Research about PLENK, experiences from ds106

I didn’t participate the Digital Storytelling course – ds106 but I followed it via Twitter. I love this blog post in which the facilitators describe the process during that open online course. I can feel the inspiring spirit during studies, how participants appreciate each other. They loved the assignments and wanted to comment and develop further, build and mash up. The participants opened new ways (web radio, web TV). The facilitators ate own dog food = did the same assignments as everyone and that made them understand the studies deeply. I can feel the enthusiasm while listening to the video.

Another interesting blog post came from Rita Kop. She has continued the research about the PLENK course with Helene Fournier. I am eager to follow how they capture our learning. I participated myself and have blogged about my experiences earlier here – and followed their first presentation in LAK11. The background factors about PLENk are still the same, of course. We participants were adults, 27% over 55 and 10% in age group 49-54. I like those numbers. Activity in the basic tools remained low (Moodle, Elluminate),  but blogs were written and Twitter was most popular. It is easy to show beautiful images about tweet networks but I believe that they were only information about what was happening. Tweets remind everything, no need to plan or remember.Everything muts bee easy to us nowadays 🙂

What can be said about learning during the PLENK studies, it is interesting. Active participation is important, of course. It made students to reflect, involved them in a creative process and it was fun. Participants wanted to give something back to each other. We produced blogs and what ever (see the slides 31-32). But why some people chose to lurk? They were tactical lurkers who wanted to pick up what they wanted or they had always been self-directive learners and didn’t want to share their experiences.  It is not easy to describe learning in open studies.  Some participants assessed that active participation is not at all important (20%!) and 10% said it was somewhat important. How this should be understood? I do not know.

The motivational issues were easy to understand: we wanted to learn something new, to find a real gem of information, others recommended something really interesting,  to get  involved in an online community, see something amazing done by others, to produce something that can be proud of.

I am wondering if anything new about learning is found here. Learning is true in open online courses but some diversity can be seen, lurking is normal as well as active participation and learning with others. Finding something new and co-working increase motivation. These principles are the oldest ones found in learning theories, I think. The research continues and opens new ways in the future I hope. Until this, we have got only new tools for our global online interaction and learning new applications is the main product – is it so? Only new tools or should I say amazing tools? I don’t know.

I noticed some discussion in Elluminate about cliches: someone asked if there are more cliches in open courses than institutional courses. Could it be so? Rita wanted to describe open courses as learning events. Temporary center around the course content, said someone.

Here comes the slide presentation of Rita and Helene, so you can see what they really said. My intention was to draw my own description but I need more time to do it. Don’t know what I am thinking today..

Learning Analytics about PLENK and me

I continue my pondering about learning analytics and use myself as a case in PLENK course. Rita Kop was one of the facilitators and she had a presentation in the first LA conference some days ago. She has blogged about the conference twice.

First I gather things that I consider most interesting in Rita’s and Helene’s slides. The boldings are mine.

  • Many different people as participants – professors and researchers, designers, teachers. Got demographics, 55 and older group are a majority of participants. Spread across the globe.
  • What did they do? Used a variety of tools – high number of blog posts, even higher number of Twitter posts, increases steadily over the ten weeks. Aggregated posts via the tag. Elluminate, Moodle were steady but low throughout. Only 40-60 individuals participated actively on a regular basis and produced blog posts.
  • Had to rethink research methods, the environment much bigger. Complexity. Many issues. For instance, ethical issues in collecting big data. Can’t just use data that people have given for another purpose.
  • Thematic analysis – learning is the central concept. Agency, the I/me ownership of the discussions were sub-concepts.
  • Did qualitative and quantitative methods. Virtual ethnography, focus groups, surveys, data mining. Very crude analysis so far, thematic analysis, learner analytics and visualization, stats on surveys.
  • Found analytics helpful; visualization did clarify things didn’t notice from traditional qualitative methods. But still need those to capture depth. Ethics implications are there. Linking data could be used to enhance learning.

There was discussion after the presentation and it was a little weird to listen to it because I was one of them, the voluntary participants in PLENK. Somebody asked if “facilitator said one thing, had a huge effect?  Did you look at types of post that really got people worked up?and here come the answer:

Rita: The posts that get people going the most are controversial statements. Have to think how to word it to generate participation. Had huge number of participants, once ball is rolling people spark off each other. Twitter interesting in linking blog posts back to discussion forums. Twitter has been an important part in that.

