My path through PLENK, or, MOOCing around

The third week of PLENK2010 is ending.  When I decided to sign up for this online course (“Personal Learning Environments, Networks, and Knowledge”) I didn’t have a goal much more solid than “find out more.”  I assumed the “more” would involve PLEs and PLNs.

Finding out more about knowledge wasn’t that high on my list.  Like a vegan who’s confessing his weakness for Twinkies, I feel vaguely uneasy saying this, but most high-abstraction discussion just makes me sleepy.

That probably explains a stretch of about five days when I didn’t do anything PLENK-related; I even closed the Tweetdeck column I had for the #plenk2010 hashtag.  Everyone and his cousin Bernie drew diagrams of their networks, and a daunting number of discussion posts probed the nuances of PLE versus PLN versus VLE… truly, I expected to see RSVP versus SPQR.

That’s okay.  I don’t have to like, much less use, a term like MOOC (Massive Open Online Course).  I see the intention as an opportunity that’s participatory, that has a focus but not a required sequence, and from which I select what I choose to select.

This post is just me, flipping through things that stand out after three weeks.

In how to take this course, the PLENK facilitators said the purpose isn’t to use a bunch of tools; it’s to practice using those tools to select content, rework it, create something new, and share–particularly with others in the course.

I already had this blog and a Delicious account.  I take Twitter so much for granted that I was surprised the PLENK profile form didn’t have a specific field for it.

Putting the “dis” in “discuss”

I find the Moodle-based discussion kludgy, from a user standpoint.  For one thing, each week’s discussion list gets sorted by most-recent-addition, which means the order constantly changes.  But there’s nothing to tell me if I’ve already read the posts in a given discussion.  Since there are 36 discussions in Week 2 and 12 in Week 3, I’m unlikely to remember on my own that I’ve seen everything in the thread with 34 posts but not everything in the one that has 31.

The same way that you make less coffee if you have a finicky coffeemaker,  I find the recurring annoyance of navigating the discussions has probably conditioned me to open them less often.  I have to nag myself to make an effort, because I’ve benefited from what other people have shared.

Net worth

Lots of people have made lots of diagrams of their PLEs and PLNs.  I’ve skimmed some, though after a while they all kind of look the same.  I realize at some level they are the same, because the diagrams show relationships that matter to those who created them.

Me?  I read Dave Cormier’s thought that the difference between PLE and PLN is mostly semantic, and thought, “Works for me.”

Yeah, yeah, semantics matter, but in this case not very much to me.

About the best thought I can draw for myself is the value of reflecting on where and how I learn, especially in my professional life.  Some of this–exchanges with my peers, reading what experts (however defined) have written–is of such longstanding, it’s kind of like the way I write.  I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my use of passive verbs, or having pronouns agree with their antecedents, because I’m at pretty freakin’ high strength for those particular skills.

I do find myself thinking more along the lines of “so what?”  What (if anything) do I do with what I take in?  I don’t want to be some kind of conceptual holding tank, or a guy with 10 gallons of Knowledge stored in the basement next to the water heater.

Follow disgruntle

I’ve used this phrase before.  It’s my way of telling myself to pay attention to annoying things I want to dismiss.  (Note: when you come with your friend to evangelize me, I’m still going to pretend I’m not home.)

So, for example, I like to make fun of words like “affordances,” which at times seems like the Learning Business’s latest synonym for “general wonderfulness.”  Deep down, I knew all along that probably wasn’t the full picture; I just couldn’t drag myself to find what it was.  But in a side conversation with yet another online colleague (YAOC), I got some useful, cognitive-psychology explanation.

I’m still going to make fun of “affordances,” but not as often.

Since I didn’t make a map of my PLE, though, I’m feeling as though I have to at least try making a concept map.  Of what, I’m not sure.  Why?  Mostly to put myself through the exercise of trying to do it–to see whether I end up with a result that seems of higher value than expected.

I understand what George Siemens meant when he said mindmaps have a center but concept maps don’t.  I have to do one, I suppose, to grasp the implications of how concept maps “communicate relatedness and reasons for relatedness.”

Seeking Ellumination

I missed the first week’s Elluminate broadcast because I couldn’t get it to work.  It took till nearly the second week’s broadcast to discover the problem was on my end (my so-called security software wouldn’t let the session open).

These are handled about as well as you can handle a high-tech conference call.  The session moderators have done well, I think, and the participants share enough of a focus that the level of silliness or randomness (in the “backchannel” of the chat window) is about what you’d get in an in-person workshop.

What I didn’t expect to happen is that I’ve done some post-session followup each time with individuals who spoke (or, more accurately, chatted) up during the session.  As with Twitter discussions, what someone says in an Elluminate session can move me to make further connections.

* * *

Hmmm… I’m kind of a wordy blogger anyway.  Skimming what I have here, I don’t have much sense of a conclusion.  In part I wrote this from the notes I kept (in an Evernote document) over the past couple of weeks.  There’s more, equally ill-formed, so I’m just going to stop now and let things percolate (or incubate) for a bit.

* * *

(Added afterward)

I forgot to mention that my survey (asking about the backgrounds of people in the course) did confirm an impression I had.  Only 12% of respondents say they work in corporate / for-profit areas, while 39% work in academia.

Another 6% say they work at the Vatican, which is a good reminder of the value of informal surveys.




2 thoughts on “My path through PLENK, or, MOOCing around

  1. It could be that that 6% *do* work in the Vatican!

    There is a setting inside the discussion boards that tracks what’s new and shows how many posts you’ve not read since last time. It’s not perfect, the visual indication inside the forum is a yellow (instead of black) border which I suspect won’t be much use to the colour blind, and just visiting a forum resets the whole unread count. It’d be better if it worked like a feed reader.

    Like you, I’ve found more value in the conversations than the activities.

  2. They may work for the Vatican, Chris, but one of ’em has an IP address in Dallas, and one in Calgary. Not that that rules out anything.

    I’m just surprised that Moodle, which I’d assumed (without evidence) to be widely used, doesn’t make it easy for me to tell is there anything new in the discussions as a whole (the weeklies, seen as a group), or within the individual discussions (when I’ve gone into a specific week.

    Changing a border from black to yellow is just plain dumb, a classic example of “lemme explain why this is intuitive.”

    I realize I could probably make better use of RSS to manage this, but I think the discussion board software ought to get off its backside and do that for me.

    I want to make clear I don’t intend this as criticism of the moderators — unless they’ve got tools to make this happen and simply haven’t done so. I doubt that’s the case.

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