This is a guest post by Scott Wilson and Kamala Velayutham for On the Horizon series on distributed learning. Scott is a Senior Researcher at the Institute for Educational Cybernetics at the University of Bolton, and author of various publications on the topic of personal learning environments. He is also Assistant Director of the JISC CETIS service, which he joined in 2001. Before joining CETIS, Scott worked in the commercial software industry as a solution architect in CRM, business intelligence, as well as working in other sectors including criminal intelligence analysis. Kamala is a Researcher at the Institute for Educational Cybernetics at the University of Bolton, and a Learning Technology Advisor for JISC CETIS. Prior to joining IEC, Kamala worked as a lecturer in India involved in various research projects.
This all started with an email from Michael about a blog post that Scott wrote late in 2007. In that post he presented a model for how institutional systems engage with personal technologies with what I termed a “coordination space” inbetween. Michael wanted to know what prompted him to state in that post:
Originally I thought that a personal system could manage all the variety of all connected institutions, but more realistically there does seem to be a real need for a more concrete coordination system sitting between the personal system and the enterprise.
This reflects something we’ve been thinking about for some time at IEC; the focus of the PLE debate has been mostly on the individual learners and educators, rebalancing a discourse that was for some time dominated by “enterprise” concerns. However, we’ve been concentrating on institutions – their identity, and viability in a technology-rich world where users are frustrated by the shortcomings of behind-the-curve corporate or institutional provision and are circumventing central systems that are perceived as barriers and not enablers. (Its interesting to note that accenture identified the same trend in corporate IT users that the PLE discourse identified among learners and educators.)
Fundamental to the PLE argument is the assertion that the median student population had shifted towards a high disposition towards technology, high confidence in its use, personal learning autonomy, and personal ownership of technology, and that institutions need to recognise and support this.
However, a number of factors, such as widening participation, mean that while the student population has moved in this direction, for the foreseeable future there will still be a significant population of students who will need a lot of institutional support in making use of technology for their studies. (This came across strongly in a speech given at our annual conference by Jim Farmer in 2006.)
We’re also concerned that if the most confident users move outside the institutional services and student discussions fragment into walled garden social networks that this will significantly affect the experience of those remaining, exacerbating the support situation for institutions.
This is what prompted us to look again at the relationship between the university enterprise systems and personal technologies. The challenge is to identify architectures for education that support a high level of individual diversity without losing cohesion and amplifying institutional issues. This would have been a very tough challenge in the early days of IMS. However we have a lot of new tools at our disposal to make much more flexible technologies than ever before – feeds, widgets, and web APIs. We also have more technologically-aware policy makers in institutions. In the UK JISC has also been funding projects to integrate institutional systems with user-owned technologies.
What we will elaborate on in our article is how we’ve used cybernetic analysis to identify a set of interventions in technical architecture, policies, and services offered by institutions that could support greater diversity. Like an earlier paper for ed-media, we want to develop practical strategies that recognise the needs of institutions, administrators, educators and learners.