Jul 072012

Having been chosen by participants as the (un)keynote speakers for the 2nd day of the 3rd The PLE Conference (http://www.pleconf.org/ and http://pleconf.campus.sapo.pt/, @PLEConf  and #PLEConf on Twitter – thanks Ricardo), Gráinne Conole and Ricardo Torres Kompen decided to crowdsource some material for their (un)keynote by asking participants and the whole internet 4 questions. Below is my response.  If you’d like to participate, go to Gráinne’s post on Cloudworks or visit Ricardo’s blog.

Photo by Zé Pinho – http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/4061819437

1. What is your personal digital learning environment and how do you use it?

I see the PLE not as a technological platform or a set of tools, but as an ecosystem or an ecology of people, tools and resources you interact with online. It’s very dynamic and keeps changing and adapting according to my needs and interests. In that sense, it is hard to define it precisely. There’s the people I have a relationship with (weak or strong) and those whose activity I follow but don’t even know I exist; there’s an overwhelming abundance of resources from which I choose whenever I need to for any purpose; and there’s also a lot of tools and services that I use and that keep changing according to the circumstances. Those I rely the most on are, currently, Google Reader, Twitter, blog (WordPress), Google+, Diigo (synchronized with Delicious to use the Firefox add-on), Gmail and Google DOcs. I also use Scoop.it, but mostly for teaching and am going to focus more on Mendeley while writing my Phd.

I use it to gather information from the people I follow (you could call it my PLN) and from resources I identify as valuable, process, organize and make sense of that information, store the good stuff for future reference, share some ideas or resources I find interesting, communicate and collaborate with others, both professionaly and for whatever other reason life is made of.

Basically, I use my PLE for personal and professional activities without much difference in terms of the tools and services. The biggest difference here would be the people in my PLN (the “people” part of my PLE) in each context. Anyway I use it, it is always a learning process.

2. What are the main obstacles for building and maintaining a Personal Digital Learning Environment?

The first obvious difficulty would be, I guess, the lack of enough technical proficiency and enough online experience to develop an effective and rewarding PLE. Many people need help in this regard. Understanding online culture, getting familiar with modes of communication, developing enough technical skills to be autonomous takes time and effort, that can, often, be minimized with some modelling or guidance. Another difficulty is keeping the participation level and being an active and valuable contributor, so that your PLE isn’t just a black hole that sucks everything but from where nothing comes out. Being active and sharing knowledge, ideas, artifacts, questions, resources, experiences, etc. is a crucial part of one’s PLE, but that is not always easy to keep up continuously.

3. How has your use of technologies changed in the last five years?

I cannot pin point major differences, apart from the tools and services that come and go – some disappear, others become obsolete, new ones are created, some of my interests and needs change, etc. I guess I am using the technologies more or less the same I did five years ago, for the purposes I stated above.

4. What are your views on the PLE vs VLE debate? is the VLE really dead?

This would take a while to discuss, but the brief answer is no, of course not. Formal education and institutions have requirements that need to be met, and the LMS (I prefer to call them that, because all web environments can be seen as virtual learning environments) is useful in many circumstances. The idea of an open, distributed environment for learning is not equally appealing for everyone, especially when there are assignments and grades and certifications involved. On the other hand, the LMS provides a secure, centralized and practical way for formal educational contexts, despite its many shortcomings. The LMS has been evolving and many platforms are now trying to become more usable, more personalized and more social, Furthermore, there are some experiences with the so called intitutionally supported VLEs (which are, in most cases, VLE 2.0, actually) that provide an experience that, to some extent, is similar to that of a PLE but with some of the strong points of the LMS (centralized, secure, managed by institution, “all-in-one-place”), so I guess we are still a long way to declare the death of the LMS. Currently, for formal education, my favourite set up is using an LMS like Moodle for some core course components (information, learning contract, some base content and resources, some of the assessment, support forum, elements that may require privacy within the cohort, etc.) and than the students’ PLEs for searching, managing information, publishing their work, cooperating/collaborating/communicating with other relevant people outside the course, etc., making the most of what a networked learning experience has to offer. That is what we try to do in the Master’s program in elerning pedagogy at Universidade Aberta.

Well, that’s all. I’m looking forward to your unkeynote at the PLEConf in Aveiro.