Question: Big challenge, have an arbitrary number of systems – an SNA for Moodle, Flickr, Twitter – how do you merge those? Huge challenge. Rita: Definitely. If you want analytics to work on a multi-platform, have to connect them ..

Rita: Had discussion after the course. Large number participated, but not by producing material. Dropping out? .. want to know why people dropped out. The pattern on the internet of participation? Also, about 54% said they were self-directed learners and didn’t need to communicate. Also a lot of novices who said they needed the time before they would participate and produce things.

Now I continue with my experiences. I am one of those 55+ self-directed learners and I made own summaries after the course. I was glad about the link to this blog (in Rita’s presentation), Google Analytics is in use and sharing it with others is my habit. I also summarized Moodle activity by checking the amount of writings (I could see it only from profiles, it was rough measure).

Ethical questions arose when I blogged about these results. What can I say aloud, I don’t want to assess my co-learners in public. I dared to say that Chris Jobling was our main reflector, Susans (2) were perhaps emotional supporters and Ken had critical questions. It was nice to get comments, some were pleased to my blog post.  I remember that I had other ideas, for instance the place of technological skills (Chris, Susan etc) on forums. I analysed publicly only my participation (only greeted friends and answered to questions of Google map, nothing important).

What is the amount of technical questions and problems, new tools – is it about 80% of all discussions? I was disappointed about the interpretation that PLE means only technological environment of learners. But if this is basic agreement, so it is no wonder that technology rules. Open courses are for nerds, mainly? – In the slides learning, agency and ownership were said to be the themes most in use. Learning + Technology?

I had an idea to follow my connections and learning during the course, but soon I understood that I can report my thinking only partially. I wanted to connect to some people and not to some others. Jenny’s and Matthias’s paper about eResonance interested me, but I could not proceed very much. I blogged something about my experiences, how I felt tired … I have decided 19.11.2010 to change the name of this blog and stop to participate in open courses if they have only general themes (like PLENK). But I continued to analyse learning and still do.

Just now I have many questions from Mohsen Saadatmand waiting. Excellent questions, it takes many days to answer and I am sure that I learn a lot while reflecting my answers. And I wait with great interest more results from Rita and Helene. This was only beginning.

My pattern of open online studies

I have to work through my conceptions about online learning. In the previous post I found the paradigm schift from authoritative to personalized learning plan. I have worked in teacher education where we found that long time ago and implemented it since 1993 – of course we had a curriculum but it was reorganized in students’ Personal Learning Plans. Commitment to studies and the way to find one’s own teachership was the red line inside studies. Not easy but enjoyable – our adult students came from working life, interested people with great experience.

How about now, when I am studying in open online courses without a given curriculum or goal (if there is any, I don’t accept them directly). The question of commitment is much more complicated – or complex if you want to say so.  I have to know myself, the purpose of my life, needs I want to fulfill – I must have an online identity and to know how to share it: where, with whom? So it was sensible to I begin my studies writing about identity.

OK. Now I have my identity, I am interested to work in virtual communities or networks and I want to understand learning there. I have a great opportunity to participate in CritLit2010. What do I see and experience in the beginning:


What is the learning I need to succeed: learning by doing, participating, inquiry oriented, exploring new tools.

Everyone begins with his/her acquired knowledge base, defence mechanisms and coping habits: how to behave in uncommon situations? How to cope with them? It is not possible to change all, it must go step by step. Disorientation is necessary but it cannot be  total.

So you have to try new habits, set borders, schedules and reflect one’s doings every moment. Check old habits and develop new ones. And the result will be:

Quality of learning: emergent, expansive, collaborative and  intuitive.

Success means a new expertice where I am relaxed and swim in the continual flow, taking and giving every now and then, sometimes confused, embarassed and sometimes happy. Intuition belongs to expert level and it is here too. No strict rules to follow but open mind and self confidence: this means trust to what to whom? Time will tell.

Next I want to read other blogs and link here, perhaps Moodle forums too.