Twitter, PLEs and PLNs

Thought I would share some bits of my thesis on Twitter, PLN’s and PLE’s  as others might find it useful.

What is a PLN?

For all of the conversation occurring among educators about PLNs, there has been surprisingly little academic research on PLNs (Couros, 2010, p. 123). With many educators using this term to describe their own informal learning habits, it is important for educational researchers to investigate exactly what this concept means to those who are using it as a term to describe a learning activity

A Personal Learning Network (PLN) is a network of people you connect with for the specific purpose of learning (Tobin, 1998). These people may assist you in your learning by acting as a guide, direct you to learning opportunities, and assist you with finding answers to questions (Tobin, 1998).

Digenti (1999) defines a PLN as:

relationships between individuals where the goal is enhancement of mutual learning which is based on reciprocity and a level of trust that each party is actively seeking value-added information for the other (1999, p. 53).

Couros (2010) echoes Digentis notion that a PLN is defined by the relationships among the individuals when he states that:

“a PLN is the sum of all social capital and connections that result in the development and facilitation of a personal learning environment” (2010, p. 125).

In order to fully understand this definition, a distinction needs to be made between the Personal Learning Network (PLN) and the closely related term, the Personal Learning Environment (PLE) as the two terms are often used interchangeably when, in fact, they refer to two separate conceptual models.

A Personal Learning Environment (PLE) can be thought of as the ecosystem that enables a PLN. A PLE represents

“the tools, artefacts, processes, and physical connections that allow learners to control and manage their learning” (Couros, 2010, p. 125).

Using this distinction, Twitter, along with other ICT’s, are tools of the PLE that enables interactions with a PLN. These other ICTs are significant as the PLN is not limited to interactions on Twitter alone and encompass not only other ICTs, but also face-to-face and non-ICT mediated interactions.

The other ICT’s  that are often used alongside Twitter can be divided into three broad categories; technologies used to enhance, extend, view, or manage Twitter data, technologies that are used in conjunction with Twitter, and technologies that are used independent of Twitter.


  1. Technologies used to enhance, extend, view, or manage Twitter data: Twitter extensions are tools that specifically enhance, extend, view, or manage Twitter data. This category can further be divided into three subcategories;
    1. technologies which participants use to view and manage the Twitter data stream (Tweetdeck and HootSuite),
    2. technologies that participants use to repurpose or modify Twitter data (such as, Packrati,The Tweeted Times), and
    3. technologies that are used to search Twitter data.
  2. Technologies used in conjunction with Twitter: Technologies in this category are tools that can be used independent of Twitter, but are often use in conjunction with Twitter, such as  blogs, social bookmarking applications (Delicious and Diigo), and collaborative tools (Google Docs). For example, Twitter itself is not a collaborative platform in that participants do not use it to collaboratively create a tweet. However, Twitter is often used in conjunction with Google Docs, a collaborative document authoring application, to help facilitate the creation of a shared resource among the PLN.
  3. Technologies used independent of Twitter, but may also be used for PLN activities. Other technologies that are used independently of Twitter. Examples are Facebook, LinkedIn, forums and Ning.

This is not an exhaustive list of ICT’s used within a PLE, but a sample based on interviews with thesis participants. PLE = Personal Learning Environment; PLN = Personal Learning Network; Data = Technologies used to enhance, extend, view, or manage Twitter data; Conjunctive = Technologies used in conjunction with Twitter; Independent = Technologies used independent of Twitter, but may also be used for PLN activities


Lalonde, C. (2011). The Twitter experience?: the role of Twitter in the formation and maintenance of personal learning networks. Retrieved September 13, 2011, from

Couros, A. (2010). Developing Personal Learning Networks for Open and Social Learning. Emerging Technologies in Distance Education (pp. 109-127). Edmonton, Canada: AU Press.

Digenti, D. (1999). Collaborative learning: A core capability for organizations in the new economy. Reflections, 1(2), 45-57. doi:10.1162/152417399570160

Tobin, D. R. (1998). Personal Learning Network. Retrieved October 4, 2009, from


Publishing my thesis with WordPress and – Part 2

I’m working on publishing my thesis on this site using WordPress and the plugin. This is part 2. You can read about how I configured WordPress to run a second blog on a sub-domain and set up in part 1.

From Word to WordPress

This is a big challenge. If I want to take advantage of all the features of (like the auto-created table of contents), and create a nicely formatted site, then I need to publish the 130+ page thesis into post size chunks.

The brute force way is to begin cutting and pasting, but I want to see if I can be a bit more elegant than that.

I remember experimenting a few years back with publishing from Word to WordPress using  XML-RPC, so thought I would test this option out. A few setting adjustments in both WordPress and Word to enable XML-RPC publishing and a successful test post has me thinking I am on the right track.

Splitting a 130 page Word document

Still, while this looks promising, I can’t just hit the publish button in Word and magically expect my 130+ page thesis to automagically be sliced up and posted into separate posts. In fact, publishing the thesis this way will end up creating a single blog post of 40,000 words. Not ideal. So, I need to figure out how to split my single long Word document into smaller documents, and then try to publish each of those smaller documents as individual posts.

Surely, there must be a way in Word to split a long document into smaller ones. And sure enough, there is via a Word feature known as sub-documents, which allows a user to split a large document into smaller pieces.

Using the headings and sub-headings of my thesis as the logical starting point for dividing up the content, I split the original Word document into 56 documents based on chapters, headings and sub-headings.

