A New Approach for the Generation of Dynamic Learning Environments

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A New Approach for the Generation of Dynamic Learning Environments David Freire Obregón, Ciro Gutierrez Ascanio Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (Spain) [email protected], [email protected]

Today, nearly all the educational institutions have a learning platform that allows them to share resources with students. These platforms have their genesis in two distinct points on the one hand, educational support to students anytime and anywhere. On the other hand, arises from the need to maintain communication between the educational group. We are therefore facing the era that should take a qualitative leap in education. In the market there have been a large number of learning platforms, many of them free and some private, some developed for an institution and others with a generic base that shares common visual patterns to other platforms. However, the life cycle of the course content is equivalent, in many cases, the duration of the course. We propose the design of an infrastructure that aims to create a niche of knowledge that can be reused by different educational institutions. Our proposal contains therefore the communication between the users belonging to a course and intends to export such communication of scalar form to share content between courses. The main advantage is remarkable, there is no need to generate materials because these materials already exist and are shared. On the other hand, not just to export the knowledge but also the teaching methodology. Establish links between different subjects to share materials allows us not only to assess the quality of different materials, but also to evaluate the quality of teaching methodology. In this paper we propose the design of what should be the next natural step in the evolution of e-learning, not only share materials, also share teaching methodologies. Keywords: PLE, e-learning, Web 2.0.

1. Introduction Nowadays, the e-learning is a very active field in the educational technology research. In fact, there are a lot of new and diverse initiatives for both, commercial and research. Despite this diversity of new initiatives, all these new systems share a common goal: the development of a higher quality in education. With this aim, the Web 2.0 technologies play an important role, they enable students to mash up the learning resources, the learning services and the learning communities of their choice. Another important fact is that our new students are digital natives which mean that they are not going to wait too much for their information, if the teacher is not such a fast “contents provider”, he might “lose” the class. Thus, we have a situation where there are a lot of contents online and, on the other side, we have our students needed of a part of those contents. The teacher is the provider, but he needs a channel in order to guarantee that each student will receive the correct information according to his needs. Probably, the PLE (Personal Learning Environments) is one of the most interesting concepts of the elearning. It is the channel mentioned above. The PLE could be defined as the product of the confluence of several factors such as widespread Web 2.0 tools and services at almost all educational levels and modalities. Nevertheless, according to [1] opinion, the PLE is not a technological system intended to replace or complementing the existing ones. It is just a new approach about how can we use information and communication technologies in order to enhance both, initial and lifelong learning.

Another important fact that we must bear in mind is that, the same technologies also enable educators to move from blended learning approaches to blended contents (blogs, wiki, repositories) and blended learning environments called personal learning environments (PLEs) [2]. Such environments could progressively replace, or at least complement, learning management systems (LMS) in the coming years in a move towards personal and social learning. On the other hand, a PLE requires students to engage in ongoing decision making to maintain, organize, and grow their learning environments. The process of self-directed learning requires a degree of self-awareness, and it must be given time to mature. Some students, however, may have never taken the time to think about their own metacognition or to reflect on how they learn best. These less experienced students may not be ready for the responsibility that comes with building and managing a PLE. In order to solve these kinds of problems, we propose a new concept of PLE, the PLE-Network. In this new system the main strength does not depend on each individual PLE’s content but on each PLE’s shared resources.

2. Personal Learning Environments There is a growing awareness in higher education of students levels of engagement in Web 2.0 environments, in contrast to their engagement in the learning management systems (LMSs) hosted by their institutions. As we already pointed, our students are digital natives which mean that social networking sites, blogs or wikis have no secrets for them. The use them every day for keeping in touch with their friends and to share or create new contents. These sites provide possibilities of customization and, what is more important, a sense of ownership currently impossible in LMSs. The phrase “personal learning environment” appears to have first been mentioned at the annual JISCCETIS (Joint Information Systems Committee Centre for Educational Technology Interoperability Standards) conference in 2004. Since then, a lot of literature has been written about this new learning paradigm. In fact, several possible definitions can be found about it. Graham Attwell [2] defined Personal Learning Environments (PLE) as an idea that firstly integrates "pressures and movements" like lifelong learning, informal learning, learning styles, new approaches to assessment and cognitive tools. Terry Anderson [3] defines a PLE as a unique interface into the owner’s digital environment. For Anderson it integrates their personal and professional interests (including their formal and informal learning), connecting these via a series of “distributed feeds”. Van Harmelen defined the PLEs as systems that help learners take control of and manage their own learning. For this author, a PLE may be composed of one or more sub-systems: a desktop application, or composed of one or more webbased services.

Figure 1. A scheme of a Personal Learning Environment. Image obtained from [8].

