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)

Innovation in education: improvement or transformation?

Must we innovate in education? Why? What for? Are we experiencing a fad, where everything has to be innovative… also in the world of education? Or is it something more structural, even necessary?

Past January 10 and 11, the Institute of Education Sciences (ICE-UAB) and the Institute of Government and Public Policies (IGOP) organized the VIII Forum on Education. Innovation and networking. The forum began with a morning session to which I took part as a member of the Jaume Bofill Foundation. It was a seminar-like session to share reflections on what do we mean by innovation, how should organizations and people innovate and whether and why is innovation important.

The concept of innovation is fluid and elusive, and quite probably it is good that it is so: it is in the constellation of ways of understanding innovation and it is in the myriad of methods that we have designed as innovative that an ecosystem takes shape in order to encourage and enable an innovative attitude. An attitude based on questioning everything, on putting everything in doubt, on challenging the reality until it gives up in trying to provide an an answer… and then one needs to find some other answer: an innovation.

Why innovate?

A question, however, that ones does not usually put is why innovation, quite different to what for innovation. While the what for tells us where we head to (bringing into the debate also other questions like what and how), the why asks us about the reasons for innovation: we are so imbued with the innovation inertia that we assume that innovation is necessarily good. But, do we really need to innovate? When things are working fine (or even good), do we need to risk and spoil them following a desire for innovation at all costs?

There are probably two main reasons that push us to innovate. Recognizing them, rather than being a justification for ourselves, is also useful as they enable us to shape the kind of innovation that we will conduct. That is, to know why we innovate &mash; or why we should innovate &mash; will be crucial to identify, then, where to apply our innovative effort, where to create this ecosystem that can spark the whole thing, and most especially, what results are to be expected.

The first reason is improvement. We realize that things do not work or do not work well enough, or that they might work even better. And we innovate. Innovation, from this point of view, is not risky, it is incremental, probably leads to a natural evolution of what we are doing, we are not moving in known territory but we have maps that will guide us in the way. We copy, adapt, replace, reinterpret, patch. This is a proactive innovation that enables anticipation to our environment. And it is as necessary as the importance we award to being part of the avant-garde of a cultural field or and economic sector. In education, this type of innovation has historically been reserved for pioneers, the restless ones, even the misfits. With all the connotations — positive and negative — that carry these concepts.

Innovate to transform (oneself)

There is, however, a much more important reason (in my humble opinion) that pushes an innovative approach and it is transformation. Transformation is neither evolutionary nor incremental, but disruptive and often dichotomous: there is a before and an after in a transformating innovation. Transforming innovation usually comes, at its turn, because of two key issues: technological change (comprising as technology everything that is instrumental as tools, methods, protocols, etc.) and shifts of context.

Technological change usually implies, automatically, that the old technology becomes inefficient. That is, new ways of doing the same thing with less resources (again, broadly speaking about resources: people, material, financial, time!). And with inefficiency several tensions arise. Not only the usual restrictions and limitations are accentuated, but the costs of opportunity become unbearable as, especially, unbearable become the frictions between those who are now more efficient because they adopted the new technology and those who are still stuck in the old modus operandi.

The shift of context is even more dramatic, as it affects efficacy: when the context changes, goals also move. Without an adaptation to the new context, without innovation, all our efforts point now to a wrong target. If efficiency is to achieve as many goals as possible (regardless of the means, which are measured in the axis of efficiency), it becomes strictly necessary to innovate but not for improving, but precisely for things to not get worse, for us not to find ourselves like fish out of water.

Paradigm shift towards a knowledge society

At this point, let us grant ourselves a moment to take a distant approach. We are nowadays immersed in a vast socio-technological paradigm shift that is changing how we define and understand the foundations of our society. People and institutions of this society are watching in real time and with their own eyes how technology (efficiency) and context (efficacy) change quickly, inexorably and without turning back.

Before this(these) change(changes) we can, indeed, ask ourselves whether there is a need to innovate, or to improve anything. Or whether we should make evolve what we understand as the “educational system” or “educational institutions”. And these questions are perfectly legitimate.

But it is also legitimate to ask whether we should innovate not in a quest for improvement but just not to lose what we achieved. When we talk about equity in education, we talk about equity in a world where inequalities have shifted, where new inequalities have appeared, in new areas and environments. When we talk about quality, we talk about new skills that we did not even know, with unfound and undisclosed referents with which to compare ourselves. When we speak of excellence we do it in terms of resources and tools that have been replaced by a brand new toolbox.

Thus, it would seem that it is no longer legitimate but now urgent to consider an innovation that is transforming. Basically, because everything around us is changing and at a high speed.

Originally published on March 17, 2014, as Innovació a l’educació: millora o transformació? at the Fundació Jaume Bofill blog at El Diari de l’Educació). All the articles published in that blog can be accessed at the original site in Catalan or here in the English translation.