I did have a few formatted tables and images in my thesis and was worried about how they would publish to the site directly from Word. There was some formatting that I need to do to clean up the formatting, but, for the most part, they came over clean and intact, complete captions and legends.

I was also a bit worried about how the participant quotes would translate. Being that this was qualitative research, the analysis draws heavily on participant quotes to support the findings and these quotes needed to be correctly formatted using the correct blockquote tags.

In fact, the only real issue I had (and it was quite minor) was that the posts had extra paragraphs tags at the beginning and the end of the posts, so that needed a bit of editing.

Next steps

So, now that the content is in, I could just stop and call it a self-published thesis. But I want to be able to do a bit more with it. My next tasks will include:

  • See if there is a way I can structure the TOC a bit better to have headings and subheadings formatted different from chapter headings. Rught now it’s a pretty long list with no visual hierarchy.
  • Setting up a way for people to download the entire thesis as an ebook, probably using the Anthologize plugin.
  • Add in a plugin or two to generate metadata, specifically for adding content to a citation manager like Zotero or Mendeley. Perhaps the COinS plugin
  • Look at ways to generate hyperlinks within the document to my references and citations. Something like the KCite or Zotpress plugin.

I’d also like to take a crack at some of the CSS and clean up some of the CSS around how tables and data are displayed. But these are all projects for another day.


PLNs and OERs

While I have always been interested in OER’s, this issue has taken on greater professional significance for me since arriving at an institution that has active OER projects on the go, and I have begun paying closer attention to reports like the one released this summer by JISC in the UK examining the the impact of Open Educational Resources (OER) (pdf) on teaching and learning.

While I started reading the report from the perspective of someone who works at an institution sensitive and supportive of OER’s, I quickly realized that there is a lot in this report that connects the creation of OER’s with Personal Learning Networks and with what I discovered during my thesis research.

The JISC research looked at the benefits OER’s offer to educators and learners, and examined the pedagogical, attitudinal, logistical and strategic factors that enable or inhibit the uptake and sustained practice in the use of OER’s.

While some of the benefits to educators for adopting OER’s are not surprising (saving teachers effort in that they do not have to create resources themselves, and enables educators to teach topics that may lie outside of their expertise), there were some conclusions that are maybe not so obvious, and sound very much like the kinds of activities people who cultivate PLNs might take part in.

OER’s are collaboratively created in networks

For example, the research found that using OER’s can “stimulate networking and collaboration among educators” and can “improve possibilities for new collaborations in researching fields of common interest.” Additionally, the report notes that one of the enabling factors for uptake of OER’s among educators is a decidedly social one in that:

Impact on individual practice is most likely to be achieved within the dimension of social practice: networks of like-minded individuals who are receptive to ideas and suggestions from each other and ready to share their own resources.

This reinforces something I discovered in my own thesis research on the role that Twitter plays in Personal Learning Networks. Every participant I interviewed for the research indicated that Twitter played an important role in coordinating the creation of collaborative resources related to their professional educational practice, and, quite often, those collaboratively created resources were shared not only with their PLN, but beyond as well (pg 79-83).

One of the participants in my research spoke to the importance of creating collaborative resources that get shared back to the community.

 I like the word professional for learning network, but I use the word collaborative learning network because there’s a sense of symbiotic nature, like we benefit one another by being involved. It’s not just me that’s getting the benefit. It’s not so much personal. But for me it’s very much collaborative benefit; there’s a whole bunch of people that are benefiting from it.

In this passage, the participant suggests that there is a “symbiotic nature” to collaborative projects, and that “we benefit one another by being involved” which implies a reciprocal relationship at play here; that if you help with my project, not only will you get to reap the rewards of this project, but I will participate in future shared projects as well because we will both benefit.

OERs are created by people being open and willing to share

The JISC report goes on to make a number of recommendations for educators wishing to enhance their teaching and learning practice with OER’s, including one that is very connected to what I discovered in my PLN research.

Adopt an open approach to your academic practice, seeking to share resources and ideas both within your disciplinary community and beyond it.

This echoes another story I heard from another participant during my research who initiated a collaborative project with her PLN by tweeting out a call for collaborators on Twitter. Shortly after, she received a message from a member of her PLN saying that they wished to contribute to the project not because they wanted to use the project, but rather because they witnessed how this participant had, in the past, created these collaborative resources and freely shared them back with the larger community.

I think it was probably <name removed> in <location removed> who wrote in and said “You know, I don’t even know what’s on your document but I want to be part of it because of your openness and your willingness to share, and your willingness to let everyone collaborate and use it again.” That’s the kind of attitude that we need. And I’m not saying that I’m special for having that attitude, I’m just saying that idea of openness I think is really critical.

By conducting this work in the open on Twitter, the work of this participant became transparent and visible to the members of her PLN, which builds up goodwill in her PLN. This goodwill then translates itself into motivation among members of her PLN to participate in collaborative projects she initiates. In the end, the shared resource was not only shared back with the PLN, but to the wider educational community.


The role of Twitter in Personal Learning Networks

My Masters thesis (the full title is The Twitter experience: the role of Twitter in the formation and maintenance of personal learning networks) is now publicly available in the DSpace archives at Royal Roads University.

