Monday, December 6, 2010

My Personal Learning Environment As I See It (for now)

Oh wow! What a process this has been. How you you take something you do so subconsciously and make it into something cognitive? I have changed how I want to portray myself as a learner in my personal learning environment (PLE) multiple times and I suspect that, like the diagram, my PLE will constantly evolve. So, here I am, needing to commit to one of my designs and formats.

First, the picture:

I started off using CMAP, but got really tired of seeing so many little boxes all of the page. I tried and Creately and experienced a learning curve with each of those as well. But when it came time to really buckle down and finalize my PLE, I couldn't seem to accomplish my vision, so I went back to my tried-and-true powerpoint format tonight and then saved it as a JPEG.

By exploring the other tools, I felt like a child in a sandbox...including the part where they have a hissy-fit and knock down the sandcastle before rebuilding it. That is the best way I can describe what a process this has been. And so it is that I present you with my PLE today - the result of at least 3 of those hissy fits and multiple reconstructed "castles" (of which I'm the queen, I might add).

The description:

My PLE starts with me in the middle. Within the circle, there are 4 clouds which represent what I want/need to do and what kind of technology I use to accomplish that.

Want Information?
Google searches and Wikipedia are how I start the bulk of my research, taking the information gathered with a healthy dose of skeptism. I get carried away with these searches and it can eat up a lot of my time, but in the process I do end up learning a lot (related or unrelated to my original search). My searches connect me to YouTube videos and podcasts. Being newer to, I use it mainly to find web bookmarks as opposed to storing and sharing. I would like to expand my use of over the coming months.

Want to Share?
After researching educational uses for Twitter for my mid-term presentation, I am spending time sharing grammar tips with my followers via Twitter. While the 140-character limit initially annoyed me, I am now finding it refreshing that the tips have to be so concise. I find I use the retweet function a lot because there are experts out there who can perhaps say it better, and I figure why not share their words with my followers too (why reinvent the wheel?). I am quite new to Google docs but have started using it to collaborate with my colleagues, and my students and I tend to send Word documents back and forth. I also share pictures via flickr and thoughts through my blogs and find others share with me that way too.

Want to Connect?
Connecting is very valuable to me. Since I teach online for 30 hours of my week, I need to find ways to feel connected with the outside world in general, with our team of instructors, and with my students. As archaic as it may sound, email is still one of my top connecting tools. I like having a record of the information that my colleagues pass back and forth via email. Skype is another favourite of mine, with both colleagues and students. It is continually improving its features and I am pretty content to keep using it as long as it continues to meet my needs. I have connected with my University of Manitoba classmates through ivocalize, enjoying my first cups of coffee on Saturday mornings as we enter into stimulating discussions on the topic for the week. Oovoo and WiZiQ have been good platforms for connecting with my peers and my hope is that WiZiQ will house an online workshop some peers and I are organizing in Manitoba this winter. It is exciting to me that we can invite Nik Peachey to conduct a workshop using technology instead of buying him a plane ticket. I keep abreast of people's activities and ideas via Twitter, and that helps keep me connected, as does Facebook, although I think I've mentioned in previous discussions that I am a lurker. I still see Facebook as getting me connected; even if I don't participate much, I learn a lot about friends I have been too busy to see.

Want to Reflect?
Writing my thoughts down is the most effective way for me to reflect. I discover things about my thought/learning process when I blog about it. I really like using blogger for this purpose and keep a variety of separate blogs for a different purposes.

So, that covers what is inside the circle in my PLE. I felt it was important to add all the ways I learn when I disconnect myself from technology so that is what you see outside of the circle. I am attached to technology for work (30 hours), run the household by email, and relax by writing on the fun, personal blog only close friends and family can access . Over the years, I have struggled to find balance and have pushed myself to go offline more. Instead of having online discussions with colleagues and students, I am challenging myself to add some face-to-face meetings into the mix. I learn from interacting with my family and friends at the dinner table, over a coffee date, and at my book club. I really enjoy good old fashioned finger-licking, page-turning books and newspapers.

There are so many ways to learn and my PLE will continue to reflect that. The process of analyzing how I learn has been an eye-opening continuous process. In fact, I just had a few more ideas on what I should change and a few more tools I could add.

When will it end?

The point is, it won't. After all, I am a lifelong learner.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tools of Interaction

One of my favourite synchronous tools for interacting with my students is Skype. I do a text-based Skype session with my class every week as a way to practice the skills taught in the lessons (housed on our website). I think it's fantastic because the students get immediate feedback on errors and can save the chat for future review. The system I use for correction is to simply use their name in parenthesis with the corrected statement, and this doesn't interrupt the flow of the class at all, but they can look at the saved chat later to analyze their errors.

