The Integration of Personal Learning Environments & Open Network Learning Environments

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  • Volume 56, Number 3 TechTrends May/June 2012 13

    AbstractLearning management systems traditionally

    provide structures to guide online learners to achieve their learning goals. Web 2.0 technol-ogy empowers learners to create, share, and or-ganize their personal learning environments in open network environments; and allows learners to engage in social networking and collaborating activities. Advanced networking mechanisms, UGC, flat-structured architectures, RSS, and so-cial tagging, permit online learners to define their own learning structures. This article reports an online course built within multiple Web 2.0 tech-nologies designed to empower learners to con-struct their own personal learning environments within open network learning environments. Lessons learned, examples, and critical issues are discussed. This paper concludes that effective instructions should prepare online learners to become network or open network learners.

    Keywords: Connectivism; Open Network Learning Environment; Personal Learning Envi-ronment; Social Network Learning; Web 2.0

    eb 2.0 has become synonymous with a more interactive, user-generated, and collaborative Internet instrument. Sie-

    mens and Matheos (2010) suggested two trends in education; learners have freedom to access, create, and recreate their learning content; and

    they have opportunities to interact outside of a learning system. Educators focusing on social, open, and network aspects have integrated various Web 2.0 technologies to support their existing online instruction in a learning man-agement system (LMS) because integrating multiple tools simultaneously is the best strat-egy for learning (Dede, 2008). Many argue that the new possibilities these social networking tools possess result in a fundamental shift in the way students learn, consume, and produce new artifacts. In fact, Mott and Wiley (2009) argued that LMS are incapable of delivering ef-fective online learning. Educators perceive the instructional value of integrating Web 2.0 tools include autonomy, diversity, openness, and con-nectedness (van Harmelen, 2006); yet, they find multiple technologies daunting, which may af-fect their attitudes toward online learning. The integration of multiple Web 2.0 tools has cre-ated frustration among educators and students because they lack knowledge of the tools (Lee, Miller, & Newnham, 2008), difficulty learn-ing different tools (Weller, 2007), conducting multiple authentications (Suess & Morooney, 2009), visiting multiple sites for different tools, etc. This phenomenon results from a lack of un-derstanding of the social networking learning paradigm and inappropriate integration. Typi-cal online learning delivered within an LMS re-

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    The Integration of Personal Learning Environments & Open Network Learning EnvironmentsBy Chih-Hsiung Tu, Northern Arizona University, Laura Sujo-Montes, Northern Arizona University, Cherng-Jyh Yen, Old Dominion University, Junn-Yih Chan, National Chin-Yi University of Technology and Michael Blocher, Northern Arizona University

  • 14 TechTrends May/June 2012 Volume 56, Number 3

    quires fewer learner-centered skills, creates con-straints on learning environments and learning continuity (Mott & Wiley, 2009) promotes a culture of dependency rather than autonomy for students (Powell, 2008), static resources, de-contextualized tasks (Harrington et al., 2005) and limits focusing on technology develop-ment; whereas, Web 2.0 technology integration requires a high level of learner-centered skill to create a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) and Open Network Learning Environments (ONLE). This is a new dilemma that educators and students face because Web 2.0 integration requires a shift from a more teacher and institu-tion centered mindset to more distributed, per-sonalized efforts and collaboration. To resolve potential negative learning impact with Web 2.0 integration, educators should create an effective ONLE and invite students to build their own PLEs to achieve effective open network com-munication, interaction, and collaboration. This case study discusses a pilot, online course that delivers the entire course instruction on mul-tiple Web 2.0 tools that integrate the concepts of Connectivism, PLE, and ONLE. The purposes of integrating PLE and ONLE are more than re-playing an LMS through exploring and exam-ining effective design methods and strategies to support effective learning.

    Personal Learning EnvironmentsNew technologies enable individuals to per-

    sonalize the environment in which they learn, by creating and managing a learning network and appropriating a range of tools connecting people and resources to meet their learning interests and needs: these are called Personal Learning Environments (PLEs).

    PLE is an emerging learning concept that allows learners to control and manage their own learning processes and provides support to (a) set their own learning goals; (b) manage their learning; managing both content & process; and (c) communicate with others in the process of learning and thereby achieve learning goals (van Harmelen, 2006). A PLE is composed of mul-tiple subsystems, tools, or technologies. Siemens (2007) felt that a PLE is a collection of tools, brought together under the conceptual notion of openness, interoperability, and learner con-trol. Therefore, learners are required to apply a personalized portal to organize multiple tools in one central location to create a more open network learning, such as iGoogle, Google Reader, etc.

    Personalization and appropriation of tech-nologies and learning goals are necessary to PLE. Personalization and a sense of control are key factors of the successful use of Web 2.0 tech-nologies. Importantly, if students did not find the technology or platform provided by their institu-tions useful they are now in a position to bypass it in favor of their own personalized approach and preferred tools (Conole, 2008). However, if students are not clear with their learning goals and are uncertain how to appropriate relevant technologies to achieve these goals, an effective PLE would not occur at all. A PLE is more than just technology; Educators should focus on the values of a PLE connecting people, tools, and resources. Clearly, a PLE requires learners with competent self-regulatory skills.

    Open Network Learning Environments

    To allow learners to build PLEs, Open Net-work Learning Environments (ONLEs) must be established. ONLEs are digital environments that empower learners to participate in creative endeavors, conduct social networking, organize/reorganize social contents, and manage social acts by connecting people, resources, and tools by integrating Web 2.0 tools to design environ-ments that are totally transparent, or open to public view; the same architecture can be used to design the degree of openness users feel is neces-sary to the situation. PLE and ONLE emphasize the fundamental shift from information con-sumption to information creation and partici-pation, from individuals to more specific social interaction, and from individual constructions to more collaborative co-constructions. Social constructivism emphasizes the need for co-construction of knowledge and supports a more learner-centered approach. ONLE copes seam-lessly with a complex and changing knowledge domain; fundamentally ONLE recognizes no individual as expert, rather everyone is part of a social network. ONLE permits learners to build their own PLE through open, social and network learning architectures.