Here is the abstract:

This qualitative phenomenological study involving in-depth interviews with seven educators in K-12 and higher education examines the role that the microblogging service Twitter plays in the formation and development of Personal Learning Networks (PLN) among educators. A double hermeneutic data analysis shows that Twitter plays a role in the formation and development of PLNs by allowing educators to; engage in consistent and sustained dialogue with their PLN, access the collective knowledge of their PLN, amplify and promote more complex thoughts and ideas to a large audience, and expand their PLN using features unique to Twitter. This research also examines the nature of a PLN and shows that participants believe their PLN extends beyond their Twitter network to encompass both face-to-face and other ICT mediated relationships. Secondary research questions examine how Twitter differs from other social networking tools in mediating relationships within a PLN, what motivates an educator to develop a PLN, how trust is established in a PLN, what the expectations of reciprocity are within a PLN, and what is the nature of informal learning within a PLN.

It has been on the site for just over week now and I was holding off to post this until the RRU thesis office could correct the typo in the title (all fixed) I noticed that people have started making reference to it (thank you, Dan), so thought I should get something up here.

Other than the spelling mistake, one glaring oversight on my part is the lack acknowledgments, so if you will indulge me I want to publicly acknowledge some people.

First, to the 7 participants in the study, thank you for your time, your voices and your stories. This was not a “spend 10 minutes filling out a survey” type project, and I appreciate your graciousness and generosity as participants.

To my thesis supervisor, Bill Muirhead – a calming presence who was always there when I needed him, his steady hand guided me through the process. I feel extremely fortunate to have him as a mentor.

To my PLN (and you know who you are but if you don’t here’s a big hint – you are reading this right now). You feed my head with the best stuff. Thanks.

To my co-workers at both Camosun College and Royal Roads University, specifically Susan Chandler (Camosun) and Mary Burgess (RRU) who’s support and understanding cleared many non-thesis related hurdles away from my path during this project.

Finally, to my family; Maggie and Graeme, who missed their Dad a lot during the whole Masters journey (yes, Graeme, Dad is finished his see-ssus). I know a trip to Disneyland won’t make up for all this missed weekends, but I suspect it might help :).   And to my wife, Dana. No one has had to wear the extra burden of this project more than her, and I feel truly blessed to have someone as supportive as her in my life.


38,944 Words

Last night at 11:55pm, I submitted my Masters thesis to my supervisor to begin the external review process. While there is still a chance that some work will need to be done as it moves through review, a sense of completion is beginning to settle in on me as I realize that, for the first time in almost a year, I am looking at a weekend that doesn’t include work on my thesis.

Well, that isn’t entirely true.

One of the things I am planning on doing is publish the thesis here on my site in something other than a PDF document. I want it open for comments and, with any luck, prompt some interesting discussion. And, quite frankly, this part actually scares the bejebsus out of me. But I do see the thesis as a start, and not the end, of the process of learning for me. Putting it out there to get feedback from my peers is where the real learning happens, and I hope others will find it interesting enough to contribute to the discussion and (gulp) pick it apart where it needs to be picked apart, and add support to where they agree. Ultimately, like anyone who has poured a lot of work into something, I want and hope that it will be useful to someone else, and to find that someone else, it needs to be out in the open and not locked away in some digital repository (although it will be there, too).

How I was going to do this wasn’t exactly clear because it had seemed like a far, far away in time project. Today – not so far away. I did have it in my head to use WordPress and the framework, which allows paragraph by paragraph commenting. Then, last night after I had clicked submit and was still too buzzed to hop into bed, I think I found the recipe on how to publish an academic paper using WordPress and, posted by Joss Winn. So, if all goes well, in the very near future this idea will become a reality.

But first, I have a very important matter that needs attending to this weekend.


Bohemia by Paulo Brabo. Used under Creative Common license.


Serendipity in action

Serendipity. In the simplest of words, it means a “happy accident” (Wikipedia).

Earlier this week, I was thinking about serendipity, spurred by a thoughtful blog post by Matthew Ingram on filters, and how some feel that the digital filters being developed by the likes of Google and Facebook are limiting our ability to serendipitously discover new sources of information, leading to an echo chamber.

Now, I don’t argue that the development of an echo chamber is a danger when we are left to autonomously construct our own networks, but I do think that by having a well developed network we actually create more opportunities for serendipitous moments that are much more relevant to us.

[blackbirdpie url=”!/clintlalonde/status/75776840031154176″]

Here’s a story.

About a week ago,  Rodd Lucier passed my name on to a M.Ed getting ready to hike up the thesis mountain. Rodd is familiar with my thesis research on the role that Twitter plays in PLN among educators, and knew that this student might be interested in doing similar research, so he made the connection. This morning I had a Skype call with this student & we discussed our mutual research interests.

Part of the conversation revolved around tweets, and the level of depth contained in 140 characters. It sounds so small. 140 characters. Yet within those 140 characters a lot can happen.

When I first started considering doing research on Twitter, I wanted to do a content analysis of tweets. But, as I played with the Twitter api and began trying to figure out ways of mining Twitter data against a backdrop where Twitter changed the rules each week on how and who can access their data, I dropped the idea. I didn’t want to have my thesis depend on data that I couldn’t be sure I could access. As a result, I decided to move into a more qualitative realm with my research. While I was somewhat disappointed at the time, in the end I am happy with the way I did my research and have ended up with something that, I think, is much more interesting than my original idea. However, there is still something I find so appealing about deconstructing a tweet because I think that so much depth can be packed away within that small package. The simple act of including a link to something else that is much more in depth truly belies the defined nature of a tweet.

