Notes from the workshop on Doctoral education and e-Supervision, organized by the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP), the International Association of Universities (IAU), the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) and the Kenyatta University (KU) within the project Personal Learning Environment (PLE)-PhD project financed through the IAU LEADHER programme, and held in Barcelona, Spain, in October 31, 2013. More notes on this event: plephd.
Hilligje van’t Land, Director, Membership and Programme Development, IAU
There is a dire need for real phds, in Africa or elsewhere, virtual or not.
There also is a need to collaborate, to innovate in the field of how to foster brand new research and how to support the new research done by PhD students.
Added to that, there is a need for research networks: it is important to note that supervision is also part of being a network.
A very important challenge is how to provide technical support, how to bring into research ethical dimensions, or how to lead the administrative changes that have to accompany the changes in research and in supervision.
But most important of all, beyond theories, we have to see how to put e-supervision into practice, to make it happen.
Marta Aymerich, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC)
One of the keys of research and PhD is supervision. It is not a trivial matter and thus needs being addressed properly.
ICTs have provided very powerful in knowledge related tasks. We thus need to leverage the power of ICTs in research in general and in supervision in particular.
We need to discuss the structures in place for doctoral education.
Olive Mugenda, Vice-Chancellor, Kenyatta University (KU), Kenya
There is a dire need for research and for PhDs.
We especially need to train the trainers, people that will earn their own PhDs so that they can supervise/train others.
The whole process needs to be accountable, in general terms of performance, but especially in terms of ensuring quality.
We can’t keep the old model of supervision, we have to open up supervision.
We have to change paradigm, get out of old way of thinking and foster e-supervision.
Jaume Casals, Vice-Chancellor, Universitat Pompeu Fabra in representation of the Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP)
PhDs are the jewel of the crown, thus we have to harvest them with care.
Doctoral education and e-Supervision (2013)
Easton Phidd commented on my “pre-paper” called Personal Learning Environments and the revolution of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development — “pre-paper” as it later became a full published paper Heavy switchers in translearning: From formal teaching to ubiquitous learning. As the questions he is putting are very interesting, and my answers were getting longer and longer, I thought I’d better share them on a new post.
Is there any empirical research on substitution patterns?
My own experience / applied research — which depicts (in Spanish) these processes in my own teaching in a graduate programme on e-Government — can be accessed here:
Peña-López, I. & Cerrillo i Martínez, A. (2012). “Microblogging en el aula. De la información a la participación
”. In Cerrillo i Martínez, A. & Delgado García, A.M. (Coords.), La innovación en la docencia del Derecho a través del uso de las TIC
, 143-157. Actas de la III Jornada sobre Docencia del Derecho y Tecnologías de la Información y la Comunicación, 8 de junio de 2012. Barcelona: Huygens.
Peña-López, I. & Cerrillo i Martínez, A. (2011). “Herramientas 2.0 para el desarrollo de competencias profesionalizadoras
”. In Cerrillo i Martínez, A. & Delgado García, A.M. (Coords.), Las TIC al servicio de la docencia del Derecho en el marco del EEES
, 89-102. Actas de la II Jornada sobre Docencia del Derecho y Tecnologías de la Información y la Comunicación, 6 de junio de 2011. Barcelona: Huygens.
On the other hand, an (almost) complete list of works around the area (most of them with a theoretical approach) can be found at The Personal Research Portal: related works, a collection of works related with personal research portals and e-research (as enhanced research).
Another option is to navigate this collection of works related to Personal Learning Environments penned by yours truly.
In a more informal way, I’d say there are lots of examples out there:
- There are many examples were usual textbooks are being substituted by open educational resources. I’d dig in OER repositories for experience of reuse.
- There are also examples of university-enterprise partnerships that can be understood as shifting some formal teaching towards informal training/learning.
- And, last, but not least, cMOOCs are definitely a transition towards total hybridization.
Definitions of heavy-switching and substitution pattern
Heavy switching is a way of denying multitasking in pedagogical terms — it already has in psychological terms by evidence. And of proposing tearing down the walls of compartmented learning.
I would define heavy switching as the constant interaction between learning actors — resources, environments and institutions — that takes place once planned and unplanned learning, and structured and non-structured teaching take place simultaneously and seamlessly, thus blurring the boundaries of time, space and formality that usually artificially compartmentalize learning.
A substitution pattern is the path that one goes through to replace a methodology, tool or technology in actual use by a new one. A substitution pattern will very likely have four stages:
- The appropriation of the new methodology/tool/technology.
- The adaptation of the novelty to the traditional use.
- A phase of improvement of the tasks performed.
- A transformation in the very essence of the tasks being performed.
How does the heavy-switching/translearning model can impact second language (L2) learners?
