Your Personal Learning Network, Environment and Operating System

networkI didn't get to attend a workshop on personal learning networks (PLNs) led by Helen Blunden in Ghent, Belgium at Learning Tech Day. I would have loved to travel to Belgium, but thankfully, someone who did attend posted about it. (I keep reading that blogging is dead. I disagree. And the post I found and I am passing along is some evidence of blog usefulness.)

When I first heard about a Personal Learning Network, I thought "Well, most of us already have a PLN." What I was thinking of was the informal network of people and sites that we use to do our work. Keyword: informal. 

I discovered that PLNs were more formalized. The authors define a PLN as "a trusted network of current and former colleagues or other people that are valuable to you as a professional or in other areas of your life," and Rajagopal, Verjans, and Sloep (2012) refer to it as “the network of people a self-directed learner connects with for the specific purpose of supporting their learning”

I'm editing a dissertation about "Knowledge Broker Teachers" (KBTs). They are those teachers that other teachers go to for help because of their extensive knowledge. The subjects in the dissertation are technology KBTs, but in any type of knowledge work this tends to be more cross-disciplinary. A network that involves people with different skills working together is a good way to add novelty to problem solving.

Not all PLNs are professional. People naturally create them around common interests or practices, to exchange ideas, and give or receive support to others. Blunden is interested in the professional variety. 

PLN plan

Her workshop explored "elements of your personal profile; build trust online; building reputation and credibility; curating learning and experiences; reflecting and sharing your work and projects; working out loud, and then also learning how to use social tools and media for the purposes of building trust, sharing your expertise and building a personal learning community."

Back in 2007, I was noticing that people were talking about Facebook as a PLE (Personal Learning Environment) which was another term that emerged for me about the same time as PLN. Facebook did not become a true Personal Learning Environment though people seemed to think that after MySpace it might be such a thing. 

I was reading in the "Jargon Watch" section of Wired magazine and came across the term "Social Operating System" (SOS) which they defined as "a social network site like Facebook or MySpace that seamlessly integrates activities, including entertainment and shopping, to become a platform for online living."

You can put the PLE and the PLN (and the SOS) under the heading Personalized Learning

In 2013, I was changing jobs and started get more serious about trying to build a more formal network and wrote about creating your own PLN. I did that, but within a larger professional organization. Now, that PLN has formally disbanded because the larger organization decided to no longer support it after a reorganization.

I still maintain many of the personal connections I made in that PLN, but it is again informal. How has the network changed for me? It is weaker. We meet - online and in person - a lot less than we used to connect. Formal is better.

You Don't Need a College Degree: New Edition

graduateThe argument that a college degree is or isn't the path to a job surfaces regularly. Many studies show that having a degree ultimately leads to greater earnings in a lifetime, and colleges love to see that research out there. But in the past few decades, you find more stories in the news about people succeeding in the workplace without degrees.

This year, I am seeing two trends: more vocational training in high schools, and companies not requiring degrees for some jobs that once did require a degree.

An article on wsj.com discusses the direct ties between some big companies and local high schools to prepare students for jobs. Volkswagen is working with schools in Tennessee to modernize their engineering programs. Tesla is partnering with Nevada schools on an advanced manufacturing curriculum. Fisheries in Louisiana have created courses for students to train for jobs in “sustainability.”

There have long been high school career education programs, and the U.S.. has had specialized vocational schools for a century, but this is a shift. The idea that not all students need a degree (and especially not a liberal-arts degree) in order to get a good job is gaining strength through relationships and changes with employers.

The outlier examples of the billionaires like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg who never finished college are anomalies. Students - and parents - were not convinced that skipping college was the right path. When I was an undergrad back in the 1970s, we all knew that with good grades from a decent college in almost anything you could get some kind of job. I had art history friends who ended up in banking, education majors who went into publishing etc. It was an early enough time in computers that you could get in on the ground floor of that area without a degree. I knew people who got training in network administration at post-secondary vocational schools and did very well.

But there was also a time a bit later when if you wanted a job at Google you had better have a degree, and really a doctorate from Stanford. That is less true today.

The job-search site Glassdoor compiledlist of 15 top employers that have said they no longer require applicants to have a college degree that includes companies like Google, Apple and IBM. 

These companies are not saying they don't want any college graduates and this doesn't apply to all their positions, but it does apply to many more than before. Passing on college degree requirements for some positions is probably a reaction in part to the tight labor market and mounting concerns surrounding student debt.

For example, Apple is considering and hiring people without degrees for positions such as Genius (in their stores), Design Verification Engineer, Engineering Project Manager, iPhone Buyer, Apple Technical Specialist, AppleCare at Home Team Manager, Apple TV Product Design Internship, Business Traveler Specialist, and Part Time Reseller Specialist.

Google lists these positions as open to non-graduates: Product Manager, Recruiter, Software Engineer, Product Marketing Manager, Research Scientist, Mechanical Engineer, Developer Relations Intern, UX Engineer, SAP Cloud Consultant, Administrative Business Partner.