So, back to the conversation, which included a bit of this type of discussion on the nature of depth represented in a single tweet. The conversation ends with me sharing my thesis research library and agreeing to keep in touch. I get off Skype, fire up Twitter and what is the first tweet I see?

[blackbirdpie url=”!/brlamb/statuses/76681863216889856″]

Seriously serendipitous. And an excellent read about how much context and depth you can pack into 140 characters.


An Amazing Story of Openness

More reading for my thesis lit review has uncovered a story that would fit nicely into Alan Levine’s growing collection of Amazing Stories of Openness; “personal stories that would not have been previously possible, enabled by open licensed materials and personal networks.”

This one involves Twitter, and comes from a research paper called How and why people Twitter: the role that micro-blogging plays in informal communication at work.

The open subscription feature in Twitter not only allows users to find interesting people to follow for exchange of information and thoughts, but may also help to establish valuable personal relationships for future collaborations. Tom told us an amazing story about such an experience. A while ago, he tweeted about a book that he was reading and liked a lot. Natasha, a social constructer, was reading the book at the similar period of time. She found Tom’s tweets about the book very interesting and they started following each other on Twitter. Natasha worked on a project with the Kenyan government working to pull Kenya people out of poverty through ICT. Several months later, Natasha sent Tom a message on Twitter asking whether she could talk with him to learn more about Tom’s company before her meeting with executives of the company about the Kenya project. After the meeting with Tom, Natasha invited him to the executive briefing and also invited him as a representative from the company working on the Kenya project. In Tom’s words:

“So, that’s the type of relationship that can be built simply through Twitter. I never knew Natasha, and haven’t been knowing anything about Kenya. She finds me because our common interests and developed a positive relationship that I am very proud of and very interested in continuing.”

Later in the paper, the researchers elaborate more on this relationship.

In the story that we have described previously about Natasha inviting Tom into her Kenya project, Tom told us that this collaboration opportunity not only came through a personal relationship built between him and Natasha, but also because she was able to get to know him from his Twitter updates.

“One of the things that I said to [Natasha] is that I am not an executive and I don’t have any related to executive pool. She said, yeah, I know, I have been watching you for 4 or 5 months now, I understand who you are and I understand your position, but I still want you to be part of this conversation because I know you understand [the technology]. She didn’t care whether or not I had any executive poll, she knew from following me on Twitter, what I was interested in and she knew how I could help her.

Would this type of opportunity come about for Tom BT (Before Twitter)? Perhaps, if Tom and Natasha were in fairly close proximity to each other, and had the opportunity to interact on a fairly regular basis in such a way that Tom could showcase his expertise in an area that Natasha was interested in. But the fact that Natasha was able to follow Tom’s work for such a long period of time, and observe, in such an unobtrusive, ambient way, the level of Tom’s abilities and understanding on a topic Natasha was interested in says to me that there is a different form of relationship building happening here. And, more importantly, a different measure of how we determine who the “experts” are who can provide us what we need when we need it.

Zhao, D., & Rosson, M. B. (2009). How and why people Twitter: the role that micro-blogging plays in informal communication at work. In Proceedings of the ACM 2009 international conference on Supporting group work (pp. 243-252). Sanibel Island, Florida, USA: ACM. doi:10.1145/1531674.1531710


An interesting dichotomy in formal and informal online learning

More lit review reading for my thesis, this time an article called “Exploring the Role of ICT in Facilitating Adult Informal Learning” in which an interesting dichotomy emerged from the research. It’s one that I have heard before which goes something like this.

The researchers conducted a survey of 1100 people in the UK on the role that ICT (information and communication technology) plays in learning, both formal and informal. Among their findings was the tidbit that people who might never use ICT for formal learning use it regularly for informal learning. That is to say, they would not consider taking a web-based college course in, say, photography, but yet they are likely to use the web to learn about photography.

Interesting. And raises some questions. The first one is why the hesitation to take a formal online course in a topic they are interested in? Here is the first response, from a 38 year old woman who owns her own web development company, who the researchers suspected would be a prime candidate for an online learning course.

Researcher: But have you been tempted by all the online courses you can take, never actually having to leave the comfort of your front room?

Interviewee: I’ll tell you what puts me off those—I’ve had scan through the leamdirect courses—and it’s the feeling that they’re trying to teach basic skills without teacher interaction, and I personally like classroom interaction. And I don’t think you can get the same buzz doing it online. I chat [on the Internet] quite often to friends in the States. In chat rooms the difficulty is that it becomes very disjointed and you lose threads very easily and you lose the interaction that you get when you’re face to face. And I think that’s the disadvantage of it…if I wanted to learn maths or something I think it would be great. But I think if you were learning something that required a bit more interaction, I would treat it with a bit of distrust.

Distrust. Strong word. So, not only does she perceive that there would be a lack of interaction with classmates in an online course, but she also goes so far as to say she would approach a course that didn’t offer interaction with a “bit of distrust”. Her preconceived notion is that a formal online course would lack interaction. Granted, this research was done 6 years ago and I suspect her perceptions were probably closer to truth in 2004 than in 2010, but it is surprising how often I hear attitudes like this in casual conversations with people, especially those who have been away from formal learning for the past few years.

What about that photography example from earlier? Here is the response from a 63 year old male:

Researcher: Would you consider doing a formal photography course on the Internet?