I, in fact, made a proposal/reflection on the topic of Personal Learning Environments for second language learning during the “II Conference on language learning: environments, tools and learning resources” in 2011. My keynote was Native Latin teacher wanted. Linking personal teaching and learning strategies on the Net.
My reflections were published at that time, but I may reproduce some of them here for the sake of easiness:
- The teacher is a researcher, a student, and should thus make their learning strategies explicit so that students can copy them or be inspired by them.
- Read a lot. If you’re a knowledge worker, you have to read.
- Read thoroughly: analysis, synthesis, abstraction are a requisite for juicing a reading.
- The best way to learn is to teach something. A Personal Learning Environment is also about teaching, or about learning by teaching, not only “just learning”.
- In a digital world, everything is connected.
- Thus, inside/outside is a false dichotomy, artificially created to raise walls were there were none. Ask yourself why someone would try and build such walls.
Professors Linda Castañeda and Jordi Adell have just published the book Entornos personales de aprendizaje: claves para el ecosistema educativo en red (Personal Learning Environments: keys for the networked educational ecosystem), the most comprehensive work to date on Personal Learning Environments in Spanish language and, arguably, one of the most comprehensive too in any language.
This book is a tremendous (and, in my acknowledgedly biased opinion, succeeded) effort to produce a definition, a compilation of research approaches (pedagogical, technological, sociological…), framework of application and applied examples of what we understand by personal learning environments or PLEs.
The editors of the book asked me to contribute with a chapter — The research-teaching PLE: learning as teaching — which aimed at reflecting the use of the PLE in the intersection of research and teaching. In other words, how most scholars and teachers of all kinds could understand the PLE (a) beyond a tool for their students (i.e. for themselves), and (b) beyond the classroom. If I was to summarize my chapter in just one short sentence I’d say that the PLE becomes meaningful for the teacher when we understand the teacher as a learner too.
Part of the content of my chapter overlaps with what I dealt with in Heavy switchers in translearning: From formal teaching to ubiquitous learning. But, as I have pointed at, the book chapter (which was written first) has a more practical, hands-on, do-it-yourself approach, while the article definitely has a more academic flavour. And, of course, the former is in Spanish and the later in English.
The presentation of the book is terrific with a very cool website. Besides the printed edition, the book can be downloaded (as a whole, by sections and by chapters) and can be reused thanks to its BY-NC-ND 3.0 Creative Commons license.
My gratitude to Linda and Jordi goes “beyond usual” as they really encouraged me in putting together all my stuff on this topic, which ended up in the chapter and the aforementioned article. Many thanks for that!
After a long collaborative process of several months, the book Ciudadania y ONG (Citizenry and Nonprofits) has just seen the light. This has been a very interesting exercise of co-coordination along with Imanol Zubero, Carlos Giménez and Enrique Arnanz.
For the making of the book, the website CiudadaniayONG.org was used in two steps:
- A delimited survey open to everyone, to copse the main topics around the three axes that we had predefined:
intergenerational relationships, transforming participation, and digital citizenry.
- An open forum, where the main conclusions of the survey were discussed and complemented with many insights.
In each step documents were produced to provide the appropriate context for the coming reflection.
Besides being part of the whole process, I concentrated in the third axis, that is, digital citizenry, and what did it mean for participation, volunteering and nonprofits in general entering the new era of the Information Society.
I am deeply grateful to the promoters of the book, Fundación Esplai, and, of course, to the rest of the coordinators. Scholars have fewer occasions to collaborate with people outside the Academia and higher pressure not to: being part of the book was keeping a wire attached to the power that boosts citizen movements. Besides the later, some of the many people that helped in making the book a reality are Carles Barba, María Jesús, José Maria Pérez, Maria Jesús Manovel, Elvira Aliaga, Virginia Pareja, Cesk Gasulla, Josechu Ferreras, Jorge Hermida, Carles Campuzano, Luis M. López Aranguren, Consuelo Crespo and Rafael Rodríguez.
The book has been published in Spanish and translated into Catalan.
On the Horizon — the academic journal on education policy and strategic planning — has just published has just published a special issue on the Knowmad Society and borderless work and eduction.
The issue includes a paper of mine entitled Heavy switchers in translearning: from formal teaching to ubiquitous learning, which is quite a title indeed.
The nonwords I use in the title, more than gratuitous, really want to point at some crucial points I address in the paper:
- Heavy switching is opposed to multitasking, in the sense that not only people do not actually multitask (increasing scientific evidence on that matter) but actually switch tasks very quickly and, more important, switch environments: their (formal) learning environment, their job environment, their family environment… When your environment is where your laptop is, people really can and actually do switch tasks quite heavily.
- Translearning is about learning through (instead of at) several places, learning as one goes along different environments and, above all, learning resources, especially those that are found outside of educational institutions.
