Saturday, January 24, 2009

Never too much of a good thing

One of the assignments activities for my Computers and the Internet in Society class asks students to visit a social bookmarking site. Digg, Delicious are provided as examples. They are asked to comment on the experience. Did they have prior experience using social bookmarking?

I'm always surprised that this is new to college students, even ones living and working in the heart of Silicon Valley. This is a typical response.
I looked around read a few shocking/interesting articles and headed to the Technology topic where I read about companies like Digg, Mozilla, Microsoft and Apple. Make it stop! I'm addicted!! I went to Digg thinking it would be quick but it was one click after another. This site has a great compilation of interesting reads and is categorized by interests. I think social bookmarking peaked my interest because I am reading about stuff I wouldn't otherwise read --unless I went to that website directly. Also, it conserves a lot of time since these posts are rated, you can read what the majority finds most interesting first.
This is really reassuring. If we can provide the right combination of motivation and content, students can and do learn. They will spend the time on task to explore, examine and reflect. All I needed to do was set up a learning experience. I love the excitement expressed. I am extremely gratified and proud to be part of the process.

In a recent comment about Personal Learning Environments (PLEs), someone (perhaps Stephen Downes or someone he cited) reminded readers that PLEs still need direction and support - this is not just "throw 'm into the deep end of the pool". This got me thinking about my online course - Moodle, wikis, web research, web 2.0, images, media literacy, blogs, podcasts, virtual lectures, ePortfolios... This is definitely a Small Group Learning Environment (SGLE).

But does that qualify as a PLE for individual students in the class? I have decided that Yes, this is a pretty good approximation of a PLE. Students have a lot of flexibility within each assignment activity. Most assignments are submitted as posts to discussion forum topics so the entire class sees these. There is a lot of peer-to-peer sharing and learning going on. They get direction and support from me and other students. The good students tend to post early and often so they model best practices for the others to follow. Everyone learns a lot, especially me!

The biggest challenge has been refining the activities to encourage students to work this way. Each student's learning experience is similar but different. In the end, they all cover the material and meet or exceed the student learning outcomes defined. Students also say they have learned about learning and will take that away with them. This is very exciting for me, too.

Providing each student with a course-specific Personal Learning Environment is doable. It is a good start to helping all learners reach their full potentials in ways that are meaningful and interesting.

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