A buzzword is making the rounds in education, namely the Personal Learning Environment (PLE). Basically it describes the digital tools you use to gather information, to connect with others and to produce content of your own as you engage in learning. It is sometimes mentioned in connection with a Personal Learning Network (PLN), which describes the people you interact with in learning and who enable you to make progress. Chris Duke (an educational technologist and instructional designer with over 15 years of professional experience in education) has developed a model as part of a survey which I think provides key insight into how technologies are being used today. Have a look at his diagram:
Chart by Chris Duke, www.cmduke.com
1. As you can see, Chris Duke uses Microsoft Office products, Blogger et al. to generate content.
2. He manages his information by surfing using Firefox and Google (both of which provide tools to help you categorize that information). I'm not familiar with the ATM or the Z or the blue logos - do you recognize any of them?
3. He connects with others mostly through Facebook, as well as through GoogleMail and Second Life (the eye). And he is an instructor in Second Life, so he has placed the logo close to the field for generating content.
Now, at the hub of all of this are his GoogleReader RSS feeds - the feeds of things he publishes, the feeds of blogs his contacts publish and the information he collects and organizes. And he also uses Twitter, which works very much the same way. These three functions seem to merge into one at the center.
My PLE chart looks quite similar:
1. For content generation, I'd add the audiovisual iMac tools I use, as well as WordPress and Drupal (the content management system we use at Spotlight). I create content in Moodle, too, (e.g. tests, discussion points for the forums, assignments) but Moodle is more about organizing and managing information and contacts in a specific course. (What I sorely lack are slidemaking and photoediting skills.)
2. I'd add Delicious (http://delicious.com/ahodgson) to the list of applications I use to organize my information (I don't really share links using Delicious, though you can). I use Moodle to manage courses, so that, too, would go under managing information. I'm not sure what the CMS system is called that we have at MELTA (our teachers' organisation), where I organize membership data. (I'd say that organizing information, or using these tools really effectively, is my weakest point.)
3. I'd add a few sites to the social networking list, especially Ning, which allows you to network with people who share your interests. Social networking has replaced email as my preferred mode of communicating. (Networking is time consuming and sometimes a little confusing, but as I am an interpersonal learner, it's proving to be my richest resource.)
It's really quite difficult to compartmentalize each of these applications, because when it comes down to it, most of them cross over into other categories. E.g., I find that I process information by reviewing it, so I learn by creating a mashup of the input I find on the Internet. This is called "remixing", and while it's making traditional publishers uncomfortable, it's standard practice in blogging and YouTubing (if that verb doesn't exist yet, it should). Also, any information you put out on the Web can attract people to your social network and be food for collaborative thought. Still, I really like Chris Duke's analytical and thought-provoking model.
Go visit his site if you are interested in taking part in his survey.
And write to us here at Ask Auntie Web: Which tools do you use?
PS: I've just seen the slideshow by Steve Wheeler from the Faculty of Education at the University of Plymouth (aka Timbuckteeth on Twitter, great person to follow) here, and he slices self-organized learning into "Personal space" and "Community space":