FYI: on Growing Personal Learning Environments

Photo courtesy Balanced Crafts on Flickr

The latest issue of FYI recently arrived in the post.  Yay! FYI is the quarterly journal of SLAV (School Library Association of Victoria). This is the issue that focussed on Learning Communities and featured the article I wrote last year about Personal Learning Environments for students. We concentrated on Year 9’s last year as part of their Pathways and Careers program but the groups delegated to me were so large (75-90 students) it was difficult to assist everyone properly and caused some lag issues with the site and our internet system at school.

I’ll be focussing this year on helping the Learning Enhancement students set up their PLEs. I think teaching one class at a time will mean that I can give much better support. PLE’s are really a two-part job: 1) Get the site set up; 2) develop the learning environment. Nothing new there – its alway learn the tool then use the tool.

Here’s the article below for those who can’t access the journal —

Growing Personal Learning Environments

At the end of 2010, I reached a cherished goal; the completion of my Masters degree in Teacher Librarianship. In 2011, I changed schools and what a change it was! After 10 years, I moved from a very small, independent primary school to a 1200+ government secondary college – all part of a plan to stretch my professional wings.

Sound scary?

It could have been but it wasn’t really. That’s because I didn’t do it alone; I had my ‘net’ with me. Or should I say my Personal Learning Network. The resources (human and literature-based) I’d been cultivating to support my learning helped me to swiftly engage with my new school community. As I found myself drawing on my PLN to help me in my new role, it set me to wondering about the students’ networks. How well do they use theirs? Are they even aware they have one? What can I do to help them make better use of their learning community and grow their learning networks? One day (via a blog I subscribe to) I came across a video of a Year 7 student in America demonstrating how her PLE works. After researching to learn more, I knew I’d found an avenue.

What is a PLE?

We all have favourite tools, websites, and people we trust to help us learn. We may access videos and podcasts as we carry out research; write blogs or reply to posts as we get involved in pursuing our passions. But bookmarking everything can become unruly and jumping from Facebook to forums to keep up with topics and groups can result in ‘info-whelm’. A Personal Learning Environment or PLE is a way for students to grow, curate and organize their learning. PLEs are online environments; they are individualised, learner-created and learner-directed. The platforms most widely used to create PLEs are social dashboard sites such as iGoogle, Netvibes and Symbaloo.

How are we using PLEs?

After reading more about PLEs, I evaluated a few dashboard sites. I chose Netvibes based on user-friendliness, visual appeal, physical layout, flexibility of features, and the fact that it has an active help forum. When I approached our Head of Library about introducing PLEs to students, I’d already set up a sample PLE to demonstrate (http://www.netvibes.com/bottomdrawer/). She saw the value in it and took the idea to the school administration. The idea was approved and time provided in the schedule to introduce PLEs to the students and teachers. We originally envisaged working with students at the end of Year 10 so they would have a PLE for their VCE studies, but the school’s Pathways & Transitions team became interested in the project. We now introduce PLEs to the Year 9’s at the end of Term 4 and help them incorporate their Pathways Planning into the PLE as well as their regular learning areas and subjects. We built a Wikispaces site (http://vsc-ple.wikispaces.com/) to introduce learners to the concept and purpose of a PLE and to guide them through the set-up process on Netvibes. We were given a session with each of the Year 9 groups so students had time to work through the wiki, ask questions and receive guidance from the TLs. Teachers contributed website suggestions for different subjects to get the PLEs started and we demonstrated RSS feeds and Twitter #topic searches during the session. We encouraged teachers to set up Netvibe sites too so students could follow them (as well as each other) in order to connect, collaborate and share resources. We are looking forward to evaluating the success of the PLEs at the end of the year with a short user survey.

What are the benefits?

A PLE is not an assignment or something teachers need to check up on or assess. A PLE is a way of putting control, choice and responsibility back into the hands of the learner, helping them to become more independent. PLEs are set up according to each student’s learning needs, styles and preferences. The social aspect of PLEs can offer a way to create and/or strengthen connections within the school community. They offer a consistent connection to resources from home, from school and via mobile access. They encourage collaboration and sharing of resources as well as reaching out to the wider community with possibilities such as Twitter and Skype. Research is also suggesting that such learning environments encourage the integration of formal and informal learning (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2009). This in turn promotes a positive attitude toward learning and develops lifelong skills.

Conclusion

I am excited with this new opportunity to support our learning community, but I’ve tried to imagine the pitfalls too. A student might set a PLE up then choose not to use it. However, they will have increased their awareness of new resources and possibilities available to help them learn in the future. I can also imagine students adding sites to their PLE that are not relevant to their studies: games, chat and other distractions. Filters will block most of them at school but stepping back, these are study skills topics ripe for discussion: myths of multi-tasking, effective time management strategies and goal setting. Problems can be opportunities! The giving and getting of support for everyone is the essence of learning communities. Demands on students and teachers are increasing so we all end up time-poor and overwhelmed by information possibilities. A PLE can offer students a Web 2.0 way to control and organize their learning lives just like they do their social lives. It can help build skills, connections and habits that will last a life-time. Win-win!