Interviewee: Yeah, there are camera courses. I’ve thought about It, but I’ve probably got to the stage now that I don’t want to be bothered. I think I’ve learnt enough, but I pick most things up. I can sit down and read something on the computer and I’d have the gist of how to do the job.

Now, there is no explanation as to why he can’t be bothered (maybe it’s too expensive, or he considers this “just a hobby” and does not require a formal course – his incentive to attend isn’t great), so this speaks as much to learner motivation as it does to the perception of the quality of an online course. Seems to me, however, that his response is an endorsement for his perception of the quality of open educational resources and open communities available on the web. Not that he thinks they are better than what he might find through an institution, but they are good enough to satisfy his learning needs.  If a learner is getting what they need from the open sources on the web, then does that reduce the motivation for them to attend college or university? Is their learning itch being scratched by the availability of open resources on the web?

According to the authors, these two examples are not isolated responses in their study, and “these attitudes towards ICT-based formal learning permeated our interviews.”

Neil Selwyn and Stephen Gorard, “Exploring the Role of ICT in Facilitating Adult Informal Learning.,” Education, Communication & Information 4, no. 2 (May 2004): 293-310.


How students benefit from open networked learning

Helen Keegan is a Senior Lecturer in Interactive Media and Social Technologies at the University of Salford, UK, and recently wrote a post outlining one particular experience in using social media with her grad class. Working with MSc. students, Helen had the students blog and use Twitter as part of an exercise in developing a digital identity. She goes on to describe “the eureka moment” for the students on how powerful these tools can be in connecting and engaging with people who are working in their field of study. For some context on the excerpt below, Jeremy Silver is (among other things) the acting-CEO of  the Featured Artists Coalition in the UK and a prominent figure in the UK music industry.

There were some hugely influential and heart-warming examples of the benefits of students developing a professional online ID. One of these took place after our IP/Digital Rights week, when each student was asked to write a post in response to Jeremy Silver’s blog. Silver had found this post (pingback?) and left a really positive comment. That was a eureka moment for all – the idea that they could write a post, and one of the industry’s leading figures value their perspective, treat them as peers, and take the time to enter into conversation with them. This was soon followed by one of the group telling me how he’d tweeted his Audioboo blog post, and ’this guy retweeted it, said something really positive about my post – think he might actually work for Audioboo’. It was Mark Rock, the CEO…

When Jeremy Silver and Mark Rock took the time to read the student blog posts, comment positively and re-tweet, they added so much to the learner experience and i’m pretty sure they won’t have realised just how influential those acknowledgements would be – not just to the two students, but to the whole group. They were the missing link between our students seeing themselves as apprentices and professionals, the whole ‘linking education to industry through social software’ idea, which although we have been focusing on for a few years now, has never been experienced in such a potent way.

As a student, I have experienced moments like this. It is an exhilarating feeling to see that your words and thoughts have moved someone you admire or respect to action, and provide a response. It is a highly validating and motivating moment as you begin to realize that you are moving beyond being a student of a subject to being a practitioner in a field.


Facilitating a distributed discussion – an experiment

Get Connected!

The latest course in my Masters is Facilitation and Community Building, and I have an interesting experiential assignment this week. I am working with 2 other members of my cohort to facilitate a discussion with the rest of our cohort.

Our topic is facilitating collaboration in virtual teams and we’re trying something a little bit different and I’m feeling a tad nervous about it (I keep telling myself nervous is good when learning). In the spirit of networked learning, instead of facilitating the discussion in our closed Moodle forum, we are going to try taking the discussion outside of the LMS and onto a couple of blog posts that we found which are related to our topic.

Part of the reason why we decided to do it this way is because all three of us facilitating this week are strong believers in networked learning as a way to engage with a broad array of voices and opinions in our field. While the assignment we have come up with may be a bit more prescriptive than constructivist, it will hopefully give the rest of our cohort a brief opportunity to try their hand at network learning.

For the past couple of days, our cohort has been reading 2 articles on facilitating virtual teams in a collaborative environment. Tonight we posted the second part of the assignment and have asked them to visit (at least) one of three blog posts related to the topic and leave a comment on the blog. The posts we have chosen are:

  • Lurking and Loafing from Steve Wheeler talks about social loafing, lurking and how to encourage participation.
  • Collaboration from Ben Grey questions the differences between collaboration and cooperation.
  • Dysfunctional Teams from Tony Karrer is a nice summary of Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

Hopefully, these authors won’t mind us practicing a bit of network learning to try to spur some conversation on the topic of collaboration and virtual teamwork. So Steve, Ben and Tony, if you happen to notice a few new comments on these posts this week, take it as a good sign that you’ve engaged some of our cohort. There are 9 of us, so hopefully distributed over three blogs you won’t feel overwhelmed with a sudden influx of comments.

And if anyone in my network reading this would like to join in our conversation, that would be wonderful as well. If you get a chance, pop by these posts, respond to a few comments and help us illustrate the power of networked learning.

Photo: Get Connected by Divergent Learner used under Creative Commons license.


Building an EdTech library – what would you recommend?


I just received the textbooks for my next class and among them is Effective Teaching with Technology in Higher Education by Tony Bates and Gary Poole. I was expecting to run into this one at some point during my Masters and I am happy that it is sooner than later. It’s a book I have heard many references to in the past few years and one I am anxious to dig into.

