colleagues on the topic, the difference (the huge differences) between the two models make any judgement difficult until some quite major clarifications are made.

As the questions from the doctoral student where appropriate, I thought I would take the chance, in answering them, to stress how cMOOCx differ from xMOOCs and, consequently, what a good idea would be to split up one model from the other one. My intention is far from aiming at coining a new term — there already exists even a taxonomy with 8 types of MOOC by Donald Clark — but reflecting on these differences and, in some way, extend the excellent work by Li Yuan, Stephen Powell and Bill Olivier at Beyond MOOCs: Sustainable Online Learning in Institutions.

Here, thus, comes the questionnaire and my answers:

A questionnaire about MOOCs

1. How would you define a MOOC?

It depends.

xMOOCs are self-learning courses supported by a minimum technological infrastructure for the distribution of learning materials and, sometimes, to enable a certain student-to-student interaction. In my opinion, most of them are not much more than that.

cMOOCs are self-learning communities, initiated by a person or a group of persons with knowledge and experience on a topic, and addressed to the rest of the community of interest so that new knowledge is built collectively with the support of decentralized leadership and the convergence of ideas.

2. What are the main characteristics of MOOCs?

It depends.

Most xMOOCs are just like an online course but without support or facilitation. Or are just a learning material with, sometimes, a platform for the exchange of opinions and judgements.

cMOOCs have a distributed leadership, they use totally decentralized technology and platforms, with a certain or minimum coordination (either methodological or technological) that, once it is established, usually steps aside and out of the front line of the learning action.

3. What would you consider are the benefits of MOOCs in comparison with other distance learning or e-learning modalities

It depends.

Most xMOOCs are, in my opinion, a step backwards (or, in the best scenario, just staying in the very same place) in relationship to other learning modalities. Only in very exceptional cases, and compared with very basic modalities, they suppose and advancement if they succeed in creating a dynamic and live learning community.

cMOOCs, in my opinion, are a leap forward. They imply putting the student in the centre of the learning action, make them aware and be part of the design and initiative of the learning action, make them reflect about that learning process and about the goals to be achieved (goals that, indeed, they are often changing). The MOOC makes reality the old motto of “learning to learn” as it makes real the creation of communities of learning and/or practice that, luckily, will stay with the learning for a long time (as long as their learning to learn lasts).

4. What would you consider are the main limitations of MOOCs?

It depends.

Most cMOOCs have as a main limitation the lack of facilitation, at least quality facilitation. Which, at its turn, implies other limitations that are the consequence of the former: highest drop out rates, disaffection, insecurity on the accomplishment of the learning goals, etc.

cMOOCs have as the main limitation that they usually take for granted that the learner masters three skills which are, the three of them, very demanding:

  • A certain level (usually high) of knowledge on the topic to be dealt with.
  • A certain digital competence, the higher the more decentralized is the course.
  • A certain interest in matters of learning methodologies so that they can perform the implicit metaanalysis of a course of this kind.

If each and every one of these three factors is already excluding on its own, the confluence of the three of them is quite often an insurmountable barrier.

5. How do you think the main limitations of MOOCs could be addressed?

It depends.

Most xMOOCs, in my opinion, should evolve towards already established modalities which have proven their efficacy, with facilitators that guide the student and scaffold their learning process.

cMOOCs should do an effort to increase the granularity of the levels of decentralization, individualization, autonomy, digital competence, pedagogical reflection, etc. so that it is possible to design a gradation of MOOCs that go from less “cMOOC-intensive” (and, thus, closer to more traditional modalities) to more “cMOOC-intensive” levels or “pure-cMOOCs” to benefit from all the possibilities of the model. This granularity with surely imply a trade-off with the “purity” of the MOOC, either with more centralization, more scheduling, more support or facilitation to students, more technological pre-setting, etc.

6. What role do you think MOOCs have?

Now focussing only on cMOOCs (I guess it is now clear that I believe that xMOOCs are, in reality, self-learning without a course), in my opinion cMOOCs are the great excuse to rethink the increasingly more blurry frontier between formal education and informal, non-formal and autodidactic learning.

And, with it, to rethink the role of traditional educational institutions before the institutions whose mission is not educating, but that in whose performance they end up being excellent learning platforms themselves (firms, among others).

7. Please state the degree of agreement with the following statements ranging from totally disagree to totally agree:

(this question is being answered in relationship with cMOOCs, totally leaving xMOOCs aside).

MOOCs are a new learning modality
MOOCs are an opportunity for lifelong learning.
MOOCs can be followed by people from all educational levels.
MOOCs participants should have a specific competencial profile (autonomy and initiative, perseverance, certain degree of digital skills…) before taking part in these courses.
MOOCs should have mechanisms so that students could be aware of their progress in the acquisition and development of competences.
Comptetences acquired and developed in the framework of a MOOC sould be evaluated.
Current accredtation of MOOCs is the correct one (free participation + pay per certification).
People that have taken part on a MOOC will have more chances of finding a job.

8. Other considerations that you may want to add.

I consider essential, in any analysis about MOOCs, to split up cMOOCs from xMOOCs: they are too different to be treated altogether.

Regarding the question “Comptetences acquired and developed in the framework of a MOOC sould be evaluated” I do not think this question should be related to any modality of learning action in particular, but related to the purposes that led someone to develop and follow a specific learning action.

That is, the decision whether to evaluate lies, in my opinion, outside of the modality, and it is framed in the learner’s context, in the learning goals, in the need (or not) for a certification of such evaluation, etc. Thus, I think this is a question that “does not apply”.

Some last notes

The landscape of MOOCs is rapidly evolving. Their horizon is broadening as are the methodologies that lead their design and development… and the business models (or lack of) that lie behind them. Some of them are beginning to be more closed courses than open; some of them are beginning to stress on facilitation; some others on peer-evaluation; etc. By increasing, as I stated before, the granularity of their characteristics, also their types will vary and increase, depending on what characteristics one prioritizes in detriment of other ones.

Some of my statements above may thus be very inaccurate in the medium term for most MOOCs, be them xMOOCs or cMOOCs… as I am fully aware that they already are for some.

So, the important thing, to me, is the following one: if MOOCs are the answer, what was the question? I think that when trying to understand MOOCs it still is more important to identify the correct question rather than focussing on what MOOCs (all of them or some of them) can or cannot do or achieve.