Reference Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2009). 21st Century learning environments. Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/tools-and-resources/publications/600

Presenting my Prezi

Term 1, Week 9

I don’t know how many dead dull powerpoint presentations I’ve had to endure in my life but I’m sure I’m not alone. When I saw Prezi’s introduction video — it was love at first site (sorry the pun was intended).

Prezi has real razzamatazz; it allows you to create presentations that have dynamic rather than static pages. There is the ability to zoom in and out, tilt, angle, swirl and presentations can include video as well as graphics and text. I’ve known about Prezi for several months and finally had the time to sit down and learn how to use it.

The Dewey Decimal Classification system can be a bit dry to teach so I revamped our library’s introductory session with the following (please click on the hyperlink below):

Dewey: The man, the system

Prezi_screen_shot

A couple of hints I should pass on to you:

  1. DO NOT , I repeat, DON”T press the backspace button when creating your own Prezi. It causes you to jump out of the session. There is nothing to tell you this anywhere and I can only conclude that they are assuming you are on an Apple and have no backspace button to worry about.
  2. In order to make the Prezi work, you need to click on the forward arrow for each segment similar to a PowerPoint presentation, although there is an autoplay option available.

I’ll be presenting my Prezi this week to my students along with some hands-on activities (so will some of the other TLs at school). I’ll let you know what the students think. I’d be glad of any constructive feedback from colleagues as well.

Web 2.0 Toys to Dazzle

I’m  between semesters of study and this is a perfect time to widen my repertoire of Web 2.0 gadgets.

Here are a couple I’ve been ‘playing’ with that seem worth further investigation and use.

Amaztype is a typographic book search. Enter in a keyword and Amazon.com will find and display books on that topic in the shape of your entered keyword. Hover your mouse over the books to view details of them. Click on one to be transported to its entry on Amazon.com. The application seems to keep stacking the books up without end so don’t wait for it to finish. I generated the Seuss photo below taking a print screen once the books filled all the gaps in the letters then opened  and cropped it in my Paint program. (click on the photo, it’ll give you a much clearer look).

I then took it to another great web application Block Poster to blow it up for the wall in our library (I did Seuss across four A4 sheets). The resolution is a bit low but When you stand back, it looks alright.

I haven’t used Block Poster on any high resolution pictures yet but am thinking about giving some photos of students working in the library a go. Photos to follow!

Pardon My Gap

Wow! Life sometimes pushes our best intentions over the edge and between work, study and family, I admit to having had to give up a lot of life’s pleasures just to regain some footing and that’s included writing here. But I’m really looking forward to being back on my blog and ready to continue writing about this curious voyage I’ve undertaken to become a TL, a darn good TL.

A short summary of the past few months in my TL life —

After a marathon run of fifteen meetings, the decision-making working party finally worked through the process to a chosen solution which involves a re-working of the management system and splitting the management into educational and business sections. Like many other schools they have chosen to look for a business manager to handle some of the myriad of tasks that need doing as well as many other changes. My job as a facilitator to the group finished a fortnight ago and I have put the group in contact with some professional change facilitators to help them formulate a 5 year strategic plan which is what Step 6– Implementation of the Decision Making process will involve for them.

Implementation is of course the most challenging of the steps in the process – the time for talk is finished and the doing must happen. In an initial meeting with the two change facilitators, they emphasised to me that the solution the group chose involved changing the school’s culture not just implementing innovations, changing the way we do things not just what we do. It really harkened back to the main message in Michael Fullan‘s books.

In the more hands-on sphere of this TL we had the building that held the little library at our school demolished to make way for a new set of classrooms and the library moved into a portable. The whole process was very poorly timed – no notification as to when the demolition would happen until two weeks before the demolition. School did not hire movers or allow for any over-time so … let’s just say summer holidays were most welcome!

I managed to throw a few photos up on flickr.

The portable was meant to be a temporary home for the library for the next two to three years. That is until our Prime Minister, Mr Rudd announced the Building the Education Revolution (BER) plan. While our school opted not to apply for major funding for a new library (they went for a multi-purpose building), they did apply and receive the renovation/capital works grant to ‘do up’ one of the existing buildings to house the library permanently. This will mean another move in December, hopefully at a more leisurely pace.

I’ve continued to push for Web 2.0 integration into our school and have had the pleasure of being the first to acquire an IWB thanks to a bargain on E-bay! A small demo model came up for auction and I was able to ‘snipe’ it for just over $300 – bargain! It arrived and was installed by a most obliging husband (Thanks, BH!). All this happened just in time for my first collaborative project with the Year 5/6 teacher. The class has embarked on the IASL’s wonderful GiggleIT project.

So,things are really starting to bubble along. Exciting times ahead!

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Photo from: Marc Shandro’s Flickr photostream