I’ve been going over a recent post by Alec Couros where he asked his network for 5 article/book recommendations for an Associate Dean in his office to help “inform his understanding of current changes regarding social networks, knowledge, and technology in education”. So, I am going to toss something similar out here. My network is considerable smaller than Alec’s but hopefully I’ll get a few responses to bolster my fledgling EdTech bookshelf (like my Masters program won’t pile enough on over the next 2 years).

Here is the question to you, my considerably more experienced EdTech brethren; What would you consider some of the seminal or defining works in our field that examine the intersection of technology and education? If you had to recommend one or two books that seem to inform our industry/sector as a whole, what would those be?

Photo: Iqra: Read by swamimbu. Used under Creative Commons license.


Wordle as a blog self-assessment tool

I just finished an assignment that was a first for me – assigning my own grade. What a strange thing to do. Now, I am sure I have had dedicated teachers in the past, but I feel pretty confident that none of them have ever spent as much time pouring over one of my assignments as I have done in the past week.

The assignment was in 2 parts. Part 1 was to keep a reflective blog during my 2 week residency. Okay, I think I can handle that part. I actually went a bit overboard in the end and the blog morphed into a way to share resources with my cohort in addition to the self reflection piece, but hey what the heck.

The second part was a bit trickier – the self assessment. When I started going through the criteria and comparing it to the blog, I began to fear that, despite my prolific output on both my own and my cohort’s blogs, I might have actually missed a significant piece of the assignment. Not only was the blog to be a reflective tool, but it was supposed to be specifically reflective about research and questions arising during my Introduction to Research class.

Now, just so you don’t think I am totally dense and didn’t know what class I was in at any given time, I have to say that the residency was a pretty homogeneous event with sessions and classes blurring together into one mass. Our instructors team taught and would appear in each others class regularly, often both facilitating at the same time. Research blended with Learning Theory, which blended with lunch which morphed into team building that somehow ended up back at Research. The lines were fuzzy, a point underscored during our final group presentations when 6 out of 6 presentations did a bang up job of presenting wonderful research for an assignment for our Learning Theory class – a point not missed by our Learning Theory Instructor. As a class, I think we all slightly missed the mark as to what class we were actually presenting for. So, I don’t think I was alone in my class confusion.

Back to the blog. I agonized for a few days whether I had enough information about research in my blog. I did touch upon it here and there and actually did have a couple of posts that spoke to research directly. But on the whole it felt pretty light in the research department. So I ran my blog through Wordle, a tool that takes a block of text and turns it into a graphic based on the frequency of keywords in the text. The more often a word appears in the text, the larger it is in the graphic. The results on whether or not I addressed research in my blog? Well, I’ll let you decide if I missed the research point or not.

I find this image interesting for a few reasons. First, it convinced me that I didn’t miss the research angle and I used it in my assessment to talk myself up a grade point from where I originally had myself pegged.

The second thing is the prominence of the word think. I went back and read some posts and realized I used the phrase ‘I think” quite often and I found this very validating. I went to an intensive 2 week Masters residency and guess what I did? I thought! And apparently I thought a lot about technology. Pretty appropriate for a Masters in Learning and Technology.

Finally, I have been agonizing over whether or not I should pursue a thesis or go the course work/major project route with my Masters. I am leaning towards major project. Now, if you have ever used Wordle you’ll know that the placement of the words is random. Note the placement of the words “think” and “thesis”. Is this a sign that I should think thesis?


What is real?

One of the (many) interesting cohort lunch conversations I took part in during my recent Masters residency revolved around how we would all maintain the sense of connectedness with each other once the two week face to face residency was over. For the next year, all our interactions will be virtual. More than a few people viewed this as a significant challenge and expressed the view that somehow a virtual relationship didn’t seem as “real” as face to face.

It’s a concern I’ve heard before. How can online relationships have the same level of depth as face to face? Well, in my experience, they are as rich and, in fact, often even richer than some face to face relationships. I’ve spent a fair bit of time in “virtual ” relationships, so much so that the line between virtual and real is nonexistent for me. Following friends online is an extension of my face to face relationship that adds richness and context to those face to face relationships, but in some cases, the online link I have to someone is the only link that connects us. Yes, I have friends that I have never met, and I still come across people who find the idea of having friends you have never met strange, especially when you begin to explain to them that most of the connections are via Twitter, Facebook and other “superficial” social network tools. How much can you know someone in 140 characters or via status updates? Well, quite a bit, actually.

The reality is that over time, this little trickle of information becomes an ocean. A Twitter update on its own is not much. But a thousand Twitter updates over a year? That’s 140,000 characters. A novel. Add in a Facebook status there, a blog post, a Flickr photo, a shared link in Delicious, a favorite YouTube video, a shared song on – it doesn’t take too long to form a pretty solid understanding of a person you have never “met”. All this information, in drips and drabs, comes together to form a whole and give me a sense of who the person is in a very real and tangible way.

It’s not like I live in the basement spending hours banging away on my computer chatting with complete strangers, but the reality is that I carry on many relationships with people I have never met that are just as rich and rewarding as my face to face relationships.

I guess what I am trying to stumble onto here is that this is not an either/or situation. One is not better than the other because in my world that “other” has all but disappeared. They are all just relationships.

A few days ago, I came across this blog post on Wes Fryer’s blog Moving at the Speed of Creativity with a great video that speaks to this question of real vs. virtual. It’s a 7 minute micro-doc put together by Dan Lovejoy, a graduate student in the Technical Communication and Rhetoric program at Texas Tech University.

