Tag Archives: #xplrpln

The PLN promise can turn your organisation into the house of horrors

PLN house of horrors
PLN house of horrors

Week 3 and 4 in Exploring PLN Seminar (and maybe even week 5…)

This post is aimed to be a quick wrap-around my #xplrpln artifact (you can find it on Prezi) we were invited create in response to a set scenario and share it with others this week.

Yes, it is covering two weeks of the seminar (and I am posting it in week 5!). This is not because I have become disengaged or too busy. It is because the few readings on PLNs and organisations provided by Jeff and Kimberley in week 3, along with the seminar participant contributions needed some solitary rumination before I could spit the chewed cud back into the communal fermentation vat (help! – I seem to be losing control over my metaphors…).

Among all the rumination around the topic I was also struggling with the idea of the CEO pitch. This is not the first time that my allergy to corporate/managerial context has surfaced. One of the reasons I quit the Open University’s #H817 Openness and Innovation in eLearning course earlier this year was the large chunk of the assessment based on presenting business cases. I understand why – it’s important to make such courses relevant to practitioners via authentic/applied assessment. Perhaps it is something about the executive language? Perhaps it is the difficulty of putting myslef in the CEOs or large organisations’ shoes (I keep thinking that the bottom line for them is really just financial gain – even in educational institutions these days)? Perhaps it is the disenchantment with such organisations and their cultures? Or simply the lack of sense of play and fun in learning from such artifact?

On the other hand, perhaps I started to expect an inspiration to push beyond institutional/established mindsets in my ‘learning experiences’. To be encouraged to explore different ways of representing and applying my understanding. This is one of the thing that cMOOCs taught me (although in fact it was probably seeded long time ago when I heard about learning in the open and digital artifact-based assessment approaches taken by the University of Edinburgh’s MSc in Online Education).

I did try to take on a challenge of getting it done, finding a “professional” voice. But simply couldn’t force myself to go there. Thankfully – this learning experience, unlike the caged OU course, was not prescriptive. I enjoyed crystallizing my ideas around the potential institutional horrors of ‘implementing’ PLN approaches at universities – large, complex and culturally diverse organisations. I did try to entertain the audience as well. Including the imaginary HE leaders and, the very tangible, fellow #xplrpln-ers alike. While making us laugh I was hoping to make us all more thoughtful before we rush into implementation of the new PLN and related ideas at a massive scale. At institutional and Profersonal(TM) levels.

My ruminatory state sharpened my attention to examples of organisational PLN horrors in my recent PLN data stream – I tried to include those alongside the insights from the course readings. These anecdotes turned it from a theoretical to a very much real-life tale…and also illustrated the ongoing/dynamic nature of the beast. Changes in technology, terms and conditions will keep coming, and we have to, personally and institutionally, keep reconsidering the cost/benefit equation for PLNs or specific technical solutions which may enhance/detract from it.

Why the horror angle? I thought a lot of the PLN-related hype is coming from businesses who have much to gain from organisations and individuals engaging with the services they offer – either as paid for SNA /social intranets/social enterprise solutions for organisations or by getting hold of our very much monetisable data, including our personal or professional network interactions via their ‘free’ social media services (we have all heard the now well worn warning “when you are not a customer you are a product”). Organisations implementing social learning solutions may also have less than altruistic ideas at heart. I thought an antidote to the seductive murmur of the Sirens was in order:) Oh – and it *was* Halloween…

Just in case I don’t find time for more reflection around #xplrpln here, I would like to say now that I am extremely grateful to Kimberley and Jeff for putting this seminar together and to the co-participant for diving in (or even just watching). It has been a great adventure!

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Firming up my PLN definition and the shifting institutional sands

Another Place by hehaden
Another Place, a photo by hehaden on Flickr.

With week 3 twitter #xplrpln chat looming I think it is time for me to pull a personal definition of PLN together. Here goes it:

PLN is a dynamic and open network of relationships of varied strength and reciprocity which I actively chose to inspire me, learn from, and share my knowledge with around topics and projects I am profersonallyTM interested in. It stretches across institutional, national and online-offline divides, but its reach and richness is particularly well supported by online social media tools.

Now for the organisational context.

