Blog Post 7 – Choose Your Own Topic

I know, not a very interesting title, but it is the topic for Blog Post #7.  If you have been reading, you know that I am currently teaching a course (HRD4407/5507) on Technologies in Human Resource Development.  I have chosen to focus this course on the creation of a Professional Learning Network (PLN).  You could also call it a Personal Learning Network, Personal Learning Environment or a Personal Learning Ecology (as I did here).  I purposely selected the term “professional” to emphasize how social media can be used in a professional setting.

At the heart of a PLN is social media.   This is a broad term and most people simple equate social media as Facebook.  But there is more to this social media.  From an article in 2011, Heidi Coehn, a marketing professional gathered a variety of definitions of social media.  But for me it is about the connection between the individual and the tool.

A Brief, Very Brief History of the Internet

In the beginning there was information. The Internet was a place to find information, it still is a place to find information, but in the beginning only those who could write fancy code could put information on the Internet.  (This would be Web 1.0).

Then there was writing or creation for the masses.  Some incredible people made it possible to “write on the web” without knowing the fancy coding.  The Internet became a place where anyone could create and share information. (This would be Web 2.0).  You see lots of references in education to Web 2.0 tools.  There are still great tools available and more every day!

Then there was connecting. (And you guess it, this would be Web 3.0.  Although there are many who would argue that it is really still just Web 2.0, but that is another discussion.) Now, not only are people able to create and share, they can connect and broadcast.  The tools that were created allow people to follow others using tools like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

So the Internet has moved from a read-only resource to a mass creation and sharing to connecting and broadcasting. Which leads us to the emerging learning theory of connectivism.

Connectivism

In midst of these new tools for connecting, George Seimens presented a learning theory called connectivism, which is based on connecting (see the Web 3.0 connection).  The basic principles of connectivism are:

  • Learning and knowledge rests in diversity of opinions.
  • Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.
  • Learning may reside in non-human appliances.
  • Capacity to know more is more critical than what is currently known
  • Nurturing and maintaining connections is needed to facilitate continual learning.
  • Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill.
  • Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities.
  • Decision-making is itself a learning process. Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.

(Seimens, 2004)

If you are interested in learning theories, you should go to http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm and read the article.  Better yet, make sure you are logged in to your Diigo account.  Then you can experience how social media tools can change the way we interact with information.  Throughout the article are highlights and comments from other Diigo users.  Not only can you read the article, but you can see what others feel are important based on the highlighting and you can see their thoughts and additional insights based on the notes they add.  And as you start reading the comments you realize they are all from the same time period – looks like a group, perhaps a class co-read this article.  You and I were not there for the discussions, but we do get to see some of the virtual learning footprint they left behind.

What Does Your Virtual Learning Footprint Look Like?

As you create and build a PLN, you are able to explore the virtual learning footprint of others.  As you create and comment and share your learning you too are creating a virtual learning footprint.  Does this matter?  Well, if you’d like to know how that one person you admire achieved and grew, perhaps they left a virtual learning footprint you can explore and learn from.  As you move forward always working towards that next goal, do you ever stop and reflect on how far you have come?  If you have left a virtual learning footprint you can look back and see.  Or you can be reminded of why you are in school, again, or why you took that second job when you didn’t really need the money.  These can be powerful reflective moments that help keep you on track.

 

References

Seimens, G. (2004) Connectivisim: A learning theory for the digital age. Retreived from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

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Selecting a Wiki Tool

In selecting any technology it is important to understand first what you want to be able to do.  I will admit there are some cool tools I run across and then wonder how I could implement them in a learning context.  But I have found that having an objective in mind before hand allows me to sort and filter and evaluate the usefulness of the tool.

In designing the summer section of HRD 4407 / 5507 – Technologies in Human Resource Develoment I needed to revise some of the assignments in the course due to the lack of availability of some of the technologies (See The Constant Change of Technology or The Death of SlideRocket).  I’ve written about searching for tech tools for eLearning (see Finding the Best Tools for eLearning) and that is the process I followed as I selected the various tools for this course.

Selecting Appropriate Technology for eLearning

Learner Analysis

The first information I sought was about the students who would be in this course.  This would be a combined undergraduate / graduate course.  Those enrolled as undergraduates would be  at the end of their program while the graduates would just be at the beginning of their degree.  While the name of the course is looking at human resource development, there would still be many students who would not be headed into a career in human resources.  Understanding this variety in the students I took a step back and used a very broad definition of technology in HRD.

Limitations

One of the biggest limitations in this course was that it is a six week summer course.  The timeline for this course would be quick.  Knowing that I would have a variety of technical skills, we needed to jump into using the technology quickly.  It would also be important to provide tutorials and keep things focused.

Course Objectives

I left this step out of the previous post, but this is what should always guide the selection of technologies in a learning environment.  The course was redesign around the concept of a Professional Learning Network (PLN).  This is a overarching concept that would apply to all the students and would get everyone in using technology tools, especially social media in a professional context.

The previous course design incorporated all the student reviews of individual technologies into an ebook.  The current course retains the objective that students will become an “expert” on a specific technology.  However, in order to incorporate another social media tool, this one project was moved to a wiki format.  The content would remain the same, it would be available publicly and would incorporate a useful technology tool that is used in many work environments.

What is a Wiki?

A wiki is a freely editable webpage.  It is one of the first tools that moved the internet from a read-only resource created by those who understood servers and HTML, to a creation resource created by anyone with appropriate access.  You can read more about wikis on one of the most well know wikis – wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiki)

Selecting a Wiki

In consultation with the previous instructor of this course she recommended two wikis – PBWorks and Wikispaces.  I created an account (free education account) on each system.  This allowed me to see the interface and available tools.  After a brief exploration I paused and created a list of what features I wanted in the wiki.

  1. Easy interface
  2. Helpful support resources
  3. Easy to add users
  4. Free
  5. Logical navigation

Both options fit most of the items on the list.  I could have also search for a comparison like this WikiMatrix or sought out a discussion like this Wikispaces vs. PBWorks, but I did not at that time.  In the end, wikispaces had some impressive tools that supported the use of a wiki within the educational setting and the interface was intuitively easier to navigate.

I am looking forward to watching our class wiki evolve.  As with many eLearning projects there is a need for some project management.  In order to meet the needs of a graduate program, moving this project to a wiki also provided the opportunity to guide the graduate students in project management.  I have provided some vague guidelines, but the wiki page template recently posted in the course was co-created with the graduate students and the organizational structure of the wiki as a whole is in development – headed up by the graduate students.

Wiki and PLN?

A wiki is a wonderful tool in a PLN.  It enables professionals around the world to co-create a resource.  One node in my PLN is http://ethosconsultancynz.ning.com/.  Ning is a tool to create communities – it combines blogs, profiles, wikis and social media tools into a space all their own.  And even though this community began in New Zealand, I have found it useful in my PLN.

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