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If Piaget were alive today…

This is another cross post from my Masters blog.

I love Jean Piaget. As a parent, I have been a witness to his research in living colour with my own kids. While they are still young, I can see their transition from Sensorimotor to Preoperational and, as my daughter closes in on 6, her emerging Concrete Operations. In the week before I began my residency, she spent some time demonstrating for me her newly found ability to add and subtract on paper.

But the thing about Piaget is, his research methods (let me struggle here for the correct academic word) sucked. Okay, maybe they didn’t suck as he was already a published researcher before his seminal works were written, but the works that have been the most influential today were largely based on observations of his own children. Talk about bias, conflict of interest, and a whole raft of ethical red flags, let alone such a fully qualitative approach with an extremely small sample size.

How could he develop such resilient theories of development that, as history has shown, have held up quite nicely to both time and academic scrutiny to become fundamental building blocks in the the field of developmental psychology? I mean, the guy is listed as one of the 10 Most Influential Psychologists. Pretty impressive for someone who got to hang out with his kids all day.

So, as I enter into the world of research and critical thinking, the question for me is this; Judged by today’s peer reviewed, ethical board, informed consent need to be published in recognized academic journal world, would Piaget get published? Would his ideas see the light of day if he were conducting research in this environment?

Yes, it is not fair to judge yesterday’s research methodology by today’s standards. If we did, so much research that has contributed the basic blocks of human psychology (Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment comes to mind) would be tossed out. And I am not advocating tossing out all ethics and research methodologies. That would be silly. But still, as we delve into the realm of research, the figure of Piaget looms in my mind. While I work on developing my critical thinking skills, I am aware of the danger of critical thinking sliding into cynicism and missing out on the likes of a Jean Piaget.

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Technology is peeeeeople!

Note: This is a cross post from my Masters blog.

To paraphrase Charlton Heston in perhaps one of the worst movies of all time (so bad it’s good) Soylent Green; Technology is people!

Shari has hit something on the head with her post yesterday, moving beyond a tech wannabe. It’s an important point and one that underscores why I am taking a Masters in Learning and Technology.

Technology is not RAM, it’s not processors, it’s not even about Mac vs PC. For me, technology is about people.

Look at Shari’s comments:

Last night I connected wirelessly within the Grant building, and was working with my team when a Skype video call came in. My 8 year old daughter was skyping and I carried my laptop around the hallways of Grant building during our video chat. At one point in the conversation I flipped my computer around and showed her a peacock. Then I came back into our hot sweaty meeting room and introduced her to my teammates – she waved and showed off the popsicle she was eating. I do love technology.

So, while many would see me as a techie (which is an interesting because I see techies as the person I call when my computer breaks), at my heart – and despite my introvert status on the MBTI – I am a people person. After all, I am human and human beings are, by default, social creatures living in a society. For me, I am most interested in how the tech revolution we are currently living through (and to be more specific how the web revolution) disrupts society and how we all handle this.

I am not a tech utopian, and this seismic shift that is happening in the world is not going to be easy or smooth. The invention of the printing press was highly disruptive for many organizations, good and bad, and what we are talking about with the web is the ability to create 6 billion printing presses…all connected.

That will be disruptive, for good and bad. And, I think, will transform us. For good and bad.

One of my favorite quotes is from author Clay Shirky who says in his 2008 book “Here Comes Everybody“, “the conversation doesn’t get interesting until the tools get boring.” It is at that point that we will see the truly transformative power of the web on our society. When technology becomes invisible – when making Skype calls to our kids is as common as making a phone call today is – that is when we will see the effects of the web on society.

For educators, I believe this shift will have profound implications on how we do our jobs. But that’s another post.


Google Docs does a lot of things well, but…

Google Error

…writing an academic paper with APA formatting isn’t one of those things. Which I learned writing my first paper for my Masters last week.

The first is such a basic feature that I (wrongly) assumed that it was part of Google Docs – page numbering.  Um, turns out, I was wrong, but only discovered this at the last minute as I was cleaning up the formatting to make the paper submission ready.

Now, I could have gone in and manually added page numbers as this was a relatively small paper of 1500 words, but if I happened to be working on a 50 page paper (or, eeks, longer) that would have been a pain.

I did discover a page numbering hack, but it involved going into the HTML code – something I have no problem doing, but that others who are just looking for some basic word processing capabilities may not.

But the clincher for me was the failure to get APA references formatted correctly in the bibliography. The problem was the hanging indent in the second line of the reference. In order to get a hanging indent, I had to modify both the HTML and create a custom CSS class.

.hang {
        text-indent: -0.5in;
        margin-left: 0.5in;

I used inches since this was something that will be printed.

Again, not a huge problem for me, but for someone who doesn’t know either HTML or CSS a real barrier.

But the disappointing part was that when I applied the CSS to create the indent, it appeared to stick, but then it suddenly reverted back to no hanging indent. In front of my eyes. One minute it was there, the next it wasn’t.

I did some digging and I found that if I applied the style and then quickly hit save,that seemed to work (of all the kludges in the world, this has to be the kludgiest and makes NO sense to me). However, it was really random and occasionally I would be working on the document and it would suddenly revert back from the hanging indent to regular formatting.

Needless to say, this was both  frustrating and disappointing. The one time it did stick long enough for me to print/download, I noticed that the APA formatting worked when I printed a pdf copy of the paper, but when I downloaded a Word version (as requested by my instructor), the APA formatting was gone.

