Pruning as curation, or, only keep saws you want to sharpen

Ready to reflect and reviseI’ve been neglecting my cognitive tools.  Admittedly, they don’t need the shot of WD-40 that I use on the garden clippers.  But I’m not taking care of the tools I rely on every day.

My grandfather would disapprove.  He was a craftsman with serious technology (locomotives) and practical technique (carpentry).

I’m sure Jack D (as everyone called him) had plenty of tools, but probably not too many. He’d consider the likely benefit against the cost. His skill meant he could achieve superior results with adequate means.

As for the tools he did have, he had them ready to use.  Blades were honed, sawdust was cleared, dirt was wiped away.  Pegs, racks, drawers, tins were chosen and rearranged to support effective use.

Earlier today, I came across a colleague’s question related to RSS feeds.  To help answer his question, I opened my (often neglected) NetVibes feed reader.  And it’s a mess.

Messy in part because it’s easy to add feeds, so I’ve added lots.  I don’t always step back and thing about what value I get from a particular feed, though.

I do sometimes cluster them.  NetVibes has tabs, so I group learning stuff under one, science stuff under another, “not work” stuff under a third.

All those notes don't necessarily harmonize.I see this tendency to collect things without much reflection in my Delicious tags (513 of them) as well.  And in my Evernote notebooks.

Adding is just collecting.  Grouping is a potentially helpful advance.  It take more time to pause and consider what you’ve got, what you get, what you think about that, and what you want to do differently.

Which reinforced the need for (and the value of) organizing what I’ve got.

If I charged for these posts, I’d call it curating, one of those highfalutin words I enjoy satirizing, like  affordances.

The concept is apt, though; the medieval Latin word curator, related to “care,” meant an overseer, manager, or guardian.  I can’t resist adding that in the Middle Ages, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, this meant the care of “minors, lunatics, etc.”

Care is much more than amassing.  In fact, care sometimes includes pruning: cutting back and discarding things that aren’t useful, things that can even impede productive growth.  “Productive,” naturally, is up to you and the results you have in mind.

Or, up to me.  So I’ve got some chunkifying to do.  It’s not always copy and paste, you know.  Sometimes select and delete has a big payoff as well.  If you’re going to keep the saw, then make sure it’s sharp.  But every so often, ask if that’s a saw worth the keeping.

CC-licensed image:
Coffee cup and clippers by Pollyalida.

Plunked into PLENK: personal learning DIY

I’ve signed up for PLENK2010, an online course on Personal Learning Environments, Networks, and Knowledge.  The purpose of the course is to “clarify and substantiate” the concepts of personal learning environments (PLEs) and personal learning networks (PLNs).

  • Main link for course information is, which provides more description as well as links for registration, the course forum, and so on.
  • The instigators… I mean, facilitators, are Dave Cormier, Stephen Downes, George Siemens, and Rita Kop.

This is my first experience with a large online course, let alone one with a connectivist approach.  What that last part means:

In a connectivist course, course materials and course content are defined by participants as the course progresses, rather than prior to the course by instructors. Though the course outline defines a set of selected topics, these function as signposts for an iterative process of search, practice and reflection, as described here.

The “here” is How This Course Works, which envisions four main types of activity for…well, me, and a few hundred fellow travelers.

Aggregating means the facilitators collect and the participants receive a variety of items in “The Daily,” an electronic document offering potential content.  Yes, somebody’s doing the initial aggregation, but I expect more knowledge critters in the herd than I can fit into my cerebral corral, so I’ll be…

Re-aggregating. They call this “remixing,” but it comes to the same thing.  You go through items in the initial aggregation, figure out which ones to follow, decided which of those were worth following, and eventually keep some.  (I’ve already created a PLENK2010 tag in my Delicious account, and I’ll probably have a separate notebook in Evernote as well.

From a what-goes-on-in-your-brain point of view, those two activities are like taking in information.  Repurposing involves actively working with it–not simply repeating it, but transforming it somehow.  “This whole course will be about how to read or watch, understand, and work with the content other people create, and how to create your own new understanding and knowledge out of them.”

Feed forwarding as a term is a (slightly awkward) substitute for “share.”  The facilitators encourage public sharing, thinking out loud, a willingness to make mistakes in front of people.  That rarely feels as easy as it sounds, but I think it’s good advice.   So I’m testing a WordPress tag (#PLENK2010), and I’ll see if this post shows up in the course feed.  If it doesn’t, I’ll come back and create a WP category instead.  (The different between a tag and a category only matters to WordPress.)  So–look, Mom, I’m feed-forwarding!

So that’s where I am today.  I expect things to seem messy at first.  I know they’ll be confusing: I’m still wandering around the course Moodle like a transfer student trying to find PSYC 423, the parking permit office, and someplace with decent coffee.

One thing I’ve learned: don’t subscribe to email updates for the “introduce yourself” thread.  Or, if you do, set up a mail rule to channel all that stuff.

PLEs and PLNs come in a variety of colors.I don’t tend to think of the web of people and resources I learn from as a PLE or a PLN.  That’s mainly from a anti-jargon bias.  These are the people I learn things from, but I don’t think of them as having special status or membership cards.

I realize that most folks who do use PLE and PLN as terms don’t think that way, either; this is just freelance grousing.  Notice, I am in the course.

I wonder whether PLENK2010 will become a time sink: too many topics, too many potential activities, too many possible routes.  (I’m remembering Stephen Leacock’s line: “Lord Ronald said nothing; he flung himself from the room, flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.”)

But that’s kind of the way that learning works.  Clearly, people can and do learn in highly structured environments; indeed, sometimes the structure can help focus attention and keep distraction at bay.  I think it’s likely, though, that especially as you get deeper into a topic or field, a high degree of structure has less and less to do with your learning.

And you always have control over what goes into your own time sink.

The plan calls for ten weeks, beginning September 13 and continuing into mid-November.  As soon as I figure out what the first week’s activities are, I’ll start on them, keep some notes, and see how things go.

CC-licensed image by ghemflor / Heather A.