I have been using Skype video as well when there are just two of us (a limitation of Skype is that you can only use video for two people at a time) and I like that when there is a misunderstanding, I can type a word, phrase of reference instead of interrupting.

I also like putting a face to the name of the students in my class. My students role play in groups of 3 using Skype audio and I find the ability for a nurse in Israel to connect with nurses in Winnipeg very rewarding. I declare my presence by regularly changing the phrase or comment beside my name, using it also to announce the chat time for the week.

So, as you can see, we depend heavily on the variety of options offered through Skype to teach the material and keep us connected. The feedback from students regarding Skype is very positive. We have tried WiZiQ and are currently trying ooVoo, which have the advantage of video for 6 people at once. Somehow, we keep going back to Skype though (our comfort food, perhaps?)

It may not be original or fascinating, but the asynchronous tool I like most is the discussion board on our website. I tell the students to think of it as an extension of my living room and encourage them to visit it frequently. I am impressed by the learning which takes place as people read and respond to each other's postings. It keeps people happy, connected, and part of a community which can gather 24-hours per day, 7 days per week. This is a far cry from the two afternoons per week that I used to see my class, with no communication in between (yes, I'm that old).

The simple combination of Skype and a discussion board has resulted in (what I see as) a successful online program where students feel they are being seen and heard no matter where they live, and are part of a learning process that will lead to their professional success as nurses in Manitoba.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


This week had my mouth watering for more with my creation of a delicious account this week and started to get familiar with tagging and organizing resources. It's a great content tool with the benefit of being able to easily share resources with others and link to Twitter and other connective tools. The combination of easily being able to organize content and then ship what is relevant to my learners is ideal.

I used up a lot of time figuring out delicious and searching for content to add to my categories. One thing kept leading to another....and you know how it goes. The good news is that with a good information management system, I can now share my organization of knowledge with those interested. I added some resources to my account.

Because I had saved 3 of my classmate's resources and they have the same tags, they show up there on my list now too but I want to give him the credit for finding them. This raises the question - can you credit someone for finding a great collection of resources? It would be nice if that were the case; otherwise, simply by clicking the "save" beside someone's link makes it look like I did the research and found something if I wrote the "research paper" (=compiled and connected info in one place). Food for thought.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Twitter - Love it or Hate it?

I am working on my mid-term presentation for my Emerging Technologies course right now. My focus is on Twitter and how it can be used to teach effectively. I must confess, I am skeptical about this but I really do want to know what all the fuss is about. How can something so fun and seemingly "fluffy" and social be used as a teaching tool?

Here's what I hate about Twitter before looking into this:

1. it seems to be a lot of "pointless babble" that is hard to follow
2. it is text-based
3. there is a 140-character restriction

I will keep you posted as to whether or not I join forces with the 100 million Twitterati out there.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Social Media

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Confession about Wikipedia

This week's task was to create an account and go into Wikipedia as an editor for the first time. I noticed my classmates had made some excellent additions to the existing explanation on what it means to be a lifelong learner. While checking things out, I got a bit obsessed with correcting little typos and punctuation/capitalization errors (not necessarily to any of my classmates' work specifically, but just as I saw things in the first couple sections before needing to shift my focus). As a result, I didn't end up contributing much in the way of content, and had to confess this fact to my classmates, admitting that it had been a tricky exercise for someone like me who can't get past some of those little pesky details.

Although my focus was a bit off, my confession opened up an interesting discussion among us as to the different roles we all can play as contributors and how user-generated content can be full of distracting grammar and usage errors. So, does that mean that the little editors like me are also worthy? Several of them responded with a hearty "yes" and my classmate, Anas, even stated "I worship those who correct my typos" because he enjoys contributing the content in his mind without interrupting his flow of thoughts by considering the syntax. He stated it was "magical" to find it all corrected the next day, citing the fable The Elves and the Shoemaker. As he was imagining elves, I was imagining little grammar fairies. Another classmate, Robyn, said she heard a speaker refer to "wiki gnomes" or "wiki gardeners" (those who tend to the wiki by cleaning it up so it can grow and be healthy).

So, considering Wikipedia is a collaborative encyclopedia, we decided that the presentation of the information is equally as important as content. And so it was that, like the elves in the fable, I "laughed and danced for joy" today.

Monday, October 4, 2010

All I Want for Christmas

I admit it. I use search engines to look myself up online. I search my own name and I’ll possibly search your name too.