Thus, heavy switching and translearning are used in the sense that ICTs do transform the context and the environment where learning usually took place. And that is why Vigotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development is revisited, this time to redefine the more knowledgeable other in the framework of Personal Learning Environments.
In his introductory article to the special issue, guest editor John W. Moravec describes the article as:
an interesting approach in blending Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (ZPD) (see esp. Vygotsky 1978) with personal learning environments (PLEs), afforded through ICTs, that enable translearning and heavy switching that is difficult to manage in formal learning environments. In other words, PLE-based learning strategies could be employed to manage an individual’s engagement within their own ZPD. Such an approach, [the author] argues, blurs the distinctions between teachers and learners, in addition to questioning the roles of formal institutions of learning.
The paper is still in its preprint version, so it may still go under some minor edits.
I am very glad to see this paper published as its conception has been a gradual process of putting scattered ideas together since, as far as I can remember, my reflections after the Open EdTech Summit in November 2010. Most of them were tested live at TIES2012 in my communication The PLE as a personal tool for the researcher and the teacher.
I am very grateful to John W. Moravec for his infinite patience, comments and hints way beyond his duties as guest editor.
Purpose – We explore the role of Personal Learning Environments in an already ICT-dense context and in combination with some educational approaches in the field of technology enhanced education. We analyze how Personal Learning Environments are not a device but a learning strategy that threatens the way educational institutions and their functions are understood, by contributing to enable a borderless learning society.
Design/methodology/approach – We will begin revisiting Vygotsky’s concept of the Zone of Proximal Development and assess the role of educators and educational institutions as the actual more knowledgeable others in scaffolding learners’ learning paths. This role will be put in relationship with different learning scenarios (formal, non-formal, informal and autodidactic) according to their inner structure (or lack of) and degree (or absence) of planning. Last, we put PLEs in relationship with other “physical” spaces (VLEs and LMSs), the digitization of content (open educational resources), records and assessments (e-Portfolios) and the possibility to flip some traditional tasks or processes that enabled regaining the social component in the classroom (Education 2.0).
Findings – We suggest that PLEs have come to close the circle of ICTs in Education with a highly transformative power: the power to blur the boundaries between formal teaching and informal learning. Indeed, the traditionally difficult transition from one learning scenario to a different one has been made smoother by the appearance of OER and, especially, social media constructs that can be used for learning purposes, especially within a PLE-based strategy.
Originality/value – It is stated that institutions should embrace and even foster the possibility that learners could easily and intensively switch educational resources, just like they could shift among different registers and learning scenarios, as a newly enabled way to tear down the artificial divisions that formal learning edified.
Kalz, M. (2005). “Building Eclectic Personal Learning Landscapes with Open Source Tools
”. In de Vries, F., Attwell, G., Elferink, R. & Tödt, A. (Eds.),
Open Source for Education in Europe. Research & Practise
, 163-168. Conference proceedings. Heerlen, the Netherlands, November 14 and 15, 2005. Heerlen: Open University of the Netherlands.
Peña-López, I. (2009). “The personal research portal
”. In Hatzipanagos, S. & Warburton, S. (Eds.),
Handbook of Research on Social Software and Developing Community Ontologies, Chapter XXVI
, 400-414. Hershey: IGI Global.
Roberts, G., Aalderink, W., Cook, J., Feijen, M., Harvey, J., Lee, S. & Wade, V.P. (2005). Reflective learning, future thinking: digital repositories, e-portfolios, informal learning and ubiquitous computing
. Briefings from the ALT/SURF/ILTA Spring Conference Research Seminar. Dublin: Trinity College.
Rossi, P.G., Pascucci, G., Giannandrea, L. & Paciaroni, M. (2006). “L’e-Portfolio Come Strumento per la Costruzione dell’Identità
Informations, Savoirs, Décisions, Médiations
, (25), art.348. La Garde: Université du Sud Toulon-Var.
Smith, M.K. (2008). “Informal learning
the encyclopaedia of informal education
. London: YMCA George Williams College, London.
Developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky defined what the person or a student can do — or the problems they can solve — as three different stages:
- What a student can do on their own, working independently or without anyone’s help.
- What the student can do with the help of someone.
- What it is beyond the student’s reach even if helped by someone else.
He called the second stage the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) which had, as said, two limits: the lower limit, which was set by the maximum level of independent performance, and the upper limit, the maximum level of additional responsibility the student can accept with the assistance of an able instructor. But
Vygotsky believed that learning shouldn’t follow development, but rather should lead it. A student should constantly be reaching slightly beyond their capabilities rather than working within them (Jo Turner-Attwell, 2009).
This reaching beyond one’s capabilities can be pictured as the student entering their Zone of Proximal Development. And this exploration beyond one’s capabilities is not to be made alone, but with an instructor to help in the way. Vygotsky called this instructor the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO), the role of which is to help the student throughout their ZPD by scaffolding the path they have to follow to learn how to solve new problems.
