Interview: Introducing the HIPLE: Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment

What now follows is a (fake) interview I prepared for the PLE Conference and that sort of sums up the articles Introducing the Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment (HIPLE) and The Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment (HIPLE) into practice: an example with Twitter.

If you cannot see the video, please visit <a href="http://ictlogy.net/?p=3404">http://ictlogy.net/?p=3404</a>.

The main ideas are:

Why Personal Learning Environments (PLE)

  • Why not.
  • 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.

NOTE: sound quality is awful. Sorry about that.

The Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment (HIPLE) into practice: an example with Twitter

NOTE: this is a two-part writing on the Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment (HIPLE). You might thus be interested in reading part I: Introducing the Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment (HIPLE).

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).

Benefits

  • 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.

Introducing the Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment (HIPLE)

NOTE: this is a two-part writing on the Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment (HIPLE). You might thus be interested in reading part II: The Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment (HIPLE) into practice: an example with Twitter.

In Funnelling concepts in Education 2.0: PLE, e-Portfolio, Open Social Learning I made a plead for equidistance and eclecticism and performed a first exploration on how to cope centralization with decentralization, the institutional and the individual, the traditional Learning Management System (LMS) with the undefined and polymorphous Personal Learning Environment (PLE).

Two concurring projects in the last weeks make me revisit that topic:

Common issues

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.

A proposal

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:

  • The HIPLE Is a PLE.
  • The HIPLE is a hi-PLE.
  • The HIPLE rhymes with hype ;)

At this point, please allow me to bring back what I draw in Funnelling concepts in Education 2.0: PLE, e-Portfolio, Open Social Learning:

Funnelling concepts in Education 2.0: PLE, e-Portfolio, Open Social Learning

This is a plead for equidistance and eclecticism. Based on:

  • Being a teacher myself, and having to manage people, marks, syllabuses and on, I heavily rely on centralized solutions that I can barely imagine differently;
  • being (in many aspects) a learner myself, I can’t help myself from the bounds that tie me to monolithic structures, and hence manage an open personal environment where knowledge (and learning) comes in many ways;
  • constantly knowing and meeting other people like me (teachers and/or learners), it is just normal that our paths cross and our knowledge environments overlap and enrich one another;
  • all that said, it is just normal that both as a professional and as a learner I need to assess and be assessed by everything that I do here and there, as learning in the Information Society knows no boundaries.

All these aspects concur in the educational process, though many of them make opposite forces, which is why some certify the death of the virtual learning environment while others consider it alive and kicking; some will seem to be putting all the eggs in the personal learning environment and/or open social learning, while maybe there is still room to reconsider e-portfolios.

All this gets more complicated if we take into account assessment or tracking knowledge acquisition along your whole life.

I increasingly believe that the solution to all this, and put in Simon Grant’s words, may perhaps be not a tool but several tools [and] a tool for bringing together evidence residing in different systems. This is my go at the whole issue:

In general, I see two sets of opposite trends here:

  • On the one hand, the dilemma between the management needs of teaching, which lead to centralization vs. the self-management needs of learning, which lead to de-centralization;
  • on the other hand, the dilemma between the assessment needs, which lead towards individualization vs. the socialization needs, which lead towards openness.

Put these four issues one against the other one, I think we can clearly see that there are interesting intersections between them, and these overlaps are crowded with things that are already happening. What I’ve pictured is not exhaustive in any way, but it gives (me) an idea that “competing solutions” might not be as much of a solution as a hammer is an all-purpose tool.

  • Traditional learning management systems (LMS) have long gone online and included (shyly, though, most of times) the social component by providing Web 2.0 tools or channelling third parties’ content through widgets and open APIs;
  • on the other end, repositories and (hopefully, but very well yet) monitoring tools by means of which both the institution and the learner can access (and assess, if needed) the content of the latter;
  • e-portfolios are, in many cases, the bridge between the “inside” and the “outside”, and I truly believe (or expect) that they will gain increasing importance in blurring the frontiers that still separate virtual learning environments from personal learning environments;
  • last, but not least, personal learning environments do also have a social component, which in its other “end” is linked with virtual campuses, thus closing the circle.

In my opinion the debate of centralization vs. decentralization is not an either-or-debate, but a puzzle that will be solved by weaving the appropriate (and surely complex) tapestry. And I wonder whether the tools (the needles and the clothes, the open APIs and the widgets and the XMLs) are already there, and what lacks is some upgrade on our digital skills and mindsets (and a little bit of time).