Do these companies penalize someone with a computer science or marketing degree who applies? That would be foolish. But they do seriously consider people without degrees who would not have made the first round of interviews ten years ago.

Threats to the college degree in the past 30 years have been many: tuition costs, online learning, MOOCs, and OER have all been viewed as things that would take down the traditional degree and perhaps the traditional college itself. We would have Education 2.0 as we had Web 2.0. Still, students still apply, take courses, study, party, attend sporting events and graduate. But do they get jobs in their field of study? Sometimes. Do they discover when they get a job that much of those 120 credits seem to play no constructive role in their work? Sometimes.

Digital Humanities and Open Pedagogy

human network

I see that the Google Science Fair is back and, though many K-12 teachers are at the end of their academic year, this summer is the time to plan for what students could do in the fall. This seems like a "science" activity, but this is where the phrase "digital humanities" should be.

Looking at the the website googlesciencefair.com, you find projects that take the science well beyond the science classroom. Closely related are the activities in Google's Applied Digital Skills curriculum. Here you can find some well-constructed lessons that can be done in as little as an hour and ones that could stretch across a week or unit.

For example, one suitable for middle and high school students is on creating a resume. It's something I did with students decades ago in a non-digital way. The skills involved here are many. Obviously, there is the writing, some research and some analysis of your own skills and ambitions. There are also the more digital forms of collaboration, document formatting and submission. I did this with undergrads a few years ago and required each of them to research and submit their resume to an internship opportunity. 

A longer activity that fits in so well with topics currently at the top of the news is about Technology, Ethics, and Security. Students research technology risks and dangers, explore solutions, and create a report to communicate their findings.

I would also note that the digital humanities must include what humanities teachers do in their work. 

Quizzes in Google Forms have been around for a few years and educators have used them for class assessments and in unintended ways as a tool. New features were recently added based on feedback from teachers' creative uses of the Quizzes. 

One example is that now, using Google’s machine learning, Forms can now predict the correct answer as a teacher types the question. It can also provide options for wrong answers. A simple example is a quiz on U.S. capitals would use this feature to "predict" the correct capitals for every state.

That doesn't mean that Google doesn't have a special interest in the computer science side of eduction. They offer special resources in those areas and professional development grants for CS educators to support those in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

I don't want to sound like an advertisement for Google - though advertising free and open resources isn't like selling something. Much of what the digital humanities can do moves teachers into an "open pedagogy." It changes the way we teach. 

This is more important than just finding resources.

David Wiley has written
"Hundreds of thousands of words have been written about open educational resources, but precious little has been written about how OER – or openness more generally – changes the practice of education. Substituting OER for expensive commercial resources definitely save money and increase access to core instructional materials. Increasing access to core instructional materials will necessarily make significant improvements in learning outcomes for students who otherwise wouldn’t have had access to the materials (e.g., couldn’t afford to purchase their textbooks). If the percentage of those students in a given population is large enough, their improvement in learning may even be detectable when comparing learning in the population before OER adoption with learning in the population after OER adoption. Saving significant amounts of money and doing no harm to learning outcomes (or even slightly improving learning outcomes) is clearly a win. However, there are much bigger victories to be won with openness."

Too much emphasis when talking about OER is on free textbooks and cost savings and not enough on the many other resources available that allow educators to customize their curriculum and even allow for individual differences. The longtime practice of curriculum designed around a commercial textbook needs to end. 

I have written here about what I called Open Everything. What I am calling now Open Pedagogy would be under that umbrella term. Others have called this pedagogy Open Educational Practices (OEP). In either case, it is the use of Open Educational Resources for teaching and learning in order to innovate the learning process.  In this, I include the open sharing of not only the resources, but also of the teaching practices.

Currently, I would say the level of openness we see is low. Others have defined the levels as: Low - teachers believe they know what learners have to learn. A focus on knowledge transfer. Medium - Predetermined Objectives (closed environment) but, using open pedagogical models and encourage dialogue and Problem-based learning. And the goal is for the highest level when Learning Objectives and pathways are highly governed by the learners.

 

Innovative Teaching or Innovative Learning

innovateI am preparing a keynote presentation innovation for a faculty at a community college. The campus recently opened a small innovation center with the hope of getting students and faculty to consider new ways of teaching and learning.

In doing some research on this area, I immediately was struck with the split I saw between topics about innovative teaching and innovative learning, as if they were different things. That made me pause. Are they different, the same or inextricably linked?

My talk - "Creating a Culture of Innovation" - will look at how society drives innovation in higher education through the challenges it presents to educators. Increasing demands to lower costs, improving completion rates, competition from alternative credentialing, and the possibility in my home state of New Jersey and other states for free two years of college will all dramatically force shifts in classroom demographics and approaches to teaching and learning.