This was a deal breaker for me with regards to relying on Google Docs for anything more than casual use. Which is fine. It is still a hugely useful product. The night before, for example, one of my team members and I were working collaboratively on a Google Doc over IM. She was in Ontario and I was at home in BC and it worked flawlessly for collaboration.

But to rely on Google Docs for something as structured as an APA formatted paper? I downloaded Open Office last night.

Yes, there is a reason why it is still in Beta.

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Anticipating my Masters

My first Masters residency at Royal Roads University begins in a few short weeks and I am in the process of getting my spaces – both physical and head – in form and ready for the next 2 years. To say I am excited is a vast understatement. This is something I have wanted to do for a long time.

Lately I have been pondering about what it is I want to get out of this experience. There are the obvious goals –  knowledge, better career opportunities, a degree and professional credibility (not that I believe a degree on its own brings credibility, but in my experience credibility is very difficult to archive without those letters behind your name as a starting point). But beyond that I am also trying to set some deeper, more personal goals ahead of the experience. I am also trying to take a hard, objective look at what I think are some of my strengths and weaknesses.

Goal 1: Better focus and reflection

When it comes to my personal learning and professional development, I often feel like the birds that visit my garden feeder. They swoop in, grab a seed and take off, zipping to the next feeder where they stop, grab another and zoom away. Like those birds, I tend to zip from topic to topic, grabbing seeds of information from here and there. It’s not a great trait to continually consume and not critically reflect on what I am taking in. At some point, you have to stop and digest.

I am not sure why I have this very strong (and completely delusional) desire to KNOW EVERYTHING. In doing so, I often end up knowing nothing or knowing just enough to make me dangerous and/or annoying. To stretch the bird analogy, I am not sure what the metaphorical cat in the bushes who waits to pounce is. Fear? Pride? A need to know all the answers so I can fix all the problems? I don’t know what is at the root of my need to know everything about everything, but I hope that the academic rigors of this program will help (force) me to focus and reflect and develop better self-discipline.

Goal 2: Become a better collaborator

I sometimes fear that I am a better collaborator in my head than in real life. This Masters experience will put that to theory to the test and hopefully prove it wrong.

That’s not to say I haven’t played significant parts on successful teams, but when I look back at both my career and my personal life I can see that I have had a great deal of latitude and personal space to deviate and explore in my own time. Maybe this goes back to my radio days where I often spent 4-6 hours a day by myself in a little room with nothing but a microphone, a CD player and a newswire. It was a place where I lived and died on my own wits (or lack of, as was often the case).

A psychologist might trace this trait back to my youth where, as the fat uncoordinated kid, I never really shone in all those places where the teamwork ethos is is first fostered in a life – team sports. Sure, like most good Canadian kids I played hockey. But I was a goalie; not because I was any good, but more likely because I filled the most space in the net (it’s okay, I have long since moved on). Any hockey player will tell you that goaltenders are the lone wolves of the team. They tend to be a little bit different than other players. You have to be if you are willing to stand toe to toe with a frozen hunk of rubber traveling at a hundred miles an hour. But I digress.

The Masters I am taking is cohort based, meaning I will be working closely on group projects with many different types of people. This both excites and terrifies me. I do love meeting new people and, having gone through this sort of intense program before, I know that I will develop deep and lifelong connections with my group. We are all about to embark on a transformative event together, and overcoming common obstacles together not only develops strong team dynamics, but also strong personal connections. I only hope I am up to the challenge and am able to contribute in meaningful ways.

Goal 3: Get the tools to work

This is more pragmatic. I want to discover whether these tools I use daily in my personal and professional life will work in my academic life. Will delicious, Twitter, Netvibes, Google Reader, Feedly, a tricked out Firefox, Zotero and all these toys I play with on a daily basis become indispensable or a pain when I am deep into the throes of deadlines and due dates?

What role will my PLN play in my education? I feel extremely fortunate to have close at hand a virtual network of educators and friends and I think that this network will be an invaluable resource and sounding board for me as I progress through the program. You included. Yes, you. You know a lot more than I do. And I know that you like to share. I am hoping you will share with me when I need it. I promise to do the same back.

So, the question is – will these tools and resources will be just as invaluable to me in the context of my academic life as they have been in my professional and personal life? I am eager to find out if my gut feeling is right on this.

Goal 4: Fill in the blanks

I also have a gut feeling that education (and, for that matter, society) is at the tipping point of something big with regards to knowledge and how we learn. But whether this is true and what this “something big” might be I don’t know. Or maybe it isn’t really something big? Maybe we have all been here before? This is the point – I am missing the intellectual context to back up my visceral gut.

It may be because I spend a lot of time in my EdTech echo chamber. It’s a place where the word “change” reverberates off the virtual walls like a sonic boom. But one thing is clear – I am lacking context to both critically analyze and accurately articulate my thoughts into something solid and tangible. More importantly, if it is true that we are in the verge of tranformative change, what does it look like? It’s hard to have vision when you lack context, and it is some of that context that I hope to gain by undertaking this Masters.

Too ambitious? Perhaps, but something I am looking forward to with great enthusiasm and excitement.

I have started a new category on this blog called My Masters. My plan is to document the journey as much as possible, mostly for myself as I hope to turn the blog into a bit more of a reflective tool. I hope that you will still find this useful, and continue to join in on the conversation. There may be more questions than answers over the next little while, but that’s okay. After all, isn’t that where all learning begins?