Another important debate is the relation between PLE and the Learning Management Systems. There are various questions to be answer in order to determine whether their LMS remains as the appropriate medium in which to facilitate the e-learning: - Should we allow learners to select the appropriate tools for themselves? Why not? If a person needs vitamin A, it doesn’t matter if he drinks orange juice or eat an orange; the goal will be achieved by both ways. The tools (the juice or the piece of fruit) can be selected by the students, the content (the orange) must be facilitated by the teachers. - Should we use tools hosted elsewhere on the Internet by others? In fact, approaches and standards for the aggregation and the integration of Web 2.0 components as PLE services bundles have been investigated [4]. New platforms like iGoogle (www.google.com) or Netvibes (www.netvibes.com) also show a high potential to be exploited as Web 2.0 PLEs. In such framework, Web 2.0 components or services bundled together are often widgets or similar web tools. A very important feature of the PLE lies on the locus of control. There is increasing awareness of a major limitation in many PLEs, namely teacher or institutional control of resources. Control of PLEs may vested in their individual users, but the contents must be facilitated by the teacher. At this point we find a significant lack of meaning from an e-learning perspective. There is a lack of social connection between a PLE and the former role of the learning process. This lack of connection is because of the own nature of the Personal Learning Environment as “Personal”, but there is a need of connection between students and contents. Each student must have their own workspace, like a desktop (PLE), but also share a space with other students for activities and be available to receive and share new contents from the teacher or other students. On the other hand, are these contents exclusives? Can these contents, or at least a part of them, be found interesting in other environments? For this reason we propose an infrastructure that aims to create a niche of knowledge that can be reused by different educational institutions.

Figure 2. A PLE-N. Resources are shared among the students and the teacher. All of them can provide or consume those resources.

3. Personal Learning Environments Network (PLE-N)

A Personal Learning Network (PLN) is the collection of people with whom you engage and exchange information. They are informal learning networks which consist of the people a learner interacts with and derives knowledge from in a Personal Learning Environment. In a PLN [6], a person makes a connection with another person with the specific intent that some type of learning will occur because of that connection. An important part of this concept is the theory of connectivism [7], learners create connections and develop a network that contributes to their professional development and knowledge. The learner does not have to know these people personally or ever meet them in person. Thus, PLNs are becoming an important part of professional development in several fields with some businesses creating their own e-learning content and PLEs for their employees. Somehow, the development of different personal learning networks for a same topic shares a common essence of contents. In this paper we try to extract this essence of contents and make it portable. By doing this, an initial stimuli will be provided to each new network that shares contents with a previously network, and those contents can refined. The idea is to generate a collaborative learning network where each person contributes with their knowledge. That is, the main strength of this system is not in the resources that each individual has in their own personal learning environment, but in the shared of these resources. A network is considered a stronger o a weaker network depending on the number and the quality of the shared resources between the users that belongs to it. It does not depend on how many users are connected to the network, but on the resources shared. This is a very important feature of our idea because resources can be exportable to other networks.

Figure 3. A PLE-N can be exportable by its resources. Different classes can share the same contents. An essential feature of distributed learning is the ability to generate or acquire new content, that is, the contents are not static but dynamic. Any new document or multimedia resource shared by each student represents a potent source of inspiration and motivation for the rest of the network and an important point to keep in mind when the teacher when this student is evaluated. Thus, both students and teachers are producers and consumers of information, where the barrier between them is completely diluted in the learning process. By transforming the subjects to flexible contents, teachers can adopt new ways of customized evaluation according to the needs and interests of the students.

4. Conclusions

Atwell [2] claimed that Personal Learning environments are not an application but rather a new approach to the use of new technologies for learning. He also pointed that there remain many issues to be resolved. In our paper we try to give a new perspective to some of those issues. The human being often moves between edges. It evolves from the former learning process to personal learning environments. It is not bad to evolve, but it is not good if we purchase a not coherent point of view according to our goal. In our case the aim is to learn and we must bear in mind that is important to achieve the goal but also it is important to help others to achieve it. In our proposal we reflect the motivation of working with PLE and the commitment acquired by the class at the time they share and refine the teaching resources. Our system also benefits from personal learning networks features such as develop contacts and conversations with other students or the opportunity to collaborate to create new contents.

References [1] J. Adell Segura and L. Castañeda Quinteiro, “Los entornos personales de aprendizaje (PLEs): una nueva manera de entender el aprendizaje” Roig Vila & Fiorucci M., 2010. [2] G. Attwell, “The personal learning environments - The future of eLearning?” eLearning Papers, vol. 2(1), 2007. [3] T. Anderson. Online Resource: http://terrya.edublogs.org [4] M. Van Harmelen. “Personal Learning Environments”. Sixth International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT’06). [5] S. Wilson, O. Liber, M. Johnson, P. Beauvoir, P. Sharples, C. Milligan, “Personal learning environments: Challenging the dominant design of educational systems,” Journal of eLearning and Knowledge Society, vol. 2, 2007. [6] Digenti, D. (1999). Collaborative Learning: A Core Capability for Organizations in the New Economy. Reflections, 1(2), 45-57. doi:10.1162/152417399570160 [7] Dryden, Gordon; Vos, Jeannette (2005). The New Learning Revolution: How Britain Can Lead the World in Learning, Education, and Schooling. UK: Network Educational Press Ltd. p. 127. ISBN 978-1855391833.] [8] Online resource: http://edtechpost.wikispaces.com/PLE+Diagrams [Last accessed 02-012012].