    PLE and ONLE Design ConceptsPLE and ONLE design concepts used for

    the course developed integrate Connectivism (Siemens, 2005) and Constructs for Web 2.0 Learning Environments (Tu, Blocher, & Rob-erts, 2008). Connectivism observes learning as a process that occurs within nebulous environ-

  • Volume 56, Number 3 TechTrends May/June 2012 15

    ments of shifting core elements (Siemens, 2005). Connective learning is the process of establish-ing connections that enable learners to acquire knowledge and learn more. This focus recognizes the fact that learning is based on rapidly altering foundations . . . currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learn-ing activities (Siemens, 2005). Understanding how to connect learning resources is as impor-tant as learning content because to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today. This is what Siemens claimed: the pipe is more important than the content with-in the pipe (Siemens). Constructs for Web 2.0 Learning Environments are grounded in socio-cultural learning, which is in a constant flux of cognitive development with the force of dynamic social interaction. Cognitive learning focuses on learning processes and development through creating, editing and remixing learning content, socially and collaboratively. Social aspect guides network learners to project appropriate digi-tal and social identities in the individual, social and cultural environments. Networking provides open and network learning architectures to con-nect tools, humans, and environments. Integra-tion emphasizes social and collaborative com-munity activities in ONLEinstructional strategies

    In this pilot online course, multiple Web 2.0 tools intertwined as ONLE to nurture individual learners PLEs to deliver course instruction. Each tool is integrated to serve single or multiple in-structional functions (see http://bit.ly/lFuD7E).

    To achieve effective PLE/ONLE, a wide-range of ONLE instructional strategies are in-tegrated: UGC; aggregations; mashups; social content sharing; remix content; RSS; participa-tory web; social tagging; mobile learning; social networking; and cloud computing. These strate-gies are integrated into the course to achieve the functions of learning management, communica-tion, content creation, collaboration, distributed resources, and social networking. Below are a few highlighted PLE/ONLE instructional activi-ties to enhance network-learning experiences. PLE setup

    Effective PLE requires students with compe-tent self-regulation and meta-cognition skills to create their PLE on iGoogle as the first instruc-tional activity to manage multiple required and optional course Web 2.0 tools by adding gadgets to their iGoogle. iGoogle is a customizable personal web portal to build PLE. Students are permitted to use web portals other than iGoogle, such as

    PageFlakes or Netvibes. However, PLE setup is critical because this course integrates multiple Web 2.0 tools. Students are mandated to create a new iGoogle tab, named PLE, and to add re-quired course gadgets to tabs, such as Twitter, Google Calendar, Google Docs, VoiceThread, Delicious, Google Reader/RSS etc. while stu-dents are required to add optional gadgets. Almost all Web 2.0 tools feature RSS feed ca-pability. With RSS feed subscriptions, students are able to organize, manage, and monitor their learning content, activities, and resources on Google Reader without visiting actual web sites. After the setup, students are instructed to visit their iGoogle account regularly to manage their course activities and determine whether any course instructional activities need attention.

    Students are required to apply mind map-ping tools to create their PLE diagrams to vi-sualize and update/manage PLE and share with the class by tagging them on Delicious. Stu-dents are required to review others diagrams, make any necessary updates, and reflect on how they may use their PLE to support their open network learning. At the end of the class, students are required to discuss their PLE ex-periences on the value of gadgets and tools ap-plied, describe how they used their PLE and their overall experiences etc.Tagging to Build Community

    Social tagging architecture is designed and applied to support students and teachers as they organize and share their network learn-ing resources to build a network community, such as Delicious, Diigo, tools with tagging features, etc. Social tagging engages students in fundamental learning skills; analysis, contextu-alization, and conceptualization. Course social tagging architecture stratifies into two tagging strategies: Organization Stratum and Sharing Stratum. Organization Stratum tagging strat-egies utilize different types of tags to embody human knowledge and cognition. It includes Community Tags (course number); Content Tags, Instructional Activity Tags (Assignment1; Module1 etc.), and Private Tags. Sharing Stra-tum uses collaborative tags to share resources with different functions of communities in net-work environments, such as community of in-terest, purpose, passion, and practice. Students are required to apply course-tagging schemes to their course assignments, activity resources and references. Tagging design allows students to search learning resources of previous students

  • 16 TechTrends May/June 2012 Volume 56, Number 3

    through tags. The course itself is gaining con-text-rich learning resources when students tag to share resources. With effective social tagging architecture, community-community interac-tion is facilitated seamlessly to assert communi-ty learning in temporal and spatial differences; therefore, upcoming students and instructors are able to start with profuse learning resources rather than an empty course shell; the tagged re-sources are available after students complete the course. This strategic social tagging architecture is effective in achieving the authentic concept of open educational resources (OER) and global digital learning.Collaborative Textbook Creations

    Student groups, utilizing social-construc-tive learning are required to select a lesson topic and collaboratively develop the lesson content to preserve as course textbook chapters on a wiki for current and future students as required learning content, thus creating a new edition of the course textbook each semester. Based on the concept of OER, these different editions of textbooks are available for other global digi-tal citizens. This activity engages students in meaningful and authentic learning in UGC, and community-community interaction. Stu-dent groups are asked to develop the course textbook chapters based on readings, instruc-tors guidelines and lesson discussion resources, etc. Students are encouraged to aggregate, and to remix their chapter content from creditable network resources and the chapter by previous students with appropriate references...

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