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29 October 2009 / erikduval

Getting personal

Time does fly! (I must be having fun.) It’s been almost three weeks since I had the honor and pleasure to present in the round table on Personalization and Learning.

Martin, Cristina and Graham had asked me to talk about my experience with Personal Learning Environments, a concept that is receiving a great deal of attention these days.

As I wrote in the abstract:

Learning is personal. So, learning environments should be personal too… Many (not all!) of our students do not expect anything less. Yet, organization-wide support for learning environments seems to be incompatible with personalization as witnessed by the one size fits all approach of dominant LMS’s. I will share some of my experiences in this domain: I once chaired the group that helped my university to decide to adopt Blackboard. That university wide system now has more than 90.000 users. Yet, my courses in it only contain a link to a wiki or a blog or a facebook group. In my talk, I will try to provide a happy twist to this ironic story.

In the presentation – slides below and recording available – I focused on my ongoing course on multimedia, where the learning environment is a combination of twitter (try the #mume09 hash tag), delicious (mumeo9 tag), facebook (facebook group) and blogs (bundle of the student blogs).

Basically, the students have weekly studio sessions with me where we discuss projects they work on in groups of 3 or 4. They are asked to

  • tweet whenever they work on their projects, so as to provide a ‘pulse’ of what is happening in the course in between face-to-face sessions;
  • post a bookmark on delicious that relates their work to an external web resource, so as to make them reflect on the relevancy of what we do in ‘the real world’;
  • blog at least once a week with a status update of what they have done, so that the different project groups (and I) maintain an overview of project progress.

So, what does this have to do with Personal Learning Environments? In my view, the essence is to connect with the personal life of the students: that is very hard to do in a rigid environment that acts as a walled garden in the way that Blackboard does. This is not even a Blackboard problem: I think that the same is true for Moodle and other LMS’s or VLE’s! If the students already live on facebook, then that is where I think we should be when we want to help them learning in an authentic way. Moreover, if their teacher, like me, lives in twitter and RSS land, then that is where he ought to be able to follow and provide feedback on their work! I guess that this is as much about being open as it is about being personal!

I think that I may have some anecdotal evidence that this approach works, as students have developed their assignments into projects that continue after they finished the course: my first year engineering students have adopted a facebook based calendar alternative for their standard blackboard one, developed by my master students in CHI last year. Another student developed a mash-up to rally student protest against the decision by my university to effectively block gmail:

By the way, this makes learning personal for teacher too: feedback on twitter can be quite direct, and the students generate some 200 tweets in the first 3 weeks, I get some 60 suggestions for additional course material per week, and the blogs regularly trigger feedback on-line or in the next face-to-face session. This is learning with the firehose open, not only for the student

I already mentioned open: why don’t you come have a look and leave some feedback for my students: here, or in twitter or in their blogs… You might learn something too ;-)!



Leave a Comment
  1. Ruben / Oct 29 2009 9:16 pm

    This is a great use-case for semantic web-driven integration. If we could have an open interface to facebook, twitter, delicious and the university course system, all this information could be centralised into one learning environment.


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