I have lived most of my professional life in Higher Education, most recently supporting students and staff in online distance Masters programme. So this would be a natural point for me to start thinking about PLN “implementation” (I know I share this interest with some other participants so maybe I could contribute to the collaborative ‘artifact’:).

Immediately I wonder which group of people should be involved. Are we talking about the tutors, or academic authors, or the admin? They would most certainly all benefit from learning about online learning and teaching and expanding their digital literacies – and the PLN-way may be the best and most sustainable way to do it. But do they all have the same needs? What about students? Should we not impart the PLN wisdom on them? Is it appropriate in the context of the course subject matter? Would it have impact on how we design or redesign the courses? Does the openness and connectivism of the PLN approach clash with the team’s teaching philosophy?

Then there is the question of scale – would it even work if we restrict ourselves to the programme team? Or should I think at the scale of all of the online distance programme staff, or all teaching staff? Or just – all staff?

I have also been interested in how PLN concept can be applied within scientific research environments in academia. This encompasses the research academics as well as PhD students. Related – but not quite the same as PLNs in teaching. Different structural problems, risks and benefits. But since research has greater power within HE institutions, maybe seeding the PLN ideas there would trickle through to the teaching side?

Phew – already the institution seems like quite a complex beast, where it would be very difficult to apply one PLN “solution” even if we managed to agree on a single definition!

And then I am tempted to venture outside the institutional boundaries (the temptation I seem to share with Helen Crump who spoke of work as a service in her blog for the week) – which in any case are becoming increasingly porous. From the student’s perspective, there is certainly much talk of “unbundling” of higher education – moving from an LP (a degree) to a remixable and personalisable mp3 (a course or a seminar) paradigm as has happened in the music industry (although I think much of this is really just ed-tech hype). From the staff perspective, the trend is abundantly clear towards casualisation of the workforce – at least on the teaching side. I have been one of those permanently short-term contract employees myself. In this context what does organisation even mean I ask with Hellen, and what is its interplay with our PLNs? Does the organisational citizenship (PDF) concept, mentioned by Kimberley Scott in the live session this week, even apply? What are the benefits and drawbacks of plugging in the ‘external’ impermanent contractor PLNs into the institutional hierarchies for both parties?

Now off to put my hand up for the HE group on Google+…it’s always more fun doing things together!

Institutionalising Personal Learning Networks #xplrpln

Week 1 – Exploring Personal Learning Networks

Well – it’s been a while. But I may be back here for the Exploring Personal Learning Networks online seminar coordinated by the folk at the Masters Programme in Learning and Organisational Change at the Northwestern University.

I am a couple of days too late to formally register but as it looks like it has a fairly open format I will try to keep pace from the sidelines. So let me tell you why I am here – and, as the organisers suggest, specify some learning goals.

How did I find my way to this experience? Well – through my PLN of course (I blame twitter again – and @crumphelen in particular;)

I have been experimenting with the magic of personal and professional presence in the digital realm of social media over the past year or so. The cMOOCs were more than helpful in getting me started (as you may see from the other posts in this blog) – #etmooc, #edcmooc, #moocmooc were particularly satisfying experiences here:) I have to say that the open and apparently connectivist format of this seminar also bodes well.

It is not just a personal whim (although this plays a part too) – it all speaks to my professional interest in elearning within the context of postgraduate distance education. I am interested in how the networked paradigm we are working within in the internet era is influencing the way learners and teachers interact. How can we use it to capture students’ interest and provide them with support networks, and equip them with relevant digital literacies? How can I and others involved in HE use it for our professional development?

There are many benefits here but there are also things which make me feel uneasy. One is the question of whether entanglement of students’ private online identities (and indeed their PLNs) with those they may chose to present to the institution and the classmates is too high a price to pay for a participation in the institutionalized course.

Until I have read the rationale behind this seminar I have not really thought about the institution wanting to capitalise on my own PLN – or use my own online digital identity or presence to its own ends. I have to say it sent a bit of a shiver down my spine. Perhaps just as a student might feel if we put similar demands on them? Being of no faint heart I decided to explore the topic and my feelings around it further. I may even come away with some strategies to protect my own privacy and online space while working with the institutions to capitalising on my PLNs for our mutual benefit?

Obviously – I would also like to get to know some more people through this experience (and deepen some old encounters) – after all, a PLN does not grow itself:) Off to look around your intro posts and start on Week 2 readings!