Innovation requires innovators. In higher education, they can be faculty or administrators who promote pedagogical approaches, such as adaptive and active learning. The innovation of adaptive learning is not so much that adjustments are made to the learning process based on feedback from the learners. Good teachers have been during that forever. The innovation comes from the ways that technologies have been aiding that monitoring of feedback and automating some of the adaptive paths.

Innovation can emerge from philosophical shifts, such as moving to the use of Open Educational Resources.

Innovation can also come from the learning spaces and new technologies made available to teachers and students.

You can find many different approaches to innovation in education, and some of them have come from outside education. One that is out there is agile teaching. Agility is a topic that has been a concern and approach in the business tech world.   

I continue to see examples about the changing world of work that concerns innovation and have many educators considering how they might prepare students better for what they will encounter after graduation. This does not mean job training or vocational skills. It more often is concerned with the learning process, methods of evaluating learning and seeing student applying their learning to new situations. 

For those things, you might be using blended/hybrid courses whose structure is such that theory is always put into practice. Courses using makerspaces and other active learning environments address some of these concerns more than traditional lecture courses.

But I have been hearing about the departure from lecture-style, sage-on-the-stage courses for two decades, and yet I know many courses still follow that model.

In earlier posts here, I have written about innovation or innovators in education or the ideas about the disruptors that make an innovative university, I have said that companies tend to innovate faster than their customers’ lives change. For example, they create newer and more powerful phones that have features customers have not asked for. Apple believes it knows what you want before you know you want it. 

But I don't think that model works in education. Our students are often ahead of us with not only technology, but sometimes with innovative ways of learning. Are they ahead of many of their teachers in using their smartphones as computers and portals to information, and apps as tools? Yes.

Two More MOOCs I Didn't Complete. And I'm Okay With That.

MOOCThough we hear a lot less about Massive Open Online Courses now than we did five years ago, demand for online courses is still growing. In 2015, the global market for online learning was said to be about $107 billion and in 2017, this market was said to have grown to $255 billion. If those numbers are correct, that is more than 200% growth.

Those numbers certainly have attracted companies to create and sell online courses. But I still find many articles that say the completion rate for courses remains low - about 15%. HarvardX and MITx recently reported that only 5.5% of people who enroll in one of their open online courses earn a certificate.

How can we explain this disconnect between demand for courses and the number of people who actually complete the course whether it is free or for a fee? I would go back to some of my MOOC posts since 2012. People often take a MOOC with no intention to finish all the work or the course. They come into the course to get certain content. That is not a model traditional schools or instructors know. It is also a new model for learners. take what you need, and leave.

My own most recent MOOC experiences fit into the non-completion category.  I took the course from HarvardX (edX) on "Buddhism Through Its Scriptures."  I am not new to the study of religion or Buddhism, but I am not really familiar with Buddhist scriptures. I took this free course (no credit/certificate, though that is offered) because of an intellectual curiosity. The course has readings, both scriptural and informational. There are video lectures. There are discussions. There are even quizzes to check and perhaps stop you along the way to prevent you somewhat from just clicking your way through the content.

The other MOOC I enrolled in simultaneously is "Compassionate Leadership Through Service Learning with Jane Goodall and Roots & Shoots" offered through Coursera. This is an action-oriented online teacher professional development course. It is not as passive as many online courses and requires participants to identify and implement a local service-learning campaign. All of this uses the Roots & Shoots program model associated with Jane Goodall, who is one of my personal heroes.

I should not enroll in two courses at once. I just can't commit the time. Though I was interested in the service learning curriculum from an educator point of view, I did not have any plan to implement a campaign. 

I learned about the Roots and Shoots model, gathered some teacher resources, learned the differences between service-learning and community service, and understand what is meant by a compassionate leader. many of the skills apply to other projects I work on, especially in my volunteer work.I mentor young people and some of that is about try to create change in the community, so learning about using community mapping, collaborating with stakeholders, and designing practical campaigns are all useful. 

Did I learn from the two courses? Yes. Will I apply that learning to my personal and work lives? Yes. Did I complete the courses? No. Do I consider this a failure of the course or myself? No. 

One of the battle cries during the rise of the MOOC was to democratize online learning. I believe that has happened. The number of free and inexpensive online courses available to learners worldwide is massive. There might even be too many courses - part of the online information overload of blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos, ebooks, webinars, and websites.

Our way of measuring student success across different platforms and educational settings need to change. A better question to ask a MOOC learner at the end of the course is whether the course met their needs. 

I don't know if the "freemium" model of the MicroMasters programs offered on edX will be part of a new way of selecting courses and a program. They allow someone to start in a lower-cost online course and then apply for an in-person semester-long graduate program if they make it through the online portion. The MOOC-that's-not-a-MOOC is a kind of test drive.

There are many interesting approaches to online learning, certification, accreditation and tuition that are changing higher education. The MOOC movement initiated many of these projects - but they are NOT MOOCs. Keep that in mind.