Last week, I mentioned that I had to shut my blog down. Because I used it as a fun journal of reflections, I started to feel invaded and violated when friends would read my thoughts or stories before I could tell them myself. Although I quickly secured it for invited guests only, certain lines from it still appear.
So, how exactly do I marry my professional presence with my opinions about Jeanne’s cakes and cilantro?

Secondly, I once entered a contest called “Secrets to a Happy Marriage” and was determined to win the weekend get-away they advertised. What I wrote was true, but it was also personal…and was intended for their magazine (hard copy). Apparently, they put it online too, and authorized a variety of other online magazines to use it as well. Although there is nothing shocking or crazy in the smug little nuggets I shared about my wonderful marriage (note the sarcasm), I am mortified that THIS is what a potential employer, new colleague, or new friend will read about me in a search.  The context is removed, and now I am one of the people Fred Stutzman refers to when he states “the technology everyone wants is the laser to remove bad results from Google.” (Digital Footprints, p5). Yes, it’s true – I’ve put the laser-removal technology on my Christmas wish list…but will Santa do a Google search and find I’ve been naughty?

My passive digital footprint includes some guides I wrote to help internationally-educated nurses succeed here in Canada. I would like my students to find those, but not to have to navigate through all the silliness first. I don’t want my students to know about my personal preferences, my marriage or my read my blogged anecdotes about the dailyness of my life.  I’m not a fan of tools which make my activities at the moment known, but will allow for that only when I host Skype classes or send the occasional tweet about a grammar issue that is plaguing me right then.

The question arises as to privacy and identity being based on “west-world views”. Many of my students are new Canadians, coming from cultures where privacy is highly valued (despite their tight-knit living arrangements).  Posting their picture on our website and answering my questions about their likes and dislikes in their self-introductions is a challenge for many of them.  The younger the student is, the more likely they are to post their picture and introduce themselves beyond what their career path has been.  It can be hard for those of other cultural backgrounds to understand the confident self-promotion we preach when it comes to finding a job in North America (interview preparation required), particularly when you come from a culture where you are better off NOT singing your own praises. So, to develop a deliberate or active digital footprint is likely a big challenge if you don’t embrace our west-world views of tasteful self-promotion.

The tools I am interested in learning better are the web-conferencing/classroom tool called WiZiQ (which I’ve been asked to pilot with my nursing students) as well as discover how Twitter can contribute to my students’ learning. I’m not sold on either WiZiQ or Twitter so it will be a challenge for me.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Digital Literacy

  • basic computer skills - Technology is intimidating for those new to it, so although the authors of the article we read are not much into literacies as "skills", if you don't know how to turn on the computer or do a Google search, it would be helpful to be shown. It is after learning these basic skills (yes, skills!) that we evolve and can achieve something higher and more meaningful by using the tools available.

  • focus & flexibility - With all the information sources and teaching/learning platforms available to us, we need to learn how to weed through it all and choose what best fits our needs. At the same time, we need to be flexible to change and move on.

  • collaborative learning & problem solving - While I was reading the article, I thought about how much traditional education has changed. We don't just teach from the front of the class (lecture-style) anymore but rather collaborate in groups and incorporate the socio-cultural elements into the learning and problem-solving. The same should result in a positive learning experience for online learners (although I must admit, this is a harder concept to sell with learners of certain cultural backgrounds).

I am working at becoming socially literate and being engaged. Besides this blog, I have been regularly maintaining two others for personal use, although I quickly learned that by sharing the best of yourself online, you can at times be left lost in real time and real life. Turns out I was lifting my own stories from myself; I would be having coffee with friends and would start in on my story, only to be interrupted with: "Yeah, you said that in your blog" and again "Oh, yes, I read that". There was nothing left to say. So, I am learning to blog better (right now that has meant shutting those ones off to the world).

For work, I have needed to practice the literacy of focus and flexibility as we are constantly searching for the best teaching platforms. But, while we're piloting things, the show must go on, and the students must continue to be engaged. I facilitate online chats via Skype, am learning to tweet and engage in professional networking and meetings via WiZiQ, which I will pilot with my learners this fall.

The bottom line is that there is so much to learn and I seem to only know what I regularly use. I would like to know what alternatives there are to virtual classroom setups such as WiZiQ. I want to also find ways of teaching the necessary computer skills to inexperienced learners, not for the sake of getting the skill that is required just to complete the program I teach but for the sake of higher, more meaningful lifelong learning. Oh, and I would like to learn to create engaging podcasts, use Twitter effectively, and learn more about concept maps.