The Personal Learning Environment and the Zone of Proximal Development: a static approach
The Personal Learning Environment could be understood both as the Zone of Proximal Development and the full set of More Knowledgeable Others, understanding by More Knowledgeable Others not only as people of flesh and blood, but any kind of knowledge construct that we can imagine: from the more typical teachers and open educational resources to all sorts of digital content including messages in fora, multimedia files and so on. As Graham Attwell (2010) puts it,
the MKO can also be viewed as a learning object or social software which embodies and mediates learning at higher levels of knowledge about the topic being learned than the learner presently possesses.
But if we really believe that the Personal Learning Environment is much more than a tool but a learning philosophy, there is much more than we can say in the crossroads of the PLE and the ZPD. The Personal Learning Environment is transferring some — or most — of the responsibility of somebody’s learning path from the instructor (back) to the learner. And, in doing so, it also implies regaining the control of one’s own learning path and its design. In relationship with the Zone of Proximal Development:
The role of a Personal Learning Environment may be not only that of a tool to provide access to ‘More Knowledgeable Others’ but as part of a system to allow learners to link learning to performance in practice, though work processes. And taking a wider view of artefacts as including information or knowledge accessed through a PLE, reflection on action or performance may in turn generate new artefacts for others to use within a ZPD (Graham Attwell, 2010).
The Personal Learning Environment and the Zone of Proximal Development: a dynamic approach
All these reflections stand for a static approach to the Zone of Proximal Development, that is, at a given time and at a given place. Indeed, in Vygotsky’s time, the boundaries of the ZPD were indeed very physical: the evolution of a wood carver’s craftsmanship was bound by the availability of master craftsmen and the possibility to be an apprentice in a nearby workshop.
But Information and Communication Technologies have capsized the whole previous scenario and, thus, the relationship between Personal Learning Environments and the Zone of Proximal Development should be approached not only within the state-of-things prior to the Internet, but also in how this state-of-things is shifting forward.
Thus, one way to look at the ZPD-PLE relationship is seeing the PLE as a way to build, fill in with or reach out for the tools and people that will help a learner through the ZPD. Another way to look at the ZPD-PLE relationship is how the PLE (re)defines the ZPD itself, continuously, dynamically.
Unlike in a world without digital access to information and communications, in a digital world content and people are available all at once. Maximalistically speaking, a PLE can be conformed by virtually everything that exists out in the cyberspace. If virtually everything is at reach, virtually everything can be understood as the more knowledgeable other. With a full, total, comprehensive access to the more knowledgeable other there virtually is no upper limit of the Zone of Proximal Development, there virtually is no level of problem solving that is unreachable for the student.
The PLE, has then two roles in relationship with the ZPD:
- It helps in building the inner structure of the ZPD, its components.
- It helps in building the outer structure of the ZPD, its boundaries.
There is a sort of corollary to the previous second statement. In Vygotsky’s time, learning — and hence the ZPD — was sort of linear: woodcarving apprentices would move “up” to a new master craftsman once they had mastered some skills themselves with the help of their previous/actual master. Progress would end when there were no more master craftsmen around whom to learn from. On the other hand, learning face to face with a human more knowledgeable other meant not only that one had to “use them up” but that one could not “consume” any other more knowledgeable others: learning was unidirectional, linear.
When MKOs are conformed by all kind of tacit and explicit knowledge constructs in one’s PLE, there is no way of (a) “using them up” and (b) not being able to move in parallel with more than one more knowledgeable other. We can then think of the PLE both as the biggest ZPD possible, or as the overlapping of different snapshots of a PLE that evolves “fractalically”, multidirectionally, on time, on demand, until it (potentially) covers the whole cyberlandscape.
The future of educators?
One of the conclusions that one might infer from the previous statements that they are proof of the postulates from thinkers like Syemour Papert, Roger Schank or Nicholas Negroponte: in a digital world, all you have to do is build a PLE as big as the biggest imaginable ZPD. Imagine all you need to learn and it already is out there.
I personally do not agree with that thesis. If PLEs can be understood from a dynamic point of view and work well for all your life-long learning and corresponding ZPDs, it is also true that, from a static point of view, they need to be built to scaffold your way through a specific ZPD. And it is in this scaffolding that help is required.
In other words, and summing up, I believe that it is likely that we see a decreasing need of instructors as more knowledgeable others in order to learn something, but an increasing need of instructors as more knowledgeable others in order to learn how to learn something. With Personal Learning Environments to cover the ground of one’s Zone of Personal Development, learning how to learn, how to design one’s own learning process may be more relevant than ever and require more help from third parties. This is, I think, the most promising future of teaching today.